Washing & drying large amounts of wool

This weekend has been very busy. Saturday was a boys day … complete with changing trailer wheel bearings and rock fishing. Sunday was a domestic day … including washing, house cleaning and wool πŸ™‚

This is what the end hallway of my house looks like.


Bags and bags of unwashed alpaca and sheep fiber. Being the first sunny day in over a week, I figured some serious wool washing was in order.

My usual mode of operation for cleaning wool is to put chunks of fiber into ‘delicates’ bags, washing them in buckets then hanging on the line. My problem with this method is that it seems to take days to dry as the fiber isn’t spread out.

So, after reading a few things on the net I decided to try a new approach.

As follows chronicles my morning in pictures…

1. One large bucket of water.


2. Add detergent, but don’t make bubbles.


3. Submerge portions of the fleece in water. Wash twice and rinse once.


4. Spread wool out over the drying rack.



I tried covering the portable clothes rack with old fly-screen…but the holes were two small and the water didn’t drain properly. So I switched to using the delicates bags which have larger holes and pegging the bags to the frame.

By 5o’clock it was getting close to dry, but unfortunately it began to rain again. So now the laundry looks like this.


The only variation that I would change next time is to put a piece of flyscreen in the bucket before submerging the fleece to help when getting the fleece out without burning your hands.

Overall, the wool was definitely drying faster this way, so I’ll be using this method again.



Ashford & Food Colour Dyeing

The 26th of January is Australia Day, and so in celebration…after an early morning run and jump off the wharf…I decided to have a go at using some of the Ashford powder dyes and food colourings.


I ended up dyeing two different colours…a pink variegated colour which was grey English liester/merino cross, kettle dyed with pink food coloring and a sprinkling of blue and red Ashford powder.
And a blue/purple/pink colour which is white English liester/merino cross dyed with just the red and blue Ashford powders.
It was very easy to do.

It was as simple as: wash the fleece, soak the fleece in vinegar and water, fill pot with warm/hot water and vinegar (just covering wool), place wool in pot, sprinkle in dye for variegated effect or pour in premixed for more even colour, simmer for 30-40 minutes, remove from heat and let the water cool naturally, after a couple of hours remove wool, rinse and dry.

I have plans to make some really fun batts using this wool on my drum carder tomorrow…I’m even thinking up fancy names for them πŸ™‚ For the pink I’m thinking of adding some mohair and calling it “fairy princess” πŸ™‚ Now I just need to buy some of that Angelina stuff.

I also have plans to try some more natural dyeing as well. I have a pot of something (I couldn’t identify the bush) in the backyard waiting to be boiled up tomorrow and possibly some plum skins too.

Have a good night.

Kettle Dyeing – Mulberries & Blackberries

I’m sick of spinning boring white wool. So this weekend I went a little crazy and took over the kitchen for about 6 hours.

Two years ago the council environmental board issued the local landowners with a notice to eradicate all blackberries. I understand that blackberries are a noxious weed and that they completely take over creeks and paddocks, but it was also a bit disappointing because I love going out on an early summer morning, to beat the mid-day heat, and collecting blackberries.

So that year, I enlisted the help of all my family and friends and every morning before work we would go out and pick the very last of our blackberries. We ended up with I think about 30 kilos of blackberries. I had blackberries on porridge, I made blackberry pies, blackberry sauce, I even tried blackberry ice-cream… but eventually… we all had to go on diets from eating too much pie…so the remaining blackberries went into the freezer.

They have been sitting in the bottom of the freezer…sad…lonely…forgotten. Until this weekend. I’m not sure if two year old blackberries are okay for eating…but I figured they would be great for dyeing.

We also have a mulberry tree in the orchard…so I picked a handful of the remaining berries (it’s the tail-end of the season) and got started.

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The mulberries and the blackberries went into separate pots – with just enough water to cover them.

Mulberries on the stove, not yet to the boil.

Mulberries on the stove, not yet to the boil.

Frozen blackberries.

Frozen blackberries.

I boiled brought the berries to the boil and then let them simmer for about 30 minutes – or until they are soft and squishy.

The next step was to strain the berries. I didn’t want any of the pulp or seeds getting into the dye mixture, so I strained them through a chux. You would use a piece of muslin…or a very fine sieve…but beware, anything plastic or fabric will possibly stain…

The strained pulp...not very pretty.

The strained pulp…not very pretty.

What is left is the (hopefully) concentrated dye. If you want it more concentrated, it should be left on the stove to simmer for longer.

Mulberry concentrate.

Mulberry concentrate.

Now we mix the mulberry concentrate with the mordant. I have very limited experience (read none) with mordants… so I decided to try out a few different combinations.

Batch One: Mulberries w/ Cream of Tartar + Alum

Batch Two: Blackberries w/ Cream of Tartar + Alum

Batch Three: Blackberries w/ Citric Acid

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I forgot to take measurements … but we didn’t have much Alum left (I really need to go to town soon)… so I only used about a teaspoon, maybe a a teaspoon and a half. The mordants are then mixed into the concentrate.

Now, the exciting part. Take the washed wool and soak it in a water/vingear solution for about 30 minutes (practically, you would do this while cooking the berries).

Once the wool is suitably soaked…layer it carefully in the bottom of a saucepan.

Washed (grey) borderleister wool

Washed (grey) borderleister wool

The wool needs to be just covered with the water/dye. I poured the hot dye/mordant solution directly onto the wet wool. However, I have a feeling that this may have caused the fiber to felt slightly…so next time I will either let the solution cool slightly…or mix it with some water before pouring onto the wool.

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Looking back at this photo I would possibly add a little more water. Then the wool/dye mix is brought to the boil on the stove and then left to simmer for about 20-30 minutes.

After about half an hour, take the pot off the stove and let it sit until cool. This is the hardest part…the waiting…it’s horrible. I wanted to check the wool so badly, in the end I had to go and distract myself with housework.

Once the wool is cool, rinse it out with lukewarm water, lightly squeeze dry in an old towel and hang in a delicates bag on the clothes line.

This is the mulberry wool before it is dry.

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I think it is going to be really pretty.

It rained yesterday afternoon and this morning…so it might be a while before I get photos of the dry wool…but my next mission is to spin up all three samples to see if there is any difference and then probably ply them all together.

Until next time.

Krissie πŸ™‚

Blending Fiber and my Next Spinning/Knitting Project

After my successful alpaca hand-warmer project, I think i’m confident enough to try something a bit bigger…well actually, quite a lot bigger. My next project is the Bergen JacketΒ by Drops Design. I think I have quite a few days/weeks of carding and spinning ahead of me πŸ™‚


In other news, I have borrowed a drum carder off my local spinning and weaving club (with the aim of buying a secondhand carder soon). I have previously tried hand-carding (with less than perfect results), so the drum carder is a big improvement.


I still prefer using the dog brush to flick open the locks when spinning the one type of fiber, but when blending two fibers together like alpaca and wool, the drum carder is working really well.


I’m impatient so my batt is a little thin … but the idea of separating the batt into smaller strips and then pre-drafting them seems to be working very well. And by also spinning the wool a little thicker i’m not having so much of a problem with lumps in the wool.



I couldn’t wait to get started knitting, so I started plying (the bobbins weren’t even a third full) and ended up with a 3ply wool that had a weird name like double knitted or something…but either way it worked out at 11 wraps per inch.


The pattern didn’t really specify what yarn to use for the cardigan…so I went ahead and knitted up the sampler…and it worked perfectly!


So, I know what my next few evenings will be consisting of…as soon as the weather clears up and I can dry some wool.

Happy Spinning
Krissie πŸ™‚

Alpaca Knit Handwarmers

My very first knitting project with my handspun wool.


The pattern I used was a free one off Ravelry (BonBons by Susanna IC – http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/bonbons). It had a really pretty pattern that was super easy to remember.

Also, I’m very new to both knitting and spinning…so this was my first attempt at knitting in the round using 4 double pointed needles. Needless to say, the first hour or so of knitting them was … interesting … πŸ™‚


As I was knitting the handwarmers I got a few rounds into the pattern and thought … hmm this pattern is a bit boring. It wasn’t until I turned them inside out that I could see the pattern starting to emerge. I felt a bit silly then.


I am really happy with how they’ve turned out. The women at the spinning club mentioned that pure alpaca doesn’t retain it’s shape well and should be blended with sheep… I had a go… it didn’t go so well…

I’ve always just prepared my fibre using a dog flicker brush. I had a go using handcarders to blend the wool and alpaca…but it seemed to have these knotty bits that made lumpy bits in the spun wool.

If anyone has tips id love to hear them…in the meantime, I’ll keep practising.

Spinning Alpaca

On a whim, I decided to ride down to the local produce markets on the river. I wasnt really expecting to buy anything…but as I was browsing I noticed an alpaca stall.

They were selling a range of knitted items…but more importantly…out the front were three large bags of alpaca fiber.

They were a little dusty (as all alpaca seems to be), but they were a gorgeous dark chocolate colour and the staple seemed reasonably long compared to the horribly short stuff I bought a few weeks ago.


I ended up buying the largest bag (2kg). It was slightly lesser quality than the smaller bags, but I figured as a beginner…I’d probably just waste the good stuff.

Can I just say now. I love alpaca.

The fiber is so easy to spin. It glides out of your hands. Also, you dont have to wash it to get the lanolin out! Big plus πŸ™‚



Ive been having a great time spinning it up over the long weekend, and this time I actually have an idea of what I want to use the finished yarn for. I have aspirations of making a pair of fingerless gloves. But I need to be quick…its the middle of spring and today is a stinker at 35 degrees C. I doubt there will be many more cool days left this year.

Now I just need to figure out whether to navajo or normal ply it. If anyone has suggestions id love to hear them.


My First Spools of Yarn

Firstly, its official! J’adore my new/old spinning wheel.




Spinning wheels are something that I have always associated with fairy tales (sleeping beauty, rumplestiltskin), so they have a certain sense of fantasy and mystery surrounding them. Its certainly not something that I would have considered doing a few months ago.

But now that I have started, I am enjoying it so much. It is so relaxing…sitting, listening the chorus of the songbirds when i spin in the early morning…watching the colours of the fibres running through your fingers, spreading onto the spool.

This is what I have done so far.


Spun silk roving


Spun border-leister fleece


Spun alpaca fleece (this stuff is so soft)


Dyed merino wool, prepared using a flicker brush.


Spun merino wool, using dyed fibre in last photo

Its not alot, but I’m really pleased with them. Now I just need to finish off a bit more so I can start plying.

I’ve tried the najavo plying method, which wasn’t too hard and I really like how it keeps the colours together. I’ll post some pictures of that soon too.

Until the next time… adieu
Kris xxx