Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Compacted Locks? Might Be Lanolin!

Yesterday, I decided I wanted to play with some polwarth I bought from a shop in Japan a few months ago. When I first got it, I could tell that more lanolin was left on the locks than I wanted (they felt a little gummy), but I was prepared to wash it again. I really don't mind washing raw fleeces, but since Korea won't let me import raw fleeces, I paid to have it washed--and now that's a moot point because I won't be heading back to Korea!

So, here's the polwarth after I finished my washing procedure:

It even looks soft and fluffy, though it went through a major transformation to get to this stage of poofiness. When a fleece is freshly shorn, especially from a fine breed sheep (like merino, polwarth, cormo, etc.), the locks are very crimpy and very 'oily.' Lanolin is an oily substance, not quite a wax, but it often feels waxy. When the lanolin is warm, it will slide more easily along the lock, and from the lock to your hand. When it's cold, it feels like sticky glue holding a lock together. Suffice it to say, my polwarth felt like dried glue.

The amount I bought was just shy of 8 ounces (200g), then it was washed and some of that weight was lost prior to being sent to me. I used a medium sized mesh sweater bag to easily lift out the locks from the wash water, and I always place a control lock outside of the bag so I can check whether the wool is clean enough for me. When I tested the control lock, it was perfectly clean so I rinsed the wool twice and took it out to dry.

A few hours later, I noticed that it still felt gummy. Argh! Well, there's only one thing left to do. I washed the locks again, this time out of the bag so more water would circulate deep into the lanolin-compacted locks. I normally don't like to wash locks more than once if I can avoid it, but this was a case of unavoidable overwashing. At this point, I was concerned that I would remove too much lanolin and the resulting locks would become brittle--and they started off so crimpy and beautiful!

To prevent the locks from becoming too brittle, I washed the locks in shorter soapy baths than normal. For example, I typically let locks I'm scouring sit in hot soapy water for around 15 minutes, which is usually enough to remove the lanolin and the rest of the dirt which didn't come off during the cold soak phase (see the video below for more info about my cold soak method). Since this batch was so stubborn, I washed the locks twice, outside of the sweater bag, only leaving the locks in the water for 5 minutes at a time. I rinsed the soap off between washes. After the second wash, the locks were clean and separated, so I did my usual two rinses.

Now that the wool is completely dry, I can say that I managed to salvage what I thought turned into a disaster and lost money. The locks don't have as much lanolin as I prefer them to have, but they're at least usable now. So, if you notice that your raw or semi-clean fleece is hard and gummy, know that it might be saved. It required extra effort, water, and soap, but since this happens so rarely, it was worth that expense. Has this ever happened to you? Post in the comments below, or share your story on Facebook.