Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Let's Wash a Merino Fleece: Final Step, Storage

You have finished all of the washing and drying of your merino fleece, but you already have several projects lined up which don't include using your freshly washed merino wool. I've been there! Proper storage of any wool craft is important to prevent pests from getting into your stash and damaging it, but it's also a crucial step if you want to know the details of the fleece a year from now...a lot can happen in a year, and we can forget minute details. Now we will talk a little about proper fleece storage based on my own research (partially from my Museum Studies MSc program, partially from being scared to death that my fiber will get eaten!), though there are other acceptable methods for storage too.

Here are the things I used when storing away Orry:

  1. Old pillow cases, cleaned
  2. Notecards, Hole Punch, and Marking tool (pen, marker, quill, etc.)
  3. String or yarn to close up the pillow case
  4. Sachet of good smelling stuff (ie, pest deterrent): lavender, neem oil/leaves, cedar chips--no mothballs, please

Be sure your fleece is absolutely dry. When I no longer feel like the wool is wet, I place it in a large, clean box and rotate it every 12 hours for 2 days, just to be absolutely certain. If you pack damp wool, you'll get mold growth on it in just a few days. I like to take a notecard, fold it in half and write the fleece type, year, and washed conditions on the front.

I keep records of Orry elsewhere because I have bought so many of his fleeces in the past. I'm quite familiar with his wool, so I'm really just concerned with which year this fleece came from (because wool characteristics can change from year to year, and as the animal ages, for some breeds of sheep) and how much the fleece weighed.

Other information you might want to include:

  1. Name of farm or shepherd
  2. Micron count (if known, or a guess if you want to do that)
  3. Name of sheep, and any other breed history you have access to (something like, sire was 100% merino and...mother?...was 75/25 merino/cormo)
  4. Whether it was the first clip or second clip....etc.
  5. Lamb v. Adult (lamb fleeces tend to be softer than the adult version in some breeds)
On the inside of the card, I record information about what I put in the bag, which will vary depending on which bag I'm holding. In this particular case, I wrote that this bag contains the prime cut of the fleece and how much it weighed. Because my fleece was heavily skirted before I got it, my prime fleece comprises most of my washed merino wool. Further, it was extremely clean to begin with, so I don't need to add many extra details to this part of the notecard. I don't have any specific projects in mind yet, so I didn't write that information down either. 

But, here is a list of things you might want to add to your own labels:
  1. How clean is it? If it has a lot of vegetable matter, you might want to include this here so you can decide when you plan to work on it..it'll take longer to get it free of vm.
  2. Is it matted or cotted? You may want to indicate that this bag is reserved for things like socks, mittens, or felting projects.
  3. Did you have to split your fleece into several bags? Indicate that with something like '1 of 2'.
  4. Will this be two sweaters some day? Write down the amounts of washed wool are needed for each project, just so you can get an idea for how much fleece will be leftover.

There is a lot of information you can include for your washed fleece before it heads into storage. Take mine as an example and develop your own record keeping system. I can tell you that I have absolutely no mystery wool in my stash...whatever does find its way in there, it was mystery wool before it came into my possession.

You can choose to store your wool in a cardboard box or a plastic tote, but with either method, you should check your stash every few months (if you can!) and clean the area around it to prevent pests from setting up their homes near your precious wool. I typically store my longer-term wool in a new cardboard box, like the kinds you get at U-Haul. You just want a sturdy box with thick walls, and preferably one large enough for you store the whole fleece of a single animal. I place a lavender sachet (like the one I made below) at the bottom of the box, place my fleece bundles, and put a sachet on either side of the box, respectively. Finish it off my placing one more sachet at the top. Close all openings with packing tape, especially the bottom.

The permeable characteristic of the cardboard will allow the wool inside to change relative humidity with temperature and environmental changes. This is important so that the wool won't become too wet or too dry while it's being stored..think about how erratic your hair becomes when the weather changes!

If you plan to store your wool in a tote, many of my methods will still apply. You should add in a couple of clean towels to the storage tote to help manage the relative humidity. The plastic won't allow the inside contents manage the relative humidity as easily, so if it becomes too moist inside, the water vapor will condense onto whatever is inside...gulp...your wool. It happens infrequently, but occasionally people discover that their wool has felted or become musty in plastic totes, and not properly managing the relative humidity inside the tote is the most likely cause. I prefer to store my short-term wool in plastic totes so I can grab a little bit here and there as needed for projects.

The lavender sachets I used were made from scrap fabric and lavender from my own garden. Each sachet contains a large handful of dried lavender leaves. Now, you don't need to go to this extreme since many Etsy shops sell lavender (and neem leaf) sachets inexpensively. You can even use lavender essential oil on some paper towels instead of sachets, though you'll need to reapply the essential oil every month or so to keep the fragrance strong.

Your fleece is now safely stored away, to be used when you're inspired or when you find a break in life. Wool can be stored in this way for many years. I can't really say what the shelf-life of wool really is, since it's contingent on many factors. But, if you keep it clean, check it regularly, and manage the relative humidity, you might be able to store a fleece for 30+ years!

I hope you have found this tutorial series useful and easy to follow. I know what it's like staring at your first fleece, not sure how you should proceed. :) Thanks for reading! Join me over on Facebook and Ravelry if you want to share your own fleece storage tips..there's so much we can learn from each other.