Fermented sheep sweat sure shifts sheep shit. This is a scatological post that could make those of a delicate disposition lose their lunch. Scroll down and read on at your own risk.
It seems ages ago that I blogged about spinning in the grease. I thought at the time that this meant just carding out the debris and spinning the wool, before washing the spun yarn. If the starting material is a pretty clean fleece that has been 'skirted', which means it has had all the truly matted and filthy bits pulled off, then I would still say this option is fine by me. However, I now know that this is not exactly 'spinning in the grease'.
There are often sheep in a field I sometimes walk through with the dog. I have been eyeing them up all spring, wondering what their wool might be like to spin. A few weeks ago, I saw they were shorn. Now or never. I steeled my nerve and knocked on the farmhouse door to ask if I could buy a fleece. The farmer was mildly amused. Very kindly, he bundled one into a sack and just gave it to me, saying 'You sure you want this?' While I was thrilled to bits, when I laid it out on the lawn, I realised that even a dung beetle would not give it houseroom.
My wonderful gift of a local Suffolk fleece badly needed cleaning. Endless series of hot detergent washes and rinses of small portions, was an horrendous prospect. Now nobody spins to save time, but preparing the fleece is not my absolute favorite bit. I am sure I am not alone, because loads of people buy batts and roving that are just about ready to spin straight away.
I was half tempted to quietly bin the whole thing, til I read this excellent blog by Moz. In it, she explains fermented suint. The salts in the sheep sweat plus the grease on the wool can combine to make a natural soap. This cleans the worst of the dirt off a fleece, while leaving enough lanolin on to make handling the spinning easier. No effort or heat required. The result is a fleece that is truly prepared to spin in the grease, but not in the grub.
Would you believe it, pretty much all you need to begin is a really honking sheep fleece and a huge bucket of water. I beetled off pronto to buy a 90 litre plastic storage box with a fitted lid, as recommended. An old net curtain lines the box, to help lift the fleece out again. You are supposed to use rainwater, but our local supply is soft - there is never any scale in the kettle - and the pH is very slightly alkaline. I tested it with litmus paper and it came up exactly the same as the rain. So in went the garden hose, filled it up - what had I got to lose?
A few days later, not much seemed to have happened. I gave it the full week, then pulled the fleece out and let the water drain back into the box. The strong farmyard smell was encouraging. Something was certainly festering, if not fermenting in there.
Spot the difference?
Before I got the Suffolk dried, I had committed my lovely Gotland locks to the stinky brown depths. Although they were pretty clear of debris, these sheep are heavy with grease and as I have blogged on endlessly, very inclined to felt. Since this method involves no agitation and no heat, suint had to be right - but was it all too easy?
Watching Elinor the Gotland sink into the mire still seemed an awful gamble. Waiting a couple of days for the suint to act, then waiting for the rinses to complete was a right worry. Of course, it worked a treat. Elinor the Gotland was clean and dry in good time for the Tour de Fleece. The rinse water (dilute sheep fertiliser) has also cheered up my tomatoes no end. Thanks a million Moz!