Originally called "2-in-1 Review: Fleece Book and Fleece Washing Product," this post was first published on my Wordpress blog on the 27th November 2013.
It’s been a while since I last wrote a review, so I thought I’d make up for it by writing about two different, yet related, products. Here’s the first:
I first came across this book a few months ago on a review by the wonderful podcasters The Knit Girllls, and decided to get it after they raved so much about it (for a list of books they’ve reviewed so far, go here.) The first thought on my mind after getting it was, “Why didn’t I get this before I sorted my very first fleece?”
The Spinner’s Book of Fleece by Beth Smith is a great resource indeed for spinners who want to knit with wool they’ve prepared from fleece to skein. Heavily illustrated so you always know what the author is talking about, the written explanations are also comprehensive and to the point, offering an often unique view on the fibres we’ve come to know and love – in fact, Beth Smith seems to be an expert in making us think twice about what exactly is a coarse wool, and why it’s worth taking a second glance at all the sheep breeds we’re so often told to disregard for spinning and knitting.
This book goes through all the stages of wool processing, from scouring to purchasing the right fleece, to storing it and keeping pests away. Beth Smith takes the time to explain the many ways you can turn a huge fleece into something wonderful to spin with, and even tackles briefly on the ways to spin it (and why). If you are a beginner spinner, the initial chapters take you by the hand and explain the basics of fibre prep to you; if you are a more experienced fibre connoisseur, her take on sheep breeds and this author’s unique way to divide them will certainly challenge all the information you’ve gained over the years on issues like what makes a good spinning fibre.
As you can see from the image above, knowing which parts of the fleece belong where originally and which to use for more consistent spinning are a must for any fibre addict. Imagine knowing that the shoulders part (7) is where the premium wool is and being able to insert this fact in a random conversation with friends (er…)
Beth Smith takes the time to explain why her views on types of fibre are slightly different from the usual, and I delighted in it: “I cringe when I hear any wool automatically classified as a rug wool. (…) I resist the tendency to hear the name of a certain breed and thoughtlessly judge it as not useful for clothing. Most wools can be used for some sort of clothing, and all wools have benefits for certain uses. (…) The secret is to choose well and then process and spin based on the desired end result.” (page 106)
So if you’re looking to be challenged to think differently, her words – and subsequent explanations – will certainly do that.
The author certainly encourages you to try new wools and use different methods for each end result you want, and explains why you don’t need to be using her exact breeds to get the same results – once you know what you want, and how to classify your sheep breed, you should know what to expect. She then proceeds to experiment with lots of different breeds and shows you her results – even the not-so-successful ones. What happens when you take a long wool and spin it for weaving? How about lace knitting? And different spinning techniques, how do they influence the end product? The results are endless and Beth Smith reminds you often of this fact.
After a brief explanation of each breed the author tries for the book, there are samples to look at. What happens when you spin BFL worsted style, or from the fold? Is a 2-ply yarn much different from a 3-ply for this type of fibre? Beth Smith takes you through all her experiments and encourages you to make your own. You won’t get much talk about finished garments, rather, there is ample conversation about the possibilities of each fibre, and the surprise some of them were. I only wish some of the ones mentioned were easier to find here in the UK, but U.S. readers will have ample opportunity to get their hands on a Tunis fleece, or a California Red.
All in all, I highly recommend buying this book if you’re interested in working with fleece.
Now, off to the second review of this post. In her book, Beth Smith talks about her favourite product to wash fleece, and why. Since I still have quite a few fleeces in need of some serious water and soap, and having despaired at how slow the whole process had been for me so far (and somewhat expensive – all that hot water, and copious amounts of detergent!) I decided to give her suggestion a try. Enter the Unicorn Power Scour.
If I loved the book that recommended it, I loved the product itself even more. I am completely sold on how great this raw wool wash is, having tried it a few times already.
The Unicorn Power Scour comes in a plastic bottle with a pump, so you know how much product you’re using each time. It claims you only need 5% product for the total weigh of the fibre, which to me sounds like one bottle can go a long way. Although it comes with usage instructions, it doesn’t tell you how much each pump weighs, but I asked Karen of Wildcraft and she was kind enough to use her own product and get back to me – it’s about 4g per pump. Thank you, Karen! That was great customer service.
The first time I tried this product I definitely used too much of it, because I was used to the high amounts of dishwashing detergent I needed to get a plastic tub worth of fleece. This means I am in a great position to tell you that using too much won’t wash the fibre better, so follow their instructions and you’ll save a lot of money. After some tweaking, my method is one-and-a-half pumps per plastic tub of hot water the first time, then one pump, then two rinses of hot water, and you’re done. Don’t expect the water to come out clean in the end, because it won’t, but your fleece will end up smelling great and looking great, retaining its original shine and just enough lanolin to prevent dryness and make for a great spinning experience.
I also use the same water for two tub-worths of fleece, and I don’t need to boil water on the kettle anymore (I just use hot water from the tap) so this means I wash twice the wool in half the time, with much less utilities consumption. This means that I am, veritably, processing my fleece four times faster with much less fuss! I went through a whole fleece in a week, with drying time in between, whereas it used to take me around a month for the same amount. Plus, the ingredients in this product are biodegradable, so they’re eco-friendly and that makes me very happy.
If you’ve read the book or tried the scour, let me know what you think. Also, if you happen to know of other fibre books or scouring agents I might want to try, write them down in the comments section. Thanks!