Washing wool in the NC springtime

3/30/12

Today is so beautiful outside. I’ve spent two or three hours each day this week working through wool “seconds” from shearing, so the mediocre wool, that takes a long time to process, can be used for lovely yarn. Neck wool falls into this category, and it’s the softest, finest wool on the sheep. Trouble is, as sheep eat, they take a bite of hay, pull their head up and turn their head to see whether another sheep may have a better selection of hay next to them, and sift bits of chaff down on the heads of the animals on both sides of them. I have coats on the sheep beginning the end of the summer when their wool is long enough for the hay to stick, so the wool in their backs and necks are somewhat protected, but living in a barn is a messy business… Working over this dirty fleece involves carding the tips of the locks to remove hay and second cuts, the bits only around 1/4” long which the shearer occasionally makes when he smooths off the side of the previous clip. Grass and hay have to come out, or the wool will be itchy. And then I drop the locks in a bowl of warm water, solar heated, with a good amount of cheap and fragrant shampoo. Washed wool needs not to smell like wool, or moths will want to nest in it. The soap melts the lanolin and dirt off the wool, so I can process it inside the house with enjoyment when it dries. Lanolin needs to be removed within a year of shearing or it will turn to something like chewing gum and be impossible to soak off. Since tree blossoms are now raining down, I leave the fleece outside for a few hours, then bring it in to finish drying inside, so it won’t accumulate any more pollen and debris than necessary. I have several old window screens that do just fine for wool drying racks. Another blessing of this work is that my skin is soft and pliable after this immersion in lanolin. There’s good reason for this element to be included in the best hand lotions, especially for nursing mothers, and the feet of diabetics.

While I stand there working over the wool, I listen to podcasts from my favorite NPR channels, “State of Things,” “Diane Rehm,” or “The Story.” I watch red-breasted woodpeckers hang from the side of a feeder heaped with “chickadee seed,” loaded with nuts, and enjoy breakfast. Cardinals come after sunflower seeds, and very small chipping sparrows like the thistle seed and millet best. Titmouses and chicadees seem to feast on anything on the buffet line. Parasitic cowbirds have arrived, and I wish I could dispense with them, but I don’t have a gun. They lay eggs in the nests of other birds, and their large and aggressive babies toss songbird infants out of the nest to die. If anyone wants to come over and trap them somehow, you’re welcome. They must be good for something. If they stayed in the pasture and ate flies, I wouldn’t mind as much, but I certainly hate to think of paying for their breakfast.

In flower are azelias, dogwood, holly (white flowers, the bush seems to move with all the tiny insects hovering over these sweet blooms), wonderful fragrant southern lilac, (see picture of syringa with tiger swallowtail butterfly) and plenty of pine, the tips of their branches fluorescent yellow with pollen. Thanks to this abundance of spring and surge of life in all the trees and grasses, I’m taking several different allergy preparations, and need to wear a mask outside, and wheeze when I come back in–the price of enjoying my environment. Temperature has been reaching the mid-80’s during the day, so I try to finish by lunchtime with outside work. As the summer progresses, that time becomes much earlier, usually in mid-summer I will return to the house by 9 a.m.–too hot and humid for me out there.

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Filed under Birds, Compromises, gardening, Health, sheep, spinning, wildlife

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