Prepping Greasy handspun yarn
Not too long ago, my dearest friend and fellow yarnie Sarah sent me home with some handspun yarn. Wool, for sure, but what kind is anyone’s guess. She had gotten it from a friend who had gotten it from someone else, and apparently nobody knew what to do with it. Therefore, it was passed on down the line, ending with me. This yarn is lovely, spun by someone who clearly knew what they were doing. There was one little problem… It was spun in the grease.
Now that’s not ALWAYS a problem; plenty of spinners choose to spin in the grease. In fact, I’ve done it once myself (and hated every minute, haha.) I knew when she handed it over and I felt it, that I was going to have to do some serious cleaning up of this yarn before I could use it for anything. So now, since I’m in the middle of my annual psycho-creative period, you get to follow along with me on a mini-adventure where we learn what it means for a yarn to be spun in the grease, how to clean it up, and why. While we’re at it, we’re also going to measure and reskein this lovely sheepy stuff as it came with no tags and I need to know what we’re working with.
What does it mean to be spun in the grease?
As we all know, wool comes from sheep. Sheep produce lanolin, a waxy coating that keeps their wool water resistant. This is why wool diaper covers are usually lanolized: lanolin is added to the diaper cover so that it doesn’t leak.
Sometimes, when a sheep is sheered and the fleece is skirted, it is then spun without being washed first. This is called “spinning in the grease.” I’ve done it one time and one time only, and I hated every minute! My hands felt like they had had a spa treatment, sure, but the experience was a weird mixture of gooey/creamy/crunchy. Not to mention that raw lanolin has a very strong scent. Not bad, exactly, but STRONG!
Let's get this stuff clean!
This yarn is very heavily greasy, so I knew it was going to take more than a quick wash to get all this lanolin out. I filled my plastic tub with hot water and a big squirt of original Palmolive dish soap. I was only able to comfortably fit two skeins at a time, so everything I did, I had to do again. Let me tell you, this was no easy washing. I had to fill the tub with hot water and dish soap TWICE and then rinse in clear hot water for both sets of skeins.
After the final rinse, I squeezed out as much water as I could, and then took them out onto the deck and gave them a good twirling to spin out the rest of the water. They were then hung on hangers to dry in the laundry room. The yarn still felt a bit waxy, but at this point I’m thinking they should be clean enough to knit or crochet with. I can always wash the finished product really, really well before blocking, and the wool wash I use on finished objects is amazing. It really gets everything super clean! So this will be good enough for now.
And now we have a problem...
After roughly 48 hours, this gorgeous yarn was dry and ready to be measured and reskeined. I got out the swift, ball winder, and my yardage counter so that I could find out how much yarn I’m working with.
This yarn is so coarse, so thick, and still so loaded with lanolin (after TWO dish soap washes HOW???) that it BROKE MY FREAKING COUNTER! Okay, so it’s a cheap-ass counter anyway and I’ve been telling myself I need to get another one. But I don’t HAVE another one right now. Ugh.
Feeling somewhat disgusted right now. That’s okay, gonna keep going. I finally got all four skeins wound into balls, and decided to just leave them as is to save myself the hassle of reskeining. Furthermore, I can knit or crochet directly from the center-pull balls so reskeining would actually be hurting me anyway. At this point, I’m finished. And I need a new (and better) yarn meter, so off to make a purchase. Now I get to try to figure out what this yarn wants to be. Mitts, maybe? I’m thinking yes because if worn on the hands, the lanolin in this still-greasy yarn will offer a built-in spa treatment, and who wouldn’t want that?
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