Why buy items made from wool or spend hours making things from wool when it is so high maintenance and there are so many synthetic ‘easy care’ ready made items of clothing/ carpets/ rugs out there? Well, the manufacturers of the synthetic products have done a really good job of advertising those products and they’ve made a lot of money. But I think more and more people are becoming aware of the short comings of these fabrics and how good our natural fabrics actually are. Maybe you can’t just throw your handmade woolens in the washing machine and tumble drier – or can you? I’ll come onto that in a minute.
Wool is actually quite awesome. Completely natural and renewable. Anything you wear made from wool keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer. It does not need washing nearly as often as any other fabric. Even socks can be worn for several days without washing as long as they are aired at the end of each day, and your wool carpets will not need a coating of chemicals on them to resist the dirt. Wool does that anyway.
Wool has a memory; it’s elastic. It takes dyes easily, even completely natural ones and it already comes in a range of colours straight from the sheep!
There are literally hundreds of breeds of sheep all of which produce wool with different characteristics. Some produce really fine soft wool to make baby clothes from (obviously, that’s not why the sheep produce fine wool), some produce wool that is suitable for outer clothing like coats while others produce wool which is really tough and can be made into bags, rugs and carpets. The others fall somewhere in between.
Caring for your woolens:
So, first of all what to wash it with? You could use just water! What you must not use is your standard chemical laden biological detergent, however tempting that maybe. Biological detergents contain enzymes which eat and destroy wool. So, unfortunately, you do need a special cleanser made for wool – they have a woolmark symbol on them:
If you don’t have any in or don’t want to buy one just for your woolens just use water; it should work fine. There are lots on the market such as Eucalan Lavender 100ml No Rinse Delicate Wash. I use NIL Ecover Delicate 500 ml which has the woolmark image on the front.
Can you put your woolens in the washing machine? Well, yes and no. It depends. (Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.) Some wool is ‘super-wash’ treated. Most shop-bought wool garments will be super-washed and can be put in the washing machine. But always put it in a netting laundry bag first to stop it stretching. Many people also partially tumble dry these items on the lowest temperature setting. Personally, I have never been brave enough to do that so couldn’t recommend it.
Also, some sheep produce wool that does not felt easily, such as wool from the Perendale sheep, so items made from their wool should also be fine to put in the machine without it felting. Oh yes felting. You know the ‘felt’ fabric we’ve all used (especially as children) to make small items or to add decorative applique to things because it does not fray. It’s the same thing (in fairness nowadays most felt is synthetic but traditionally and in my house felt is made from wool) and you don’t want your gorgeous wool jumper turning into that! Most wool will felt, though, if you subject it to too high temperatures, sudden temperature changes, or just by agitating it. This sounds scary but is actually a really good excuse to do less.
Washing wool is really easy:
- Pour slightly warm water into the sink and add a cap full of wool wash.
- Drop your wool item onto the top of the water.
- Go and have a cup of coffee or catch up on your emails for twenty minutes.
- When your wool garment has sunk to the bottom, you know it has absorbed enough water and cleanser.
- Drain the water and refill with water of the same temperature to rinse without agitating your woolen. (Some wool cleansers do not even require rinsing.)
- Rinse once more then drain.
- Very gently squeeze out the excess water.
- Roll your wet garment up in a towel and squash to remove as much water as you can.
- Gently pull your garment back into shape and air dry flat, out of direct sunlight. I have a Leifheit 72408 Mesh Clothes Drying Rack Sensitive Air which is a folding, pop-up net hoop which is very good for this as it can be rested across the bath.
Remember to make sure it is completely dry before packing away as wool can feel dry but still contain over thirty percent water!
Moths are attracted to wool so you do need to protect your woolens from attack. Traditionally cedar chests or cedar lined drawers were used to store items to prevent insect infestation and this is still the best method today. Most of us don’t have cedar chests of drawers, though, and have to resort to sealing them in plastic bags. I really don’t like plastic but it is very effective in keeping out moths. It also doesn’t hurt to have a few draw string bags or bowls of wood shavings impregnated with drops of lavender or cedar essential oils nearby. Just like our grannies used to do.
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