Washing

 

Producers bring raw wool to us to process. It is called raw wool because it has just been shorn off of the sheep and no processing has been done to it yet. Producers shear the sheep at least once a year; the result is a fleece that weighs between 5 and 10 pounds depending on the size and breed of sheep, and has fibers between 1 1/2 to 5 inches in length. Wool that contains a small amount of vegetable matter can be cleaned without heavy use of chemicals.

For more information about where our raw wool comes from, read our blog, The Canadian Wool We Use and How it is Grown.

Fen sorting raw fleece, photo courtesy of The Lethbridge Herald. 

 

The Custom Woolen Mills wash system is originally from the mill in Sifton, Manitoba. We start by hand-sorting the raw fleece and feeding it into a "duster" that pulls it into tulfts and allows short wool fibres, dirt, and vegetable matter to drop off into a collection bin. The tufts of wool are then fed into what is called a two-bowl wash system; a wash tank with detergent and a rinse tank with pure water. We use a mild, plant-based, biodegradible detergent to help remove dirt and manure that may be in the wool. Wool grease (or lanolin, when refined) is a secretion from the sheep's sebaceous glands that is present in raw wool. Most of the wool grease is washed out by using water heated past the lanolin melting point (120F). The wool fibres, dirt, and vegetable matter from the duster collection bin and the manure that settles to the bottom of the wash tanks are later combined with straw and composted; wool is high in nitrogen content and creates excellent compost that also holds moisture. 

The wash area, photo courtesy of The Lethbridge Herald.

 

Once the wool is washed it is put in a centrifuge to spin out excess water and then dried.

 

Larger industrial mills use systems with several bowls containing various chemicals to remove vegetable matter, whiten, moth proof, or superwash treat the wool. At Custom Woolen Mills, we do not use these processes because we believe they are hard on the environment, have unknown longterm consequences to human health, weaken the wool fibres, and reduce the effectiveness of wool's natural qualities. As a result, while we work very hard to minimize the amount of vegetable matter in our finished products by carefully hand-sorting the fleeces prior to washing, some vegetable matter remains. All of our white wool products are a natural white colour, not a bleached white.

 

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Dyeing