Felt resistance is futile

I am still waiting for the Norfolk horn to come back from the mill all spun up into what I hope is some wonderful sproingy feisty sheepy yarn. I am so anxious, its taking a very long time.  But the delay has given me lot of time to keep on with research into the Breeds history.

A fact that I keep coming across in my Norfolk Horn research is that its fleece is difficult to felt. It was this characteristic that made it not particularly desirable for the making of woollen cloths and probably went some way to explaining why it was the cheapest wool on the markets during the Medieval Wool Boom.

After weaving, woollen cloths are fulled. Fulling is a controlled process where the cloth is purposefully felted to shrink it slightly pulling the weave together to make a warm soft and light cloth. Clearly to make this process as economic as possible you would want a wool that felted with some degree of ease.

In contrast Worsted cloths are not fulled. They are cleaned and pressed to give a smooth silky surface that keeps any textural details that were woven in.

It is this resistance to felting that gave it its low price and is what made the Norfolk Horn so desirable to Norfolks Worsted cloth industry. If you have access to a plentiful supply of a cheap raw material you would be a bit of a dufus if you couldn’t come up with the perfect use for it. Wouldn’t you? It made perfect sense to make the best of what you had.

But just how felt resistant is Norfolk Horn wool?  Obviously this is another one of those not quite scientific investigations – we have no idea of what the ancestors of the modern Norfolk were like but we can surmise that the  wool characteristics would not have been too dissimilar.

Now, I was quite fussy about what I sent off to be processed by the mill. I really want this yarn to be the best it can be. So as you can imagine I have had quite a bit of reject ‘waste’ fleece left over. The stuff sprayed in various dayglo shades of orange, lime green and blue, the coarse stuff and daggy bits. That has been sat around under the eaves of the shed since last summer.

The really poopy nasty stuff I used as a mulch on the veg patch. The remainder is still useful and I had this in mind for insulating my workshop. When we built the workshop it was on a limited budget (is no budget a limited budget?). Running out of money when it came to things such as a window and a door.  Luckily Sean acquired a large sliding patio door that would fill the gap until I had saved enough to finish the job. Which is now.  Yay!  Bit late as the cold is now past.

I didn’t want to spend ages cleaning the fleece and as I wasn’t going to spin it. I thought I would experiment a bit and test out that felt resistance characteristic.  Actually that is a bit of a white lie, as you will find out as I recount this story.

I wondered what would happen if I shoved it through the washing machine. Normally I would carefully soak and hand wash  to preserve the lock structure and blah de blah. But who has time for that if its not going to be spun.

After an overnight soak in rain water from the butt the fleece was drained on a rack for a bit before putting it through a 40oC wool wash cycle.

IMG_20180314_165539987And it was amazing!  Fluffly, clean, unfelted.  I could actually work with this and spin it!

The second batch was again put in the butt water overnight, drained and then…

Sean “ do you want me to put this through the wash?”

Me, from the garden “yes please that would be great. Put it on 40oC”

Sean “ok”

Should I have mentioned that would be a Wool wash cycle?  It was fairly self-evident it was wool, wasn’t it?

Well apparently not. This is what happened on the normal 40oC cycle:

IMG_20180314_165329278

So what are the magic three things you need to felt wool? Heat, soap and agitation.

The results of this suggest that yes Norfolk Horn is indeed resistant to felting. But it is not entirely immune.

Not to worry, I have the felted fleece dried and bagged. I’m sure I can find a use for it somewhere. Ideas welcome.

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