I'm back to report on my progress with Alaska's fur. I weighed out a precious 20g sample, put it in a net bag and washed the fibre in Unicorn Power Scour. I think I have tried most methods when it comes to washing raw fibre. My first Black Welsh Mountain fleece I naively bunged straight in the washing machine without removing the daggings. Daggings are what happens when sheep use the wool on their tail and back end as toilet paper. Amazingly, the fleece didn't felt, Welsh Mountain fleece is forgiving, but the poo was well distributed and for a while, no longer dry.
I had a run of washing fleeces in washing up liquid, cheap and good at removing grease. However, when I finally got around to digging those fleeces out of storage to spin, the fibre was brittle and useless, whether or not that was the fault of the washing up liquid I don't know but they were good fleeces when they left the sheep; I think washing liquid is best left for dishes.
After that unpleasant experience I acquired a load of stinking angora goat fleece. Deciding this was delicate hair not greasy wool, I used baby shampoo. This seemed to work but took so many washes to remove all the dirt. I discovered the Unicorn range at Fibrefest, Coldharbour Mill in Devon. I was so relieved to find a specialist product designed for washing raw fleece, it's not exactly the kind of thing you find on the shelf in the supermarket. Now any fibre I wash at home, including shop bought wool jumpers, I use a Unicorn product.
With the sample of dog fur, I did one wash, rinsed a few times, then gave the fibre a second wash in Power Scour. The fibre has a tendency to clump together into balls which resist water penetration. Has anyone else noticed this? Has anyone tried to wash a huskie? Is it hard to get them wet? I wonder if this is a defence mechanism, with a thick woolly coat like a husky's I can imagine there would be a danger of becoming waterlogged if the dog was submerged. If a sheep falls into water the fleece gets wet and heavy and the sheep can easily drown. Also I guess when you live in a cold climate, taking a long time to dry out is likely to cause hypothermia. I don't know, I'm just speculating. I ended up pulling the clumps apart in between washes so the water could do its job.
The hardest part of washing fibre, I find, is leaving it alone. I want to feel like I'm doing something, which generally means giving the fibre a jolly good rub, the way housewives did their laundry before the days of washing machines. Rubbing is the worse thing you can do, felting occurs when you bring together heat, soap and friction, and felting is irreversible. With sheep's wool, felting happens when the barbs along the fibres become tangled up and locked together, although hair doesn't have those barbs, a version of felting can occur with hair fibres. The machine washable wool jumpers you buy in the shop are made from wool which has been stripped of its barbs, how they do that I don't know but it's another process the fibre has been through and no doubt a load more fossil fuel burnt.
The best way to wash fibre (or a finished garment) is to leave it to soak. All you have to do is keep changing the water. It is important to keep the water at a similar temperature as fibres are 'shocked' by sudden changes of temperature and this can induce the dreaded felting. This time of year especially, the cold water straight from the tap is really cold so even when rinsing you need to use warm water. I think I'd protest too if I was enjoying a hot bath and someone took me out and plunged me into icy cold water.
After washing, I put the dog fur, still in its net bag, into a pillow case and gave it a short spin in the washing machine on the slowest speed. That first sample is now dry. I am happy to report, the fibre no longer smells of dog! The conclusion to this scientific experiment is that Power Scour is effective against the smell of dog.
I am now working my way through the rest of the dog fur, I found washing small amounts in separate net bags one way of combating the clumping tendency. Once all the fibre is washed and dry I will be back to report on the carding and spinning!