Some spinners simply love the feel of raw wool and prefer to spin it "in the grease" and then wash the yarn after it has been spun.
If you're new to spinning, read on to learn more about this raw wool technique!
"In the grease" simply means greasy wool, or raw wool. Wool that has been freshly shorn off the sheep. When you feel this wool it can feel oily or even sticky. The substance that makes it feel that way is called lanolin.
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What is the purpose of Lanolin?
Lanolin is known for it's moisturizing properties and is an ingredient in many natural products including lip balms, creams, salves, and lotions. The purpose of lanolin is to protect sheep's skin and wool against the elements in nature. Lanolin can account for up to 25% of the weight of a greasy fleece, depending on the breed of sheep. Some sheep produce more lanolin in their wool than others. Merino and other fine wool breeds often are more "lanoliny" than primitive or long wool breeds of sheep.
Lanolin is water resistant
Another useful property of lanolin is that it makes fiber water resistant, which helps keep you warmer when wearing wool in the rain.
Just as the lanolin keeps the sheep from getting too chilled by wet, cold, fiber - it does the same for knit outerwear. This is one of the reasons that many spinners will choose to spin their wool "in the grease".
Lanolin feels good to spin.
Some spinners simply love the feel of raw wool and prefer to spin it in the grease and then wash the yarn after it has been spun. This is just a matter of preference. If you're new to spinning, why not try spinning a yarn straight from the fleece to see what you think. Try comparing the difference between a yarn that you spun from already washed fleece, and one you spun in the grease from that same fleece and washed afterwards. What properties do you find?
Many spinners find that, since they will be soaking their handspun yarn to set the twist after spinning anyway, washing out the lanolin during this twist-setting step saves them time.
Choosing a fleece for spinning in the grease
When choosing a wool for spinning in the grease, find one that has been coated. This means the sheep wore a light coat while growing the wool, which has kept most of the hay and vegetable matter from getting into their fleece. A greasy fleece that is full of vegetable matter will result in a greasy yarn full of vegetable matter.
Only use clean wool on your fiber processing equipment
This is an easy way to make sure your equipment stays clean. Washing a drum carder from lanolin is nearly impossible, so most of the time when you are spinning "in the grease" you will be spinning directly from the locks unless you have a specific set of combs or hand cards that you use only for raw wool. Spinning wool in the grease will not damage your spinning wheel.
Scouring raw wool
If your wool is very greasy, you can scour it (soak it in very very hot water without soap) to remove some of the grease while still keeping the water resistant qualities of the yarn. It is the addition of soap to the wash that removes a majority of the lanolin.
So, if you decide you really don't like the feel of your greasy yarn once it has been spun, wash it gently in hot very soapy water and you'll be able to remove nearly all the lanolin.