Sheep to Sweater – Part 4: Suint vat cleaning method

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With the holidays behind us and a break in the bad weather I was finally able to get back to the Sheep to Sweater project and the fermented suint vat that I discussed in the last fleece-washing video.

Talk about a smelly experience! This method is not recommended unless you have a dedicated washing space and/or can ferment, wash and dry your fleece outdoors, and even then it still has a pungent and lingering odor, so proceed with caution if you decide to try this one.

To make a suint vat, you’ll need a non-reactive tub or container that can hold a fleece and several gallons of water. I used a clear plastic tote, but you could use an old wash basin or bath tub.

Fill the vat about half full with tepid water, and immerse your skirted fleece in the water. Gently push the fleece down until the whole thing is submerged and add more water as needed to slightly cover the wool. Leave in place, uncovered or lightly covered to allow for off-gassing, in a warm but not hot place (heated room in winter; shaded place outdoors in summer) for a couple of weeks.

As the vat works, the bacteria should begin to break down some of the dirt and sticky lanolin on the fleece. After a couple of weeks, lift the fleece out of the dirty water and allow to drain, then rinse in hot water (detergent optional) until all of the dirt and lanolin are removed. Press out the excess water gently and lay the fleece to dry on a surface where air can circulate from above and below. You can re-use the dirty suint vat and keep washing fleeces this way, apparently the dirtier and funkier the water gets the better it will clean.

If the resulting wool or yarn retains a strong odor after washing, do a final soak and rinse using activated charcoal (available from craft suppliers or health food stores) to absorb and help neutralize the smell.

Published by Sarah Scully

Sarah is the owner/operator of Vermont Natural Sheepskins. She is an avid knitter and knitwear designer. She also enjoys cooking and gardening.

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