Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Washable leather???

Since I posted about my new Icelandic sheep pelts for this year a number of people have asked me about the care of them. One question that repeatedly comes up is about the fact that my skins are washable---yes washable. No dry cleaning necessary.
I don't know exactly how they tan them so that they are washable instead of needing dry cleaning but I think it is great. Since they are washable this makes them extra functional because they can be used for babies, the elderly who sit or lay for long times (reduces those "bed sores"), trim on jackets, dresses, purses, dog coats for beloved pets---you name it. The Icelandic in particular is good for trimming clothing since it looks a bit more like a fur than most sheep pelts do. Add that to the endless color range and you can match just about anything with one of them.

Anyway, we don't use dry cleaning, even for our wool, cashmere, mohair, alpaca or other fibers made into scarves and sweaters. Why? Because it is hard on the environment. Traditionally all people washed their wool products by hand since in up until recently there were no dry cleaners in the local villages. I figured if they could wash their wool by hand--then I could too. However it took me a number of years to understand just exactly why and how to wash a sweater of wool/cashmere/alpaca without ruining one once in a while. So instead of you stumbling through it here are some tried and true directions that I will tell you for those of you that don't know how to do it. We find many people don't understand this issue and we spend much time at fairs telling people how to wash their clothes so they don't have to dry clean. I will give instructions for washing both "washable" pelts and your lovely natural fiber clothing.
First the pelts:

Washable pelts----the company has differing directions than I, but if you didn't quite pay attention you could end up ruining your pelt. The way I prefer to wash them is by running medium temp. water (not to hot, not to cold) into a tub with some soap. Soap can be dish soap, your favorite body wash, shampoo etc. Some soaps are more drying than others so keep that in mind when choosing. Lay the pelt into the tub upside down---in other words you want the fiber in the water and the skin facing up. The skin will get wet which is fine but by having the fiber "hang" into the water allows it to get clean better.
Let it soak in the water for about an hour. Drain the soapy water out, then while keeping the pelt away from the running water refill the tub with clear water to rinse in. Again, let sit about an hour. Drain. At this point you can quickly get it out of the house wrapped in a towel (to absorb some of the water that's going to try and wet your floor) or you can put it into your washing machine and let it spin out. IF you choose the washing machine---DO NOT let water run in and pound onto the pelt during the spin cycle. That can cause felting of the fibers and though you will still have a functional product----it won't look nearly as nice as it did. Next---lay, drape or hang it to dry. Gently stretching it a few times during this process just so edges don't curl up a bit. Some people then put the pelt in the dryer with a tennis ball and NO HEAT air to tumble and re-fluff the fibers. I prefer just finger combing and maybe using a gentle bit of dog brush----don't get too aggressive though. This isn't your daughter long tangly morning hair :-) Voila! a beautiful clean pelt.

Now sweaters from natural fibers.
Almost the same idea as the pelt. Again---medium temp water with soap and let it soak. Then medium temp. clear water to soak for a rinse. Again---you can then spin them out in the washing machine but DO NOT allow water to rush in and "pound" them during the spin cycle. The pounding of the water AND the movement allows the cuticles in the fiber (which at this point is slightly expanded from heat and the soapy water) to "grab" the cuticles in the neighboring strands and then as they cool the stay stuck together and then you have felting. So, as long as you spin---but don't pound with water which is a form of agitation---you won't have felting and your sweater won't shrink. Every time you have a natural fiber sweater shrink---it has gone through a form of felting: combos of hot water, soap and agitation.
My choice though is not to put it EVER into the washing machine---since I have a tendency to walk away and forget things. So I just pull my sweaters out of the tub---GENTLY GENTLY GENTLY lightly (get the hint?) lightly squeeze just enough water out of the sweater that it isn't going to flood the floor and then lay it into a towel. Roll the towel and just press on it to extract a bit more water. Take your sweater and lay it out to dry on a rack or something---not a cloths line that will distort it. Shaping it slightly since all natural fibers like to "move" a bit and your sweater was shaped the day they finished knitting it to make it look the way it does. Shaping is a natural process and does not mean that you ruined it---most commercially machine knit sweaters don't require quite as much shaping as a hand knit sweater does. Hand knitting is unique each day---today I am tired and my knitting is a bit looser and tomorrow I am tense or in a hurry and it is tighter so it creates a bit of "movement" in the finished product. Nothing wrong with this at all---just that when you wash you may need to shape it (or block as it is truly known) a bit.

Hope that helps some of you out there. If you are concerned with your technique---start with a pair of mittens or a scarf. If you don't scrub, twist, wring or let water "pound" onto your items---you will do fine. It's a lot easier than you think---if everyone knew this the cleaners wouldn't have nearly the business they do.

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