In business, things are cyclical. Or so they seem. For instance, we rarely do super-size comforters. Our frame can be opened to accommodate up to a 118" x 118" comforter but we probably make about 4 per year at that size. So far this month??? We have had orders for three over-sized, monster comforters. After over twenty years of doing this, I still don’t really get why that happens.
Also cyclical are questions. This month we have had at least five inquiries asking if our wool has a smell to it. It has sort of taken me by surprise because 1) our wool doesn't smell so I don't think about that being a possibility and 2) people sell bedding that smells? Ick.
So this being sort of a new (maybe cyclical) inquiry, I went to our resident wool expert and production manager, John E, and talked with him about what we do differently. Here's the wooly lowdown:
When our Climate Beneficial wool is delivered to the Mill, it's delivered in large bales on pallets and comes right off the hoof. Meaning it was just sheared from the sheep. Naturally, the wool is dirty and has everything you might find in a barnyard it in. There are things such as hay, chaff, burrs, seeds, etc. etc. Barnyard kind of stuff. Now it's our job to clean it up, remove the organic vegetation and make it into something usable.
To wash Climate Beneficial wool, about eight pounds of dirty wool is placed in old fashioned, cast iron bathtubs and soaked in 180 degree water. After the tubs are full of water and wool; organic, unscented, bio-degradable soap is added and everything is swished around with a pitch fork.
This process lasts about an hour with the goal of removing most of the natural lanolin. Lanolin is the natural oil in sheep's wool and is mostly responsible for that 'barnyard smell' people are asking about.
SIDENOTE: Eight pounds of raw (unwashed) wool will finish at four pounds. Wool loses about half its weight in cleaning and processing. Four pounds of processed wool is the weight used in a queen comforter. So…. one bathtub of wool will become the wool for approximately one queen comforter.
When giving tours, a common question is why not fill the tub more with wool? Couldn't you get more done? Of course we could pack the bathtubs full but it wouldn't be as clean. It's sort of like washing dishes by hand ~ you can't wash all the Thanksgiving china in only one sink full of water and think they won't have spots. It's the same with wool.
After the wool is washed it needs to be rinsed. And rinsed..... And rinsed..... A good rinse is paramount to good wool.
To rinse, the wool is taken out of the bathtubs and placed in our circa 1890's extractor and hosed down with 180 degree water. After it has a good dousing, the extractor is turned on and it spins much like the spin cycle on a washing machine. It whirs like a top, and while it's whirring, the wool is hit one last time with hot water. And finally.... it is clean.
The last step in perfectly clean smelling wool is drying. The wool is dried on racks that look like screen doors laid flat. It dries there for 3 to 5 days depending on the time of year and each day someone tugs and pulls at the wool so the fiber is open and dry throughout. It doesn't go in a dryer, it air dries ~ the old fashioned way. Clothes off a line always smell more fresh than clothes dried in a dryer. It's the same thing with wool.
While none of the steps above seem difficult on their own, it's pretty exacting to get every little step perfect. Water has to be HOT, bathtubs have to be filled appropriately, rinsing has to leave no residue and drying needs to be complete. If it all happens correctly, and naturally, the wool is soft, fresh and ready to be processed into the filling for bedding.
For us, at the Frankenmuth Woolen Mill, washing is easy because we have been doing it almost every day for over 124 years. We just know how to wash and process wool. It's our promise that wool bedding made at the Frankenmuth Woolen Mill will always be clean and fresh with no 'sheepy' scent.