Do-it-yourself projects and plans for anyone who can swing a hammer.

Empowered in the Powder Room

Bathroom Floor Before Any Work 

Moving into a once-abandoned foreclosure means that someone else's headaches have become your own. The first thing we had to address was a hole in the floor of the front bathroom. It's easier to fix this if you first remove the toilet and, if possible, the sink and cabinet or whatever else there might be. Toilets are easy. You turn off the water from behind the toilet (VERY important unless you want to be sprayed in the face in the next step) and then disconnect the hose from the toilet tank. Usually, there will be bolts that hold the toilet to the floor that may have round covers to protect them from corrosion. Toilets aren't terribly heavy, but if you haven't thought of it until now, pee before you take the toilets out, especially if you only have one and have no close neighbors who will let you in to use theirs while you work. Removing the sink and cabinet is similar, as far as turning off water and disconnecting hoses. If the sink seems to be adamant about remaining in place, just work around it. Unless your goal is to add more extensive work to your project.

The next step is to remove whatever remains of the flooring, in this case tiles that stick on rather like a child's collection of good behavior points. (There was nothing good about these bathrooms.) This step is more of a fork in the road. The proper way is to remove the subflooring, the wooden layer that is the actual floor on which everything else sits. Doing this is extremely time consuming. Since my plan is to have a new house built at some point, I took the lazy fork and left the original subfloor intact. I put new subfloor on top of old, relying on whatever remaining strength the old one had left in it. If you go this route, check to see that your bathroom door will close with this added height, even though it's really only a teensy bit.

Creating new subfloor is easiest if you get some graph paper and assign a size for each little box, like one box equals one inch or six boxes equal one foot. Then, you make a pattern on your paper that matches your floor. A word of caution: If you are doing this in an older house, be aware that right angles no longer exist! While it may seem that Pythagoras hadn't invented his theorem until about five years before you moved into your abode, it's more likely that the ground has settled under it and shifted things around. And it could also be that the previous owners wanted to save money as much as you did and literally cut corners in the process. While my house did not have much of this to deal with, I helped my sister with her bathroom and learned that bell bottoms weren't the only things that expanded as they went on. The trick in that case is to measure each corner and then draw lines from one corner to another. This is hard to describe, but you are basically drawing shapes onto your wood rather than making perfect squares and rectangles. Don't think measuring one wall or area will do it for you.

Once you have sketched out how the floor looks, you need to buy the new subfloor. The flooring usually comes in boards that are 4' x 8', so cut a couple of pieces of graph paper that correlate to that size. Move them around on your paper floor, so that you can see how best to cut the boards and how many you will need. I have made the mistake of guessing at the boards and making unnecessary cuts when I could have just looked it at with my graph puzzle pieces to assess the easiest way to get the pieces in place.

Now to the hardware store. Not all hardware workers are created equal. If you don't already have a couple of workers that you know well enough to assess their strengths and weaknesses, pick the one who looks like someone you would hire for this project. Don't be afraid to tell them that you are jumping into this on your own. Most big stores will cut the wood for you if the amount is more than one foot, so you are on your own for narrow wedges that slip between the sink and the wall or between the sink and tub. If you don't have a truck, have them cut bigger pieces down just enough to slide into your backseat (which you need to measure before going into the store). (If you're on a motorcycle, make a new friend or take up knitting; this project isn't for you.

Once you get your pieces home, you will still need to do some cutting with a jigsaw in order to get around that toilet hole in the floor (unless you have one of those rare side-flushing toilets). It's not terribly hard, so I've included a photo of how mine looked. I attached my subfloor with deck screws that are galvanized, which means they aren't supposed to rust too easily. I am sure there are a few fancier professional techniques, but when was the last time you walked into your friend's bathroom and exclaimed “why, Susan! Your floor in here is all wrong! You used the wrong technique on your subfloor!”

Bathroom Floor and some accidental spray paint

The final step is to put on new flooring. In the house I intend to live in and love, I will do a different flooring. For this place, I bought a cheap roll of flooring that required floor glue smeared in arches in order to attach it to the subfloor; a longer explanation is needed here but will need to wait for another time. For now, I hope you have gained a little courage in the knowledge that fixing a floor isn't as daunting as you thought.

Ann B. operates Poison Ivy Soap Company, the business founded 24 years ago by her parents as a hobby. The company focuses on creating holistic products to help ease life's discomforts. Ann is building an Arkansas homestead from the ground up. Follow the company on Facebook and Instagram, and follow Ann on Facebook. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here. 



firewood storage 

 Firewood Holder

Things wear out and break over time. Such was the case with the rear blade for our tractor. Life in the mountains can be tough on equipment and people and our rear blade had broken and had been welded but it subsequently broke again in the same place. We therefore replaced the blade and had to decide what to do with the broken blade. We are always on the lookout for something to re-purpose and this was no exception. 

Reducing The Tractor Blade To Parts:

Tractor blades are made of thick heavy steel and in order to envision its re-purpose it first had to be reduced to separate parts. As I surveyed the disassembled parts it was with a vision as to what if anything they could be used for. At first nothing came to mind but as I observed the parts laying there over the next couple months I did find a suitable purpose for them. One of the very heavy parts of the blade with a flat bottom would do well as a end stop for a row of firewood, especially when I bolted the cross support to it to extend its height. Driving a ‘T’ stake into the ground to hold a row of firewood doesn’t always work due to our rocky ground. This heavy steel part holds the row of firewood without pulling out of the ground allowing the firewood to fall down.

Firewood Holder:

Two other supports on the blade, which were bent, looked suited for an idea I had held for quite a while. Each winter as we use firewood we have to hike up the mountain to our woodshed each day, sometimes more than once, to bring in firewood to keep us warm since we heat our cabin with a wood stove. I was able to use the bent supports to fashion a firewood holder that we could put close to the house thereby reducing the number of trips to the woodshed to maybe once per week. We have a large material sled that we can use to pull firewood down to the firewood holder and then access the firewood from it instead of making numerous long walks to the woodshed.

Construction Of A Firewood Holder:

During a recent wildfire we had our fence damaged wherein the bottom cross supports were burned as well as some of the bottoms of upright posts and had to be replaced. I had the 4X4 uprights laying next to the house to haul to the community burn site. None were totally destroyed but burned to where they couldn’t be used for the fence. As the photo depicts the 2X4’s were used for the sides and the 4X4's cut as spacers. The bent steel supports were lag bolted to each end and a firewood holder was born. We virtually had no cost other than the purchase of a tarp to cover the firewood and keep it dry.  Using the steel supports, the partially burned fence posts and supports and lag bolts which we had on hand kept our cost negligible.

Vision And Ingenuity:

To reuse what otherwise would be useless parts and make something functional and useful requires vision and some ingenuity. If after a reasonable amount of time we don’t find a use for an item we dispose of it so we don’t end up accumulating trash. To see a useless item re-purposed and made into something usable or with a different function is rewarding.

Another Example Of  Re-purposing:

I was in need of a hand held pruning saw and noticed new ones were costly. When I purchased our pole saw many years ago I purchased two extra blades to go with it. As I looked upon the extra blade for the pole saw I thought if it had a handle I could use it as a pruning saw. I then remembered about 20 years ago on a hike we found shredded elk antlers. I went and checked and they were still on the ground where we  had laid them. One of the antler tines looked like it would work as a handle so I cut and formed it to accommodate the spare blade (see photo ). I now have a solid pruning saw that enables me to cut off lower tree limbs where using the pole saw is awkward. Doing so makes navigation through our property more manageable.

Re-purposed Wood Stove:

When our home was being built the contractor asked if we would buy an old wood stove he had so he could stay warm while finishing the inside of the house. It was supposed to be airtight but wasn’t and leaked smoke into the house. We replaced it as living with a stove that emitted as much smoke into the house as it did outside was dangerous. We put the old steel homemade stove under the house until we could figure out what to do with it.

A New Purpose:

That was answered for us when a good friend and also a landowner in our community came out to hunt elk. He asked if he could borrow the stove to cook on as he could stoke up the stove and it would be slow cooking his meal while he was out hunting. When he brought the stove back we set it up as an outdoor cook stove where it wouldn’t matter if it leaked smoke or not. We have since had many breakfasts cooked on that stove which is still kept outside and is back to being functional again albeit a different function than originally designed for. It has provided many meals due to its being re-purposed.

The moral of this blog on re-purposing is that before you throw anything away consider the possibility that it or its components could be re-purposed into something useful.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their remote lifestyle, living in a small cabin in the mountains of S. Colorado with their three senior German Shepherd Dogs, go

Photos by Bruce McElmurray

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Make a DIY Fall Wreath with Foraged Botanicals

Foraged Botanicals DIY Fall Wreath 

Summer flora always gets the limelight.  Sure, there are oodles of lovely foliage and flowers to see at the height of summer, but my favorite time of year for a spectacular floral display is fall. I’m not referring only to the brilliant display of colorful leaves. I love seeing the warm colors of fall blooming flowers, and the dried seed pods left over from spent blooms.

One of my favorite ways to display fall’s beauty it to make a foraged wreath.


• 12 inch straw wreath
• Floral snips/pruners
• U-pins
• Foraged leaves, flowers, and seed heads

For this project, I highly recommend a straw wreath form. They are lightweight, inexpensive, and reusable. U-pins make wreath making a cinch — no wiring required. After you try making a wreath with these two elements, you will be making your own fresh, botanical wreath for every season.

Materials For DIY Wreath Making

About Foraged Botanicals

Think outside the box when looking for botanicals. In addition to leaves and flowers, take a look at the dried seed pods of flowers or grasses. Look for a variety of textures, too. You will need a combination of full textures as a filler/base and some structural branches or seed pods for interest.

In my wreath, I used the following botanicals foraged from my yard and garden:

Southern Magnolia branch with seed pod
Star magnolia branches
Holly branch with berries
Forsythia branch
Asparagus fronds
Dried mop head hydrangea flower
Oakleaf hydrangea seed pods on branch

Foraged Botanicals In Basket

Build a DIY Wreath Base

Separate your botanicals into bundles so you can see them easier. Start by building a base. Use the fuller branches and pin them to the straw wreath forms.

As you lay the second bundle, overlap it about ⅓ of the way down from the first bundle. Also, turn it slightly toward the inside of the wreath then pin.

Repeat with another branch, placing it a ⅓ of the way down from the second branch and angling it toward the outside of the wraath.

Repeat the process all the way around the wreath form until you reach the beginning.

Creating DIY Fall Wreath

Add Wreath Filler Material

Next, fill in between the base layer with filler/fuller foliage or flowers. In my case I used the goldenrod and oregano. Use as many pins as you need to secure the botanicals.

After this step, you should not be able to see the straw form.

Add the Interest

Tuck in your larger florals or seed pods among the base and filler layer. Try to use odd numbers — this helps balance the piece better. Periodically, step back to look at the wreath to see if you need to hide any open spots and check to the overall balance.

Natural Wreath Materials DIY


Hang your lovely foraged fall wreath on your front door or in a sheltered area. Your wreath should last a few days and even up to a couple of weeks, if your botanicals were already mostly dry. After the botanicals are spent, remove them from the wreath and toss in your compost pile. The wreath and pins can be reused.

Debbie Wolfe is a wife, work-from-home mom of two rambunctious boys, obsessive crafter, and gardener in Georgia. She is the co-author and photographer behind the garden blog The Prudent Garden. Connect with Debbie on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

James Ruther: Maker of Spoons

James Ruther is a diverse man.  Day job, working for the Edison company, he’s also quite an authority on knives and knife-sharpening, as well as several other bushcraft skills.  One day, after we both finished a class about outdoor survival skills in the foothills of Pasadena, Ruther showed me a wooden spoon.

“That’s nice,” I said.  I liked it, and it looked a bit different from the many wooden spoons I’ve seen over the years at thrift stores and novelty stores.

“Yeah, and I made this one,” he continued.

“You made it,”? I replied, looking again more closely at the spoon, turning it over in my hands. 

“Yes,” said Ruther, “and I made it mostly from this knife.”  He pulled out a Mora knife and handed it to me, which I also examined.

Since I’d initially thought the spoon was something cranked out in a factory woodshop operation like so many others, I paid it little attention.  Now that I knew this was individually carved, I examined it more closely, and saw the character that an assembly line product would not have.

“What kind of wood did you use?” I asked.

“Ash,” he replied. “I use ash for most of my spoons, because it’s so common, and relatively easy to carve. Also, because the ash trees grow like weeds, no one minds if I trim a few branches and use them for making spoons.”

Ruther gave me that beautiful spoon, and eventually I attended a spoon-carving class that he conducted.

Class Sequence

Here’s how the class went.

Once everyone is present, Ruther shared the basics of knife safety, and the importance of always handing a knife to another person with utmost care. He also emphasized that you always carve AWAY from your body and fingers. This sounds easy, but sometimes, to get a certain cut, you have to be very creative to not cut towards your body, and Ruther showed many of these methods.  He also described the “blood circle” for safety.  If  you a standing too close to a person using a knife, and that person accidentally moves his knife in your direction,  you might get cut. You’re within his blood circle. To know if you’re too close to someone, Ruther held his knife out horizontally from his body, and defined a large circle, front and back.  If you’re within that blood circle, you’ll get cut.

Next, his class took a short walk to find and collect suitable woods.  Ruther pointed out that just any wood could be used to make a spoon, even dead wood on the ground, though it’s more desirable to use fresh sound wood. Oak is excellent, but harder to carve. Willow is abundant, and easy to carve, but might be a bit too soft for some applications.  Ruther likes alder, ash, and other woods; that day, his students all collected pieces of ash wood, about a foot long and a few inches thick.

On our way back to our tables, we observed many of the other trees and Ruther described some of their uses.

Making a Spoon

1. Ruther guided each student to take their section of ash, and to first split it, by batonning it with a sheath knife.  Then, they decided which half would be used, and then the cut part of that piece of ash was flattened with the knife.

2. Next, the shape of the spoon was penciled onto the flat side of the wood, and careful carving began.

3. There were various techniques of wood reduction which were shows to take the piece of wood to a spoon.

4. For example, a saw was used to reduce some sections, such as to make the spoon part round.

5. To cut away the excess wood which would become the handle, the section would be sawed perpendicular to the handle, at various points, so that the unwanted wood could just be chiseled away.

6. Then, it was all slow but careful carving. The hollow of the spoon was carved with curved carving knives which made it much easier. However, the hollow could still be done with an ordinary knife, with much more care.

7. Finally, the spoons were sanded with sandpaper.  Or, as woodscraft master Paul Campbell used to teach, the spoons could be “sanded” with a small rock, abrading little by little until the desired smoothness is achieved.

“What happens if the spoon breaks?” a student asked Ruther.  He smiles and responds, “Oh darn, you’d have to carve another!”  Taking a more serious tone, Ruther says that to discard a biodegradable wooden spoon is not a problem, and is infinitely better than discarding a plastic spoon into a land fill that would take 100 years to decompose.  “It’s smart for the environment,” he says, adding that if you cut from overgrown invasive trees, it’s really a form of weed control.  “It’s always a good thing to learn to make something rather than buying something, and this produce no waste.”

Ruther points out that your second spoon will always be a better spoon than your first, because you’re still figuring things out on spoon number one. To learn more about Ruther and his classes, he can be reached at

Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and other books. He also leads outdoor field trips. He can be reached at

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Importance of the Local Yarn Shop

Front of store

The storefront of local yarn shop, Olives and Bananas, in Thunder Bay, ON. Photo by Amy Vervoort

Almost every industry has seen a recent boom in marketing and promotion regarding the importance of shopping locally and supporting small businesses. Business associations, municipalities, and industry boards have all been publicly sponsoring “shop local” messages to help ensure the survival of small locally-owned businesses, and local yarn shops (LYS for short) are no exception. From National Local Yarn Shop Day to the UK’s newest “shop hopping” rewards scheme, people are catching on that if we don’t support our local yarn shop, we may soon lose this valuable resource.

The Struggles

Owning a brick and mortar shop has always been a challenging livelihood, and in the era of e-commerce it’s even trickier. They now must compete with the draw of the convenience of shopping 24/7 from the comfort of one’s home without having to deal with weather, traffic, or crowds. Yet, in the era of social media, even brick and mortars are expected to post on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram daily as part of their marketing strategy, and many shops often sell online as well to broaden their customer base. This stretches shop owners’ time thin. And don’t forget how the Internet has compounded the amount of communications coming in - not only do shop owners need to communicate face to face, deal with lettermail, and take phone calls, but they also must answer emails, texts, private messages on social media, and monitor and respond to comments on their social media posts. It’s like running two full time businesses.

Panorama of store inside

A treasure trove of yarns and samples await in the LYS. Photo by Amy Vervoort.

The Benefits

Of course you can find a bounty of yarn, tools, and patterns in your LYS (and ‘yarn’ doesn’t even begin to cover it – most now also sell spinning, felting, and other fiber arts supplies). But it’s the services that really set them apart from their digital counterparts. Things like:

Advice: help with choosing the best yarn for your pattern (or vice versa)

Help: when you get stuck on your pattern you can get hands on help (often for free!)

An homage to slow living: local yarn shops have replaced the General Store as the gathering place, where you go not only to buy your goods but also to chat with the owner and the acquaintances you know you’ll run into there

Connection: the value of face to face contact with shop owners and other customers is something that just can’t be replaced by online platforms

Accuracy: choosing coordinating colors online is a gamble, with how much monitors can vary. If you’re looking for coordinating skeins for a project nothing beats laying out a mountain of skeins and comparing them side by side

Skein winding: not everyone owns a skein winder and swift as they can be pricey. Your LYS can take the hassle out of winding your beautiful skeins into balls ready to work with

Local selections: your local fiber arts store is the place to find locally handspun or indie dyed yarns

Socializing: most shops host some sort of regular sit and stitch sessions on a weekly basis where you can work on your project and connect with like-minded people

Inspiration: many stores create and collect samples of projects made from their yarns, and there have been many times I’ve been inspired to create something I might not otherwise have noticed in a pattern book. It’s also fun to see a variety of color schemes that may be outside of your normal range.

Education: most fiber arts stores offer a variety of classes, from beginner knitting to advanced techniques such as lace and cables, as well as crochet, spinning, and felting

New products: you may discover a new yarn or pattern line being featured by the shop that you otherwise would not have found

Quality: you’re more likely to find a range of yarns that are top quality, focused on expert dyeing, natural fibers, and perhaps breed-specific wools that will wear well and look fantastic for many years.

Swatches: many shops create swatches so you can see and feel the fabric and colorplay when the yarn is worked up.

Sensory: you can’t touch or smoosh yarn online to see how much bounce or stretch it has, or whether it’s soft enough to be worn next to skin by your sensitive five year old!

Immediacy: whether it’s because you’ve run out of yarn on the last row of your project or you just don’t like to wait once inspiration hits, the yarn in a local shop is ready and waiting for you to work with right now.

Staging: nowhere else can you show off your latest creation to such a receptive and admiring audience!

Economic returns: when you support a local yarn shop, they in turn can support other small businesses, community groups, schools, etc. A local economy is circular and needs to be fed into regularly (that’s my excuse for buying new yarn!).

All of these create an immeasurable VALUE that you cannot place a price on, which are definitely worth paying an extra dollar or two on that yarn for. If we don’t support them we lose all of the above-mentioned resources.

Handspun and idie dyed

A selection of locally handspun and hand-dyed yarns, locally made project bags, and yarn milled from locally raised rescue goats. Photo by Amy Vervoort.

Cozy knitting nook

Many shops have a cozy nook, or at least a table, for people to gather and work on projects. This shop has toys to entertain the children so their parents can shop, craft, or socialize. Photo by Amy Vervoort.

How to help:

Enhance your stash. Pop into your local fiber arts shop to see what inspires you - regularly!

Take a class. Learn a new craft dimension, like spinning, knitting, crochet or felting.

Share their social media posts.

Tag them in your social media posts when you’re sharing projects made from yarn or patterns purchased there.

Spread the craft and create future customers!

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Solving Our Dog Tie-Out Dilemma


It was never the plan to have the dogs tied, we’d rather have them free range, but our older dog grew up in the city. No free ranging for him because if he gets loose, he is on the road checking out the greener pastures. This usually means he ends up at our neighbor’s dairy farm and that is not okay.

They have been gracious about it each time and to be honest, he is a pretty nice dog, a neutered male who just loves to mark the world. But, if he ever had enough time to chase the calves or the horses or investigate the less than secure bunny hutch, I am not 100% that he would still be in any one’s good books.

Our two younger farm dogs will have jobs when we get the money to install fencing, but until then we don’t trust them to stay on our place. Twenty years in the city has deeply affected our sense of dog boundaries.

For instance, your dog should not bark all night if it’s going to be heard by your neighbors at close range. The dogs should not be free if they will trespass or potentially cause harm on someone else’s property. Finally, my dogs should not menace folks passing on the road. Yet these are natural places that dogs will get into trouble.

The Problem

We live on a fairly small 20-acre corner property with A LOT of frontage and the house is right on the road. One of those roads is busy, and when it’s not busy the random car is going fifty-five mph plus through a small hollow and up a curving hill, flying past our semi-hidden driveway. If a dog stepped out at the wrong moment most people would have zero time to respond. So our dogs spend their unsupervised outside time on leads.

(Disclaimer: We walk our three dogs every day, twice a day, over a mile each day. They get playtime and we are working on saving for fencing that will give them some safe roam space. There is ample evidence that dogs that are chained or tied out for the bulk of their lives experience heightened aggression. This post does not encourage tying out but rather acknowledges it is often necessary in certain seasons.)

Initially we bought twenty-foot plastic coated steel leads, and clipped one around a t-post, one to a trailer, and one to a pound-in dog stake. The pound in stake was fine until a heavy rain loosed the soil and Mr. Roamer went for a walk-about dragging a two-foot spike. Then we moved him to a tree.

By wrapping the lead around the tree or post and clipping it to itself (not recommended by the manufacturer by the way) we shortened the lead a bit and it wore out very quickly. As the dogs moved and ran about the post the steel lead became twisted, the plastic buckled and chipped off, and the lead corroded. We began to joke that we should invest in plastic coated steel dog tie outs, which at anywhere from $8 to $24 are not cheap (price depending on length and gauge of wire based on our dog’s respective weights).

The pound-in spikes presented two unique problems. The first was that somehow the dogs always managed to get their leads so twisted the tie out begins to buckle and knot over themselves and bind the dog to the spike. They have a rotating clip in the center to prevent this but it happens anyway.

The other problem is the mower. In the winter it was obviously not an issue but come spring, when the grass starts to grow, these posts are really easy to lose because they only stick up about 3 to 5 inches. However, that also means if I forget they are there and the mower hits the post then the blade takes a beating and the post gets bent or worse.

The Solution

So we finally came up with a working solution to this temporary problem. We have taken to hammering six-foot t-posts and buying heavy duty metal rings with two inch diameter (see here for an example). We drop the ring onto the post once we have it pounded in where we want it and clip the lead to the ring, for our big dog, we used two rings to ensure there would be no failure. Now the dogs can race around and play with each other without tearing up their tie-outs nearly as quickly.

We also learned to overlap their respective areas just enough that they can wrestle but not enough that they can get tangled with each other. Further we discovered if you can’t find a six-foot t-post and use a shorter one and the ground is soft and the dog pulls and leans the post they can slip the ring off the top. So in that case, we very quickly duct taped a plastic jar (read: anything wider than the ring) over the post and secured it so nothing can slip off the post. So taller posts are better and you are less likely to mow over a post.

Obviously our farm dream is to have the dogs caring for the livestock, hunting rats and raccoons and walking into the sunset with us, but until we have a safe space for them to do that, smart tying-out along with vigorous exercise will have to do.

Nicole Carlin is the primary farmer of an “in-progress” homestead with lots of help from her husband and children.  While her empty nest days are looming, she still has two more years with kids at home.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

In the Grease

Lanolin-rich but clean water spun out

Lanolin rich, but clean fleece.

My very first raw fleece was a beautiful silver Gotland from a spinner’s flock here in Ontario. I remember opening it up with trepidation, inexperience leading me to expect a putrid, filthy mess.

Instead a cascade of beautiful liquid silver curls tumbled out onto the tarp and my first thought was that I wanted to jump right into it. Literally. It called to me to run my hands through the silky curls and for the first time I was tempted to spin raw wool straight off of the sheep. Then my olfactory senses kicked in and I washed it.

I had no further desires to spin “in the grease” until a shepherdess in British Columbia from whom I purchased some beautiful Romney fleece recommended that I refrain from scouring it and simply wash it, and then spin in the grease. When the fleece arrived I was once again taken in by the gorgeously clean fleece. There was very little dirt or VM (vegetable matter, what we call the bits of feed, bedding, etc. that ends up embedded in the fleece) and so I thought I’d try it. I’m so glad I did.

The fiber felt amazing on my hands while spinning and again later while knitting it. My swatch lives beside my bed where I look at and feel it often. I am looking forward to washing and spinning the remaining Romney to create some amazing garments.

What is “the grease?”

 The grease we’re referring to is lanolin, a soft waxy substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of sheep. Its purpose is to help sheep to naturally shed water from their coats. This natural waterproofing quality leads to lanolin’s use in waterproofing wool diaper covers. It can also have the same result in the project you create with your yarn spun in the grease. Think water resistant hats, mittens, even sweaters. It also has moisturizing properties and is used in the beauty industry to create salves, balms, etc. and thus your hands will feel amazing after creating with lanolin-rich yarn.

“In the Grease:” What is it, and what is it not?

 Spinning “in the grease” means that you are preserving the natural lanolin by not scouring it out. For some people this means spinning raw fleece straight off the sheep. I don’t fall into this school of thought; not only do many breeds contain a lot of lanolin which will make a sticky mess of my equipment, but sheep, even in a fleece that looks clean, are filthy creatures. Their fleeces contain farm dirt, manure, urine, plant matter, and possibly insects. These are not things I want on my hands, in my wheel and carders, or in my living room. Raw fleece is also stinky, and I don’t want my house smelling like a barn! Lastly, the suint (a naturally occurring detergent secreted by sheep) in the fleece causes a burning sensation on my skin. All around, I find the idea rather repellent. By gently washing the fleece you can maintain a welcome level of lanolin and enjoy spinning “in the grease” rather than “in the filth.”

Choosing a Fleece

The best candidate for this method is a clean (preferably jacketed) fleece, low in veggie matter and from a breed that is not too high in lanolin. I find that breeds like English Leicester and Lincoln tend to get hard and tacky if they aren’t fully scoured with extra hot water, so they are not the best candidates. My favorites for spinning in the grease are Romney, Gotland, and Finn, though many others will work well too.

Beautiful Romney locks

Raw Romney locks

The Method

 The trick to this method is to clean the fleece without stripping the lanolin out. This means using a gentler detergent (I like Unicorn Clean’s Beyond Fiber) and water at 110 degrees F or less.

The first step is to check your fleece over and skirt out any nasty bits that may have been missed in the initial skirting. This includes things like tags (dung), stains, extra dirty spots, and areas contaminated with VM. Measure out the fleece to be cleaned; you want to make sure that you don’t overfill your washing vessel. The fleece needs room to open up a bit and let any dirt fall out. Think fleece stew rather than fleece porridge if you need a visual!

Cold Soak

 If your fleece is dirty, begin with an overnight cold water soak. Fill your washing tub with cold water (rain water works great here) and gently place your selected fleece in it. Very gently hold it under water until it’s saturated and will stay submerged. Then simply leave it overnight. You’ll want to let it soak at least several hours, but don’t leave it longer than overnight as extreme lengths of time can lead to a degradation of the fleece. If I do this outside (which I usually do as I dump the water rather than sending it down my drain to clog my pipes and septic), I cover it with tulle to avoid any mice (or toddlers) going for a swim in my fleece!

Hot Bath

 The next day, drain your fleece, then gently press any extra water out. Avoid agitating it or squeezing too much. Next you will fill a wash tub with bath-hot water (I use a kids bath thermometer to help me measure, I like it at about 110F degrees) and a squirt of wool wash. I like to use a capful (about a teaspoon) of Unicorn Clean Beyond Fiber Wash, but something like Soak or Eucalan works well too. Once the tub is full, gently move the fleece into it (if you’re starting out with a very clean fleece you can skip the cold soak and go straight to this step). Gently submerge the fleece and avoid agitating it. You don’t have to worry about going from cold water to hot; it’s hot to cold, detergent, and agitation that will cause felting. Leave the fleece for about 10 minutes. Don’t leave it long enough for the water to cool or you will end up with sticky wool. Again drain and gently press out the water.

In the Wash

In the wash.


 Next you’ll repeat the above step exactly, but without the wool wash. This will rinse out your detergent. If your rinse water looks pretty clean and not too soapy then you’re all set. If you were overzealous with the detergent you may need to rinse again (and know better next time!) The water may look milky and that’s ok, it’s the lanolin (we’re washing some of it out here, just not all of it). Brown water however indicates further washing/rinsing is needed. With an EXTREMELY clean fleece I’ve even been able to get away with a single wash in bath hot water with a no rinse wash like Eucalan. You can imagine what a time saver that is!

Dirt is left behind

Dirty water.

Out to Dry

 Your final step is to dry the fleece. I have a salad spinner especially commissioned for the purpose, but others like to use a commercial laundry spinner. Some swear by using only the spin cycle in their top loading washing machine, but I don’t like to put any fleece water down my drain and into my septic field. After spinning out the water I lay it in a single layer on a tarp in either my basement or sunroom. If you dry outside you’ll need to watch for critters who may come and try to steal it. I turn the fleece over once a day to make sure it’s getting air on all sides. It usually takes me about 2 days of drying time.

Spin dried


 Next it’s time to prep the fiber for spinning. With Gotland I tend to lock spin it, maintaining the texture of the curls, or spin a worsted type yarn straight from the opened locks. With the other types though I prefer to card them first, either with hand cards or a drum carder. I find that my method of cleaning leaves enough lanolin in but also removes enough of the lanolin (and all of the filth) so I don’t have to worry about it gumming up my carders or wheel. Those who spin straight from the sheep often have separate processing equipment for their greasy, dirty fleece as it will affect the equipment. They’ll also need to clean their wheel and bobbins.

Clean Locks

Clean locks


 You’ll notice that as you spin your hands will feel amazing from the lanolin, and you will also have that wonderful sheepy smell! You may find that warming the fleece slightly helps the lanolin melt, making for easy spinning (a great excuse to sidle up to the fire on a cool night). Spin the yarn in the matter you desire, then skein it off and set it in tepid to warm water with a drop of no rinse wool wash. When you wash your finished garments, wash them again in cool to tepid water with a lanolin enriched wool wash to avoid stripping the lanolin from the wool.

I hope I’ve inspired you to try this method of spinning in the grease. By gently washing the fleece but not scouring it you’ll reap the benefits of the lanolin without having to deal with the problems or filthiness of spinning a completely raw fleece.

Happy spinning!

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