Washing with Wool
Sheep and wool have been intertwined with human life across continents, cultures and time in many guises and applications. From the outset wearing wool seemed like an obvious choice, but using it to bathe with in the form of felted soap is less easily understood in our modern world.
For our early ancestors survival must have been very challenging and the ease with which we take a bath or shower today was so far out of their reach.
Today we have a wealth of face and body cloths to wash with, loofahs for exfoliation, sponges of all shapes and sizes and other items (some made of plastic) to accompany our daily washing routines in the bath and shower. Added to this are an enormous array of soaps, liquids and shampoos.
The felting process is the first method by which material was made and initially felted soap was made by placing it into a felt covering and then sewing this into place, encasing the soap into the felt. This could possibly have enabled the felt to be opened up again when the soap had been used and then recycled by applying it to a fresh bar of soap. And we think of recycling as such a contemporary activity! The felted soap was used for its exfoliating and antibacterial qualities.
Other processes followed whereby the wool was wrapped around the soap and then felted into place with the use of warm water. This is now a popular method and as long as the material applied is “real wool”, it will felt into place around the soap and continue to shrink as it is used.
It should always be left to dry after each use and provides a great “splash” of colour in any modern day bathroom. The soap lasts longer and there is no residue left in the soap dish or the sink.
Merino wool is most suited for this purpose, but both Angora and Alpaca also work equally well. And it’s a sustainable practice and a technique which can be enjoyed by all ages.
For myself, I have developed my own method of application using merino wool which involves making up pre-felts, cutting to shape and felting by hand. The creative design possibilities are endless and they make wonderful presents. I use vintage hand-made soaps made by Spilt Duck in Truro https://www.facebook.com/SpiltDuck/