That bison fiber I spun? It carried some interesting instructions:
“After you have plied your yarn . . . give your bison yarn a wash in hot, soapy water. Full it by pounding the yarn in the water—use a sink plunger. Rinse in icy, cold water. This will remove all the spinning oils and help the bison fiber bloom and become even softer. Remove excess water by rolling the skein in a towel and simply hang to dry.” This was signed by Judith, from Buffalo Gals.
Well, I figured Buffalo Gals knew what they were talking about, so I went ahead and did it.
Beekeeper Barbara reported having received similar instructions about the handling of her newly-spun alpaca yarn. <http://barbarasspotontheblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/how-to-full-spun-yarn.html> She also had trepidations but proceeded. Both of us had good results.
Why were we worried? Because there’s some confusion about whether fulling is also, in and of itself, felting. Numerous Internet sources claim that fulling is a synonym for felting, producing the same results: a densely packed fabric in which the fibers have deliberately been entangled.
This may be true for a finished knitted garment—I’ve never felted, so I can’t speak from experience—but from my personal experience following Buffalo Gals’ advice about fulling my newly-spun bison yarn, I’m here to tell you they were correct.
There’s a noticeable difference between fulled and unfulled bison yarn. Mine did, indeed, become softer, fluffier, more appealing after its “shocking” in hot, then icy cold water. When dried, it did indeed bloom into a lovely cloud-like yarn, not matted, not entangled as one would have feared. But I used the plunger gently, in an up-and-down motion, not a twisting or severe agitation.
One authority says the difference between fulling and felting lies in neither the water temperature nor the soap, but in controlling the amount of friction/abrasion. More friction = felting. Less friction = fulling. So I guess I did it right.
But don’t throw your lovely wool sweater in the washing machine unless you want it to come out like boiled wool and two sizes too small.