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Practical/Unconventional Uses for Wool & other Fiber

 
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Hi Permies,
Over the years, I've accumulated buckets & bags full of rabbit wool as a byproduct of my rabbitry. While I do hand-spin some with a drop spindle, I'm really not good with the whole "arts & crafts" stuff, so it doesn't often turn out well (and a spinning wheel isn't in the budget in the foreseeable future); therefore I prefer to find other, alternative ways to use this resource. Since permies tend to be a group of really creative thinkers, I thought I'd ask y'all for suggestions on practical ways to use the wool, as well as share some of the things I've already used it for in case it might be helpful to someone else with a lot of excess fiber on hand.
Here are some things I've used it for:
- Trellising: Since my handspun yarn is so ugly, I've used it to tie plants to supports and run it between posts for annual vines to grow up.
- Wall insulation in the rabbit barn.
-Padding nestboxes for poultry/pigeons
- Pig bedding
- Stuffing pillows for dog/cat beds
- Lining the wire compost ring in my keyhole garden
- Soaking up spills/urine in the barn
- Mulching baby trees in the field
- Using matted/tangled wool balls in the worm bins, which they appear to use to help shed the cocoons.
*One idea I want to try this year is using it as a slow-feed nitrogen source for plants. While it works well as mulch on the surface, it tends to take a long time to break down since the top dries out in the sun; though it will break down faster when kept moist. My thought is to apply it to the surface, around the plants, then cover with wood chips to keep it moist to encourage break-down and release the nitrogen.

So, this is what I've used it for, but does anyone have any suggestions on other practical ways one could use to benefit their farm/garden system?
Thank you for reading, and for any suggestions you have. Hopefully the list of things I've done with the wool will help others with their excess fiber.
IMG_20200302_193715.jpg
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Week's worth of wool scraps
 
pollinator
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It can be mixed with concrete, which improves the strength of the concrete. I expect it would also improve the insulation properties of the concrete, but I haven't seen any studies comparing that.

When you say "rabbit wool" are you talking angoras? Because if so, you might be better off selling it.
 
Kc Simmons
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I do have French and English Angoras, but my primary breed is American Fuzzy Lops, which I raise for exhibition (my guilty pleasure hobby). Since their wool doesn't have the length of Angoras' wool, it's not typically seen as valuable, though it can be spun.

I've always been interested in harvesting the Angoras and selling the wool, but I'm not sure how to go about it (like eBay or Etsy?). I've also learned that spinners are very particular about the wool, and I'd be afraid I would mess up and sell them an inferior product without realizing it. It's definitely something to consider though.
 
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Rabbit fur is high in nitrogen, so it is good to mix with compost.
 
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I've read that sheep's wool can be used to discourage slugs in the garden because the slugs don't like to slime over it. (I can't say a slug "crawls" - any other suggestion?) I wonder if the bunny wool would have the same effect?

If you know anyone who makes pot-holders, quilts or things like that, it would make a good padding for that I'd expect. Again, I know that sheep's wool is more fire resistant than many fibers, but I'm less sure of whether that is species-specific or if all "hair type stuff - horse, dog, rabbit, etc" is fire resistant to the same degree. When I've totally worn out  the feet of my wool socks, I use the leg portion to give extra heat resistance sewn onto my oven mitts in the thumb and finger area, so I do know that sheep's wool genuinely helps with heat.
 
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This grade if rabbit fur might be good for making felt.
Evidently rabbit fur felt is great for hats, sheep wool felt inferior and beaver wool felt superior.

I'm having trouble finding Information on DIY fur felt making, but what have learned so far gives me a crazy idea.
First wash the fur by stuffing it into a stocking and running it through the washing machine.
Soap evidentially aids the felting process,  so you can stop the washer right before it begins the rinse cycle.
Then open up the stocking and toss the contents in the dryer.
The fur should quickly collect on the lint screen,  and from there you can roll off a sheet of fur.
Lay it out and cover it with a piece of tule.
Then use a hot steam iron on it.
 
Jay Angler
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William Bronson wrote:

Soap evidentially aids the felting process,  so you can stop the washer right before it begins the rinse cycle.
Then open up the stocking and toss the contents in the dryer.
The fur should quickly collect on the lint screen,  and from there you can roll off a sheet of fur.

OK, if no one says that's a really bad idea, I've got some dog fur I've been wanting to felt and haven't had time to do it the way I really wanted to. I'm wondering if it will just make a horrible mess of my dryer?  Or get stuck in the works. Either way step one is to find out if the dryer is even plugged in - it only gets used for weird things like this - shrinking fabric or drying feathers I've harvested!
 
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Jay Angler wrote:William Bronson wrote:

Soap evidentially aids the felting process,  so you can stop the washer right before it begins the rinse cycle.
Then open up the stocking and toss the contents in the dryer.
The fur should quickly collect on the lint screen,  and from there you can roll off a sheet of fur.

OK, if no one says that's a really bad idea, I've got some dog fur I've been wanting to felt and haven't had time to do it the way I really wanted to. I'm wondering if it will just make a horrible mess of my dryer?  Or get stuck in the works. Either way step one is to find out if the dryer is even plugged in - it only gets used for weird things like this - shrinking fabric or drying feathers I've harvested!



Depends on what you want to do with it. If you want felt balls, wad some up inside a piece of stocking, and tie it off. You should end up with a ball. It may take several washing & drying cycles to get it firmed up. Getting it into a flat piece will take a bit more doing, and if you just throw it in, loose? Um. Love ya friend, but I'm not coming to clean or your machines, lol!😜🤣
 
Jay Angler
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Carla Burke wrote:

Getting it into a flat piece will take a bit more doing, and if you just throw it in, loose? Um. Love ya friend, but I'm not coming to clean or your machines, lol!😜🤣

Exactly my concern! Yes, I'm looking for flat pieces. I also don't want it too thick. My first attempt, I wasn't happy with how "lumpy" it turned out, so I was thinking I try to card it and lay it down in strips in different directions to build it up more smoothly. When I tried to card it, I think I was doing it all wrong, so step one is to learn how to card properly, then carry on. But my dryer screen gives a lovely, flat, not very lumpy at all piece of "felt", so I thought I'd see what a number of people had experienced with overly fluffy stuff in their dryer. I wasn't planning to put it in the washing machine loose - just the dryer.
 
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Okay here are some alternative uses:
Leave some around outside for wild birds to use as nest material (I do this with the contents of my own hair brush)

Use the wool to test natural dyes on to see what takes and what doesnt

Retain mositure and fertilise by putting a layer in the bottom of pots and hanging baskets

Cover up the smell of human if you're going hunting (?)

Felt a big rough sheet to use as a cover on a compost pile (will eventually compost)

Novelty felted accessories for pets

Rough felted wool could be used as kneeler pads in the garden or to sit on round the campfire

Washed and carded you could restuff old parka coats, oven gloves and anything else quilted

Just a couple of ideas
 
Carla Burke
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To get flat pieces, with wet felting, I'd definitely go with doing your best carding, then, I'd hand wash, in warm, soapy water. Then, if you're up for tossing it in your dryer, to experiment, I'm all for finding out the results! We've got a different kind of filter, which makes great blobs of 'felted' lint, so will never get those lovely sheets I know you're describing - but I'm curious! If it works, more power to you! If it doesn't, all is not lost, possibly even with that batch. Wet felting isn't difficult - just time & physical energy consuming. It's a great way to get the kids busy in something productive, if you still have those extra hands around (I don't anymore, lol).
 
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Our local sheep dairy offered us the belly wool from their sheep. They suggested putting it around the garden plants to help keep moisture in. I can't wait to try this! My daughter wants to try to felt it - does anyone know if the belly wool works well for that?
 
Ellendra Nauriel
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One way to get flat felt might be to use a paper-making technique. Fill a tub with water, and stir in your loose, clean fur. Use a screen that will fit flat inside the tub. A dryer screen from a lint trap is about the right fineness. Slide the screen in vertically until it touches bottom, then slide it along the bottom until flat. Draw the screen slowly upward, keeping it flat and shaking slightly to keep the fur moving. By the time you get the screen out of the water, there should be a flat, even layer of fur collected on it.

As I understand it, if the water is hot enough, and has a little soap in it, there should be some felting happening. However, I should mention that felting is not one of my hobbies, and this is all hypothetical. But it might be a way to get an even sheet without clogging your dryer vent.
 
Carla Burke
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The soap and hot water cause the hair shaft to roughen up, which makes them catch on one another, and tangle (the actual process of felting) better, when friction is added. Felting can and does happen without the warm/hot water and soap, but they make the process more efficient. A less water intensive means of wet felting uses screen (other materials can be used, but this works best, in my experience), a pipe, tube, or other cylinder, the length of the width you want your felt to be, and a shallow tub. Felting doesn't require much water - just enough to keep it very damp. More than that just makes it messier and too wasteful for my preferences. But, dog fur, and other alternative animal fibers are all going to swell and get 'rougher' in texture,  in hot soapy water, and cling to one another, with friction. In theory, you should be able to felt feathers because of this, too - but they tend to fall apart. Oops.
 
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Honestly, I'd sell it.  There's a raw fleece group on FB, and I bet you could sell it through there.  A lot of spinners love to card that in with various wools.
 
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You can wet felt without using the dryer. Just put the wool between layers of bubblewrap and wiggle back and forth a crazy amount of times--rolling the bubblewrap with a rolling pin at fist is good. As it gets more felted, you can felt it with just your hands if your hands are really soapy.
 
Kc Simmons
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Lots of good info, thank you! Due to my lack of any artistic talent (and time), I don't know how felting would go, though I may try it when I get time for a crafty project.
I would definitely consider selling it if I can get a good amount of "prime" fiber collected from the Angoras. A Google shopping search indicates the wool from the English & French Angoras goes from $8-$10 per ounce, average, (which I assume is weight). I didn't see any Fuzzy Lop wool listings, so I assume there's not much demand for that. Of course I'd have to calculate the packaging, time, and fees if I used something like eBay or Etsy. Plus I would want to find an alternate return address to use on the package in case it catches the attention of some animal rights activist that would want to cause trouble. But, still, even if it came out to $5/ oz after all that, a few ounces sold would help with the feed bill.

It's worth noting from my initial post that if you want to let domestic or wild birds use it for nests, it should be cut into short pieces. I learned from experience after having to pull slimy gobs of wool out of the mouths/throats/crops of some baby pigeons once. (Considering their reputation for being mass survivors in a feral setting, pigeons are really, really dumb about a lot of things).

I'd really like to figure out how to use it as a nitrogen source for the gardens. My recent soil test shows very low N, but very high P & high K. I assure that's due to rabbit manure being my main source of fertilizer for the soil? I don't know what the other nutrient counts in animal fiber are besides N, but I really need to find a source of nitrogen besides the manure until I get the P & K leveled out.

Thank you for the suggestions, so far, and please feel free to share more that you can think of!
 
Jay Angler
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Kc Simmons wrote:

I don't know what the other nutrient counts in animal fiber are besides N, but I really need to find a source of nitrogen besides the manure until I get the P & K leveled out.

Watered down human urine so long as the human in question isn't on any drugs that would be detrimental if excreted?  Add it first to a pile of wood chips if you're concerned,  but fresh urine is normally sterile according to everything I've read. Or you can make gullies near plants with wood chips in them and add the water there so the plant roots/microbes can go and fetch how much they want. Last year I made "compost potholes" in places in my garden which I could add veggie scraps etc to each week or so as a "slow release watering system" - I think it would work for nitrogen as well.
 
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I think you could sell it on ebay or etsy as stuffing.  I'm sure there are people who want to stuff their toys/cushions/etc with natural fibres--I know I certainly would.  If it does actually felt, you could mention that as a selling point too;  I would just make sure to plainly state it's not suitable for spinning.
 
Carla Burke
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G Freden wrote:I think you could sell it on ebay or etsy as stuffing.  I'm sure there are people who want to stuff their toys/cushions/etc with natural fibres--I know I certainly would.  If it does actually felt, you could mention that as a selling point too;  I would just make sure to plainly state it's not suitable for spinning.



I don't know that it's undesirable for spinning? The OP stated (major paraphrase, here) that their ability and interest in spinning was limited. The fiber could well be suitable to it, and could bring in a better price, as raw roving.
 
Kc Simmons
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Carla Burke wrote:

G Freden wrote:I think you could sell it on ebay or etsy as stuffing.  I'm sure there are people who want to stuff their toys/cushions/etc with natural fibres--I know I certainly would.  If it does actually felt, you could mention that as a selling point too;  I would just make sure to plainly state it's not suitable for spinning.



I don't know that it's undesirable for spinning? The OP stated (major paraphrase, here) that their ability and interest in spinning was limited. The fiber could well be suitable to it, and could bring in a better price, as raw roving.



I have a trio of French & a trio of English Angoras, which produce wool that's suitable for spinning. The other 60 ish rabbits in the barn are American Fuzzy Lops, a dwarf, wool breed primarily bred for exhibition instead of fiber, as they usually max out around 4lbs. Their wool can be spun, but it only gets a length of 3-5 inches, so it's not as desirable as a spinning fiber; although it would probably be suitable for felting and/or stuffing. I have stuffed it in feed sacks, which I used as wall insulation between the studs.
I definitely don't mind spinning, but I'm just terrible at it, and only have a drop spindle. If I ever luck into finding an old spinning wheel (or can ever afford to buy a new one), I will definitely start spinning a lot more to use around the farm, or sell.
Which makes me think- I should start selling the Angora wool online, and put that money towards buying a small wheel. For those of you who sell wool, how do you measure it out? I have an electric scale that I use to weigh the rabbits, but its supposed to be for weighing packages, so it calculates by ounces. Would that work, you think?
 
Kc Simmons
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Jay Angler wrote:Kc Simmons wrote:

I don't know what the other nutrient counts in animal fiber are besides N, but I really need to find a source of nitrogen besides the manure until I get the P & K leveled out.

Watered down human urine so long as the human in question isn't on any drugs that would be detrimental if excreted?  Add it first to a pile of wood chips if you're concerned,  but fresh urine is normally sterile according to everything I've read. Or you can make gullies near plants with wood chips in them and add the water there so the plant roots/microbes can go and fetch how much they want. Last year I made "compost potholes" in places in my garden which I could add veggie scraps etc to each week or so as a "slow release watering system" - I think it would work for nitrogen as well.



I definitely save urine for a source of nitrogen. Since I do take some medications due to my health issues, I typically don't apply it directly to plants, except for the occasional ornamental or tree. Instead I use it on the compost pile, or pour it on a bed covered with wood chips and rake it around to help get the bed ready to plant a couple of weeks later. I will have to try your compost pothole idea!
I was thinking about using the scrap wool as a surface mulch around the heavy feeders, like corn, and cover with chips to help it stay moist and promote breakdown. Since it tends to retain moisture well when covered, I wonder if it would serve as "mini sponges" if I rolled it into golf ball sized balls, and sporadically buried them a couple of inches in the soil throughout the gardens?
 
Ellendra Nauriel
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If I ever luck into finding an old spinning wheel (or can ever afford to buy a new one), I will definitely start spinning a lot more to use around the farm, or sell.  



How handy are you?







Charkha-style spinning wheels would probably be the easiest to build.

For that matter, I once saw someone spinning with a cordless drill.
 
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One use I haven't seen mentioned is in fire starters. I heat exclusively with my wood stove and quickly restarting the fire first thing in the morning is really important. All of my dryer lint gets stuffed into egg cartons to be saturated with wax. Certainly rabbit fur would work as well. A lot of my dryer lint comes from the dogs anyway. I pick up candles cheaply at yard sales, melt in an old double boiler, and pour over clumps of lint in the egg cartons. I cut them apart and toss one or two into the stove where they burn hot for several minutes. Always works. I have found nothing better.
 
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