Washing a fleece

>> Thursday, November 19, 2009

The fleece before washing

Ok, so as promised here is the mucky job of washing a fleece (thank you for your comment Melissa!). I have lots to say about this as I've definitely done it the wrong way, and now I think I may have hit upon the right way. For me.

My first fleece was loaned to me by the lovely Marnie. We were chatting at our local farmer's market and I was talking about spinning. It turned out Marnie had a fleece given to her, and hadn't gotten around to working with it yet. So she loaned it to me to try out washing a fleece.

To wash a fleece, you use very hot water, a grease reducing detergent (not soap) such as Dawn (added after the water is poured to reduce bubbles), and be careful not to agitate the fleece or it will felt. Just let the fleece sit in the water and soak. Take it out when the water becomes warm because you don't want it to sit there until the water is cold or it will get shocked when you put it into its next hot water bath.

The goal is to clean out any dirt, bits of twigs and grass, and the lanolin. Sometimes spinners don't clean out the lanolin, and spin directly. This is called spinning "in the grease" and apparently can be very nice on your hands and the finished garment then has a natural water barrier. Very helpful if you're a fisherman off the Isle of Aran, or like to go hiking in a British climate or things like that.
The fleece soaking in the tub

Full of energy, I recklessly decided to wash the entire fleece at once. This is fine, there's really nothing wrong with that, but it is a lot of work. The main issue is that generally a fleece is a very dirty thing. So most websites were recommending washing small amounts at a time so that there's a big proportion of water to fleece.
Filthy water!

What happened is that I put it in my bathtub and every time I soaked it the water was filthy. I think I had to give it at least six baths.
Holding the fleece to one side to drain the tub

And each time I was hanging over the tub sort of holding the fleece out of the way while the tub drained and pulling wool out of the drain guard again and again then swishing the tub clean and then refilling the tub and I ended up hurting my back. I could barely walk the next day.
One of the lovely clean locks

Anyway, once the fleece seemed to be reasonably clean, I laid it out to dry and that took days. Lots of days. Mainly because I didn't have room to really spread it out, so it was in a big heap on a towel on the floor. Until finally we had a reasonable sunny day and I put it outside to dry. This fleece is now in a big bag but the staple length (length of the locks) is quite short so I think I will need some carders before I can get it ready to spin.

So the right way, as you have probably guessed by now, is to wash your fleece a little bit at a time. I sorted my fleece by colour, light grey, medium grey, dark grey and brown/black. Then stored each in a separate bag. So now I'm working my way through the first bag. I've done one small batch (in the sink, standing up!) and it just took 3 soaks. Then I drained it and put it on a towel on a drying rack to dry. Washing should keep the locks intact. I separated the locks out on the towel and the next morning they felt pretty dry. It's best that they're not bone dry anyway so that if you prepare them with a flick brush there's less static.

I'll show you how I'm preparing my locks in another post...


Marnie November 30, 2009  

what a useful post! thanks for putting the steps out there - now maybe i can be brave and wash the other bag. (and what's this about loaning? oh my dear - that wool is yours - anyone who endures water that dirty gets to keep the wool :-) i'd like to sit and try carding it with you though!

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