So you found an amazing fleece at a wool auction or fibre festival, awesome! Sometimes processing a fleece can be daunting but it doesn't have to be. It is very rewarding to work a project from start to finish.
Some times your fibre can be pretty rank when it's full of - sweat, lanolin, manure, dirt and vegetable matter. The first thing you should think about doing is washing your fibre. In this tutorial, I will show you how I wash my fleeces.
To start, gather all your necessities:
- Laundry Bag
- Wool Wash
- Fibre Spinner (aka salad spinner)
- Raw Wool
- Sink/bath tub/basin
The fibre I am washing is from a Babydoll Southdown sheep. If you can see a fair bit of vegetable matter (VM) in your fleece, give it a shake outside to get rid of as much of it as you can.
For wool wash, you will want something specific to your needs. Dawn works great because it cuts through grease and it is easy to find and fairly inexpensive. I use Pour Scour because it works amazingly well and it is made especially for dirty, raw fibre and washing is a breeze.
Laundry bags help keep your fleece together while still letting the water and wool wash flow through your fibres. You can find these bags at the dollar store and they come in many sizes. They also make it easier when you are lifting your fleece out of the water, you can grab the bag and not handle the fleece as much.
For your first wash, fill your sink or basin with very hot water. Ideally, to melt lanolin and other waxes you will want you water between 140 - 160F (60 - 70C). This is where your thermometer will come in handy. Add your wool wash. Follow the instructions for your particular wool wash. Power Scour suggests 5% of your fibre weight should be added to the initial bath. You will want your sink filled with enough water that your fleece will be covered and have room to float freely.
Since my sample is small, I will be using the strainer that comes with my spinner which makes it super easy to lift out of the water and drain.
Place your laundry bag (or strainer) in the water and let it sink on its own. Try to handle your fleece (especially when wet) as little as possible. Felting occurs when you mix heat, soap and agitation, so be careful.
Let your fibre soak for about 20 minutes. You don't want the water to cool down too much between washes and you don't want to shock your fibres with dramatically different temperatures. Lift out your laundry bag or basket and let gravity help the water flow out. I gave mine a spin to get rid of as much as I could without squeezing the fibre.
For my second bath, I want to use the same temperature water as I did in my first wash. 140 - 160F but this time slightly less soap (3% instead of 5%) I got my second bath ready just before my first bath was finished. Put your fibre in your new water and let it sink down. Wait for another 20 or so minutes. This time lets the wool wash do its magic, reducing tangles, cleaning your fibre and dissolving any solid matter like lanolin and other gunk that gets caught in the locks.
Lift your fibre out of the water after its soak. You will see that your water is less dirty than your first wash. Excellent! Two washes is usually enough. We will be rinsing next and once you spin your yarn, you will be washing your skein and after you knit your project you will likely be washing your fibre again to block. Much of the VM will come out during the combing stage too. Two washes is usually enough but use your best judgement.
Let your fibre soak for 15 minutes or so and lift it out of the water. Rinse as many times as needed until your water is clear. As you can see this water is pretty clean. Perfect, looks like a good job! Lift out your rinsed fibre and give it a spin. Now you are ready to let it dry.
If you can do this outdoors your drying time will be cut in half. I rigged up a little drying rack using a laundry bag and some dowels in a frame that I set over my bathtub. I have since found a couple decent sized screens that work perfectly. Use what you have on hand. Open up your fleece as best as you can without handling the locks too much. Once your fleece is dry you are ready to comb, or card your fibre to prepare it for the yarn and project you have in mind.
If you are washing a whole fleece at once, I suggest using your bath tub or a basin large enough to cover your wool. If you find it more manageable to section your fibre off and wash your fleece in small batches then that's perfectly fine too. Whatever is easiest for you and works with what you have in your home is the best option.
If you aren't going to process your fleece soon after washing, store it in a plastic bag, and keep it in a cool, safe place away from pets and other curious critters.
Hope you enjoyed this tutorial. This is the way I wash all my fleeces. If you have any questions just let me know. Maybe you have a tip or a hint that you use that makes washing your fleeces better, share it with me and I will add it to the notes with your name.