Today we talk about fiber prep. Specifically washing fleece. I use a 100% modern method of washing fiber. Why? Because dish soap works well and is cheap, I have no desire to ferment urine, and I feel like it. This tutorial is assuming that you’ve purchased a raw and skirted fleece, as opposed to shearing the sheep yourself or buying a fleece that has not yet been skirted.
Skirting: cutting off the worst bits of the fleece, generally the underbelly, legs, and around the tail. These parts are the bits that get packed with mud, poop, straw, ect. They are also generally matted and gross. Skirting doesn’t waste wool, it saves sanity.
For the purposes of this project I bought 2.5 pounds of raw icelandic wool. Why Icelandic? Because it has the qualities I was looking for in a fleece, namely the long protective top coat and the short soft undercoat, this makes it appropriate for the type of spinning I’m doing. It’s also easy to spin and an arguably documentable breed. I say arguably since we’ve been continuing to improve fleece so even breeds labeled “primitive” don’t have the same kind of fleece they did in period. Nature of the beast.
My wool came to me like this:
That’s one big bag of happy there folks.
Unbagged and spread out it looked more like this (ignore my toes):
This is where you start to understand that just because you bought 2.5 pounds of wool does not mean you’ll get 2.5 pounds of clean fiber. All that yellow/brown/black? That’s all dirt and oil and lanolin. This is a white fleece. A lot of that weight is going to end up going down the drain.
Cleaning your fleece: Step 1.
Acquire your materials. For me that looks like this:
That’s a tote for washing, your wool, dish soap, and a couple of towels. Your tote should be sturdy and big enough to wash a decent amount of fleece. This tote (roughly 10-ish gallons) washes about .75 pounds of raw fleece at a time. You want space for water to penetrate ALL the wool so you don’t end up with raw pockets.
Step 2: Soap.
Fill your tote 3/4 of the way with hot soapy water. Add your fleece, making sure to press it under the water but not agitate. If you agitate it’ll felt. We don’t want that. Just gently shove it under the water and keep it submerged with as little handling as possible. Let it soak and let the soap do its thing.
Step 3: Rinse
Gently remove your wool from the water (again trying to not agitate it) and dump your… well… soapy mud. Rinse out your tote to get rid of as much grit and gunk as you can from it and refill it with clean water that’s as close as you can get to the water you just dumped out. You want to try to maintain temperature to avoid felting. Gently (sensing a theme yet?) put your soapy wool into the clean water.
See how much cleaner it looks already? Side note: see all those flecks and bits of grass? That’s referred to as VM or veggie matter. Which is a very polite way of saying grass and sheep poop. Some people pick that all out before washing/carding/combing. I just pick it out as I comb because it doesn’t bug me. Sheep are animals that live outside. Sometimes outside comes in with them. Such is life.
Anyway you’re going to rise twice. So repeat this step.
Step 4: Wring
Carefully lift your now clean wool out of its second rinse. Let it drain as best you can before moving on.
Lay your wool flat on a towel like so:
Roll the towel up like a burrito:
Step on your wool-rito to press excess water out. Don’t rub it, just step directly down.
Step 5: Dry
Lay your wool out to dry. Preferably on a screen or something that lets air flow get to the entire fleece. This’ll let it dry faster and keep it from getting all mildewy. I, lacking such a set up, lay my wool out on dry towels and just flip it every so often.
Here’s a side by side of a dirty lock with a clean lock after going through this: