Washing the fleece

The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the frogs are stirring in the pond. Time to make a start on cleaning my fleece!

As ever, the advice on how to do it was contradictory. Magdalen, who gave me the fleece, wrote on her note that I should soak it in lukewarm water for a couple of hours without soap. Debby, my tutor at Morley College, said that if I wanted to dye it (which I do), I should put it in cold water with a little detergent, as the lanolin in the fleece resists dye because it is too oily.

Online, the consensus among spinners seemed to be that using hot water and dishwashing detergent was best, as long as you don’t agitate the fleece and don’t let the water get cold, as this causes the lanolin to reattach itself to the wool. Eventually I decided to use the method outlined by Fuzzy Galore. But as I can’t do all the fleece in one go anyway, I will probably try different techniques on different batches.

When I laid it out on a plastic sheet in the garden, it became clear that it wasn’t in one piece, like a sheepskin rug, but several large clumps. I picked off some of the grubbiest bits of dung, plus the largest bits of straw, thorny twigs and other vegetation.

Then I picked a clump that didn’t look too grubby, filled the kitchen sink with hot water, added some Fairy Liquid, and gently pressed the wool so that it was submerged in the water.  I left it for 15 minutes, by which time the water was filthy, scooped out the wool into a bowl, drained the water and repeated the process. The water wasn’t so dirty this time.

Then it was two 15-minute rinses, again in hot water but without the detergent. The final rinse water was a little cloudy but not dirty.

I was a bit worried about spinning it in the washing machine, as many people seem to recommend, so I put a few handfuls in the salad spinner and span it by hand! This was actually very effective and didn’t take too long.

Then I laid it out on some net curtain on top of a rack above the bath to dry. I’ve managed to do three batches, which I reckon is about half the fleece.

As you can see, the wool is much whiter than it was, and it’s considerably less smelly! It doesn’t seem to have felted  anywhere, so either I have handled it really well, or it’s going to be difficult to get it to felt! 😉


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