Fleece Preparation System

Fleece Preparation System

Many moons ago, when I was an avid spinner (before I had properly discovered felt) I had read various articles in magazines and journals about the preparation of raw fleece for spinning. I had obtained a very fine fleece (I can’t now remember what it was though) and wanted to be careful how it was readied for spinning so that I didn’t mange to felt the fibres in the process. So I set about making myself a system for the preparation of locks of fibre ready to spin. Unfortunately, the photographs I took of the system were actually of a later episode of washing a lousy Jacob fleece, so they may not look quite as you’d expect them to, but they will show you the process. Though I did manage to find a a few of the original locks so I can show you those. They are not quite as pristine as when they were first processed however so they aren’t as nice as they used to be. In addition, the light must have been wrong, because the background card on which they are displayed was a dark green, not the blue appearing in the photo!)


I obtained three large plastic crates and one smaller one which would fit inside any of these.  I made holes in the bottom and around the sides of the smaller crate with (so far as I can remember) a soldering iron, so that water would drain out of it easily.   Then I cut up an old net curtain into pieces the size of the base of the small crate.


I persuaded my husband to make me a couple of drying frames.  These were  wooden frames covered in chicken wire, and with removable legs long enough to keep the frame above the grass on our lawn.

On a fine day I assembled the “kit” on our patio ready to start.  This comprised the drying frames and a couple of old complete net curtains (which would stop the washed fibres falling through the netting); two buckets; a bottle of Fairy washing up liquid; rubber gloves; the three crates and bits of net curtain and my fleece (in the picture my pillowcase full of the Jacob fleece and the audio book I’d listen to while working).

The kit

I started with the “religious” (holey) crate, putting a piece of net in the bottom to stop fibres following the water out, then I pulled locks off the fleece.  I teased each of them out gently, (though in the pictures it’s just handfuls of Jacob locks) laid them out on the net, making sure that they did not cover each other.  When the bottom piece of net was covered, I laid another piece of net on top and carried on making layers of net and locks until the crate was full, finishing with a layer of net.

Layering the Locks

Next I filled one of the larger crates with rain water and dunked the religious crate inside it.  All the fibres wanted to float until I had managed to get them wet but I managed to get them to stay in the crate.

Religious Crate Full and in First Soak

I left them there for a couple of hours, then I gently lifted the inner crate out of the water and stood it on top of one of the larger crates so that the water would drain into it.  When most of the rainwater had drained away, I put the small crate with the wet locks into another of the larger crates, filled with clean water and Fairy Liquid – of a similar temperature to avoid shocking the locks. 

Soapy Wash Water

Once again I left it to soak and then lifted it out and drained it of soapy water as before (having emptied out the dirty rain water into watering cans to use on the garden.) Then put it into the other large crate, which had been filled with clean water.  I gently lifted the inner crate up and down a couple of times to rinse the locks, and then I took it right out and left it on top of an empty crate to drain. 

Once a good deal of the water had drained out of the locks, they needed to be fully dried.  I covered one of the drying racks with a fresh net curtain and laid out the locks on top of this.  A second layer of net curtain was added and the second drying rack was laid on top and secured with G cramps.  If I remember rightly it was actually a fairly breezy day so I stood the frames up rather than laying them down on the lawn so that the air could penetrate more easily. 

Washed Locks Being Laid Out to Dry
9 All Laid Out and Drying

The final result was lots of small fine locks all of which retained their lovely crimp.  They looked so scrumptious that I couldn’t bear the thought of spinning them up and loosing that, so I laid them out in lines across a piece of fabric and stitched them down at the cut end so that they showed all their glory.  I used this to make a padded waistcoat, they were the top of the sandwich of some cotton curtain lining (washed to remove the dressing) and some white wool fibres (I’m not sure what really, but possibly merino) nuno felted to some cotton scrim (thereby hangs another tale!)

Unfortunately it looked awful when I tried it on so it never got worn.  In the end I put the lot in the washing machine to felt and it will finally be worn as a bustle in this year’s panto – yet another tale! (tail?)

Why did I call the Jacob fleece lousy?  Have a look at this picture of the washed fleece – or at least some of it.  It must have been a really course fleece, possibly a ram’s. Whoever off loaded it on me really saw me coming!

10 Washed and Dried Jacob

I came home early from a very ­unenjoyable Guild  meeting in a filthy mood and decided I would make a large piece of Jacob felt so I could take my temper out on the fulling. Ha!  It. Would. Not. Felt – no matter how much “welly” I gave it. A lot of stamping on it and cursing later, it had just begun to felt but I could not get it any further (it’s a wonder it didn’t turn blue!)   I was exhausted and in no better mood when I gave it up.  The resulting heap of joined up fibres ended up in the cat’s bed – she loved it – and bits of it have been stolen back and used as the core of various needle felted things.  I’ve just about used it all up now – getting on for 10 years later.

Here’s a final picture of the Jacob fleece drying after it’s tour through the washing system, and you can see that my trusty assistant at least thought it was worth it.

11 Drying Fleece with Assistant

11 thoughts on “Fleece Preparation System

  1. I love your system for washing the fleece, very resourceful. It’s a shame your padded waistcoat didn’t quite turn out as you’d hoped, but I love the fact that nothing was wasted, with everything repurposed.

    It’s amazing how much cats love fiber!! Mine are the same!!

    1. Thank you Lisa. I do like repurposing everything if possible. Our cat did love cuddling up into warm and soft places. I think dogs quite like it too. Sensible creatures.

  2. Oh my goodness, all that work! But what a learning experience. My family’s response to that is “shut up Mom”. It’s so disappointing when the fleece that holds so much promise is just holding filth. Have you tried processing fleece from scratch since? There are some really worthwhile fibers out there. I hope you give/gave it a try again.

    1. Thanks Bernadette. I have done a bit of fleece processing, but I think that was before these two. I remember putting a whole fleece in the bath to soak and it resulted in several watering cans full of fertiliser for the garden! I don’t do it any more – too much like hard work and I couldn’t take all the bending over baths and buckets. If buy any more fibres, they are already processed and ready to felt. I say “if” because my stash is now StaBLE – beyond life expectancy!

  3. Ok, I had to laugh at the “religious” crate 😀 I can’t believe the Jacob fleece wouldn’t felt! I bet it would shrink to half its size if it were a precious garment… Sod’s law!

    Both my cats are absolute weirdos, which I very much appreciate – they care not for boxes, wool, jumping on counters or catnip. I’ve tried making them woolly beds and they just stare at me like I’ve given them a bag of week-old leftovers! Glad yours isn’t an ungrateful feline 😀

    1. Thanks Leonor. The expression comes from my father who was a regular in the Royal Navy before and during WW2. We have lots of naval sayings (usually clean) in our family, but the Religious one normally refers to slotted spoons or string vests.
      I suppose it’s not really surprising that some cats don’t follow the “flock”. One cat we had couldn’t stand cat nip (which all our others drooled and rolled over) but loved the smell of peroxide – bleach smelling hands and a toothpaste that I’m sure used to have peroxide in it. If you breathed on him he’d act as if he was on LSD!

  4. What a great system you developed for washing fleece. It looks like it worked well to wash them whether or not the end projects worked out as planned. I have washed a couple of fleeces but it’s such hard work and requires warm outdoor weather, that I usually just buy already processed wool now. Saves time for the things I really want to do. The cat does look very satisfied 😉

    1. Thanks Ruth. Yes I only go for processed fibres now – or at least I try to resist doing so. It’s been a bit easier recently as I haven’t been able to get to any shows in the last few years. Now they’ve started up again I have to try to stay away!

  5. So frustrating but at least you have a bustle for the panto! What an ‘adventure’ you’ve had with fleece washing 🙂 Your drying frames are great and could also be used should you make a huge piece of felt.
    Lovely read – thank you!

    1. Thanks Lyn. I can’t use the frames I’m afraid. 1st they are no more, they went rotten eventually. 2nd I’ve given up making large pieces of felt – too much like had work for a little old lady!

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