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Wash a fleece with me

Wash a fleece with me

***This post should have been published yesterday but somehow the scheduling didn’t go through, apologies for the delay!***

The days are so much longer here in Scotland. When blessed with sunshine (which happens more than you’d think), this is the perfect time of year to wash fleeces.

I recently bought a Leicester Longwool fleece from a small farm that specialises in conservation of this rare breed. I’d bought from them before, so I knew I’d be happy with my purchase.

Now, for those of you who live in a house with a garden, washing raw fleeces might not be a somewhat mammoth task, but I currently live in a flat. Some creativity was in order.

I’m lucky enough to have a very generously sized kitchen, which is where the beginning of the processing begun.

part of a shower curtain is laid on the floor

I laid down this piece of shower curtain on the floor (it’s a leftover from my dyeing setup, I used the rest to protect the wall when working). I can already tell you I was naive and had no idea what I was getting myself into.

a bag with a fleece in it, with Muriel written on the outside

Here is the fleece, ready to come out and play. Muriel is the lovely sheep who grew the wool, she was so named because she mewed more than baah-ed 🙂
This fleece is around 6.5kg. You can already see where I was getting at when I said I was naive, don’t you?

Muriel's fleece is on the floor, ready to be unrolled

The owner of this flock was kind enough to send me some very good written instructions on how the fleece was rolled, and how best to unroll and wash it.

Leicester Longwool fleece on the floor, with human foot nearby for size comparison

If you’re laughing at my tiny plastic protection right now, I don’t blame you. I laughed too! I photographed my foot so you could have an idea of scale. Oh boy.

Time to sort the fleece according to body areas and discard the bits I didn’t want, which in the case of this particular fleece wasn’t much.
Sorting the fleece this way helps me know which parts will be more useful for different purposes. The wool on the back of the sheep (which you can see in the middle) will have better curl definition, and the bits near the rear end will be coarser and less curly. There’s a use for each part, but I want it separated so I can work quickly once it’s all washed.

I must give credit to the shearer, he did a stellar job. I had hardly any second cuts (tiny bits of wool you get from when the shearing machine goes through the sheep a second time, to even the “haircut” out). This person was definitely removing the fleece knowing it was to be used by a crafter, which I greatly appreciated.

closeup of the fleece with very dirty tips and extremely white cut ends

Have you ever wondered about how dramatic a Before and After can be in washing fleece? Here’s your answer. The end bits have been subjected to the elements, the part nearer the animal is pristine. Once I’m done, I hope it’ll look mostly like the white bits.

Next, I carefully roll up the fleece into sections to soak.

a rolled up section of fleece, ready to be soaked

What one does next with a fleece depends on personal preference. I like to soak it in cold water and change the water often, until most of the lanolin (the natural oils the sheep produces to protect its coat) is washed off. Once that’s done, I use very hot water a few times, and then add detergent to it. Once the water comes out mostly clear, I’m done. All that’s left is to rinse it, lay it flat to dry and then play with the lovely curls.

two fleeces soaking, one dirty and the other almost clean

Notice the huge difference! The one on the right already has some detergent in it, the left doesn’t as it still needs a few more cold water soaks.

I’m sure some readers will be worried about processing a fleece indoors. Allow me to share what I did to stay safe and clean:

  • Firstly, I purchased the fleece from a trusted high-welfare farm, which means the sheep are kept happy and are constantly monitored for health issues (thus ensuring the wool isn’t contaminated with pests or other nasties)
  • The fleece was always handled with gloved hands and I never touched other surfaces whilst doing so.
  • I never ate or drank whilst processing the fleece
  • Once I was done separating it into sections, they went into plastic bags and all surfaces were thoroughly washed, even the ones that the wool never touched, such as counters
  • The bathtub was thoroughly washed and sanitised before being used by humans
  • (Finally: if you have pets, make sure they stay away from raw wool! My cats are abnormalities and didn’t care one bit for it, so they stayed away on their own.)

On my next blog post, I’ll share how the fleece came out once dry and the locks separated.

Have you ever washed a fleece? How did your experience compare to mine? Let me know in the comments.

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