Many, many moons ago, this is what got me hooked. Processing a fleece. I had asked for a wool fleece for my birthday so I could have my own wool for needle felting. I received a very greasy and vegetable matter dense fleece from a local farmer, but regardless of it’s state, I was in love!
I should definitely mention, my instructions I am leaving here on how to process a fleece are definitely not how I washed my first one. The inefficiency of my many first times processing led to some frustration, but more drive to learn how to do it successfully. I’m sharing here in hopes you find the instructions useful so can do things efficiently in a way that works good for you.
Step One, get yourself the tools. You will need buckets for the soaking and washing. I bought some icing buckets from our grocery store bakery. I absolutely love them because they are a great size. Not too heavy to lift, move drain etc and they have lids that fit tight to keep the heat in during the wash, an important part! If you do not have buckets like this, you can of course use any bucket and form a lid of some sort to cover, this process will work too if you don’t have a lid at all. You will also need some laundry bags. I found my mesh bags from the dollar store. They measure approximately 20” x 30”, perfect to fit about 1lb of fleece at a time with room to move. Lastly, grab some lovely wool or mohair that makes your heart sing, black, white, grey, brown, piebald, long staple, mid or short and let’s go!
Step two, is great to do outside, but if you cannot, you will want to use an old sheet, clean work table, or you can just grab handfuls of fleece to work with from the bag. So in this step, ideally you want to see what you are working with. If you have a fleece with lots of vm or vegetable matter in it, vegetable matter is just wee bits of hay, straw, seeds and etc from the sheep’s hay. There may also be burrs, or thistles, it really helps to get these bits out pre wash if possible. There may also be poop tags in the wool if it was not skirted well at shearing. Throw these parts away. Using a tumbler if you have access to one is another option. We are lucky enough to have one and it saves a lot of time, but I am processing fleeces constantly, and this isn’t a necessary tool. Though I will make a future blog post about how to plan to make a tumbler as there has been lots of interest. After looking over your fleece and getting rid of the large bits you can see, you can grab it up in handfuls for a closer inspection and give it a shake, opening up the fibres or locks to let finer bits of vm fall out. After the handful looks satisfactory, place it in the laundry bag and repeat. You will want to stop and tie up your laundry bag, leaving lots of room inside, when you have reached approximately one pound of fleece per bag. Continue until all of your fleece is in the laundry bags.
Step three, time for a COLD water soak! This is the easy peasy step that does a fabulous job of removing LOTS of dirt. Fill up a bucket half way, with cold water and drop in a laundry bag of fleece. You can agitate, mix around, get the water in all the fibre. If you do not have many buckets to work with, you can put a few lbs in the bucket together. The fleece can sit in the cold water soak for as little as an hour to a full twenty fours. It is always shocking to me just how dark and dirty the water is, even on a fleece that doesn’t look too greasy or dirty. You can drain the water and repeat this step if you wish. If you do not have buckets you can do this in your bathtub too, just make sure to bleach it afterwards!
Step four, if you have a washing machine with a spin/drain option, this is a great time to use it! Take the bucket to the washing machine and pick the bag(s) of fleece out and place in the washing machine, spin/drain cycle. Dispose of the dirty water outside in the garden or grass, or put it down the drain. If you do not have washing machine with these settings, you can pick the bags of fleece out and set them into a tub or sink and squeeze the water out. You can also hang them up outside to drain off the water.
Step five, fill up a bucket with about three litres of hot water, I use the hottest that will come out of my tap. I use Unicorn Power Scour, but using blue Dawn or another detergent of your choice works too. Do remember to not use anything too harsh, you want the fibre to remain beautiful and not overly dried out or brittle after the wash. (Think your hair and the love it needs). Carefully submerge a bag of fleece in the hot water. It is ok to use a gloved hand to push it completely under, or another tool to submerge it gently, but do NOT agitate. If you have a lid, put it on, if not maybe you can cover the top with a towel, though the bucket will cool off much quicker this way. Leave it to sit for about twenty minutes. Do NOT let the water cool off too much. If the water cools too much the grease can reattach to the fibres. Pull the bag of fleece out of the water and as in step four, put it in the spin cycle, or in a sink or on the deck to drain the water off. This time though you will not want to squeeze the water out with your hands until the fibre cools some, we do not want to cause any felting whatsoever.
Step Six, if you have a very dirty fleece, lots of lanolin or dirt, you can repeat step five, and rewash it. If it looks good, it’s time for a hot water rinse, which is also exactly the same as step five, just without soap.
Step seven, dry the clean fibre. You can do this by hanging it up in the laundry bag, either inside or outside. Or you can also empty it from the bag and lay it flat on a wire rack or towel to dry.
Step eight, c’est fini! Enjoy your CLEAN wool! Prepare it to spin, or felt, or get it into a dye pot. Happy creating!