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Homespun Living in a New England

How to wash a fleece...

Saturday, January 19, 2013
(as presented by someone who only sort of knows what they're doing)***

So, you'll perhaps recall that I picked up a 10 pound bag of unwashed border leicester lamb's wool at the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival, some months back? No. Well, take a look:



These photos, obviously (?), show the wool in its natural and pre-washed state. Fleeces can be purchased at a number of different cleanliness levels, effectively allowing the spinner to decide precisely how dirty they want their hands and workspaces to get, in this process. If a fleece is described as picked and skirted, it will have been cleaned of vegetable matter and other possible grossness like skin flakes and dung (picked), and some of the inferior wool will have been removed (skirted).
Diagram of skirt-able parts of a fleece. From Knitting-and.com
The fleece I purchased was skirted but not fully picked, so the wool was mostly good, but there was a lot of dirt to deal with. You can tell in the before and after pictures here. My wool was pretty lanolin-full and dirty. The color went from yellowish brown to nearly pure white. 
How was this accomplished, you ask? I did 5 soak and rinse cycles in the utility sink in my studio, with very warm water and Oxiclean

Steps I used:

1. Pick out obvious veggie matter and dirt, or areas that are excessively tangled;
2. Soak for fifteen minutes with warm-hot water and cleanser; 
3. Rinse, carefully--don't agitate too much or you risk felting the wool;
4. Drain the water; 
5. Repeat, until rinse water runs clear.


This way of cleaning is kind of a pain, but it definitely works. If you want to try a cleaning method that is a little more hands-off, a lot of sources I looked into recommend the washing machine method. I am a renter, though, and scared of security deposit loss, so I can't personally speak to the efficacy of this technique. 

I put some of the cleaned fleece directly into the dye bath, and the rest I started drying to use in its natural color. 

I use a collapsable clothes rack (like this one) to dry yarn and roving. To dry loose fleece and fibers, I just lay a window screen over the top (you can get these at hardware stores for around fifteen bucks). This lets air circulate fairly well. Even in the damp-aired Pacific Northwest, my wool is usually dry in a day or two. 

The drying apparatus. Cleaned undyed fleece in the middle. 
Close-up. Pretty clean--the carding takes care of the rest. 
Ta. Da. There you have it.

Next step--combing/carding. To be continued.

My carder. Hooray.
Also, I don't believe I mentioned that I finally got a drum carder! Bless you Craigslist.

***For the advice/opinions of some people who seem to actually know what they're doing, check out these tutorials:

(how to wash raw wool in the washing machine, video)
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