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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Washing Sheep Fleece

So, the big box of fleece in the dining room has almost all been washed!  Now, how did I come to do this myself rather than shipping it off to a fiber milling company for processing?  I contacted The Yarn Spot, an LYS that has spinning classes, and Jennifer has been kind enough to correspond with me about the process and to recommend a company in Frederick, MD, Singleton Fiber Processing (, that would "skirt", wash, and "card" the fleece.  Having been trying to do it myself over the last few weeks, I now think that the price that they charge is probably quite reasonable!

But, I decided to do a little more research about the process and came across an article by Fuzzy Galore that gives many compelling reasons to do it yourself and also walks you through the process.  Here's my experience:

1.  First, be prepared!  You'll need rubber gloves, sturdy scissors, lingerie bags, a dish pan, Dawn dish washing liquid (the original blue version), white vinegar, a salad spinner, and a place to spread out the fleece to dry.

2.  The raw fleece is pretty messy, with "vegetative matter" scattered about.  Your first step is to cut and pick out as much of the junk as you can from the edges.  Don't be surprised if you end up throwing away almost half of what you started out with.

3.  Next step, fill up the dish pan with as hot water as you can.  Then, drizzle some Dawn dish washing liquid into the water, but don't make it bubble up, just gentle wave your gloved hand through the water to dissolve the soap.  Place some fleece loosely in a lingerie bag, put it on top of the water, and gently press it down into the water.  DO NOT AGITATE in any way.  Articles I read on this process emphasized that agitation is the reason that wool felts, not the hot water (which you really need to help dissolve that vegetative matter and the lanolin in the fleece), so you want to handle the fleece as little as possible.  Let it soak for about 10 to 15 minutes, dump out (I did this in the kitchen sink), refill the hot water, put a bit more Dawn, and repeat the process another 2 or 3 times.  Then, fill the dish pan again with hot water, but don't add any soap.  Let the fleece soak for about 10 or 15 minutes in the water to help rinse out the soap.  In the second or third rinse, you might want to add white vinegar to the water to help keep the fleece soft.  You need to be patient and keep doing this until the water runs clear.

4.  Ok, now you've got some washed fleece!  Gently press out as much water as you can, and place the whole bag into a large salad spinner and spin away.  You're going to want to do that a couple of time, throwing out the water that gathers at the bottom.  Then, go ahead and take the fleece out of the bag and put directly into the spinner and spin some more.

5.  I spread the washed fleece out on a large thick towel to dry.  It takes about 2 days to dry completely.  There will still be little bits of stuff in the fleece, so you might want to pick as much out as you can, but I'm hoping the remaining stuff will come out when "carding" the fleece (that's the next step, and I need to learn about that before the next blog post!)

I have to say, it has been very fulfilling to do this myself and has really raised my appreciation and admiration for all the women and men from generations past who had to do this!  Stay tuned for more of the saga :-)


Theresa said...

nice job! how wonderful it will be wearing that sweater you made from scratch! :)

Unknown said...

I must say that your fleece started out much cleaner than mine did. I have washed it twice already and expect it will require washing two to three times more before it is clean.

Carding and spinning is fun - but very time consuming. I have boxes of unspun fleece for this very reason! It adds up fast!

Many Creative Gifts said...

I promised myself that I would go from start to finish on this batch of fleece, but I already anticipate shipping it off to someone else next year for help, lol!