Washing a fleece

Yesterday I took the time to wash part of a fleece that I’d been given. Originally I’d bought a 1-lb bag of Lincoln fleece as a trial to see if I’d enjoy washing a fleece. I thought I’d blogged the process but apparently not. Anyhow, I followed the instructions on the Internet by Deb Robson One way to wash a fleece and for the most part the fleece did get washed but there were parts of it that weren’t so good so I wrote to the store owner who’d sold me the fleece to get his opinion on what went wrong and he very kindly sent out another pound of fleece along with a trial pack of Unicorn power scour, wash and rinse for free. Needless to say, moved by such generosity I had to order some sparkly gold Angelina, superwash BFL and some striped BFL (Blue-Faced Leicester) wool – lol, it was such a hardship.

The striped BFL is so soft I keep petting it every time I walk by. In fact given the cost of fleece and the labour involved one wonders why spinners process their own fleeces but I’m sure once I get into it I’ll find plenty of reasons. I have to admit there is something magical in taking a dirty hopeless looking matt of fiber and transforming it into a mass of pristine white fluffy goodness.

The store owner kindly split the pound into two lots so I have some Polworth which I washed yesterday and I have some brown English Leicester as well. I didn’t bother taking pictures of the process and now that I think of it I did take pictures the first time through with the Lincoln but since I’ve given you the link above I don’t think there is any point in putting the photos on since the link for the washing tutorial is brilliant.

Polworth raw fleece
Raw fleece sitting on a beige towel.

polworth raw fleece against washed fleece
Some of the raw fleece against the washed fleece.

Dirty tips
These are the dirty tips of the fleece that didn’t wash out. The thing with washing wool is that you need very hot water to melt the lanolin off the wool. You also need soap to help loosen the dirt. If you start to agitate the wool then what happens is that you get a matted lump of fiber. So although I knew I had the dirty tips that weren’t washing out I didn’t do much with them for fear of felting the whole mass of fiber.

washed tips against brushed out tips
So trying to decide what to do about the tips I found another tutorial on youtube showing how to clean the dirty tips. Washing dirty fleece tips by Roo Bear

So I took some of the locks over to the sink and dunked them into the container of soapy water and then started brushing out the dirt from the ends of the locks. I then rinsed them and put them to dry. The locks actually take longer to dry than the stuff that was spun out in the washing machine. I did this with several locks before I realized it was going to take me all night to wash and rinse out the locks so I got to thinking what would be the difference between just waiting for the dirty tips to dry and then just brushing them out. I went to the forums on Ravelry and found out that this is what a lot of people do so I just left the whole lot and then later on while I was watching television I sat and combed out the remaining dirty tips of wool. There is a difference but not much. I think if I wanted pristine white then I might be anal enough to wash out each tip. Given that I’ve decided to dye this lot of locks I figured it wouldn’t make a difference in the appearance of the wool. I’ve also read that when carded you can’t tell any difference anyhow. You really have to look to see a difference but having said that I’m talking about this fleece and who knows; the next fleece could be quite different.

clean fleece vs dirty fleece
Finally I thought you might like to see the difference between the final combed locks up against the original raw fleece. Given the colour of the water in the washout I think the yellow in the raw fleece must be the lanolin.

Next time I post some fiber goodness I’ll put up a picture comparing the three different types of locks I have. The original Lincoln was really long locks. The Polworth was very short around 3 inches on average. I don’t know if that is normal or if I was given some shorter bits of the fleece. The English Leicester looks to be long as well so we’ll see.

Now that I think of it I want try dyeing the locks that I’ve just washed so I guess I’ll blog about that next.


5 responses to “Washing a fleece

  1. I often thought about why I bothered with raw fleece when I could get commercially done wool tops for very little money. I’ve realised there is no feeling comparable to knowing that you have got skills that your ancestors did hundreds and hundreds of years ago and that not many people alive now will know how to do this. What also gets me is the process – from starting with a hunk of manky, smelly wool, and I turn it into these beautiful white fluffy clouds of wool, to then spin it, and to knit/crochet it into something, I just think it’s amazing. I started off using wool tops with a drop spindle, then using a spinning wheel, then my own fleece, then carding with a carder, and then finally dyeing with it. I’d love to see how you get along with dyeing, it’s great fun, and soooo awesome spinning the amazing colours you make up yourself. Good Luck with what you choose to do next!

  2. That sounds exactly like the same process I’m going through, starting with the wool tops, spindle, wheel and carder. LOL, as soon as the kitchen is cleaned I’ll be doing the dyeing as well maybe tomorrow 🙂

    I have to agree with you on the whole process thing of transforming a skanky bit of raw wool into the fluffy white clouds of fleece.

  3. This is happening to me too. What did you use to brush out the tips? I don’t really want to card them. Maybe I’ll try a toothbrush.

    • To tell the truth it was so far back I can’t remember but a toothbrush sounds about right.

    • Sorry, I’m not doing very well today, first I replied to your comment referencing a different fleece so I edited my comment but now rereading my answer I realize I didn’t mention that I used a dog comb on the dry tips to separate them out. If I were to deal with the fleece again I’d wash it, let it dry and then I’d use the wool combs I now own on it. The dog comb works but actual wool combs are faster.

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