06 February 2010

Washing Fleece

I recently got Alden Amos’ Big Book of Handspinning from the library: it has great writing style, lots of information, and I am most definitely inspired.

See, it has finally occurred to me that I can store fleeces after they are washed, but not necessarily carded. Don’t ask me why this never made it into my thoughts before – I mean, there’s certainly no reason you have to card the stuff immediately after it dries, but I always thought of the two tasks being done together and if I wasn’t ready to do the whole job, I just didn’t do any of it. The result is that I have piles of dirty fleeces sitting in my fibre room, when it would be ever so much better to have piles of washed fleeces sitting in my fibre room.

The Big Book of Handspinning book actually recommends storing fleece in fabric bags hung from the ceiling, wrapped tightly at the top to keep bugs out and labeled with a tag – I’m thinking pillowcases from the thrift store would work perfectly. I’m really liking that idea, as it improves the accessibility of the fibre and keeps things up off the floor. I suspect a trip to the thrift store is in order, to acquire more pillow cases. :)

Now, I don’t wash Icelandic fleece. I tried to, really I did, but I ended up with lumpy piles of felt every single time. There is so little lanolin in it anyway that it’s really not difficult to work with in the unwashed state. I like to prepare it for spinning with combs, rather than carders, and since combs aren’t bothered by lanolin the way carders are, I have no reason to struggle with the esoteric art of washing Icelandic fleece.  Also, since we don’t use pour-on medications for the sheep, I know that the worst of what’s in their wool is at least non-toxic, although it is definitely dirty and germ-laden. I can deal with dirt and germs: I do live on a farm, after all.

However …

I have piles of non-Icelandic fleeces here. They have been sitting for awhile and if that goes on too much longer, the lanolin in them is going to turn into solid guck, which will make them even worse to clean when I finally get around to it. So, inspired by the book, I have started sorting and washing the fleece. It isn’t a complicated process: just put very hot water in buckets with some washing soda and dish detergent (the book recommends natural soap, but we have very hard water, so detergent is a better choice for us), add the fleece without agitating it at all, let it soak in the soapy water for a bit, then get it out without scalding your hands or squishing the wool (scooping it with a colander works fairly well). Let the worst of the wash water drain off, then gently transfer to a clean bucket of equally hot water, and let it soak there for a bit. Scoop it out again, then lay it out to dry. I have wool spread out on the older (somewhat rickety) drying rack, with fabric spread across the racks to keep the wool bits from falling through. It’ll dry in the next couple of days, and humidify the house nicely at the same time. :)

I think I’ll go see if I can find room to spread out one more fleece  … I’ve got lots to do, and I might as well do it while the humidity is low and I’m in the zone!


  1. Anonymous12:02 am

    I'm impressed with your creativity! Reminds me of heating water in a copper boiler for laundry - YOU can have the pleasure of washing fleece, or any other item, with this method. That said, I do appreciate your final results!

  2. studiowvw11:31 am

    Thanks for the post - I was looking for info on how to store fleeces that are washed.
    Pillowcases hung up are a great idea.



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