Processing Raw Fleece

Apart from actually shearing a sheep or wooly animal (hopefully I will get to do this someday), I have officially worked through the entire fleece to yarn process!

Recently I was given a bag of raw, stinky, dirty, greasy, lovely local sheep’s fleece. Finally I began the project of processing it. Washing fleece is easier than I thought! I was afraid at first because of the dangers of felting, but I had no problems. I wasn’t even that careful.

How To Wash Raw Fleece:

I washed my fleece in 5 steps. It took about 40 minutes.

  1. Submerge into pot of cold water
  2. Heat gradually on the stove until it is a hot water bath
  3. Dunk into a hot soapy water bath
  4. Dunk into hot rinse bath
  5. Air dry

I have tried this process on several batches of wool, and some have been more durable than others. With rougher wool, I have been less careful and not had any issues with felting. With finer wool (shetland, alpaca, etc) I have found that temperature shock and handling the wool too much can start to felt it.

If you want to be on the safe side, gradually heat up your fleece rather than plunging it straight into hot water. Start by submerging a big pile of dirty fleece into a pot of cold water, and then gradually heat it up on the stove on low to medium heat. Do not bring it to a boil, heat it to the hottest point that you can still put your hands in. The hot water will help to remove some of the grease from the wool, and the water will quickly become brown and yucky. Do not agitate. I just gently pressed it and spun it around occasionally with my hands or a wooden spoon. I’ve gotten away without the gradual heating step with some batches of fleece, but with the finer stuff I don’t take any chances.

After letting it sit in the hot water bath for about 10 minutes, drain the yucky water slowly into the sink. This process can be aided by an in-pot colander or strainer. Remove the wool from the pot and fill it up again, this time with hot tap water and some soap. The amount of soap isn’t particularly important, probably similar to washing dishes. Wait another 10 minutes.

Continue the process of submerging gently into hot soapy water and draining. The number of times you need to do this depends on how dirty your batch of fleece is. I usually do about 2 soap baths and 3 or 4 hot water rinses or until the water is draining mostly clear. Do not try and rinse the wool under a faucet. It will get rinsed just fine by soaking in a couple of hot water baths. Squeeze out the water, and lay out to air dry. It should come out looking like step 2 in my picture above.

Carding

Carding wool is important for getting the fibers aligned and ready to spin. I figured it out using this youtube video. I use wire dog brushes instead of carders, because they work great and are cheap.

 

Have fun playing with fiber!

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3 comments

  1. Hi Kate,
    I've just been gifted with two lawn trash backs full of raw fleece. Some of these sheep were very dirty and the washing is taking a bit longer. Dirty and the washer I am using for this (the woolinator), has a cold water feed only. Your cleaned fleece looks like some of mine and that gives me hope. Thank you for sharing your process!

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  2. This is wonderful! Thank you for the beautiful pictures and the link-I was wondering though, after you carded the wool, how did you (eventually) end up with your yarn? I would love to try this myself, but am a bit overwhelmed by some other posts that I have read. Any help, ideas, tips or other links would be greatly appreciated-I love the way your yarn turned out 🙂

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    • Thanks Karissa! Are you thinking of learning to spin yarn? Or do you already know how? After I card my wool I spin it using my spinning wheel, but you can also use a drop spindle. If you are thinking of getting into spinning I would look for a fiber shop offering classes, or look for a local group or mentor to teach you the basics. I mostly taught myself to spin yarn from youtube videos and online resources, but I needed someone to help me get started initially by showing me in person. It can be overwhelming, but the hardest part is getting started and finding someone to teach you. And then it is SO fun! Let me know if I can answer any specific questions, I’m not an expert but I can share what I’ve learned.

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