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.
- Submerge into pot of cold water
- Heat gradually on the stove until it is a hot water bath
- Dunk into a hot soapy water bath
- Dunk into hot rinse bath
- 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 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!