Washing Day!

This fleece was not skirted before purchase.
On the first really nice day of spring, I was very excited to wash my fleece that I had purchased the year before and skirt and pick another fleece that I had bought over the winter from a local farmer. A warm sunny day beckoned me to wash the whole fleece since I would have ample space for letting it dry. I washed small bits of it over the winter letting it air dry on a screen in the basement with a fan blowing on it but drying in the sun was much more appealing.

A bag of cedar shavings works well to deter bugs. 
I decided it was time to wash the fleece that I bought from Julie Mathis at Heritage Hill Farm in Tremont, IL where she raises Leicester Longwool Sheep. I first met Julie at the Bishop Hill Fiber Guild Annual Spin-In, which just so happens to be happening again on October 17, 2017.http://www.bishophillfiberguild.org/annual-spin-in.html I was enamored with the fleece samples she had but I was terrified to buy one, especially an unwashed one. I worried that I would spend $85 and then have a five-pound wad of felt when I was finished. Julie was so nice and patient and explained everything to me. She even invited me out to her farm to see her sheep and help me with my spinning! Needless to say, I went home with my first unwashed fleece. It wasn't as bad as I thought and I actually enjoyed the process. This is what I plan to share with you.

Things to Gather

  • 2 containers for holding wash and rinse water. The size depends on how much you would like to wash at one time. I use an old cooler and a rubber maid container
  • You will need something to lift the hot fleece out of the soapy water. I use an old vegetable saute pan for the grill. I never used it for vegetables so might as well
  • I use Dawn® dish soap for washing
  • figure 2
    I use nylon window screens I picked up at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore for a quarter each to lay the fleece on to dry
figure 1

I begin washing by filling stockpots with very hot water. Tap water is fine as long as your hot water tank is set to a fairly high temp. Mine is set to 120 degrees. I do not have little ones to worry about anymore. When washing the whole fleece I break it into about three batches. This ensures that the soapy water can soak into every area of the fleece and lift the dirt out. I fill the cooler about halfway with very hot water and Dawn® dish soap. Place the fleece gently into the hot water pressing down until the entire fleece is covered with soapy water. Set a timer for fifteen minutes. While the Leicester Longwool was soaking (fig. 1) I took the time to pick through the wool from the Oxford market fleece that I purchased for five dollars from a local farmer. I wanted to see what the fleece was like and how well it spun up. I have read that it is a good utility yarn for socks and mittens.I find that to be true. It is not as soft as the longwool but it is springy thus giving it a little stretch which is desirable in socks. For more information on different fleeces and their characteristics check out the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, by Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius on my reading list. In fig. 2 I have moved the fleece into the second tub of soapy water where it will sit for another fifteen minutes. You can see how much dirt is left after one soaking in the cooler on the left of fig. 2. I usually wash the fleece two to three times depending on how dirty it is. I rinse twice. Rinsing is done in the same manner as washing. Lift the fleece gently out of the hot water and place into a half-filled tub of the same temperature water. It is necessary to keep the temperature the same in order to prevent felting. The same is true for making sure to keep agitation to a minimum. I use a frying pan with holes in it made for grilling vegetables to lift my fiber out of the water since I never used it for its intended purpose.
 Once the water is pretty clear when you move the fiber it is time to rinse. drying the fiber is as easy as laying it out on an old window screen (non-metal) and placing it in the sun for several hours. If it rains or gets too windy you can bring it inside and have a fan blow on it. I was so excited the first time I washed a fleece. I was sure I felted it because it was so wet and stuck together. However, the next morning when I woke up it was white and fluffy as a cloud. I dried that one in the house. Once it is dried you can keep it in a cardboard box, paper bag, or a Rubbermaid® tub. I like to keep cedar shavings or a block of cedar in with it to deter bugs. I have never had any problem with moths yet, but I would rather be safe than sorry.
Leicester Longwool


I hope you gained some useful knowledge. This is a sample of the Leicester Longwool spun up. I will post a spin blog hopefully with a short video soon.


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