Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Washing fleeces...

I had an unexpectedly productive Saturday last weekend, which was all the more surprising because I had a really rubbish night's sleep the night before. Since the weather got warmer again , our old heating system has no idea what it's supposed to do, and it's been boiling in our bedroom. While I don't particularly like to have arctic temperatures in the room I sleep in I nevertheless prefer it to be cool and I was tossing and turning all night, trying to get comfortable.

Still, when you've had three babies you know that one night of pretty mediocre sleeping isn't anything too dramatic and I immediately set to counteracting the creeping influence of tiredness with strong coffee. :) Sure, there was that one moment when both D and I nearly caved and almost fell asleep in boy #3's bedroom while he was talking to us about his assorted Spiderman action figures.

After narrowly avoiding that happening I threw myself into GETTING STUFF DONE. Doing landry, working at the allotment, getting the garden ready for winter... that kind of thing. And when that was done I felt I wanted to do something fun just for the sake of it, and I thought of my fleeces.

A few weeks ago I purchased a Ryeland fleece from a fellow Ravelry-member. It arrived, a huge box full of fleecy goodness, and it's been sitting in in the lean-to on top of the washing machine ever since. Being unwashed it's a bit too... pungent, to keep in the house, and there just hasn't been time to go through it and clean it. 

About a week ago that was joined another fleece, this time a Cheviot. We had visited friends of ours who have a farm in the Peak District, and they breed these sheep (along with some other breeds) there. Our friend C kindly put aside one of the fleeces for me. 

With all that sitting on top of the washing machine the situation had become kind of dire and I thought it might be time for a little test-wash. Since clearly I have nothing better to do I thought I'd document the process - also so I can refer to it when, in a few years time, I've totally forgotten again how to do this! ;) 

So there we go, the dark fleece is Ryeland, the white one is Cheviot:

This is really best done outside, but I decided to just use the kitchen sink - I don't actually recommend this because a) it really smells pretty sheepy, and b) the lanolin that comes off the fleece can block your pipes if you are not careful! But anyway, take a washing up bowl: 

And some wool wash:

Boil a kettle of water (no, there is no picture of the kettle, sorry!) and pour it into the bowl. Add some really hot water from the tap if there isn't enough. Then add the wool wash (don't add it earlier because you'll get a lot of foam that way, which is pretty annoying because you can't see your fleece properly. Then drop the fleece on top and gently submerge it. 

There you go, all submerged:

Take a wooden stick or spoon or something like that and gently move the fleece. Don't rub it or move it excessively because it will felt. Then carefully drain the water away. It should be pretty disgusting and brown. You can see it better with the white fleece:

Once you've drained it you are left with a slightly foamy clump which looks a lot like something your cat might cough up. :)

Now boil another kettle and fill the bowl again with hot water (the hotter the better). No wool wash this time, you are rinsing the fleece. When you fill the bowl, make sure you don't run the water over the fleece as that might felt it. Keep the fleece out of the way. Also make sure that the water you use throughout this process (washing and rinsing) is always approximately the same temperature - so don't suddenly use cold water to rinse for example - it will immediately felt your fleece!).

Repeat this as often as necessary (you'll be boiling a few kettles!) and gently check the fleece for any really matted bits that you can just pull off and discard. Once you've finished, make sure you pour at least one kettle of boiling water down your sink to dissolve and flush out any remaining lanolin!

Gently squeeze the water out of the fleece and spread it out to dry:

And there you go! Please note that this process will not get you a 100% clean fleece. There will be bits of vegetable matter still in it, and you will also pick it over to remove any particularly dirty or matted areas that did not wash out. The vegetable matter should drop out in the spinning process. There should also be a small amount of lanolin left in the fleece, which is good for spinning. 


  1. Fascinating process, a great tutorial.

    1. Thanks. I've managed to spin some of it at my monthly spinning group a couple of weeks ago and it's turning out really well. :)

  2. Wow, I think you would have to be very keen on spinning to go through all this. Not for me, at all. I really admire people who do things from scratch. Can we see what you do next with it please?

    1. Hahaha, it really is rather an effort, but it's fun too. I've managed to spin some of it up, so I'll try to do a post to show how it's looking now. :)

  3. I had a go at that when I managed to get a Lincolnshire Longwool fleece delivered with my veg box, whilst I was in Lincolnshire (they don't seem to do such things down south...). It was great fun (if rather smelly), but I just completely ran out of time to tackle the whole thing. Looking forward to watching your progress.

    1. It's such a slow process. I managed to spin some of the fleece now, but it's really such a tiny amount. It'll probably take me well over a year to get through even one of these fleeces. I'll try to post an update on my progress soon.