Monday, February 14, 2011

Washing Fleece

A milestone in any spinner's life appears to be purchasing and preparing the first fleece. While I had an interest in doing this, I knew it was a large process that I perhaps wasn't quite prepared for. So, I figured I'd wait until I was ready.

Then I walked into the Juried Fleece Sale at the Shenandoah Fiber Festival.

We were there very early; perfect time to wander around and drool on the fleeces. (This is pretty much impossible to do at the much larger Maryland Sheep and Wool Fest.) Perhaps learn a thing or two.

And then I saw Sequin. A mixed breed longwool fleece in a lovely silver gray. Tons of luster. Beautiful soft, crimpy locks. Love at first sight.

So of course I brought her home.

Thankfully, there is a huge amount of information available on the internet (especially Ravelry) about sorting, washing, and preparing fleece. I spent several days reading up and collecting materials, and then got down to business.

First, I sorted my 7+ lbs of wool into 2 piles: mostly clean, and mostly dirty. The nastiest bits went over the deck railing for the birds. (But there really weren't very many of those, since the sheep had been covered.) I decided to work on the dirtiest bit first, since I'd be least upset about screwing it up.

Next, and very importantly, I locked the oh-so-helpful kitties upstairs.

And then I gathered my materials into the bathroom.

There seem to be 3 main locations to wash fleece at home: the bathtub, the washing machine, and outside in a tub. I don't have access to piping hot water outside, and the thought of putting a dirty fleece into my clean washing machine grossed me out.. so I decided to use the bathtub. This also enabled me to use an open washing method, rather than the common method of putting the fiber into a lingerie bag.

I chose the open method rather than the lingerie bag method because of a discussion on Ravelry. People had been getting what they felt to be superior results (cleaner fleece, better lock definition, etc.) with the former method.

I laid some window screening in the bottom of the tub, turned on the faucet, and glugged some blue Dawn into the rising water. When it was several inches deep, I added 2 stock pots full of boiling water. (To hopefully kill any bugs/larvae.) Then, I carefully placed a lb or so of fleece into the bath.

It was dirty, and smelled like barnyard. Not that I mind, but some would.

After 30 minutes of soaking (no agitation, and careful to not let the water cool too much!), I lifted the screen-with-fleece out of the water and placed it into a waiting container.

Drained and rinsed the tub, then re-filled with plain hot water and the screen-with-fleece.

Since this all happened several months back, I cannot remember how many rinses I did. Probably 3-4. Enough so that the water ran clear after 30 minutes of fleece soaking in it.

Then it was time for the drying. I gently squished as much water as possible out of the sopping fleece, and spread it lightly on our hammock. After sitting on the porch for a day, the fleece ended up in the basement on a makeshift drying rack made from kitty litter boxes and a ladder. It took several more days to dry completely.

The portion above, being the dirtiest part, still has some stained tips. I don't mind so much, because I'm planning on dyeing it. Perhaps the tips would have come cleaner had I flicked them before washing.. but since I have many pounds of fleece to play with, I'm not too concerned. The rest of the fleece came out shining and lovely.

When the time comes to wash my next fleeces (see Whiskey and Tequila!), I'm going to do a little more prep before the washing - including separating all of the locks and laying them in tulle, which will help retain lock formation even better. Experimentation is so much fun, and Ravelry is such a great place for information and inspiration.

Whew! That was quite a post. It has been sitting in my drafts folder for quite some time, so I figured I might as well get around to hitting "publish." Things have just been a little slow around here lately. Ryan's most recent few posts will explain.