Adventures: Fleece

Well, I did it.  Bought a whole fleece.   I found a farmer with a spinning flock selling an uncoated registered romney ewe fleece for $3 a lb.  She was kind enough to ship it to me parcel post and I have been messing around with it for the last week.

A coated or jacketed sheep wears a coat to protect the wool from dirt, hay, poop, and sun damage. The resulting fleece is much easier to process by either the craft person or the mill and brings higher prices.

Grannie is the name of “my” sheep, and she is about 6 yrs old and one of the first sheep acquired when the farmer started raising sheep again.  The clean wool I’ve achieved so far is mostly white,  shiny, and soft for a romney with a nice wavy crimp.

When the box arrived I cut the tape and excitedly pulled out a handful of greasy, dirty fleece.  A definite “sheep” aroma drifted from the plastic bag and was bundled into outside storage.  Only my sample came into the house.

Scouring or washing raw wool is an art form.  I wanted something simple and straightforward I could do NOW.  Burrito method!  Placing individual locks on a square of fabric and then folding over on itself to encase the wool in a fabric bundle about the size of the plastic tub for washing.  Hot tap water, a bit of gentle soap (Johnson’s baby wash) and the fun began!  At this stage most of the work is preparing the burrito  and changing the wash water.

My wash water wasn’t as dirty as some of the pictures I’d seen, but I drained the water and added fresh before it cooled.  Before heading to bed I unwrapped the cloth to check on the progress.  The butt end where the locks were sheared from the sheep was a pretty white darkening to an icky sticky yellow towards the tip.  My assumption was lanolin, so the next day I heated water in the microwave for soaking.  Another spinner was emphatic that shampoo was the preferred soap, so I used some Johnson’s Baby Shampoo.  The water turned a bit yellow and the wool grew lighter and lighter.

Encouraged I went back to the fleece, spread it out and took a few pictures

The whole fleece

before ripping off from the upper right and place in net lingerie bags for washing in the washing machine.  A washer full of HOT water and Palmolive (another goof – got the one with Oxyclean, a no-no) soak, spin, and repeat twice more ending in two rinses.  A few bits were cleaner, others still nasty.  Sigh

I started going through the bags to check the progress.  The dirty parts were clumped together.  Maybe THAT was why so much dirt remained.

My solution was to pull the clumps apart at the locks and tease open the tips, hoping it would come cleaner in the next experiment.  Success!  Some did come clean enough to spindle spin a sample. That was fun and I quickly spun up a couple yards of singles to ply back on itself. The yarn size looks about like a dk to sport weight, and I’ll know more after it is finished.

Since only SOME came clean I thought I needed another approach.  A sample of the separated locks was brought inside for the next experiment.  A friend mentioned some of the processing tutorials she saw recommended soaking in cold water.  OK – good idea!  Just soaking in cold tap water it turns as dingy as it did in the hot water and soap. Interesting.    When dried, they look better but still not good enough.

I bought some Kookaburra wool wash and added that to the cold water and let the bag of locks soak. The water looked a little more dingy than it had before but the dirt was thick on the end of the locks so I began to get impatient and gently rubbed the dirty tips while submerged in the wool wash/cold water mix. The dirt just whooshed out. Visible Progress!  Still dirty looking wool, though.

Even though the tips were pulled apart and then rubbed in the wash water, each clumped strand was dirty.  Pet comb!  After drying I combed out the tips of each lock.  The cloth protecting my lap was filthy and the dirt fell out along with most of the VM (vegetable matter).  Progress.  I set aside the cleaner locks for spinning trials and went back to cleaning.

Clumped and dirty lock before combing

Same Lock after combing

At this point I appear to have two problems.  Physical dirt and yellow.  I am assuming the yellow is lanolin (Oil of Olay, anyone?).  The research identifies the lanolin as a WAX that can be removed by hot water.  OK.  I can do that.

So dirt.  since the wool tips clump when wet, maybe the dirt isn’t falling out.  I can’t believe I did this – I stood at the sink and swished the tips of EACH combed lock around in a basin of cool water.  MUD fell out of the locks and collected on the bottom of the container.  Wow.  That much dirt!

By this time I have emptied several more of the machine washed lingerie bags.  Physically combing out the dirt-caked tips, swishing in a basin to remove the loose dirt and then replacing in a net bag for soaks I HOPE will result in some spinable wool.

Two more lingerie bags of the first batch needed to be combed and it was a beautiful evening.  It took about 3 hours to separate into locks, comb, grade, and place into baskets for washing.  Here is the result – the waste is in the cardboard box to the right.  Some locks are 6 inches, some 4, and some even shorter.   The shortcuts are sad.  Here is a clean, white, gorgeous bit of wool and it is only an inch long.  Sniff.  Toss in the waste box!

Please ignore the dirty carport, and spring is when live oak trees shed their leaves.

And a close up…I am so proud of this basket of fluffy wool!

I’m toying with the idea of taking the combing waste to see if it can be carded.

I think I am going to carefully place back in the bags and soak in cold water to get out the loose dirt.  Ummm…how clean is clean enough?  Should I stop now or continue?

Next batch?  Shake the fleece so the second cuts and whatever loose dirt fall out.  Then beat the darn thing with an broom (I think this is going to be satisfying) to break up the encrusted dirt (and it is dirt, not sheep poop.  For the most part) and shake again.  Place into lingerie bags, lower into buckets and add cold water.  Let sit there a day…two…or more.  (If I can stand the smell).  Allow to drain and plop in the washer filled with hot hot water (will have to turn up the water heater) and Original Blue Dawn dish soap.  Soak for 20 mins, spin, repeat.  Rinse.  Check for mud.

And HOPE HOPE HOPE that works!

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7 responses to “Adventures: Fleece

  1. Yeah, fleece cleaning! Aren’t you glad you took pictures of this process? I think it’s fun to have a blog, you look like you are making progress. Once you get a clean fleece it’s really gratifying.

    • Yes! Thanks for your encouragement and it is a BIG difference between the fluffy stuff and the matted thing in the box. Some yarn samples are fixing right now but I’m afraid I used a bit tooooo much twist.

  2. “Dawn” is what was suggested my Maggie Casey…original Dawn. It’s a fabulous degreaser. And lots and lots of really hot water. Soaking in a bathtub? Then rinsing and rinsing and rinsing. Your end product looks great!

    • Thanks! I went and bought some Dawn yesterday and will be using that next time. You can find someone suggesting almost any detergent. Several people are raving about Ecos they bought at Costco and I am intrigued by it.

  3. I was just thinking reading this post whether putting the dry wool into a cold dryer with some sneakers might beat out some of the dirt?

    • ingenious idea – but I’ve already finished flicking out the dirt. Once most of the grease was gone, it came out quite readily. Thanks for the comment!

  4. I use Dawn and I heat the water to a simmer. Then I let it cool down, with the fleece still in the pot, until it’s warm enough I can start to drain and rinse it. I use rinse water about the same temperature as the dirty water (I like to let it cool to hot tap water temperature). Then I rinse it.

    I found that if I didn’t heat it up to simmer temperatures, the fleece would get tacky after time. It still had too much lanolin in it. I seldom use those methods where you wash a few locks at a time. Makes sense if it’s something easily felted, but Romney isn’t like that. And yes, if the tips are matted, it can be a big help to open them up first.

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