Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Washing fleece for spinning

Well, guess what I have spent my weekend doing?! I was lucky enough to get five free fleeces last friday - unwashed - and of course I wanted to get going straight away. They looked reasonably clean in the bags, three are lambs fleeces and two are from older sheep. Of course, I forgot to ask what type of sheep they were but I'll try and find out. It was forecast beautiful weather over the weekend so I thought perfect for washing my fleece! So I picked a bag at random - think this is a bigger adult fleece - and laid it out to see what I had. BTW, it is advisable to do this OUTSIDE!! They stink!! Unwashed fleece tends to smell strongly of lanolin, the natural grease in the fleece as well as 'animal matter' I think is the polite way to describe dried poo! Maybe a baking hot day didn't help as it was a bit ripe:-))

One large fleece laid out full. That is a lot of potential yarn! Since this is my first full fleece I have no idea how much this will make. Maybe spinning will just eat it up. And it will depend on how thin I spin too.

Anyway, I gemmed up on how to wash fleece. I learned sooo much online. I learned that everyone has contradicting methods:-) And I learned that it is vital to get as much crap, twigs and such out of the fleece before you wash it and especially the 'animal matter'!! You cut it off, as it's never going to be worth saving!! And as the only place big enough to wash this fleece is my bath, I really don't fancy decorating it with animal poo. Pulease! I shudder to think of the hygiene issues:-))

But the most important thing I found out is that you wash the fleece differently for spinning compared to felting. Who knew?

So my golden nugget of information for you today is if you want to felt the fleece you must get rid of the lanolin and the best thing to use is dishwater tablets or washing powder - but NOT soap! If you want to spin it like I do then you need to keep the lanolin in - as it makes spinning easier - so you can't use soap, washing powder etc AT ALL. So how do you get all the dirt out? You use SALT. Salt? Yup. I thought okay, lets give it a try and if it doesn't work then I can always use a little washing powder after.

So here we have my fleece soaking in a bath of hot water with added salt. Enough water to cover the fleece and give it room to expand a little so the dirt can escape. As to how much salt, I just guestimated and poured a bit along the length of the bath for the first few washes. If the muck is coming out then its working!

The key to not felting your fleece in the bath is you must not stir, agitate, squeeze or otherwise prod, poke, swish or cause friction of any kind. WALK AWAY! Leave it alone and let it do its stuff on its own. This is very hard people! I wasn't sure if it was working so I had a little push here and there and then I got impatient and tried a little swish. Okay, one little swish won't totally felt the whole thing but it is very hard not to disturb the fibres when you pour the water out. You want to automatically squeeze the dirty water away. I must admit to forgetting here a few times and this will be the main cause of felting if it happens. If you have the room and a big enough container, you can lift the fleece out and refill the tub so the fibres aren't agitated. But I didn't and it was fine and dandy.

Once I got to three washes, I felt the fleece wasn't going to get any cleaner being packed in like it was so I halved the fleece and let the fibres open out more in the water. This helped get the rest of the muck out and the water was running clear. (I didn't add salt to the fourth wash as I saw it as more of a rinse) Once the water is clear then you are done and out it goes to dry - if you have a scorchingly warm day. If not, you can spin your fleece in an old pillowcase or a laundry bag as long as it is closed so the fleece doesn't go everywhere in the machine. If you have a spinner, or a machine that can do the spin cycle only, then this is fine to get the excess water out your fleece. If it is going to add water then this is a no-no. It will cause friction which we don't want.

I used the warm weather to dry mine so I haven't tested the spin cycle myself yet, but I have used my washing machine to spin my dyed wool yarn with no felting at all, so I am confident there should be no mishaps. But I will test a bit before I put a whole fleece in.

Now my fleece is dry, I'm picking out the remaining twigs and such that I missed and it is looking lovely and clean. I'm sure these would come out in carding but as I'm doing that indoors, I don't want all of that on my carpet - call me pernickity:-) Once I'm finished this process, I can get to spinning!! I can feel the lanolin still in the fleece but it's not as greasy as before and the fibres feel - moisturised is the best word to describe it. I think this will spin up a dream.

So, one fleece down and four more to go.


  1. This looks really exciting! I used to spin, dye and weave a few years ago, and went through the whole process by hand, I will watch as the process unfolds with envy! Lois x

  2. I have a new Jacob's fleece (patchy cream and brown colours) that I want to both spin and felt - so I'm immensely grateful for your tip about whether to use soap or not. I'll start by using salt and then divide it up and wash the portion I intend to use for felting. Thanks again. JanetB

  3. Hi Janet! I tried using salt first but when I tried to spin, it had too much lanolin still in it and it was 'sticky' to the touch - not good. I think trying to wash the whole fleece at once was the trouble. I've found that washing smaller, more manageable amounts of fleece works better.

    I ended up re-washing and using synthrapol which is meant to be a de-greaser and that worked well. I also tried using non-bio washing powder and it worked well too - and cheaper than synthrapol:)- although make sure the washing powder isn't biological as the extra chemicals make it far too harsh and makes the fibres brittle afterwards when it's dry- not good for spinning or felting!

    I think the main mistake I did was I let the water get cold while soaking it. If the water cools down the grease will re-set back onto the fibres, so several gentle hot washes are better.

    It's an area I have been researching mnore on but haven't tried out the varying methods yet - when we get some long warm days then it will be perfect for experimenting and drying the fleece:)If I can be of more help, do please e-mail me and I'd love to hear how you get on. elaine x


Hello and thanks for stopping by. Do stay a while and visit. Please do leave a comment - I'd love to hear from you and be inspired by all your blogs out there too:-) elaine xx


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