I was recently given a huge bag of fleece to try my hand at processing. I’ve never washed a fleece before, and TenGoodSheep‘s tutorial looked like a pretty risk-free way to start (because it’s very unlikely that I could felt a fleece in cold water.)
I started by spreading out half of the fleece and picking out all the large manure tags, leaves, and too-dirty-to-wash wool.
Next, I used the hose to fill up a Rubbermaid with cold water, and submerged the fleece.
Almost as soon as the wool touched the water it started releasing dirt and all sorts of murky nastiness. I let it soak each time for at least 10 minutes before I dumped it out and refilled the Rubbermaid. I think I dumped and refilled at least 3 times, probably more like 4 or 5, until I was happy with the cleanliness of the wool.
You can see the difference in between each soaking in this photo.
After the cold soaks there was a major difference in the dirt level of the fleece, but it still felt greasy because the lanolin hadn’t been removed. The purpose of the cold soaks was just to remove all the dirt, and the next step is using very hot water to melt out the lanolin.
Here’s some of the raw fleece and cold soaked fleece for contrast. Quite a difference…
The water needs to get above 140 degrees in order to melt the lanolin, and my tap water doesn’t get that hot. At first I tried running hot water from the bath into my Rubbermaid and supplementing it with a pot of boiling water, but that didn’t get hot enough. Then I tried boiling a pot of water, adding a spoon of dishwashing soap, and letting the wool soak for 20 minutes. That worked beautifully, and left the wool almost lanolin free. The only problem with that method is that it would take so much time to heat up one pot at a time on the stovetop.
So, I borrowed a friend’s turkey fryer! I can do it outside and avoid heating up the house, and it gets so much more done that doing it on the stovetop.
After the wool is cooled, rinsed, and dried I started the process of getting the clean wool into a usable form. I had read somewhere that putting a fleece in the dryer on Air Fluff helps get the very small veg matter out, and because this fleece had a lot of that, I decided to try it. It did help, but the real secret to getting the veg matter out is using the hackle. It really opens up the lock structure and allows the dust and veg to fall out, plus it removes all the short, neppy fibers.
And then I ran it through the drum carder a few times, (another step which helps remove veg junk), and now have a lovely, spinnable batt! I still have to finish processing the rest of the fleece, so I will have quite a few more batts when I’m done.
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