How To Wash A Wool Fleece

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.

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Next, I used the hose to fill up a Rubbermaid with cold water, and submerged the fleece.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

batt

Thanks for reading! Please follow my blog for more how-to and fiber related updates!

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Shearing – The Experiment

I decided to try shearing Andre this year with electric clippers instead of scissors. The clippers I used are actually dog clippers, and really old, from the 1960s. We picked them up for about $5 at a thrift store just to experiment with electric shearing. Good deal too, especially because I’ve read that a good pair of clippers for Angoras can cost upwards of $300.

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I set myself up a nice little shearing station in the bunny yard. I used 2 sawhorses (the perfect height) with a metal shelf left over from the shelf that supports the breeder cages on top. I wrapped a towel around the shelf to keep the bunnies from slipping all over it. I also used a metal tray that fit the saw horses to keep all my equipment in.

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The supplies I used:

  • Various combs and brushes
  • Oil for the clippers
  • Bacitracin ointment (in case I nipped him)
  • Scissors
  • Bag to hold the sheared fiber
  • Paper towel

 

I started by brushing him out and then began slowly shearing him across the back and shoulders. Its nice to have 2 containers for the fiber – one for the sheared fiber, and one for the prime fiber that comes out on the brush.
Andre was a little restless, but overall did quite well with the noise and experience of the electric clippers. Chloe, on the other hand, hated the clippers and tried to get away from them by climbing on me. I guess it depends of the temperment of the rabbit!

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I never cut him with the clippers, but there was a few close shaves. He had some really big matts on his shoulders that the clippers had a hard time getting through, so I had to use the scissors on those. That is the only way I’ve cut him – with the scissors when I can’t see the skin.
It helps when shearing to hold the fiber at a 90 degree angle from the body (straight up) so the clipper blades can go straight into the fiber.  Also, according to the directions that came with the clippers, you are supposed to dip the entire clipper blade while running into a “light kerosene – oil mixture”  throughout the shearing operation. I don’t have kerosene, so I just lubricated the blades with an all purpose motor oil and wiped off the excess on a paper towel whenever the bunny needed a break.

 

It’s kinda fun when a big matt or nice chunk of fiber comes off.

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He had some really big matts that I had been kind of dreading to do on his neck and chest. For those, I have to have him on his back to do, and being upside down with a noisy machine thing on his neck would be way too scary for a prey animal.
I ended up doing those carefully with scissors.

I also should say that I did not do this all in one day. I worked on sections of him over about 2 weeks. Of course it doesn’t have to take that long. More experience on my part and less matts on his part would have sped up the operation.

Before:

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After:

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On a side note, Chloe’s due date came and went, still no babies. No nesting this time either. Rebred June 29, so new due date is July 30th. If nothing happens then, I might start seriously looking for a new buck.

Thanks for reading!

God bless,
Rebekah