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Let’s Wash a Fleece!

I surprised myself in May 2010 when I bought my first fleece.  8 lbs of Romney, complete with VM (not too much) and “farm dirt,” which is what I choose to call the remnants of various bodily functions that would be present in a Fresh From the Farm fleece.  The surprise really was not that I found something fiber-related that I wanted to buy, but that I really enjoy the washing of the whole fleece, by hand, in the back yard.  I had at first thought that I would hand process only about a pound or so, just to see what it was like and to get some hands-on experience with the Unicorn Power Scour, and would send the rest off to a mini-mill to be turned into roving or yarn.  A year and a half, and 3 fleeces later, I have to admit that the fiber prep is almost as fun for me as the spinning!

My most recent adventure in fleece washing was the Coopworth Lamb that I bought at the Great Lakes Fiber Show in Wooster, OH this May.  Won’t you join me as I relive it?

My trusty assistants.

Here’s where it all starts.  No need to heat water on the stove.  I cranked up my hot water heater a little and the hot water out of the tap is about 136-140 degrees, plenty hot enough for my needs.  Of course, I will use the Unicorn Power Scour, which was especially formulated for this exact job, getting dirt and grease out of animal fiber.

My first thought was that I would measure out equal amounts of fiber for each small batch.  Many people have done side-by-side experiments, and have been quite scientific in their methodologies.  I am not a detail person to that extent.  So I didn’t end up using the scale.

Yum, Coopworth Lamb!

Here is the prizewinning fleece itself.  I think it was about 5 or 6 lbs, maybe a little more.

Here are some of the other tools I used, loosely following the Beth Smith tulle envelope method.

Here are some of the lightest colored locks.  But you can see the aforementioned “farm dirt” causing these silvery locks to look yellow. It’s important not to put too much stock in the color of your fleece when it is still dirty.

Nice and fluffy, though.  Not much VM, and nice crimp.  Coopworth is not the softest wool out there, but it feels good to me and will make nice socks or a jacket, maybe.

See how shiny it looks?  Still unwashed, mind you.  And aren’t those black strands interesting?  This gave me the idea to sort for color.

You can see there is a lot of color variation within this one fleece.  There were very white looking locks, and some dark grey, but most of it was “medium.”

I sorted…

and made a bunch of tulle envelopes.  Mine are small, and it was kind of fussy work.

I sorted, and packed…

And sorted and packed,

And still I had this much fiber left!

So, since I did not want to spend the rest of my life doing this, and I wanted to wash some fleece, after all, I shoved the rest of the locks into my 4 mesh lingerie bags, and I got down to business.

My routine is to fill up my buckets with about 5-6 quarts of hot water from my tap, with a big squirt of Unicorn Power Scour.  Not very exact, I know. You can see that in this bucket, the water is pretty brown.  That is the farm dirt and lanolin.

I then do a second wash, with the same amount of water and slightly less Power Scour.  This lamb fleece was really not too dirty, as you can see.

Here is another view of a “first wash.”
Kinda brown, but I’ve seen a lot worse! I follow the two washes with one or two warm water rinses, and incorporate a squirt of the Unicorn Fibre Rinse into this step.  It will help soften the fleece for spinning and makes it smell nice, but not perfumey.  I like the somewhat sheepy smell, and I never try to get out all of the lanolin.  I like a little in there because it helps the locks spin easily and it is a nice moisturizing treatment for my hands.

I then spread out the fleece in my yard and let it dry.  The locks in the tulle envelopes will be nice and organized for when I sit down to flick and spin them.

They are all oriented with tips in the same direction.  The locks in the mesh bags, not so organized, but will still spin great.  I will end up with more waste from those locks, I predict.

You can see here the difference in color between the washed and unwashed. Pretty dramatic.

Here are some of the clean lightest and darkest locks.  I wish I had more dark ones.  Something to look for in my next fleece purchase!

Do you like to wash your own fleeces, or are you now intrigued to try it?  You can get free samples of the Unicorn Power Scour and Fibre Rinse, which gives you enough for a small scale experiment.  Here’s the little bit I’ve spun up so far.

The lamb locks are very clean and soft. I wonder what my yarn will be like and what I will knit with it?


About YarnSuperhero

I am Andrea Marquis, a manufacturer's rep in the fine handknitting yarn industry. I carry several high-end, boutique lines and I partner with the best yarn shops in Western PA, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Maryland. I am a lazy gardener and I love snorty little dogs

4 responses »

  1. I process a fair bit of fibre myself and send the rest to a local mill. When I first started people said use washing up liquid but sometimes the fibre ended up brittle. Now I only use Power Scour for raw wool and mohair or Fibre Wash for raw alpaca. The Unicorn Products are great,they clean the fibre without doing any damage. I noticed too when I’ve had my hands in Unicorn products my skin doesn’t dry out. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this?

  2. Hi Andrea, Next time you visit our farm, let’s tackle a few more of the alpaca fleeces. Lots of colors to choose from — and a bunch of the sweetest babies.

    Good job with the step by step wash and pix. Now, I’d like to tackle the spinning wheel sitting idle up here.

    Maybe it’s getting close to another contest for fleece & Unicorn Fibre products? Holiday presents…….Anna


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