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Fleece Washing Time!

It may seem a little strange, but I love to wash fleece. Well, depending on who is reading this, maybe it does not seem so strange, but in my little circle of fibery friends, I do not know anyone else who does this for fun. It all started in 2010, when I went to my first Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I was set up in a corner of Gail and Jim White’s Ozark Carding Mill booth (I wonder if Gail and Jim have retired–their site is not up,) helping sell Unicorn Fibre Products, while they sold their gorgeous fiber and yarn, and took fleeces back to process at their mill.

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I had used Unicorn Fibre Wash and Rinse to wash, block, and freshen knitted and crocheted FOs, and even to set my beginner handspun skeins. But when it came to Power Scour, I was relying on Gail’s expertise and the testimonials of other fiber processors, which I incorporated into my sales spiel. While they all raved about the performance of Power Scour, I felt a little left out, and thought it would make more sense if I personally knew what I was talking about. So I decided to buy a fleece from the booth next door to Gail’s, so I could test the product on my own. Must have been the wool fumes! I figured I would wash a pound or so and then send the rest off for processing. Little did I know that this would turn into an addiction source of such enjoyment. My first fleece was a large and quite greasy Romney, and I washed all 8 pounds of it in my back yard! My obsession began. I repeated the buy a fleece and wash it cycle for several more wool festivals. I’m still not sure why I love it so much, and my neighbors are not sure what to make of it either. It must be just a function of being outside on an nice day and doing something by hand. All you makers and growers know what I mean, right?

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These days, I have a No Fleece Buying rule for when I go to festivals, since I have several clean fleeces and have not done much with them. My plan for this year’s Spinzilla is to make a good dent in my clean fleece stash and card and spin up as much as possible, so I figured I should make sure all of my fleece is at least washed. I knew I had one that I had not scoured yet. It wasn’t the one I thought, and I honestly can’t eremember what kind of fleece it is. I know I have bought romney, romney-bond, shetland, coopworth lamb, cvm ram and I think that is it. All I can say about this one is that it is a nice chocolatey brown and it has been in the garage and I may have scored it at Wisconsin Sheep and Wool a few years ago. It could be part of the romney-bond, which was, as I recall, a biggie.

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A little VM, but otherwise, a nice looking fluffy fleece, and none the worse for aging in my garage for a while

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I’ve been meaning to wash this since the weather warmed up this spring, but somehow did not get around to it till now. It rained where I live all of June and some of July, and then I’ve been busy with my local community garden. But then there came a nice sunny Friday morning, and I couldn’t wait any longer.

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Like many of my product demo posts, this one involves my doing some cleaning first, in this case my many plastic buckets, and food. Here is my squash haul from the home garden so far this year.

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Whereas in the past I have “meticulously” laid locks with tips and cut ends oriented carefully and nestled in tulle envelopes for washing, this time I could not be bothered to find and use all of that stuff.

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A couple years ago my husband strongly suggested I put things in the attic that I am not currently using. I know, right? So it is more of a chore to go up there and get things that I “need.” So for this episode of fleece washing, we are going pretty low tech.

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I start with the hottest water out of my kitchen sink tap, about 130-140 degrees. I am pretty conservative with my use of the Unicorn power scour and Fibre Rinse.

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For the first wash, I start with about a teaspoon in 4 gallons of water, and probably a half pound of dirty fleece. It sits, with just a little gentle swishing, for about 20 minutes.

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Here is the water after the first wash.

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Each batch then gets removed and placed in a colander I just use for fleece, and the dirty water gets poured right into the garden, once it has cooled.

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I only pour it on the flowers and the fruiting plants, not on the greens or root crops. For the second wash, I use the same amount of water, but less Power Scour, about 1/2 teaspoon. Because I am doing this by hand and not in the machine, I can judge how much product and soak time I think each pile of fleece needs.

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Here’s the water after the second wash. You can see that most of the “stuff” (lanolin and farm dirt) came out in the first go-round. So there is really no reason to go heavy-handed with the product. You can experiment on your own, since every fleece will be different and water is not the same everywhere either.

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I like to keep the suds low, because even though I am reusing the water, the second half of my summer got so hot and dry that I am more conscious of my water use, and less suds means less rinsing.

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The next step is a Fibre Rinse soak.

Here is the water afterwards.

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For this I use slightly cooler, warm, not hot water, and one squirt in each bucket is fine. If I have a really dirty fleece, sometimes I will repeat this, but this guy is not too bad, and so the last step is a clear warm water soak.

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Then I go find my drying racks. In past years I have used our lawn furniture. but my husband is not a big fan of that, so now I have collected more appropriate materials, including my homemade fleece/sweater/garlic drying rack.

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Hot and dry weather is just the ticket for drying wet wool, and my blobs of clean fleece were good to go by the end of the afternoon. You may notice my garden is a little jungly. That’s August for you!

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If you have never hand washed a fleece, why not try it before this summer is over? I am curious how much of this I will be able to process and spin, and how much yarn will come out of it. A sweater’s worth? I have never spun for a sweater before, but maybe this is my year. Spinzilla is a great week-long spinning challenge, and Unicorn Fibre has been a sponsor for the last two years. Spinner registration starts tomorrow, so jump on board! The collective goal is to spin enough to stretch around the globe, and your personal goal is whatever you want it to be!

Now, up to the attic to find my hand cards!

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3 responses »

  1. You’re wonderful! and so is your latest post:)

    Anna

    Reply
  2. This is so interesting. Thank you for sharing and I love your sense of humor.

    Reply
  3. Sherice Cuadra

    Informative blog post ! I was fascinated by the specifics – Does someone know if my assistant can access a template a form document to edit ?

    Reply

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