Spinning Down Under

Fibre Prep - Washing Dirty Fleece

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When your raw fleece comes off the sheep's back it has been out in the weather for a year. While the lanolin makes it reasonably waterproof, it does not protect against insects, mud, grass seeds or manure, and this will need to be removed before you can spin the fleece.

Depending on just how dirty your fleece is, combing it with a dog comb, or using a slicker brush may be all that it needs.

However if its dirty enough that you really would rather not play with it until its cleaned, it will need washing. I use washing up liquid and leave the fleece to soak in the hottest water possible, before scooping it out in a colander, rinsing it by placing carefully in gradually cooler buckets of water, and then spreading it to dry on a jumper rack in the shower alcove. I'm not too fussed if all the soap is out or not, as it will be dyed at some stage.

This rough and ready treatment may well not work with that precious Merino, Rambouillet, or camelid fleece, which have the tendency to felt very easily, so a gentler approach is better.
Separate your fleece into locks. If you have a lingerie bag, or an old onion bag or something similar to carefully place them in, thats great. I have heard that you can make a hollow in some scouring pads, and that will make an ideal container for the washing process.
Regardless of what you use, or whether you gently place the locks to soak in very hot water all on their own, the key to successful washing is not to handle it too much, and don't swish. You must also make sure that the water temperature change is very gradual, and never run water onto the fleece.
A colander to lay the fleece in as you soak it is ideal, as it also drains the water without you touching it.
Let the fleece soak in the water. Just like dishwater, the bubbles will disappear as the grease gently floats off the locks. You may need several soaks if the fleece is extra greasy (and Merino often is). Rinsing is the same process, without the dishwashing liquid, and you will need to do this until the water comes clear.
Dry the fleece somewhere warm, and some spinners recommend out of the sun; though if the fleece has spent the last 12 months in the open air, a few hours extra should not make much difference.

Generally washing does not strip all of the lanolin out of a fleece, but should the fleece be too dry and require a bit more oil in it to handle easily, the old method was to fill a spray bottle half and half water and olive oil, spray the amount of fleece you were going to spin at one sitting, and cover it with a blanket or cloth for a couple of hours to let the oil soak through.

Once you have dried your fleece, you are ready to go on to the next stage.

If you want to dye your fleece:

or get the tangles out:

My favourite fleece comes from here: http://www.moseleyparkhome.com/
Many of her animals are coated so its hand in the bag, grab and spin stuff!