Friday, 30 July 2010

How to Wash a Sheep's Fleece

I was idly looking through the felting section on ebay last week, when I came across a whole sheep's fleece for sale. I didn't know you could buy them so easily and for only £5! This fleece came fresh from the sheep, unwashed and sent to me in a wine box and with a pretty label.
I looked up how to clean a fleece-some sites were more helpful than others-the two best ones I found are at the bottom of this post.
Here is my pictorial version of how to clean a fleece. It was an enjoyable process-I felt quite rural sitting on my back steps, picking twigs, grass and other less pleasant substances from around the edge of the fleece. This part is called skirting.

You can see the shape of the sheep!

Use old pillowcases as you might not want to use them again after this.

The very hot water and the detergent (I used fairy liquid) is to dissolve the lanolin in the wool. Apparently the purpose of the lanolin is to draw dirt away from the sheep's skin. You should not let the water cool, as this causes the lanolin to become sticky and much harder to get rid of. The other piece of advice related to the lanolin, is that it hardens over time, becoming more difficult to remove-so a fleece should be washed as soon as possible.

The process is this:

1. Lay bags on top of water with a generous amount of detergent. You can gently push them down, but do not agitate as this will cause the wool to felt.

2. Soak for about 20 minutes-not letting the water cool much.

Lift carefully and drain by holding up. Place in another container near the bath. Change the bath water. Hot again.

3. Do this for as many times as seems necessary. It took my fleece about 4 washes and 2 rinses for the water to be clear.

Cassie liked the smell-this is when they are quite clean!
When you have done your final rinse, it is advised that you hang up the cases to drain. Then you can, if you have the patience, get handfuls of wool and spin them in a salad spinner. I don't have the patience, so instead I held them up to drain most of the water, then very gently rolled and squeezed them to get more water out.

It can take a few days for it to dry properly. Ideally it should dry flat. Mine is mainly dry but the thicker parts are still damp.


KindredSpirit said...

you are literally bonkers. The nasty bits look REALLY dubious to me........

ADonald466 said...

Well done! I know what the nasty bits are, as we are surrounded by sheep! Are you going to try to spin some of the fleece, or just use it for felting! I'm going to post this with my google id, after my earlier problems of blogger eating the comments!! Love, Anne

Linda Sue said...

You do things RIGHT! I have washed loads of wool- just toss it in the bathtub in warm water with Dr. Bronners peppermint liquid- only because it smells so good- it is probably too harsh...Lay the washed wool out on the heating vent on a towel or put it out in the sunshine if there is any (not likely)when dry I either hand card or run it through my friend's carder. One time when I first started i did not know about what the lanolin would do and it took me three weeks to needlefelt a little elf pounding the entire time- it just would not felt - finally did and became ROCK hard- and most likely attractive to moths- trial and error.Your tutorial is brilliant- next on the list? Dying and learning about what sheep felts best for what purpose? I prefer Merino and corridale for needle felting...Be careful if you buy roving- make sure you know the content- some does not felt at all. WOOL! yay! I would say you got a DEAL with that batch! Hope so. Wish you lived close by!

→lisa said...

You're like a pioneer woman! Next you'll be teaching us how to build a log cabin :)

How much time did this whole process take, from picking out twigs to drying?

I can't wait to see what you end up doing with it. Looks like your summer is off to a very interesting start!

Mar said...

good information!
so whatcha gonna do with this fur
spin your own yarn?

i had no idea you could get it through ebay either!

Hey Harriet said...

That looks like a full-on process. I'm looking forward to seeing what you do with the nice clean wool :)

Elizabeth said...

Well, this is a new idea for me.
What will you make with the wool?
This sounds fascinating.

susanna said...

Well, I certainly learned something NEW tonight! Thank you for the tutorial. It's so interesting - really! Now I want to know what you are going to do with the fleece! And does it feel soft or rough now?

Sarah said...

I am going to felt something. It may be a tree. That is as far as I have thought! First I have to card it which I am looking forward to-I did it on a school trip years ago and remember it being enjoyable-in the same way as grooming animals is!

Sam said...

Goodness me! What an epic process! I don't think I'm patient enough to wash a fleece! Your pussy cat looks like he was a great help too! :0)

snoopydog said...

Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! You'll be spinning and knitting next :). Can't wait to see the artistic end product! Ros

Tracy said...

WOW... what an ordeal, Sarah... but surely worth it. I've not done this kind of thing before, so this post was really interesting--thank you! Not sure about those nasty bits though... ;o) Happy Day ((HUGS))

Anonymous said...

That is very interesting Sarah! I can't wait to see what you do with it!

Anne said...

Hi, Sarah! Oh my! I had no idea it was such a process! I am soooo glad to live in modern times! :-)

Robyn said...

that's a lot of work :(

good luck with it all and I hope it becomes what you want :)

Bimbimbie said...

Now that's dedication to your art, and I suppose the daggy bits would be ok for the garden*!*