I spent my entire Saturday up to my elbows in warm, soapy lanolin water. If you're just tuning in, I was given a bag of lamb's wool - fresh off the lamb. The fleece was dirty. . . as all fleece off the farm is, so I'm told. I wouldn't know. I am a suburban gal. I was able to divide the fleece into workable sections and I began my washing experiment. I have NEVER done anything like this. I buy my yarn. I buy finished, clean (with the exception of Noro, which I swore I'd never use again), pretty yarn. From a store.
But this was genuine, stinky, farmy, dirty, lovely fleece. I'll skip most of the details and just tell you that you should not rush this process. And you can really truly do this at home, in your very suburban backyard with nothing more than plastic storage bins, some dish soap, a couple of dog kennels and a patient family.
Here is what I did:
1. SKIRT THE FLEECE - don't I sound professional? I googled this and found a few, very helpful, websites that explained that "skirting" your fleece essentially means pulling/picking off all of the really yucky bits (chunks of, achem, manure) and short-haired pieces - or "second cuts". Sometime the sheep is sheered within an inch or two of its flesh. An inexperienced sheerer is probably nervous about clipping the poor sheep's skin. After the first layer is removed, the sheerer goes in for the second sheer to remove the rest of the coat. This is the "second cut". You do not want the second cut.
I separated the sheets of fleece the best I could an set them on a dog kennel so that the bits would fall to the ground as I worked over it. That photo above shows some of the yucky bits that I pulled from the fleece.
An experience sheerer will get a nice thick cut down to the skin on the first pass. You want this full fleece cut.
My labratory was spread out over the yard, but you get the idea of how simple it was. I ended up not using the rubber gloves. Your hands will LOVE the lanolin.
In the end, I found that soaking the fleece longer in warm, slightly soaping water, would produce cleaner fleece. So it went something like this:
- Fill two plastic bins with hot water.
- Add fleece to one bin with a tsp. of dish soap.
- Let soak for several hours (don't agitate - you'll felt it!)
- Press water out of fleece and transfer to the clean water in the 2nd bin. The water should be about the same temperature. Swish around gently and let it soak while you refill the first bin with more warm water.
- Squeeze water from fleece and soak in warm (soapy) water again.
- Repeat these steps until the water begins to run clear. You don't need to use soap every time. You'll strip off all of the lanolin (which isn't necessarily a bad thing - in fact, I used enough soap that in the end, I has stripped most of the oil/smell from the wool).
Here is a photo of "before" and "after" a good long soak.
Washing this stuff took all day. And then . . . AND THEN. . . I brought a chunk of the fleece to a spinning expert who took one look and said, "You can't spin this."
Not even kidding.
Alas, all is not lost. I learned how to wash my first fleece and I am not intimidated. In fact, when I buy (or am gifted . . . ) my first real FIRST CUT fleece, I will have an idea of how to prepare it for the next step:
. . . to be continued . . .