Buying and washing raw fleece

It won’t be too long before it’s time for sheep shearing and I thought some of you may be interested in what to do with raw fleece. If you’ve never seen a sheep being sheared take a look at this from YouTube.

Buying a fleece can be done from various websites, direct from farmers and at events like Woolfest and Masham Sheep Fair. You could also take a nice walk in the country and come home with a few gleanings from fences etc. but I like to leave those little bits for the birds.

If you have lots of raw fleece (and I know quite a few of you are sheep or alpaca farmers) then there are several things you can do with it.

1. use it yourself, doing all the wahing, carding and dyeing necesssary
2. send it to the Halifax Spinning Company or the Natural Fibre Company for washing, carding, blending, spinning et al
3. sell it through events like Woolfest, Masham Sheep Fair, breeder associations, Wool Marketing Board or direct to the public. I buy a few each year and I’m more than happy to give it a mention to my lovely readers, just drop me an email.

This guide for handspinners on sorting and grading a fleece is also very useful for felters. The key thing to remember of course is that you must wash your hands after handling it. Most sellers / farmers remove the worst of organic matter and soiling (poo) but there is usually a little residue. You can use the fleece without washing it but if felting, be warned, it will require more soap when working it.

Once you’ve sorted your wool it’s time for the wash. Here’s another guide aimed at handspinners and what follows is my version.

1. run two bowls of warm (not hot) soapy water
2. put the fleece in one of the bowls and agitate very very gently just to help it get wet throughout then leave for 1 hour
3. take the fleece from the first bowl and put it into the second bowl of clean water (as the water was run at the same time they should be similar in temperature. too much temperature change will shock the fleece into felting)
4. agitate gently. If the fleece looks clean then you’re done but if it still looks very dirty then I’d wash it again.
5. I don’t spin the water from my fleece – i peg it on the line to drip dry. I sometimes pop it in a bit of old net curtain to prevent it blowing away and I have been known to drape it on the patio table if it’s a larger piece. The problem with the latter of course is that the cats sit n it even though it’s wet!

N.B. If you’re washing a lot of fleece make sure you have a strainer / drainage mechanism over your plughole so that the fleece doesn’t go into the drain and block it. If you spin your fleece in the washing machine to get excess water out, then put it in a pillowcase or similar to ensure your machine doesn’t become blocked with bits of fleece.

To dye your fleece requires a hot process and so I don’t wash it and then dye it, I do it all in one go. More on this next time.