Did I mention, it's fleece season?
A month or so ago, I took advantage of one of the first really warm weekends and hauled my fleece stash out of the shed and spread it out on the lawn. The idea was to get the lanolin all warmed up in the sun; lanolin sets harder and harder over the years, and some of these have been off the sheep for three or four years already. Of course, I couldn't resist washing some.
So, here's a quick overview (click for bigger):
From left to right, we have:
- Freddy, a largish down-type fleece of unknown breed.
- Jane, a smaller, softer fleece of similar provenance (at the back)
- In front of Jane, a Jacob fleece I'd forgotten I owned. I think I got it free at a spinning meet, and it was labelled 'cold water washed'. Sadly, it was felted into a tight bundle, and I threw it out.
- Two Manx Loaghtan fleeces, which I am calling Honey and Caramel.
- Note also Kita's head at the bottom of the photo. Raw fleece is Very Interesting to dogs.
This is Freddy, all spread out:
These sheep are pets of a friend of J's parents, who live in France. They are not kept for fleece, and are shorn because it's necessary. I haven't packaged them very carefully, and the structure of the fleece has been lost. I'm not too worried in this case, because it's uniformly clean (or not) and actually seems to have a pretty consistent staple throughout. (In the background, you can see my secret weapon in the fleece washing battle – our old bath).
I have two Manx fleeces, pictured in the next two photos (which are nowhere near as good as I thought – sorry!) I'd only examined one of them before this day, and was delighted to find that the second one was even nicer than the first, with a longer staple and a softer handle. Sadly, you can't really tell the difference in the photos…
My original intent was just to give the fleece a good airing, but of course, I ended up washing some. Washing fleece always makes me feel vaguely guilty – it uses so much water! – so I re-use the water as much as I can, and it ends up going onto the garden. Here's a chunk of 'Freddy', before washing:
You can see there are layers of muck and grease in the fleece. I use very hot water and a generous squeeze of washing up liquid to wash fleeces. Washing up is generally greasier than laundry, so washing up liquid is better suited to attacking the grease found in a raw sheep's fleece! And you need the water to be hot, because it melts the grease and gets it off the fibre so much faster.
Because Freddy is a down type, I'm not particularly (at all!) concerned about keeping the lock structure intact. That can be a good idea for long wools, or if you want to spin the finest, smoothest worsted yarn possible from a fleece, but this stuff is woollen all the way, baby! That means I can wash big chunks of it all at once. So, an armful or so goes into the tub, and is gently encouraged to sink:
I then use my hands (in gloves! This water is HOT and unsanitary!) to 'herd' the fleece slowly from one end of the bath to the other. I can't remember where I picked up this technique, but it works pretty well. The idea is that the water will slowly move through the fleece, without rubbing or any real agitation. It takes a minute or so to go from one end to the other, then another minute back again. You can see muck coming out of the fibre in clouds.
As previously stated, I like to re-use the water as much as possible. Most fleeces will need several trips through the bath to become acceptably clean, and once the water is too dirty for the second wash of one section, it can start the first wash of another. When it gets to this sort of stage, though, it's probably best to run it out and start over:
I don't put this stuff on my veggies. Oddly, I'm more worried about the detergent than I am about the poop and grease. The rest of the garden loves it, though.
Here's the difference the first wash makes:
The unwashed is on the left, the washed on the right. It's not orange any more!
Incidentally, the small bits of vegetation will almost never wash out, especially from a tangly, crimpy wool like this. You can pick them out when the wool is dry, but it's only really worth it for the big bits. Most of the rest will fall out during carding anyway, and you can pick more out when you spin…