In the beginning, I was really leery of washing sheep wool. It seemed like a really time consuming (& potentially icky) task. But spinning roving started to bore me, I wanted more control over my creativity & I started to gain much respect for this wool fiber, the animal who gave it & the process from start to finish.
I obtain my fleece from scouring fleece sales at various wool shows in the North-East. Although I get taken in by the wonderful alpaca fiber from time to time (which doesn’t need washing before spinning – which is a nice perk), I generally stick to the piles of passed over inexpensive bags of sheep fleece…the extra-dirty or not-so-well-known breeds. I don’t even entertain merino…it’s a lovely wool, but highly over-rated for experimentation purposes. 🙂
I add the fleece by the handfuls in my basket here in the laundry sink, that I had installed in my studio specifically for this purpose. I pick out as much VM (vegetable matter) or poo/manure tags that I can from this stage…I can’t say that I have ever skirted any wool in the traditional fashion, maybe I *should* but I have never found I needed to at this point (or perhaps I am blissfully ignorant).
After reading and trying out slightly different variations of washing fleece here is the method that I use:
Soak in hot, hot water with a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of dish detergent for at least 3 hours – sometimes I even leave it to soak overnight if there is a lot of lanolin or dirt. I generally find this soak 3 times gets the majority of the dirt off. It is a really pleasant surprise to find a yellowish fleece is indeed a lovely white color after a couple good soaks in hot water & dish detergent!
I then soak it in the hottest water possible 3 times for about 30 min. each time. The last time I add 1/4 cup of vinegar to remove any remaining soap residue. I am careful to keep the temperature consistent while washing as, hot/cold water plus agitation will felt wool. I also do not manipulate the wool much, just gently push down into the water with rubber gloves.
The basket is fantastic as you need to drain the water several times – and I found when not using some sort of basket the fleece would just clog up the drain. These are old fixtures from a Zellers store that closed locally last summer. Bonus is that the square baskets have a lip for hanging on a display rack – and they fit perfectly onto the edge of my laundry tub when I want to lift it out to drain the water.
The Zellers fixtures also make wonderful drying racks…in the summer, these move outdoors to dry naturally n the sun shine. 🙂