Although we do an initial hand sort of the fleece before you get it, the first thing to do is lay the fleece onto a clean surface and further sort it. Any vegetation matter or second cuts need discarding, before you group the similar areas of wool into batches for processing (see diagram in Hints, tips and information). Depending on what you are going to do, the usual next step is to wash the fleece.
There are two key things to remember when washing a fleece:
– Don’t stress it by going from hot to cold water temperatures, try to keep the water temperature as constant as possible.
– Don’t agitate it, let it soak. Agitating it will encourage the fibres to felt together.
To wash the fleece you need a tub or bath, and ideally some mesh laundry bags. The natural greases within the fleece melt at about 45-50 degrees Celsius. That equates roughly to water that is too hot to comfortably hold your hand in for any length of time.
The best detergent to use is a wool washing detergent: this is because they have a pH that will not damage the fibres (wool fibres do not like alkaline solutions).
Add detergent to your hot water to create a fairly strong concentration then put your fleece into the water and let it soak for about 10-15 minutes.
DO NOT AGITATE THE FLEECE.
Remove the wool and empty out the dirty water. Refill the tub / bath with clean water of the same hot temperature but this time not quite as much detergent. Place the fleece back into the water and leave to soak for another 10-15 minutes.
After that, repeat the process twice more but this time do not use detergent, as you want to rinse the fleece clear of any detergent residues.
Fleeces take a while to dry out and wool can hold 30% moisture content before it even feels damp, so it is important to gently spread your washed fleece onto an airing rack to allow it to properly dry out.
Once dry you are ready to commence preparation of your fleece to spin etc. If you haven’t washed a fleece before, there are a lot of different ways of doing it, and more information is available on the internet and in books, we always recommend trying a small bit first before you wash a whole fleece in one go.