Washing fleece - 101

Discussion in 'Fiber Arts' started by Marchwind, Dec 24, 2006.

  1. Marchwind

    Marchwind Fiber Arts forum Mod. Supporter

    Messages:
    11,519
    Joined:
    May 10, 2002
    Location:
    Southwest Michigan by way of the Northwoods of MN
    In order to retain and make it easier to find the valuable information shared by the knowledgeable and SO experienced women on this forum, I'm highjacking this thread from another forum and giving it a home of its own.

    This information was shared by Carol and is very much appreciated.

    WASHING FLEECE 101

    As a general rule, I don't like commercially prepared roving. Here's why. Most of the mills, but not all, treat the wool with very harsh chemicals, to disolve the vm. What do you think that does to the wool? You get a technically perfect roving - with no vm - but the wool is nowhere near as soft as it was, and nothing we can do from then on will get it back to the softness it had to begin with.

    We used to have a small spinning group here that has slowly drifted apart. A bunch of those ladies flatly stated that they would only use the finest merino roving, with NO vm. Well, bless 'em, they have no idea at all what they are missing! I hand pick the worst of the vm from a raw fleece, then wash it. A lot of the vm left pops out while carding or can be easily hand picked. Any tiny bits left, and there usually is some of these, will turn at right angles to the spun yarn and again, can easily be picked out as you spin. Using wool combs instead of hand carders will get _all_ of the vm out.

    Now, on to washing the fleece. I was scared of felting my first fleece, so I understand how others feel about it. But fear not! This isn't rocket science! I had read a lot about washing fleece, and was instructed to use a thermometer to have the water at exactly X degrees, ta da, ta da, ta da. Then I was fortunate enough to see a fleece washing demo at a Pioneer Day Fair. The wool was put into a pot over an open fire out in the yard, with the water just barely steaming. Then fished out with a stick and put into another pot and rinsed, again with the water barely steaming. I asked what kind of soap was used to remove the lanolin. None, I was told, ammonina was the cleaning agent. Now I knew full well that those pioneer ladies didn't bebob down to the corner store and buy a plastic jug of ammonia, so I asked just how it was obtained. The lady doing the demo laughed and said it was nothing more than stale urine. I don't mind at all breaking tradition when it suits me, so I use Dawn dishwashing soap and a little ammonia from a plastic bottle to wash my raw fleece.

    We have an Aquastar on demand hot water heater and I get hot water at 140 degrees from my kitchen faucet. I fill my sink with this hot water, add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of Dawn, depending on the lanolin load of the fleece, and about 1/8 to 1/4 cup of ammonia. I push the wool, as much as the sink will hold, into the hot water(with a stick), cover it with a fiberglass tray to hold the heat in, and go away for half an hour. Then I come back and drain the water. Then I squeeze - DON'T WRING! - the soapy water out, and run another sinkful of water, a bit cooler this time and put the wool back in to rinse. I usually rinse three times, with water a little cooler each time. Then I put it into two pillowcases, TURN THE WATER TO THE WASHER OFF! and spin it to get as much water out as I can. You don't want the washer to blast the spinning fiber with water during the spinning process. Then I spread it on screens to dry.

    If you have a top loading washing machine, you can usually wash an entire well skirted fleece all at one time. Crank up your hot water heater so you can get 120 degree water, fill the tub, and TURN THE FAUCETS TO THE WASHER OFF! Add double the amount of Dawn and ammonia, swish the water to mix it in and put the fleece in it. TURN THE WASHER OFF - you don't want it to go thru the clothes cycles or you will end up with a mass of felt. Come back in half an hour or so and spin out the soapy water. Take the wool out! Then refill with water a little cooler than the wash water, and rinse.

    You don't hand wring or twist the wool - makes felt. You don't want the washer to agitate - makes felt. You don't want the washer to spray while in the spin cycle - makes felt. You don't want to leave the wool in the washer while it refills - makes felt.

    Again, this isn't rocket science. After the first wash, when you either hand squeeze the soapy water out or remove it from the washing machine, if your fingers feel the least bit sticky, you didn't get all the lanolin out first go around. No big deal - just repeat the washing process. If you use too much soap, you just have to rinse more times.

    In the last rinse, I use Downy fabric softener 'cause I really like the smell but some don't. Some folks also use a couple of glugs of vinegar in the final rinse, some don't. Be brave - try it both ways and see what you like best.
     
    dhodge likes this.
  2. Shazza

    Shazza Well-Known Member Supporter

    Messages:
    1,538
    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2004
    Location:
    Victoria Australia
    I feel you should offer the alternative of NOT WASHING the fleece...as an option to beginning spinners. The vm (vegetable matter) will come out regardless of being washed or not pre spinning. I spin my fleeces without washing them first...I find the lanolin assists the spinning process by letting the fiber strands slide between your fingers...which is why spinning in the warmer months is a lovely experience because the lanolin "melts" and makes spinning easier.
    This whole seperated sections is new, wasnt like this yesterday so I dont know if we are allowed to even post in here. :shrug:
     

  3. Marchwind

    Marchwind Fiber Arts forum Mod. Supporter

    Messages:
    11,519
    Joined:
    May 10, 2002
    Location:
    Southwest Michigan by way of the Northwoods of MN
    You sure can post here, thanks! You are absolutely right about not washing fleeces. I learned to spin on a raw fleece. But, the fleece washing 101 came about many years ago because lots of people were asking how to wash a fleece. So, this was never intended to be just a beginners topic but just for the people who wanted to understand and know how to wash fleeces.
     
  4. frazzlehead

    frazzlehead AppleJackCreek Supporter

    Messages:
    3,717
    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2005
    Location:
    near Edmonton AB
    Here's how I successfully washed the last batch of fleece I had on hand:

    I have a medium sized metal bucket (it's actually a maple syrup collecting bucket, about the size of your average wastebasket). I filled the bucket with hot water from my tap, added a shot of Watkins Organic Cleaner (similar to Amway's LOC, it's a very gentle soap type cleaner that cuts grease - i.e. lanolin - quite well). Put in the fleece, as much as would comfortably fit, and wrapped the bucket in a towel to hold in the heat. I let it sit there on the counter for a couple of hours while I did other things, periodically checking to see if the water was still hot (you don't want it to cool off or the lanolin gucks up). I stirred gently with a wooden spoon, just to ensure everything got good and wet. Stirring is maybe inaccurate, it's more like poking the fleece under the water.

    When it was time to rinse, I put the big colander across the sink and dumped the fleece into it. I refilled the bucket with hot water (the trick is not to change the temperature suddenly or things start to felt) and put the fleece back in and dunked it with the wooden spoon. Rewrapped everything in towel, let it sit. Dumped. Rinsed again because the water wasn't looking very clean (just rinse until you are satisfied with how the water looks when you dump it).

    After the last rinse, I let the fleece sit in the colander in the sink until it stopped dripping. I put the fleece into a pillowcase and put it in the washer on 'spin' to get the rest of the water out. (Be sure your washer doesn't spray cold water during the spin cycle. Mine's a front load washer and I was worried this wouldn't work, but it did!)

    Once it was all spun out, I laid the damp fleece out on the drying rack (any sufficiently airy place will do) and ignored it for the evening.

    Voila, a clean fleece, with very little effort on my part. :)

    I have also done the earlier steps in a top load washer by filling the washer with hot water and soap, then adding the fleece and pushing it under the water with a hockey stick (hey, this is Canada), letting it soak, then spinning it down.

    (And yup, I've done spinning on the drop spindle with greasy - unwashed - fleece, it makes your hands feel wonderful!)
     
    dhodge likes this.
  5. donsgal

    donsgal Nohoa Homestead

    Messages:
    5,398
    Joined:
    May 2, 2005
    Location:
    SW Missouri near Branson (Cape Fair)
    Last night I washed a chunk of ultra-skanky fleece and I had to wash it FIVE times and there is STILL the odd little piece of mud stuck in a tip here and there.

    I thought I'd never get it clean! whew

    donsgal
     
  6. Marchwind

    Marchwind Fiber Arts forum Mod. Supporter

    Messages:
    11,519
    Joined:
    May 10, 2002
    Location:
    Southwest Michigan by way of the Northwoods of MN
    I have some Buffalo/Bison that is sooooooo dirty I have to wash it many many times and it still isn't clean. I know Buffalo/Bison are known for rolling in the dirt but really :shrug: this is a bit silly.
     
  7. Spinner

    Spinner Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    6,727
    Joined:
    Jul 19, 2003
    I've washed fleece in the machine and it worked well, but when I want just a bit, like for a pair of socks or something small, I will soak the locks in the sink. I like to separate the locks and dry them on the trampoline in the shade. The trampoline is my favorite place to lay out the wet wool to dry. But be sure to keep it in the shade, the sun will yellow the wool.
     
  8. Shazza

    Shazza Well-Known Member Supporter

    Messages:
    1,538
    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2004
    Location:
    Victoria Australia
    LOL I have never heard a staple of wool referred to as locks before today....the trampoline is my skirting table on shearing days. :)
     
  9. Spinner

    Spinner Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    6,727
    Joined:
    Jul 19, 2003
    I picked up that term from a lady in New Zealand. She sent me a spinning wheel many years ago. When she emailed to let me know it was in the mail, she told me that she'd packed it in washed locks that I could use to practice spinning. It arrived in a huge box with what looked to be a complete washed fleece pulled apart in pieces and stuffed all around the parts. :dance: It made excellent packing material! I've called them locks ever since. The lady has sent me several wheels thru the years and always packs them in either washed locks or roving. She often included books on spinning, extra bobbins, and other little gifts tucked into the boxes. I loved buying wheels from her!
     
    dhodge likes this.
  10. Marchwind

    Marchwind Fiber Arts forum Mod. Supporter

    Messages:
    11,519
    Joined:
    May 10, 2002
    Location:
    Southwest Michigan by way of the Northwoods of MN
    It's locks like a lock of hair, I believe. People who comb their wool use the term regularly, at least around here they do.