Washing Fleece – Tutorial

So I’ve had a lot of people asking me how I wash fleece at the mill. There are a lot of different methods out there for washing and I feel that more is less here. This not only will save you on cost and labor, but it can save the fleece.

The first step and the most important step is to open up the fleece and skirt out all the really dirty stuff. This is a hard thing to do for a lot of people because they want to hold on to every last bit. However, this is where you are going to decide what is going to make it to the carder. If its alpaca I remove any seconds (short cuts), areas that have more guard hair and anything with lots of VM (vegetable matter). If it is wool I make sure the  manure tags and britch wool has been remove along with and areas that have a lot of VM.

Here is an example of a well skirted alpaca fleece

My Helper

The next step is to bag it.This helps contain it while you are washing it. The size of the bags or the amount that you put in the bag really depends on how big your sink is. For me I use a double laundry sink, and this works great. I have a large skirting table that I work on here so any small debris will fall through the chicken wire.  I put the fleece on one side of me and the bag on the other. Then I grab a handful open it all up and make sure there are o big pieces of hay or VM in it then I put it in the bag. I do this for the whole fleece. Be sure not to put to much in each bag. Its always good to err on the side of caution and put less in and then each time add a little to to find sweet spot for your sink :). For me its about 1-1.5 lbs of fiber per bag depending on the fiber and how dirty it is.

Here is what a full bag for me looks like

Once it is all bagged then fill the sinks with the HOTTEST water you can. I have my water heater turned up to the hottest settings possible, its definitely over 160 degrees F. You should only be able to put your hand in the water for a than a second, if that. Once the sink is filled then I put the soap in. Do not put the soap in while the water is running you don’t want to create bubbles. For soap I use a commercial biodegradable wool scour, but anything with good grease cutting power is fine. Before I had the mill I would use about a 1/4 – 1/2 cup Dawn depend on how much wool I was washing. They also have wool washes out there, but I’m not sure how they work.  When I put the bags in the water I lay them in nice and flat so the water can go through the bags easily. I can put about 3-4 lbs of fiber (3-4 laundry bags) in each side of the sink. I lay them on top of each other and then just take a stick and poke them down into the water.

Since I can’t take pictures and demo at the same time I had my “assistant” show you. This is her favorite job!!!!

Once they are under water let them soak for 15-20 min. Then I pick them up with the fiber at the bottom of the bag I give one firm squeeze so its not dripping wet. Now when I do this I make sure not to agitate, just one squeeze. Then I put it in a top loader washer only on the spin cycle. My washer is actually not even connected to my water so there can be no accidents. If possible just shut your washers water off then you won’t have to worry either.

                                  Here is the water from the first wash.

Make sure to put your bags in the washer evenly so its balanced.

In case you do have water hooked up that you can’t shut off be sure to put the dial a little after the dial make to be sure no water comes out during the spin cycle. Be sure to test your washer with something dry to be sure no water is coming out.

Here is where the alpaca vs wool difference is. If it is wool then repeat the wash cycle two more times. Be sure to shake the wool across the bag like it was before it was wet. Don’t  pull on the fiber though that will felt it. I just hold the bag upside down and shake it around. Once your washes are done then do at least three rinses or until all the soap is out and the water runs clear.

If it is alpaca then fill the sink, but you don’t need another wash unless the fiber is really dirty. Hold the bags upside down and shake the fiber loose before you place it back it the sink. Repeat this until the water is clear.

Be sure the water is always the same temperature. You can always go to hotter water, but NEVER go to colder water. The water should always be hotter than the fiber coming out of the washer.

Here is the second rise. You can start to see the bottom of the sink, but there is still some dirt.

Here is the last rinse I did. You can see the bottom of the sink

Lastly spread it out on a drying rack to dry. Be sure not to pull on the fibers even if they are stuck together because this will cause it to felt. If you leave it to dry they will fluff up and then you can pick everything apart. I hope this helps answer any question you may have had about washing raw fleece.

Just a quick update….

Now that shearing is almost done the mill has started to fill up. Here are a few pictures of all the incoming fiber.  I love this time of year because seeing all of this fiber coming just makes me want to create some awesome roving.

The other thing I wanted to post about is that we just got done with all of our spring shows. We had a great time at all of them (even the wet ones). It is so great to get to meet my far away customers as well as our regulars and first timers. Here are a couple of pictures from the different shows. I wish I had some better ones, but I tend to get distracted and then remember to snap some pictures at the end.

NH sheep and wool festival

A rainy day in NH

Despite the rainy day, we still had a great day and met lots of diehard festival goers :)

CT Sheep and wool

MA Sheep and woolcraft fair

We have lambs!!!

Billy woke me up bright and early this am. He came running in saying you have to get we have lambs out there. I flew out of bed threw on a pair of jeans, sweatshirt and my boots. All I can remember is Billy’s face he looked so worried and at a loss of what to do it was kind of funny. I went out and brought them up to mama, she was a little confused, but by the end of a very long day we finally are doing OK and seem to be settling in.

 I had a really hard time taking pictures because they kept following me, but here they are :)
Twin ram lambs. We have not named them yet because we need to decide after our other ewe delivers  who we are keeping and who is going. However, Beth already has at least one name picked out ;)
Here is a shot of one of them that was temporarily sitting still. One is more black and the other I think will be a gray.

Dye Studio

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The other day when I was dyeing I decided that it would be fun to share where I do all my dyeing. I have converted our enclosed porch into my little dye studio. I is nothing fancy, but i works for me.  I love all the light I get in there and I also love the fact that the kids can be outside playing and I can keep an eye on them while I’m getting something done at the same time.
It looks like a mess, but it is a organized mess :) Both tables are preped and ready to go.
 This is roving that is all spun out and ready to be dyed, I’m doing this one some semi-solids.
Here you can see that I use old milk jugs and make my most common colors by the gallon. The less common colors I use small soda bottles.
Here is some of the of the fiber that I dyed drying on the clothes line.
Finally, maybe you saw this big pile in the first picture. This is my done pile. Well its kind of done…. its done in the sense that its all dyed and pin drafted, now it just needs to be weighted skeined and tagged,lol. This is one job that I can’t wait to give the girls when they are a little older ;)

Shearing

>Yesterday was shearing day. I was so excited to see what I got. I knew Charlie and Beauty’s fleece would be nice, but I wasn’t Sure about Lulu’s.  As a lamb we had her shorn to soon and then it was to short the following year as well so this was the first real fleece from her. Plus we would be able to tell if the ewe’s were bred.

Of course we picked the coldest day ever this spring to shear. It was probably in the 30′s. Poor Beth wanted to watch so bad, but she was freezing. I felt really bad for Colin though because he couldn’t really wear a jacket or gloves while shearing, brrrrrrr…….

 I was glad to see that her fleece was a good length. She has such a nice dark chocolate brown fleece.

Normally I am patient enough to wait till I get to the mill to skirt fleeces, but I really wanted to check them out and they are awesome!!!!

Here is a close up of charlies locks, they are so soft and fine, yum……..


Here is what I got from Lulu. I was glad to there was a lot more prime and seconds than there was trash. I think after I wash it and card it, it is going to make some really nice yarn. It is so fine and springy. I’m thinking of blending this with some white and then over dyeing it so the brown will show through and the white will be dyed. It would make a really nice tweed.


The best part of the day was that we found out if they were bred….

Yay!!!! Both ewe’s are preggo and will be due mid-late April. Hopefully it will have warmed up by then.

>Charlie Yarn is all done !!!!

>So Charlie is my whether, he is 3/4 BFL 1/4 BL and his fleece is to dye for (haha I couldn’t resist).

 I decided that I finally wanted to do something for me so I dyed it a variegated red. It seriously seems like I have been spinning this FOREVER!!!! I’m not sure exactly when I started spinning it , but it was sometime over the summer. I just seemed like there were always so many other things going on……well you know how it is. Anyway, it spun up like butter :).

Here it is all done:

I can’t wait to start knitting it up. I’m going to knit it into this I just need to finish my daughters sweater first ;)

>Boo Boo

>So I have a few post that I really need to get up here, but the only one that is going to happen tonight is that I got a little boo boo the other day. I was getting the spinner going and got my finger caught in the gears and lost the top of it. Thankfully it is my right index finger (I’m a lefty) so it could be worse, but it still hurts and I can’t get it wet which kind of get in the way of washing wool. I’m going to give it a few days and see what the Dr. says before I try too much. Anyway I will post a few more fun things in the days to come.