Monday, May 13, 2019

How do I wash a raw fleece?

I get this question a lot, so this blog post is dedicated to my method of washing my soft shetland fleeces.

Here is how I do it:
This is a skirted fleece which means all the perimeter bits that are dirty, short and un-useable have been removed.  Essentially its the part of the fleece that is protected by the coat.  If you buy a fleece from me, it has been skirted and will look like the one below.  I don't fold the fleece in any particular way after I skirt it, just try to make sure the lock structure is retained at all times.  This makes it easy for me to flick card each lock - my preferred method for carding my soft shetland fleeces.
BTW this is Sansa's fleece.


To start the washing process, I fill my utility sink in the laundry room about halfway with hot tap water.  You can see I only use hot, and have it full on.


I use whatever laundry detergent I have open at the time, I am pretty brand loyal to liquid tide.  (I know a lot of people say I should use special wool scours and stuff, I just don't.  I like to have less things laying around than many I guess is the reason.)  Pour it under the flow so it gets mixed into the water and suds up a little.



Just fill the sink enough to cover the fleece, usually I fill the utility sink about halfway.


I put my full fleece in a mesh soccer bag.  I use the slippery bag so the wool doesn't snag.  I used onion bags once and it was a disaster as the wool got caught up on the rough bits of the onion bag.  Synthetic materials win in this contest unfortunately.  My drawstring broke on it, but that's ok, it works just fine to contain the wool and prevent me from breaking up the lock structure during washing.  I say the drawstring broke, but actually it fell victim to Trixie my cat who is addicted to chewing apart cords and strings.  Like drive bands on spinning wheels for example...


Watch this short video to see how I very gently submerge the wool into the hot soapy water:



After 15 minutes of soaking, I pull the bag out of the water by the edges of the bag and set it on this very handy rack that came with my dryer.  I let the fleece sit on the rack for about 5 minutes to drain.



I use this big paint brush to nudge the dirt down the drain as I don't have a sprayer on my tub.



Depending on how dirty the water is determines how many times I repeat the soap cycle.  I only use about 2 tblsp of soap each time.  Usually I'll soapy soak a coated fleece 3x.



So this is the point where I begin the rinsing - when you look at the photo, the water doesn't look that clean, but it is clean enough, and there are two hot rinses to go to get the fleece that much cleaner.



The first hot rinse I just do in the utility sink, but the final rinse I do in my washing machine.  Here's what I do for the final rinse in the washing machine - set the water level to low, and the water temperature to high.  Once it finishes filling, hit the pause button on your machine so it doesn't go into the agitation cycle.  Then dump the fleece out of the bag and into the water.  I dump it from the bag at this point because this is the last time it gets handled before getting set out on the drying rack and I like to give the fleece to spread out a little in the tub for the final rinse.


Let it sit in there for about 15 minutes and then rotate the dial on the machine to the spin cycle and then turn it on.  Let it go through the spin cycle, then remove from the machine.  



I then spread the fleece ever so gently on an old screen.  Today I am drying inside because its a drizzly rainy day outside.  If its fine outside, I set it right out in the sun to dry, and it dries really fast.  Indoors its going to take a day or so.  




I try my best to get it to spread out in one layer, but the fleece will fold over on itself in spots and stick kind of like Velcro.  In that case I just let it be - because sometimes trying to pull it apart in order to get it to lay flat all in one layer compromises the lock structure because it pulls the locks apart when you handle it too much to obsessively get it to lay flat.  Disrupting the lock structure is the opposite of what I want.  Laying flat isn't critical, it'll dry just fine if some parts are stuck together.  Just put your OCD in a basket and leave it there for this part of the process.



I am now realizing that the fact that I flick card fleeces requires that my fleece retains the lock structure and so I have tailored my washing process to minimize any change to the form of the fleece after its washed.  You can see below I am carding Mara's pretty dark brown fleece and the locks are intact.


I never really thought about it that way, but having written this all down, the theme for my method of cleaning a fleece is this, "Retain the lock structure at all costs."



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