Washing Our Fleece

 

On Saturday, Mike and I got up a little earlier than usual to work on washing our fleece. It’s a good thing we did because the process took quite a while with having to heat up water multiple times. Cranking the gas up on the burner sped things up.

As the video shows, we split the fleece into small sections. Since we had never done this before, we decided to go with one small section of the fleece and start from there. Next time we will wash two bags at a time because there is room for it.

Our turkey fryer pot has a 30 quart capacity. We are looking for a used 45 – 60 quart stock pot. New ones are quite expensive.

Equipment we used:

  • Large size mesh laundry bags (pretty cheap at Lowe’s or Walmart)
  • Fleece
  • Soft Water
  • Turkey fryer, gas ring and temperature gauge
  • Dawn dish detergent
  • Vinegar
  • Towel

I am not sure how much the fleece weighed. We washed about one-tenth of the entire fleece itself.

In the video and here on the list of equipment we used, I mentioned that we used soft water. In her book, The Practical Spinner’s Guide to Wool, Kate Larson gives a good explanation regarding how the hardness  of water – meaning what types and the quantity of minerals present – really affects how well your detergent works. In our town, the town government provides soft water for indoor use and hard water for outdoor use (in other places I’ve lived we’ve had to use a water softener). The softened water allows detergents to work better because minerals like calcium and magnesium are removed, thus making detergent more effective. For our purposes we hooked up a hose and ran it to our garage so that we could wash the fleece in the garage.

For the most part, our weather is unusually mild this winter. Last winter we would not have been outdoors doing anything unless we were bundled up (and I probably would have used the washing machine).  This year we wore light sweatshirts. Weird, huh?

Steps

The two books I have – Start Spinning, by Maggie Casey, and the one previously mentioned above – both give similar, yet different steps to washing wool. We used Maggie Casey’s method this time. Next time we are going to incorporate a step from Kate Larson’s book.

For the first washing, we heated our water between 150 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (this temperature was found in Kate Larson’s book) and then stirred in approximately a quarter cup of Dawn. We then dunked our fleece that was bagged in a laundry bag, into the water and left it alone for 15 minutes. When the 15 minutes was up, we removed the fleece. The water was very brown and gross. We let the fleece drain on the apron of our driveway and dumped the water. Then we filled the pot again and heated the water to the same temperature.

When the water reached the temperature we added about half as much Dawn, and dunked the fleece, leaving it again for 15 minutes. When this second washing was completed the water was remarkably cleaner, almost clear. It just looked like dishwater. We were then ready to rinse.

In the first rinse, we heated our water again to the same temperature. Once it reached that temperature we added a “glug” (Casey’s word) of regular white vinegar. I figure that this was around a cup. Maybe. We dunked the fleece and this time we had to hold it down into the water because it wanted to rise and it was bubbling a lot. We just used a board and were careful not to agitate the fleece. If you agitate the fleece any where in the process you will felt the fleece. If you are planning to spin you do not want that. We let the fleece soak in the hot water vinegar bath for 10 minutes. Why vinegar, you ask? It neutralizes the detergent.

After this, we drained the water and then heated up more water to the same temperature. We did not add anything to this load but just dunked the fleece, held it down and let it soak for 10 minutes. This plain water rinse removes the vinegar smell.

After the final rinse, I hung the bag on the clothesline to let it drip and cleaned up the mess. I then took the bag down and rolled the fleece, which was still in the bag, up in a towel to dry it further. I then removed it from the bag, spread it out on a towel on my craft table and set up a fan to circulate the air, as Kate Larson suggested.

One of the really cool things about wool is that it holds up to three times its weight in water before the person wearing it feels wet. What this also means is that this fleece is going to take a few days to dry thoroughly. I want to make sure that it is dry before moving to the next step so that I don’t damage the wool.

0009

You can see that the fleece is now really soft and fluffy. You can also see that there are spots of VM (Vegetable Matter) in it. While the fleece is still wet, you will want to resist the urge to start pulling the VM out of the fiber. Wool is weak when it is wet so pulling on this VM will break some of your fiber. We will begin removing it in the next step.

This process took us about two hours. We do anticipate a quicker wash time next time because we’ll know more of what we’re doing. During the waiting time we did some yard clean up and enjoyed the fresh air. I even found a live lady bug in one of our planters (in February?!?!).

Next step: Teasing the wool.

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