Dirty, Dirty Boy

So, if you were reading along yesterday, you already know that I indulged myself a bit over the weekend and ended up with a couple of fleeces. (Well, yes it was three if you were counting).

So the first fleece up for scouring was from Jack, the adult sheep. I bought half of this fleece and my friend Brady bought the other half. Jack got picked to be first because he was winning the prize for most smelly.

Scouring is actually pretty easy, the key thing being to avoid agitation of the fibers unless you want to end up with a big chunk of felt instead of fiber you can spin from.

First, however, the fleece had to undergo a thorough inspection.

The local fleece inspection team. They conducted a thorough investigation and found the suspect to be stinky.

Next, I gathered my tools and supplies. (This is about half of the fleece to be scoured; I washed it in two batches to make handling easier).

Essential tools for washing fleece. I will note, however, that my husband has informed me that the colander will never make pasta again. I can't say that I blame him.

Make sure your assistant is close by in case you need assistance.

David in his natural state. Yes, that is Call of Duty. This really isn't a two person job...although he did help out with the camera when I got stuck because of wet hands.

Run lots of hot soapy water. I used straight hot water from the tap although some people boil water and add it as well. Either way, I wouldn’t want to stick my hands in there.  (Note that there’s no fleece in the water yet. The best way to make felt is soap + hot water + agitation).

Pay close attention to this part. You'll be doing it over and over and over...

When the water is taller than your colander, load the colander full of fiber and gently push it into the water. With the spoon, gently push the fleece down into the water until it is soaked through. Be careful doing this and don’t stir unless you want felt instead of spinning fiber. (I hear that accidental felt makes good cat toys, although I don’t have a cat so that would not help me much).

Gettin' it wet...

Let soak 15 minutes in the hot water. As you can see in this photo, Jack was a greasy beastie. He also must have loved to roll in the dirt because the water came off brown as well as greasy with every wash.

Check out that water. Great for...well, nothing really. But the lanolin treatment I got from handling the fleece was great for my hands.

Lift the colander out of the sink and drain off the water. Run fresh soapy water and repeat this process. Usually you soak with detergent twice then rinse twice, but since this fleece was so greasy, I soaked with soap it three times. After the first wash, I realized that if I put some jugs in the sink to displace the water, the sink would fill faster and the process wouldn’t take as much water. (It’s a really big sink).

Then begin the rinsing. Same technique, run the water into the sink and then put in the colander holding the fleece. Lift out to drain, then rinse and refill the sink. In the first rinse, add a hefty glug of vinegar to neutralize the alkaline of the detergent.

Here’s what Jack’s fleece looked like in the first rinse:

First rinse with vinegar. Note how yellow the water is. That's lanolin, folks.

Second rinse, plain water.

Final rinse, plain water. Time to set up the drying rack!

Drying station. This is also where I block sweaters and other hand-knits.

Handling carefully, gently squeeze out as much of the water as you can. If you like, you can use towels to block it out, but I prefer to just squeeze it gently and then spread it out and let it drip off so I don’t felt it by moving it too much. I’m a beginner at this and also a bit superstitious this way.

Spread the fleece gently so that the air can circulate through. Let air-dry naturally, turning and spreading the fleece as it dries so that it gets dry all the way through.

You will probably need to turn and spread the fleece several times until all of the wet spots are dried through. Also, while drying, watch for fiber thievery if you have pets. My Westies usually have no interest in yarn or spinning fiber but I discovered that a freshly washed fleece still smells sheepy enough that even the most earnest Westie can’t resist it. You’ve been warned.

Once it’s dry, pack it into a breathable container such as a paper grocery bag, cardboard box or one of those reusable fabric bags from the grocery store. You can pack them in plastic bags if you prefer but it’s better if it’s breathable unless you are absolutely sure it’s not damp. Here, Chuffy guards the results.

Chuffy protects our freshly washed fleece from any marauding fiber thieves that might be in the neighborhood.

Next step – Carding! But that’s a story for another day because my new drum carder hasn’t arrived yet. I’m excited, I can’t wait until it gets here!


5 thoughts on “Dirty, Dirty Boy

  1. Dana says:

    Thanks for the lesson and the picture show!

    • mardeeknits says:

      Glad you enjoyed it! It was an interesting process. A little intimidating at first but really quite easy once I got started. (Now I have two more to do, though…)

  2. caityrosey says:

    Thanks for this illustration of the process of cleaning a fleece. I always wondered how it was done.

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