Fleece Processing Part I

>> Wednesday, June 17, 2009

As I mentioned last week, I purchased an entire Shetland fleece at the Maine Fiber Frolic. I have been waiting for the weather and my schedule to allow me to begin process the fleece for spinning. Ideally I'll be able to spin this fiber on a new spinning wheel, instead of my spindles which are all I have right now.

But it will be several weeks before I can purchase my wheel, so I thought I'd at least get started on the processing ... process. The rest of this will be a picture-heavy post as I archive (and share) my method of processing. Everyone does it differently; this is my way.

Step One: Gather Materials.
I am fortunate to have the most loving husband in the world, who built me a fantastic skirting/drying table. It's simply constructed of 2x4s and covered with a durable heavy green plastic mesh (we picked it up at Home Depot for $5 for 15 feet or something. Way more than we needed). The mesh serves two purposes (more on that in a minute). On the table I set my washing bucket (a Rubbermaid tote designed to store sweaters under your bed), a pair of gloves, the fleece, and a mesh laundry bag. If you have less than a whole fleece, a lingerie bag works great. The scissors you see in the pic below are for tripping the mesh (more on that in a minute). You'll also need a detergent/cleaner that will help get the lanolin (grease) out of the fleece. I use Original Dawn.
Step Two: Fill the Bag.
The fleece will come apart into large locks of fiber. This is good. In the mesh laundry bag, I begin to organize the locks into rows. First I separate a lock from the fiber mass (usually a large section will come off that can be subdivided if necessary), then place it in the mesh b
ag, cut end towards the seam on the bottom/far end of the bag. Here's the first lock:
It may be kind of tough to see. I arrange an entire row of locks, their tips all pointed towards me. I don't layer them on top of each other; I want to give the Dawn the best opportunity to work the lanolin out. Instead I layer them next to each other. Once the first row is done, I start the next row in front of it, pointing in the other direction. That is, this time the cut end is towards me. The tips of these two rows are now pointing towards each other. The next row goes butt away again, etc. Here are the first three rows:

As I take the locks out of the bag they came in and put them into the mesh bag, I do some more skirting. I remove as much of the vegetable matter as I can (VM), and remove any bits that have poop in them. Eww. During this step you get to play with the greasy fleece and admire its fine crimp:

Step Three: Washing, the First
Once the bag is filled, it's time to wash the fleece. I put hot tap water into the Rubbermaid tote (about 1/3 of the way up), add a large saucepan of almost boiling water to it since my tap water doesn't get very hot. I want the water to be between 120 and 160 degrees; hot enough to take the lanolin off, not boiling hot which will felt it. I only add the Dawn once the water is all poured - you do not want suds in the water. The water should be tinted a bit blue if you have enough in it.
When washing fleece, it is important to take steps to keep from agitating the fleece. Agitation = felting, and we want to avoid that at all costs. I cut a piece of the green mesh my table was made out of and lay it in the Rubbermaid tote so that I can easily remove the laundry mesh bag when I need to. The bag itself is very flimsy, and won't hold the fiber locks firmly enough to prevent agitation. I lay the mesh bag on top of it, and GENTLY push the fleece down until it is all wet. The water will get gross immediately:Now let it sit until the water is really nasty and cooling (but not cool enough that the lanolin re-attaches to the wool).


Carmen Jun 22, 2009, 3:30:00 PM  

That husband of yours is pretty amazing. How did it all turn out?

Chelsea Aug 16, 2009, 1:05:00 AM  

Thank you so much, this is a great step-by-step. :)

10kH is here for now. Hush.

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