I’ve been feeling a bit like a crazy sheep lady the last couple of weeks! This is due to the massive pile of washed fleece drying on the big chair in the lounge at the moment, accompanied by various bags of wool at different stages of the carding process. I’m talking of course about the magic of turning straw into gold, or in this case, a bag of strongly smelling, pooey and greasy raw wool locks into beautiful handspun yarn.
You might be thinking that the process of washing wool is really complicated and technical or lots of hard work. I certainly did. I was convinced I’d be rubbish at it. But it’s actually dead easy, satisfying and enjoyable. I found working with the wool and water and carding therapeutic. I like doing little bits of mindless carding when I’m watching TV, or feeling down, or just in spare moments- and seeing the fluffy carded wool clouds blooming in the bag at my feet is very satisfying.
I’m a complete beginner to wool processing, so in this guide I’m just sharing with you what I did- this method is by no means definitive but it is a place to start :)
What You’ll Need
- Raw unwashed fleece or wool locks. There is lots of advice on how to select and buy fleece online. Local farms and ebay are a couple of potential sources for your raw materials.
- Rubber gloves, unscented washing up liquid, a large tub/kitchen sink, mesh laundry bags, newspaper or plastic sheeting to sort the fleece on, and an egg timer.
- A set of standard hand carders
Washing the Fleece
- Gloves on- Check the fleece. Remove any dirty lumps. divide your wool into small amounts and put in the mesh laundry bags- aim for a layer of wool per bag.
- Prepare a large tub of very hot tap water. The water needs to be this hot to melt the lanolin (grease) in the wool.
- Once the tub is filled, add a generous squirt of washing up liquid, but avoid creating bubbles.
- Take your laundry bags and place them slowly and carefully on the water surface. This is to avoid felting. Very slowly, press them into the water. You want to avoid any agitation of the wool- Just let it sit there without moving it. make sure the bags are covered by the water.
- Now set a timer and leave it alone for 15-20 mins. You don’t want to leave it for longer than this as otherwise the water will cool enough for the lanolin to re-solidify.
- Returning to the tub, slowly lift out the laundry bags. Then empty out the dirty water and refill with clean hot tap water- no washing up liquid this time. Carefully put the bags back in and again leave them for 15-20 mins.
- When the time is up, empty out the rinse water and repeat steps 2-6 once more, or twice more if your raw wool was very dirty to begin with. Finish with an extra plain hot water soak to make sure all the detergent has been removed. After this, the water should be pretty much clear.
- Gently take out the bags. Let them cool down a bit and then remove the excess water by squeezing gently or putting the fibre in an old salad spinner for a whizz around.
- At this stage, your wool should look generally clean- but there may still be some stubborn bits of dirt or discolouration in the ends of the locks, as well as bits of vegetable matter. Don’t worry- we’ll sort those out in the next segment!
- Lay the fleece out to dry somewhere- this might take a couple of days. When it’s completely dry we’ll get onto the carding.
Congratulations on your newly washed wool!