Sheep to Yarn: Cleaning Fleece


Pulling out the fleece.
The weather is warming up which means its time to start cleaning wool. The past few weeks have been grey and rainy, not very appealing for starting the first experiment. A few weeks back, I created a basic rack for drying the washed fleece using hardware cloth and lumber from the stash. The new creation was put to use even before washing. It’s a handy surface for spreading the fleece out and removing the undesirable poop clods and manky bits. The garage sink has become the wash station due to a convenient location and height. The wash tub is slow filling, but drains quickly. Cleaning fleece is a totally new experience for me. I’ve spent countless hours watching YouTube videos (where would we be without the internet!) and reading numerous sites.  I’ve decided to clean the fleece first before carding and spinning. Since it can be quite easy to felt using hot water and agitation, I’ve been very careful to gently soak the wool for about an hour in hot water and detergent. The water temperature only reaches 116F and one site wants it to be 140-160F. No agitation! I press the clumps down into the bath and let it be, drain off, remove the fleece, refill the tub for a rinse and drop the wet load back into the bath. Repeat the cycle again (and again) until the water runs clear.

First wash on part of a fleece.
Eventually the wool starts to look cleaner as seen in the photo below. One thing I’ve determined, it’s better to spend more time picking/cutting/pulling out the bad bits before washing. Talk about a labor intensive process! I already have so much more appreciation for those that process their own fleece from start to finish!

Raw fleece (left) vs washed (right)
One thing I didn’t realize was how much the cat would like rolling around in the plucked out parts. She now smells like a sheep.

MeMe loving the stinky wool.

After more washing
The fleece clumps are drying in about a weeks time. The upcoming weekend temps should speed up the process even faster! Mid to upper 90’s predicted! I’ll be making a trip to Eugene in a few days for banking, clay purchasing and a stop at the Textile Center for carding paddles.

Bag of cleaned wool
Bag of dry, clean wool ready for carding

Published by paperstew

I'm an artist in Albany Oregon focusing on paper and natural objects for inspiration.

10 thoughts on “Sheep to Yarn: Cleaning Fleece

    1. That’s what would normally happen to the fleeces I took. They toss them onto the manure pile. It seems like such a shame especially since knitting is such a hip and popular thing these days.

      1. It is such a shame. I know a local artist who works with wool and he’s looked into using fleeces but the sheep used for meat don’t have fleece good enough for the wool industry. They also need more looking after to get the fleeces up to scratch, which just isn’t cost effective for meat farming. There are some experiments in Wales with using fleece for insulation in buildings.

      2. We stopped at Carrey Cennen castle a few days ago and they’re using it as insulation in the roof of their barn which they have turned into a cafe.

  1. The wool looks so much better now and I am sure the smell is improved. I didn’t know cats like to roll in stinky things, I thought just dogs did that. The extra time on the washing should make the other processes easier. Karen

      1. After I bought the carders, I have been practicing a bit! Gonna be fun, Galey Pooh!

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