I’ve embarked on my journey into raw wool. I have purchased my first fleece. It cost me twenty bucks, and I trusted the grad student from whom I bought it that it was good. I had absolutely zero experience in looking at fleeces. Zilch.
This is a Romney fleece. It’s creamy white and full of chaff. I’ve watched Three Bags Full by Judith MacKenzie since I bought it. I highly recommend it (the video) if you’d like to learn more about fleece and how to prepare wool for spinning. I think she’d say this little Romney is a good one for a beginner.
This Romney sheep wasn’t wearing a coat!
The abundant chaff isn’t a huge problem since this isn’t a fine wool. I plan to card it, so the chaff will come out at that point anyway. This one wasn’t skirted very well before I bought it. Since I paid a whole-fleece price rather than a by the pound price, that’s probably okay. It means extra work, but won’t harm the finished yarn.
After washing, I saw what I think is some yolk staining. The locks with the stain were still sturdy, so they’re still spinnable. Yolk stains are caused by a bacteria that’ll be killed by the washing. It’s important to get the washing done sooner rather than later. That bacteria can spread and ultimately weaken the fibers so far as I understand, but once washed it’ll just leave behind that bright yellow stain. Mine isn’t super bright. I think it’ll be okay.
I plunged the second half in to ferment for a week or so.
Based on how Janice pulls the fibers apart in the video, I think she’d say my Romney’s fibers don’t come apart as well as they ought. They seem to be sticking together on the cut ends. I hope that won’t be a problem. Happily, I don’t see tons of second cuts and the locks I’ve tested from various parts of the fleece all sounded nice and strong. That’s a plus.
After Patrick and I skirted the fleece and cleaned a ton of burs and chaff out of it, I plunged half of it into a bucket of cold water and set it out on my back patio. This process is called fermenting the fleece. Turns out I love fleece fermentation, too!
I let the fleece stand fermenting for four days before lifting it out and washing it. It was pretty stinky.
Washing fleece isn’t as hard as it sounds. It doesn’t felt as easily as I’d feared. I used ECOS Free and Clear Laundry Detergent after doing a bit of research on Ravelry. I used a bucket since my washer is a front loader style. I split this half of the fleece into three parts. I can see how a top loading washer could be a boon because you could get the whole thing in there at once.
The fermenting process took out a ton of dirt, but you can see there’s a ton of chaff still in there.
I took my time washing, letting it stand, sending it through the spin cycle in my washer, then rinsing with plenty of breaks. It was looking terrific…until the final rinse. After I ran it through a dilute vinegar rinse, I was going to drain and spin the fleece, rinse it in one last clear cold water bath in the bucket, then drain and spin once more to get most of the water out.
My guys had returned home by then, and my man suggested we go to the dog park before dark. I felt rushed and decided to try the rinse and spin cycle in my washing machine.
Here’s the first bunch soaking.
That was a mistake. Most of the fleece felted. I was sorely disappointed. I knew it when I put it in there that I probably shouldn’t. The consolation is that I made that mistake on a pretty inexpensive fleece, so I only cried a wee bit. I would have balled good and loud had I felted a nice one like the Alpaca I bought from the same grad student.
I bought a cheap dog slicker brush and worked apart the looser of the semi-felted locks. I was able to salvage about 7 of the 28 ounces or about a quarter of the washed wool.
I don’t know how well it’ll spin, but it’ll probably be my first stuff to practice on, so it doesn’t have to be terrific. I’ll have the other half of the fleece to work with once I finish washing it this weekend, too. It could be a lot worse.
Here’s a small portion of the felted fleece.
So, here’s what I learned:
1. Do not put fleece in the rinse cycle. The water pouring onto it will felt it for sure.
2. Take a good look at the whole fleece. The locks should sound strong when tugged and they should pull apart easily.
3. Use the least amount of detergent you can get away with.
4. Use the hottest tap water you’ve got. Don’t fret over whether the water is over 150 degrees farenheit. Hot tap water will work just fine, be consistent, and will be more manageable than boiling water and trying to reach the higher temperatures for every rinse.
Unfelted, washed Romney fleece.
5. Partially felted fleece can be pulled apart if the majority of the lock is still loose. It won’t be as nice as the long locks were originally, but it’ll fluff up well when carded.
6. Salvaging a partly felted fleece is a lot of work. If you’ve got the budget, chuck it and buy a new one to start over. If not, listen to a good series on the tele to make the work a little less tedious. I chose Bones on Netflix.
A lot of more experienced folk have told me that they don’t wash raw wool because it’s so much work. It is, but it’s kind of soothing work, too. I’m keeping my eyes open for a nice set of cotton/fine wool hand carders now. That’ll be my next step with this Romney before spinning it. With luck, I’ll find a good set soon, ’cause I’m excited to see how this stuff spins up.