Today I got out a couple of beautiful fleeces that I had stored over the garage for a few years. They came from a huge sheep ranch in Australia that specialized in raising coloured sheep especially for the hand spinning market. I was fortunate enough to visit for 2 weeks at sheering time, working in the shed and getting my pick of that year’s sheering. It was an oportunity of a lifetime and I will never forget it. Getting out the fleece today made me so happy.
They are still perfect! I attribute this to the storage containers we used. They are a very strong cardboard with metal bottom and very tight fitting metal tops with clamps to ensure an airtight fit. Because of the cardboard the wool was able to “breathe” and any felting that may have resulted from condensation if they had been kept in plastic was avoided. Of course, the insects and rodents were not able to penetrate the very thick cardboard nor were they able to find a way in through the airtight lid. I was very happy to see that they had weathered the years so well.
Washing The Fleece
I decided to use my washing machine for a tub because it is a top loader. It’s the largest wash tub I have and it’s easy to fill with water and empty again PLUS it has the added benefit of being able to spin much of the water out of my fleece between the wash and rinse. WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T LET THE MACHINE AGITATE.
I put the fleece into 2 mesh bags that I have just for this purpose (like the kind you wash lingerie in, only bigger). I filled the machine with very hot water and a whole capful of liquid Tide and when the soap had disolved i gently placed my 2 bags of fleece on top of the water and allowed them to sink into the hot water untouched. *This is important. It would be the agitation of the fiber while wet either by turning on the machine or by swishing it around with your hands that would cause felting and matting. I walked away, machine turned off, and came back about an hour later.
Rinse: I very gently ensured that the load was as even a possible and set the machine on spin only. This does not hurt or felt the wool and you can get most of the water out. Once the spin cycle was finished I lifted the bags out and filled the washer with warm water this time. It should be a close, in temperature, to the water you washed them in. It would have cooled a bit in the hour or so of soaking. *Also Very Important. A sudden change in temperature will also felt your wool immediatley. When the tub is full you can set the bags in again, no agitation again but perhaps a very little swishing or dunking *very gently.
Spin again and if desired repeat the rinse. I am going to wash mine again after it is spun into yarn and only rinsed it once.
I put down an old sheet and spread out the wool. I love to look at it and play with it to see if it’s dry. It may take a couple of days and it will seem like years. I could have planned ahead but I just don’t think of it until I really want it!