Spinning – Cleaning/Scouring My First Fleece


Today I tried something I have never done before – cleaning a Leicester fleece.

I bought it at Rhinebeck this year from Autumn House Farm.

It is a Morritt fleece – which refers to the brown and black coloring.  I learned that this week.  I loved it when I saw it.  Knowing what I know now about fleeces I probably would not have purchased it – but love is not rational and it came home with me.

While reading one of my new spinning books, I realized that most people clean their fleeces shortly after purchasing them.  Oh no!  Mine had been sitting in a bag in my room for more than two months.  I really needed to do something about it.  So I ran it downstairs, put a piece of plastic across our dining room table and started pulling the locks out of the bag to lay on the table to start skirting the fleece.  Skirting refers to the process of pulling apart your fleece and removing any poop and vegetable matter that might be caught in the there.  However, as soon as I had the fleece on the table, I realized that poop and vegetation were not going to be my problem . . .

The moths were going to be my problem.

They started flying all around the fleece  – and me.

I quickly threw it all back in the bag and ran it outside onto the front porch.  It was already in the low thirties out there.  I would freeze the little suckers out!!  Chip and I then took the locks out and spread them across an old trunk we have out there and one of our cupboards.

The second picture really shows how pretty some of the brown is in this fleece.

I was going to let it stay there for awhile I but kinda was excited about doing this – so I grabbed a small handful this morning and skirted it.

I was actually kind of surprised.  It really wasn’t very dirty and I was able to skirt it pretty quick.  Okay now.  Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Next was the scouring – which basically refers to the removal of the lanolin/grease coating on the fleece.  From what I had read, alot of folks would soak the fleece overnight in cold water to remove the initial layers of dirt before adding soap and heat to the process.  This seemed like a good idea to me, but I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow to start.  Reading more I found other spinners who would do two to three cold water soakings – leaving the fleece in the water for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.  That made sense to me, so off into the cold water it went.

Because I was not washing the entire fleece – I just wanted to make sure I understood the process – I used a small stainless steel pot I had purchased for dying wool.  Almost immediately dirt started falling from the the wool into the water.  The above is the first pot of water.  By the third pot, the water was almost clear.  But the water alone would not remove the lanolin – which is a kind of wax coating on the fleece.  That requires hot water and soap.

So after three soakings in the cold water, I made up my first pot of hot water soak for the fleece.

So lets get a little technical now.  First, everyone who works with wool knows that it is important to keep your water temperature the same during the various processes you are doing with the wool – such as the temperature of your dye baths should be the same as the temperature of your rinse water when dying wool – so it doesn’t felt.  So how can I go from a cold water soak directly to a hot water scour you might ask.

Well I did at least.

But luckily Rosemaryknits on Ravelry answered this question.  She did it so well that I am just going to paste her response here because I think it is just brilliant!!

“You get felting (or, rather, you can get felting) if you go from hot to cold, not the other way around. When wool is immersed in hot water, the scales on the fiber open out. When it gets into the cold, the scales close back down around the shaft of the fiber. If the scales of one fiber close onto another fiber, wet felting is the result.

When you start out with cold water, the scales don’t open, so when you go to the hot, and the scales open, then no felting. Wool is amazing stuff. This also keeps sheep from felting in rainstorms, heh.”

Thank you Rosemaryknits in Colorado.

So back to our soapy wool.  Lots of folks use Dawn dishwashing liquid, some used Simple Green, some used Tide Free Powder, some used Power Scour and some used their homemade soaps.  Hmmm.  That sounded good to me.  Our friends Paul and Maria – who own Asia Luna Soaps – give us soap ends as freebies when we see them – and I had some of their homemade soap – so I just shaved off some of a bar of soap into the pot, filled it with the hottest water I could get the tap to produce and that is what I soaked the wool in.

It took three pots of hot water – each time soaking about 20 minutes so the temperature stayed hot throughout – before all of the soap dissolved.  Then I did three hot clear rinses – again soaking about 20 minutes at a time – and the scouring of my locks was done.

After the last soak (never agitate or rub your locks or they will felt), I squeezed the locks against the side of the tub to get the excess water out, then rolled them in a towel to get out more water and from there laid them out on the wire rack we found in the basement.  (It used to hold seed trays in earlier times).

Next I moved the rack to over the radiator in the parlor.  Don’t worry.  It’s not like any heat has been coming out of them (Chip pleeeeeeeeease bleed the radiators ).

I don’t know – maybe its me, but there is something very Dr. Seuss-y in the shapes of those washed locks – but I digress.

While the first batch was being cleaned, the boys and Chip jumped in and helped me skirt a bigger load of fleece to start working on for tomorrow.  Here’s what they were able to skirt for me in one sitting.

About half of that pile is now sitting in its cold water soak – where it will sit until tomorrow morning when we start the scour.

Not having done this before, I mistakenly thought that the locks were dry sooner than they were, and I started to card some of the locks.  I was disappointed to find that the staple length was rather short for a leicester (the crimps per inch are about 6, which is also off for a leicester, so I am a wee bit perplexed).

I am thinking this will not be fun to spin.  But the color is phenomenal.

I will have to wait until tomorrow to spin any of this and to card the rest.  I hope to have something to show you next week from this fleece.  Wish me luck!!

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About Shelly R.

I am a Mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, an attorney, a crafter and the granddaughter of an amazing woman - my Polish Grandmother. My Grandmother gave me so much, through her love and her patience, her sayings and her time teaching me how to craft and to give to others, that it seemed fitting to share some of that wisdom, to tell some of her story, and to chat about life and crafts in a way that would be a testament to what she gave me.
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3 Responses to Spinning – Cleaning/Scouring My First Fleece

  1. danielle says:

    Woooh! That is a LOT of work! This is so interesting though…I can’t wait to see what happens next!

  2. Shelly R. says:

    Actually, it is hardly any work at all if you are home anyway. The skirting is nothing more than looking at it and pulling out what is obvious and if the fleece is pretty clean, like this one was, it doesn’t take long at all and that is the most work of the whole process (well, other than carding). The rest is just changing the water in the bucket and dropping the fleece in it every 20 minutes or so. There is no agitation or anything “scrubbing”, just let it sit there. I am doing it in smaller batches just because I want to card each batch after it is done. I’m trying to keep it to an amount I can do in the evenings.

  3. Barbara Antonelli says:

    And you think this is fun? I’m tired just reading this….on to the next one….

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