How to wash an animal fleece

I have acquired some sheep fleece, and by acquired I kind of asked for them, well the black nose Valia one. Long story short my Mum helps out at a farm and they have a black nose Valia lamb called Walter, so i asked Mum that when they were sheering and they didn’t have a plan for his fleece could I have it. I’ve always wanted to spin a Valia fleece because those curls, but rumour has it the fleece isn’t actually that usable for anything other than carpets.
The farm Mum helps at is an educational place so I thought I could make up an info board of the different stages of cleaning and spinning and knitting the washing of Walters fleece so they could display it.
I thought maybe you would enjoy seeing the washing process too.

Equipment required

  • dirty fleece
  • washing powder (supermarket basic is fine)
  • Hot water
  • a poking implement
  • large tub that will fit your whole fleece
  • smaller tubs (i use three) 
a black nose valia lamb looking face on. his face is completely black with a white body, black feet and ears
three sheep fleece are laying on the grass, the left is white, the middle is chocolate brown with light brown tips and the right is grey like a brillo pad

So to start that little sweet face up there is Walter when he was new, he is much bigger now and I will need to get up and get some more up to date photos.
The below picture is all the fleeces that I somehow ended up with. the far left is Walter’s, the middle is Lenny’s, he is a Soay and on the right is Mikey’s and I believe he is a Herdwick, but an old dude.

a close up of a dirty white fleece, you can see its long curls

So the very first step is to pick out as much sticks, and bits, and poop as you can manage. this makes life so much easier later on.
You also want to pull out any really short bits of fleece that aren't usable for spinning.

I put these in a separate bucket for stuffing or felting later on, I try not to waste anything.

the main focus is a big black tub with neon green duct tape on the bottom and top covering some holes. a green hose is going into it. its being held up on some square decorative bricks and my tomato plant on the left

a top down view of the big black tub, its filled nearly to the top with water and the dirty fleece is floating about filling most of the water

a white tub filled with disgusting brown water

Then I do a first soak, I don’t have a bath so I’m using our old cold water tank with all holes taped up and full of cold water. If you have a bath that’s even better, but any big tub or container will work.
I leave it to soak for 24 hours and look at the colour of that water that came out the first soak.

a clump of fleece on a brown worktop, you can see a stick stuck in it and a bit of a matt

 So I like to work in much smaller chunks for the next step, so I drain out the dirty water and put clean in, in the big tub and then just pull out small amounts of fleece to clean further.
I also take this opportunity to pick out any matts and more sticks, there is always so many sticks.

Top left -a clear tub on a brown worktop with a teaspoons worth of white washing powder in the centre  Top right =- a clear tub on a brown worktop with a handfull of white dirty fleece in it  Bottom - a clear tub filled around half way with water and wet white fleece in the water. there is a kind of foam on it from the washing powder

Right first hot wash step, this time I used three medium sized tubs, there I had laying about, but they are Ikea storage boxes. I add about a table spoon of washing powder to each tub and then fill with as hot a temp of water as you can stand, you want enough to cover the fleece.
Now this is where you need to be careful, one the waters hot so don’t be sticking your hands in there, I used a spurtle to poke the fleece, but an old wooden spoon etc will work. Second you want as little movement as possible as we all know that water, heat, and agitation causes things to felt, you don’t want to felt your beautiful fleece. so just poke a wee bit.
Let sit for about 30mins.

a clear tub half filled with dirty water

MMM look at that mucky water.
So after your 30mins you want to scoop out your fleece and discard the water in the tub. (i put it on the garden, lets not waste water)
You also want to try and squeeze as much dirty water out of the fleece as possible. do this gently, just squeeze no rubbing.

Then repeat this wash step again. table spoon of washing powder, hot water, as hot as you can handle and plop your fleece in for another 30mins. after the 30mins get rid of that water and squeeze the dirty water out.

Bottom - a clear tub on a brown worktop with a handfull of white fleece in it  Top - a clear tub half filled with water

For the last rinse step you don’t add any washing powder and your water doesn’t need to be as hot as possible, but still go with hot. If you put cold water on the fleece it will go into shock and the fibres could end up felting, and matting and we don’t want that.
Again use enough water to cover the fleece and let that sit for the last 30mins.

a hanging clothes airer is filled with fluffy white fleece. its two circles of mesh one above the other with blue binding around the edge

a close up of the clean white fleece, you can see the curls beautifully, and its actually white

So your last step is to remove the last water and squeeze out what you can from the fleece.
Can you see the colour difference from when we started?

You then want to dry the fleece, im using a hanging airer that is used for knit wear, but anything mesh like that will allow the air to move around the fibres and dry them out, some clothes airers work or a thin towel over your clothes airer if it has big spaces like mine, and then preferably a sunny spot. just watch the birds dont steal any if you put it outside!

a cardboard box about a quarter filled with curly clean white sheep fleece

Then you are done. You repeat the above steps until all of your fibre is washed. Admire how fluffy it is, and clean, and it’ll probably smell amazing of your washing powder. OH I should add that I just use the washing powder I use for my washing, which is the Lidl basic kind.

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