Washing raw fleece and dyeing any fleece is great fun and the results can be amazing! Here is a guide to the basics of washing raw fleece, see also our page on a simple easy method of dyeing fleece with food colouring.
We supply unwashed Cotswold fleece from the Pickwick flock - this flock is well renowned for the whiteness and fineness of the fleece - spinners love it! It is also great for dyeing - see link above. We love it because Rob Harvey Long clearly loves his animals and each sheep in the flock is named after a character from history, we have had the fleece from Adriana, Gigi and Czar Nicholas II !
Raw (unwashed, unprocessed) fleece can contain bacteria which can be particularly dangerous for vulnerable and pregnant people. Always wash your hands and any equipment thoroughly after working with raw fleece. Use old buckets and equipment that you don't use for cooking. I was lucky enough to find an old steamer pan when I began experimenting with washing fleece which is perfect to put the wool in, in the bucket, as it lets the water drain out and you don't have to move the fleece too much when you take it out, which means it is less likely to felt.
You will need:
- Raw fleece (unwashed)
- Hot water
- Soap - this could be as simple as waashing up liquid or you could go for a specially made wool scour such as Unicorn brand
- Old bucket / washing up bowl / old saucepan
- If possible: Old steamer pan with holes / colander / laundry bag / similar
- Old towels / laundry airer / drying rack or similar to lay wool on to dry
- Optional: white vinegar for final rinse - this rebalances the pH of the soap which in turn helps prevent the wool from deteriorating over time.
- Prepare the fleece. If you have a whole fleece, open it out and remove any bits with poo, lots of vegetable matter (straw etc) or similar. Take a workable amount of fleece - whatever will fit into your colander or bucket with plenty of room to move around.
- Fill the bucket with hot water and add a squirt of soap - use your judgement on this depending on how dirty the fleece is and how big your bucket is.- if your wool has lots of lanolin in it (a yellowish greasy substance naturally present in the wool) then the water needs to be hot enough to melt the lanolin - about 60'C. This is quite hot, but as long as you do not agitate the fibre, nor change the temperature of the water suddenly, it will not felt the wool. The water will be hot to the touch, so you may need a stick, old wooden spoon or similar to help you for the next step.
- Place wool into bucket. If you are using a colander, place the wool inside and then place in the bucket, other wise just place the wool straight in the bucket. Gently push the wool underneath the water to make sure it is all wet.
- Leave for 15 mins. Resist the urge to agitate the wool!
- Lift the wool from the water. If the water is very dirty, check the temperature of the water, then repeat the above steps but with the water the same temperature as thee water it just came out of to give it another soapy soak. Leave for 15 mins. Empty water.
- Now make a bucket of clean water only, the same temperature as the wool. Place the wool, leave for 15 mins. Empty water.
- Final rinse - add a splash of white vinegar to the final bucket of water. Leave for 15 mins.
- Gently squeeze excess water out. Leave to dry on an old towel, laundry airer, drying rack or similar. If drying outside, be sure to weigh the fleece down to prevent it blowing away.
- Enjoy your own washed fleece! Wool will always have that comforting sheepy smell - however it will smell a lot fresher and be easier to felt after a good wash!
- Why not try dyeing your fleece with an easy method you can even do in the microwave!