NFU Mutual Smallholding Insurance

Author Topic: Fleece prep  (Read 9160 times)

Mel Rice

  • Joined Sep 2011
Fleece prep
« on: February 22, 2012, 10:44:18 am »
 Are there any tricks I am missing?

At the moment I drop an armfull of my own wool (cut off by me too) into a bucket of water overnight. Then ito 4 or 5 changes of warmish water. Dry it over a radiator, pick it over for lumps of crud/hay whilst putting clumps on the carding paddle. card from one to the other, and back again onto first. Then roll it off ready for spinning.

It takes ages, seems to make a lot of mess when carding (dusty bits of ????) And is still not lovely white/cream  fluffy wool !

It is knitting up nicely on no. five and a half's, arran style. any ideas?


  • Joined May 2010
  • South Lanarkshire
    • Wester Gladstone Hebridean Sheep
Re: Fleece prep
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2012, 12:34:50 pm »
I don't know if this is the answer to your problem, but when I wash fleece I try to keep the locks in order ie not all jumbled up.  So I sink it quite carefully into the water, leave it to soak for no longer than half an hour, then lift out and into rinse water quite carefully, repeating til clear.  I lay it out flat to dry, as it came off the sheep so with tips upwards, butt/cut ends downwards and as much like a sheepskin as possible.  Then when I card I place small amounts of fleece, all facing the same direction so tips first, on the intray.  If you do too much in one go it won't card properly and if you just dump a heap on the intray it will come out lumpy and difficult to spin.
Oops I've just looked again and you are using carders - same thing though, place small amounts on the carder, with all the tips hanging over the front edge.  You may need to do more than two passes.
The trick is only a small amount of fibre and keep your fleece in order from shearing to carding to spinning  :sheep:

Before you wash the fleece, pick it over, discard any daggy or mucky bits, and any bits with veg matter in - they will never come out in the wash.  Carding always creates a lot of dust and dropped bits underneath - wear a pinny  8)

Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus


  • Joined Sep 2009
  • Wales
Re: Fleece prep
« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2012, 12:54:59 pm »
most of my fleece I don't wash as I use it on peglooms and then wash the finished product but if I have to wash it I'm lucky and have ryelands so it is hard to felt, so I just pick it through then bung a cushion size amount in a pillow case and pop it through the washer on a gentle cycle.


  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
Re: Fleece prep
« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2012, 02:59:41 pm »
Reading this thread with intense interest...  :)

I was chatting with a longstanding Guild member about the use of unwashed fleece.  She said that 'in the old days' (by which she meant within her own memory), they never washed the fleece but that now they had been told that they must not process untreated fleece in public!  :o  We could only think that would date from when it was realised that OP dip was so dangerous.. surely it couldn't be concern about germs, could it?  (Is this something we need to take notice of for the Smallholder Show, Fleecewife?)

She said you could never put unwashed fleece in a drum carder - I think I've seen FW say the same on here - as the grease clogs it all up.

Other members talked about spinning directly from the unwashed fleece - I love that idea, it seems to me that leaving all the sheepy waterproofiness in the fleece would make for as weatherproof a jumper / jacket as possible.  And the lanolin would make your hands soft!  I recall FW saying to always spin unwashed fleece in front of a warm fire, so that the grease is warmed up and flows well.

I've got about 1/5th of a bobbin of usable yarn to my name so far (thanks jaykay  :wave: - brilliant teacher!  :trophy:) - I am maybe getting a little ahead of myself here...  :D
Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing


  • Joined May 2010
  • South Lanarkshire
    • Wester Gladstone Hebridean Sheep
Re: Fleece prep
« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2012, 04:19:31 pm »
Yes we do have to think about germs n stuff for the smallholders show  :o ::). This is because of small children (and probably grown adults too) putting their hands in their mouths before washing their hands after going to farm parks and contracting Ebola - or more likely E Coli. Then of course it's our fault because they can't be expected to think for themselves...... ???
Washing fleece doesn't really remove dip, or pour-ons very easily, as they are designed to stick.  Better to let them break down naturally on the animal and not shear closer than 3 months after application.

I used to spin in the grease and in many ways it is good.  But you do need to wash it in cold water (which takes out some of the dirt but leaves much of the lanolin) or you walk about like a stinky sheep  :sheep:  Not too bad until it rains  :yum:  Unwashed fleece also makes a horrible mess of your wheel and since I got my posh Lendrum Saxony I always wash first - then of course you have to apply some baby oil or similar to mimic what you have just washed off  :D
« Last Edit: February 23, 2012, 11:52:06 am by Fleecewife »

Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus


  • Joined May 2010
  • South Lanarkshire
    • Wester Gladstone Hebridean Sheep
Re: Fleece prep
« Reply #5 on: February 22, 2012, 05:53:14 pm »
I should have said that for using fleece at public events, it needs to have been washed, or hand wipes (or hand washing facilities) must be available.  Often I have just seen a 'now wash your hands' sign.

For the smallholder show, I have a giant sack of commercially scoured fleece from my white Shetlands, which I use for demos - it's got lots of little noils in so I don't use it myself, but it's perfect to practice with.

Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus


  • Joined May 2010
  • South Lanarkshire
    • Wester Gladstone Hebridean Sheep
Re: Fleece prep
« Reply #6 on: February 22, 2012, 05:58:30 pm »
most of my fleece I don't wash as I use it on peglooms and then wash the finished product but if I have to wash it I'm lucky and have ryelands so it is hard to felt, so I just pick it through then bung a cushion size amount in a pillow case and pop it through the washer on a gentle cycle.

Ryelands are clearly wondersheep  :thumbsup: ;D  For many breeds all you would get would be a felted football  :o
However, the method I was giving Mel was to try to make it easier for her to card and spin the washed fleece.  I think the problem is not so much that the fleece is felted by washing as that the fibres are so jumbled and disordered that getting them all back into line with the carders is proving difficult.  If you start with them all facing in vaguely the same direction there is less work for the carders to do  8)

Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus


  • Joined Sep 2011
  • Bala, North Wales
    • Outdoor Champions
    • Facebook
Re: Fleece prep
« Reply #7 on: February 22, 2012, 06:51:18 pm »
I too am avidly following and absorbing this thread!!  FW - where do you get your fleeces proffesionally scoured - I would like to investigate getting my 9 Beulah shearings done.  Happy spinning.


  • Joined May 2010
  • South Lanarkshire
    • Wester Gladstone Hebridean Sheep
Re: Fleece prep
« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2012, 12:24:11 am »
That is the only lot I ever had commercially scoured and I wasn't happy with the result (very expensive to get 5 lovely fleeces turned into something I can only use for demos).  Now I wash my own. Some of the mills will do it, but it costs a lot, especially the postal costs.  Try web sites or phone around the mills.  Sorry I can't be more help  :(

Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus

Mad Goatwoman of Madeley

  • Joined Sep 2011
  • Telford
    • Facebook
Re: Fleece prep
« Reply #9 on: February 23, 2012, 12:27:00 am »
My ex and I had a spinning and weaving workshop for eleven years.  He did the spinning and ALWAYS spun unwashed fleece.  Once it was spun and plied, the hanks would be soaked for a short while in hand hot water with washing up liquid, then rinsed and hung up to dry with the hanks weighted to pull out any kinks.  He always had very soft hands.

To prepare the  fleece, we would tease out individual staples (tufts) before carding on our drum carder.

I also used to weave rugs with unspun carded fleece on cotton warp and wash them afterwards.  They would go in the washing machine to spin once rinsed.

Mel Rice

  • Joined Sep 2011
Re: Fleece prep
« Reply #10 on: February 25, 2012, 11:04:40 am »
Thanks for all the support. I think I am just a little impatient!! I do place all the tufts on the carding paddles with the skin edge near the handle and the pointy bit hanging off the other side so dont realy have a problem with the fibres muddling. I probably could spin from uncardeb wool esp. the nicer bits of fleece.

I think I will have to put up with the ammount of bits in the wool I think (lots of picking out) My sheep are inside for a couple of months full time over the winter (LOTS of snow here and minus temps for over a month) so the sheep seem to get very mucky fleeces. They seem to be not as weatherproof as UK sheep and always seek shelter and/or complain so it takes a while for it to wash/fall out.


  • Joined Dec 2009
  • St Boswells, Scottish Borders
Re: Fleece prep
« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2012, 09:39:59 pm »
I always wash my (shetlands) fleece before carding and usually it is fairly (naturally) white, but sometimes just a bit greyer... depends on the animal I think. I carefully put about a third of the fleece at one time into a tub with fairly hot eater and Ecover washing up liquid, leave it for about 10 minutes and ever s slightly push it up and down, water goes very murky looking quickly. A couple more like this, and then the water should be fairly  clean looking, then a couple of still the same temperature rinsing in clear water, getting slowly a bit cooler. No agitation of the fleece as much as possible - and with Bowmont fleeces this can lead to felting... My Shetland (and also the shetand crosses) can then be put into the spin cycle of my (fairly old) washing machine, at 1200rpm for pure Shetland and crosses with "rougher" breeds and down to about 1000 to 800rpm for Bowmont X shetland. I would not spin dry a pure Bowmont fleece - and the Gotlands are also best dried from dripping wet.... My (child safety)fire guard on its side is a really good tool.

As I do my spinning in the main living area - unwashed fleece is a no-no, and also my wheel is far to valuable to me....


  • Joined Feb 2012
  • South Lincolnshire
Re: Fleece prep
« Reply #12 on: February 27, 2012, 08:40:34 am »
I sell Gotland fleeces which are notoriously prone to felting and a  >:( to process(but a dream when all done :yum:)

I spend an hour to two hours picking over the fleece before it even reaches it's spinner, taking out any debris, sticky bits and unsavouries :P.

For portions of fleece in a large bowl:
1st wash - hand-warm water agitating very gently and leave for 20 minutes.
Squeeze(do not wring)out excess moisture.
2nd wash - hand-warm water with a mild detergent in it (dreft or similar) agitating very gently and leave for 20 minutes.
Squeeze out excess moisture.
3rd wash - as 2nd wash.
Squeeze out excess moisture.
OPTIONAL-Finally rinse with a gentle fabric conditioner. This will leave your fleece silky soft and smelling fresh.
Squeeze out excess moisture and drape over a clothes airer until dry. It will still drip so put over a sink/bath.
Whole fleece washing:
You can do all of the above on a larger scale in the bath. Put a sieve of some kind over the plughole or you'll be choc-a-bloc with fleece. The fleece will have a tendency to fall apart into clumps. Don't be alarmed, it will still spin.
TIP: If you have an old fashioned spin dryer, put the whole fleece in a pillow case (which should be tied securely) and spin to get rid of all moisture first before airing.
 Hope this helps ;D

Breeders of registered pedigree British Gotland sheep.


  • Joined Mar 2010
  • Devon
    • Drake Ryelands
Re: Fleece prep
« Reply #13 on: March 17, 2012, 06:19:32 pm »
Just to throw my technique into the mixture; this works for whole fleeces or sections.  I have Ryeland fleeces, they do machine wash in a pillow case, but I prefer this method.  Plus, I sent one to the launderette (who thought it was great fun) and it felted...they have impressive spins on those machines!
I've found the wool comes out very white with this technique

Before washing I am ruthless with skirting.  I take off a couple of inches around the edges, pick out any large icky bits, take off any bits that are excessively dirty and may not clean up and also remove any coloured areas left if the sheep has been tupped/sprayed.


  • Fill your bath/sink with hot hot water (as hot as you can bear with your bare hands) and put in a squirt of fairy liquid (or non-branded equivalent)  DO NOT SWOOSH TO MAKE BUBBLES!
  • Submerge fleece and leave for 20 mins.
  • Then, remove the fleece, gently squeeze the water out. 
  • Re-fill the bath/skin with hot hot water (temperature should be the same as the first one), but no fairy liquid.  Submerge wool and leave for 20 mins.
  • Repeat the last step.
I then peg towels across my airer and spread the wool out to dry.


Once the wool is dry and before I card it I pick through it.  Very simple to do.  Usually the wool still has bits in after washing and there can be a few semi-felted/stuck together bits.   
I take a piece of wool in my hand (roughly the size of my fist) and pull bits off it  Any little bits will drop out and it will allow you to pick out larger bits.  I then stick this in a basket before carding. 
I mostly use a drum carder due to the quantity of wool I process, but hand carders work just as well :) 
When I use my hand carders I let the wool put itself on...if that makes sense.  I get a small handful of washed wool, and drag it downwards onto the carder without applying too much pressure.  When the carder is full I card away.

You will always get mess when you card; which is - really - what you want because it means the ming isn't in the wool.  (Though when I sell my wool I make a point of saying that it may contain some VM.)
Once I've got the batts off, I then draft it into roving with my trusty bottle-top diz!

It does take a while, but it is worth it!
« Last Edit: March 17, 2012, 06:28:26 pm by Shnoowie »

Mel Rice

  • Joined Sep 2011
Re: Fleece prep
« Reply #14 on: March 18, 2012, 06:20:51 pm »
I'm pleased to hear I'm not missing any stages it just DOES take that long.


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