Become part of the circle sharing inspiration for spinning and other fibre crafting. It is a warm and reassuring place, sort of like a favourite chair near a cosy fireside, where beginners and experts come and go as they please. It's a place to share what we know, learn from each other and display what we've created -- while supporting and inspiring each other on the wonderful journey associated with handspinning and wool-related crafts.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Washing your Raw Fleece for Spinning

 bundle of fleece to sort and wash

So, you’ve got some sheep fleece and you're wondering what to do with it to spin it?

 fleece laid out to skirt and sort

The first thing to do as soon as you can after acquiring the fleece is to lay it our somewhere dry – preferably your garden (I lay mine on an old shower curtain I kept for this job) and skirt the fleece. Skirting a fleece basically means to cut or tear away anything really dirty (yes, we’re talking sheeps poo) and anything that is coarse, hairy or matted. Use this in your garden, on the compost, as mulch or line your bean trenches or hanging baskets.

Onto the washing, you need to decide where you are going to wash the fleece and how much you can get into whatever you use. You could use your bath, sink or buckets/trugs outside. There is of course the other option of spinning the wool as it is, unwashed and in the grease and just washing it when the yarn is made. If the fleece isn't too dirty this is an option, or you could soak it to get the dirt out of it but retain all the lanolin.

Mesh wash bags are very useful for washing fleece, keeping the fibres together but allowing the dirt to come out. I have a few of these and actually made some larger ones to enable me to wash more in one go, purchasing some fishnet fabric, a bit of sewing and a draw cord.

fleece washed in mesh bag

You can wash fleece in either hot or cold water but whatever you choose you must stick to throughout the washing and rinsing. Any changes will increase the chances of the wool felting. Hot washing will lift more of the lanolin out of the wool. You’ve probably been advised not to wash wool on hot temperatures because of felting but hot water alone will not felt your wool. Hot water + soap + agitation may felt your wool, or a change in temperature of the washing/rinsing + soap + agitation may felt your wool.

Cold water washing is okay for less lanolin rich fleece, but if the fleece has a lot of lanolin in it the hot water method is preferred. The cold water method just involves soaking the fibre in cold water overnight and then rinsing until clean, some lanolin will remain. This probably works better for fleeces that aren’t too dirty.

Fleece ready to go in the wash

Select an amount of the fleece you wish to wash and place in the mesh bag if you are using them. Almost fill your bucket or sink with hot water – it should be hot enough that you don’t want to put your hand in it for too long. Add some detergent and swish it around without making it too bubbly. There are various recommendations here – many people just use cheap washing up liquid, Fairy liquid, Eco washing up liquid (e.g. Ecover) or wool wash detergents like Ecover Delicate (or similar). This comes down to choice and you will find what you prefer. It needs to be detergent rather than soaps as soaps aids felting. There are commercial cleaners on the market too but they are expensive, I have no experience of using these personally.

adding the fleece to the sink of hot water

Pop the wool in gently and push down gently with your fingers (use gloves if it’s too hot). Once it is all in the water leave it alone for 10-15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to prod it or swish it around. You will notice already how dirty the water gets.
soaking the fleece
See how dirty the water is from the first wash?

After the allotted time, and before the water has cooled too much, gently lift the fleece out and very gently squeeze out excess water. Discard the water and refill with clean water and some detergent again. Gently add the wool to the water and leave again for about 10-15 minutes. (Note: you don’t want the water to cool as the grease that has come out of the fleece will start to harden and set again in your fleece). If there are dirty tips you could gently rub these between your fingers to clean them.

Tips can be cleaned by gently rubbing between the fingertips

Lift the wool out again after 10-15 minutes and drain the water, squeezing the wool gently to remove excess water. You shouldn’t need to wash with detergent again, unless it is really filthy or you want to remove all the lanolin. I prefer to leave some lanolin in as it helps it to card and spin more smoothly; it will come out when you wash your yarn later.

Washed and ready to rinse

Next step is to rinse the wool. Rinse the sink or bucket so there is no detergent remaining and fill with the same temperature water again and pop the fleece in, leave for 10-15 minutes, remove and drain. Repeat until you are happy with how clean it is.
ready to spin (if you do) and dry

Your fleece is then ready to dry – you could just hang it over a washing line and leave it to dry or across a drying rack if you have one. Try to gently squeeze some of the excess water to reduce drying time, or you could squeeze gently in an old towel. Every now and then turn it and open it up to allow it to dry properly.

Fleece spun and ready to dry

There is another method that some spinners use on fine fleeces where the locks are washed separately. This is a preferred method with fine fleeces where they want to spin it laceweight. This was a method of washing that Margaret Stove developed. The method of cleaning is the same - using hot water and detergent but washing the fleece lock by lock. Often a flick carder can be helpful in opening up the fibres in the lock and the tips. The mesh bags can also be used for this method - laying the locks in rows and gently washing in the sink or bath ensuring the locks stay separate.

Once dry it is ready to card or comb and spin. If you are not going to spin it immediately, store it safely where moths can’t get in (although they do prefer raw fleece). My preferred method is in old pillow cases picked up cheaply at charity shops. Duvet covers could also be used. Plastic bags (like bin bags) aren’t recommended for long term storage as the wool can sweat. Vacuum seal bags are good too and have the added advantage of reducing the storage space required.

Enjoy spinning your lovely washed fibre.
dry and clean fleece

Alternative instructions are available on the internet, or maybe you'd like to share with us how you clean your fleece? Like a lot of things in spinning (and in life!) there is no right or wrong way, just the way you want to do things and what works for you.

There is a good downloadable leaflet here on the Yarnmaker website -
There is also this useful leaflet on the same website about sorting a fleece -

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Tale of a broken fleece! Dawns Woolly Wednesday July

Oops a little late sorry, but I'm here. I have been a bit busy this week putting together the Guild newsletter which I edit and couldn't quite fit in getting this written too. 

So what have I been doing, well acquiring fleece for a start, and yes quite a bit. More than I need or at least more than I can house, but at least the extra insulation for the house is good. I have spent some time skirting the fleeces with the dirty bits being used at the allotment for mulch and deep bed troughs to help with moisture retention. The rest is bagged and labeled. I shall be offering some of these either here or elsewhere soon so if you are looking for any, let me know by leaving a comment. I would only ask for postage to be covered.

A few weeks ago we went to the local museum farm for the day, where we saw some of my friends from the Guild demonstrating. It brought back lovely memories for me as this was where my spinning journey started just 2 years ago and where I first met the Guild, and the wonderful lady who let me have a go on her beautiful wheel.

The farm were demonstrating shearing that weekend so there were these lovely big bags of fleece! Well I couldn't be rude and not bring one, or two, or was it three home with me now could I? Especially as one was a shearling (first shear) Dorset Horn. The other two were Dorset Horn too. The shearling was filthy but came up clean after washing and is sitting waiting to be carded.
Dorset Horn lambs, just gorgeous
Who's the Daddy?

Onto the tale of the broken fleece (yes, finally I mention what the blog post is about). I had a good look at the one fleece before saying I'd take it, but the other one I just said I'd take it having seen a few locks at the top of the bag - it looked lovely and long, was soft and pretty clean for a sheeps fleece.

I got them home and thought I'd get them skirted straight away and wash some too. The shearling was lovely, although very dirty - pictures below as a bundle (doesn't that look lovely!), laid out to skirt and sort, close-up of the locks and after a wash. Lovely. So soft and sitting waiting to be carded and spun now. The second fleece was skirted, looks good, and has been put to one side to wash another day.
 Dorset Horn bundle and laid out below
Close up of locks
 Dorset Horn washed shearling, lovely white fleece
The 2nd Dorset Horn fleece 
The third fleece? Well this reminded me of something I've been told and read many times - always, always lay a fleece out and have a good look at it before you take it home. I didn't. So what greeted me when I laid this fleece out? It looked lovely and crimpy, nice off white which I knew would wash well but with very dirty and distinct tips. A closer look and I could see why - this fleece had a break in it!
A clear break in the fleece, near the tips

A break in a fleece is a sign of stress to the animal at sometime, maybe an illness. It was quite near to the tip and luckily beyond that was lovely crimpy wool with a good staple length, about 3-4 inches. So what to do? I know many people would just scrap it and chalk it up to experience, at least it didn't cost anything ... except a 50p donation.

But that's not my style. I pulled a few locks out from random places, broke off the break and then tested the remaining lock for strength. There was a very good twang to it showing that the rest of the lock was in good condition.

So what do you think I did next? Yep, I cut the tips off at the break! Something considered wrong in some spinning circles - cutting the fleece, but I like to do things differently and try other ways. It took a little while sitting and taking off the tips either by hand or with the scissors. As I was doing this I was also picking out as much VM as possible too and the locks were basically being teased open so I now have a lovely bag of fluffy locks, reasonably clean too.
Snipping off the break in the fleece
 Lovely softness and crimp in the remaining locks of fleece
Big bag of fluffy Dorset Horn awaiting washing

The moral to this tale is to always take a good look at a fleece before taking it home (unless you're buying online!), but you may be lucky like I was with this one and end up with a lovely bundle of fluff.

With fleece acquiring, washing and writing articles for the newsletter I haven't done much spinning this month but have started on that Portland fleece from my last post. It's going nicely so hopefully I'll have more of this done soon.
 Portland wool on the bobbin

I also wanted to share with you a picture of the Zwartble I was spinning for a while - here are 3 balls and 3 more skeins awaiting the finishing wash (I'm sure there's another ball or skein somewhere too) - over 1kg of lovely spun wool about worsted weight awaiting a pattern. I have had some ideas and plan to get something on the needles perhaps in the Autumn.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Woolly Wednesday - July

Welcome to the July Woolly Wednesday.

We are hosting Woolly Wednesday on the first Wednesday of every month.

Think of it as a creative gathering, or a virtual guild meeting. Bring along any fibre-related project, whatever it may be. If you are starting out in fibre arts, share what you are interested in pursuing. Let's show each other our projects, share any tips, tutorials, ask questions, seek advice. Add your post to the Linky below and we can visit one another and share, support, encourage, be inspired!.

Please feel free to add the button to your blog's sidebar with a link to Spinspiration, a lovely way for us all to link together. Just copy the image to your desktop and then in your blog design - add a gadget, add picture - upload the picture and then add the url (http://spinwheelspin.blogspot.com/) and the image will link to here.

Join us with the linky below, link to a recent blog post of your woolly adventures in the last month, we look forward to seeing you ...

July Woolly Wednesday - Kelly

My family know I love to spin and it is getting to the point where they all seem to associate me with sheep.  One of my birthday presents this year from my children was a mug decorated with sheep.  My brother has called me 'black sheep' for years.  My brother in law joked that he would bring me back some camel hair from his recent trip to Egypt.  When I called the bank recently and they asked me to set some new security questions, one of them was 'What is your favourite animal?'  Well, giraffes are my favourite animal, but at that moment, I looked about the room and saw my bags of fleece shoved under the table and answered 'sheep'!  And, here is a picture of a sweet bead and wire sheep my sister in law brought back from Zimbabwe for me a few weeks ago.
 So, there it is.  My loved ones don't associate me with an elegant giraffe, or a soaring eagle, or a mythical unicorn, dragon or phoenix, nor a delicate seahorse or graceful, darting dragonfly...sheep it is...oh well..!
I think I have completed my wool gathering, fleece hoarding phase now and I have been busily washing those fleeces.  It has taken a while.  Some were really, really dirty and took a lot of soaks to get them clean.  Look at this dirty Cotswold fleece.
 And here it is all clean and beautiful.
I have two dye pots on the go at the moment with wool soaking in them.  The first pot contains privet leaves from our hedge we trimmed earlier this week.  So far it looks like a pale yellow colour.  The second pot is madder root and its looking brick red so far.
This is the madder root dye pot.

I have been visiting that lovely little tucked away craft shop in that little village again and yes I couldn't resist getting some more European wool tops including some soft, luxurious Gotland lambs wool.  Gotland sheep were apparently established by the Vikings in the Swedish region of Europe and the fleece is considered to be one of the premier sheep fleeces in the world and is mostly shades of grey ranging from almost silvery to very dark almost charcoal.
  A Gotland sheep.  Just look at that magnificent fleece.

And how about this bit of trivia to add appeal.  Gotland wool was used to create the Magic Elven Cloak given to Frodo by Galadriel in the 'Lord of the Rings' movie.  Well, I wish I was spinning my Gotland wool to create a Magic Elven Cloak.  What adventures I could if I had a cloak of invisibility.  Although, spinning this wool did feel a bit like magic - the colour, the feel..yes, a bit of magic.  It spun up beautifully fine and I plyed two singles.  I am happy with my little bit of magic.