Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Processing the Fleece, Part I

Last year I acquired a Romney fleece from Lindsey, and there it sat in a garbage bag in my shed for the remainder of the year.  I knew I could pay to have it sent off to one of the mills to be professionally processed, but I wanted to get hands on with at least one fleece, and this was going to be the one.  I just needed the proverbial rainy day to get started.

So finding out last week that I was going to have some extra time on my hands, I decided it was time to fish out the fleece and get started.  I missed taking a before photo, but lets say that it was a yellowish bunch of wool that filled a large trash bag and weighed many pounds.

The first step is to scour, or clean, the wool, which essentially involves soaking the wool in large tubs with a bit of Dawn.  I used two 15-gallon tubs and split the fleece in two.  The first water bath is hot, to open the scales on the wool.  The water was instantly muddy brown with lanolin and dirt.  These were left to soak and cool for several hours.  The process was repeated three times, each time the water being cooler.  (Note that there are both hot and cold water taps outside the house.  Somebody was thinking ahead!)

You have to be very careful to not felt the fleece during the cleaning stages.  Hot water + soap + agitation = felt, so there is no rubbing or squeezing of the fleece.  In between water baths it was gently lifted out as a mass and placed in a giant colander for straining.

Finally satisfied that the fleece was reasonably clean, it was placed in the bottom of the washing machine for some quick spin action.  Again, no agitation.  We went straight to the spin cycle in an old-fashioned upright for some centripetal action.  Look how fluffy after just a minute!

Finally the fleece, being reasonably clean, is left to dry outside on a rack.  I occasionally shift the masses around to expose all of the fiber to dry evenly.  I suspect it will be dry by this evening, and I'll be able to weigh what I have left after most of the dirt and lanolin were removed.

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