The crisp autumn air lures us away from the beach reminding us to prepare for cooler days ahead. Many crafts and projects we love to hunker down with in the cooler months require the warmth and loftiness of pure wool. Commercially processed wool is easily available but something magical is revealed in the simplicity and purity of working hands-on with wool straight from the source. Approaching this endeavor together saves money, teaches sustainability, and connects us to one another as we fill our memory banks with that sweet, sweet smell of wet sheep that all fiber artists soon learn to love.
What a wonderful day trip it would be to pick up a whole fleece from a local animal, but there are also many online resources such as etsy or ebay to seek out unwashed wool. Just be careful to read sellers’ feedback and perhaps do a little researching regarding questions to ask. Ravelry is an amazing source of guidance in this area.
So now you have your lovely, smelly bag of goodness in hand ? Let’s roll up our sleeves and get washing!
Lay out the raw fleece on a blanket and sort through, seeking out the bits containing manure, mud, grass or hay. Toss these locks straight into the compost bin.
Attach a garden hose adaptor to your kitchen sink so that you may run a line from inside to a plastic tote bin outside on the lawn. Fill the bin with hot water.
Place fleece into a mesh laundry bag then, while wearing rubber gloves so as not to burn yourself, submerge into the hot water. Try not to tamper too much for heat and agitation may cause the wool to felt. We don’t want that quite yet! Leave to rest for twenty minutes.
Fill a second tote bin with hot water but this time squirt in two generous squirts of dish washing liquid.
Carefully transfer the fleece over to the soapy bin. Swirl gently to suds up all the nooks and crannies. Allow to rest for another twenty minutes.
Check to see if the initial bath has cooled enough that you could pour the murky water out into any neighbouring flower beds. If not, just tip the bin over, pouring the water straight onto the lawn.
Refill the first bin with one more round of hot soapy water. A nice and careful transfer again.
Fill up the empty tote bin with clear, hot water and continue the twenty minute soaks until the waters remain clear after a few soaks.
Carefully place the now clean fleece into the washing machine and set to spin cycle to draw out as much moisture as you can.
Lay out the fleece in a sunny spot outside to dry for a day or two. Keep it in the laundry bag or else bits may fly all over the yard. Don’t ask me how I know that. Flip the bag and fluff up the fleece once in a while to ensure even drying.
I like to keep my freshly washed fleece in a big pillow case to allow for breathability. A lavender sachet will help keep moths at bay. To prepare the wool for crafting you can use a drumcarder (perhaps a local guild can offer you a lender), hand carders or even a pet brush to align fibers and remove any remaining debris. Children can have fun with this part! Just be mindful of the sharpness of the tools available to you.
There are other methods of fleece washing you could explore including using a top loading washing machine or bathtub. This method, however, brings us outside; connecting us to the subtle shifting of the season while offering the promise of warmth and love to carry us through this time of diminishing light and deep inhale.
Kathy Stowell is a homeschooling, Waldorf-inspired mama to two, wife to one and living in bliss on a seven acre piece of heaven in the Slocan Valley of British Columbia. She sells handspun yarn and handmade clothes at her two etsy shops and blogs about her crafty naptime antics at her blog, White Tangerine Dreams.