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Processing a fleece – Part 1

I’ve never done this before. I barely know what I’m doing beyond YouTube videos and some common sense. However, I’ve been getting into knitting again, which obviously meant I’d soon want to spin my own yarn – which obviously meant I’d soon want to start from a raw fleece. Which obviously meant I’d soon want a friend-with-land to grow a sheep for me and shear it. She refused point-blank because she’s vegetarian, so I bought some fleece online.

A bit risky in terms of the quality, but I figured for the £30 I’d learn plenty regardless. I think I did okay: it’s about 2.5 kilos of Blue-Faced Leicester crossed with something-or-other, providing several beautiful shades of white, grey and dark brown.  Once it’s all washed and carded, I will separate it out by softness and colour. Absolutely nothing will go to waste: the very worst will find a use on the allotment, the coarsest will be woven into a bag flap and the rest spun into different yarns.

This, below, was pretty much as I received it, minus some white fleece that I’d already picked out. That’s a 1-metre ruler there. It had been skirted, the worst removed, though there was still plenty of grit and miscellaneous dropping out. It wasn’t that greasy.

A close-up of some of the grey fleece.

Now I’ve divided it up vaguely into dark brown and grey. I’m not sure that was particularly necessary, but fun to do.

I decided to use the Suint Method, which ferments the dirt and grease away over time.  The fleece didn’t have a distinct lock structure (or not to my uninformed eyes, anyway), else I might have selected some out to wash individually.  I put the fleece into two large shallow plastic boxes that I’d put at the far end of my terrace, covered them with water, covered the boxes against the sunlight, and left it all for weeks. Months, actually, over winter. When I went back to it in spring, it stank to high heaven when I lifted the lid, but was otherwise inoffensive. The water was dark, filthy brown and bits of lanolin had coagulated into blobs. Nice. But that’s filth I’m not having to wash out.

I couldn’t face doing a whole fleece at once, so I pulled out a small section every few days, leaving the rest. I let it drain a little before taking it in, then rinsed it in warm water in the sink twice, added a little washup-liquid, left it for a while, then rinsed it three more times until the water was clear. I handled it gently, flat-handedly, in order not to cause any matting or felting.

After the wash, I let the fleece drain for a couple of hours in the bath over a handy colander. Wool repels water very well, so by that time it was very springy and dryish. You can see a few spots of lanolin (not dander!) in this photo.

I rolled the damp fleece up into a towel and trod on it to dry it further.

I separated the slightly damp mass out into locks by finding the bleached ends and pulling them away. Even sections that looked rather matted would part with enough of a tug. I left them to dry, then put them in the airing cupboard overnight.

The next day, I started to reorganise the locks into a fleece.

Looking good.

Woof! Can you imagine being completely covered in this stuff?

A close-up of one of the locks – so beautifully curly.

A little palette of colours that I combed out (using my haircomb!), from white to dark brown.

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