Friday, October 7, 2016

Soapy Centrifuge OR Washing a Cheap Fleece

I am writing this post to save myself time in explaining to new spinners the way I wash a whole fleece. Hope it is helpful. - missingspindle


Spinster with questions
"I just bought my first raw Corriedale fleece; it is clean and gorgeous but I have never spun anything with this much grease (NOTE-this fleece is a year old)....Could you tell me if you washed to remove any of the grease before you spun your Corriedale? I was thinking to wash in a little soap but not super hot water, so I don’t loose all the lanolin. I am just not sure about the best way to prep this fleece."

Me:
If I spin a fleece in the grease, it depends. And it is best to remember that Lanolin comes out bit by bit. Once you wash your skein. Once you wash the object you created with your skein. Little by little, the lanolin will leave. But let's start with removing no lanolin at all:

Usually the fleece is very freshly shorn and quite clean and free of much weed/muddy/poopy bits. So that means I sort out the best fiber and set it aside (see below). I also plan to spin this very clean fiber within six months before it stiffens up and gets sticky. If the grease is fresh and not sticky, I do spin it without washing and put up with the greasy feel of it on my fingers. It means washing my hands after each session, however. Experience plus: my hands become very soft! Experience plus plus: unspun fleeces kept in plastic bags in hot environments (your car; your attic; next to a hot heater or register, etc) sticky-up a lot faster. And another note on leaving lanolin behind on a sticky fleece: that would be a Nope, too late.

NOTE: if you can't spin up your in-the-grease fleece before it gets stiff and sticky, for goodness sake, don't prep the whole thing as tops or rolags in the grease in your optimism.  Almost impossible to wash it after that.  You'll just have a pile of sticky wool good mainly for felting, not yarn making. 

If the fleece must be washed:

If I have to wash a fleece because the grease is stiffening or feels the least bit sticky, I use a top loading washing machine but very very carefully. If you haven't done this before and your fleece was really really expensive (example: you bought it by the OUNCE or paid more than $15 for the whole thing....) then hesitate.  You want something like a dubious 'gift fleece' or a  "barn run" or "about to go off to the wool pool" type farmer's fleece for your first machine wash experience. WHY not wash it 'by hand' by 'separating the locks; by any other fiddly hand washing method: 1. this method generally keeps the locks intact enough to accurately ID sections of fleece for carding or combing. 2. It takes a lot less messing around so I can spin it. 3. I have a lot of fleeces to get washed and want them washed before winter, when I spin. 4. It doesn't take forever and does a good job. 5. It is less likely to felt a fleece at the cut ends since there is so little agitation when it is most vulnerable in hot water or going from hot to colder water.

Sort the fleece first
Before washing, I lay the fleece on an old sheet.  The selecting goes like this:
1. arrange the fleece lock side up (this can be puzzling, depending on how it was gathered up/wrapped.  Try to keep it together in sections, pull it apart by sections if you can.
2. Identify the head, back and back end of the fleece.  The back end is usually very very obvious. The back/top of the fleece along the spine often has the most weed seed in it.  
3. Obtain 4 bags.  Mark them in some way for four different categories: 
  • A. Best (longest length; cleanest; very little weed seed; good tips). Likely to be found next to the back section on the sides. 
  • B. Okay (More weed seed, but not down thru the whole lock; varied lengths; more dirty ends) 
  • C. Marginal (major weed seed throughout the lock (some of this goes to cat. D if really bad); lots of dung; good fiber lengths you hate to throw out) 
  • D. Throw it out (heavy dunging, heavy weed seed, second cuts, really short locks, matted locks) DO NOT GIVE THIS AWAY TO A BEGINNING SPINNER.  That might go for C. too. Compost or trash it. Be sensible. You aren't going to spin this stuff, not once you lavish love on A and B.

Warnings on the Washing Machine
1. It must be a top loading washing machine
2. It is NOT A WASHING MACHINE, really.  It is a tub that holds hot water to soak a fleece in. It is a centrifuge to spin that water out. NO AGITATION.  NONE.  That means you too.  No poking the fleece around in hot water. NONE.
3. Lots of anxiety that using this top loading washing machine for fleece will 'ruin' the washer. I personally have had no 'clogged filter' issues.  Of course, I don't pack the tub and the water only fills between 5/8-3/4's of the tub with fleece/water when centrifuging (spinning out the water). I've been using the same washer for 10 years or more. Maytag.

 OKAY Ladies, start your Washer
Select the two bags of sorted fleece, A and B.  Put B in a laundry bag, loosely, if you want it totally separate from the best fleece.  (Entering fleece note: I generally put the A. best fleece in first, no bag and the B. less best fleece in a laundry bag loosely.  They will go on opposite sides of the tub.) NOTE: if you have a huge fleece (think Corriedale; think 10-12 pounds. Wash A alone.  Then wash B alone).

FILL THE TUB with water
The water temp of the washer should be about 130-140 degrees fahrenheit. I add boiling water to reach that temp, if needed. I fill the washer, empty, with that water (NO FLEECE). Then I put in one and a half cups (1 1/2 cups) of dishwashing liquid (Joy or Dawn) and about a cup of white vinegar, mix it around briefly. I add the fleece and push it gently below the water. The fleece that floats on top is pushed down with an old empty laundry detergent bottle until it is just below the water.  That's it, no more poking the fleece about. I make sure the washer does NOT turn on to agitate. I let this sit for up to one hour, no agitation at all with the lid closed.  Don't leave it until the wash water cools off. Don't leave the house for more than an hour until you have spun out the hot water.  Because the sticky lanolin/suint will settle out onto your fleece again as it cools in the water. 

I move the washer dial to SPIN, about half way to the end of the spin cycle (because some sly washers will squirt sneaky cold water down while spinning-fatal for felting fleece-so move dial to middle or almost the end of the spin cycle). Then I spin out the water. 
HERE's MY TRICK to prevent felting between soapy wash and rinsing wash
I TAKE the fleece out and DRY it. Completely.  Takes patience. Leave it on a rack until really dry. So my process is Soapy Water Wash. DRY IT. Hot Wash Rinse. DRY IT. Label it so you remember you need to rinse it! Then I do the same thing with the hot water and vinegar above WITHOUT the soap for the rinse-out the-soap-cycle. After the fleece is dry the second time, it should be ready to spin. If you decrease the amount of soap in the first cycle, it will leave a lot more lanolin behind. No matter what you do, the sheep grease will stiffen with time ( after a year or more). When it is stiff, repeat the above wash, but you must use 130-140 F hot water for sure. 

Experience Plus Plus Plus:  I store all my fleeces in plastic bags, both the washed and the unwashed.  I double bag the unwashed fleeces with a note on where they came from, what they are and the date.  And I store them at room temperature in the main part of my house, just like me. No attics, no basements. I have washed a ten year old unwashed fleece in the method above and it came out quite spinnable.  I've taken to saving money by purchasing last years fleeces from farmers because I know how to wash them.  Of course, I do test for weak tips and possible breaks in the locks by snapping them before I buy.  There are a lot of last years fleeces in sheep barns.  Just sayin' 


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