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Wednesday, 22 June 2011

How to Prepare a Raw Fleece for Spinning

Please don't worry nothing got hurt in the making of this Blog Post!  The red is ID dye that the sheep was painted with!
Hmmm, there is a saying isn't there...Be careful what you wish for!  An ex colleague of mine dropped off four raw fleece today.  We don't know what they are, he rears a few sheep and I think they are the mongrel equivalent of the sheep world.  My Mom and I were rather squeamish about the two we tackled.  Not a pleasant experience.  We work together like Laurel and Hardy 'Hmmm That's another fine mess you've got me into!'  These fleece were fairly clean too by sheepy standards.  Bleurgh!  First you need to 'Skirt' your fleece.  Pull off raggedy bits and remove soiled areas!  Then they need to be 'Scoured'.  Some spinners spin a raw fleece 'in the grease' unwashed, but that really is not the way to go for me!  To 'Scour' a fleece you can use Washing Soda Crystals and soap.
 Then you need some containers to soak the fleece in a mixture of two or three tablespoons of soda crystals and a really good squirt of Ecological Washing up Liquid (soap) and very hot water.
To scour a fleece you need hot water and soap.  To felt wool you need hot water, soap and agitation.  So when scouring you need to be careful not to agitate the fleece too much so it doesn't felt.
The water from the first soak was stinky!  I soaked each section of fleece twice with soap and soda crystals then they were soaked again two or three times in clear hot water to rinse them.
I then tied the fleece into an old pillow case and put it in the washing machine on a spin cycle twice.
One of the fleece is grey.
The others are 'Sheep' colour.  Two and a half hours hard labour later they are hung in pillow cases on the washing line to dry.  They smell much better and I can work with them now without feeling squeamish.  So far I have washed half a grey fleece and half a pale fleece!  My Mom has concluded she likes to buy prepared wool and thinks it is all insanity.  The washed fleece will need a fair amount of 'Picking' removing vegetable matter and debris.  Then it will need to be carded to open up the fibers and prepare them for spinning.  It amazes me that we do this for fun and leisure, in days gone buy this was done out of necessity, without hot water on tap!  They must have been made of sterner stuff in those days.


  1. That's a lot of labor even for one fleece! And to imagine what all still needs to be Kudos to you ladies for all of your hard work! You should time (roughly) how long it takes you from start to finish, from raw to ready-to-knit. Incredible! Makes you wonder how mankind came up with the notion of this basic process in order to make clothing doesn't it?

    Best Wishes!

  2. Oh Lucy, I do love reading about your exploits! I have used raw fleece in years gone by. I actually never used hot water, only cool water as I was concerned about it felting. It also leaves in some of the lanolin which is good for your hands when spinning. I do remember the smell of it when I first began working with it. We had a black sheep as a lamb and it grew to have grey fleece, but it wasn't a soft wool breed, a Romney if I remember. Fun fun stuff..
    ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

  3. Lacey, People take part in 'Back to Back' challenges to race in teams from shearing a sheep to wearing a knitted garment, but they spin 'in the grease'. It is amazing how these skills were ever developed in the first place. The history of spinning and knitting is really interesting.

    Teresa, It sounds like you have had your fun over the years, now your spinning wheel is ready and able again maybe it's time to get another lamb! Your Grand daughter will need a supply of fibre too for her textile arts, particularly her weaving :)

  4. It all sounds way way too stinky for me. I'm siding w/ your mum!

  5. What perfect timing! I just acquired 3 Jacobs fleece at the weekend and they are sitting in the shed waiting for time off work next week to clean them up. As a complete novice to spinning and raw fleece this post is such a help! I did tackle a little of the fleece last weekend but was a little nervous. I kind of like the smell though, is that weird??
    Lovely blog BTW :-)

  6. Isn't it funny how we pursue thing 'for leisure' that in the past were considered 'work?' And we enjoy it! I have done all the steps of shearing, washing, carding, spinning and knitting with my own sheep's fiber, and I love it! I love the entire animal to garmet experience. I've also participated in a sheep to shawl demonstration which was LOADS of fun! (Check it out at:
    Kudos to you for stepping up and diving in to the stinky business (and plain old hard work) of preparing raw fleece!

  7. Hannonle, My Mom would really appreciate the support! :)

    Becks, If you like the smell you are going to be in heaven with your Jacob fleece. :)

    Snohomish, the next step is to rear my own like you do! Hmmm I could be working on that for a good few years.

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  9. Good work. It's important we keep the old traditions alive, or we will lose these skills forever. I raise my own sheep and wash the fleeces, but I have to admit the carding drives me bananas! It' gets posted for that! I get it back bumped and ready to spin. Ever tried dyeing with lichens? Now that is stinky!!

  10. I used to work at an historic restoration site in Canada that demonstrated many "old-fashioned" skills that were considered necessary work a long time ago, but are now considered leisure activities. My favourite was the Weaver's cottage, where we wove cloth, spun wool, and worked with our hands. Thanks for this post...I never got to work a raw fleece while I was there, but I know a sheep has a distinct "ambiance" you need to experience OUTSIDE! This is great fun, though, and it's a shame more people don't realize the work involved in producing the wool we take for granted.


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