Many of us have taken the leap. We’ve dug deeper than dyed roving. We’ve tackled fleece in its own element. We’ve faced a raw fleece and lived to tell about it. Scouring raw fleece can be rewarding. Many of the unique breeds available to us are only available as fleece. Fleece with unique qualities often can’t be processed using conventional commercial machinery. Scouring your own fleece also gives you control over what part of the animal your fiber comes from, direction of the locks, and choose fleece from individual animals.
Let’s say you’ve already taken that first leap. You’ve scoured your first fleece and it was a disaster. You’re dejected. You’re frustrated. You’ve already thrown that first fleece into the compost pile. What could you have done differently? Check out the tips below to troubleshoot your process!
Don’t skimp on the wool wash.
Yes, you CAN scour a fleece with dish-washing liquid. Like with many things that you can do, it isn’t always the best solution. Most dish-washing liquids contain enzymes that break down organic substances. Fiber is organic. These enzymes can weaken the wool in both the short-term and long-term. Damage is not always immediately visible to the eye, but can usually be seen under a microscope.
If you do choose to use a dish-washing agent, choose one without enzymes. However, you’ll usually get more bang for your buck from a scouring solution designed for wool, like Unicorn Power Scour or Kookaburra, especially if you purchase by the gallon. A little bit goes a long way with these products. In addition, Unicorn can be used with a slightly lower temperature of water, saving you electricity or gas.
Keep your temperature above 160°F (or 140°F with Power Scour)
Temperature is key to washing wool. It needs to be hot enough to fully melt the lanolin, but should never boil. If you boil the wool, it will felt. The temperature also needs to be maintained. If the lanolin resettles on the fleece, is becomes almost impossible to fully get out.
If you don’t have the ability to measure the temperature, there are a few tricks you can use. First, you can turn up your water heater to the highest setting. If you do this, make sure you turn it back down before someone decides to take a shower. I like to fill my sink with the hottest tap water I have, and then add a pot of boiling water to bring the temperature up. I’ll add another pot of boiling water ten minutes in to help maintain the temperature. Note that, even though I’m adding boiling water, I am not boiling the fleece in the sink. The water cools fairly quickly as it combines.
Use heat resistant gloves to remove the fleece from the water before it cools down.
Do Not Disturb
It can be so so so so SO tempting to swish those luscious locks around to help the process of removing dirt along. Don’t do it. Just don’t.
WOOL + MOISTURE + HEAT + AGITATION = FELT
Your wool wash will do its job without any help from you. Just let it soak. Likewise, try not to rinse your fleece under running water and don’t twist or squeeze the water from your fleece to dry it.
A salad spinner is a great way to get excess water out of your fleece without abrading it.