I have been really busy the last week and a half working on getting all the fleeces washed up and cleaned. I'm sitting here with the last one in the presoak, and one in the washing machine.
This is the presoak. The water is 180 degrees F. And I've added a mild soap.
After the presoak, I dump the fleece onto this screen which allows the water to rinse out but catches the wool and keeps it off the ground. If the wool is really dirty, I may do another rinse in this tub.
You can see how dirty the water is from the presoak.
This is a lamb's fleece that is waiting to be rinsed.
I have an old top loading washing machine that I use to soak and rinse the wool in. The main advantage is that I can turn it to the spin cycle and it gets a lot of the water out of the fleece. That's really the only part of the washer that I use.
I fill the washing machine with equally hot water before adding the fleece. It's very important to add in the wool after the tub is already filled, otherwise the high temperature and the agitation from the water could felt it. This hose is heavy duty so it can withstand the hot temps.
We use our wood boiler to get the water hot. My husband made this one and it heats our water and the house in the winter, saving us on propane. The only time in the summer we use it is for washing my wool.
The thermometer is reading 183 degrees F, so it works really well for this purpose.
We hook the hose up to the back of the stove and I turn it on to fill the washing machine and the presoak tub.
I have a special bag that I put the fleece in, it has two openings on each end of the bag with drawstrings. The bottom fits into the top loader and gets cinched up tight so the wool doesn't come out of the bag.
I fill the bag full of wool and then cinch up the top as well. It really helps keep the wool together so I just have to lift the bag out after it's finished, rather than pulling chunks of wool out in handfuls.
Once the wool is in the washer, I close the lid and set a timer for 30 minutes. I just let it sit and soak. I usually add some white vinegar to help with the PH and to cut the soap. I also add some drops of cedar essential oil to help deter moths as the wool sits out to air dry.
This is a Shetland fleece I have just dumped out onto my skirting table. I will use my hands to separate the wool so it will air dry faster.
There is still some small vegetation matter that is in the wool. Sometimes, as I'm running through it with my hands, pieces will fall out or I pick them out. I'm not too worried about it at this stage. Once the wool dries, it will move to the next step which is called 'picking'. I have a very small picker right now. I have a 'studio picker' by Fancy Kitty that is on order and should arrive at the end of the week. I can process more wool at once to save a little time. I will write about picking in another post.
My husband built these awesome drying racks out of leftover PVC and scrap lumber. We then used wildlife netting stapled to the boards. I bought it in the garden section at Lowe's and got 100 feet for $15. (The bags on the floor are fleeces that have dried and are going into the house at the end of my washing session.)
This is my mudroom right now. Clean fleeces ready for the next step!
I will move these into my craft room where they will be stored until I can start the next phase of the process. I think I ended up with 28 fleeces in all. I have to recount once the last one is finished.
It took me two weekends a few nights during the week to get these all done. I had many interruptions from events, kids, visitors, and my regular job that it took me much longer than if I was to just focus solely on the wool. I had a good time while doing it and my girls kept me company the whole time in the shop riding their bikes and building fairy houses. :)