I have been working every morning on washing fleece. I seem to have developed a pattern, where I pick enough fleece to fill two 5 gallon buckets. I fill the buckets with cold soapy water, and put the fleece in it and let that soak until the next day. Then what had soaked the day before gets washed in my kitchen sink. One hot water wash with liquid laundry detergent, and a second even hotter (I add boiling water) wash with Dawn. Then a very hot rinse (with boiling water added) and a regular hot water rinse. I put the fleece in a mesh bag, give it a short spin in the washer spin cycle, and put it out to dry. It is dry by the next day. I take what is now dry and drum card it, and in the evening after work, I spin what I have drum carded.
It makes me feel like I am really making progress, although in truth I am not. I get that feeling I think because I am more focus on one thing, getting this fleece washed.
I have been working on a Rambo fleece that I bought sight unseen. It is a lovely deep brown color, but it does have some problems, and therefore was very inexpensive. I have found that I can eliminate almost all of the 'problems' in my processing, except for the weak tips or a break in the lock. This fleece is sound but it does have weak tips.It is just not feasable for me to cut them all off. The sheep was not coated and so the tips are very sunburned. So I have just been pulling them off whenever I can, and know that I will not sell the yarn, but use it for myself.
The fleece is worth processing time to me, because of the softness. After it is washed and carded, and even the yarn, is the softest wool I have ever spun.
When I first open a fleece, I will seperate it out into several piles. One obvious pile is for mulch, depending on how well the original skirting was done, this could be a little or alot. I probably lost about a pound of this 6 lb fleece to mulch. Then I try and pull out the worse of what is left. In this case it was areas around the rump that has nice wool but is pretty dirty, and also under the neck, which had lots of hay in it. The third thing I pull out if I can determine it, is the area across the shoulders of the sheep. This is traditionally the area of the finest wool, and is often used for lock spinning very fine yarn. There was not good lock definition to this fleece, but I pulled that area out to process as a batch. And finally the rest is the prime blanket area over the back, that gets processed as a batch.
I almost always process that extra dirty batch first. I do this for a number of reasons. One, if the way I think the wool should be washed does not clean the very dirtiest, it will not clean the best part. So I am using the worse part for experimentation. The cold water soak was an experiment with this fleece (one that turned out to be a very good idea) Second, when I start handling a new fleece, I am all excited about it, and will take the extra time and effort that those dirty bits need. By the time I get to that last batch, the prime blanket, I am tired of the fleece, but fortunately that area needs very little extra effort.
I mentioned that I find I can process out most of the faults in a fleece. The first thing I do is to take some fleece between my two hands and really shake it. I had always heard people say to shake a fleece, but found shaking a whole fleece is not what they meant. If I take a length of fleece between my two hands and really shake it, the second cuts go flying, and so does a lot of the VM. So I do this before I pick the fleece apart.
I pick with my hands. I would like to have a picker, but it bothers me to use a picker for both unwashed and washed fleece. If I had one, I would only use it on clean fleece. I have had an opportunity to use one, and I am undecided about whether I want one or not. I just did not get the hang of making the one work that I was trying. So I sit on my porch and pick a small batch at a time, and it saves my hands from getting sore. This is where most of the VM falls out.
There is a very frugal streak in me. Could be my German heritage, could just be my Taurus nature. I hate to throw anything away. So I was curious just how much 'yarn' I would get for my extra effort on the two dirty batches, and kept good records. I processed it just as I mentioned above and ended up with this from my drumcarder.
Looks like a lot but is only 5.5 oz
I was very pleased to discover that my Patrick Green drum carder, with the fur drum, likes this Rambo fleece very well. I have tried to card merino on this fur drum, and ended up with neps. Not so with this fleece, with is why I became even more encouraged to continue the processing inspite of the tips. By the time the fleece had two passes through the carder, I had very wonderful batts that spun into this:
190 yards of very soft yarn
It is a very deep brown. The carded batts look gray in the photo and gray/brown in real life, but the yarn ended up being a lovely deep tweedy brown. It is 13 WPI 2 ply, a bit too thick for socks (I wouldn't with the possibility of neps anyway) but I know I am going to use it for a shawl for me possibly with some dyed yarns.
Is it too much work? Probably. Right now it is a nice stress relieving project in my mornings before I go to work.