Shetland fleece
Shetland fleece before washing

Let’s face it, sheep are pretty grubby beasts.  They live outside in muddy fields in all weathers, so when we get hold of their fleeces they need a damn good wash.

Washing fleece takes a lot of water and in particular, a lot of hot water.  Contrary to popular belief you can put wool in very hot water and it won’t shrink.  The shrinkage occurs from agitation which causes it to felt.

As all our water comes from a well, during the drier months we do try to conserve it as much as possible.  All water for livestock and the polytunnel comes from rainwater captured in barrels and tanks.  We keep showers and washing clothes to a minimum, well way out here we don’t get that many visitors, although we do have a wash and brush-up if we’re going out!

During the winter months we get plenty of rain and snow so water is in plentiful supply and that’s the time we choose to wash our fleeces.  We are also lucky enough to have an ancient solid fuel Rayburn on which all the cooking is done and it provides us with oceans of piping hot water all day long.

In the past we’ve washed fleece in the bath and in buckets but recently we zoomed forward to the modern day when we managed to pick up a second hand twin tub washing machine.

Washed Suffolk fleece
Washed Suffolk fleece

Wheel it into the kitchen, fill with very hot water, dump the fleece in with a bit of washing up liquid and leave it to soak for an hour before changing the water and repeating the process several times.

After it’s spun it sits in a laundry basket on the rack over the Rayburn for several days until it’s dry.

Some fleeces are so huge that they have to be done in two halves and before you even get to the washing stage, the really dirty bits have to be removed and discarded.  Even after washing the fleece will still contain bits of muck and straw and also a lot of lanolin and knitting with the spun yarn makes my hands soft, its better than hand cream.

Washing and drying are just the first stages in preparing a fleece to blossom into a jumper, there is still quite a way to go before we see the end result.