How (and Why) To Wash Wool

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  The results of washing fleece are magical. 

When I first began spinning, the greasy fleece that the teacher spread out on the floor in front of us was not what I had in mind. With my visions of colorful handpainted tops and long ropes of roving, the smelly wool in front of me was about the last thing I wanted to spin. Nearly a decade later, I sniff fresh-off-the-sheep fleeces and relish the thought of those creamy or silvery locks emerging from murky, soapy water, ready to transform into yarn.

And that transformation from yellowed-and-pungent to clean-and-fluffy? It’s truly magical. You can hardly believe that just a few drops of soap and some very hot water can make a fleece so dramatically different. Some fleeces emerge from the bath blindingly white or and some blue-gray. As you get more familiar with fleeces, you might learn to appreciate the freshly shorn state the way I love a good stinky cheese, but even if the sheepy smell never strikes your fancy, washing away the dirt and lanolin is a certain kind of alchemy.

We talk a lot about carding and combing and rolags and top, but the first step in any of those prep processes is cleaning that fleece. And an important step it is, too: leave any grease or dirt (or soap!) in the wool and you will regret it with every stroke of the card or comb. This collection of gems from Spin-Off’s archives is full of ways to clean wool, from low-tech and easy to painstaking and labor-intensive. What all the articles have in common (besides a certain patina–these are oldies-but-goodies and don’t have the same design as our current issues) is a focus on getting each prized fleece from stinky to spectacular.

Before you head to a wool show or click the “buy” button on your next fleece, read the words of wisdom from our panel of experts. You may find them not in perfect agreement on some points . . . so you will have to try out their methods and see for yourself. (Please note that this may call for more than one fleece. We know that’s a terrible prescription.)

Happy spinning. . .and scrub-a-dub-dub!


imageplaceholder Anne Merrow
Editor, Spin-Off

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