When I knit in public, I never know what will come from it.
Last summer while on a short hiking trip in the Methow with folks from PBI, I whipped out a mitten project during our lunch break. As I worked a few rows, my fellow hikers mentioned that knitting and spinning was a popular activity when they moved there among a wave of hippies. One hiker mentioned that she happened to have a fleece given to her by a friend who had raised sheep and spun wool. It had been used as part of a Halloween costume but was no longer needed. Since I was so enthusiastic about knitting, she graciously offered me the fleece. I gladly accepted not fully understanding the ramifications.
After the fleece sat in the box for a couple of weeks while I research what to do with it, I finally got enough courage to dive in and clean it. I’ve read that a fleece can be soaked in a top loading washing machine as long as there is no agitation. After the fleece is clean through soaking, the water can be spun out of the wool by putting the washer in spin mode. Although this sounded like a fast way to get the job done, this method wasn’t an option for me since I converted to a front loader a couple of years ago.
Here are the steps that I took to manually clean the fleece. It’s a long process but keeps the lock intact which is important when spinning worsted yarn.
1. Separate a bunch of the wool locks from the fleece and put them in a mesh laundry bag, keeping the cut ends together so as not to mix up the ends of the wool.
2. Fill the buckets with very hot tap water and then add lots of Dawn dishwashing soap.
3. Place the mesh bag of wool into one bucket and let it soak for 10 minutes. Be sure not to agitate the wool or it might felt.
4. Repeat soaking with another bucket of new water until the water starts to look clean. Each bucket of water must be at the same temperature as the last, otherwise the wool might start to felt.
5. When the wool is fairly clean, rinse it in fresh hot water.
6. Gently take the wool out of mesh bags and put on a drying rack. It takes about one to two days to dry.
The mesh laundry bags help keep the locks together and allow the wool to be delicately removed from the water. Keep in mind that wool will felt if there is too much agitation or a drastic change in the water temperature.
Don’t be surprised if the wool changes color when cleaned. This one turned from brown to gray with white highlights.