Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Let's Wash a Merino Fleece: Step 3, Mesh Washing

Okay, so you have divided up your merino fleece, very carefully. Now, I prefer to wash in a mesh bag because it helps preserve the lock integrity. You can certainly wrap up the wool in some muslin and place it in the mesh bag to further preserve the lock structure, but it will take longer. I suggest doing this if you have the time, since it's completely worth the effort (+Kim Degener mentioned that she pulls out the individual locks, wraps it in some cloth, then washes it in Orvus paste). The end result will still maintain the lock so you can pull them out and spin them quickly and easily.

Before I wash the seconds, I do a small (super tiny, maybe 10 grams) test to get an idea of the number of washes I will need to do. It also lets me know how effective the soap is that I'm using. This isn't a necessary step, but it's a great one for beginners. It's a baby step. Sometimes we need those.

Now that I've tested the fleece, I think I'm probably going to need 3 washes to the lanolin mostly removed. (This was some organic brand I've never used before--the professional washing agent I used before might have done a better job.) I don't want my merino to feel gummy. Place your fleece into the mesh bag in an organized fashion. I make sure all of the points of the fleece are sticking up:

Be sure to push the ends of the fleece patch into the very bottom of the mesh bag so you can maximize how you use the interior space. You really want your fleece to have breathing room in the bag, so don't over fill it.

Now that it's full, I've pulled the drawstrings closed. It looks puffy, but that's only because the locks are standing straight up:

You can see here that it's only 1 lock high:

If you are washing a fleece with less grease than a fine wool fleece, you can start by doing the cold soak method, which loosens and removes dirt. I have found that fleeces with lots of lanolin, they tend to float rather than soak with the cold soak method. If your particular merino fleece is dirty (perhaps it was uncoated and thus dirtier), you might want to fill small water bottles with plain water and place over the mesh bag so it can soak.

If you plan to scour your fleece, select your soap and wash basin. I'm using a laundry/work sink and some un-scented, dye-free laundry soap. Fill the tub/sink full enough so that: 1) the water will retain its heat; and 2) there is space between the fleece and the dirt which will settle to the bottom.

I let it soak on one side for about 10 minutes, then gently flipped the whole bag over (do this slowly rather than quickly so you don't rustle the locks too much) and let it sit for an additional 5-10 minutes. When it's ready to remove, I fold the bag gently in half, lift the whole bundle straight up out of the water, then drain the tub and let the bag hang over the faucet to drip for a minute. DON'T SQUEEZE!

Refill, wash, place bag, 10 mins, flip, 5-10 mins, fold bag, lift, drain. Repeat. Then comes the rinsing. Do everything you did for the washing, except don't add in the soap. Be sure that you remove ALL of the remaining soap from the fleece. I did two plain water rinses, then I added 1/2 cup of vinegar to the final rinse to make sure I neutralized any remaining soap residue. The pH of soap is damaging to wool fibers, so it's important to remove as much of it as possible. Additionally, the acidity of vinegar is similar in pH to that of the wool, so it's fine if you just eyeball that 1/2 cup.

After the final rinse, let the wool hang in the bag until it stops dripping and cools slightly. Don't handle a hot wet fleece too much, and try not to squeeze it much. If you must squeeze, do it gently.

Lay it out on a screen if you have one, or lay it out on a large towel and roll it up. I let the towel absorb the moisture without additional squeezing. Lay out the fleece on a clean, dry towel and let it air dry.

The locks will be loose and wobbly, but they get their spring back when they're fully dry. I flip the whole thing over about every 6-8 hours so I can get even drying. This is when a drying screen comes in handy (no flipping needed)! Continue this washing and drying process with the rest of your fleece. I'll be back in the next installment to share some tips and details about storing your washed fiber. Are you feeling a bit less nervous about washing your first fleece? I hope so! But if you still have questions or you want further clarification with a specific breed of sheep, let me know. Ask me at expertlydyed@zoho.com, or share them on Facebook. Good Luck!