I was trying to spin some pre-prepared sheep’s wool recently, but it had been left full of its natural grease and was proving a nightmare to draft. A quick Google showed me how to wash raw fleece, but nothing mentioned fibre that had already been processed.
So an experiment was required. My research suggested that the best way to prevent felting was to put my fibre in a mesh laundry bag, to be doubly sure I tied a hair elastic around the top of the bag a few inches from the point where my fibre filled it. By doing this, I reckoned the fibre had less space to move and thus less likelihood of felting.
Now, the first wash required 3tbsp of shampoo – I used a citrus based one meant for greasy hair, because this sheep certainly had greasy hair. I also added a little conditioner; wool (like hair) can dry out and I didn’t know how hard wearing it would be.
I then filled the sink with water that was a little above lukewarm, it was the temperature I’d usually bath the dogs in, I imagine baby bath water is a similar temperature. I gently pushed the bag of fibre into the sink, and left it to soak. 20 minutes later, I gently pulsed the bag at the bottom of the sink and removed it by putting my hands under the fibre containing section of the bag, and set it aside. The water was an alarming yellow colour.
I drained the sink, and refilled with a little hair conditioner and slightly warmer water – I read somewhere about “temperature shock” being avoided by ensuring wool goes into warmer water than it left. When you remember that some methods of fulling yarn require a hot bath then a cold one, so the fibres cling to each other better, this makes a lot of sense.
It took four sinkfuls for my 100g of fibre to leave the water as clean as when it went in. I then hung the bag over the bath to drip-dry. Then, when it was no longer dripping, I gently pulled the fibre into hanks, lay them out on trays on the kitchen bench, and let them dry.
Well, let them mostly dry…I was impatient and took both the dry and the damp hanks and set to spinning. It was much easier, the fibres had been aligned by the pulling apart when wet, and the damp fibres clung to each other just enough to make drafting a dream. The resulting yarn was lofty and soft, and none of it had felted!
So, if you don’t like spinning greasy wool, or just want to dilute that farmyard smell some sheep fibre comes with, this should work!