This is the way we wash our fleece

A tutorial today. I was getting ready to wash more fleece for Joe’s gansey (today is Tuesday, so I’m trying to do at least one spinning related activity) and since I always get lots of questions about how I do it, I thought I would grab the camera. I know you are all very worried about the squirrel. I am prepared.

Some notes:

1. I learned everything I know about washing fleece from other people. This method is cobbled together from the likes of spinners more clever than I, like Judith MacKenzie McCuin, That Laurie and a multitude of blog posts and conversations.

2. This is a version of lock washing, not whole fleece washing. There are spinners who toss the thing in the washing machine, but I am really hung up on preserving lock structure in a way that most people aren’t. This is not the fastest or even the most sensible way to wash fleece, but it’s the way I do it.

3. This way doesn’t work as great for huge fleeces (unless you are unconcerned about how long it takes) or for fleeces with a lot of VM (Vegetable Matter. That’s stuff like grass or feed.)

4. Fleece is disgustingly dirty. Truly. During fleece washing, you and your equipment are going to come in contact with a lot of stuff that is, besides being disgusting, is not at all good for you. Stuff like sheep urine and feces as well as many chemicals that are used to keep sheep. (Read this. Not all sheep are dipped, but there are still a lot of chemicals involved a lot of the time. Even well kept “pet” sheep raised for fleece can have a surprising amount of medicines and chemicals. Since I am not in the habit of asking everyone I buy fleece from what they use, I am just careful.) A smart person would wear gloves while handling the stuff, or at an absolute minimum, develop a reflex for very good handwashing (with hot water and soap) while doing this.

5. As related to the point above, the stuff you use to process fleece (pots, bowls, pails etc.) should probably be used only for that purpose.

6. I am, like almost everybody, still learning. This works for me. That doesn’t mean that it’s the best, only or even correct way to do it. Discussion and commentary are welcome.

Materials: An old pillowcase, cut open. A roasting pan, fleece and dish soap. (I use Presidents choice lavender scented. I have had equal luck with other brands. The choice of cleanser for fleece is hotly debated, and debated often.)


First I lay the pillowcase over the roasting pan.


Then I start to pull locks off, and lay them into the pan, tips to centre. (A lock of fleece has a “butt”, the cut end that was near the sheep, and a “tip” end. That’s the end away from the sheep.) I put a whole lot in. Enough to fill the pan, just layering them on top of each other.


When I think I have put as much as is reasonable, I fold the fabric over the fleece to make a tidy little package which pleases me to no end. The packaging for the fleece keeps the locks intact and keeps things from floating around and getting tangled up. It is likely overkill, but again…it works for me.


Then I fill the pan with room temperature water, remembering not to pour water right onto the fleece. It hates that and can retaliate by felting. I put it aside and walk away for at least an hour.


When I come back the water is gross. I carefully roll up my little fleece burrito (maybe giving it a very gentle squeeze to get more of the water out) and pour the water off.

Next, I fill the pan with room temperature water again, and add a very generous squirt of dish soap and the fleece package. Then, I put it on the stove and turn the heat on. (A whole bunch of spinners just gasped and fell off their chairs. )


I put the heat on very low, and I start to babysit the pan, checking it very often to make sure that it gets very hot and steaming, but DOES NOT BOIL. Boiling angers the fleece, and again, it can retaliate by felting. (Agitation – moving the fleece around, can also anger the fleece. I try not to move my little fleece pack much at all.)


When it’s been steaming away for an hour or so, I turn off the heat and pour off that water, which will be almost as revolting as the first go..but likely cloudy dirty. The heat takes the lanolin (grease) off the fleece, as well as the dirt that’s bonded to it. There’s other stuff too, like the sheeps sweat and other body oils, and let’s just be glad it’s going.

Next, I let the whole thing cool for a bit (again, rapid temperature changes can anger fleece) then add the hottest possible, and repeat the “cooking”.


Drain, and repeat the filling, only this time with plain water. Cook, then drain and repeat with clear water again. (This is the rinsing. Sometimes this needs be done more than twice. Use your judgement. You want clear, non-soapy water when you are done.)

When you have finished all of the rinsing, and given it a bit of a squeeze, open your little fleece burrito, and admire the elegant way that everything is still perfectly in locks, and perfectly clean.


Set it outside to dry, being sure to hook up the squirrel deterrent system provided by Rams and Presbytera on their visit to Toronto.


It’s a metal picnic food dome, held down with bungee cords hooked firmly to the metal table.

After it is set up. Lie in wait with your camera. This may take some time, but patience is rewarded.


Who’s winning now, you filthy little fleece stealing excuse for a mammal!




That’s right ya little bum wipe. You’re screwed. YOU DO NOT HAVE THE TEHNOLOGY! HA HA!!


Sorry. I got carried away. It it just feels really good to win one….you know?