Last weekend, my mother-in-law helped me wash one of the fleece. By hand. In her backyard. We started with five pounds of dirty, smelly fleece. Here, for example, is a fleece about the same size as the one we washed. This one went back into the in-laws' garage.
Imagine twice as much fleece packed into that plastic bag. Then imagine nine more bags that size. Or if you prefer, imagine 20 bags this size. That's how much fleece a group of us spent five hours examining and skirting a couple weeks ago.
I only wish I could post a sample of the smell. Smell-O-Vision, that's what we need.
Once again I have no pictures of the in-progress washing, because hot water, sheep grease and the camera don't mix, but the process goes something like this:
1) Fill big buckets, in our case two old plastic garbage cans and one very large plastic bin, with water as hot as you can get from the tap. This is much, much easier if you can hook up a hose to the tap and run it outside, otherwise you will be carrying a lot of water. If the tap water isn't hot enough, boil a small pot to top it off.
2) Add copious amounts of dishsoap. Preferably something that isn't cucumber & melon scented. (I never want to smell that soap again. It's almost as bad as the time I washed my big fuzzy white q-tip marching band hat* with White Rain shampoo in high school. But I digress.)
3) Add fleece, slowly pushing it down into the hot, soapy bin without agitating too much.
4) Let it sit for an hour or so.
5) Retrieve wet, soggy mass of fleece from still rather warm water, again trying not to agitate it too much, and squeeze out as much dirty water as you can. We found that a pillowcase is ideal for this. It can help to fish the fleece out of the water, and makes it easier to squeeze out excess water. You will very likely get quite wet at this point, compliments of the brownish, sheepy-smelling water, unless you have small children to put to the task or cover yourself in plastic.
6) Repeat steps 1-5 at least once more, maybe twice, or even more if you want it to be really clean. We opted for a total of two soapy baths. I was too tired to carry more water.
7) Repeat steps 1 and 3-5 again. In other words, omit the soap and do a hot rinse. You don't need to let it sit as long for the rinse.
8) Do one more rinse with lukewarm water, taking care not to shock the wool by changing its temperature too quickly. We spread the wool out after taking it from the first hot rinse - it was steaming when it came out of the water - and let it cool a little before putting it into the lukewarm rinse.
9) After it's rinsed to your satisfaction (or the water is relatively clean) and you've squeezed out as much water as you can, spread the wool out and let it dry. This could take a while, though I hear putting the wool through the spin cycle of a washer is perfectly safe and helps a lot. We didn't. My father-in-law was dubious enough about the state of his grass by the end, he might have had a stroke if we'd put raw fleece in the washer.
Here is the fleece drying on sheets in my in-law's backyard:
A closer of picture of some clean fleece. It could probably be cleaner - there's still a lot of veggie matter and some of the dirtiest tips are still yellowish, but I'm not too worried about it. Most of the rest will card out, and it will be washed again once it's spun. I was mostly concerned with getting it clean enough to store without stinking up the apartment:
I brought over a 3-tiered drying rack later to get it up off the ground for the night. We did the washing on Saturday evening, and it wasn't fully dry until Wednesday. Not being able to resist, and not having anything better to do (AAAAHAHAHAHA!! Heh, I crack myself up, really!), I carded some and spun a little:
Not bad. Not bad at all. It spins up nicely, and there will be tons of it to experiment with - carding, combing (once I get combs), dyeing - I still have two more full 5+ lb fleece of my own to do, as well as my couple pound share of the ram (nicknamed "Hercules" - he is a big boy), which we split up among several people. At least a half-dozen more fleece haven't been spoken for yet and are still in someone's garage. If no one takes them soon, I'll probably buy at least one or two more.
In other news, there have been... complications... with the Big D proposal, a lot of which are probably in my mind, others maybe not so much. Writing continues. Writing always continues. At this point, I don't have any energy to left to stress out about it, I'd rather expend the energy working on it.
That's progess around here, I suppose.
*not entirely unlike this one, but plain white. Also known as a "bearskin"-style hat. Hated. Them.