Cleaning The Fleece
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Pick apart the fleece and separate the parts you want to clean.

This fleece is from South House Farm in Lytchett Matravers, Dorset, England. There is a sample of my first yarn spun from this fleece at Yarn Art.

Stuffing the parts I'm not going to start cleaning yet into a gunny sack. I will leave it out in the rain and sun and wind.

Washing in soap or detergent

Soak the parts you want to clean for a day in water and soap, agitating gently.

Then soak two or three more times in plain water to rinse out the soap.

Hang on the line to dry. More rain, sun and wind here will help give the wool a soft, comfortable feeling.

Dyeing some yarn spun out of the fleece. I picked up some dark red flowers around the area and steeped them in water in the slow cooker for a day. Although the dye looks dark here, the yarn turned out a pale gold. I did not use any mordant.

Suint Fermentation
Washing a fleece in detergent is a modern practice. Traditionally, fleece were washed by "suint fermentation", which means keeping the fleece in water and letting whatever microbes were in the air or the fleece clean it by eating it (otherwise called fermenting) and then rinsing it out. I have half the fleece in such a fermentation to see how it works. I added some fermenting liquid (yeast starter for making ale) I happened to have on hand.

Here is half of the fleece after it has been sitting in water for a couple weeks. It is beginning to smell like a barn.

The gray at the bottom is the fleece picking up or being dyed by the metal that is showing in the chipped enamel. I think it must have iron in it, as there is rust showing around the chips. This doesn't bother me one way or another. I had read that iron can be used in dyeing wool and I have a piece of iron in the garage that I had thought I might use to dye something that I made with the wool later. I had decided I did not want to "dye in the wool" for now, so the fact that this fleece is being dyed by the iron in the tub is just as interesting happenstance to me.

Here is the fermentation tub with the improvised airlock I have provided for it.

There is a minor problem with this setup in that bugs, particularly the sow bug or wood louse, are able to come and go apparently as they please in and out of the tub. I suppose the, not to put too fine a point on it, fermenting feces is a delectable treat for them. It doesn't bother the washing process but if they slip and fall they can drown. I don't like killing anything unnecessarily so I want to move the tub to some other location where it will not be such an "attractive nuisance" to the local bug population.

One month later
Here is my suint-fermented fleece after a month. There is a thin layer of oily stuff developing on the top.

You're supposed to skim it off the top, not mix it back in. I just was so excited to see it there.  I imagine it is lanolin. I had wondered if there were any way to extract the lanolin from the fleece, now I know.

Here is the fleece a few weeks later and this time I remembered to skim the oil off instead of mix it back in.

Next time I'll just pour the water out and not go through all this trouble with skimming. Once the grease has been pulled out of the fleece it is easy to pour out.

The silver-gray fleece. Compare to the white fleece above. I don't know what dyed it or if I could repeat it, but it looks lovely. I shall start to rinse it out.

Alas, the silver-gray faded after the fleece had dried, returning to mostly white with a few undertones. Still, very nice. And clean.

I may try to dye it, using plants I actually know this time. ( I wonder if you could use this suint-fermentations technique of cleaning by culture for ordinary laundry, like the old laundry detergent with enzymes? See my page at as I answer this question.)


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