A woolly-minded interlude…

Scrumptious Portland fleece - but mucky!
Scrumptious Portland fleece, drying out.

Just over a week ago, we picked up some Freecycled Portland fleece. Portlands are small, intelligent, friendly ancestral Downland sheep and their creamy-white fleece is supposed to be very good for “beginner” spinners. So when our moderator Josie mentioned that a friend had just taken on some neglected Portlands, on Portland itself, and needed to rehome their newly-shorn fleece fast, as she had nowhere to store it, I felt that it was worth a 10-extra-mile trip over to the Island to pick it up, as I was going down to Dorchester for a WSD Guild meeting anyway. So off we hurtled, met up with Su and her other half, and relieved them of – well, I’m not sure how many, quite a few anyway – damp fleeces.

I’ve had a really busy couple of weeks; last week’s excellent camping trip to West Dorset was followed in short order by a trip up to Surrey to camp in my brother’s garden for his daughter’s 30th birthday party. During this time, the fleeces were drying out gradually on old trellises and other loose garden bits, thanks to DH moving them from lawn to garage and back again, depending on the weather conditions. Now they are mostly dry, I shall bag two up for Josie, awaiting her safe return from hospital; I’ve wrapped two more up to send to an e-friend who expressed an interest in free fleece, and have a mere – oh, ten or thereabouts – left to deal with…
So – how to “scour” fleece en masse? Here’s my way, two at a time, as they’re small sheep: warn the family the bathroom’s off limits for a while (we do have a shower room too) then soak for a good long time  in a deep, hot bath, with a little sandalwood essence. Get yourself out, dry off, add some shampoo to the water and put the fleece in gently, pushing it down until it’s all underwater. Leave overnight, then pull the plug out & let it drain. Fill the bath again with cool water, move the fleece around very gently so that it doesn’t felt, then drain again, and repeat until the water runs away clean. One last rinse with a cupful of vinegar added, then drain and squeeze gently until the water stops running. Stuff damp fleece into pillowcases, then spin (only spin, no rinse!) in your washing machine, and lay out on some kind of grid to dry.
A lot of dirt came out of the two I washed overnight, but what didn’t come out were the burdock burrs. I thought I was going to lose a lot of fleece along with them as they were completely entangled, but once the fleece was wet, they pulled out quite cleanly & easily. There’s a fair bit of the dreaded VM (Vegetable Matter) still in there, but most of that should come out when I card it. There’s also still quite a bit of lanolin, so it should be nice & easy to spin, then I can wash it again before dyeing.
But I suspect that lot will keep me busy until next Christmas!
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