Washing Wool – the Cold Water Method, Part Two

The almost-black fleece I spoke of at the end of the last cold water wash post deserves a bit more comment now that it’s clean and I’ve done some sampling. That fleece (it was free) is quite fine with lots of crimp and lots of tiny VM. It was left in the pot for a couple of weeks before the first rinse, with a small amount of original blue Dawn dish soap. It was rinsed twice, at one week intervals but otherwise left alone. When it came out of the pot it felt very clean, but there was still quite a bit of VM. It was laid out to dry for some days and then some samples were hand carded to see how sound the fleece was. Imagine my surprise to find a large number of tiny sprouts throughout the fleece! The little bits of VM had sprouted after being removed from the water. Kinda gross, but I carded anyway, figuring that the sprouts would be chewed up and spit out by the cards.

So. I was given two white Coopworth fleeces a few months ago and one of them was next into the pot. The fleece is quite dirty and I skirted heavily to get rid of as much hay and other VM as I could. Coopworth is not a wool that I’ve worked with much (Romney remains my favorite) and the fleeces were quite large so I skirted mercilessly. The locks are over 6″, with a loose crimp and shiny appearance. There is not much lanolin, but plenty of dirt.

The tips were a bit matted, but not felted – they pull apart without much trouble, just a shower of dirt. The locks are sound and quite uniform throughout the fleece.

About half a fleece was crammed into the pot, some Dawn added, the pot filled with water from the hose (the pot sits outside in an inconspicuous corner of the yard, away from the prying eyes of local dog walkers who I am sure think some strange things go on around here, what with the stray clumps of hair that always seem to litter the lawn – wool, dog hair, rabbit fleece…) the lid put on and I walked away.

The weather turned colder and rainy and the pot sat for at least a month with no disturbance from me. At that point I remembered my little experiment and went to see if anything was growing in the pot. I changed the water twice, rinsing the fleece in the cooker basket with the hose, but not doing anything special to get out more dirt. The water was quite smelly but I’m thinking the cooler weather kept any molds or whatever from taking hold. The wool did not appear to be rotting and no VM was sprouting.

The inner cooker basket was removed and a hose run over the fleece for a final rinse. It still surprises me that the wool doesn’t smell like the water does.

The end result didn’t look all that spectacular, to tell the truth – I was afraid there might be a yellow stain on the wool (it was free, and obviously not from a spinner’s flock) but as it dried I teased the locks apart and the resulting shiny cloud is perfectly white. The fibers are lustrous and sound and better than 6″ long – quite a nice fleece.

I don’t think this fleece will even need to be carded – I’m going to try to spin it from the cloud into a firm, tight yarn for weaving. I have no idea if it will work, so sampling is in order.


The color is a bit wonky in the pictures as there’s not much natural light at this time of year and I haven’t made a light box yet. The teased fleece really is a lustrous white with no traces of yellow or dirt.

Overall, I still think the Cold Water Wash is a great way to get a fleece clean if you aren’t pressed for time. I like the feel of a bit of lanolin in a washed fleece and that’s not easy to accomplish with hot water. The small amounts that fit in the crawfish cooker are easy to card and keep moving forward, which is nice as it means that there are fewer paper sacks of wool sitting around waiting to be spun up.

Another batch of Coopworth is now soaking in the pot. Hopefully I’ll get the first batch spun up before the next is finished. Or not. I have quite a bit of clean fiber to work on this Winter, but I plan on keeping up with the washing, too, so that maybe by Spring all of the wool will be washed at least. Anyone want to come over for a carding party? 😉

Have a fiber filled weekend!

One response

  1. Wonderful! I have tried and it really is the bomb if you have time….!

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