STILL learning to clean a wool fleece


Note: this method is particularly useful for (1) retaining lock structure of curls for intended needlefelt or wet felt projects, and (2) retain lock structure for spinners wishing to spin each lock from the tip.


Update:  Forget big sewing needle; use big “coil-less safety pins.”  They don’t get stuck in the mesh if have no coils.  Faster to assemble.  The heavier mesh bag is still easy to handle / sinks well in water / and magically the locks remain untangled and unaffected by the pins. 

See end of post for 2nd UPDATE:  additive to eliminate soap suds.  There’s a good reason

Over the years, I’ve washed {mumble mumble} number of raw fleece, & acquired habitual methods that work for me. Nevertheless, I find that after 7 years I am still learning. With wool, one is forever learning something new.

Long ago I’d seen a photo of raw locks of precious Merino fleece placed within tutu netting to hold it secure while washing. They rolled netting into sausages, and tied with rubber bands. I was momentarily intrigued, but largely dismissed the method feeling I had no need of it. Why go to all that effort when I could simply pile my wool into mesh bags? I knew enough to sort the parts of a fleece, and I’d be combing it all later instead of spinning locks from the tips as she had done. (Hubris happens to the best of us).

Fast forward years later. Now I am a fiber festival vendor selling needle felted sheep sculptures wearing pretty curls. I’d wash the fleece, then hand over to willing husband, who would untangle & snip apart jumbled curls while watching hours of basketball & football (I never complained). Sometimes this worked, sometimes not so much.

Sheep in Boots

More recently, I acquired a particularly charming Bluefaced Leicester and earnestly wished to preserve the lock structure; didn’t want it all jumbled up. How could I retain greater control? Then I remembered the photo of Merino secured in netting and tweaked the method to secure the individual locks of wool in mesh bags I had readily on hand.

Thankful to the person who long ago posted that helpful photo, here are my pictures too. I was cleaning 2 fleece that day, so photos show the method used with both curly BFL and a luscious Romeldale.

Here are locks of well-skirted, downy Romeldale being sorted indoors on a sheet (for yucky fleeces, I’d work in garage). I sorted the longer staples for spinning / the shorter for wet felting.


Important: it seems to me easier to separate locks of RAW wool since the natural ‘webbing’ pulls apart readily.

  • I pluck apart each & every lock, gathering a handful.
  • Thread a 6” doll needle with strong nylon thread.
  • Line up a row of locks inside the mesh bag. Stitch that row before adding the next row. Leave thread hanging to continue subsequent rows. Take 1” to 2” long running stitches – across the middle of the locks. I’m holding up the bag to show how well the locks of wool will remain in place. Sometimes I add even longer stitches between rows.
  • Wash fleece per usual in sink or bathtub. I never use a machine anymore, since I obtain better results washing small batches by hand. I might process 4 to 6 mesh bags at a time. The remaining raw fleece can wait for another day.
  • I use a slotted plastic bin to lift the wool bags in & out of water, to reduce risk of felting even a little.
  • I also have a laundry spinner, which I use to remove all the water. Wool dries rapidly afterward.


Holding up the stitched mesh bag ~after washing!~ to show how well the locks stayed in place.  I would still stitch the bag IF in a hurry and had no pins. 

 UPDATE:  Nowadays I don’t stitch the bag.  I bought 200 “no -coil” safety pins.  Easy peasy.  I pin right through the wool locks, whether lined up in a row, or a chunk laid rather flat into bag.  The pins prevent the wool from all shifting in a lump to one side as I lift bags in and out of water.


It seems more work on the front end to preserve the locks, though I recall husband previously untangling curls throughout an entire football game. So perhaps it evens out the scales of effort expended. Importantly: I consider it TOTALLY WORTHWHILE when I later see clean locks perfectly preserved and ready-to-use. I may have put my husband out of work sorting washed locks, but he still gets to watch his sports.


I laugh gleefully to admire the stacks of clean Bluefaced Leicester locks on my table. Yes, the ‘webbing’ is still slightly there after washing, but individual locks pull apart easily. I could lift them up and needle-felt directly onto a sheep sculpture-on-progress. Just LOOK at those rows of gorgeous curls! Aren’t they marvelous?!


What could YOU do with your locks of precious fleece so well preserved this way?

2nd UPDATE:  Secret formula for waaaaayyyy easier washing raw wool fleece.  Add a dash of Spa Antifoam to the wash water.  Reason:  every time I lift wool out of a soap water bath, the spaces in wool form soap bubbles.  Then the bag strongly resists lowering into rinse water.  So frustrating, AND I’ve accidentally “felted” wool from repeatedly trying to push it into that rinse water. 

Spa antifoam is used in hot tubs.  It’s just poly-di-methyl-silicone.  One ingredient deemed safe for human skin.  Pops ALL the soap bubbles.  RESULT:  bags of wool still get clean / lift out of soapy water without forming bubbles.  Sink superbly well into rinse water.   I’ve washed tens of pounds of raw fleece with only a wee sploosh of Anti-foam added; from a teaspoon in the sink, to a tablespoon in the bathtub – if washing up to a dozen mesh bags of raw fleece at one time.

Never have I detected ANY residue whatsoever.  ZERO change to the scent or feel of my fleece.  I have also placed the newly cleaned wet wool directly into a dye bath and no problems at all with dye taking.  Antifoam is the magical wool washing ingredient.  Such a happy discovery, I had to share.  In fact, I should make a post just about Antifoam


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