Washing Fine Fleeces - Rambouillet Wool

Rambouillet fleeces are a very fine grade, and as such have a heavier lanolin (grease) content than coarser wools. Rambouillet should be spun rather finely to take advantage of its characteristics. Be careful washing, as fine wools felt easily. Felting occurs with agitation, and with changes of water temperature. Soap accelerates the felting. If you decide to send your fleece out for washing and carding, make sure you use a mill that can card Rambouillet and Merino without causing neps (these look like second cuts after carding). I recommend Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill in Mount Horeb, WI or Quail Hill Carding in Yuba, WI, or Ohio Valley. Zeilingers and Frankenmuth also work pretty well. The instructions for washing fleeces below are intended for fine fleeces with heavy grease. For wool from coarser breeds of sheep, with less grease, the temperature will not have to be set as high, and it will not require as many wash and rinse steps as for finer fleeces.

You may wish to wash very small amounts by hand in a sink, to preserve the appearance of the locks, but for larger amounts, using the tub of your top-load washing machine is the easiest way.

Don't be concerned if your tip ends are a different color than the part of the fleece that was close to the body of the sheep; this is normal and does not noticeably change your yarn appearance if well-carded.

Washing Instructions

Fill 2 medium-large mesh zipper bags loosely with picked-over wool - remove as much vegetation as possible. You can usually put 2 to 3 pounds of fleece in most top-load washers. Set your automatic washer or water heater to the highest temp (150 degrees or more is not too hot!) and fill to capacity. Make sure your machine never goes into an agitate cycle! Add the bags of wool to the water and let soak for about 45 minutes. Spin out the dirty water. This step without detergent will get rid of a lot of the grease. Remove the bags, re-fill the washer with very hot water, adding 1/4 - 1/2 cup of a grease-cutting detergent. I get the best results using Tide with Dawn. Others like Shaklee Basic H or Dawn or Orvus. When the machine stops filling, add the bags of wool, gently poke down, and allow to soak. Maintain the initial temperature all the way through the process, don't let the water temperature drop while the wool is soaking. Put the lid down, cover with a blanket to retain heat, and walk away for an hour. Turn on the spin cycle (DO NOT AGITATE) and spin out all the water. Remove the wool bags while you refill washer with water and soap so the incoming water does not mat them. Again insert the wool and once more let it soak for about an hour. Spin out the water. Remove the wool. Fill tub with hot water. If you are sure there is no grease left in the wool, you won't need soap this time, but you should repeat washing as many times as it takes to remove the grease. It's important that the water not change temperatures from bath to bath; also, it must be spun out while hot, in order to get rid of the grease. You may need to repeat the rinse. Your water should be clear when done. If your fiber feels greasy a few weeks after you wash it, when you thought it was clean, it means you didn't get all the lanolin out. Make sure that you follow through with the washing process - don't let it take longer than necessary, as it can weaken the fibers in fine fleeces. When you are sure the wool is clean, remove from the bags and dry on old, clean window screens out of the sun, or use any other drying method that allows the air to circulate. Using the spin cycle on the washer really helps the wool to dry quickly. When dry, if you plan on carding the wool yourself, pull the locks apart to a fluffy pile of wool and card or comb, or you can retain the lock structure and use a flick carder to open the tip end, as long as there is not a marked color difference within the staple. Use fine-tooth hand cards or mini combs for best results on fine fibers. Fine drum carders can work, although the Patrick Green drum carder with super-merino or exotic drums will work much better than an Ashford or Louet fine carder to completely blend in neps.

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