We shear around 30-40 sheep in the spring and another 70-90 in the fall. That makes a pretty big pile of unwashed fleeces! While I don’t wash all of them, I wash enough to be on the lookout for the best, easiest, fastest method. Over the years I have tried several methods, and my process has evolved.
First, let’s take a step back, before we wash the fleece we need to skirt it. Shearing is a pretty fast paced activity, so I try to do a little skirting on the fly, but usually end up doing it again before washing. My skirting table is homemade, just a frame of 1 x 3 lumber with hardware cloth stapled over it. I have two of these frames hinged together and just set it on sawhorses by the shearing shed. It also doubles as a drying rack after the wool is washed.
Skirting Table/Drying Rack in Closed Position
A Closer Look at the Construction of the Rack
With the fleece spread out on the skirting table it is just a matter of “skirting” the course, poopy wool from around the edge. The belly and breech (rear) wool are not usually a quality fiber so they are removed and can be used for other purposes. After working around the edges pick out any big pieces of vegetable matter and second cuts (short pieces of wool). Depending on the season and the sheep there may be chunks of neck wool that are too contaminated with hay to salvage, so those are pulled out as well.
Washing Container Options
Once the fleece is skirted it is time to move to the wash process. First, we look at the washing container. Some of the options I have used are: trays, buckets, wash tubs, and a washing machine.
We raise Cotswold sheep and with their beautiful long locks there are times that they need to be very delicately washed to retain the full curls. To wash individual locks, I have used trays that I have picked up at nurseries to carry pots of flowers. These work nice to sandwich the wool between two trays and then submerge them in water to soak. It keeps the locks intact while they soak.
Nursery Tray Works Great for Locks–If I need to buy more plants to get it, that’s just a bonus!
Trays Sandwiched Together to Wash Locks
The bucket is pretty simple for about 1 pound or less of fleece. I like to wash a full fleece at one time and buckets are too small for a full fleece.
Buckets with Milk Crate to Drain Wool
Laundry Wash Tubs