Basically the suint (sweat from the sheep) and the lanolin in the fleece along with rainwater makes ‘soap’ so you will not need to add any soap or detergent. It appears that the fleece gets clean on its own. Having tried this on a fairly fresh Shetland fleece and an older Jacob fleece I can say that the method has worked well for me and I will continue to use it in future.
I liked the fact that the rinsed and dried fleece still had some lanolin in it – it did not feel completely dry and lacklustre!
What you need to start:An outdoor space
Large container with a lid – I used a large translucent plastic storage box with lid and also a vintage galvanised round bath with lid
Container to rinse the fleece in
Desirable:Watering can for adding the rinse water to the garden
Large net – eg net curtain eg to go over a triangular washing line / tree for drying the fleece
How to set the ‘fleece washing bath up’
RinsingThe trick is to keep as much of this wonderful ‘fermented suint bath’ as you can. So I would take out sections of fleece at a time and squeeze them and put them straight away into another container. YOU ARE GOING TO KEEP THE VERY DIRTY LOOKING WATER TO WASH THE REST OF THE FLEECE. If you have unlimited rainwater use it, however I used tap water for the rinsing and it worked well. I did find that I did 5 /6 rinsings until the rinse water ran clear. I collected all the rinse water and added it to the garden. The plants loved it. So although it seemed arduous at the time it was being as sustainable as possible. At this point I put the fleece in a pillow case and put it in the washing machine for a slow spin ( no rinse just a slow spin). After that I opened up and pegged the net curtain on the washing line and spread the fleece on this – if the weather is not up to that then on a sheet on a spare bit of floor – garage / kitchen ???? will work. It won’t take long to dry but do make sure it is really dry before storing it and again a pillowcase is the ideal storage method- with an accurate label tied on, and the top tied up so no moth can get in.
Back to your ‘Fleece Washing Bath’
You now take the next section of your unwashed fleece and add it to the very dirty and smelly water that you have just taken the fleece out of! Again make sure you have not added so much it is crammed in too tight. Add a bit more rainwater if the level has dropped. I have found that you will only need to leave the fleece in this potent mixture for 48 hours. Then take it out and rinse it as before. Add more fleece to the even smellier bath and leave that for another 48 hours and so on….
Even though when you take the fleece out of the fermented suint bath it has an odour that you think you won’t be able to get rid of, don’t worry – it will come out in the rinse and the air as it dries and the texture of the washed fleece is, in my opinion, the best I have had from any sort of fleece washing I have done.
When you have finished washing all of the fleece you can put the contents of this washing bath on the garden too – it might be a bit potent – so I would make sure it didn’t go on any plant directly.