So today I was asked if I could offer some advice on preparing some fleece ready for working with to make wet felt. My customer had been collecting wool dropped from sheep during her dog walk and is keen to use in her textile art.
So here is the suspect fleece. If you are lucky enough to have a whole fleece at your disposal then these would be the parts you would discard! The bits that drop from a sheep tend to be mucky, dirty 'daggs' from the rear end, need I say more. Or tangled low quality edges from the belly area. With a whole fleece you can pick out the softest highest quality wool to work with. That said this is an emotional reason for using collected fleece and no doubt will be used in a Covid-19 art endeavour so wool quality doesn't matter.
First job is to pick through and remove any visible organic matter - grass, sticks, dirt etc. Then to wash.....
You must be careful in washing fleece, you want to remove dirt, most of the lanolin but not to begin the felting process. Therefore the key things to avoid are fluctuations in temperature and excessive movement of the fibres.
Prepare a couple of water baths, the temperature is not too important but must be consistent from one to the next. Add some of the most gentle soap you have to the first bowl - I have heard that Eucalan is idea as it is formulated for washing wool and doesn't need to be rinsed.
Allow the fleece to gently absorb the soapy water, very carefully push the fleece into the water to ensure it is submerged. Allow to sit for some time ideally an hour or so but it will depend on how dirty your fleece is.
Now carefully lift the wet soapy fleece into the clean bowl and again submerge to 'rinse'. These actions must be done with the minimum possible movement of fibres against each other or felting will commence.
You might find you need to repeat this process so two more bowls of equal temperature water are needed.
Remove the far cleaner fleece and allow to drain and air dry. A sunny day will make this easier - spread the wet fibres out on a flat free draining surface, perhaps a net curtain across a piece of chicken wire - or refrigerator shelf?? This is where you need to look around your home for a creative solution to this. With time and gentle warmth and air flow the fleece will dry.
Now it will be ready for carding and combing to prepare for spinning or felting - or perhaps you can tease the fibres apart enough with your fingers to begin the felting process.
Good luck - I hope it works!