Hooters Hall

Small Scale Wool Processing

We’ve had our flock of Jacob sheep at Hooters Hall for a few years now and over that time I’ve learnt to spin, knit and weave with wool. Being able to make things using fibre from my own flock is wonderful but getting from raw fleece to a yarn you can use to knit a scarf with can be a bit of a challenge. Of course you can simply send your fleeces off to a mill and let them do all the hard work. You do have to pay for that hard work though and it obviously isn’t the same as making a yarn that you’ve completely processed by hand.
Hand processing your wool isn’t quick but I think I’ve developed a system that’s not too labour or resource intensive once you’ve got the initial set up costs out the way. So here is the Hooters Hall guide to hand processing your wool.

I hand shear my sheep doing a couple each weekend and I process my wool in a similar way doing batches regularly rather than trying to do it all at once. We are lucky to have several outbuildings so I store my raw fleeces in cardboard boxes until I’m ready to process them. Here’s a picture.
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To wash your raw fleece you will need cold and hot water, a suitable detergent, lingerie laundry bags, containers big enough to allow the water to move around the wool fibres.
The detergent I use is Unicorn Power scour . I’ve tried a few different detergents and in my opinion the Unicorn Power Scour is the most effective particularly at low temperatures. The lingerie laundry bags makes moving your wet wool around a lot easier and you can buy them on Ebay and Amazon.

I have two sinks in my wool processing room but I use lidded buckets to wash the wool in. Moving smaller quantities of wet wool around is a lot easier than a whole fleece or more than one fleece. The buckets I use are the ones my horse treats come in but you can use any container that suits you. The important thing about choice of container is that it needs to be big enough for the water to be able to move around the fibres.
Here’s a picture of the containers I use
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And here’s a picture of some fleeces in their net bags ready for washing
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Once you have all your equipment ready it’s time to get washing. If you can try and do your wool washing near a water source. I have mains water in my wool processing room and two sinks one of which is a belfast sink at floor level. Here’s a picture of the set up. As you can see I’ve also got a hose pipe on the tap so I can fill my buckets at floor level rather than having to raise them to the level of the tap.
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Before you start washing your wool make sure you have removed all the obviously mucky bits. (generally referred to as skirting the fleece)

Wool Washing Method

Fill all your containers with cold water, place your net bags filled with wool in and leave overnight or up to 24 hours. This is why it’s important that the containers are big enough to let the water move around the wool. The water will be doing the hard work of removing the dirt for you. The following morning remove the wool from the bucket. The water will look something like this. Remove the wool and dispose of the dirty water. You will need to spin your wool to remove as much water as possible. More about spinning options below. 20161022_111246-1

Refill your container with warm water. I don’t have a hot water supply in my wool processing room but I do have electricity so I bought a catering hot water heater, you can find them on amazon. Here’s a picture
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Follow the directions on your detergent for how much to add then put your wool, still in the net bag, in the container with the warm water and detergent. Don’t agitate the wool at all because this risks causing it to felt. With Unicorn power scour I leave my wool soaking in the detergent and warm water for about 40 minutes. You do want to avoid the water becoming cold because this can lead to the lanolin sticking to the fleece again.

Remove your wool from the water. You now need to drain the water from the wool. You could simply leave it to drain but this will take a long time and you really want to get as much water as possible out of the fibre because this will also remove dirt particles. To achieve this you need to spin your wool. The old fashioned way to do this is to put it in a bag, tie it to a stick and swing it round and round but I thought that was a bit labour intensive.

I used to use the spin function on my washing machine but the fleece always got lightly felted, a bit of research online suggested this due to the way the spin function operates in front loading washing machines even when you are selecting spin only.

So, I invested in a stand alone spin dryer, the White Knight, which you can buy at Amazon and many other online shops. Here’s a picture, it’s quite compact, you need to be able to plug it in and will need a container to collect the water that is spun off and comes out of the bottom, as you can see I use a rubber trug. It only takes a minute or two to spin the wool almost touch dry and get rid of all that dirt.
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After spinning your wool you need to rinse it. Fill the containers you used for washing with cold water again and put the wool (still in the net bags) back in. Leave them to soak for up to 24 hours.

It’s back to the spinner then to get all the remaining water and dirt out.

If you have a very dirty fleece or one with lots of lanolin you might need to repeat the washing and rinsing steps.

Finally leave your wool spread out to dry. I use a heated drying rack but you could just have a standard laundry rack or make a wire rack that lets the air circulate the wool. Here’s a picture of some wool drying on my rack
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So now you have some beautiful, clean wool. What you do next depends on what you want to do with your fibre. I like to use mine for spinning yarn and weaving either as yarn or using unspun fibre for rya weaving or peg loom rugs.

For me the next step is to pick the wool. I have a wool picker, a fearsome looking bit of kit that uses a swinging motion and long nails to separate the fibres of your wool. Separating the fibres fluffs it all up and means any vegetation falls out. I bought my wool picker from www.fibrehut.co.uk but there are lots of plans available online if you’ve got the wood working skills to make your own. You can also pick through your wool by hand which obviously takes longer but is not an unpleasant task. Here’s a picture of my wool picker.
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Once you’ve picked your wool, if you want to spin it you can spin the picked wool without further processing. This is called spinning from the cloud. Alternatively you can card your wool using either hand or a drum carder. You could also use a blending board and make rolags. Once your wool is carded you can also make hand pulled roving using a diz. This is basically pre drafting your fibre and can help you spin a more consistent yarn.

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