Today was a perfect day to wash fleece. Dry and sunny, but not too hot to be outside. I selected a lamb's wool Coopworth Karakul cross fleece I had purchased at the Connecticut Sheep Breeder's Association Fiber Festival last April. It is a rich, dark brown color, and not too big--about 3.5 lbs. The fleece was laid out in the grass in a sunny location. Most fleeces are rolled up so that when you unroll them, you can pretty much lay it out in "order", or relatively intact and see where the neck end and the rump end are. This fleece was pretty well skirted (dirty edges removed), so my next job was to sort the fleece. Since my goal is to card this fleece on the carding machine into batts for spinning, my dec ision for sorting was to simply sort into 2 categories, based on fineness. I put the rump end into one pile, since the fibers are coarser, and the rest of the fleece went into another pile. All of this fleece would be carded together in the batts, and spun woolen style. If I wanted to, I could have sorted the prime longest wool into a separate pile, to be combed out using my English wool combs, and spun Worsted style, but my end use will be all-purpose woolen spun yarn for hats, mittens and such, so minimal sorting is enough.
After sorting, I filled a large galvanized wash tub with warm water, and about a half-cup of "Orvus" WA Paste, available at farm supply retailers. This is used in the industry to wash sheep and other livestock to prep them for showing. It is pH balanced. Great for all your wool handwashables, too! Gentle and effective. Let the fleece soak for an hour or so, being careful not to agitate it, as it can felt. Drain off the water, and fill the tub again, being careful not to shock the wool with extreme temperature changes to the water. When the water runs clear, drain it off. You may put the wool into the washer on the spin cycle only to extract the rest of the water, or gently squeeze out as much as you can by hand.
Next, I put the fleece on a drying rack outdoors to drip dry. This may take the entire day or more, depending on how much water is left in the wool. I have also used large screens to dry wool on, which work well, too. After spinning the yarn, I will wash the wool again to remove any remaining grease and suint (sweat). The carding machine will remove any bits of chaff. I was careful to shake out as much of the chaff and second cuts as I could before putting the wool into the water. The second cuts are easy to see, they are the little shorter bits of wool left when the shearer clips over an area a second time. You do not want these bits in your spinning!