Fleece Preparation

Fleece after washing. (Do *NOT* agitate!)

I washed the wool using Dawn dishwashing liquid and Orvus Paste soap in the hottest water available. It was allowed to cool for 15‐20 minutes, then the wool was spun to get the water out. Hot rinse water was added, and the wool was allowed to soak for 5 minutes, and again the water was spun out. This process was repeated, usually 2 or 3 times. Despite what the picture shows, much of the dirt was washed out. Larger pieces of vegetable matter were still caught in the fibers, however.

To get out the rest of the vegetable matter, I carded the wool using, for the most part, drum carders. While drum carders are far from being period equipment, again I made the choice on the basis of expediency. I did not have the legion of children often available in medieval time for combing and hand cleaning the fleeces. Hand carding was tried for some of the fiber, to compare results, but this process takes a long time to do well, and using the drum carder certainly helped clean the wool more quickly, while causing little loss in processing quality.

Drumcarding the wool. (Tweezers definitely help.)

Most of the drum carding was accomplished over the course of approximately six months, with the help of volunteers and the loan of a second drum carder. We discovered that tweezers (and a good eye) are the best way, in many cases, to get the worst of the vegetable matter out of the fibers.

Cleaning the wool with Viking combs.

One fleece was so filled with vegetable matter that drum carding was not enough to get it clean. I finally tried a first pass on cleaning this fleece with my Viking combs. Since Viking combs are designed to pull the longer fibers away from the shorter, this had the effect of knocking out much of the straw that was caught in the wool, and produced cleaner wool very easily, speeding the processing of that fleece considerably.*

*I am amused, at times, by the obsession we have in the present day with getting every speck of vegetable matter out of our wool. We know that wasn’t necessarily possible in period ‐‐ in fact, archeologists have used the vegetable matter remaining in fabric [seeds, small bits of chaff, etc.] to place the origins of fabric that had been traded to foreign lands. For example, cloth that originated as wool in Scotland, and thus had seeds from native Scottish plants embedded, has been found in remote corners of Europe, obviously brought there by traders.

The Bibliography

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