Storing Raw Fleece
We have completed our wool clip for this year. Initially, we store our raw fleeces in clear plastic bags. This makes them easily seen and handled by those who may wish to buy a raw fleece. Most of our fleeces this year were sold quickly, and thankfully, I don't have to worry about their storage. But we have a couple still left that we want to process later or enter into shows. I thought I would give some tips about storing raw fleece.
Every wool producer or hand spinner seems to have their own preference for fleece storage. Some fiber addicts always wash the fleece before storing, others prefer to leave it unwashed. Raw, unwashed fleece needs some additional care for it to remain viable after storage. We are fortunate to live in a cool, dry climate which makes storage less of a problem for us than many other folks. But, whatever your conditions, there are three or four elements to consider.
1. Skirt the fleece well. Removing the dirty manure tags and all of the dock wool will prevent urine and manure stains from contaminating the remaining fleece during storage. The fleece will certainly smell better too! Remove all of the sweat locks. These are the greasy, black locks around the "armpits" of each of the four legs. They are easy to see in a light-colored fleece, but may be harder to find in a dark fleece. A well-skirted fleece is simply more pleasant to handle after storage.
2. Protect the fleece from condensation and fluctuations in relative humidity. A muslin bag or sheeting allows for ventilation and absorption when storing raw fleeces. Storing raw, unwashed wool in a plastic garbage bag invites deterioration and even mold, especially if you live in a humid climate. Fine wool fibers that are smashed against damp plastic can easily become matted and compacted or even felt over time. Because wool naturally holds moisture, even absorbing moisture from the air, plastic storage can be a problem. The solution is fabric. Old, clean pillowcases work well for small fleeces and larger fleeces can be rolled up in a thrift store sheet. The sheeting will allow the fleece to breathe just a bit and helps absorb or release moisture as the temperature fluctuates. Some producers even use a desiccant such as silica gel in the bag, but the fabric itself will work in the same way. Tie the top of the bag or sheet securely with string. Once the fleece is wrapped in fabric, a plastic tub or bin is a good choice for storage. If you live in a very humid climate or have trouble with mold, a cardboard box may be a better choice. Or, simply hang the bags from the rafters in the barn or wool shed. Be sure to label the bag of fleece with information about wool type, color, weight and the date sheared.
3. Protect the fleece from pests. Moths are the biggest reason people want to store the fleece in plastic, so the problems of humidity may be a trade-off with the problems from pests. Moths and carpet beetles are more attracted to the raw, unwashed fleece than wool that is washed, so some care should be taken to prevent moths, particularly when the wool is stored outside the house in a barn or wool shed. Mice are also a problem. Moth repellents work more effectively on clean wool and have a harder time overcoming the strong lanolin odor of the raw fleece, but it doesn't hurt to try a strong sachet with moth herbs with the fleece. Setting traps for mice and storing the fabric-wrapped fleece in a plastic tub with a strong smelling herbal sachet will help protect the raw, unwashed fleece from pests.
4. Limit the storage time and check the fleece occasionally. The longer a raw, unwashed fleece is stored, the greater the risk of deterioration and even damage from pests and environmental factors. If you need to store a fleece for longer than months, it would probably be best to take the time to wash the fleece before storage. But, at least check the fleece occasionally for any signs of insect activity and to make sure the fibers are not matting. Try to use the fleece or even sell it on within a reasonable time.
Kerry used to shear for an elderly, very experienced fiber artist who has since passed away. Jo always spun in the grease from raw fleeces that she stored. Her method of storage was simple. She had many old bed sheets that she had ready on shearing day. Kerry would shear and pass the fleece to Jo who would skirt it. Then she placed the fleece along the edge of a bed sheet and rolled it all up like a jelly roll and took it into the house to store in a back room. She was faithful to spin what was sheared and the sheets were ready for the new fleeces the following year. I like Jo's method.