In the interest of scientific inquiry, I tried washing some fleece with the “Hand Wash” cycle of my front-loading machine. I tossed in a mesh bag with a handful of throw-away fleece, added extra detergent, set it to hot and let it go. The results were not nearly as bad as I feared, but not something I would do again. What I did get out of it is that I’m ok with putting most handspun finished items in there. I tried to felt a wool scarf this way and it came out no different from when I put it in.
The wool was a little remaining from the mystery fleece, divided into decent-sized locks. It came out with the butt ends felted together and the tips every which way. I can pull it apart into recognizable staples, but not that well. It is, however, quite clean and it wasn’t before. It’s felted enough that it would be annoying to card, you would never get a good yarn from it without first pulling it all apart by hand and brushing out the felted tangles. Plus, there are still sticks and burrs and whatnot, but I hardly expected that to mysteriously dissapear. Since it didn’t come out one huge felted blob, it’s getting tossed in the carding pile with the rest of the junk wool.
I suspect that had I added baking soda (as I must when I try to felt something for real,) it would have come out looking more like a felted blob. That is the more normal result and I’m convinced it’s because of the weird San Francisco city water that makes it hard to felt things. Don’t try this at home, kids.