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From sheep to yarn


Part I: Cleaning the wool

Well, I guess part I is shearing the sheep.

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Once you get that pesky task out of the way, you are left with a mountain of greasy, stinky sheep fleece.

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It's probably best to gather as many helpers as possible. I had no idea sheep sweat was such an intoxicating smell...

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The first step is to soak the raw wool in hot water with ordinary detergent. I did this in a small batch so I wouldn't ruin a whole fleece since I hadn't done this before!

The white is the [sign in to see URL] at the brown water. Yuck!

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Take plenty of breaks since watching wool soak can be quite tiring...

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After 45 minutes, take the wool out. I was shocked at how white it already was. I put a piece of the non-washed stuff nearby so you can see the difference. The water was sure brown!

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The next wash is just in plain hot water for 30 minutes. Still pretty dirty water!

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Finally, one more rinse in hot water with vinegar to help neutralize any remaining detergent. At the end of this, I could finally see the bottom of the tub!

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The wool is not completely clean. But you can wash it again once it is turned to yarn. There is a lot of "stuff" in it that I couldn't see when the wool was so brown. So I'm not sure if this is even going to make good yarn. But I will try it! I spread it out on the drying rack:

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And here is a chunk of short fibers (which I removed since you can't spin them) on top of the non-washed wool. Wow, what a difference!

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Stay tuned for Part II: Carding and Spinning!

Last edited by TexasMadness, 1/29/2012, 3:23 am
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Re: From sheep to yarn


Well, the fleece has all the dirt in it from where the sheep lie on the ground. emoticon

Amazing it turned that white already, with just washing. I'm sure that carding will remove a lot of the small bits and twigs, plus align the fibers so you can spin it.

I also bet it was hard work! Soaked wool is heavy. Did you use really hot water or lukewarm water? I'd be worried that the wool might change in really hot water - I'm always advised to never was pure wool pullovers in hot water. Maybe it doesn't happen when it's still in the "original" state.

I'm impressed! emoticon emoticon emoticon

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Re: From sheep to yarn


[sign in to see URL] of work. The pics of the cats and the dog on the wool made me giggle. Makes one wonder what it is about it that draws them.

It's amazing that just one good wash with detergent got that much dirt out!! Very [sign in to see URL] interesting how by the time you did the rinse in vinegar water, the water was pretty darn clear.

It'll be interesting to see the next steps. The carding is supposed to get the rest of any debris out of the wool. I've read about it, but never done it. Do you plan to dye the wool, or use it in it's natural color??

Firle, I'm thinking that by using really hot water to do the initial wash, it may cause some shrinkage, but I don't think things may shrink more after the wool is turned into a garment if it's washed in hot water. Will be interesting to find out what Texas' answer to your question about that is.

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Re: From sheep to yarn



Firlefanz wroteemoticonid you use really hot water or lukewarm water? I'd be worried that the wool might change in really hot water - I'm always advised to never was pure wool pullovers in hot water. Maybe it doesn't happen when it's still in the "original" state.



Good question Firle! Yes, the water was very hot - as hot as my tap would produce which is just uncomfortable for me to put my hand in (not sure the temperature). When the wool is in this hot water, you have to be VERY gentle with it. Let me explain about shrinking and felting.

When a wool article of clothing shrinks, it's because the fibers are starting to tangle with each other and 'lock up'. Each fiber has scales on it that become loosened in hot water. If the scales rub against each other, they can join together and essentially tie those two fibers together. It's the same process that happens when you felt something (I ]posted a project here that was felted) but it's only a teeny bit felted. So shrinking is just the first step on the road to felting.

Now, you can felt raw wool. But the key components are: hot water to loosen the scales AND agitation to get them to lock together. Since the fibers in raw wool are not tightly bound to each other like in a knitted sweater, it's harder to get the fibers to rub together a lot, so you don't have to be quite so careful. Just pulling a sweater in and out of hot water can cause some shrinking. But it's not as bad with raw wool.

BUT, you still have to be very careful! You shouldn't do any agitation of the wool while it's in the hot water - not kneading or stirring or anything. You can't even put the wool in the tub and then pour in the hot water - too much stirring. You have to fill the tub and GENTLY place the wool in, pushing until it's below the surface and then don't touch it for the whole soak.

Apparently lots of people are scared of doing all of this in hot water so they do really long cool water soaks and lots of them, with a fairly harsh soap to try to get rid of the lanolin. I didn't read any glowing reviews of these processes so I just risked it and went with the hot water. Seemed to work ok for me! And I did another, much bigger batch yesterday that I even had to flip over half way through since it wasn't 100% underwater. Made me nervous, but it came out fine!

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Re: From sheep to yarn


Part II: Carding and Spinning

Ok, next step! Processing the wool!

The first step in processing is rather easy - called picking. There is a device to do this for those that go through a lot of fleeces, but the easiest way is to just do finger picking. You just pull all the wool apart. There's still lots of vegetable matter stuck in between the fibers so picking helps loosen it up. This weekend was perfect for this - sunny and a bit breezy. So I just sat outside picking wool, letting the breeze take the lighter bits of debris and the heavier ones fall to the floor.

I didn't actually pick the first couple of rounds of wool since I didn't know about this step. The carding did remove a lot of debris, but not all of it. And it made a big mess in the house. So picking is definitely on my list of things to do from now on!

Once you've picked the wool, then it's ready for carding. This is essentially combing it so that all the fibers are going in the same direction. There are all sorts of 'carders' for this, but they are all basically paddles with a bunch of curved metal teeth.

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You load up one carder and then begin drawing the other one on top. Repeat this until all the wool is on one carder, then transfer back to the first. Pretty soon, you end up with nicely combed wool.

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Once it's all lined up on the carder, you just pull off and roll the wool into a little [sign in to see URL] a rolag (Willa's favorite new word). These are pretty messy. The first ones I've done in about 10 years! You'll want to build up a nice pile before moving on to the next step.

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Finally, you get to turn the wool into yarn. I'm using a drop spindle. Back 10 years ago (come to think of it, it was more like 15 or 20!) when my aunt was teaching me all of this, I never graduated to this stage. So I'm basing this off of books and lots and lots of youtube videos. There's a group in town that I'm going to meet with soon so I can get better instruction. I understand the process - it's the application that is a bit difficult.

Anyway, you start by 'drafting' (pulling) a rolag thinner on one end and twisting it up so you can attach it to the spindle. Then you 'flick' the spindle to set it in motion. More advanced spinners do all the work while the spindle is going, but I'm still in the learning phase, so I'm doing a process called 'park and draft'. Just before the spindle starts spinning in the opposite direction, I 'park' it (grab it between my knees or feet) and then 'draft' (pull) the unspun wool to the desired thickness while still pinching the spun wool so as not to let the twist further up. Then when I let go of the twisted wool, the built up tension twists the newly drafted part. Release the spindle again, flick, park, draft. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

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When the spindle is full (yarn goes half way up the shaft or so), you simply unwind the yarn and roll it into a ball. Whew!

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I'm still working on keeping the yarn the same thickness and the same twist amount. There are lots of finer points to using a drop spindle so I have a long ways to go before being [sign in to see URL] I also have 10 fleeces to process so surely I'll catch on by the end! The yarn in the picture above is from maybe 1/10 of a fleece. And the sheep are due to be sheared again in March! I feel as though I'll be doing this in all my free time from now [sign in to see URL] least it's fun for now!

And one big Imbolc project is "completed"! I did promise to start processing, so surely this counts! I already have a project in mind for the yarn I've finished (about twice as much as in the picture now) but all my knitting needles are at the farm. I'll keep building up a yarn supply until I get a chance to go out there later this week.

 emoticon


Last edited by TexasMadness, 1/30/2012, 4:51 pm
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Re: From sheep to yarn


The yarn looks great! It doesn't matter that it's a bit uneven, it'll make for a great "old-fashioned" pullover. I'm still impressed. This is a LOT of work for making yarn, but all steps are necessary. I can see how picking helps to get rid of most plant debris - and why it is good to do that outside!

And yes, felting was what I worried about when you mentioned the hot water. Your explanation makes a lot of sense, and I'm glad the fleece turned out so well with minimal stirring.

It's easy to see why women used to be occupied all winter spinning and weaving. No wonder, since it all takes so much time!

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Re: From sheep to yarn


ACK! I just looked at the local yarn/weaving/knitting store. There isn't a spinning class until March. The reason? This very weekend, they had a two day class on EVERYTHING I was learning to do on my own! Yikes. I think I'm more of a "do it" type person though and would prefer to work on my own and then have some techniques refined by instruction. Guess I'll keep practicing until March!
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Re: From sheep to yarn


This is just too cool, Texas! Do you plan to dye any of the yarn, or use it in it's natural color?
It does look like a lot of work, but you know it will be worth it in the end.
Sorry that you missed that class, but you're like [sign in to see URL] hands on.
I actually like that the yarn isn't so [sign in to see URL] gives it character.
Have fun with this!!!!! Can't wait to see the end results.

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Re: From sheep to yarn


I haven't decided if I'm going to dye this batch. But I have TONS to go through, so some will get dyed eventually!

And I just realized I need to post the final step. I do need to wash the yarn. It helps "set" the fibers in place a little better (felts them just a little I'm guessing). So I will be doing that when I get a good sized skein going and I'll show you guys the procedure. Should be pretty [sign in to see URL] I don't screw anything up! emoticon
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I'm really enjoying this thread! it's so neat to see the process!! Thanks so much for including us!!! emoticon

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