From Sheep to Shirt

August 24, 2019

Okay, I won’t actually make a shirt in this tutorial. Maybe in the winter when the cool weather allows more fireplace and knitting time. But, in this post I will give you a simple look into the process of making usable yarn from sheep’s wool.

First, the sheep shearer, Loran, who has been shearing sheep for years, comes by the farm to give our sheep a nice haircut. Loran works over a single sheep in moments. Soon, we have a cooler sheep, and a large garbage bag full of his last year’s coat.

The first step in preparing it for wool use is to pick out any vegetable matter and poop, this is called skirting. The thick sheep wool seems to acquire many plant particles throughout the year. The majority of these should be rid from the wool before the next step, washing.

Wool is washed in a hot, soapy bath twice before another rinse cycle. This cleans the wool, and also removes the lanolin - the sheep’s natural oils. Isaiah is always sad to see the lanolin go, and asks me each time just why this must happen. I admit to him that I am not quite sure, but believe it must have something to do with preserving and not felting the wool when worn. Extracting lanolin is on my to-learn list for now.

Once washed, any dye wished to add color to the wool is added. Then, the wool is dried.

After dried, the wool is carded, which is basically brushing it in one direction. A hand carder, like the one below, renders 6 inch or so pieces of rolled wool - what is called roving wool. A drum carder is a larger machine that does this much quicker and easier. From here, the roving pieces can be stretched and placed together to make a large ball of roving wool.

Roving wool is what you make yarn out of, and it’s really quite simple. Stretch the wool to the thickness of yarn desired, called drafting, and spin it. You can use a hand drop spindle or a machine spindle, which of course is faster. Below is a drop spindle. The yarn is spun until tight, but not so that it begins to bunch up, and a new piece is spun. From this you have yarn, and can knit or crochet whatever you wish.

This is the simple yet time consuming task of taking the wool from sheep and turning it into a shirt - or hat, or gloves, or coat.

Isaiah Olson

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