Processing Wool Into Yarn {A Little Dream Come True!}

 

Ever since getting our Babydoll sheep last spring, I dreamed of having their wool turned into yarn and made into knit hats for our three boys. (I had no idea about the process of turning wool into yarn, but figured there had to be a way!) I was blessed to find a special person, Kim, who was up for the challenge. And a challenge it was, as we had only very short lambswool from our sheep's first shear. (Many mills require a minimum length of 3" - ours was nowhere near that!) 

As if that weren't enough, it was November and I was trying to get the yarn in time to have hats made for our sons by Christmas. (Most mills require 6 to 12 months for processing!) But with Kim's help, our sons opened up their wool knit hats on Christmas Eve, made from their own sheep's wool! 

Today, I'm excited to share what I learned about the steps it takes to process wool into yarn. Kim was kind enough to send me pictures as she went, explaining the steps she took. So let's get started!

Everyone loves a good "before and after," so how about this before and after shearing picture (but in reverse order)?! I read that although some animals recognize each other by scent or sound, sheep recognize each other (and humans too) by sight. This was really evident once they were sheared! They were head-butting each other and baaing like crazy - probably thinking new animals were in their area, and wondering where their old friends had gone!

1. Wool Fleece:

Sheep's wool needs to be sheared once a year. Their shorn wool coat is called a fleece. 

2. Skirting the Fleece:

This is basically removing the "junk" from the fleece. To skirt, lay the fleece flat, clipped-side down. Look for matted, super short, dirty bits, along with vegetable matter, and gently pull off.

Kim taught me that these bits can be put into your compost bin and will biodegrade adding nitrogen to your pile.

This is a picture of one of the fleeces after skirting, before cleaning.

3. Washing the Wool: The fleece is sometimes referred to a "grease wool" because it has a lot of oil and lanolin in it. 

The orange spots seen above are fresh lanolin. It was laying next to the skin to move throughout the fleece. This is what needs to be removed because it is sticky. It makes spinning more difficult and attracts dirt.

Kim used 145 degree water with a Tablespoon of Power Scour to melt the lanolin and clean the wool.

The wool was soaked for 20 minutes untouched. Dirt releases and sinks to the bottom of the tub. It was then rinsed at least two more times before allowed to dry.

4. Picking and Carding: After the wool has been cleaned and is dry, it is then "picked" to open up the locks and helps turn it into a more consistent web.

When carding, the larger teeth go between the smaller to "catch" the fiber. The smaller teeth hold it all. 

When it's full, a "batt" can be pulled off. The batt is a thick, squishy rectangle of fiber that is used to spin from. 

5. Roving: roving is a long and narrow bundle of fiber that has been prepared for spinning. 

6. Spinning: At long last it's time to spin! The roving comes off the card with no twist. Spinning will put the actual twist on the roving and turn it into yarn.

Our Babydoll Southdown Sheep spun yarn! (Please note that any inconsistencies are not a reflection of Kim's work, but of the very short pieces of wool that came from our lambs first shear. I love all of the cozy texture!)

The spun yarn is collected on wood bobbins.

I was so excited when the skeins of yard showed up in the mail! I had to show our boys, though they didn't know I was planning on having hats made for them. It was a moment of joy and childhood magic as I pulled out the yarn and told them it came from their sheep's wool. They kept saying, "No way! That's so cool!" Each skein was marked either, "Teddy," "Winston," or "George." The boys got a kick out of that and seeing if they could identify whose yarn was whose.

And then I passed off the yarn to my talented friend Karen, who also recruited a friend, to quickly knit three hats for our three sons in time for Christmas Eve. What precious keepsakes our boys now have of their pet sheep...

I have some extra yarn that I enjoy using to wrap gifts for friends. It's a fun, personal touch and people seem to enjoy the fact that the yarn came from our sheep.

Whew! That was a long post. I hope you found the process of turning wool into yarn interesting like I did! A huge thanks to Kim for all her time in processing our wool as well as educating me along the way, and to my knitting friends for the quick turnaround during such a busy season.

Xo