I was asked by my wife a while ago to make a scarf for a friend of ours (we’ve known her over 40 years…). Peg also thought it would be cool to document the process, so I took some photos along the way, plus I added some photos recently that go farther back in the process, all the way back to “raw” wool.
Starting with “raw” wool, this is a fleece as it is shorn, right off of the sheep’s back. Now, the sheep has been “wearing” this fleece for a year, and it’s kind of (absolutely) filthy, with “tags” of manure in parts of it, along with a fair amount of straw, seedheads, and other such “vegetable matter” or VM. This must be cleaned out (or “skirted”) before the fleece is washed.
After skirting, I loosely pack about a pound of fleece into mesh lingerie bags. Fleeces range in size from two or three pounds up to ten or twelve for a really large sheep. The fleece from “Deakin”, a Border Leicester breed, was just shy of four pounds. The picture on the right is from a Romney (whose name I forget).
The bagged fleece is washed. There are as many techniques as there are spinners. I’m lazy, so I use a washing machine, but only for the fill and spin cycles. I fill the tub with the hottest water my house can supply, with a quarter-cup of Dawn dishwashing detergent. After sinking the fleece into the water and waiting fifteen or twenty minutes, I’ll spin the dirty water out (no spray while spinning!). Three washes usually works OK, followed by two rinses.
When the fleece is washed, rinsed, and fully air-dried, it’s time to “card” the fleece. This step uses stiff steel brushes to mostly align the fibers (though it’s not at all perfect), which makes it easier to spin a more uniform yarn. The carded fibers are rolled up into “rolags”, ready to spin. Commercially processed fiber comes in a long strand called “roving”, and can be spun using the “woollen” spinning technique.
Another method of fiber preparation is called combing. Evil-looking steel combs with long, sharp teeth are used to comb through the fleece, taking up and aligning only the longer fibers, leaving short fibers (“neps”), dirt, and VM behind. This process almost perfectly aligns the fibers, leaving the fiber, called “top”, in great condition for the “worsted” spinning technique.
It’s time to spin. This fiber is top from a Merino breed. It’s soft and silky – perfect for a scarf. The fiber from the top is “drafted” into a bundle of fibers sized to the yarn being made. Here I’m drafting fairly finely – I want to make a small yarn.
This is a picture Peg took of me drafting fiber. The spinning wheel rotates to introduce twist to the fiber. The yarn stays together in part because of the friction between the fibers.
Here, two strands (or “singles”, made in the last step) are twisted together to form a larger, stronger yarn. This step is called “plying”, as two strands are plyed together. This results in a two-ply yarn. Three- and four-ply yarns are common.
After plying, the yarn is completed, but needs to be washed to “set the twist”, and relax the yarn. It’s been through a lot…
Wash and rinse, then hang to dry (usually outdoors on the line, but this was winter…)
These are skeins of yarn from the Border Leicester “Deakin”. As yet unwashed, these ten skeins are waiting until the entire fleece is spun into yarn (as of this writing, about 25% of the fleece needs to be spun).
I used crimson and black dyes to color the skein I made for the scarf. There was a bit too much black, but it came out lovely.
And the final product – the scarf. I think it came out pretty well, but I do have a couple of issues with it – the yarn is a bit too thick, so the scarf is a bit too short. But it’s comfy and soft as a baby’s butt!