Saturday, August 16, 2008

Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?

What are you wearing right now? Is it knitted or woven? Is it made from natural or synthetic fibers? Where were the fibers grown? How was the fabric processed? Not something you think about when you slip a sweater over your head in the morning is it?

I like to knit (btw I also like to crochet - I try not to be exclusive about my crafting). My current project is a sweater and I'm pretty excited about it because it's my first garment with shape - to date I've only knitted baby blankets and scarves. I'll post photos of the sweater later. The point of this story is to relate Brian's adventures in wool processing. I think the adventure started when I spent about $120 on 450 grams of wool for my sweater; Brian then decided that it would be both fun and cost effective to get involved in my fiber arts :) And of course, wool is a staple Australian commodity; there are sheep everywhere.

So here we go - the story of wool in nine "easy" steps/photos:

I'll give you one guess as to where Brian went to buy a sack of raw wool...

If you guessed eBay, you clearly know Brian well :) The wool arrived in a feed sack with the top sewn up and our address scribbled on the side. Here's a close up view of the fibers.

The first step was to wash the wool and get some of the dirt and lanolin out. We washed it in hot and soapy water being careful not agitate the wool as this is what causes felting, not the hot water itself. I had some moments of panic at the thought of what this might to do the washing machine but Google assured us that it was okay. And it was, after a hot and soapy rinse to clean out the basin once the wool was removed.

Then we laid the wool out on towels on the floor and let it dry. Then we sorted through all of it to get out the bits of plant matter. Below, you'll see two piles of wool (this isn't even all of it), the pile in the back has been sorted so it's fluffier.

A close-up of the fluffy and clean wool.

Brian carding the wool by hand with his new hand carders.

Once the wool has been carded, you roll it into little sausages called rolags to make it easier to spin.

Brian using a drop spindle to spin a single ply yarn.

Next, two single ply yarns are spun together to create a double ply yarn as seen below. You can use single ply yarns for weaving, but knitting is better with double ply yarn.

Neat, eh? Three kilos of raw wool, the hand carders and the drop spindle cost about $100 (could have been as low as 50$ if we made our own drop spindle and bought used carders) so the process was indeed cost effective, though we haven't factored in time. As skill increases, it will get easier and faster so hard to say on the time commitment. That's not why we do it anyway.

Lessons learned? Many websites say to wash the wool first but having spoken to people who've done this, it seems that spinning it first is perhaps better because when the lanolin is still in the wool it slides along nicer. Drop spinning is the low tech spinning option but a spinning wheel would be MUCH faster and allow you to focus more on the thickness and consistency of the yarn. We're hoping to take a class at the local spinners and weavers club.

Hooray, an authentic Australian adventure! Now if we just learn to wrangle and shear the sheep...


  1. I had to run out to the chemist this morning to get some medicine for Brian; he's had a sore throat for a couple days and has now developed an ear ache. I went to the shops just down the road where there are often musicians busking next to the grocery store and this man was playing his guitar and singing to a little girl and her mom....

    Baa baa black sheep
    Have you any wool?
    Yes sir, yes sir three bags full...

    How funny!

  2. Looks like fun. Nice to do while watching the Olympics.

  3. You guys are amazing! Well done. I've always wanted to do this, but never really had the nerve to try the whole thing from raw fleece to spun fibre. Are you gonna dye it?

  4. Yup, planning to dye at least some of it. The natural color is really nice though so I don't want to dye all of it. Brian wants to dye some black for a sweater and I think its a shame to dye it such a dark color, but hey, he did most of the work so whatever color he wants his sweater is fine!

  5. Heather tells me that the new shoots of hop vines can be used to dye your wool. She's been dyeing wool a bit recently.

    later days

  6. Hm, interesting? What color do you get with hop shoots?
    Nice to hear from you...hope you guys are well!

  7. I haven't checked in on you guys in ages, and it was fun to catch up on the blog tonight. The wool adventure was fascinating. I trust you'll post photos of the finished sweater eventually? Last season I crocheted my first ever non-flat item; not perfect, but a sweater I enjoy wearing.
    I hope by now Brian is feeling better. My best to both of you.

  8. Hi Jenn! The Wool seems to be coming along nicely! Just imagine the wonderful things you will make from this!!! Hope all is well in Australia!

  9. ps- Its Ashley Young... ;)