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...