Wool is wonderful, natural, sustainable, product and has since, Roman times, been the backbone of our country. Indeed, Roman emperors cherished British woollen cloth – ‘so fine it was comparable with a spider’s web’. In the past the British economy flourish with the export of wool and cloth and to this day the speaker of the House of Lords still presides over the chamber seated on the ‘wool sack’.
In Britain we are blessed with a variety of native sheep which come in a wide range of colours, sizes, and what’s more is that each fleece is totally unique.
The most cost effective way to buy a fleece is straight from the shepherd as once it has been prepared for you the price inevitably goes up.
Different parts of the Fleece
1. Head also know as ‘Moiety’
2. Shoulders – ‘Extra Diamond’ 3. Back – ‘Diamond’
4. Rump – ‘prime’ 5. Belly – ‘Pinlock’
6. Hind Legs – ‘Britch’ 7. Tail – ‘Skirtings
NB. If you are going to handle raw fleece you must ensure that you have a current tetanus inoculation.
The process of creating yarn by hand spinning the fleece is always a pleasure and a delight and the end product will always compliment the individuality of the sheep that it came from.
Raw Fleece can often be purchased directly from the producer and via Fleece Fairs. Agricultural Shows are also a good way to make contact with a shepherd and flock close to where you live. In addition many of the different breeds in the UK have an association and will often be able to put you in touch with a local flock.
I don’t profess to be the expert in any of these fields; however, I would like to share the knowledge of how I do things and hopefully inspire you to think about wool in a different way.
If you ask a spinner, felter, or check the internet you will discover a dozen different ways to scour your wool. Hot water, cold water, long soaks, short soaks, straight from the fleece, as skeins and that’s before you start talking about the products that you might use for washing…
You will discover, as you try different methods, just what suits you best and of course what you considered the best way to achieve the result you want with a particular fleece. As I like to spin in the grease I wash my wool once I have spun it and tied it into skeins.
GOLDEN RULE – What ever you do – don’t agitate the wool or wash/rinse it in running water because it increases the chances of it felting. Just take your time and it usually comes out just how you are expecting it to.
I tend to use the hottest water I can from the hot tap and add some washing up liquid (some people use cheap shampoo – your choice). I then leave it to soak for about 45 – 60 minutes (length of a morning dog walk). I then take it out and draw the water from it and repeat the process again for a second time.
If after the second soak, I am happy that the wool is as clean as it will get it, I start the rinse process. Again I use the hot water and just put the wool in for a couple of minutes and draw the water from it. Three rinses usually does the trick but you will know what you are happy with and of course some wool is dirtier than others to start with.
Following the final rinse you can use a spin dryer or the spin cycle on your washing machine to get it as dry as possible. My favourite way is to stand outside and swing the skein so that the water flies out, before hanging it from a clothes horse.
NB - Make sure if you do use your washing machine that the spin cycle only spins in one direction! Some machines have an automatic change of direction and this cannot be used as it will agitate the wool.
Even if you have already scoured your fleece or have bought commercial tops, a wash at the end of the plying process will set the twist in the yarn. Once it is washed I always recommend weighting the skeins. There are lots of different ways and things you can use. Things I have found useful are, butcher’s hooks (covered with plastic tube), 1pt plastic milk bottles filled with water, or a ceramic mug. Again you will decide what works best for you but be careful not to put the wet wool directly onto metal or it may pick up rust marks
This is a great method to use when you are working with smaller amounts of spun yarn (singles) and you want to create 2 ply yarn. Follow the steps below and you will be able to easily ply your newly spun wool.
1. With your hand (palm side) facing you, clamp the single yarn between the base of your thumb and your first finger. Then take the yarn up across your hand and pass it behind your middle finger, then return the yarn back in the direction from which it came.
2. Now pass the yarn around the back of your hand and bring it back past your little finger up to the middle finger and back around the way you came.
3. Return the yarn around the back of your hand to the thumb side and repeat the process until you reach the end of the yarn. (NB – be careful not to wrap the yarn too tight as it will be difficult to remove and you many end up with a blue finger!).
4. You will now need to move the yarn on to your wrist by carefully taking the yarn off your middle finger. The wool will now be a yarn bracelet with two ends. To ply the yarn attach the ends to the leader on the bobbin and treadle the wheel anti-clockwise allowing the two ends to run smoothly through your fingers, to produce your own lovely and unique 2 ply yarn.