Sheep to Yarn Experiment

A few years ago (2016) I pondered and acted upon the question “how does one process wool and create yarn?” Thanks to several friends and lots of You Tube searches I set forth on the wool/yarn learning pathway. It’s taken several years and countless hours working with the Physical Therapist (not easy for my spine/back muscles) to reach the spinning stage. A month ago I took a local beginning spinning class which was essential since I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with a borrowed wheel.  The process finally is creating yarn! Here are a few highlights from the journey thus far:

Waiting for shearing (Ewes, not the lambs)

Step 1: Have friends with sheep! Especially friends who grow sheep for meat and the wool  can ends up composting or on Craigs List. The sheep require a yearly shearing in spring depending on when the lambs are born. This breed is not specifically designed for great wool, but I’ve learned it’s not a bad place to start.

Unwashed Fleece
Fleece bath time in Dawn dish soap
Unwashed (left)  vs. Washed (right)

Step 2: Washing! I decided to use the shop sink located in the garage for processing. It took several days to clean a full fleece due to muscle/body problems. This became a summertime activity to assure the wool would fully dry. I also flooded the garage several times. It’s good to remember to turn off the taps before walking away.

Once washed it was placed outside on the drying rack for a few days.

Step 3: Just go for it! I learned to create general tools to make the process go smoothly. No drying rack? Make it from scrap lumber and hardware cloth. No Niddy Noddy?(one of those things to wind completed yarn off the bobbin and then tie and twist into a completed hank/skein) Again, use scraps and make it myself. Yes, it takes time but is less expensive than purchasing online. Thank goodness for all the DIY videos online!. 


Bag of cleaned wool

Step 4: Carding- It takes time and creates mess. Situate yourself with a drop cloth below your feet (or outside where it doesn’t matter). Don’t attempt this at a friends house of place of business. I’m currently thinking about renting or borrowing a drum carder to make life easier on my hands. I enjoy the hand carding paddles but it takes time. This entire process is about time! A big thank you to my mother-in-law for the Christmas gift. It went towards felting and yarn tool purchases.

Step 5: Spinning! I was lucky to have a friend who graciously brought her mother’s wheel to Oregon from Louisiana for a try. This same friend also alerted me to the fact a wheel was for sale at a used shop. I love this friend dearly! So, now I have two wheels sitting in my small space: one is set up for plying, the other for spinning. Both have their uses and I’m thrilled to bits. For those interested in types of wheels: borrowed wheel is an Ashford, the purchased one is a Haldane Orkney style.

haldane orkney style
Haldane Orkney Style Spinning Wheel
niddy noddy construction 2
Niddy Noddy from scrap wood
meme and yarn noddy
The ever helpful MeMe cat. 
skein reduced
First 2-ply skein

Eventually I’ll get around to knitting, but that’s on the back burner for now. I picked up 6 more fleece from the same friends and have plenty to tackle this summer. Plus I’m looking into dying yarn!

Did I mention that I’m also needle felting creatures too?

Jacob Sheep creations
happy hound_gale everett studio 2019
Happy Hound  (7″x 4″x 2″) 2019
border collie_geverett studio 2019
Border Collie ( 6″x 5″x 1.75″) 2019

So many options for exploration with wool! 

I’ll be posting images of the book project soon. Next week I will be out of town attending a 4 day workshop at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. Photos to come!

Published by paperstew

I'm an artist in Albany Oregon focusing on paper and natural objects for inspiration.

10 thoughts on “Sheep to Yarn Experiment

  1. What a great journey. It makes you realise just what people had to do for clothes before the industrial revolution. I can’t wait to see what you knit with the wool. Sparta thinks MeMe rocks!

    1. In part, I’m drawn towards the history surrounding textiles. Pretty amazing to think about all the steps that have gone into creating clothes, the full domestication of sheep (totally reliant on humans to shear their coats), and appreciation for all the people who continue to knit and spin in this day of online shopping.
      MeMe says “Thanks Sparta” . She’s contemplating biting my arm as I type this note. 😉

  2. Reblogged this on scribblah and commented:
    A fascinating blog about one artist’s creative journey from watching sheep being sheared to making art from the wool that she created … and all the learning and processes on the way …

    1. Thanks Nancy! I’m still enjoying the process and starting to work on 6 fleece from the same group of sheep. I was offered all 10, but just couldn’t commit to 4 additional. They’re now skirted and had an initial picking. Always loads of straw and other muck in their coats. 😁🐑

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