Making Yarn!

The day had finally come.  It was no more excuses, no more waiting and time to jump in and start to learn how to process our own wool from our own flock of sheep.  It was a dream come true and there was no more being a scaredy cat… it was time.

A new friend had loaned us her drum carder!  If you are not up on your fiber art machines, a drum carder is a specialized piece of equipment that you use to hand crank wool that has been cleaned and teased through, to align and clean the fibers in preparation for spinning into yarn and being used for other crafts.  You can use hand carders, which we do have a pair of, but when you are talking bulk wool, you really need a drum carder to process very much.  I can’t even imagine using the hand cards for a whole fleece!  It would take a while for sure.

Jessy is bringing out two bags of wool that we have stored in our mud room for a few months.  It was funny because the sheep all ran over to check it out… not sure if it is the whole feed bag thing or the smell of something sheepy…  haha….  they were sure interested!


Now, most people skirt and pick their wool as it comes off the sheep!  They have special skirting tables that have slats on them, so that as you play with the fleece, a lot of the VM falls out.   What is VM?  Vegetable Matter.  Otherwise known as a year’s worth of foreign objects!!  SOme sheep are better than others at resisting stuff, but my goodness….  Holly is a total magnet for the stuff!  (More on that later!)

Well, I was lamenting the fact that when we sheared, we were in a bit of a panic and in an ill-prepared area to do much so we just shoved it all into individual bags and that was it.  I wish, in hindsight, we would have at least skirted the fleeces… which is removing the belly wool and butt wool and any really bad tags or yucky bits.  But, hey, first year fiber virgins… we were gonna make some mistakes!!!


I was out laying in the hammock one day, worrying over this problem when it came to me!  I would use the hammock as a skirting table!  It’s about the right height off the ground and it’s woven and open so that the VM can fall out!!!  Perfect.

So we got some chairs and laid the first fleece out.  Angus was very interested in what we were doing.  He’s such a little love baby!


Another mistake we had was employing shearers that were not that good.  They made a mess of the fleeces.  None are in one piece and most are just in shreads!  And they sheared them in sections with lots of second cuts.  A second cut is where the shearer doesn’t get close enough to the skin and has to cut again, basically creating these little half inch or so cuts and shorting the lengths of the primary fibers.  Oh well… you live and you learn!

But the nice thing is that there was still quite a bit of the fleece that was nice and beautiful long lengths!  Love that twisty curl in the fiber.  Nice Shetland wool for sure.


This was Molly’s first shearing and her soft baby fuzzy wool was a delight to play with.  Her fleece only weighed 1 and half pounds!  It nearly filled a whole feed sack, but still, wool is so light!  It was amazing to see so much wool and then weigh it…  Holly’s, the dark sheep wool we processed, her fleece was almost 3 pounds.


It was so relaxing to just sit and chat and go through the wool, picking out sticks and hay and burrs and ditching the little nasty bits.  I can understand how women of the old days would enjoy some of these tasks…  it was a time to work but also to visit and talk.  I think we miss things like that anymore.  Quilting bees and sewing get togethers, canning, finishing harvest products and more.


Now, Holly’s wool…. oh my gosh!  She is just the queen of stuff stuck in her wool!  If ever a sheep needed a coat, it would be Holly.  I think at least a pound of her fleece was junk!

I even found my lost car keys in there!

No, just kidding, but hey, it could happen!



Her fleece is beautiful, however, and worth the effort to go through it.  Dark black with sunburnt brown tips.

The odd thing was that once washed, all the lighter areas vanished and all the wool was black!



Another good reason for the land of Windhaven to be burr free!  Oh my goodness… Holly had about 270 at least embedded in her fleece!

We have managed to banish MOST of the burr weeds.  There are a few, but this year’s fleeces should be a little nicer I hope.


Holly has nice wool too!  Holly is not 100% Shetland.  Her mom is, but daddy was something else.  Not totally sure.  She’s a good 6 inches taller and slimmer than the others and has a long tail.  Might be Border Leister… just not sure.  But her wool is a little different, a little more wave, or crimp but soft though.  It will be very curious to see what kind of lamb she might produce this spring!


Look at that pretty crimp!  Just lovely!!!


We learned quickly that it was easier to just grab a hank of Holly’s wool and shake the heck out of it.  A lot of the junk would fall out and make your picking a whole lot easier!


Look at how much 3 pounds of black wool looks like!  Jessy could not stop singing “baa baa black sheep have you any burrs… ”  Silly child…


Jessica is sporting the new Windhaven wool wig of the spring 2012 collection!  Doesn’t she look ready for that special event and party!

I love that my girls are super silly at times…


Well, that is all the wool we picked.  It took us about an hour to pick Molly’s and four hours to pick Holly’s!

We wrapped it in some lightweight cotton fabric.  Used to be the bottom of a bed skirt, the part that is under the mattress.  I save big hunks of fabric like that.  You never know when you might need something to wrap up a bunch of picked wool fleeces!

They say that you should not store a fleece in plastic, because it needs to breathe.  Cotton or muslin is the bag of choice.  I have a couple old sheets that I’m going to make into permanent bags for each sheepie!  The reason I like to keep them seperate is that each fleece has certain coloring and a touch to it, that I’d like to learn and examine.  And I think it would be neat to say, this yarn came from Molly!!!


Ugh… the first wash water of the wool is just darn filthy!  Some of it is the lanolin from the wool.  I have read that if the water is black, then you have a lot of sheep doo doo in your fleece.  Brown is good, it’s just dirt and lanolin.  Whew.  We are safe!  Actually, we didn’t find that much doo in our wool.  Just a few little bits here and there.  I think that is thanks to the sheep poo distribution system… haha…. the sheep wag their little tails when they poo and the little raisin balls go all over the place in a nice little spray!  Very nice!


The key to washing raw wool is NEVER agitate the stuff!  In fact, you don’t even want to pour hot water on it.  You fill up the pot first, and then gently and slowly slip the wool into the water.  If you agitate it too much you will felt the wool and it’s really not worth much after that, especially for spinning.  Now felting after it’s clean is a whole art form until it’s self, but I doubt raw felted wool is good for much.

I did 3 soakings for our wool.  I used a good lavendar scented wool wash, that I got from a spinning store.  I can see now that I should have bought the half gallon instead of the little 12 ounce bottle!!!  With 5 more fleeces to go, it ain’t gonna make it.  But wow, did it smell nice.  Just a hint of the lavender, not overwhelming at all.  Better than barnyard stink!


This is a pound of wool I bought previous to my own wool being available and I thought I would have time to process and learn on it before my own was available.  Ha!  So I figured I would clean it as well, and work it while I had the carder.  It was a weird weird yellow color.  It is a Dorset Cross Breed sheep wool.  I was amazed at how much it cost me.  One pound, shipped was $34!!!  Yes, a pound of wool is a lot, now that I have come to understand, but wow! And Shetland is much more expensive.

I need me some MORE SHEEP!  haha…


Once washed three times and taking over 6 hours to do so…  you lay it out on a towel or out in your yard on bushes to dry.  Since we don’t have too many bushes, I figured a towel on the trusty dining room table would work fine.

You need to turn it over and sort of fuss with it as it dries out.  My friend Jill suggested a cool tub rack for sweaters that she had seen on and I have to say, that would be pretty cool!  I think I’m going to make something like one for the rest of the wool.  Like a door screen or something, suspended, so that air can get in and around the wool more evenly!  That would be really cool.

It took a good 12 hours or so to dry.  I pulled some of the big lumps apart to help the drying process and also to get them ready for the next step…  teasing!


I found Kitty Baron snuggling on the table with the dorset wool.  Silly boy.  He really liked it.


After we pulled it all apart, it was fed through the carder and comes out in either roving or batts.  Roving is made by drawing the carded wool through a teeny hole in a wooden thing call a diz.  I love all these weird terms.  Who thought this all up?  My homemade diz was not super effective so I made mostly batts.


I made a really nasty little lumpy ball of wool from Molly, Holly and some bunny angora, but I didn’t really prep it as nicely as I should have and well, it was pretty rough, but I love it all the same!  The first ball off our own flock!

This drop spindle is the second batch that I tried to spin and it’s so much nicer.  Still lumpy and rough, but then I sort of like that.  I can’t wait to have enough to really make something with it!  And I think it would be much easier to have a spinning wheel or a kick spindle, something like that.  I’m not talented enough to use the drop spindle like one should, I just roll it on my leg.  But still, it works!


Look at all that fiber waiting to be carded!  Oh my!  It took several days to get it all fluffed and ready to card.  The pre-fluffing is a HUGE part of good carding.  Breaking open the fibers before carding really make it all easy to card and nicer.  My first ball of yarn was not pre-fluffed and all, because I hadn’t read that online or in my books!  Once I started to do that pre-carding step, oh, it was so much nicer.


I can not imagine how much wool there would be with 5 more MATURE sheep!  Not yearlings!  Momma’s fleece should be closer to 5 or 7 pounds!

I went to the Goodwill and got as many BIG baskets as I could find.  I got about 5 of them, most for under a dollar.  They are so much nicer to lay all the fiber in.  And they look cool too.


This is what all that dorset wool ended up as.  Over 20 inches tall, about 8 inches wide and about 18 inches long.  It’s a ton of spinnable fiber!  I’m not thrilled with the weird yellow it ended up, so I intend to use this and practice my dying skills!  I just can’t get over how much fiber it fluffs up to be!  Can you imagine what my flock’s fiber will look like, oh, about 20+ pounds of it?    I better get busy at building some shelves or something to store it in!!!  Or better yet, I think it’s time to check out fiber mills to do some of this for me!!!



Well, this is what all our carded wool looks like.  A pound of dorset, 6 ounces of Molly and 10 ounces of Holly!


And look what a friend gave to us!!!!  And antique walking wheel!  it’s huge!  Over 4 feet tall.  It would not fit in the station wagon!  I had to pad and wrap the wheel and put it on the top of Blue!  It is missing the front part, but the big wheel spins nicely.  I hear that you can buy replacement parts for a lot of these wheels on Ebay and it’s going to be a winter task for sure.  Looking for the missing parts to make it functional!  Cherri had it in her basement and was going to use it to decorate with, but it was just so big, she never really got around to using it.  And she thought it would be lovely for our studio!  And it is…  (It’s still a bit of a mess in there… I’m moving stuff around and all!  Crazy I know.  That’s me!

Well, now I understand why a hand spun hunk of yarn cost $27.  It take FOREVER to make!!!  I totally respect the cost of these artys hand spun yarns now.  They are a labor of love.  We spent a good deal of time over two weeks working less than 5 pounds of wool.  And it’s still not even yarn, really, just a little bit is.  However, having done it now, I can tell you, we’re hooked.  Even Jessy enjoyed working with the fiber.  We do need to get a few pieces of equipment to make it easier for us, like a box picker, a drum carder and maybe a kick spindle, but that can all be acquired over time.  A bit at a time.

It was just really interesting, the whole process and I’m sure as we continue to grow and learn about the craft, we will get better and a little quicker at the task.  However, I am looking forward to the cold winter days where we can spend the time working fiber and making yarn from our own sheep and rabbits!  How neat is that?





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About Mobymom

the banjo player for Deepwater Bluegrass, and the editor of as well as the main graphic designer of the Westvon Publishing empire. She is a renaissance woman of many talents and has two lovely daughters and a rehab mobile home homestead to raise.


Making Yarn! — 3 Comments

  1. Sherri,
    Just found your blog yesterday by way of Corn in my Coffee Pot. You are one amazing lady! Your posts are fascinating and informative.
    I am your newest follower.

  2. Wow! That is a tedious process. Talk about a labor of love. No wonder wool products are so expensive. (: