Wool is the widely known material that is used in clothing, isolation and furniture. Wool comes from the sheep when the sheep are sheared. By doing so the animal does not have to be put down but can live further after being sheared.
The characteristics of wool are that it is a natural material, animal based (protein fiber), therefore biodegradable, recyclable, reusable, flame resistant and breathable. A lot of baby products are made of wool instead of synthetic materials. Synthetic materials have a much lower flame resistance and can release toxic chemicals in the atmosphere when heated. However, children and adults are not warned by these factors, it is only mentioned on baby products.
By learning about wool through reading books such as Let my people go surfing from Yvon Chouinard and Wear No Evil by Great Eagan, I was curious to investigate this ancient fiber. Therefore, during one of my walks through my neighborhood I noticed a few sheep in the petting zoo. Their fleece were hanging till the ground. I immediately thought that they had to be sheared in the next couple of days because of the warmer weather that was coming.
I knew this by experiencing the cold weather in my kitchen garden. After the 11th of May the temperature should not go below the 0 celsius, therefore it is safe to place plants outside for the summer. The same applies to sheep as well. If the sheep are sheared in earlier months, there is a big chance that they would freeze to death because of their lack of wool.
After sending a few emails I was able to buy the wool of two of the sheep that was sheared on the weekend of 9 May. This locally sourced raw material was now in my hands to be turned into something else.
May 3 2020 – not sheared
May 14 2020 – sheared
Wool stinks. The wool I bought from the petting zoo sits in a plastic box on the balcony, waiting to be turned into something.
After watching a few Youtube tutorials about how to work with wool, I noticed that most people wash it beforehand. It makes the wool softer, the smell and dirt disappear and can be used to make yarn from it.
To test this methode I got a bit of wool and washed it twice by hand. I added a little bit of regular soap and let it sit for 30 minutes. After the first wash, the color of the wool looked much lighter and the smell was less intense. But after the second wash the result was even more promising. The beige parts of the wool became almost white and the smell completely disappeared.
It was very exciting and interesting to see the wool change in my hands. This was only the first steps into the process and I felt a huge responsibility to waste as little of the material as possible and to treat it with respect and care. It also made me realize how much knowledge it takes to create fibers from raw materials.
A few days after I washed a bit of the wool I talked with a family member Heleen Slingenberg – van den Boomgaard. Heleen has decades of experience with textieles, weaving, knitting and making her own yarn from raw materials. She explained to me that it is not necessary to wash the wool beforehand. Wool has a fat coating and if it is washed out before making yarn from it, the yarn could be too loose and won’t stick together. During the combing all the dirt will fall out and only the fat layer will stay.
To help me further with the process Heleen and another acquaintance of mine send their carding combs and books about wool to experiment further in my process.
To have the wool ready to be spun it has to be carded first. The carding combs used by this process come from friends and family members. These combs has been bought 43 years ago and has been used ever since.
By carding the wool, the fibers will face the same direction therefore it becomes easier to spin the wool and make yarn from it. Carding also makes the wool softer and cleaner. Little twigs and short fibers fall off the combs, leaving only the best of the wool to be used.
This wool has not been washed. The wool is naturally very oily, that is what makes the wool stick to each other when it’s spun into yarn. After spinning, the yarn can be washed and dyed to different colors.
Carding wool by hand was not an easy task. Today most of the wool for commercial use is carded, washed and processed by machines. But before the industrial revolution the wool had to be carded by hand. I can only image how long it took to card hounders of fleeces by hand. The time and energy that goes in there is extreme and should be appreciated more. For me, this hand on experience was a changing factor to even more respect hand made goods in the future.
Left, the wool is carded and has a much equal color, and feels cleaner and softer.
Right, the wool is raw, has not been washed and the colors are much more divided.
Carding by hand was a bit harder than expected. To make the process easier I was allowed to rent the drum carders from the fabric station. By using the drum carders much more wool can be cared for at the same time. Next to that it also makes longer fibers because of the bigger surface of the drums.
However, I had to card the wool twice. Both sides has to be even for the ultimate result. By doing so, the wool can be immediately used for weaving or felting. Next to that, it is ready to be spun into yarn.
Willem de Konning Academy also allowed me to rent the spinning wheel from the fabric station. I started to experiment with spinning both with washed and unwashed wool that has been carded.
Unfortunately, it was not a success. Because of some reason the wool does not want to get thinner and the spinning wheel stops moving because of its thickness. At the moment I am looking at other alternatives to make my own yarn. I might have to follow a workshop or ask a professional to spin the wool for me.
This learning lesson did also open my eyes into the knowledge, handiness and craftsmanship of creating yarn from raw materials.
From the cotton and linen experiment I was inspired to also look into animal fibers. When harvesting the plant based materials, I can calculate the amount of resources needed to grown and create fiber from these crops. This methode can be applied by wool as well. I am very curious to see how much yarn I will be able to spin from one fleece of a sheep. As a result I could not only calculate how much wool a collection of clothing would need but also the amount of land, food and care that takes to keep these animals for fiber production.
This is an ongoing investigation and experimentation about materials that I find in my closet.