Sheep wool

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. 

“This locally sourced raw material was now in my hands”

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 was hanging till the ground and after sending a few emails I was able to buy the wool of two of the sheep. This locally sourced raw material was now in my hands to be turned into something else.

Washing wool

I had no experience with wool therefore I started asking around and doing my own research to learn more about this material.

The first experiment I did was washing the wool. It is not necessary to wash the wool before using it for anything else because it has natural oils and fats in it such as lanolin. But after washing the wool it becomes softer, the smell and dirt disappear and can be used to make yarn from it.

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 step 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.

Not washing wool

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 textiles, 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 combining 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.

Carding wool

To have the wool ready to be spun it has to be carded first most of the time. The carding combs used by this process come from friends and family members. These combs have been bought more than 40 years ago and have 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.

The wool I used was not washed, it 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.

“This hand on experience was a changing factor”

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 imagine 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 handmade goods in the future.

Drum carder

Carding by hand was a bit harder than expected. To make the process easier I was allowed to rent the drum carders from Willem de Kooning Academy. 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 have 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.

Spinning wool

Willem de Konning Academy also allowed me to rent the spinning wheel from the fabric department. 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.

This learning lesson did also open my eyes into the knowledge, handiness and craftsmanship of creating yarn from raw materials.

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 it takes to keep these animals for fiber production.

This is an ongoing investigation and experimentation about materials that I find in my closet.