- Kate Hanfling, Volunteer
Processing the Process: Hog Island Wool from Sheep to Skein
Did you know that we use the wool produced by our Hog Island Sheep to make yarn? Volunteers shear the wool, process it, spin it, and dye it to create the yarn we use for crafts which we sell in the visitors center to support our conservation work. We also sell wool and yarn, so you can create your own DIY projects with Hog Island wool.
So how do we make beautiful yarn from the wool on our sheep? It’s a whole process! Today we're going to break it down, step by step, so you can do it too!
First, the sheep are shorn. This happens in in the spring to prepare for hot summer weather. The shearing process helps the sheep stay cool and makes room for new growth. It also helps keep the sheep clean. Check out this video of Nuget getting her annual haircut!
Next, the fleece needs to be skirted, a process that removes wool unsuitable for turning into yarn. This includes fibers that are too short (around the legs) as well as around the rear of the animal that is… we’ll just say too dirty to use.
Then we wash and pick the skirted fleece. Washing removes the larger clumps of dirt and debris. It's estimated that we lose 1/4th of the original fleece weight in washing. That's a lot of dirt! While washing, try not to move the fleece around too much in the hot water or it may felt. Don't forget to give your wool time to dry before moving on to the next step. Set it out on a sunny day.
Picking is simply taking chunks of the wool in our hands and pulling it apart to remove smaller bits of debris like grass and other grains. Removing the VM (vegetable matter) is important. Otherwise, the final product will be especially scratchy and no one wants hay in their wool sweater!
The wool is then carded. Carding is the process of finely brushing out the wool to remove the last tiny bits of debris and also gives a uniform texture. Think of it as brushing your hair with combs that slightly resemble a cross between medieval torture devices and dog combs. Yep, this can definitely be a dangerous step in the process if you don't use your carders correctly.
The carded wool is then ready to be spun into yarn. Spinning can be done using a drop spindle, walking wheel, or pedal powered spinning wheel. Check out this video made by one of our Stitch 'n Time volunteers on how to spin using a spinning wheel.
After the yarn is spun, it can be plied (doubled back onto itself to create a thicker yarn with multiple strands spun together) or left as a single strand.
You can dye wool after picking, carding, and/or spinning. For blending colors, dyeing it prior to carding can produce some truly spectacular color variance once you card it. You can also ply multiple different color yarns together to create a rainbow skein.
Once your yarn is spun and plied (or left as a single), it is pulled off the bobbin/drop spindle and set on a kniddy knoddy, skein winder, or whatever else you can find to stretch it gently on. A back of a chair works well if you don't have spinning equipment at home. This helps the yarn hold a shape, and allows for you to count yardage and measure the weight.
Once the skein has sat for a few days, you can tie it up using thread or extra yarn to keep the wraps from getting tangled. Put this skein in a pot or bucket of lukewarm water and add a drop of unscented soap or wool wash. This washes the skein once more and sets the twist you just spun up. After a few minutes, gently push the water out of the skein and hang it to dry.
That’s it! The skein of yarn is now ready to use. We’d love to see what you’ve created with yarn (ours or otherwise). Post pictures of your projects on our Facebook page! If you love processing wool fiber and want to volunteer, check out the Stitch 'n Time volunteer group that does all of our wool processing!