I hope you and your animals are all faring well in the summer heat! What better way to spend these dog days of summer than in the air conditioning of your home with some wool? After reading my last article did you try your hand at washing and carding wool? If you decided it was too time consuming or just not for you there are many fiber mills across the USA and in Canada that will process your wool, including:
- Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill in Wisconsin
- Fingerlakes Woolen Mill in New York
- Georgia Mountain Fiber in Georgia
- Legacy Lane Fiber Mill in New Brunswick, Canada
- MacAusland’s Woolen Mills on Prince Edward Island, Canada
- Morning Star Fiber Mill, in Ohio
- Mountain Meadow Wool in Wyoming
- Still River Mill in Connecticut
- Stonehedge Fiber Mill in Michigan
- Wooly Knob Fiber Mill in Indiana
- Zeilinger Wool Co. in Michigan
Of these, I know people who have had good experiences with Zeilinger Wool Co. and Wooly Knob Fiber Mill. (I’ve also heard wonderful things about the blankets that MacAusland’s Woolen Mills can make from your fiber.) To find other wool mills, try searching online or looking for advertisements in magazines like sheep! or Spin Off.
Once you’ve washed and carded your wool or gotten it back from a mill you can start spinning it or felting it. Spinning can be done on a spinning wheel or by using a drop spindle. Felted projects can be done by needle felting or wet felting.
Hand spinning can be a little tricky to learn but, after some practice, can be become like second nature. Many people insist that you learn to spin on a drop spindle before trying a spinning wheel because they say you learn to draft your wool better this way. Drafting is what you do when you pull the fiber in your roving or rolags to loosen the fibers and lengthen the piece of roving/rolag that you’re working with. This is how you control the thickness of your yarn – the more you draft your fiber, the thinner the yarn will be.
I learned to spin on a drop spindle and I agree that it’s easier to concentrate on your fiber – how much you’re drafting it and how much twist you put into it before winding onto the spindle. You don’t have to worry about the yarn winding onto the bobbin too quickly and being pulled out of your hand. A spinning wheel also has many more parts than a drop spindle and usually takes longer to learn how to use. Sometimes getting the hang of treadling at a slow enough speed takes time!
Spinning is easiest to learn by watching someone demonstrate the technique for you. If you’re interested in learning but don’t know anyone who can teach you, try contacting your local spinning guild. For a listing in your area, go to www.interweave.com/spin/resources/spinning_guilds/. If you can’t find anyone near you, go to The Joy of Handspinning (www.joyofhandspinning.com) or YouTube (www.youtube.com). Both websites have video tutorials that you can watch. There is a list of contents and videos on the left hand side of The Joy of Handspinning homepage; and you can search “using a drop spindle/spinning wheel” or “spinning basics” on YouTube. Or go to one of these links:
Would you rather create felted projects with your wool? Felting is an easy craft to learn and you don’t need any expensive tools. There are 2 main felting methods – needle felting and wet felting.
To needle felt you’ll need some wool or other fiber, a felting needle and a foam block. Felting needles have small barbs on the sides to “grab” the fibers. You’ll put the fiber on the foam block and repeatedly stab it with the felting needle with straight up and down motion so you don’t break the needle. What you can create is totally up to you – you can use cookie cutters to make wool shapes, you can create 3-dimensional figures or you can needle felt designs onto other materials – the only limitation is your imagination.
Wet felting is done by criss-crossing layers of fiber, wetting it with hot water and agitating it. To make a flat sheet of felted wool lay one layer of wool on a flat surface and put each additional layer at a 90 degree angle. Squirt some detergent on your wool and place a screen over it. Rub a sponge dampened with hot water back and forth over the fiber, and lift the screen periodically so that the wool doesn’t felt to it. You can keep your sponge warm by rewetting it with hot water. Continue this until you have the size and thickness that you want. To make a solid object, mold the layers of wool into your desired shape (like a ball). Wet with hot, soapy water and rub the wool with your hands until it’s the shape you want.
Selling raw wool to handspinners is a great way to get more income from your sheep, but by processing your wool you’ll gain more customers. You can market roving to handspinners, yarn to knitters or crocheters, or felted crafts to anyone! With all this information I know you’ll be able to decide what’s right for you and your farm.