Preparing Wool

Cleaning, Picking, and Carding the Wool

The sheep are sheared in the spring, and their fleeces are skirted and sorted. “Skirting” removes any low-quality or especially dirty wool. The good fiber is sent to a mill and that is the roving sold on my Etsy site:

Some years I have a mill to do the prepartion of my fiber, giving me more time for dyeing, spinning, knitting and weaving. But when I hand-process my own fiber, here is how I do it:

The fleeces are soaked and washed in tubs outside until clean (usually 2-3 washes), then thoroughly rinsed. Next, the wool is placed in laundry bags and using just the spin cycle of the washing machine (no rinsing), most of the water is removed. To dry the wool completely, it goes back outside to catch the breeze in a shady spot.  I turn the wool every few hours until it is completely dry.

Next, it is picked, picked and picked some more.  I now use a bench picker, but a lot is still done by hand, and all of it can be done this way.

This is VERY time-consuming and tedious since the sheep accumulate a fair amount of vegetable matter (stems, seeds, etc.) in their fleeces.

Picking also causes the wool to be pulled apart, fluffed up. This helped “open” it, helping the next process (carding) to go smoother. This next picture is a close up of the picked wool. As you can see, some small particles remain, but most of the vegetation has been removed. Most of the remaining vegetation will fly out during carding and spinning.

Carding is done next. At first glance, it seems like the purpose would be to align the fiber in the same direction. But Babydoll fiber is best spun “woolen”, which means aligning the fiber is not important at all. In fact, if it is hand-carded, spinning from the sides of the resulting rolags (little rolls or tubes of fiber) means the fiber lies perpendicular as the twist enters it. This gives the resulting yarn even more loft. That is the purpose of spinning the “woolen” style–yarn with a lot of loft and cushion. The resulting yarn is wonderful for garments that keep us cozy in the winter.  So the purpose of carding this wool is to make it uniform (no clumps) and make it easier to manage during spinning.

Babydoll wool is naturally so crimpy and elastic, you can see why the resulting yarn will have plenty of cushion!