Woolly & Warm
The recent cold snap has made me very grateful for all the warm clothes hanging in my closet – and for all sheep worldwide. Humans began to use sheep wool for clothing more than 10,000 years ago. If you would like some nice warm wool clothes for next winter (sorry, it’s too late to get started for this year) here are the steps you need to follow:
- First, you’ll need to find a sheep. Hair from other animals can be used to make clothing, but only sheep produce wool.
- In the spring, remove the hair from the sheep. This process, typically called shearing, can be done with hand shears or electric shears. After completing this step, the sheep can breathe a sigh of relief. Although it may not understand (or have cooperated) you just helped prevent it from getting heat stroke this summer. Also, in extreme cases, people have had to rescue unshorn sheep stuck in bushes due to their long coats!
- Next please wash the wool. Sheep don’t smell good! They naturally produce lanolin that acts as a rain coat, helping them stay dry and warm in inclement weather. The grease-cutting agents in dish soap help remove the greasy lanolin and dirt from the wool.
- Once the wool is clean and dried, it is time to brush and detangle it. Special brushes called carders can be used to card (brush) the fibers and straighten them. Well-carded wool is important, because it prevents lumpy yarn and is easier to spin into yarn.
- Wool becomes yarn when it is stretched thin and then twisted. You can use a drop spindle or spinning wheel to help you do this. A big advantage to using wool instead of alpaca fleece or mohair is that sheep’s wool has special properties at a microscopic level. As you twist the yarn, tiny rough points in each fiber get stuck or tangled together. This makes wool much easier to spin then other animal hair.
- At this point you have a choice: you can felt, crochet or knit your yarn or you can weave it on a loom and then sew your clothes together. At a very basic level, each of these techniques means you are “tangling” your yarn in an organized fashion so that it hold together as an item of clothing.
Now that you have completed your outfit for next winter be sure to thank a sheep and all those folks who invented machines and factories. Humans still use the same process to make the clothes we wear every day, except now machines do all the hard work for us.
For now, enjoy the snow and stay warm!
Ellen Meehan, Interpreter, Parky’s Farm