Making My Own Wool

Happy Mother’s Day! I hope all you mum’s are having a nice relaxing day. I thought I’d mark the day with a post about something me and my mum did recently – a spot of wool making. Enjoy.

I’ve been knitting since I was about eight years old, mainly taught by my mum who is an excellent knitter. But, for the longest time, I never really thought about where wool came from (sheep obviously, though I must admit that for financial reasons I rarely knit with 100% wool) and the different ways it was made.

That was until a few years ago when I took a trip to an alpaca farm near my home and got chatting to the owner, a lovely lady who spent her days spinning the lovely soft wool her animals produced. She had a spinning wheel for sale and I had some fantasy about buying it and making my own wool. If I’d had the space or a spare £200, I just might have!

Two years went by before I met a lady call Judith at a craft fair who spins and dyes her own wool, and she just so happens to give lessons in it. So when it came up to my mum’s birthday recently, I thought it would be a good time for us to both learn to make what we’ve been knitting with all these years (plus I like giving people experiences rather than material things when I can).

We went for a day of wool dyeing, felting a spinning at Judith’s wonderfully cosy house to get the whole experience. Her cellar studio is a world of multicoloured wool and home to three cats who looked very comfortable indeed.

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The day started with a cup of tea and a chat about the different types of fibres that can be used to make wool (including some from samoyed dog fur and crab fibre!), the different properties of various sheep, and the many natural and synthetic dyes that can be used to get different colours of wool (my favourite was onion skins, which gave a lovely mustard colour).

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On to the dyeing, Judith showed us the various methods for natural and acid dyeing. The fleece on the right is from a Wendsleydale sheep, which has the most amazing ringlets. The dye clings to it and you can get the most amazing variations in colour throughout it. Natural dyes can take hours to develop, so I only have a picture of the acid dyed fleeces. They look like some crazy halloween wigs, don’t you think?

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We didn’t use the wools we’d dyed because they would take too long to dry, but there was plenty of choice back in the studio. Next up was making felt, for which we carded the wool by hand (this takes aaaages, so we used a machine when it came to making wool for knitting), which prepares the wool for felting or spinning. This is the time when you get to blend all your colours.

I didn’t manage to get any good pictures of the felting process cause my hands were mainly covered in soap, but I can tell you it was a lot of fun and we both came away with two pieces of felt to make something with.

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And finally, we got down to the spinning of the wool. We each had a go on two different types of spinning wheel – one with one pedal and one with two. Let me tell you, it is DIFFICULT! Think patting your head and rubbing your tummy. You’ve got to use your hands, use your feet AND think. But it was so much fun and, like many crafts, practice makes perfect. We’re both very eager to try it again.

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Once we’d spun enough yarn, Judith wound it on to this funny little contraption and then we had to put it back through the wheel to ‘ply’ it (much easier than spinning).

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And ta da! Our first ever skeins of wool (Mum’s on the left, mine on the right). It’s incredible how much the wool and the colours change throughout the process, you can never imagine exactly how it’s going to turn out, but that is part of the beauty of the process. As Judith said to us: “if you want perfect wool, go and buy it from a shop”. This is perfectly imperfect as far as I’m concerned and the fact that we made it makes it extra special.

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We had such an enjoyable day, thank you Judith for opening up your home and sharing your knowledge with us.

If you’d like to find out more about British wool, visit the Wool Marketing Board, plus you can find out more about Judith’s classes at her website.

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