The sheep always look alarmingly small after they are sheared. (No, the shearing is not painful for them at all. It’s like you or I getting a haircut. In fact, sheep can be harmed by NOT being sheared regularly. So ignore that anti-wool campaign that PETA put out recently – it’s lies.) In fact, the sheep look so very different, the dog barks at them when they come out of the barn after their yearly spa time. She thinks they are foreign animals. Every. Single. Year. Not only do they look half their previous size, they are also so very clean! It’s amazing how the fleeces are soiled only on the outer parts, but retain pristine cleanliness down on the skin side.
So, once the fleece is off and the sheep are friskily playing with each other all over the pasture, how do we turn that pile of woolly loveliness into something useful? The first step is to wash it. A lot. There are several safe options, but you need to be careful what soap is used because you want to keep some lanolin in the wool. I prefer to use Dawn dish soap – it washes away dirt without damaging natural oils, which is why it’s often used for wildlife rescue. I personally squirt on Dawn and add lots of warm water, then let the wool soak. Rinse and repeat. Keep rinsing until the water washes fairly clear.
After the washed wool dries, bits of VM, or vegetable matter, need to be removed through a process called picking. VM is primarily hay, straw, or bedding bits. After picking, the wool can be dyed, if desired. Dyeing at this point gives lots of subtle color variety in the finished yarn. Dyed or undyed, the wool is ready to card or comb – a process which aligns the fibers all in the same direction. After carding, the wool is referred to as “roving” and it is ready to spin!