How to produce a natural coloured wool garment or yarn

What does it take to make the finished product?

 

First select the sheep …

Many of our members have a flock of coloured sheep. These are the sheep with the genes to produce natural coloured wool. Often when lambs are born, they are densely black but most of them fade as they age which means that the colour of the wool is never the same from year to year. Some lambs are born with patches of light and dark fleece which can be of great interest to a hand spinner.

The most popular breed among our members is the Corriedale which originated from a cross between Merino and Lincoln. It is a good breed for both meat and wool, producing a medium strength fibre (25-30micron) with good length. It is soft and pleasant to handle and is often recommended for beginners learning to spin by hand.

Other breeds include Bond which is a bit finer, closer to the well known Merino. Some have Merinos. Some have the breeds producing stronger wool – Lincoln, English Leicester which can be put to different use.

Most members are very attached to their sheep and have selected their sheep to reflect their personal craft interest.

Sheep are shorn annually.

Getting it together

Each year in November, participating members gather with their freshly shorn fleeces and select the fleeces which will be pooled to provide the yarn for Association activities.

Pooling fleeces allows the processing of a suitable quantity for machine.

Machine processing allows larger quantities to be prepared than is easy to do by hand. We process anything up to 400-500kg which is small in commercial terms but more than the individual breeder with a small flock could produce. The share activity also allows costs to be shared.

Fleeces are selected on the basis of being as clean as is realistic given that sheep live in the paddocks through rain, wind and heat. They must also be sound – when tested, the fleece does not break. Breaks in the fleece can cause problems during processing as the pressure may cause the fleece to snap creating short fibres and ultimately pilling.

Scouring

Wool straight from the sheep contains some vegetable matter such as grass seeds and grass, plus lanolin from the sheep skin and general dirt. Scouring is the process of removing as much as possible so that the next processes can produce the best yarn.

Spinning

We have been able to use factories that can process small quantities to undertake the next steps which involves opening out the fibres, aligning them in a process called carding and then twisting and plying them to provide a yarn which can either be hand knitted or machine knitted.

For the hand knitters we specify 8 ply yarn as this is the most popular thickness for making garments for adults.

For machine knitting the yarn must be much finer, 3 ply or less. The spun yarn is wound onto cones which are able to be loaded on to a knitting machine, either home or commercial. Commercial knitting machines often knit 2 cones (one from each end of the row) which gives a thicker fabric.

Knitting

By the time the yarn is scoured and spun, considerable weight has been lost. Usually we plan on having a finished quantity about 65% of the original raw fibre. We then select a suitable pattern at the knitting mill and arrange for the delivery of the yarn to the mill. The finished garment will have been knitted, cut to shape, stitched together and labeled ready for sale.

A working bee of members attaches a sales tag to each jumper or skein of yarn with the size and price.

Selling

Group members attend a succession of markets through the cooler months and the jumpers and yarn are sold along side hand crafted items produced from natural fibres. The range of items allows for small hand knitted or crocheted garments such as gloves, beanies, socks, toys, ornaments and so on. Markets are also an opportunity to talk to the public about the benefits of natural coloured wool.

In addition to markets in a variety of locations, MEMAC Textiles Group also participates in the 10 to 4 Gallery in Glenrowan where jumpers yarn and other suitable items are available 7 days a week from 10.00am - 4.00pm.

Although the process takes time and effort it offers members the opportunity to work together and enjoy learning about the possibilities of the wonderful fleeces produced by our sheep.