Textile Manufacturing By Pre-industrial Methods - Yarn Formation - Wool


Wool is a protein based fibre, being the coat of a sheep. The wool is removed by shearing.

Sheep Shearing

Shearing can be done with use of hand-shears or powered shears. Professional sheep shearers can shear a sheep in under a minute, without nicking the sheep.

The fleece is removed in one piece. Second cuts can be made but produce only short fibres, which are more difficult to spin. Primitive breeds, like the Scottish Soay sheep have to be plucked, not sheared, as the kemps are still longer than the soft fleece, (a process called rooing).


Skirting is disposing of all wool that is unsuitable for spinning. Recovering can be attempted. It can also be done at the same time as carding.


The wool is cleaned. At this point the fleece is full of lanolin and often contains extraneous vegetable matter, such as sticks, twigs, burrs and straw. These may all be removed, though lanolin may be left in the wool till after the spinning, a technique known as spinning 'in the grease'. Indeed if the fabric is to be water repellent, lanolin is not removed at any stage.

Washing the wool at this stage can be a tedious process. Some people wash it a small handful at a time very carefully, and then set it out to dry on a table in the sun. Others will wash the whole fleece. Lanolin is removed by soaking the fleece in very hot water. If the fleece gets agitated, it will become felt, and then spinning is impossible. Felting, when done on purpose (with needles, chemicals, or simply rubbing the fibers against each other), can be used to create garments.

Carding or combing

It is possible to spin directly from a clean fleece, but it is much easier to spin a carded fleece. Carding by hand yields a rolag, a loose woollen roll of fibers. Using a drum carder yields a bat, which is a mat of fibers in a flat, rectangular shape. Carding mills return the fleece in a roving, which is a stretched bat; it is very long and often the thickness of a wrist.A pencil roving is a roving thinned to the width of a pencil. It can used for knitting without any spinning, or for apprentices.

Combing is another method to align the fibres parallel to the yarn, and thus is good for spinning a worsted yarn, whereas the rolag from handcards produces a woolen yarn.


Hand spinning can be done by using a spindle or the spinning wheel. Spinning turns the carded wool fibres into yarn which can then be directly woven, knitted (flat or circular), crocheted, or by other means turned into fabric or a garment.

The spinning wheel collects the yarn on a bobbin. A woollen yarn is lightly spun so it is airey, and is a good insulator and suitable for knitting, while a worsted yarn is spun tight to exclude air, and has greater strength and is suited to weaving..

Once the bobbin is full, the spinner either puts on a new bobbin, or forms a skein, or balls the yarn. A skein is a coil of yarn twisted into a loose knot. Yarn is skeined using a niddy-noddy or other type of skein -winder. Yarn is rarely balled directly after spinning, it will be stored in skein form, and transferred to a ball only if needed. Knitting from a skein, is difficult as the yarn forms knots, in this case it is best to ball. Yarn to be plied is left on the bobbin.

A skein is either formed on a niddy noddy or some other type of skein winder. Traditionally niddy-noddys looked like an uppercase "i", with the bottom half rotated 90 degrees. Now spinning wheel manufactures also make niddy-noddys that attach onto the spinning wheel for faster skein winding.


Plying yarn is when one takes a strand of spun yarn (one strand is often called a single) and spins it together with other strands in order to make a thicker yarn.

Regular plying consists of taking two or more singles and twisting them together, the against their twist. This can be done on a spinning wheel or on a spindle. If the yarn was spun clockwise (which is called a "Z" twist ), to ply, the wheel must spin counter-clockwise (an "S" twist). This is the most common way. When plying from bobbins a device called a lazy kate is often used to hold them.

Most spinners (who use spinning wheels) ply from bobbins. This is easier than plying from balls because there is less chance for the yarn to become tangled and knotted if it is simply unwound from the bobbins. So that the bobbins can unwind freely, they are put in a device called a lazy kate, or sometimes simply kate. The simplest lazy kate consists of wooden bars with a metal rod running between them. Most hold between three and four bobbins. The bobbin sits on the metal rod. Other lazy kates are built with devices that create an adjustable amount of tension, so that if the yarn is jerked, a whole bunch of yarn is not wound off, then wound up again in the opposite direction. Some spinning wheels come with a built in lazy kate.

Navajo plying consists of making large loops, similar to crocheting.A loop about 8 inches long is made on the leader the end on the leader. (A leader is the string left on the bobbin to spin off.) The three strands together are spun in the opposite direction. When a third of the loop remains, a new loop is created and the spinning continues. The process is repeated until the yarn is all plied. The advantage of this method is that only one single is needed and if the single is already dyed this technique allows it to be plied without ruining the color scheme. This technique also allows the spinner to try to match up thick and thin spots in the yarn, thus making for a smoother end product.

See also: Fulling

If the lanolin is unwanted, and has not already been washed out, this is done now. The skein is tied in six points and steeped overnight in detergent, it is rinsed and air-dried, and re-skeined.

unless the lanolin is to be left in the cloth as a water repellent. When washing a skein it works well to let the wool soak in soapy water overnight, and rinse the soap out in the morning. Dishwashing detergents are commonly used, and a special laundry detergent designed for washing wool is not required. The dishwashing detergent works and does not harm the wool. After washing, let the wool dry (air drying works best). Once it is dry, or just a bit damp, one can stretch it out a bit on a niddy-noddy. Putting the wool back on the niddy-noddy makes for a nicer looking finished skein. Before taking a skein and washing it, the skein must be tied up loosely in about six places. If the skein is not tied up, it will be very hard to unravel when done washing.

Read more about this topic:  Textile Manufacturing By Pre-industrial Methods, Yarn Formation

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