July 8, 2012


Curious about Fiber Arts? Wondering what scruching, and scouring, and slubs are all about?

These are just a few of the words that I have come across referring to fiber processing. Here, I provide an introduction to each of the steps ‒ from gathering the wool to producing a finished product.

Windward has a small flock of sheep which includes Polypay, Suffolk, and Rambouillet lines. In the late spring we shear our sheep using hand shears. Using hand shears prevents the itchy "second cuts" that come from the way that each pass with an electric shear overlaps the previous cut,

a pair of Hand Shears and some wool from Sombrita

Once you have a fleece, the next step is to "skirt" it, removing the dirty or damaged wool from the edges of the fleece. This is also a good time to think about what you want to do with the fleece. For example, if you want to dye the wool, then you might consider removing any fleece that is urine stained. Also fluffing the fleece with the cut side up allowed some of the vegetable matter to drop out.

A Skirting Table

Now is a good time to wash the fleece unless you want to "spin in the grease." Using a good quality grease cutting detergent will help remove the lanolin as well as other oils and dirt. Be careful not to agitate the wool since agitation (and temperature change)can cause the wool to felt, locking the fiber together and making it difficult to card and spin. Here is where one of those wool words come in: scouring is a cleaning process used to remove the lanolin, dirt, other oils or residues, and hopefully some of the vegetable matter.

Washing with a grease cutting detergent

What next? After the wool is dry you can card, comb, flick, or tease your wool to prepare it for spinning. Cards and Combs come in many shapes and sizes to organize the fibers and prepare the wool for spinning.

Hand Cards

Hand Cards produce rolags, Combs produce top, Drum carders produce batts. Many choices - each one will help define the yarn that will be produced.

A Drum Carder

After coming across an article on Making Spindles in SpinOff Magazine, I've spent several afternoons making spindles ‒ from heavy klunkers to light weight spindles. A collection of drop spindles below includes a light weight spindle, one with a whorl that Justin turned on our lathe, one that is a gift from Jane, my fiber mentor, who works with fiber regularly, and two that I made from scrap plywood, a section of dowel, a hook, and a spot of glue.

A collection of Drop Spindles

Using the spindle that Justin made and 2 ounce of commercially prepared wool, I spun my first skein of yarn. Early in June, I spent one Saturday afternoon learning how to spin singles (single strands of a plied yarn). Then spent time practicing my new skill and building up a supply of singles.

My first Yarn

The following Saturday, with three singles and a Kate, like the one below, I plied them into my first yarn. A close up look at my first yarn shows some slubs. This happens when twist gets into the fiber supply or the yarn is not drafted evenly. It is basically a section of a single strand that has a larger diameter than the rest, and it makes for an interesting yarn.

A Kate full of spindles

Winding yarn into a skein allows you to wash the yarn and set the twist. Having your yarn in skeins is a handy form for dying yarn, and is also a good way to store yarn so that it's not under tension.

My First Skein

Windward also has a loom and a spinning wheel that I am looking forward to learning more about.

Louet S15 Spinning Wheel

Windward's loom is a 4 harness, 6 treadle, counterbalance loom and while I am interested in getting it back online, it is a daunting task. In the mean time I have a rigid heddle table loom and have enjoyed spending time warping with a variegated acrylic yarn and weaving two miniature "rugs". The first rug I wove used the same acrylic yarn for the weft which created a plaid pattern.

My first weaving project

For the second piece, I used periwinkle and purple alpaca wool for the weft.

Weaving with Alpaca yarn