Dear readers,

We thought we would share with you a few more back-to-nature skills we have learned over the past year. When we were visiting Adam’s parents last year in South Australia, I was fortunate enough to learn the art of spinning and knitting wool from a few local Aussies. We hope you all enjoy learning about this simple yet rewarding process!

 

STEP 1: Acquire Raw Wool

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Raw wool is the hair of a sheep that is unwashed; this means that it includes ample lanolin (oil,) dirt, stool, and urine!

Whether you raise your own sheep and sheer yourself, purchase wool online, or bartar with a neighbouring shepherd, the first step in making cloth is to acquire raw wool. Surprising enough, many farmers sell their raw wool online, making the first step relatively easy. You can even buy it on Amazon!

It is actually helpful for sheep to have their coats sheered as the wool becomes very heavy when wet and can cause them to fall over. Because the wool becomes so heavy and “water logged,” the sheep have great difficulty standing up once fallen, oftentimes leading to the death of a sheep.

IMG_2723IMG_2786

        {15 kgs / 30 lbs of raw wool}

 

STEP 2 : Carding / Combing

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The next step is to “card” or comb the wool. In order remove the chunks of dirt and stool and to enable the wool to be spun neatly into the spinning wheel, the raw wool has to be combed. This is probably the most tedious task involved in spinning cloth.

{uncarded wool}

The wool turns from dirty and crinkly to soft and fluffy. Like all traditional skills, there is definitely a special finesse required in this step.

{carted wool}

 

STEP 3 : Spinning

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Spinning yarn is a like riding a bike. Once you experience the feeling of how to spin, i.e. how the fingers should feed the carded wool into the wheel, how the foot should peddle in order to make the wheel constantly turn at a slow pace,  and how taught the strings should be in order to make the wheel actually spin, it becomes second nature. My teacher would often sit infront of the TV and spin for hours. I would go as far to say that it can even be quite meditative.

The natural lanolin or oil from the raw wool is an added bonus to spinning. While feeding the wool into the spinning wheel, the lanolin lightly coats your fingers and, I must say, my hands have never felt so soft!

IMG_2723{my traditional Ashford spinning wheel}

Traditional spinning wheels have a very simple design. The most widely used style is the “Ashford Spinning Wheel,” as shown above, which have been around for decades and are still being manufactured today. As you can imagine, it is very handy to learn the anatomy of the spinning wheel as well as the associated tools used to create the final yarn. It’s also quite entertaining to say the terms in an english accent; the “knitty knotty,” being my favourite.

{parts of a spinning wheel and other related tools}

While spinning, a few helpful hints go a long way! For example, if looking at the wheel as if it were a clock, when the vertical pole attached to the wheel is positioned at 2 o’clock (as shown above,) the wheel easily completes a full rotation when you push down on the foot peddle (which is called the treadle.)

{feeding the carted wool through the orifice ; loading the bobbin}

Another “trick of the trade” is learning what to do when your yarn breaks while feeding it into the spinning wheel. Since all of the spun yarn collects onto the spindle (as seen in the picture above,) if the yarn breaks and becomes spun into the spindle, it is nearly impossible to recover!

One of my teachers said, when this would occur, he would proceed to utter obscenities while searching for his lost yarn amongst the roll of wool. The efficacy of this technique is debatable. Another teacher suggested using either a toothbrush or a strip of tape in order to “catch” the broken thread by lightly dragging it over the spindle of yarn. I adopted this technique.

While explaining how to spin thread, words alone can be limiting. If any of our readers are more eager to learn, I would suggest watching a video such as this one, or even more effective would be to learn from a teacher in person. Below is a general explanation of the process of spinning.

Screen Shot 2017-07-08 at 6.28.37 pm
{feeding the carded wool into the spinning wheel}

 

GENERAL STEPS TO SPINNING :

-tie a piece of already spun yarn around the spindle of the bobbin; thread the yarn through the fly hooks and then through the orifice or hole of the spinning wheel using a thread hook. this beginning piece of yarn is called the “thread yarn.”

-while holding the thread yarn, begin peddling the foot peddle in a clockwise motion. this causes the flyer to spin which makes the lead yarn twist and be pulled through the orifice, wrapping around the spindle.

-allow the carded wool to catch onto the lead yarn so that the raw wool begins to spin and be pulled through the orifice. the raw wool then begins to load up the spindle.

NOTE: natural fibres such as cotton and wool easily bind to the lead yarn while other less natural materials such as bamboo and polyester do not share this trait.

–slowly feed the carded wool into the spinning wheel in a slow and steady fashion to ensure evenness in the thread.

Screen Shot 2017-07-08 at 6.54.38 pm
{feeding in the wool}

-while spinning, every so often, stop and change the yarn from one fly hook to the next as shown below. continue this process of spinning, stopping, and changing the yarn until the bobbin is full. the fly hooks help to ensure that the bobbin loads evenly with spun wool.

 

 

STEP 4 : Plying

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IMG_2840
{bobbins loaded onto a lazy kate}

After spinning the raw wool and loading up the bobbin with spun yarn, it is time to “ply” the yarn. Plying is basically taking yarn from two bobbins and spinning them together. This process balances the yarn so that it doesn’t twist together when knitting.

To ply, load two bobbins onto a “lazy kate” as pictured on the right. Take both ends of the yarn and twist them together. Load the twisted yarn onto the lead thread as before. Begin turning the spinning wheel in the opposite direction as when spinning, i.e. counter clockwise. Be sure to not let the two yarns get tangled before spinning as this can get messy!

Screen Shot 2017-07-08 at 6.58.19 pm

{before (left) and after (right) plying}

Similarly to spinning, when beginning to peddle the foot treadle to ply the yarn, if you place the vertical pole connected to the wheel in the 11 o’clock position, this ensures that the wheel will make a complete rotation with only one push of the foot. Notice, however, that now the wheel is turning in the opposite direction. This is what “balances” the yarn when plying.

{plyed yarn – two pieces of yarn spun together}

 

STEP 5 : Making a Skein

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The next step is to wind the plyed yarn around a “knitty noddy.” This step allows the yarn to be transferred from the bobbin and into a more easy-to-handle product called a “skein.”

Once the entire bobbin of yarn has been wound around the knitty noddy, the skein can be tied in the centres to avoid tangling and unraveling.

 

 

STEP 6 : Washing / Drying the Skein

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Now it is time to wash the skein! Washing wool must be done cautiously as it is a very delicate fiber. If the water is too hot or cold, the wool will react by either shrinking or loosing it’s form. To avoid this, simply soak the skein (keeping the ties on) in lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Repeat this step until the water is clear.

Washing the skein helps to remove any remaining dirt, stool, oil from the wool. Traditional fishermen would actually skip this step and wear unwashed woolen garmets while out at sea. The natural oil in the raw wool make the garment water-proof (if you can tolerate the unique aroma.)

When finished soaking the skein, remove from the water and gently squeeze the water out. Take care NOT TO TWIST the skein, as this leads to “felting” the wool which is impossible to knit.

To dry, simply hang in a dry, shady place for a few days. The sun will cause the wool to shrink, so better to avoid hanging the skein in direct sun light.

A convenient way of storing the dried skein is to take one end in each hand and being twisting in opposite directions. Once there is enough tension, the skein will naturally fold into itself.

When your’e ready to use the skein to knit, simply untie tie the knots used to hold the yarn together, take the end of the yarn and tie it to a knitting needle using a slip knot. Now, simply wrap the yarn around the needle, creating a ball of yarn.

 

 

STEP 7 : Knitting

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The final and perhaps most rewarding step is using your hand-spun wool to knit a garment. Whether it be a scarf, a bookmark, a sweater, or a pair of paints – to be able to make your own clothes with only the use of two knitting needles is pretty miraculous. Knitting is very simple and repetitive; you can knit complex patterns and designs or stick to very easy and straightforward patterns (as I often do.)

IMG_2730

Probably the main skill involved in knitting is patience. Because I tend to lack this “virtue,” in the beginning of my learning, I chose to make baby clothes. The reason being.. they’re small! And consequently take less time to complete.

{some of my knitting work}

Another benefit of making small garments is that you learn to become familiar with reading a pattern. In order to knit a garment, it is easiest to follow a pre-existing pattern. These patterns can be found online or in books. They literally tell you everything to do; from what type of needle to use, how much tension your knitting should have, and how to knit the garment, step-by-step.

There are many abbreviations used in patterns that are very helpful to know. For example, “y.o.” stands for “yarn over,” a technique whereby you place one stitch over another and continue knitting; this creates a button hole!

You can also design your own garment without the use of a pattern. Here are a few examples of what I have personally made without the use of a pre-made pattern.

IMG_3141
{infinity scarf}

This scarf was made simply by casting on 50 stitches to my knitting needle and knitting until the length was about 3 feet. Then, I joined the two ends of the scarf by sewing them together with a “knitting needle” – a blunt tipped needle.

These are knitted japa (or meditation) bead bags. I am currently selling them on my etsy website that you can access by clicking on this link. They come in all colours and are even available in my own hand-spun wool!  They can also be used as a small purse or pouch.

I hope our readers have enjoyed learned about this wonderful process. I am very grateful and appreciative to those teachers who “showed me the way” and taught me such a rewarding and practical skill.

While I have big plans to knit pants for the winter, a hot-water-bottle bag, and many more exciting projects- I am still satisfied knitting whatever little project that I am currently working on. It’s important to note that even the process of knitting is rewarding and calming in and of itself, whatever the end product may be. My favourite knitting environment is sitting outside, knitting a project, and listening to Adam read.

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to submit them; I would be happy to help anyone begin learning this wonderful process!! (Youtube is great too!)

 

Happy knitting and spinning!!

 

Hare Krishna,

Claudia (Ambhrani)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “From Sheep to Shawl

  1. Wow ,wow ,wow ,informative ,concise ,clear ,step by step description of a very complicated of spinning rraw wool ,but essential process for self sustaining living in terms of clothing ourselves and interiors of our homes .Excellent illustrations ,flows nicely with combination of facts ,personal tips ,references and even a few jokes .This is a must read for people who are sincere I ndoing all things from scratch ,food ,clothing ,shelter and this is great explanation of how we can clothes ourselves ,loved the finished products ,skein of woot ,jumper ,scarf and japa bag ,great work it’s all there within you both ,just put it out there and show us all what can be achieved .

    Like

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