When someone first looks at the price tag on hand-spun yarn, there’s a slight grimace underlying their pleasant smile. Hand-spun yarn ain’t cheap. It’s durable, beautiful, unique, and comes with its own story connecting the product to the farm. At first glance, it’s hard to imagine the complexities wound up in a single skein. We’ve decided to give you a walk-thru of how we process our fiber from fleece to finished product.
Fiber comes from a number of sources including animals like sheep and alpaca (on our farm), plants like flax and cotton. Raising the animals requires year-round care from feeding to grooming. Shearing the sheep is time-consuming (we do it the old way), and requires the help of two to three helpers.
Once the wool is removed from the animal, it must be skirted. This process involves picking out debris, hay, straw, and dung. This process is followed by a wash and rinse that can take several hours. Washing wool requires heat and *zero* agitation (to avoid felting). Lanolin, along with loads of filth, lift from the fibers. And despite the length of time it takes, wool washing is a fun and social process.
Once washed and rinsed, the wool is put out on a drying rack in the sun. This process is often finished with some time atop a fan (to expedite the process).
Following, we either card the wool, or in many cases, this is the point at which we dye the fibers. We use an acid dye process, which is fairly simple, but does involve another bath for the fiber, in a solution of warm water and vinegar. The dye is added and must sit at a constant temperature for another 30-45 minutes. After more rinsing, it’s ready for more drying.
Finally, the fiber is ready to be carded. Carding is the process of combing the fibers in the same direction. We use a drum carder, and hand-carders when necessary. A drum carder is a large drum with teeth that is fed by a smaller wheel.
The finished product is a neatly combed fiber or roving, ready for spinning. While I sometimes enjoy using a drop-spindle, I couldn’t spin up enough yarn to sell without the wheel.
For the fiber to go from roving to yarn, it must be drafted and spun. Firstly, two strands spun in a clock-wise direction, then plied together in a counter-clockwise direction. Nearly finished…
Next, it must be wound on to the niddy noddy (to remove it from the spools), then tied off. At this stage the yarn still has a lot of extra twist in it. To relax the yarn we must give it another warm water bath. This
time, the wool is hung to dry for a period of time, sometimes weighted (depending on its intended use – weighted is better for loom work). And then dried thoroughly over the fan.
It’s now ready to be wound into a skein for sale (and wound into a ball for use).
While we’ve been fortunate to have a wonderful customer base who understand the value behind hand-spun yarn, the next time you hear someone gripe about the price of a hand-spun skein, send ’em this link.
And that’s the wind-down on what we do to create a single skein of beautiful, artful yarn from our farm to your hats, footies, and scarves.