Handspinning wool, the process of turning wool into clothing is an extension of self-sufficiency. It is one of peopleís happening hobbies and its also the ultimate art. You create, quite literally, from the beginning - right down to dabbling in genetics, if you breed the sheep.
If you want the sheep, having a few fenced acres of pasture comes in handy. If you just want the sweaters, there's plenty of wool around from people who love the sheep or whose taste in wool you like, and youíre set.
First let's start with the wool. Whether shopping for sheep or wool, there are a few things you need to know. Do you like baby-soft, fine sweaters, or are fisherman's knits more your type?
Time when you just want to sit and relax, maybe watch a movie. Yes, you can watch a movie while spinning. It doesn't require concentration. Tension seems to flow right out your fingertips. The only thing you physically cannot do while spinning is eat or smoke, and it keeps your hands busy, so it's great for curing those vices.
So what do you need to start? First, a drop spindle or spinning wheel. A drop spindle is slow, but very inexpensive. You can make a great one with a pencil and half a potato, or buy a nice one for about $ 10. A spinning wheel, modern version, made in America, you can get for $ 200.
To start, you can pick your wool apart before spinning. Later, if you decide you like this stuff, you can get a flicker, carding combs, a drum carder (does large quantities), or wool combs. (These range from $ 10 for a flicker to $ 250 for a drum carder.) Keep in mind that you donít need all these things - just one. A flicker is a single "wire brush" - sort of like a wirebristled dog brush. Carding combs are larger versions of the same thing, and they come in pairs.
Speaking of buying wool, for those who do not have your own sheep, this is what you can expect: "Grease wool" is unwashed -- sells for $ 3-$ 1O per pound (for spinning quality wool). You can expect to lose some weight, up to 30 percent, depending on the amount of vegetable matter, when you wash it. Washed wool will be about double that price. Carded wool, usually sold as roving (pencil thickness, ready to spin) will be around $ 20-$ 30 per pound. It all depends on whether you have more time or money! Also, discounts are often given if you purchase a whole fleece (the amount of wool from one shearing -- five to 20 pounds, depending on the breed). Most long sleeve sweaters will require no more than three pounds of wool. Two is probably average. Go ahead -- put your favorite sweater on the scale.
So you've got the wool and youíre ready to go? Most people prefer to wash the wool before spinning, though some prefer to spin "in the grease." Let's wash it. Prepare the fleece first. Remove any manure "tags," hay, grain, and burrs (all dirty words in a spinner's vocabulary - have been known to cause cussing). If you got the fleece from a bona-fide spinner, it should already be "skirted" - have the tags and belly and neck wool removed.
For a whole fleece, fill up the bathtub or the washing machine with the hottest water you've got (just too hot to touch-about 140 degrees?). Add about 1-1/2 cups of liquid laundry soap as you fill it up. If you use a solid/powdered soap, make sure it dissolved before you add the wool.
Now stick it in, the whole fleece, and submerge it till it sinks. Close the washer and leave it alone for a few hours. Do not agitate. Now feel the temperature of the water, then let it out. If you really did use your washer, now put it on "spin." Then fill the washer with water the same temperature as that you just let down the drain. Poke at it just a bit so the water circulates; let it go about ten minutes. Drain water again; spin again. Remove wool to a nice sunny day (out of dog's reach) or to newspapers next to the wood stove. It'll take a couple days to dry. Keep turning to get air circulated. That's it!
Now take your dry wool and sit on the floor with a newspaper in front of you. Take a small amount of wool and pick it apart - let the dirt fall on the paper and your "picked" wool is ready to spin.
Also, spinning is one of those "personal" things - ask ten spinners how to do. This is just an overview for few more prospective spinners out there. Try it--it's a truly productive and gratifying hobby.