Laura Rosenzweig on Processing Wool…
…and these nice Bluefaced Leicesters;
…you may also remember that a few days ago we learnt about how the farmers Laura works with set their fleeces aside for her to collect, and how hard it is to find a dry day to shear sheep in Cumbria! Continuing this story of Laura’s sheep-to-textile process, we shall now learn about how she gets raw fleece processed into something which she can turn her hand to weaving. We have included a wonderful bedtime poem with this post, from the brother of a shepherd who looks after some Hebridean sheep from whom Laura gets fleece! The shepherd’s name is Jim, and his brother is Richard. Richard reads out a poem about Sedburgh, which is where both Richard, and Laura, and many of the sheep in Laura’s Loom products, are from.
A more detailed, in-depth version of the story Laura is sharing here throughout WOVEMBER was written for the Autumn 2012 edition of The Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers – the Autumn 2012 WOOL ISSUE – a publication which of course WOVEMBER highly recommends! This is how the wool is processed for Laura’s Loom.
Once the sheep are clipped I collect the fleece and take it home where I sort it on a tarpaulin in my back garden before sending it off to be scoured and spun. Finding a scourer and a spinner willing to deal in small quantities was a challenge; I was very keen to keep my product within a tight geographic region, partly to save on transport costs but mostly because keeping it local matters to me. I live near what was once the heartland of the woollen industry. Farfield Mill was once a woollen spinning mill and Sedbergh once boasted several mills doing similar jobs.
Here is Richard’s poem about Sedburgh!
But where do you find a scourer? This is an industry that doesn’t seem to like the Internet very much. It’s word of mouth, phone calls, face-to-face meetings and handshakes in the world of scouring – in other words, business the good old-fashioned way! Michael put me in touch with Haworth Scourers in Bradford and the initial processing chain was finally complete.
My greasy wool is delivered by my friendly local “man with van” to Haworths where it is sorted, pulled apart, washed and dried. This process removes the natural oils (lanolin) from the fleece along with all of the dirt and moisture absorbed by the wool. There is a typical weight loss of over 40% at this stage in the process – that’s a lot of dirt, oil and moisture!
Once it has been sorted, the wool goes through a 6 to 8-step washing process followed by a short stint in a series of dryers. It takes just four minutes to dry before it is conveyed to the baling machine and packed into bags under pressure ready to be sent on to the spinner.
Haworths also comb the wool fibres for worsted spinning.
Lightowlers is the next stop, for spinning. In a non-descript building behind a small green door in Meltham lies an entire world of wool. Machines more than 100 years old blend and card almost non-stop, feeding wool onto a series of leather belts the thickness of which determines the ultimate ‘count’ of the yarn and which create ‘cakes’ of roving. These are transferred to an adjacent room and fed into the spinning machine where twist is added to produce the final yarn. My yarn is spun into a fine single ply yarn but it would be at this stage that any plies would be added if required before the yarn is wound onto cones. The entire process for my 150-200kg of yarn is completed in about a day.
To read more about how wool is processed for Laura, you can see the wonderful gallery on her website, which does a wonderful job of explaining the sheep to garment process in Laura’s Loom products. All content in this post except where otherwise stated © Laura Rosenzweig and used with her kind permission.