I have collected eggs from hens I hatched from chicks and served turkeys I raised for Thanksgiving dinner. I have even driven my own pony in a cart to deliver farm goods to a customer.
But I am not sure anything has felt quite as rewarding as knitting warm winter wearables from my own backyard sheep.
To put on a hat I crafted by hand from wool I spun myself is a magical act. I don’t think many people understand this level of hard-won and simple satisfaction in our modern world.
To get started on this journey isn’t as daunting as it seems. It doesn’t take a 100-acre ranch or a county-fair winning flock to whip up a warm knit hat on a chilly day.
It just takes a few sheep, some easy-to-acquire tools and the ability to learn skills most people have forgotten.
When sheep are shorn in the spring, the wool is dirty and often needs some serious care to be ready for spinning into yarn. Modern hobby farms have a few options at this stage. You can mail off your raw fleece right from your sheep to a wool mill to clean, card and spin.
You can also do it yourself or, better yet, host a shearing party. Guests can assist in wrangling sheep, skirting wool (hand-removing large debris from shorn fleeces on a clean flat surface), and bagging and labeling the raw fleeces.
You’d be surprised how many people would jump at the chance to take part in this piece of agricultural heritage. Set up a pot luck and you’ll be turning folks away!
Cleaning the Fleece
Once the fleeces are collected, you can start preparing wool to be spun.
Take a pound (or less) of wool at a time to gently wash through a gentle soaking method. Lay the wool in some sudsy water to clean it. Take care not to agitate it, which can cause it to felt—you do not want this at this stage.
Allow the wool to soak in the soap with water running through it. Repeat this system by replacing the dark, dirty water until it is clear. Most fleece takes a few passes. Then lay it to dry in the sunshine.
Time to Card
Once clean and dry, your wool is ready to card. This is the process that takes the naturally curly wool into straight sections for spinning.
There are professional carding tools available from fiber shops online. But a beginner can always use a set of dog slicker brushes to pass the wool from brush to brush.
Pull the straightened, clean wool off your cards into small straight clumps called rolags. Rolags are the smaller sections of the larger roving you see wheel- and drop-spindle spinners use. When you have a pile of rolags off your cards, you are ready to spin.
Twisting this weighted rod creates the same action as a foot-treadle spinning wheel (though not as efficiently or consistently). But with an hour or less of spinning on this quaint tool, you can create a ball of wool yarn ready for some real knitting.
The process of shearing to hat on your head is incredibly rewarding. Learning each step is an adventure in itself.
Taking the time to absorb each step at your own pace teaches you how to find new joys in your small-farm journey. And having warm, handmade clothes from your own flock of sheep? Well, that’s all the better.