May 27

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Introduction to Wool Processing

Wool Processing

Have you ever wondered how a single strand of wool from a sheep can become a finished product like an aran sweater, burlap sack, or intricate lacework? Well you might be surprised that all wool goes through roughly the same process regardless of which final product it becomes. When you look at it, the path of wool processing is comparable to what a person goes through with schooling.

Sheared Wool

Wool from a sheep

Growing the Wool: Day Care

Wool starts it life as hair on an animal. Some of more popular types of wool are cashmere from goats, angora from rabbits, and merino from sheep. Once the wool has reached a certain length the wool is cut from the animal in a process known as shearing, this is done about once a year. The shearing of the sheep produces a fleece of the sheep.

Washing the Wool: Kindergarten

Once the wool has been sheared from the sheep, the wool will need a good cleaning. Over the year, dirt and other debris has been getting stuck in the wool. Also there is a natural oil called Lanolin that needs to be removed. This oil gives the coat of a sheep a sort of waxy feel. In fact, lanolin can be used for a variety of different products such as in cosmetics, health care, and lubricants. This is done by way of a hot wash and a cold wash. The hot wash turns the lanolin into a liquid that can be removed from the wool. The cold wash then removes the other debris from the wool.

Processing Wool: Elementary School

After the wool has been washed and dried it is still in the form of locks that were cut off the sheep. Next comes the carding or processing. In this process the wool locks are opened up and the remaining debris is removed. In the past this was done by hand using carding paddles or wool combs and then later drum carders were invented. Now there are carding machines which make the process a lot less tedious. Once the wool has been processed it is generally in one of two forms. A rolag is when the wool comes out in a rolled up bundle, this is usually from a hand carder. Roving is a more refined form where all the fibers are parallel with each other and the wool looks like a length of rope.

Spinning Wool: High School

The next step on the journey is take the rolag or roving and spin it it into thread. In the old days this was accomplished with a drop spindle. Then in around the renaissance time the spinning wheel was invented. Currently the wool is run through a process known as ring spinning or mule spinning. The process of spinning takes the thicker roving, draws it out, then twist the wool around. After this process the wool can now be called thread.

Making Thread: College

As the wool prepares for its final journey it must first join up with other pieces of wool. In a process known as plying an individual thread is added to others and twisted once again in an opposite direction than it was originally spun to make yarn. This can be done on a spinning wheel or a drop spindle. There is also a modern equivalent called folding or twisting.

Creating a product: Getting a Job

Now the wool has been made into yarn and can stay as sewing thread, be plied into yarn, or be woven into a final product such as the shirt you are wearing. Though this is not the end of the wool’s journey, that will be left to another tale.


As you can see it is easy to look at path of wool processing as the same path a person goes through with schooling. There are many stages to get the wool to a final result and quite a few branches to follow. If you would like to know a little bit more about wool please feel free to take a free class called Know Your Wool