How to process raw sheep's wool to yarn

Written by eleanor mckenzie Google
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How to process raw sheep's wool to yarn
It is relatively easy to source raw wool from a variety of sheep breeds. (Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images)

The revival in hand crafts of all kinds has also sparked a renewed interest in knitting. Knitting requires wool of course, and many knitting enthusiasts are turning to make their own wool rather than pop down the local wool shop. The raw products and tools needed to turn a fleece from a local farmer into the yarn for a jumper are widely available throughout the UK.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Raw fleece
  • Detergent
  • Rubber gloves
  • Carding brushes
  • Spinning wheel or drop spindle
  • Spools or spindles

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  1. 1

    Buy a fleece. You'll find a supplier in the Wool Directory, on wool makers personal websites, such as, or on eBay. Clean the fleece first. A newly-shorn fleece full of oils and lanolin, plus manure and vegetable matter get tangled up in it creating "tags" which need to be cut off before washing. This part of the process is called "skirting" the fleece because most of these tags are around the legs, belly and rear end. You then need to hand wash it. The Wool Directory advises you to always wear rubber gloves when washing a fleece, and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards, because of risk of infection from the fleece. Sheila Dixon at Handspinner advises putting the fleece in a net bag to prevent "felting" the fleece. This is caused by washing and rinsing the fleece in water of different temperatures and scouring the fleece too vigorously. Allow the fleece to dry naturally outdoors if possible.

  2. 2

    Next, card the fleece. This process, using a machine called a "carder" straightens the wool fibres and removes any remaining tags or dirt. An industrial carding machine is a series of rotating rollers covered in tiny fibres. Home wool makers use a hand carder that closely resembles a curry comb for grooming horses. These are sold in pairs, as you need to place amounts of your raw fleece between the two pads and gently tease the fibres out by passing one pad over the other.

  3. 3

    Industrial producers comb the wool at this stage, if they are using the yarn to make worsted -- frequently used for men's suits --by first putting it through a gilling machine. This aligns the fibres in the same direction. The combing process removes "noils," which are fibres that are too short; and "nepps" which are tangled bunches of fibres. Combing produces a continuous rope of yarn, which is called "sliver." This rope is put through the gilling machine again and the final product is called "roving." Fibres for use as knitting wool, don't need the combing process and go straight to spinning.

  4. 4

    Spin your carded fibres into yarn. Home hobbyists can use a drop spindle or a spinning wheel. The drop spindle is easier to use, according to Sheila Dixon, who also claims that it produces a finer yarn. Cornish Wools use a ring spinning frame, which has several spindles rotating at high speeds. Once spinning is completed, the yarn is wound onto spindles to form cones of yarn. To create two or three-ply yarn, spin two or three cones together of the same, or different colours. This gives the yarn an extra twist that adds strength.

Tips and warnings

  • Never wash home-made yarn or wool in a washing machine, as it will shrink considerably, ruining the fabric.

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