I have a tech job and I like it (mostly), but sometimes I need to do something completely different. Therefore I visited a while ago a wool-spinning workshop and I liked it so much, that I found myself looking for an own spinning wheel. Finally I found a secondhand one in a very good condition, so I'm now the proud owner of my own spinning wheel.
For me, the whole process, how wool or fibre becomes yarn is totally fascinating.
And I mean the old manual process by handicraft - and not todays wool industry, where there is so much to condemn! (Look at PETA Webside https://www.peta.org/features/wool/ than you know what I mean.
But don't do it, if you are thin-skinned !!!)
Todays domestic sheep comes from the moufflon and was domesticated around 10.000 BC, in the area of today's eastern Turkey and Iran. People soon discovered that the sheep is more than a 'meat supplier', but the coat has extraordinary qualities. It provides protection from wind, rain, cold and heat. Of course, the wool of this early animals did not match the one our sheep wear today. Today's wool fleece is the result of centuries of breeding. Did you know, that originally, sheep just would grow enough wool as they needed to protect themselves from the cold and wet? Earlier sheep had a natural coat change, but humans bred this away. Luckily there are some Sheep Breeders' Associations, who today try to preserve old ancient races, like the Nolana Sheep or the Wiltshire-Horn, who still have this natural fur change.
Todays sheep without natural fur change, need to be shorn minimum once a year. Not only to avoid infections by flies, maggots and other pests, also because the sheep could become overheated and die.
The best quality of wool comes from the shoulders and sides of the sheep and is used for the creation of yarn. Before you can spin wool, it has to be prepared.
Once the sheep is shorn - hopefully with a lot of animal-respect and very little stress and no injuries - all inferior fleece portions (head, lower leg, and belly wool) and any urine and fecal contaminated fibers are sorted out, as well as seeds, hay or straw, that may still be embedded in the fleece. In the next step the wool is washed and then dried. By washing, the wool-fat is partly removed, so that the wool does not stick too much during the spinning. Now the dried wool have to be teased and carded. Teasing gets the wool fluffy, carding is smoothing the fibers - and also cleaning it from leftovers from dirt. Believe me, it's a hell of a job if you do it manually, because it takes ages and it's quite exhausting (and boring). Luckely there are some little companies with carding-machines in germany, who offer chargeable teasing and carding service for hand spinners. As soon as the wool is carded and rolled, so that the fibers are parallel to each other, the wool is ready to spin. I have to admit, I'm more the comfortable spinner, I buy the raw wool already washed, dryed, teased and cardered. My hobby is spinning and not washing and carding... 😀
Above photo I made years ago in a prehistoric museum in France. The doll (I think it's female, because at that times the men usually indulged their hunting passion ;)) is spinning with a hand held spindle. It's not 100% clear when and where the spinning wheel was developed. Might be in China during the sixth century for silk and ramie spinning, or later in India for cotton. By the late Middle Ages and during the early Renaissance, spinning wheels appeared in Europe via the Middle East.
The above photo shows the yarn, I spun in the workshop. As you can see, it's not very consistent. But I don't mind, I like it that way - and everybody tells me, with more practice, it will become more consistant. (I'm not sure yet, whether I really want it more consistant.) Below is one additional yarn on the left side, it's Alpaca. It's wonderful soft and since I belong to the people with sensitive skin, I often feel uncomfortable wearing wool, if it's too rough. A friend of mine calls me 'Luxusweibchen', because I only want to wear alpaca and cashmere... 😁
Finally a few words about welfare of sheep, alpaca, cashmere goats, angora rabbits, silk caterpillars (yes, also they have a heavy fate) and all the other animals, who are wool/yarn suppliers. I don't think it's a solution, to replace such an incredible natural resource like wool with polyester and cotton, like PETA recommends. Synthetic materials are often toxic and not biodegradable, and did you know that over one quarter of all pesticides used globally, are sprayed on cotton fields? Is that really better for the animals??? I say no.
At least it's in our (the consumer) hands, how the animals are treated. There is/are wool/yarn/clothes on the market, that comes from fair and well-cared animals. We only need to look where we buy the products and verify the certifications.