As you no doubt know by now, I love my sheep. The short story is, the sheep came to live on our then cattle farm as a birthday gift for my daughter, who was becoming quite the knitter. What started as a flock of four registered Romney ewes has become a flock of 100-head, which also includes crosses with Blue Faced Leicester, Cormo, and Wensleydale sheep.
My family’s love of sheep is rooted in a deep appreciation of wool, yarn, and natural fibers that can be used to create hundreds of items from sweaters to socks to blankets to art and so much more. When you think about all of the items made from natural fibers, it’s a little mind-blowing!
So when my daughter became more interested in knitting, we were offered a glimpse into the entire process of how the luxurious yarn is made from the coats of sheep. From there, it seemed like a natural fall down the proverbial rabbit hole, learning all we could about shearing, spinning, dyeing, knitting, and needle felting.
I credit meeting the Woolly Women with teaching me about wool – from sheep to finished craft. Within days of purchasing our tiny flock, my daughter and I attended one of their meetings to soak up all we could about wool. These women used wool in different ways, but it was at that first meeting that we were introduced to needle felting.
But one doesn’t merely walk out to the pasture and grab some wool from a sheep and start needle felting! On no! There are a few steps in between!
The Shearing Shed
We chose our sheep because of the type of coats, or fleece, they have. For a breakdown of the different types, I encourage you to look at my blog series about each breed, but for simplicity, let’s focus on Romney, my first love.
Romney fleece is well-suited to needle felting because it’s soft and easy to work with. We shear our sheep once per year, aligning with the seasons to ensure they are warm in the winter months. We hire a professional sheep shearer to remove the fleece from our sheep. Then we collect it, and shake as much debris as we can out of the fleece. We then skirt it and prepare it for the next step.
Spinning Wheel Keeps Turning
I am fortunate enough to have my friend and partner in the Nome Schoolhouse, Chris Armbrust, process my wool at her Dakota Fiber Mill. Hers is the only full-service fiber processing mill in the state, and she has been making yarn and roving from sheep, alpaca, goat, camel, Bison, and more since 2010.
The mill begins by washing the fleece, then dries it before continuing to carding. Before the fleece is carded, it must be picked apart in the picker so that it easily goes through the carder.
I enjoy using roving, which is made when the carded fibers are combed and straightened into a string of wool suitable for spinning. I wrap the roving into bundles perfect for needle felting! Running the roving through the pin drafter several times i
s necessary prior to spinning the wool to create yarn. Following spinning, plying and skeining the wool is “finished” to set the twist and allow the yarn to open up to show off its beauty.
A Rainbow of Colors
While the wool is gorgeous in its natural color, it can also be dyed to create nearly any color imaginable! Wool can be dyed at nearly any point in its process – from before washing to after washing to after spinning. Wool accepts dyes beautifully and holds the color exceptionally well.
I used to dye my wool here at the farm but the high demand for all the colors has led to us moving the dying to Chris’s fiber mill. My wide selection, as well as my kits, show off my love of saturated colors. Sometimes I let a beautiful color be the inspiration for the project – “What could I make with this hot pink Romney today?!”
If you’re interested in learning even more about wool, join the Bear Creek Needle Felting Academy! I’m on a mission to help others learn needle felting from skills and techniques to understanding the wool we use. You’ll be challenged, inspired, and connected to a whole community of needle felters!
Watch a video showing the entire process by Chris at the Dakota Fiber Mill below.