Wool Spinning

Wool Spinning

Sketch of Carding Wool
Copyright Sally Shaw-Smith

Wool spinning is the processing of the fleece or coat of the domestic sheep. This has been practised in Ireland since sheep were first introduced by Neolithic farmers over 6000 years ago. If the wool is to be of optimal quality for knitting or weaving, several basic preparatory steps must be taken.
The fleece is made up of different textures and qualities of wool which must be sorted before spinning. It is then carefully washed and put on a stone wall to dry in the traditional way. Briars and pieces of stick are removed and a greasing agent is added to lubricate the fibres.
A thorough combing or carding of the wool removes tangles and causes fibres to lie side by side. Each fibre is covered by a layer of microscopic scales which cling together when the wool is spun.

Spinning Wheel

The big spinning wheel once common on the western Irish seaboard, is now very rare. It was superseded in Donegal by the smaller flax wheel, which spread countrywide. The two types of wheel were frequently found together in the same house, where the big wheel was used for preparing wool for knitting, or modified to wind yarn onto bobbins for the weaver.

In current times, wool spinning is still carried on in Ireland and is supported by organisations such as The Irish Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers and The Crafts Council of Ireland. Hand spinning is still carried out around Ireland, and a number of firms such as The Kerry Woolen Mills, Magees of Donegal and Avoca handweavers, produce high quality woven fabrics and garments by hand, as well as using modern machinery.

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