Unless you have self-shedding sheep, your animals need to be shorn! If they are a strong wool type, there is very little money to be recouped for the wool and sometimes it will only just cover the cost of the shearing.
Some shearers will take the wool away and when they have enough take it to a buyer but if you are left with your wool after shearing don’t despair!
Today, I want to look at ways of utilising that byproduct so that at least it can be used for something.
To start off with, let's look at what we can actually make from our fleeces. If they are to be used for craft or spinning, it is important that they are skirted well and the bulk of the vegetable matter taken out (if any) so that the wool is clean and ready to use. Some people take the necks out, but this is only if they have a lot of seed or other contamination.
Making a latch or hook rug
First on the list of what you might like to do with your fleeces is to make a wool latch/hook rug.
Latch rugs are created using a canvas backing which has square holes in it. A latch hook is used to pull the wool through the squares, forming a knot.
Latch rugs were very popular years ago and you could buy a canvas with the pattern on it and the wool dyed and cut into even lengths to create the rug with.
They are starting to gain popularity again, but creating your own rug is a really great thing to do with your wool.
When I made mine, I bought just a plain canvas without a pattern. I already had the hook, so I didn’t need to buy that.
What you’ll need
- A canvas
- A hook
The canvas and hook can be bought online or ring around craft shops to see if they stock latch hook rug items.
Once you have your canvas, you can cut it to whatever shape you want. When I did my first one, I just kept it as a rectangle, as it was a bit of an experiment.
Once you are ready to start, separate small amounts of fleece, around half the thickness of your finger. If you want your rug to be even you can cut the wool to the length you want. If you want to use the whole length, the tips can be either cut off or left on. The great thing about making your own latch rug from your own wool is that there are no rules! You can create whatever you want. If you have coloured wool, you might like to take different sections of different colour to get a patterned effect.
There are various ways of using the wool. You can latch it in its raw state, or you can comb it out first and then latch it. If you are really keen, it can be spun into a thick yarn and then latched. I found it harder to latch with the combed wool as it is bulkier to pull through the canvas.
With a section of fleece folded through the end of the latch hook, put your hook through a hole in the canvas. When the latch on the hook closes, draw it back through the hole to create the knot. Once the knot is tight, move onto the next piece.
Once the rug is finished, it can be washed. Washing it in the bath is a really good way to get the wool clean. Once washed and dried, you have an amazing warm rug to sit on, use as a foot warmer or have on the floor. It's a very satisfying end use for your wool!
Felting and dyeing.
There is a bit of a craze at the moment to create 3D sculptures from felted wool. They do look incredible when they are finished and can look very lifelike. Felting is fun and can be used for all sorts of things.
If you are using white wool, you may want to dye your wool before felting. There is a big range of fabric dyes available in all sorts of colours, again the only limit is your imagination!
There are two common ways to felt your wool.
Hot water felting
What you’ll need
- Bubble wrap or plastic bags
- Hot water
Lay bubble wrap on a flat surface. Then place thin layers of wool onto the bubble wrap. Lay small pieces that face the same direction. Next,add a second layer of wool, but lay it the opposite way.
Spray these two layers with hot soapy water and rub the wool gently.
Put another thin layer of wool, at right angles to the second layer of wool.
Keep adding the soapy water and more layers of wool until it reaches the thickness you want and until the fibers stick together.
Using the wrap, roll up the felt and work it back and forth until it is smooth.
Rinse the felted wool until the water is clear and no soap residue is left.Once the wool is rinsed and the water is clear, leave it to dry.
You will know your wool is fully felted when you can’t pull it out, it also should not spring back.
What you’ll need
- Felting needle
- Foam pad
Dry felting does not involve hot water or soap as its name suggests it is done dry!
Dry felting involves using a needle to poke the wool so that it binds to itself.
The needles used in dry felting are extremely sharp with a fine barb on the end, so if you haven’t done this before, finger guards are a very good idea.
Needles come in different tip sizes, the finest ones are used for making shapes that require a lot of definition, for example the inside of ears on a dog!
For everyday felting, these super fine needles aren’t necessary. To start off with, just getting a feel for how the wool will felt is enough.
When you dry felt, you will be repeatedly stabbing the wool, so having a thick foam pad is ideal to felt on. It will save your furniture or whatever you are needle felting on.
When you are stabbing, make sure you stab vertically, if you poke the wool from the side you are likely to end up with broken needles.
The more you stab, the firmer the wool becomes, if you squish it, it should bounce back to shape.
When you needle felt, you will end up with a 30% decrease in the amount you started with so bear this in mind when you begin felting.
Dry felting and creating something from it, is very satisfying and can be a relaxing way to spend time.
The most important thing is to experiment and have fun!
In a world of synthetic clothing, there is still nothing better than having a good wool jersey to wear. It is even more special if it comes from your own animals.
Although strong wool can be a bit more scratchy than the fine wool fleeces, they tend to be less likely to pill (form wee balls on the outside of the garment).
So how do you turn your raw fleece into a jersey?
The fleece needs to go through a process of washing, carding, spinning and knitting before it becomes a jersey.
Depending on how enthusiastic you are, you can do as little or as much of the process yourself.
If you want the wool processed to the point where it can be knitted, joining a spinning and wool craft group is a great way to get to know people who are passionate about doing it and will quite often be happy to do the work for you for a fee.
It takes around 800 grams of spun wool to make a jersey, more for a larger one, so one fleece can produce three or more jerseys.
In some areas, there are also places you can take your wool to to be processed. Wool processors were once commonplace, but not so now, so it may take some time to source one. If you do find somewhere and they have a minimum amount they will process which is more than you have, combining wool from your neighbours or other people is a good way of getting it processed.
However you go about getting to that final stage of making a garment, having your own jerseys, beanies, gloves or scarves from your own animals is pretty special.
Using wool in your own backyard
Wool is a fabulous natural mulch. If you don’t want to do anything with your wool along the lines of making something with it, using it around the bases of trees is a great way of keeping the weeds at bay and nourishing the soil at the same time. Dagg wool is particularly nutritious for trees. As it breaks down, it releases small amounts of nutrients into the soil.
The amount you put around the base of your trees, vines, or canopies is only limited by the amount you have to get rid of.
It is important to remember not to use wool that might have any residues from chemicals like fly strike dressing or dip. Make sure you read the container to see how long the application lasts on the wool. If it is beyond the recommended time it will be fine.
Wool is also great for stuffing into holes or gaps in sheds. Just take the raw material and bung it in. Because it compresses so easily, you can get a nice tight gap filler that will stop drafts and rain getting in.
You can also turn your wool into pet beds. Just wash the fleece, let it dry and then put it into burlap sacking, cotton covers or linen. You can make them super comfy with thicker padding.
Your wool may not fetch a high price, or any price, commercially but there are plenty of uses you can put it to. The more you see around you, the more you realise what you can use that ‘unwanted’ wool for. Using the ideas above you can get to work making hand-made gifts for family and friends.