Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Knit one, pearl one … One of the permacultural outputs of our pleasant experience of keeping a small flock of small sheep is wool. Following our attempts to shear a pretend sheep fabricated from soft furnishings followed by the real thing, you, me and especially our sheep, will be very happy to hear that I’ve enrolled on a two-day sheep-shearing course at Moulton Agricultural College in Northampton. Why Northampton, England? A touch of nostalgia (not to be confused with neuralgia) as it’s where I was born and grew up, so I can combine the course with a visit to my parents.

There’s a lot of things that you can do with wool, from spinning the fleece into skeins of knitting wool to felting it into batts to insulate your house and these require various levels of skill, equipment and preparation of the shorn wool. Washing the wool is a job in itself. Gabrielle uses soda crystals then Marseille soap then lots of rinsing. Be careful not to over agitate the wool as you’ll end up with a sodden lump of felt and definitely don’t think of saving labour with a washing machine, as you will end up with a useless matted lump. Once the wool has been gently dried on a rack, it must be carded (using two hand paddles or a hand-powered drum carder) where the fibres of the wool are teased out, giving you a lovely cloud of candyfloss. This can then be spun into wool, requiring skill, experience and a spinning wheel, or felted.

Felting meshes the wool fibres together in a controlled way. Here’s Gabrielle’s beginners’ guide to felting. An even easier way of felting, and great fun too, is needle felting. All you need is a handful of carded wool, a felting needle and an idea. The felting needle is a needle with very fine barbs, which grab the wool fibres and weaves them together as you jab the needle into your carded wool. The short video at the top shows you how it’s done. Happy felting.