From the Sheep’s Back to Yours

Wool can come from different types of animals : sheep, alpacas, goats, camels and rabbits. What makes the coat of a sheep so appealing as a material?  It is a very good insulator, holding heat in when the weather is cold.  It is naturally fire resistant, and it is sound proof.  Wool material used on walls, floors and furniture dampens sound.

The process of turning the sheep’s coat into usable wool material usually begins in the spring when the sheep are “shorn”. The process of shearing the sheep is a real art. There are competitions to see who can do the most and who can go the fastest with different types of tools. Watch this sheep shearing contest to get an idea of how fast this can be done.  Isn’t it amazing how quiet the sheep are as they are doing this? There are records of speed and endurance in this craft. One man sheared 97 lamps in an hour. Another man sheared 867 lambs in 9 hours, the energy equivalent of running 3 marathons!

The fleece of wool is gathered and the less desirable parts are separated from the best. The selected fleece is then scoured and detangled, removing burrs, particles, and dirt. The detangling process is performed in a willower in larger processing plants. Scouring removes the lanolin or natural oils on the fibers.  Some wool is not scoured to remove the lanolin and this makes it very water resistant.  The Aran wool is an example of this.

(I remembered that urine was used in treatment of materials many years ago. Poor people saved up their pee and sold it to the tanner. This is where the term “Piss Poor” comes from. These people were so poor that they depended on the sale of their urine for money. But the really poor couldn’t afford even the pot for collecting the urine. That is were the descriptive phrase of poverty “not even a pot to piss in” came from.)

I enjoyed watching  this girl make yarn from wool. She explains the principles of manually cleaning and spinning the fibers. Of course the large processors use different methods that produce the same results. Machines are used to clean, detangle the wool fibers, and then spin for yarn.

There are many different breeds of sheep. Ireland has only one native sheep breed – the Galway.  It has been given Rare Breed Status. You can go to this site to learn more the history of the 300 year old breed.


The Aran sweater has an interesting history.  The Aran islands are off the coast of western Ireland and the people of that land used their wool to make a type of sweater that didn’t have all the lanolin removed with scouring.  The lanolin made the wool water resistant and was preferred by those that worked by the water – the Fisherman’s sweater.  This site describes the meaning behind the stitches of the Aran Sweater.


I hope you enjoyed getting to know more about the material I sent to you.


Author: terrisloanclark

I am Nanna to my Grandchildren, mom, wife, sister, daugher, physical therapist and friend.

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