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Collect Open: Processing The Fleece

Updated: Dec 24, 2022


Once the fleece had been washed and dried the next step was to card it.

I used a hand powered drum carder which has fine metal teeth to tease out the wool fibres. The fleece is fed into the carder in small batches at the front and as the drum is turned, the fibre is combed through. This lines the fibres in the fleece up so that they’re all going in the same direction making the fleece softer and easier to spin.

The drum carder was also great for mixing different shades of fleece together to create a wider colour pallet. Altogether, I carded about 6kg of fleece for this project!


The process of spinning wool is an ancient textile art and can be done by hand with simple tools like drop spindles. I used an electric spinning wheel mainly due to the huge amounts of fibre I had to get through!

The fibres are drawn out by hand before being twisted together by the wheel. The spun fibres are then pulled into the wheel and wound around the bobbin. It’s a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time but you get into a rhythm after a while!

Spinning the wool myself has allowed me to make yarn with the exact qualities I need and produce yarn which is not readily available from commercial outlets. It has a connection to both the historical processes which came before it and the land the fleece came from, two things that I never would have been able to buy in a shop.

I find it fascinating that the Ryeland fleeces can change from season to season depending on all sorts of factors. Weather, food and stress can all have an effect on the fleece so being able to find happy sheep is important!

Spinning the fleece was a long process with lots of starting and stopping!

I wanted the yarn to be quite chunky and wasn’t too worried about it being completely uniform. The yarn was for weaving the sea so some uneven textures were a good thing!

I spun the yarn into 50g hanks on the wheel using a short draw. I have a few images I’ll post later of the yarn on spools and in hanks but wanted to share this part of the process in video.

At this stage, I was getting close to having my raw materials processed into usable yarn and was able to start thinking ahead to the fun part, the colours!


Once the yarn has been spun onto the the bobbin it has to be wound off into hanks. To do this I use a yarn swift. I wind the yarn around the swift by hand, making sure each strand is held under the same tension so that the hank is neat and balanced.

Each hank of the hand spun yarn weighed 50g, partly so I could keep track of how much I had but also so that I had plenty of hanks to dye into a range of colours.

I really enjoyed this stage, seeing months of work come together as bundles of finished yarn was a great feeling. I could start to see what this wool would become and the tapestries began to feel like a much more achievable goal than they had previously!

Once the wool is in hanks it’s soaked in warm water for a few hours to set the twist. I usually put the yarn into net bags and spin it in the washing machine to get the majority of the moisture out (unless it’s a very delicate fibre) then hang the hanks outside to dry.

The yarn shrinks as the twist is set so once it’s dry I wind it into a new skein to keep everything neat and under control.

You can see in the images the range of shades achieved when light and dark fleece is blended together on the drum carder. The majority of hand spun yarn I made was ecru so that it could be dyed at a later stage.


The link to my KoFi fundraising page is if you’d like to help me get to Collect Open 2022!

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