From flocks to socks: an insight into processing wool

This is an interview with Colouritgreen in Devon from a couple of years ago. She talks about the sheep on her smallholding, and the processes involved in using their wool.


Betty and Bertie
Photos courtesy of Colouritgreen

What is your daily routine with your sheep?

Daily, it is a matter of checking on them, counting heads and checking they have access to grass, water and shelter – that everyone is the right way up :-), that no one is limping or behaving oddly or appears out of sorts etc. After that it is the matter of dealing with problems – such as pulling one out of a fence when she forced her head through the fence and couldn’t back off…, or trimming a hoof etc.

Are there seasonal differences in how they have to be kept?

Yes – there’s a whole calendar to it.  If we intend to lamb, the ram will go in with them in Autumn – traditionally the ram goes in on bonfire night, for lambs on all fools day.  After his visit (we borrow a ram) there is not much to do for the sheep during winter, in fact it is best to handle them as little as possible if they are pregnant.  We give them extra food if it snows, and move them from field to field to get fresh pasture.  As they approach lambing time they get extra food.
Lambing is a spring thing, and very intensive, we have to check them through the night and assist with lambing if necessary. Then you have to check the lambs are ok and worry about them too!
Early summer and we have to think about shearing (and that lovely wool!). They are more prone to pests during the warmer months so we have to check and treat as necessary.  Come autumn, time for any lambs that are being sent off to go, to check the condition of the ewes, and the ram comes to visit again.
Are they individuals with their own characters?
Oh yes! Sharona, our old girl is grumpy about everything.. although she always seems to end up alongside for a scratch along her back… Bertie is just gormless.. Saffie is stroppy but friendly at the same time.. the two newer girls stamp their feet at us and run off.. 🙂
What are their common diseases/problems?
There are many many sheep diseases, whole books of them – often with funny names – such as ‘daft lamb disease’ – I mean really, how would you know?  But with ordinary good luck the problems are flystrike, worms, and maybe  fluke.  These can be treated.  We don’t go in for routine treatment, but do if  a problem develops.  Sheep can also have problems with their feet, as they are designed for running about on rocks, not in fields, so they need a pedicure now and then.  Fortunately our flock is so tame we can just pick up a foot horse style and deal with it easily.  See all that patting and chatting to them pays off 🙂
And what are their strengths?
In many ways sheep are a lot more hassle than other livestock, but their strength has to be that they are not a threat – cows can be dangerous and pigs bite, and smell, but  you can stroll through fields of sheep without fear, and they turn grass into meat and lovely lovely wool.
I lived on a farm with sheep around us and just saw it as part of the scenery, but when we got our own I was blown away with how entertaining they are  – they are companiable, and funny, lambs racing around and springing about the fields are pure entertainment.  I wouldn’t be without them now.
Processing the wool
After they are shorn, we take the fleeces and pull off any dirty bits, and wrap them in a cotton duvet cover and store it in one of our out-buildings.When it comes time to wash some – well there are differing opinions but this is what we do.  We pull off about 100g of fleece at a time, and wash it in hot water with soap – carefully as hot water and soap plus wool equals felt!. Then carefully rinse it out.  Then we dye it at this point – or not if it is to be natural.

Carded wool by Colouritgreen

We dry it on a rack, then it is time to card it. We use a drum carder, and passing bits of the wool through this removes any double cut pieces, debris, and knots and straightens all the fibres out into a bit fluffy batt. At this point I often blend the colours on the carder, to get interesting shades and combinations – it really is colour therapy!

Spun wool by Colouritgreen

From there it is spun on our wheel into yarn, then plied then we measure the yardage and wraps per inch, and skein it and then it is good to go!


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