A year in wool

The other week when I visited Claudia and her sheep flock, I realized that I have a seasonal cycle when I create yarn and textiles. In a year in wool, autumn is the beginning.

In October, when most of the vegetables in the allotment have been harvested, a majority of Swedish wool is also harvested. For the sake of sheep health, the law says sheep are to be shorn at least once a year. Still, many sheep farmers shear their sheep twice a year: In the autumn, before the ram serves the ewes, and in the spring before the lambs are born. The autumn harvest is when my wool year begins.

Shearing seasons

The autumn wool usually has the highest quality. During the winter the sheep has been pregnant and the lamb hogs a lot of the nutrition. The winter in Sweden is cold and the fleece is extra lanoliny, not much different from our own hair in the winter. Perhaps the sheep have been indoors a lot of the time, leaving time for lots of dirt, straw and bedding to find its way in between the fibers. This leaves a winter fleece that can be dirtier, in poorer condition and with more and heavier lanolin in it.

A woman is shearing a sheep. The sheep is lying on the floor and the shearer is bending over it.
Professional shearer Elin Esperi shears Sylvester the Gestrike lamb in the autumn of 2021.

After that winter coat has been shorn off in the spring shearing, the lambs are born, and soon after the sheep gets access to lots of nutritious grass and fresh air, leaving the fleece in a better state for the autumn shearing.

Fleece hunting

The sound of moving shears sparks my year in wool: I look for fleece to buy, just like on any autumn farmer’s market. Or, rather, fleeces sort of find me and look at me with roe deer eyes and whisper: ”Spin me, spin me!”. And so, in late October I find myself with a compost grid on the floor with drying fleece, another fleece in the wash tub and a third dried and waiting to be picked.

A white fleece is drying in front of a fireplace.
The fleece of Lotta the Svärdsjö ewe is drying in front of the fireplace. Behind the camera are bags with fleeces of the Gestrike sheep Härvor and Doris, waiting to be picked.

This means that I do a lot of wool preparation and spinning during October, November and the first weeks of December. When the pantry is filled to the brim with newly harvested vegetables, I do my best to take care of the oldest fleeces before I dive into the freshly shorn. It is hard, but sometimes I succeed.

A tree

In late december a tree with glittering ornaments moves into the house, right where my spinning wheel usually stands. This is a quite time of year when I like to turn to weaving in the local weaving room. I get to destash and get out of the house during my two weeks or so of holidays.

A green twill weave in a local weaving room, three floor looms in the background.
Towards the end of the year I like to spend some time in the local weaving room.

When the tree is all glistened out and transformed to fire logs I get my spinning wheel back, and return to spinning. The sun is slowly coming back and lights up the living room again. I plan what to sow in the community garden allotment, alongside planning my spinning projects for the spring.

When the sun returns

The returning sun brings sprouts out of the soil and new inspiration into my mind. At this point I want to do everything at once. Weave! Nalbind! Two-end knit! Weave some more! I want to get outside and create textiles, and the spinning wheel gets a little dusty. My life moves outdoors step by step.

Close-up of a braid that is tied in one end around a toe. A person is braiding the braid.
Small projects I can work on outdoors start to poke me in the head in the spring.

At the same time the fleeces in my wool queue start to squeak in the back of my mind and I get a bit concerned about the risk of the oldest fleeces going brittle.

Make room for flax

In the summer when the temperature rises and the crops are more independent than the tiny sprouts just a couple of weeks earlier, I like to take my spinning outdoors in one shape or form. I dust off my flax wheel and spin on the balcony in the afternoon shade.

I also prepare smaller projects to bring to vacations and excursions – spindle spinning projects, band weaving, two-end knitting and nalbinding. Usually around five parallel projects or more.

Late summer collision

Towards the end of the summer, a lot of the vegetables in the garden need picking, all the while work has started after the summer holidays. I have harvested the flax, started lots of textile projects and need to finish some to ease my mind.

When autumn has settled and the most critical vegetables are taken care of, I have finished some of the parallel projects that sprouted in the spring. The wool queue is shorter and neater and I forget all about it when shearing season is back again.

What is your year in wool like?

Happy spinning!

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  • Read the book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
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6 Replies to “A year in wool”

  1. This is oh so familiar! We are moving into knitting/spinning season. My farming friend across the street and I will meet once a week and allow ourselves an hour to sit by the fire and knit, sharing stories of the summer harvest, family gatherings during the holidays, by January the seed catalogs start showing up and we discuss which varieties we want to try this year. March we get some of the seeds started in the greenhouse. Then if the weather if favorable those little starts will head out in May and hopefully all will be in the ground by mid June! Then I head off to Canada for master spinning school for two weeks of fiber fun with my spinning sisters and learning! Then back home to weed, prune, baby plants, preserve the harvest, keep cool on the shady deck while I spin or card, wash fleeces, plan classes for the fall. Then the cool weather sets back in around October and it starts all over again! I love my seasonal life!!!

  2. I’m not nearly so seasonally organized….maybe because I don’t grow vegetables in my garden (not enough sun), most of my spring is spent cleaning off winter mulch and weeding around our ornamental plants. At the same time I’m trying to finish up the big winter knits. In addition to the yarn tastings I do for my blog and books, I usually have a sweater (or three) on the needles that will be too heavy to wear in the upcoming months, but spring is the start of the next series of heritage sheep to look for. It’s also the time to spin the fleece samples I found last spring. Sumner and fall will be back to small projects and yarn/fleece gathering, and then into the cooler big winter projects. This year I need to finish work on my flax wheel and figure out how to squeeze in time to learn how to use a knitting machine. Never enough time to accommodate all of the ideas!

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