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Making the Rugs

The key to making beautiful rugs is having beautiful fleeces to work with. Our 8 sheep and 1 llama grow a wide variety of colors and textures.  We have also included fleeces given to us by some of our shearing clients – there is alpaca, llama, mohair (from Angora goats) and sheep’s wool.

STEP 1:  The shearing

Shearing a very pregnant ewe!

Some people claim that shearing is an awful, cruel process.  Not so with Farmer Anne’s Kind and Gentle Shearing services.  In fact, it’s unhealthy and even dangerous to not shear a domestic animal that does not shed its fleece, because the fleece continues to grow until it is matted and so heavy it can prevent the animal from walking.

Each type of animal is sheared differently.  Sheep are placed on the ground on their bottoms, and rotated different ways so as to maximize the stretch of the skin to most cleanly and safely shave off the wool.  Llamas are sheared standing.  Alpacas, feisty emotional creatures, are laid on the ground and stretched out so that they can’t kick or hurt themselves.  Goats are sometimes sheared on the ground in a fashion similar to sheep, and sometimes placed on a stand where their heads are held still by a headpiece.  In all cases, the best method of shearing is the one that is (1) safest for the animal and the shearer, (b) fastest and most efficient (the less time an animal is being sheared, the happier that animal is!), (c) cleanest way of removing their fleece without cutting them.

Step 2: Skirting

A raw sheep fleece.

When  fleece comes off an animal, all kinds of extraneous things may be present.  Of course, there are the ubiquitous bits of manure, pieces of straw and hay, and little knots and frayed ends.  But I’ve also found pieces of wire, baling twine, children’s model cars, and large quantities of corn (presumably kept for midnight snacks). It’s important to shake out the fleece very thoroughly to get rid of any ‘second cuts’ (the extra short cuts of fleece that happen when a shearer goes over the same spot twice), and dirt and pieces of debris (we call it “vegetable matter’ or VM).  Then we lay the fleece on the ground and pull off the edges, removing the most matted and dirty parts.

Step 3: Washing

Whether mohair, alpaca, llama, or wool, we wash the same way.  We fill a bucket with extremely hot water and grease-cutting soap (we typically use a dish washing liquid).  We then cover the bucket and let it sit for several hours.  It’s very important to not agitate the material, because otherwise it can “felt” (all the pieces will start to stick together and it won’t be possible to spin it out).  We then pour out the dirty water (and with sheep’s wool it can literally be black because not only is there dust and dirt in a fleece, but lanolin and ‘suint’ (sheep sweat).

We rinse the fleece by hand bit by bit under the hottest water our hands can take, and then lay it out in the sun on a screen to dry.

Step 4: Dyeing

We don’t always dye the fleece; many of our animals have natural colored wool: black, brown, grey, peach.  We think natural is beautiful!  But for some accents and a little visual pizazz, we dye small quantities with bright colors.  There are many methods to do this:  there is dyeing with natural materials (berries, bark, flowers); Kool-aid dyeing (tends to run to the tutti-frutti palette); and acid dyeing.  We have tried all, and really like the colors made by Gaywool.   We set water to boil in a large pot (and note:  it’s very important to dedicate a pot to dyeing that you will not ever cook food in again!), and add the desired quantity of dye color.  Then we place the fleece inside and stir, leaving it to cook for at least 30 minutes.  Then we let it cool and finally rinse with cold water.   Again, we set this out to dry on screens in the sunshine.

Step 5: Weaving

Our weavers must first roll the fiber into strands large enough to be woven; they wind this around a jute core.  It’s a similar process to spinning, but on a larger plane.  They have many different looms of different sizes, and use a tough polyester thread as the warp.  Each rug is woven by hand, using a pneumatic beater to compact the fiber into a tight weave.  We find weaving still a mysterious and difficult process (having tried it!), so we are glad for their long experience.