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HJS Studio

Fiber Processing

HJS Studio Logo

Studio Teaching


Holly Shaltz, Fiberist
PO Box 136
Boyne City MI
49712 USA
phone (231) 582 3206
fax (231) 582 0426

This will be a brief overview of the process of creating an item truly "from scratch", from the raw fibers.

Most of my work is made primarily from wool. First, the wool is shorn from the sheep. No, a sheep isn't killed to collect its wool! Nor is it hurt during shearing. It's just like getting a rather short haircut.

The next step is to select just the right type of wool for the desired end use. You may not know how many different types of wool there are. Super-soft wools that feel almost like cotton, to coarse wools suitable for rugs, and everything in between. I choose wool on the soft end of this continuum, so each piece is suitable to wear next to the skin if desired.

The handprocessing methods I use also keep the wool as soft as possible. Commercial processing generally uses chemicals such as strong acids to clean the wool as quickly as possible. It's fast, yes, but also harshens the feel of the wool. Besides, what do all those chemicals do to the environment?

After I choose just the right wool for a project, it will next be washed and then usually dyed using synthetic dyes. Washing is not difficult, but it does require some care to make sure all the lanolin and other grease is washed out of the wool without felting it. I use ordinary dish detergent for washing wool, ensuring no bleaches or whiteners are used on it.

After drying, the wool is precarded, a process few spinners use, but which I wouldn't do without. Precarding is the process of pulling each lock of wool through the teeth of a flick card, which removes all remaining debris and other trash from the wool without damaging it in any way, leaving it fluffed up and ready for the next step, carding. Or for a more textured yarn, I can spin right from the precarded locks. In the picture here, you can see how precarding produces perfectly clean and fluffy wool.

Precarding wool with lots of vegetable matter
Sections of layered batts and yarns spun from layered batts

After precarding, I prepare the fiber further by drumcarding it. Drumcarding creates batts of fiber--and yes, they resemble quilt batts and in fact the earliest quilt batts in North America were most often carded wool. Batts are fast and easy to spin, and allow design techniques such as layering, resulting in randomly colored yarns.

Finally, the wool is spun using a spinning wheel, wound into skeins, and prepared for weaving or knitting. Weaving proceeds very quickly after the many hours of preparation that have gone into making the yarn. Knitting is slower, but of course very portable, so it makes good use of oddments of time that might otherwise go to waste. Either produces very beautiful, and useable, articles of fiber.

I have timed the process of making one of my handspun, handwoven shawls. Using the fastest home equipment, and one of the fastest spinning wheels around, I found it took about 100 hours from start (choosing, dyeing, and washing the wool) to finish (carefully twisting the fringe and washing the shawl). It is a very time-consuming process! But there's still nothing I enjoy better than creating handspun yarn to make one-of-a-kind items of fiber.