The main issue with storing wool is making certain that moths don’t get at it. Wool can survive almost anything else.
The best method is sealing it in something airtight. This might be some kind of sealable plastic box, or vacuum bags – the kind that you suck the air out of with your vacuum cleaner. NB: the vacuum method may leave the wool flat and crinkled, but you can restore it by steaming it for a few hours. Place the wool in your freezer for a few days before storage: this should kill off any moth eggs that might inadvertently have got into it (this also works for wool garments that have been infested with moth larva).
However, if you mean raw wool, just off the sheep, don’t seal it in plastic: that will just allow it to stew in the sweat and grease. Might not harm the wool, but no one will want to touch it afterwards. Raw wool should be scoured – cleaned – before long-term storage, and placed in an air-permeable bag – hessian, cotton, or hemp is good, or failing that an open plastic bag – if you’re just taking it to be scoured.
Goats are more like cats – only semi-domesticated. In some ways, that’s great – they’ll look after themselves. In others, it’s not so good – they’ll get into the veg garden or the laundry, and destroy all before them. They can be super-affectionate one minute, and charging at you malice aforethought the next. Just like cats, really.
Milk-goats are probably more domesticated, less damaging, and less homicidal than most. But they need to be milked at least once a day unless you want to deal with kid goats as well.
Sheep … well, temperament varies with breed. Blue-Faced Leicesters and Wensleydales are aristocrats and you are the peasant servicing their every need – they’re the cats amongst sheep breeds. Southdowns, Hebrideans and Valais Blacknoses are puppy-affectionate, if you’re willing to be a hands-on shepherd and spend time with them; they’re also great with children. The more feral Soay, Ronaldsay and Boreray are like wary domesticated dogs, or foxes. You can win their trust up to a point so they’ll come to you, but you will never be ‘pack’, and they will dash off at the first hint of something out of the normal.
However, virtually any sheep can be a pet provided you take them in and bottle-feed them from birth: ideally, pick a ewe or a castrated male – never a full ram, as they’re just as homicidal as goats, and often three or four times the size. Here’s a sheep that was raised with pups:
Its demeanour, body language, and movement is all dog. Hopefully, these dogs have all been trained not to jump on people – this boyo is only half-grown.
The downside is that sheep often require more veterinary input, and, of course, the shearing – unless you get a feral breed that naturally sheds its fleece, and are prepared to work hard on charming them.
… We now have the technology (sewing needles), but how do we get thread from wool?
I believe the next stage is a quantum leap from puffs of shed wool to thread, by means of boredom. Tending sheep is a dull business, even with plenty of Neolithic predators about. It’s hours, days, weeks of sitting around watching the woolly buggers eat, baa, and occasionally boink. I think some bored shepherd boy, or probably many bored shepherd boys and girls of all ages, in different places over thousands of years, got in the habit of picking up a piece of shed wool and twiddling with it. In the course of twiddling, they accidentally pulled some strands of wool together and twisted it – and, as wool tends to do, those strands stayed together, and just kept on coming, until the bundle of shed wool disappeared. I’ve done this with a ball of cotton wool while sitting bored in an A&E, waiting for an X-ray. It can be done with little to no attention or intention.
So now we have wool thread. It gets used for sewing. Then, someone has the bright idea of weaving with wool thread. And this happened between 6,000 and 3,500 years ago…
Did this knowledge precede the domestication of sheep?
In my previous answer, I assumed that this happened after sheep were domesticated. I based this on three facts:
sewing seems to have been invented 50,000 years ago (and therefore thread),
sheep were domesticated between 9,000 and 11,000 years ago – probably for meat, milk and skins, and
weaving is at least 6,000 years old.
(Knitting is a comparative late-comer, appearing only 1,000 years ago, give or take a few centuries – using cotton rather than wool).
However, there’s no reason why nomadic hunter-gatherers could not have picked up bits of shed winter undercoat (wool) and twiddled with them as they followed flocks of sheep across the mountains. But I doubt it went any further than that before domestication.
So, I think domestication came first, followed by breeding sheep to produce more of this rather useful winter undercoat – initially for felting, and then for thread, weaving, and finally knitting.
I had a little adventure into yarn production some years ago. I purchased the fleece, had it spun as a worsted-spun 4-ply, and wound into undyed hanks.
As I recall, the fleece, a rare-breed Galway (my Unique Selling Point (USP)) was £11 a kilo. I bought 10kg – £110.
I drove it to a spinning mill – around £200 by ferry plus 500miles petrol. Total in the region of £600 – lucky it was a multipurpose trip…
The mill charged £56 per returned kilo. I got 60-ish 100g hanks back, so about £336.
The resulting yarn was shipped to me at a cost of about £60.
>> 110+(600/2)+336+60=806 (travel costs halved because it was a multipurpose trip)
>> 806/60= 13.43333333
So, just to break even, I’d have to sell each hank for £13.50. And that’s without a ballband, gauge testing, packaging and posting, Etsy listing and selling fees, etc. A 50% markup would bring it to just over £20. And you’ll find, as you look around, that £20 is an average price for a hank of good-quality 4-ply yarn with enough yardage to make a pair of socks.
But that’s a profit of only £405 – half as much as I’d need to repeat the process the following year.
I could, of course, have shipped the fleece instead of delivering it, at about £100 for the 10kg. I could have gone for a less expensive woollen treatment, costing a mere £52 per returned kilo – and if you think that’s still expensive, you should watch this:
I could even have used any old fleece at half the price, instead of rare-breed Galway – but that would have eliminated my USP. I’d have to find some other way of adding value, such as hand-dyeing. Sadly, while I can do and enjoy dyeing… I’m not really ‘valuable’ as a dyer. I have no unique vision that allows me to create exquisite colourways that are Art in the skein, like my neighbour EweMomma does:
I’d produce plain solid colours like wot i dun ere:
The way you need to look at fibrecrafts is as a hobby, like golf, wine-tasting, or astronomy. A decent golf club can set you back £100 – and you’ll need more than one, plus balls, tees, club fees and funny trousers. Wine tastings can be as little as £30 – for a couple of hours, and you don’t even get to drink the wine! Astronomy costs – are astronomical. But a decent yarn is lovely and squishy in the hank, provides hours of knitting pleasure, and an end product that – with a little care – will last 1,000 years…
It very much depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Fundamental to this is the fact that the entire garment depends on, hangs off, the shoulders. So, what is the garment like? What is the construction? How wide are the shoulder seams, and what are the dimensions and weight of the body of the sweater which hangs off those seams?
You can rule out some constructions, depending on the sleeve treatment. Yoke sweaters don’t have shoulder seams:
They’re just knit in the round, reducing as you approach the neck.
Raglan sleeves usually don’t have a shoulder seam, because the ‘shoulder’ is built into the sleeve:
A saddle-shoulder sweater does need seaming as such, but the strap from the sleeve is sewn to the top of the body.
Then there’s the drop shoulder. You’ll usually find this on knitted garments that are fairly ‘unstructured’ – not fitted or tailored as a suit would be. They’re loose, over-sized, relaxed – they have ‘positive ease’, in the jargon. This generally means a lot of wool/weight is hanging off the shoulder seam, but the shoulder seam itself is substantial:
This is a style you’ll probably be seeing all over the shops this winter – a very sloppy Sloppy Joe style, possibly called ‘Hygge’ in the more fashion-conscious boutiques. Note that the shoulder is so wide that the sleeve only begins at the elbow.
This has a ‘set-in’ sleeve, a very tailored feature that you’ll see on suit jackets, and a relatively short shoulder seam.
There are a few variations on these four shoulder/sleeve treatments – for example, a raglan may be modified to stop before the collar, and the remainder must be seamed (perhaps to add a Henley or placket collar) but these patterns will usually contain instructions for seaming.
So: the methods I would recommend for the two shoulder-seamed sweaters (drop and set-in) are as follows.
Drop shoulder: because these are fairly heavy, with a lot of wool in the body, I recommend the sturdy, inflexible mattress stitch. This won’t stretch as grafting does.
You might also find it useful to sew on twill or bias tape to give the seam extra strength.
Mattress stitch is also the best seam for saddle shoulders, especially if it’s a heavyweight Aran. Here’s another video demonstrating the technique for this:
Set-In shoulder: These are usually found on fitted sweaters, which means less weight on the shoulder seam. For these, you can graft the seam. There’s several methods:
The standard way, with a tapestry needle –
or the knitted, no-sew way –
And, new to me, a variation on the tapestry needle method which is so, so much simpler than either of the above –
I’m gonna have to design something just so I can use this…
There’s a third technique which doesn’t get as much press because it’s often bulky, doesn’t sit well, and can irritate tender skins. But it does have its uses, especially when the seam needs to be very, very sturdy indeed. I would tend to use it only for outerwear garments, though it’s also a good choice for sleeveless sweaters, especially with thin shoulder seams like Melinda VerMeer’s Laurelhurst:
It’s the 3-needle bind-off:
Of course, you don’t need to listen to me. Maybe you want your Hygge sweater shoulders down at your wrists, or you can’t be bothered with all that in and out and back and front of Kitchener stitch. Maybe, like Melinda VerMeer, you want a clunky seam as a design feature. But these are the broad principles:
Heavy sweater -> mattress stitch
Light or fitted sweater -> Kitchener stitch/grafting
None. Sheep are not used in the making of sweaters.
The fleece of sheep is used to make sweaters, following scouring, carding, spinning and dyeing.
As a rough rule of thumb, it takes about 600g of worsted weight yarn to make an adult sweater. As the process of making yarn is lossy – up to 50% loss by weight – this means roughly 1.2 kg of fleece is used to make a sweater. Different varieties of sheep produce different quantities of fleece, usually between 1 and 4 kg, so a worsted-weight sweater uses the fleece of between 0.3 and 1.2 sheep.
In the best-case scenario, you break even. Small wonder, then, that farmers who do shear just bury the fleece on their land.
If you DO want to have a crack at making money,
consider a smallish number of rarebreed sheep, raised organically and treated like pet dogs (baths, brushing, housing, coats, etc.) – I recommend the longwool breeds such as Wensleydale, Teeswater, Leicester Longwool or Lincoln Longwool.
learn to shear them yourself – it’s not hard if you’re reasonably active.
learn to grade the fleece – again, not difficult, just a bit smelly and poopy if you forgot the baths and coats.
I was a maths teacher, and collected some data for a Functional Maths project I ran with low-ability students. One heavily-cabled Aran sweater I made took me 60 hours (I’m a fast knitter. It was complicated) of knitting time, and about 10 hours of swatching, planning and finishing.
At the current minimum wage in the UK (£8.21 an hour), I would need to sell that sweater for £574.70 to compensate me for my working time, plus the cost of the yarn (just over £50, so pretty cheap).
However, I am NOT a ‘minimum-wage knitter’, I am an expert AND an artist/artisan. In my professional career, I routinely charged £25–50 per hour for private work. Applying that to my knitting, that raises the minimum sale price of the sweater to £1,750-3,500, plus yarn costs.
I knit that particular sweater for my husband: people regularly complimented him on it, and, on learning his wife had knitted it, asked if I’d knit one for them – – – – for £20. INCLUDING the yarn…
From selling wool? If you mean running a yarn shop, people do, and can be quite successful. However,
my local non-artisanal yarn shop also sells cheap crappy acrylic yarn, fabric, supplies for sewing, embroidery, quilting, paper crafts, art (painting, sculpture, etc), and just about anything else you can imagine. The owner makes a modest living.
a posher yarn shop stocks only locally-sourced wool and mohair. The owner is independently wealthy, only opens part-time, and uses her profits to promote local charities. She does do a mean hot chocolate and gluten-free cookies, so I spend far too much time there.
A friend and neighbour who’s a yarn-dyer does make a living by selling online and through trade fairs all over Europe, and teaching, and giving talks, and Patreon, and ‘moonlighting’ as an accountant.
From producing wool? Eh. The suppliers of the posh yarn shop that I’ve met produce yarn as a way of offsetting the cost of keeping their animals. One also keeps milk goats and sells the milk, another keeps Jacob sheep for meat, skins and wool. They also teach, dye, design, etc.,etc. They’re not getting rich, and might not be making very much money at all once the accounts are balanced. I once had a go at buying fleece and getting it spun for sale: I did make a profit, but I had to sell the undyed yarn for nearly £20 a 100g hank – and the profit wasn’t enough for me to buy more fleece to spin the following year 😦
Almost everyone I know of who is making a living off fibre crafts is not just a dyer, or a designer, or a spinner, or… They’re a sample knitter and a dyer and a designer and a spinner and a teacher and a vlogger/blogger/podcaster and a magazine contributor and a book author and a photographer and and and. I knit, design, and teach, and it just about covers the cost of my yarn.
No, unless you are shearing your own organically-raised free-range sheep with manual clippers, prepping and spinning your own wool, and are happy to only have clothes in the natural colours that come off your sheep. Or, if you’re bartering your organically-grown vegetables (or whatever) with a neighbour within walking distance who does.
If you want to use plant fibres, even those grown, prepped and spun by you or your neighbour, then you’re pretty much straight-up damaging the environment from the get-go. Cotton is hellaciously bad for the environment, linen may be somewhat less damaging – though your neighbours will be less willing to barter with you after you’ve filled the air with the stench of rotting flax plants.
I hope I don’t have to explain why synthetic fibres are bad for the environment.
I don’t, do I?
You can minimise the environmental impact by buying your yarn from local producers, and looking particularly for yarns that have been dyed with natural, or at least minimally damaging dyes: for example, vinegar can be used to fix dye in animal fibres, though the colours are likely to fade over time. You can also mitigate the damage by reusing yarn from old garments.
However, by making your own clothes, whether knit, crocheted, or woven and sewn, you are helping the environment. For example, you will probably make better-quality clothes, which will last much longer than Primark’s finest. If you do somehow manage to wear out a home-sewn tweed jacket, much of the material can be repurposed for quilts, children’s clothes, and as patches for other clothes – avoiding landfill, and saving you money in the long run. In addition, fabrics like wool don’t require regular washing, so you’re cutting down on the water, electricity and detergent you use: if it gets muddy, just let it dry and then brush it off; if it gets sweaty, hang it in a draught for an hour or so; if it gets soaked, lay it flat near a heat source. A couple of sheep will keep your lawn down with less impact on the environment than a lawnmower.
I say dye in bold, because dye means something quite specific. It means applying a colourant, possibly with other chemicals, such that the fibre may develop a hue as intense as the colourant, and that the hue should not wash out, fade, or otherwise greatly change in intensity over the course of its use.
It is, on the other hand, entirely possible to stain cotton with food colouring – either the E-numbers type or the vegetable-extracts type, or indeed ketchup, red wine, blood, grass, and all those other annoying stains that Stain Devils were developed to counteract. But stains wash out, fade, and greatly diminish in intensity. They may not disappear entirely – I’m sure you have plenty of cotton dishcloths which have resisted detergents, bleach and boil-washes – but they do fade to indeterminately-coloured marking:
You can dye animal fibres and some synthetic fibres with a mixture of food-colouring (only the E-numbers type, though) and an acid such as vinegar or citric acid, and heat. For more information, see here: Thorn Maiden Dyeing.