Assuming I have sheared my sheep, I would have a big (probably pretty dirty) fleece. At my Art League Class, the instructure showed me some of this (really dirty) fleece. It is all matted and gross. That’s because wool comes from sheep. Sheep eat food, and lay in things, and you know, behave like animals. When you shear the wool, it is known as a fleece. A fleece has to be cleaned before you can use it to make yarn.
According to Wiki Answers, ultimate authority on all things answer-ful says that:
Most "all-wool" sweaters weigh between about 3/4 lb. and 1.5 lbs., again, depending on the sweater's size and thickness. The most numerous sheep breed in the U.S. is probably the Rambouillet, which typically will yield around 12 to 15 lbs. of "grease" wool (that is, unwashed). After washing the wool, you may have about 5 to 7 lbs. left, of which 4 to 5 lbs. will end up in the yarn for the sweater. For those breeds you can likely get 3 to 4 sweaters--more if they're loosely knit and/or of small size.
Woah, folks. That means that I am going to be washing 7 to 10 pounds of nasty out of this wool before I can do anything else.
According to the folks at Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill you next have to skirt the fleece. Skirting the fleece means removing the wool from the legs and belly that is too full of manure to use. Then you much wash the grease out of the wool. If it is being done commercially, they may use an acid bath to dissolve the vegetable matter and then “pick” the wool by opening the locks and essentially fluffing the wool. If you are hand-preparing the wool, you might skip straight to carding. According to Blackberry Ridge again:
The wool fibers are then put through a series of combing steps called carding. This can be done with small hand cards that look much like brushes you would use on a dog. It can also be done on a larger scale with machine driven drums covered with "card cloth" which combs the wool many times by transfering it back and forth from one drum to the other as it is passed down the series of drums. We have "woolen" cards which produce a wool web with the fibers coming off in random alignment. This is in contrast to "worsted" combing that lines up all the fibers (as you would see in thread).After carding, I could then use the wool for spinning.
Let me tell you: I had every intention of doing this whole sheep to sweater thing from scratch. But after playing with fleece and a carder (even a drum carder, which is faster than hand-carding), I realize that it would take me an eternity to clean and card enough wool to make a sweater. Sooooo not worth it when I can just head over to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival this spring and score a bag of prepare stuff myself.
My theory: know how something is done, but be smart enough to know when to accept help. I’m accepting help on this one.