How Wool Becomes Thread And My First Real Look At A Loom

What is wool? What is Thread? See that pile of stuff around that recently shorn sheep? That’s wool for you non farmers like me.  I’ve always wondered how that got turned into thread.  Just looking at it, the wool is too short as it comes off the animal to be any good as thread. I mean, what did they do, tie all the little threads together?

Today I went to a local craft fair and got to watch people spinning wool into thread.  There were hand-held spinners (reminded me of trying to untangle a phone cord) and spinning machines with wheels three feet in diameter.  But in all cases the process consisted of someone taking a cloud of wool, stretching it out and then allowing the spinner to twist it into thread.  I’ve always wondered what the wheel did. I though the thread was drawn across it.  But as it turns out, the wheel is simply the motivating force (like the wheel in your turbocharger) that spins the bobbin and twists the wool into yarn.
One of the spinners, a tall, thin fellow named Dave, gave me a quick lesson in how wool becomes yarn.  He says wool has all sorts of tiny hooks that make it perfect for spinning.  The more the wool is twisted the tighter it becomes.  He stretched out a cloud of it to show me how it held together under tension even before the spinner got to it.  I asked Dave if you could take the wool directly from the sheep and turn it into yarn.  I’d always assumed there was some sort of processing that made the threads.  Dave said you could go directly from the sheep to the spindle but the wool would be greasy and dirty.
There was a spinning machine there for sale for $200. I was tempted but what in the world would I do with the thread once I’d spun it?  Still, I felt I’d learned something; enough to make sense of spinning.
Next I wondered over to the section of the fair where I could find the weavers.  There were several small looms but fewer weavers then spinners.  I watched one lady named Mary weave a few lines…strands…threads, whatever.  She was sitting at a loom with six or seven treadles.
Now I’ve seen looms before—mostly in pictures—but this was the first time I’d actually concentrated at looking at one.  I came away not entirely sure what to think about the experience.  The machine and the process appear much more complicated than spinning.  Unlike the spinning area where I felt my knowledge base had expanded geometrically, I left not sure that I had learned anything about weaving I hadn’t already known—not that I think I know anything.  And that’s the problems exactly; whereas I feel I know enough now to deal with spinning at least on an intellectual level, I’m lost on weaving. Perhaps I’ll take the course they give at the art association later next year.

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