When the package arrived in the mail, the tag on the contents read “Polly.” Inside was an entire fleece of a Corriedale sheep: pounds and pounds, billowing clouds in fact, of soft fine curls all perfectly nestled within each other, light yellow due to the lanolin that was in the wool. It was the first raw wool fleece I had ever acquired, ordered from a sheep farmer whose farm I had never visited, but the tag inside introduced me to the sheep whose wool I was about to start working with. I wanted to go through the entire process of cleaning the wool, carding it, spinning it into yarn, dyeing the yarn with natural plant dyes, and finally, knitting something warm for the winter.
As I had ordered the fleece and waited for its arrival, I had thought of it simply as fiber, as raw material for my craft. When it finally arrived and I set down to work on it, it became clear that it was very much from a living thing — a warm-bodied, moving animal with her particular environment and diet and habits. As I cleaned the wool, I felt that I came to know quite a bit about Polly and how she spent her days. The lanolin in the wool made it slightly greasy in my hands, which meant that it had grown on a living body and kept it warm in the winter. It had that earthy smell of barns and the outdoors. Caught within the locks of wool I found tiny burrs and seeds and pieces of grass from the pastures where Polly had grazed, bits of straw in which she had slept. I found that, when I worked on the wool late in the evening before going to sleep, I would dream of sheep that night.
When the bundles of wool emerged from the hot, soapy wash, they had been transformed—the yellowish color of the lanolin was gone, leaving only a pure, soft creamy white. The bundles looked like a flock of innocent newborn baby lambs as they dried in the sun.
The carding process unraveled the intricate knots and straightened the tight locks, making them ready for spinning. No matter that it took me an entire evening of playing the same YouTube video on repeat before I got the hang of it well enough to do it on my own…
When it came time to spin the wool, on the other hand, I found Polly’s wool to be the dream of a beginning spinner. The fibers were long and had that perfect tension in their curls, so that they intertwined beautifully, catching each other just in time so that the yarn would almost never slip from my hands or break off in the middle.
And now… I’m finally about to cast on and start knitting. I’m halfway there with the “sheep to sweater” project!