Spinning Fleece into Yarn

Historical Significance

Sheep were one of the earliest animals that man domesticated for their wool and meat. Early man learned to weave baskets using vines then how to twist the wool fibers into long strands to weave larger pieces of material for clothing and cover. Most farms in colonial America had sheep and making blankets and clothing was done at home. Everyone in the family had their role. The men and older boys took care of the animals, sheared the sheep each spring, and many had the carpentry skills to make the tools necessary for spinning and weaving such as spinning wheels, yarn winders, and looms. Young children would be taught how to pull or “tease” the raw wool to prepare it for carding. Both boys and girls would help with the carding. About seven or eight, girls would be taught to spin on a drop spindle then later the wheel. Boys would learn from their fathers how to care for the sheep and perhaps learn how to make small objects such as a shuttle or drop spindle. Weaving on the large “barn” loom was done in the winter when there were fewer outside chores. While women wove most of the time, there were men, itinerant weavers who would travel about and weave for a fee.

How Spinning Fleece into Yarn Relates to Tipton-Haynes

The 1832 inventory of the estate of John Tipton, Jr. (1767-1831) shows some of the items that were used on the Tipton farm in Washington County, Tennessee. The number of sheep and implements related to spinning and weaving tell us that spinning wool into yarn may have been done on site in the early 1800s.

Student Activity

Students will learn to “tease” or separate the raw wool to remove any debris and to fluff the fleece to prepare for carding. Using their pair of carders they will brush the wool and shape it into a rolag. Then each student will get to spin their yarn on a drop spindle. About a yard of spun yarn will be wrapped around a piece of cardboard to take home. Demonstrations of the wool or great wheel and yarn winder or weasel (where the song “Pop goes the Weasel originates). Students will be shown how the “barn” loom works.