How do we get from Fiber to Fabric?
I can tell you, that what I have learned about the fiber arts these last couple of years has blown. my. mind. When I was just a consumer-crafter that bought yarn at the store and then put it on some needles, the only thought about the handmade process was that something was created from yarn or fabric using various tools and the skill of the crafter.
It goes way, way, waaaay further back than that, before the crafter designs, before the materials are bought, before it resembles anything that is useful. The process that brings the fiber to the point of a yarn or fabric is filled with many steps. The vocabulary alone while learning about the fiber arts is astounding:
This is not a complete list! Many of the tools, techniques, and materials have their own set of vocabulary and processes.
Just so that you can get a glimpse at each general step in bringing raw fiber from its natural state on the animal (or in the field) to a fabric that you wear or use in other ways, I have chosen a few videos that showcase part of the process.Words can only explain so much and too much technical stuff can be boring, so I have tried to keep them short. Keep in mind there are zillions (maybe not that many-but a lot!) of ways to harvest fibers, process them, and produce textiles. What is outlined here is just a few possibilities out of many:
Natalie from Namaste Farms can shear an Alpaca all by herself!
Even when shearing our goats, we like to have a helping hand.
(I should mention, that first you have to catch the animal and that can be a challenge in itself! Natalie has a good video showing her technique for that as well. We have yet to master it….)
Once animal fiber has been harvested it needs to go through a process called skirting where you remove the edges of the fleece that gets the most icky and bleached by the sun. The skirt is not desirable for garments or other things that should be soft, but it is great for rug making and other crafts! During this process vegetable matter (vm-hay, grass, sticks etc.) is also picked out as much as possible.
A lot of raw fibers are sold at this stage to the spinner or crafter. When they receive it, the next step is to wash it:
This video from Blue Mountain Handcrafts is one of my favorites because she washes several different types and I enjoy learning from Beth, she is great.
After the washing step is when some decisions are made on how to prep it for spinning or other crafting. Some, may blend it with other fibers, use a drum carder, use hand cards, or just hand pick it until it is fluffy and ready for use.
Last year I wrote an article on our sister-site: Twisted & Plied, that overviewed how I process Alpaca fiber from washing to hand cards to spinning. Read it, or just continue on with the video presentation-the next videos share some of the same info as in this article:
From Wool to Wear: a look at processing Alpaca
If you only take time to watch one of these videos in this post I suggest it is this next one. Lois is a hoot! She teaches us all about traditional spinning from different countries and dresses in period costume for the videos. After this one if you have the time, watch some of her other videos, she has very interesting history to share!
Once the fiber is processed and prepped it can be handspun or machine spun. I stumbled upon this short video of a Tibetan woman spinning with a support spindle. She tells her interviewer that it is so simple there is nothing to explain. But then he explained to her that:
we have forgotton this ancient art of hand spinning wool as we do other chores.
After that she was willing to share. There are lots of other spinning techniques and tools that will have to be looked at in another post sometime, so for now enjoy this “ancient art of handspinning wool” as one example:
Here is a picture of my spinning wheel:
To bring things to a close, we will end with this talented Fastest Knitter in North America. Speed knitting is a real competition! Not one that I will probably ever strive for, but wow-those who do have got some real talent!
(Yes! She is knitting her husband a sweater out of their dogs fur! Some really interesting things get spun up in the fiber art realm!)
To get yarn transformed into a fabric it can be knitted,crocheted, or woven on a loom. These processes and others can happen with hand or machine or a combination. Most of what we wear now is done by machine, but handicraft artist are making a come back. Many handmade items are now easily found and purchased online.
There was a lot to take in as far as information and videos to watch in this article. The goal was to bring an awareness at just how much work goes into that handmade item you bought or was given as a gift as it transformed from fiber to fabric. Or, even if you were the crafter, hopefully it gave you insight into the effort that comes from others to prep your fiber of choice before you work your own magic.
If this were a book I could have easily delved into the raising of the animals, the growing of the plants and how they are processed. But it’s not-yet. We did not even discuss the behind the scenes designers who dye fibers, make blends, and write patterns.
Thanks for being a friend!
And thank you to all the shepherds, farmers, ranchers, shearers, pickers, blenders, spinners, designers, knitters, crocheters, weavers-fiber artists every where for sharing your talents with us!
I built a support spindle from stuff around the house! Click here for the tutorial!