Lab Summary Week 4: Wool


Our third lab was designed to provide insight into the early stages of the textile manufacturing process, namely carding, spinning and weaving. A subsequent lab will be conducted on the dying process. Our primary goals were to gain an understanding of these processes and appreciate both the amount of work required and the level of skill possible when creating fabric. We experimented with a variety of types of wool from different species of sheep. Throughout the whole process, we worked closely with a local shepherd and wool expert, Alejandra Sanchez, who provided invaluable insight into the process.


The carding process takes tufts of wool from the fleece and straightens out all of the fibers so that they can be spun. We used hand carders, although traditionally carders would likely have used some kind of metal comb which they could pull the wool through. The hand carders proved very efficient, and we were able to card quite quickly. We had the option of carding 4 different types of wool: Cotswold, Leicester Longwool, Soay, and Jacobs. These varied in softness, density, length, and quantity of lanolin, with the denser varieties being more difficult to card.

Wool Type Weight BeforeWeight AfterTime 
Cotswold, (Nick)0.40oz0.30oz11.04 min
Leicester Longwool, (Albert) 0.35oz0.25oz8.19 min
Jacob(Sadhana) 0.30oz0.30oz10.08 min
Group A data on the time to card different kinds of wool
Type of WoolCotswoldJacobLeicester LongwoolSoay
Initial Weight (oz)0.3070.20.450.202
Initial Fiber Width (mm)0.692.131.632.86
Total Carding Time (minutes)12:409:3712:2610:13
Post-Carding Weight (oz)
Post–Carding Width (mm)
Group B data on the time to card different kinds of wool

Notably, carding was much faster than spinning and weaving. One student carded 0.5 oz of wool and then spun the carded wool. It took them 3 minutes to card and 2 hours to spin the wool. Although, some groups noted that spinning the wool they had carded was much easier than using the other, pre-carded, wool, likely because there was more lanolin. Unlike with spinning and weaving, additional practice at carding does not speed up the process very much, although it would allow for much higher quality of wool and the mixing of wool types.


The first thing we learned to do as a class was spin. This involved wrapping a piece of yarn around the spindle and feeding some roving, or carded unspun wool, through the loop to begin spinning. We then turned out spindles clockwise until the roving became spun yarn, continuing until our spindle reached the floor. Once we created enough yarn for the spindle to touch the ground, we could wrap the yarn around the spindle and continue spinning. After these initial steps, we were off! Everyone continued to spin for the rest of the lab, either in a group of spinners or doing so while other people carded or weaved. Spinning was a slow process, though each person went at their own speed and created a variable thickness of yarn. 

NameWool SpunTimeMinutes per oz. 
Julia0.125 oz75 minutes600
Emmet0.5 oz65 minutes130
Glen0.25 oz.75 minutes300
Data from Group C
Thickness of YarnWool SpunTime Minutes per oz.
4 mm 0.5 oz.30 minutes60 minutes
1 mm0.4 oz90 minutes225 minutes
Data from Group C with various thicknesses of yarn

As the students spun, we found that it was more difficult and time intensive to create thinner yarn, as you need to pull the roving for spinning more delicately. The data from group C demonstrates that spinning is a lengthy process for everyone, made particularly more time consuming when making finer yarn. Other students found that it was easier to spin thinner yarn with hand carded wool, as the increased lanolin content made the yarn stickier and easier to pull into thinner stands. As groups moved between carding, spinning, and weaving, we found spinning to be the more time consuming, and thus the limiting factor in our ability to create fabric, necessitating near constant spinning.


The weaving station was set up with looms that had a warp, or the vertical yarns already set up and yarn provided for us to weave the weft. These looms did not have a hettle, or something to separate the warp threads. Meaning we had to manually pick out which warp threads we wanted to weave in front of and behind before threading the yarn through. This process involved using a piece of wood to separate the warp threads before using a shuttle to put the yarn through. This process also meant we could potentially pick warp threads in a way that made a design. Many students found that picking the warp threads was the most difficult part of this process, though weaving was ultimately much faster than spinning. 

NameTime Weaving (minutes)Rows WeavedRows per Minute
Scott 12 3.25
Data on weaving


Because we were able to work on multiple stages of wool processing, the class got a sense of truly how labor intensive it would have been to create fabric in the ancient world. We found that carding was perhaps the most physically strenuous part of the process, but spinning was definitely the most time consuming. We also found that each person took to spinning differently and created different types of yarn at different speeds. We will work on dying yarn next week and hopefully learn even more about all the work and skill involved in creating woven fabric!

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