Many of our customers want to know how the fleece that is keeping our sheep warm and dry today becomes their knitting project tomorrow, so here is the answer…
In the summer months, using large shears we hand clip the fleece from our sheep and roll each one up before packing them into large bags called ‘sheets’. These are then manhandled onto a small open boat to be transported from Auskerry to Kirkwall. Once in Kirkwall the bags are sent off to be washed (known as scouring) in Yorkshire. This is the only time our fleece leaves Scottish soil during the production process as there are no scourers in Scotland. The Haworth scouring company scours almost all the British and Norwegian fleece clip as well as some fleeces from as far away as the Middle East!
After this quick jaunt across the border, our now freshly washed fleece is ready to be sent off to be spun in the restored Victorian Mill at New Lanark. On a side note, New Lanark happens to be one of only five UNESCO World Heritage sites in Scotland along with Orkney’s Skara Brae and Maeshowe.
Our fleece is then carded. The main aim of the carding process is to comb the wool fibres. To do this, the fleece is fed through a machine which consists of several rollers whose surface is covered in combs (or teeth) These combs are coarse at the front of the machine and finer at the back. The wool fibres are then laid together into twenty eight loose threads on a large spool ready for spinning.
The carded wool is now spun or twisted onto pirns making 1-ply yarn. The distance the pirns move is adjusted to vary the thickness of the yarn. Full pirns are called cops.
The yarn is then fed through a winding machine to achieve the desired yarn ply. Our yarn is Aran style which is 3 ply. Therefore the twisting frame twists three one ply strands from cones onto another tube to create the desired thickness.
The yarn is then removed from the tube and wound into big loops or hanks and sent off to be washed. Once dried, it is either balled or wound onto cones and returned to Kirkwall where it is labelled or made ready for dyeing by hand.
There is a lot of time and effort involved in the production of our high quality yarn. The quickest turnaround time from blending to finished product including hanking and balling at New Lanark is six weeks. This does not include the time it takes to gather the sheep in, hand clip them and then wait for the right weather to send the raw fleece to the mainland nor for having it returned!