Wool to Yarn – The Tribal Process

Posted by Amir Roushan on

The most important material to make rugs or kilims is wool.

As sheep have evolved from their prehistoric ancestors to the domesticated breeds of today, so has man’s use of their wool, and the techniques and skills involved in its weaving. The prehistoric sheep had a coat of matted hair more like felt than a fleece that could be shorn.

Sheep were amongst the first animals known to be domesticated by man, and care of the flock led primitive people into a pastoralist existence. Certainly wool has always been the dominant source of yarn in central Asia.

Shearing of the fleece is done by hand and takes place once or twice a year, usually when the flocks have been moved to the mountainous summer place. The amount of wool produced by one sheep varies from one to three kilograms.

In the area where the best quality wool is sought, care is taken over all the processes of preparing the yarn. The wool is repeatedly washed and scoured until it is clean and the natural oil content is as desired. Sometimes chemical compounds such as potash are added to the water to help remove dirt and the superfluous fat and oils. The washing process is important not only to remove the dirt from the fleece, but also to prepare the wool for dying.  

Once the fleece is sheared and washed clean it is then spun to produce yarn. Spinning is a very laborious and seemingly never ending task, usually done by all community.

The most common method of hand spinning is with a drop spindle, for which the simplest whorl can be a stone or piece of clay, but a vertical wooden or metal spindle driven through a whorl in the form of a notched or disk is most often seen. With practice spinning becomes an almost automatic task, and it is common to see shepherds spinning while watching their flocks. Women and girls spin in their leisure hours.

They provide the yarn wool by spinning, and the yarns are ready for next step of dying.

The first step is scouring, which means the wool goes to the water and added soap and stirred while it is heated to simmering temperature and stays there about 45 minutes, then removed, cooled and rinsed until the soap has gone. The wool is hung to completely dry.

Tribes and villagers use natural dyes found in their environment for the colors of the wool. Dyes and colors can be found from plants, invertebrates, or minerals. The majority of natural dyes are vegetable dyes from plant sources: roots, berries, barks, leaves and wood.

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The dry yarn wool is now ready for coloring. For this, first the dyes will be mixed with water to create the dye bath and then the yarn wool is immersed in the simmering color liquid bath for at least 50 minutes. Then the dyed yarn wool is taken out from the bath and hung for drying.

After the colored yarn wool is completely dry, the weavers will begin to weave the rugs.

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