Our guest artist/author is Zara Tuulikki Rooke. We’ve recently seen the beautiful fleece rugs she’s felted and shown us on the forum with her daughters. But she has taken it a step further and has built a loom and woven a rug from fleece.
Some of you may remember a post I wrote here in April about shearing sheep.
Now I thought I would show you what I did with some of that thick winter fleece. For this project, I used fleece from my own sheep, which are all cross-breeds (Gotland and other old Swedish breeds). One is white, while the others are light to dark grey.
I wanted to try weaving with raw fleece. I do own a loom, but it is not set up with warp. Now, I have a basic understanding of weaving, but warping a loom requires more than that. So I started thinking about how to construct something simpler to weave on, and ended up building an oversized weaving frame. The frame itself measures about 1.5 x 2.5 meters (4.9 x 8.2 feet). I happened to have a wooden curtain rod that reached across and could be used as a heddle rod, and I used forked branches to make holders for the heddle rod.
I made a number of equally sized string heddles by tying pieces of sting around two nails, hammered at an appropriate distance from each other into a piece of wood. I wrapped a heddle around every second warp thread and over the heddle rod. The warp threads have a natural opening (shed) due to the thickness of the plank that I used in the top end of the frame. The heddles pull up the lower level of warp threads to create the opposite shed. I was actually surprised at how well this simple construction worked.
I started weaving with yarn, to get a more secure beginning before I started feeding-in the raw fleece. The fleeces had all been skirted, but not washed, and I picked away some pieces of hay and straw as I went along. All I did was grab some fleece and twist it as I fed it into the shed, alternating between fleeces of different colours and pushing each row down with a shed rod.
After a while, I realized that it did help to tease the locks apart a bit before I started twisting the wool. I also twisted the ends around the first and last warp thread in each row. Amongst the equipment I got with my ordinary loom, was a rather ancient looking metal contraption used to keep the tension across the weave (see photos below). I have no idea what this thing is called in English, but it worked really well.
I finished off the weave with yarn again and tied off the warp treads in knots. Then came the washing and rinsing. We simply poured hot water with soap over the rug and walked around on it for quite a while. The kids were ever so helpful at this stage, and I figured that a little felting would help the wool stick together. I gave it a good rinse with the garden hose and also let it soak in an old bathtub for 24 hours, changing water a couple of times until it looked clean.
It took over a week to dry, but then it is made from the best parts of three and a half fleeces, pushed together into a rug measuring 100 cm x 120 cm (3.3 x 3.9 feet). That amount of wool can hold a lot of water. I still have to sew in the ends of the warp threads, but other than that, it is ready to be used on the floor of our living room this winter.
Thank you Tuulikki for sharing this complicated and wonderful process with us. Bravo for a job well done!