Shearing Sheep For Rug Weaving
Shearing – It All Begins With a Good Haircut
Nothing beats the softness, warmth, and durability of all wool antique rugs. Wool has the ability to accept color and remain bright and vibrant for many years. Although some area carpets are made from cotton, silk, camel hair and goat hair, a majority of them use wool for every part of the rug. Let’s talk about where the raw fiber comes from and how we get it.
Good Wool for Rugs
Sheep were among the first animals domesticated by human beings. It is estimated that the relationship between humans and sheep goes back to somewhere between 9,000 and 11,000 BC. It is believed that this domestication first took place in ancient Mesopotamia. Around 6,000 BC, cultures such as the ancient Persians began to develop sheep specifically for wool production. The wool industry was born, and they began exporting it to Africa and Europe along trade routes.
There is quite a bit of scientific controversy about which modern breeds are closest to the original wild sheep that were first domesticated. Now, there are approximately 200 different sheep breeds around the world. Some of them are grown mainly for meat, and others are grown specifically for wool production.
There is also some speculation about how man first decided to start processing wool. In primitive sheep, the fleece will fall out naturally, much in the same way we regularly shed our own hair. It is believed that early humans may have picked up tufts of wool that collected on shrubbery as the sheep passed by it. Of course, no one really knows what happened for sure.
Some clubs around the world focus on keeping primitive sheep breeds alive. These types of sheep can be shorn, but many times, their wool is plucked out by hand. This type of “shearing process” leaves the longer, rougher and courser “kemp” fibers behind. In this process, the only wool that is being plucked from the sheep is that which would naturally fall out anyway. The hair is not forcefully pulled out of the sheep; only what is loose is removed. The sheep are not hurt by this process any more than it hurts to brush the excess hair from your cat or dog.
Wool production and shepherding is one of the earliest industries in the world. In Judea, people were taxed on the number of rams that they owned. As man continued to develop sheep breeds for more specific purposes, they selected them for finer, softer fibers and longer wool fiber length. The length of the fiber is referred to as staple length.
Today, certain breeds, such as the Merino, are notorious for having some of the softest and finest fibers available. Merino is one of the most economically important breeds that was ever developed. It was developed in southwestern Spain around the 12th century. Sometimes, the fiber from this breed is blended with silk or cotton to produce some of the most lustrous, strong and soft materials for weaving in the world.
Wool for Carpets
Throughout Asia and the Near East, there are many different types of sheep breeds that have been used throughout the centuries. In some cases, a particular type of sheep may be found only in a particular village, tribe or locality. There is a considerable variation in the softness, durability, and amount of wool that local sheep produce.
Genetics is one factor that influences the quantity and the quality of the wool produced by a particular sheep. In addition, other factors such as the age of the sheep, whether it is a male or female, the weather, local food available and other factors can affect the quality and type of wool produced. If a sheep happens to become ill during the year, it can cause what is referred to as a “break” in the fiber, which is a weak point. There are a lot of factors that must come together to produce soft, strong fibers that are most desired by the marketplace. This is as true today as it was in ancient times.
Shearing the Sheep
Although many primitive sheep breeds do not need to be sheared, most modern breeds need to be shorn at least once a year. Shearing simply means giving the sheep a haircut, much in the same way as we cut our own hair as well. If sheep are not shorn, several negative consequences can happen to them.
For one, they cannot regulate their body temperature, and they can become overheated and die (especially in areas where the climate is warm such as the Middle East). In addition, dirt and other materials can become trapped in the wool. This can attract vermin such as maggots and flies, which can cause a serious infection. It is also possible for a sheep to become immobilized by an object in their path because they become stuck on it. Sheep that have long wool are also more susceptible to predator attacks because they are easier to catch.
Primitive sheep did not have these same problems because they shed their wool throughout the year. Modern sheep do not undergo this shedding process, and if they are not shorn, it can have a serious impact on their health. This is a result of the long relationship between man and sheep that has developed through thousands of years of breeding for wool production. The ability to retain the hair was necessary for a longer fiber to be developed.
When carried out properly by a skilled sheep shearer, the process is no more traumatic than getting a haircut. There are sheep shearing schools where a person can go to learn to handle the sheep in a humane way and in a way that produces the best wool. The sheep often become used to the process, and in some cases seem to look forward to it.
A skilled shearer not only knows how to handle the sheep in a way that is comfortable and best for their welfare, but they also know how to clip the hair closely and avoid something called a second cut. A second cut is where the shearer missed a patch, left it too long and then went back over it. This results in tiny, short fibers that cannot be easily processed and used in carpet production. A skilled shearer is necessary to produce the best wool for weaving carpets. In the past, hand shears were used for at the process. Now, many shearers use electric clippers, which are similar to those used to cut human hair or trim dogs. Many have guards to prevent accidentally nicking the animal.
Some people are under the misconception that wool comes from dead sheep. However, this is most often not the case because “dead wool” is an inferior fiber to that which was on a living animal. Even when the animal is to be used for meat, the wool is usually shorn prior to slaughtering the animal. The reason for this is that as soon as the animal is dead, its body immediately releases chemicals that affect the quality of the wool. This happens quite quickly, and dead wool is not considered to be of high enough quality to be used in most items. In practice, treating the animals well and doing everything possible to reduce their stress is the best way to produce wool that is strong and meets the high standards needed for carpets.
Processing the Sheared Wool for Weaving
After the wool is shorn, it is taken to a table where any unusable wool is removed. This can include any wool that is too matted to process, any that is stained with body fluids or that which does not meet the highest standards. After the fleece has been cleaned in this way, it is then typically cleaned with some type of scouring solution.
In nomadic tribes, this scouring solution can include roots such as soapwort, yucca plant and other plants that can act as a degreaser. The closer you get to the modern era, the more likely a soap or detergent was used for this cleaning process. However, it may be noted that in some areas of the world, the scouring process does not take place until after the wool is spun. This is called spinning “in the grease” and is still practiced in some areas.
After the wool has been cleaned, it is then carded and spun. Then, it is on to the dye bath where the wonderful, luscious, vibrant colors are imparted on the wool. After this, the wool is ready to be woven into the beautiful rugs that you see offered on this website and throughout the world.
We hope that you enjoy looking around our website to see some of the captivating works of art in our collection. Maybe you will search our website and find rugs online that speak to you in a way that inspires your design creativity and that you cannot live without in your home.