SEE A SHORT VIDEO ON CHURRO SHEEP AND PROCESSING WOOL BEFORE IT IS DYED
• CHURRO SHEEP
The Spanish brought the first Churro sheep to the Americas in the 16th century for meat, milk, hides and wool. This breed was well suited for the climate and topography of Oaxaca and the introduction of their wool was readily accepted by the weavers of Teotitlán del Valle.
Churro sheep come in a variety of colors ranging from white and light creme colors to grays, tans & browns, and black. They are often multi-colored or spotted. White wool is most often used for yarn because it dyes to a true color but other colors of wool are also used. Some wool is not dyed at all and sometimes a non-white wool is dyed to give it a color that cannot be achieved from natural dyes alone. Another method used to create a color is blending different colors of wool when carding. This take a finely honed sense of color as the slightest variance in shades will stand out on a finished weaving.
The texture of Churro wool can be very soft and fine. It is ideal for making yarn.
Churro sheep usually go about a year between shearings. By the end of a year long growth period, their coat has gathered burrs, plant matter and some dirt. Even though wool naturally repels these impurities, the wool needs to be thoroughly cleaned.
• SEPARATING, CLEANING & WASHING THE RAW WOOL
When it first comes off the sheep, the wool is matted and dirty. The first step in cleaning is to separate and open up the matted parts. Burrs, and other foreign matter are picked out by hand and the wool is "fluffed" to make washing more effective. Below is a closeup of Churro wool as it comes from the sheep.
After this preliminary cleaning process, the wool is taken down to river and washed with amole, Oaxaca's indigenous soap plant. The streaming water helps to rinse away the dirt and suds. Next to the river are large rocks that have been warmed by the sun. They make an ideal place to set the newly washed wet wool. The solar heat helps with the drying process. Final drying can be done at home.
• CARDING AND PREPPING FOR SPINNING
When the wool is dry, we comb it with carding paddles. This helps to further clean and align the fibers for spinning it into yarn. A carding paddle is like a large hair brush with metal bristles. See photos below and right.
In this closeup of the carding paddles, you see it has metal teeth mounted to one side of a plywood board and a wooden handle attached to the back.
After carding, wool is worked into long strips to facilitate spinning it into yarn.
LEARN MORE ABOUT YARN AND THE SPINNING WHEEL
|These Churro sheep have been sheared within the last few weeks.
Sra. Gutiérrez separates and opens up the matted clumps of freshly shorn wool.
After a pre-soak in amole suds, the wool is put into a basket for a thorough hand washing in the river.
The type of basket shown below allows the water to flow through and cleanse the wool. The inside of this basket is ribbed, making it a handy washboard.
Amole root, the indigenous soap plant, is crushed with a rock to release its sudsy cleansing agent.
Tadpoles swim nearby, unharmed by the amole root.
Piles of cleaned wool dry on warm rocks next to the river.
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