natural color yarn

Spinning the Yarn

As seen in the section on wool, sheep usually go about a year between shearings. By the end of a year-long growth period, their woolly coat has gathered burrs, plant matter and some dirt. Even though wool naturally repels these impurities, it needs to be thoroughly cleaned, both manually and with amole. When the wool is dry after washing, it is combed with carding paddles to separate, clean, and align the fibers before spinning it into yarn on the spinning wheel.

The art of spinning wool takes years to master. The width, texture and tensile strength can vary greatly. When weaving a piece it usually requires that all the different colors of yarn be made to the same specifications. Otherwise the piece will be uneven, hard to weave, and aesthetically unpleasing. Below are two weights of yarn.

two weights of yarn

Porfirio's mother uses a manually powered wooden spinning wheel. In addition to making yarn, the spinning wheel is used to wind bobbins and to roll yarn from a ball into a large loop to be placed over the Biilieelii (Zapotec) that feeds the yarn onto the bobbins.

wooden spinning wheel
Wooden spinning wheel

In the photo below, you can see how the wheel is turned with a hand crank, and how the spinner holds the carded wool back from the spindle so that it becomes a twisted, even strand of yarn before it is rolled up on the spindle. If the yarn is too thin it will break easily. It must be made in one consistent texture and width for a high-quality weaving.

spinning yarn
close-up of spinning yarn
The wool twisting into yarn as it feeds onto the spindle

Preparing the Yarn for Weaving

After spinning, the wool is often naturally dyed and then hung up to drip dry. When it is dry, it is hung on storage pegs in the same large loops as when it was dyed. Later the yarn is wound onto bobbins for use on the loom.

naturally dyed yarns
A rainbow of yarns waiting to be incorporated into weavings.
bobbins of yarn
Our bobbins are made of carrizo, a plant that is similar to bamboo.
A device called Biilielii in Zapotec, used for winding yarn
Yarn is placed on a rotating device, called a Biilielii in Zapotec, so that it can be fed onto a bobbin.