Buying wool is an adventure, there are so many different breeds to try and all kinds of small farmers across the country raising that special small flock.
So, how do you find them? Where are the places to look to find wool that is produced locally so you can support a small farmer and try out some amazing wool?
I have recently decided to expand my horizons, wool wise and see what other breeds and fleeces I might enjoy playing around with. Which has lead me to searching around online for wool sources, just like you. Here’s what I’ve found.
Is Spinning Your Own Yarn Worth It? goes over the math of spinning vs buying wool yarns.
Search “buy wool from small farmer” for local map
One of the easiest places to find local wool is on your computer or phone! Just search “buy wool from a small farmer” or “raw wool fleece for sale” and see what comes up.
Be sure to put in the reference to wool, not just fleece, since you want wool not made made polyester material for sweatshirts!
While this sounds basic, using a specific reference to wool or sheep saves you a lot of frustration. I have to admit, when I say “fleece” I mean wool, of course. But apparently not most other folks, they mean the fake stuff, so be specific here.
Look for local wool based classes (learn to spin, knit, felt, crochet)
A bit of a sideways approach to finding local wool is to see if anyone in your area is offering classes on learning to do a fiber art. It could be knitting, crochet, weaving, spinning, felting, anything that uses wool.
I’m not saying that you need to take the classes, you could, but what you are looking for is someone who is offering classes to promote her own wool shop.
I found a local alpaca farm by looking for the farm and getting nothing, but then happened across classes and thought, that’s interesting, let me see what all types of classes are offered here. That’s when I found the shop pictures.
The reason I’m pointing this out is that it seems like most folks interested in wool crafts are more in the creative side of things, making their own projects and attending fiber shows and festivals. But not so much into getting found online.
This is why you have to poke around a little and see what you can discover by looking for other things than directly looking for the wool to spin, which some of these farmers have, it can just be hard to find it!
Check out vendor lists for fiber festivals
Looking at the vendor lists for fiber festivals is one of my favorite ways to figure out who in your area, or close to your area has wool for sale. All of the vendors will be listed and most have links to a website or at least a Facebook page.
Not all vendors have an online presence, some just have an email, but they usually also have a description in the vendor list of what they carry or plan to bring to the festival so you’ll have an idea of what to ask about in the email.
Email early in the year
I would plan to start searching and inquiring about wool early in the year, maybe even January. Most sheep, at least in the U.S., are not being shorn yet, but if you want on the list to choose fleeces contact the farm before shearing.
If you are starting your search for spinning wool any other time of the year, keep looking and see what you can find anyway. You never know what will catch your eye.
This will also give you some email lists to get on so that you are one of the first to pick fleeces after the next shearing!
Plan to do your own wool prep
If you are willing to do your own wool preparation, you can drastically expand your options for getting great wool to work with. By wool preparation, I mean you should be willing to work with a raw fleece as well as washed or roving.
Of course, if you are not comfortable with washing your own wool, then buy washed only, but if you are willing to do the washing, your options expand tremendously.
What does doing your own wool prep have to do with getting wool from small farmers? A lot actually.
Unless you are fortunate enough to live near a custom wool processor, you’d have to send off your wool for processing, wait for an opening in the mill’s schedule, then pay for the work you had done and have it shipped home.
That’s a lot of time, coordination and effort put into getting wonderful wool to the customer. It also takes a decent amount of money.
I did some quick back of the napkin type math and figured up around $20 per pound for wool to be processed into roving. This is with meeting the minimum order and does not count extra washes (if needed) or shipping.
So, to get that 4 ounce ball of roving, the farmer had to pay $5 in processing. This is added cost to you that does not make the farmer any money, she is just paying herself back for the processing. All this is avoided with raw fleeces.
Don’t get me wrong, I love prepared wool! Actually I just ordered some and it will hopefully come today!
However, it does take more effort for the small farmer who is already a busy person, so if you are willing to work with unwashed wool, you may increase the local farmers who you can buy wool from.
I should also mention, you can send the wool that you buy to the processor yourself.
Know that small orders, under 7 pounds, will be charged extra per pound of wool processed, but other than that, you can order anything you would like which would further open up your spinning options.
Here’s a nice article on washing wool from Clemes.com, which has a great chart at the bottom giving you amounts of fiber wash to use based on water amount and weight of wool.
Plan around farmer’s schedule
While this tip is somewhat related to some of the others, it is important to know that farms operate on a sheep based schedule, not a spinning enthusiast based schedule.
This is circling back to the calling early and spring shearing. While some breeds, like the long wool breeds, need shearing twice per year, most sheep need shearing once, usually in the spring before lambing.
This means that your local sheep farmer will be crazy busy on shearing day and soon to be super busy with lambing season!
If those fleeces do get sold before lambing, there will probably be at least a month or so of concentrating on lambing instead. This makes sense, the fleece will wait but the lambs won’t.
When To Shear Sheep is an article from my livestock site that goes over the different times that a farmer would decide to shear.
Understand that conditions vary, including the sheep!
Another more farm centric tip is for you to know that conditions vary, with every sheep and every year. For instance, as a sheep grows the fleeces will change. Usually to get a bit heavier and thicker, but not always.
Some breeds change color as the sheep ages, the fleece can change color based on the year, especially how much summer sun the darker fleeces get, and the fleece, actually the grease, will change based on the diet of the sheep.
In case you didn’t know, conditions affecting the fleece is the reason why shearing takes place just before lambing. Lambing is a stressor which weakens the fleece fiber, causing a weak spot and possibly breakage.
To keep the weak spot in the least damaging part of the fiber, you shear to have a very short regrowth on the sheep at lambing, so any weak spots are on the end of the wool rather than in the middle.
Consider buying wool to be an adventure
I think of buying wool as an adventure, especially when I am considering a raw fleece, it’s almost like a present! Really, you never know what you are going to get from your fleece or what you’ll be able to do with it until you try.
I think this is why some farms have fleeces reserved a year in advance, the handspinner finds a fleece that is perfect and wants to be sure to be first on the list for that fleece next year, as well!
I have my own sheep, we actually raise sheep for a living, commercial cross ewes that are mostly Dorset or Polypay based. I have a black ewe that I keep the fleece from and keep a few others that catch my eye at shearing.
It’s fun to pick out fleeces, but I have to admit, not all of them work out for my style of spinning or the projects that I plan to make. I just like to see what happens and enjoy messing around with each fleece to see what it will do for me.
However, even as a shepherd, I buy fleeces when I want something specific. So far, my favorite fleeces that I have purchased are naturally colored Shetland washed fleeces.
They are wonderful to work with and very different from the wool from our sheep. I’m glad I gave it a shot and that’s the point I’m trying to make, I had to give Shetland a try to find out if it would work for me.
6 Wools That Are Hard To Spin goes over some things you’ll want to be on the look out for when buying wool.
Put up ad online local platforms
If you are not having any luck locating a local or local enough wool source, consider putting up an ad online. You never know who will see your ad so it’s worth a try.
If you are on Facebook, try searching for groups of fiber enthusiasts and asking around. Also try spinning and weaving guilds, these folks are always looking for a way to help other wool lovers connect with wool sources.