Sunday, July 15, 2012

Navajo-Churro Wool

While visiting a family ranch up north, I was gifted a huge amount of raw wool.  During a tour of the ranch the owner showed us a pile of recently sheered fleece the size of a pick up truck.  I asked him how much he was selling them for and he laughed saying they were all going to be thrown away.  And so happily, I ended up with two large bags of Navajo-Churro wool.  

each fleece is a different color
I learned the Navajo-Churro is renowned for its hardiness and adaptability to extremes of climate. It's wool consists of a protective topcoat and soft undercoat. Some rams have four fully developed horns, a trait shared with few other breeds in the world. The Navajo-Churro is also popular due to its low-maintenance reputation, resistance to disease, and lean meat.  Although this breed is often raised for it's wool alone, the rancher we visited was raising his sheep solely for meat.
underside of fleece
This being my first time working with raw fleece I decided to do some research.  I emailed a local artist who makes the most amazing raw wool creations.  She graciously gave me some wonderful advice.  She said that learning in a hands-on way is definitely the best way.  But as a general suggestion, if you are just playing around with the wool, she recommends not using carding combs or other mechanical carders to prepare your wool.  By using your hands to open the locks of wool you will  develop a sensory and intuitive relationship with the fleece, a strong tactile connection.  Using carding combs is fine when you already know what you are doing and just need to process the wool faster, but it is important to learn the fiber.  So, practice taking small hand fulls of your fleece, opening them up and observing the fiber and how it behaves in your hands.  You can "hand-pick", as this is called, enough wool to make a flat sheet or a hat or a pouch, and then felt it by hand.  Because Navajo-Churro is low in lanolin, and as so much soap is used in the felting process, she doesn't wash her wool first.  

I love her advice!  So I immediately spent hours picking and teasing the wool with my hands.  After about a half a day of doing this, when I felt I understood how the fiber acts in my hands, I went in search of a carder.  Low and behold, a spectacular neighbor came over to lend me her drum carder.  And after getting acquainted with the machine we ended up with a nice basket of beautifully carded wool roving.  No washing, not too much fuss. 

I am so ecstatic about this wool!  The smell, the texture...I have plans for a wet felted bag and hat in the near future.  We may even have to trade our goats for few Navajo Churro sheep.  


  1. I love your blog and just found you while I was looking through Farm Food Connect. I am currently enrolled in an urban farmer training program in ATL along with my husband. We are also educating our boys at home and are interested in starting our own homestead on the east coast. Is there a way I can contact you to ask you just a few questions about how you got started?

  2. Hi Andrea,
    I tried emailing you and it bounced back. You can email me at I would love to connect and chat about farming, homeschooling, etc.

  3. Hi, I was just given boxes of raw wool. No idea what kind. I want to use it for felting soap, as that's what I do, make soap. Not really sure where to go from here. I did take a small batch, and washed it gently in a small amount of soap. Then I used my dog comb and gently combed it into fluffs of fiber. I did felt one bar of soap. It worked. However, I have boxes. Ideas? Carding machine? Help?

  4. Hi there. If you want to dye your wool you can wash it first, otherwise, my suggestion is too pick and card your raw wool which will give you roving. Sounds like you have already begun to do that. (It's probably fastest with a machine carder but you can use all kinds of methods.) It is tedious but you are rewarded with a beautiful natural fiber. Once you have your roving you can begin felting. I love felted soaps. Have fun!

  5. Hi Maya, I want to use some of my raw wool for making felted soaps. How do you clean the wool without washing it? Manure tags, bits of plant matter, mud...

  6. Hi Yolanda. First start with a handful of raw wool and pick all the bits out; sticks, plants, manure, dried hard bits...everything- so that you have just wool. You can pull the pieces apart with your fingers little by little which should leave you with wool that is pretty clean. Sometimes when you pick the wool apart lots of dirt falls out so do this over a towel or cloth- or outside. Once your wool looks fairly clean and fluffy from you hand picking it you can try wrapping it around your soap in thin wispy layers until no soap is showing. Make sure you have many layers of wool before you start the wet felting process. (There are lots of good youtubes on making felted soap) Have fun:)