The role of the spinner is to select the best suited wool for weaving, to produce a thread corresponding to the required level of quality for Aubusson tapestries.
Handmade spinning suits very well smaller orders from artistic professions, such as weavers: the thread thickness is adapted to its weaving use (25 to 26 micrometer).
The wool sometimes comes from New-Zealand or Australia, but for some specific realizations, in order to match at best with the weaver’s demand, the spinner could rather use the products of a French wool worker. Creuse and Limousin are thought of as historical ovine breeding territories. The breeders and the wool craftsman always integrate in this sector.
The first step of the spinning is the carding, where the wool is detangled when going through the drums of the card. Filled with very thin steel peaks and turning at full speed, the card allows dividing and paralleling the wool fibers. Following the size of the fiber and the destination of the thread, the wool is spun directly coming out the card or, in the case of extra fine wool, combed once more.
Strands and ribbons of wool are then obtained and will be turned into yarns. It is now time to stretch them on the spinning frame to refine them progressively. This step is called roving and at this point, the obtained thread is not resistant at all and can be ripped off by only pulling on it. It is actually the twist born from the threading with a couple other strands which increases its resistance and make it more regular (the ply yarns).
Thin, rather elastic and warped, the yarn is generally white or off-white (except in the case of naturally brown or black wool) and can thus goes to the vat of dye.
Once they are sorted by fiber type and quality, the fleeces go through different preparing treatments before getting ready to be spun.
These wool-priming steps are conducted by specialized firms: wool washing. There is only a few remaining washing centers in France, among them the Lavage de Laines du Bourbonnais, right next to the Creuse department.
In its raw state, the wool contains a percentage of impurities that goes from 30 to 70%. To be able to be spun, it has to get rid of the maximum amount of foreign bodies (sand, soil residue, vegetal fibers, seeds etc.) and of most of the grease. This grease, called “suint” in French (wool grease), is produced by the sheep to protect himself. It is sometimes collected during the washing process, to be refined for the cosmetic industry (lanolin).
The washing process occurs in two steps: skirting (“louvetage” in French), which is a dry-cleaning treatment to dust the wool, then scouring, which is the passage of the wool throughout a series of hot baths (50 to 60°C/122 to 140°F) of water, soap and sometimes lye or any other degreasing base. The washing is progressive. Soaking comes first to eliminate soil residue and the water-soluble wool grease. Then the soap degreasing part allows the elimination of the non-water-soluble grease (the “suintine” in French) which only dissolves under the influence of soap. Then the wool gets rinsed and dried.
However, it is important to leave a tiny amount of lanolin, because when the wool gets too degreased, the following steps of carding and spinning would cause a problem and the weaving would be more difficult. Indeed, some clothes, tweeds for instance, need to keep a huge amount of grease.
Finally, some wools can be chemically whitened during the oxygenation phase. The wool can then get in the hands of the spinner, who will transform it in threads.