Wool comes from the fleece of sheep. One sheep could produce 8 pounds of wool on average, and because a sheep's fleece grew back each year, wool was readily available. To produce fibers to be spun into yarn, sheep were sheared and the wool was cleaned and carded. According to an 1866 Chicago Tribune article, Illinois was the premier wool manufacturer in the Mid-West.
Shearing is the process of cutting the fleece away from the sheep. The task of shearing usually went to the men folk, who used a pair of blade shears, similar to scissors, to cut the woolen fleece away from the sheep.
Women cleaned the fleece by a process called skirting. This pulled away the least desirable edge around the fleece. Then they sorted and picked the wool to remove any more debris. Finally, they gave the wool a thorough washing. This diagram shows where the best wool on the sheep's fleece could be found.
Next, the whole family participated in pulling the washed wool between two brushes with fine wire teeth called wool cards. They kept this up until the fibers were aligned, creating a rolag: a long cylinder of wool fiber.
Northern states imported cotton from the south until the interruption of the Civil War. During these political troubles, northern farmers were encouraged to grow flax-an alternative to cotton.
(ready-made cotton, mills in the northeast)
Flax, used to make linen, is made from the inner fibers of the flax plant. Soaking the flax plant in water decomposed he stem and softened the flax - a process called retting. Next, men and women broke open the stalks with a flax brake, and scraped off the pieces of the outer stems with a scotching knife. They combed the freed fibers with a hatchel, a comb made of steel spikes nailed to a wooden board. Spinners spun the finely combed fibers into threads.
Process case with cards, sheers, shuttles, hatchel, and coverlet on display at exhibit