The transformation of the wool mirrors the succession of seasons in nature, the adaptation of oneself in the cycles of life and of society in changing times. Focusing on local wool, part of my practice is to be involved in every step of the wool transformation, from shearing to selecting, washing, opening, carding, and finally, felting.

Sheering is not painful. On the contrary, it is necessary for the sheep's good health. Wool is shorn in the spring and provides a new load of material to process for the year to come. Being present during the shearing means I can select the fibres, the colours and the texture and read in the fleece information about the sheep's health in the past months. Sometimes, layers of different colours appear, similar to geological strata engraved in stone. Assisting with shearing also gives an insight into breeding conditions and opens a dialogue with the breeders, who often struggle to cover the shearing cost per capita.

Selecting the wool and classifying it into qualities allocates their usage. Wool locks clogged up in dung go to fertilise the vegetable garden. Since I use wool mainly for felting, I wash all the rest of the fleece. A second selection takes place after scouring. If during the washing process, fibre is felted into stiff dreadlocks, they will be used for filling.

Scouring the wool is the procedure of washing the fibre. Semi-nomadic herds living outside are relatively clean. Their fleece may hold dry herbs but less dung, whereas stabled herds are dirtier. Industrial scouring is done in a few locations in Europe but is on the comeback at homes and farms. First, we let the raw wool soak overnight in a barrel. We rinse it in several baths, using a stick to bash it with or stamping on the wet wool until the water runs off clear of dirt. Then, we disinfect it from bacteria. In particular E.Coli is present in abundance in faeces. To that end, we let the pre-washed wool sink in a bath of 70°C temperature for 4 minutes to clear it from any harmful biomass. The wool is now ready to be manipulated

Wool-washing water analysis

The team of the Water and Air Quality Laboratory of the Department of Environment, University of the Aegean, invited us to washed a sample of local wool in the laboratory. Water was collected at four stages. The chemical analysis measured the organic matter present in the water samples through Chemical Oxygen Demand. The findings revealed that the first sample, the soaking water, contains 400% organic matter compared to the local sewage.

Wool washing at sea 

We followed the traditional practice of letting the wool soak in the sea for several days. Sea water disinfects from E. coli and the gentle rocking washes the dirt off. Usually, I place 300 grams of raw wool in a net weighted down, to keep the wool from reaching the surface. After several days, I collect the fibres, rinse them off the salty water -which would prevent felting - and continue the cycle of the wool. As part of site-specific research on the island of Lesvos, I have multiplied this ritual into performances of Fishing for Fibres 

Opening the wool is the procedure in which we tear the fibres apart into small fluffy parts that look like clouds. During this step, little pieces of dry herbs, leaves and dirt fall off the net of the fibres, and the wool becomes soft and clean. This lengthy and meditative process reveals much of our character. An impatient person may pull nervously on the stiff locks whereas another can pull gently, with dedication, and come up with a thin curtain-like veil that one can stare at it mesmerized. We observe that despite the fact most people have never worked with wool this way, many tend to remember the gesture. It is ancestral body memory; if working with the sheep's wool is in human life for ten thousand years and if we accept the theory of transmitted memory, whether in the water or the genes, we ought to accept that our body knows gestures that we haven't made. This moment of sudden insight is touching.

Carding is the process of combing the wool fibres in parallel. It can be done the traditional way, with two large brushes, but we use a carding machine, which is a small replica of factory carding machines. Activated with a crank it produces a smooth sliver of about 20cm x 60cm. The texture of the wool at this stage saturates with tenderness, is attractive and sparks the imagination.

Felting local wool can be challenging compared to buying imported merino wool. Its keratine-rich fibres are undisciplined and seem chaotic. The light yet sturdy and resistant texture of local felted wool is adapted to heavy duty. It holds reassurance and support. The world and the web are flooded with felters in all countries and all disciplines. The trend is increasing by the year, confirming that the revaluing of the wool, and eventually the local wool, is unavoidable.