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Ask the Shepherd: The Proper Way to Skirt a Fleece

Curls…lustrous gray Gotland curls…that’s what spinners and felters are so eager to get hold of. Though I raise my own Gotland sheep, I too have ventured beyond my own flock in search of these silver ringlets. “One can never have enough,” I tell my husband when he asks why a box of raw fleece arrives in the mail.

raw wool – an unwashed fleece that has just been shorn off the sheep. 

I  have been purchasing raw fleeces from other shepherds for about 12 years now. Through the years, I have grown to appreciate those shepherds who thoroughly skirt a fleece before placing a selling price on it. Only top quality, well skirted fleeces should command a high price.  I have been disappointed to pay a high price for a fleece to find that it is full of short second cuts and harsh breech wool. When selling to a customer, I want to be sure that they are only getting high quality wool as it represents my farm and my goals. I am often asked what is the best way to sort through fleeces. So here are a few tips on the proper way to skirt a fleece before shipping it to the mill or customer.

skirt a fleece – the process of going through a fleece and removing all the unusable bits and pieces.

  • First, you  need to know the anatomy of your fleece! Within one fleece, you will find different grades or quality of wool, which are used for different purposes. The simple diagram labels the different parts of your fleece. Once you are familiar with what you are looking at, begin sorting through each fleece, carefully removing all of the undesirable wool. Fleece anatomy

 

  • Use a skirting table to sort through your fleeces. A table with an open mesh works best, as it allows short cuts of wool and manure tags to fall through. We built our own skirting table out of wood and woven wire fencing which I lay over top of saw horses. The woven wire should not be any larger than 1 x 2 inches.
  • Remove the belly and leg wool first. I remove this right on the shearing floor. As soon as the last lock of wool falls from the shearer’s blades, I remove the belly and leg wool from the shearing floor. It goes in the “discard” bag. My shearer will shear this first and scoot it in my direction to collect it up while she finishes shearing.
  • Remove all breech wool in the leg area. The breech wool is more coarse than the rest of the fleece. The picture below shows breech wool and beautiful locks of wool from the same sheep. I use breech wool for rug yarn.

Breech wool

  • Remove all clumps of manure or manure tags. Remove vegetation matter like hay and wood shavings.
  • Shake the fleece to let any short cuts of wool fall to the ground. I scoop up my short cuts and use them in felting projects.
  • Remove any heavily discolored wool or brittle wool, and wool heavily contaminated with hay.
  • You are now left with the beautiful locks of wool, ready for the mill or your customer! I roll each fleece, put it in a clear plastic bag and label it with the name of the sheep it came from. I also weigh the fleece, and record this information below the name of the sheep.

With a little time and attention, you will quickly find people scrambling to purchase your fleeces year after year.

Gotland lamb fleece from VT Grand View Farm.

 

Diagram from informaworld.com.

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