FIBERuary Day 27 SKIRTING FLEECES
“Skirting” is the traditional term for removing less desirable/ clearly unusable parts of a sheep fleece. When a fleece is laid out- cut side down- it looks something like this:
(in this sketch, the head end of the fleece is facing down). You’ll see that the outside edges of the fleece, all the way around, are the edges to be removed. (Think of a laid out skirt, with the hem chopped off.)
It’s helpful to lay the fleece out on a skirting table. Ours is about 4’ by 8’, a wooden frame around welded wire that’s set on sawhorses. The holes in the wire let some small bits fall through.
The amount of skirting to be done on any particular fleece can vary tremendously: all the way from none to virtually the entire fleece.
For me, the two things I’m skirting is fiber that is structurally unsound or contaminated by vegetation. Structurally unsound fleece can be:
Most vegetal contamination is caused by hay or by weeds. Sheep are gregarious creatures, and love to chew while turning their head over the back of the sheep next to them. (My tallest sheep almost always have less back hay than the shorter ones.) They love to pull out great bunches of hay, dropping the uneaten portions. This is why most sheep feeders have small openings, forcing the sheep to take smaller bites. Sheep will also dribble hay over their own and their neighbors’ neck wool. Weeds can be of many species. We’re renovating old pasture and my two biggest problems come from burdock and thistles…sometimes I don’t get to removing them before the sheep find them. Burdocks aren’t too bad to get out- as long as they’re removed right after they attach. I once had some sheep get into beggars’ ticks- most of that fleece had to be tossed.
So from a shepherd’s perspective, how do you keep the fleeces clean? There are lots of strategies:
The photos are of a Romney fleece with six months growth which was shorn in the fall. The fleece is a bit jumbled- but the first picture shows about one third of the fleece, with the two small piles on the right being the fleece I’ve skirted out.
The next photo is a close up of some of the wool so you can see the staple.
From a spinner’s perspective, a lot depends on how bad the fleece is and how much you like it. One of the frustrations is that the finest fleece around the neck is generally in the worst shape, as shown on the two diagrams below.
When I skirt I actually sort into three bags: Prime, Seconds, and Skirtings. I’ve learned that I can often use the seconds- after washing and dyeing they can surprise me. I’m still looking for skirting uses. It composts very slowly, makes lousy mulch. I’ve had people use it for insulation in a double wall (unwashed….not sure what it attracts). Someone tried to use it as the first layer on a green (ie, planted) roof. Our dogs have bags of it to sleep on during cold winters….but I just replace the wool if it gets soaked with urine or throw-up.
I do weigh and make notes about each fleece, and I use those notes when breeding and when culling.
When you buy a fleece it should be clean! You still should lay it out and look at it whole. Are the different sections of fleece similar in staple length and softness? If not and you want to make one project from that whole fleece, you’ll need to take care to evenly blend the different kinds of fiber. Lots of times I just use the different types of fleece in different ways.
Hope this helps you approach a fleece- buying one raw (in the grease) is a great way to start. Fun- and it smells good.
FIBERuary Day 21 MOTHS Whispering Pines Farm
If you have wool at one time or another you have had moths. They ruin fleeces and put holes in your clothes. Here are some way to discourage them from making a home in your woolen items.
Lenny’s Yarn Story
My good friend Lenny passed away in the late 90’s. I was the recipient of her wool yarns and equipment. There were many boxes and in one I found a shirt box. I opened it up and in between tissue paper were four skeins of handspun singles. They were surrounded by Bay leaves. Each skein was tagged with the year it was spun, they were all done in 1948! I think there were two factors here that prevented the moths. There were stored in a cardboard box and the bay leaves.Since that time I have always packed my woolens in bay leaves along with some lavender and other herbs.
Moths can also come in with fleeces. Storing the fresh fleeces in paper bags help. ALWAYS inspect new fleeces. A few years ago I bought three beautiful fleeces.It wasn’t until I saw moths flying around my kitchen did I realized that I had an infestation.. Most of the fleece had to be thrown away. Luckily I got it in time as the other fleeces were fine. I immediately washed the rest of the damaged fleece and the other two. Another thing I like to do is add some lavender oil to the final rinse water of fleeces. Be careful not to pour the oil directly on the fleece as it will stain white wool. I have learned this the hard way by ruining a favorite Irish Sweater. I till wear it around the house and have considered dyeing it with black walnut dye.
If you have a minor problem with moths you can put the item in the freezer for a week. That will kill them.
Be sure and wash thoroughly woolen items that you are going to put away for the warm months. Moths are attracted to any stained clothes.
As you can see I do buy Bay Leaves in bulk. I do sell them at shows or you can e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Thanks for joining me today in FIBERuary, I hope that I have helped keep your woolens safe.