Sunday, April 17, 2011

Coffee and an English Roll, Please

Now that lambing is almost over I'm starting to skirt fleeces.  I really enjoy this task.  It's my chance to take my time and fondle handle each fleece and assess its quality, both individually and how it stacks up against previous generations.  Am I making the progress I want in staple length, consistency, luster, etc?  So much easier when the fleece is lying there, not jumping around!

The Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is coming up fast.  I've gone for about 20 years now, and always take fleeces for the show and sale.  To preregister, I need to decide which fleeces to take and get them skirted and weighed and the form sent in.  When fleeces are reserved from our fleece list for spinners I kind of hate to put them in the show since I can't sell them there, and I'm always concerned something bad will happen to them in transit, so I've lately used first shearing fleeces from yearlings for the Festival. 

Today I worked on a ewe called Copper.  She is a medium wool moorit who is starting to fade in an uneven mottled manner.  It's a lot prettier than it sounds.

I start by bringing the bagged fleece up from storage in the lower barn and tipping it onto the skirting table.

Fleece right out of the bag

 As long as the sheep didn't have a tantrum during shearing the fleece will generally hold together in one big piece.  We try to put the shorn fleece into the bag with as little twisting or flipping as possible and so it unrolls fairly well on the table.  I carefully work it into the proper shape, with the head and one end and tail at the other.
Copper on the table

I start on the side of the fleece where the belly wool is still attached (that's the dark brown lump on the right side of the fleece).  I work my way around the fleece dropping totally trashed wool on the floor and putting marginal wool that needs some TLC to become nice roving in a bag to deal with later.  When I'm done skirting, I've taken off the neck roll, belly wool, lower leg wool that's short and less-than-perfect, anything from the britch that's drastically different in texture, and wool from around the butt.

100% clean and prime for spinning

When showing a fleece you want to present it in the best way possible.  The accepted method is to put it in an English Roll.  First you fold one side of the fleece into the center.
Right side folded to center

Then you fold the other side in and on top of the first part.

Second side folded and ready to roll

I put the mouth of the bag the fleece will go into under the neck end of the fleece.  Now the fleece is rolled from the butt end toward the neck end.  When the fleece is rolled to the edge of the table I bring the bag up and carefully feed the fleece into the bag letting gravity help me.  When it plops into the bag the neck and shoulders will be at the top of the bag.  This is typically where the nicest grade of fleece on the sheep is, so the fleece is showing off its best qualities.  Of course the judge will dig and paw inspect the fleece that's deep in the bag, but this method shows off the best parts immediately.  Actually, I prepare all the fleeces this way so that the spinner who buys it could tip it out of the bag, unroll it and lay it out in perfect shape so that if they decide to split the fleece or divide it in any way they can do it.
Ready for judging

Six more to skirt. 

Where's that coffee?


  1. That looks like a GORGEOUS fleece, wish I was going to be at Maryland to see it!