Fleecey Goodness


I always like to sort and wash raw fleeces as soon as possible after getting them. If I keep them outside I worry about mice, insects and damp. If I keep them inside it feels unhygienic, a bit pongy and can still attract moths etc to my precious stash.

This evening (Monday) after a long and busy day, I was determined to at least open up and sort through the Portland fleece I purchased for £10 the previous Saturday.

I set up a wire frame I have over two garden chairs (not ideal but better than the slightly wet ground) and set to sorting.

There’s lots of info in books and online about sorting or ‘skirting’ a fleece so I won’t go into that, but basically I wanted to get rid of the really mucky bits and sort the remaining fleece into groups based on rough characteristics which might affect future spinning and the intended project.

Portland fleece ready for inspection
Piles of sorted wool- 4 types plus skirted 'waste'
Mucky bits for the garden

It’s interesting that my process has changed over time and with experience. In the past I would have clung to every piece of lovely fleece -few bits were too dirty or too felted or too short- it could surely all be savaged into something usable. All wool would then have been bundled up and washed in batches all together. Not so now. First of all, I have discovered that stained, crusty, dungy, felted locks are definitely not worth the effort and probably won’t come good. I have also realised that I have limited fleece storage space and processing it all takes long enough without wasting time, space and energy on rubbish. “Don’t worry” I tell myself now, the rejects won’t be wasted as they can go on the garden or in the compost. Next, I’ve realised that different bits of fleece really are different. I know I’ve read it in books etc but seemingly it took experience, both in processing and spinning wool, for me to appreciate this fact. I wonder if others have experienced the same shift in attitude to fibres, as I can see parallels with other crafts and hobbies I have (e.g. I don’t need to cling to all 40 red cabbage seedlings which germinated, it’s better to take good care of five or six…).


You’ll see from the photos below that £10 of fleece from a relatively small breed of sheep really did give a lot of wool. I found it very therapeutic to unroll the swaddle and get to work. Out went ‘second-cuts’, dung tags, mucky areas, short sections, vegetable matter and anything heavily encrusted with lanolin or dirt. What was left fell into four rather interesting sub-groups:

  1. Absolutely gorgeous locks with a well-defined crimp
  2. Slightly shorter locks with less perceptible crimp and a more wedge-shaped profile
  3. Shorter bits with no real crimp, but decent fibre all the same
  4. Short, triangular-shaped locks with quite a rough, hairy texture -useful for some projects but not crème de la crème (I did chuck some of the really hairy bits).

It was practically dark by this point so I disposed of the reject fleece into the compost (with some around my corn stalks for good measure), and bundled up the groupings into several mesh bags for washing over the next week (I hope). I’m fortunate that most of the fleece fell into category 1 and 2 which should be perfect for future knitting projects.

The washing itself will have to wait for another day as I settle down to my evening. Now, where’s my drop spindle…

Four types of lock pulled from the fleece: L-R is 1-4 as above
Lovely washed locks out to dry

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