Skirting a Fleece
When selecting a raw fleece to purchase, be honest with yourself. Are you really going to put in the extra work that a lower priced but dirtier fleece will require? If the answer is no, then you are better off to purchase the higher priced one and actually get something you are going to use.
If you are raising your own animals, think about how much skirting you want to do as a yearlong consideration. Keep your pastures free of burdock. Try to pasture feed your animals as much as possible. If you do have to hay feed, try to avoid it within 4 weeks of shearing. Consider coating your animals. Coats don’t have to be really expensive. I make them for some farming friends out of my husbands worn out sweatshirts and work shirts. They can be a pain to keep on the animals, but the knit fabric ones tend to not snag as readily.
To skirt a fleece, first remove it from the bag. It should arrive bagged with the shorn side out. Examine the bundle and remove any second cuts you may see. Next, lay the fleece on a table, or skirting screen. A skirting screen has large holes to allow debris to fall to the ground. Unroll the fleece to expose the tip side and orient the fleece by locating the center of the back of the neck. A good fiber producing sheperd will mark the center neck of the fleece to make this easier.
The shoulder wool is usually the highest quality of the fleece. It may have bits of hay in it, but they can usually be removed with a good shake. Skirt away any really contaminated areas of the shoulder wool and discard them.
The wool along the side edges of the fleece are the belly wool. This is usually very sparse and grubby and should also be removed. Often when you purchase a fleece, this has already been done.
The hind wool has some very obvious parts that are in need of skirting. Anything that is heavily stained, or laden with dung tags should be removed and discarded.
The center back strip of the fleece should be examined carefully and evaluated. It is the part that is exposed to the most extreme conditions and can often be brittle and have a shorter staple length than the surrounding fleece. Short brittle fibers will cause your finished item to pill, so these too should be removed.
Once you have finished with the tip side of the fleece, turn the entire fleece over and examine the shorn side more thoroughly. Check carefully for second cuts and staining and remove them. Once again, it will prevent pilling in the finished item.
After the fleece has been skirted thoroughly, it can be washed and processed as you wish. The time and effort that is put into skirting a fleece pays off beautifully in the end!
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