Choosing a Fleece
1640 South 600 East * Salt Lake City~ UT * 84105 * 801.668.0563
The following information is from our experiences in the processing business. We have gained knowledge from different sources, from our own processing experiences, to our friends the shepherds and shepherdess' who share their experiences with us so freely.
Photos are sheep with good fleeces- not the problems we are talking about. We just liked the photos. :o)
A good spinning fleece
When looking for a fleece for you to have made into roving or possibly have Jim spin it into yarn for you , there are a few things to keep in mind. What is this fiber to be used for?
Faults - things to watch out for!!!
- A break(or window) – When you give a lock of fleece a sharp tug, it will break in the middle or some area of the lock. This fleece should be avoided. It will probably break in the processing and cause pilling in the roving. This roving will also cause weak yarns.
- Vegetable Matter -(VM) contamination with burrs, hay, wood chips used for bedding, leaves, twigs and animal feed . If you are purchasing an unskirted fleece, you will most likely find this around the legs and neck and along the sides of the fleece. A fleece with lots of VM in it is a pain to wash, card or spin because the process does not remove all of the VM. The VM is broken up and spread throughout the fleece! You can take these type of fleeces and comb them. If you enjoy this process then you may be fine in the fleece purchase, providing the fleece is sound by all other standards. We personally do not have the time to want to process these fleeces. They reap havoc on any carder and most processors will not damage their carding cloth running this type of fiber.
- Unevenness of Crimp - When buying a whole fleece, ask to spread it out and check a staple from at least 3 areas of the fleece. Part the fleece on shoulder, mid-side and haunch, and compare the staples; they should be fairly even. If the hindquarter sample is much coarser and hairy you should rethink this fleece if it is for next to the skin wear. Hair, or Kemp will show in a white fleece and will also be a bit itchy. The Kemp will dye differently in a finished project.
- Cotting and Cross Fibers – The whole fleece hangs together like a rug and it is very difficult to separate. Separating this type of fleece is actually tearing the fleece. The wool often feels dry and harsh. Cotting usually occurs in the fleece from an older sheep but can also be due to long, wet springs and poor weather, which causes the fleece to felt near the skin of the animal. When cotting is present, there is a lot waste in the fleece, and sometimes cannot be used at all because of breaks that occur when attempting to pick the wool apart. This fleece could be a good candidate for felting.
- Yolking – Which comes from combined secretion of sebaceous (oil) and sudoriferous (sweat) glands in the skin. It is a yellowish coloration which cannot be removed by ordinary scouring methods. It is not a problem if you do not mind spinning a yellow or ecru colored fleece, but it can be a disaster if you want a truly white fleece! If you are in doubt, ask to wash a sample of the fleece and see if the yellow is a stain or just heavy lanolin which will wash out. Yolk or lanolin is not to be confused with a Canary stain. Yolk or lanolin is the natural substance on the wool that provides lubrication for the wool fibers as well as cleans and protects the fiber from the sun and the rain. It is more of a soft creamy yellow color to the wool as opposed to the bright yellow color of Canary stain.
- Canary Stain - Canary stain is caused by an organism that infects the sheep systemically. You will see it as a bright yellow band on the fleece or on the skin of a sheared animal. The organism that causes Canary stain is parasitic which feeds on the wool wax and also on the protein in the wool. This causes the fleece to weaken, break and eventually disintegrate. It will grow as long as the temperature is is neither too hot or too cold. Extreme temperatures of hot and cold stop the growth of the organism. A lock of fiber that has canary stain will have a dished look in at the banded area where the Canary stain is. The fleece will also have a strong yeast smell. Usually these fleeces are weak and will break at the banded or dished area. The organism that causes the canary stain can cause deformations on the face and mouth of the sheep. Lambs can become infected from their mothers while nursing. The organism attacks the immune system of these lambs often causing a failure to thrive. It also decreases the wool yield on a given animal. Many shepherd will cull sheep that have canary staining and rams that have Canary stained fleeces or skin should never be used as breeding animals, as it is hereditary. No research has been done on this organism. Canary stained wool should be thrown away because it causes a gummy substance on the wool that won’t wash out and doesn’t take dye well. Washing with soap will kill the organism but this is not something we suggest using, there are many good fleeces to work with.
- Color is probably the least important consideration. But there is a huge range: all shades of gray, from silver to black, and all shades of brown from palest cream to rich tan (moorit) and dark brown. Changes in feed often cause a band of altered color across a lock of fiber. This will not affect the strength of the fleece but can appear as a mottled color in the finished roving or yarn. If solid color is what you want, avoid this fleece. We personally like the colors, it lends itself to depth of color and a richer yarn. IMHO
- 2nd Cuts - Oh yuck!! This is short bits on top of the cut end of the fleece. A careless shearer will go over the animal a few times and leave these little bits in the fleeces. If left in the fiber, they will cause little neps and pills. You can shake out a lot of these, but it is really best to use you time for better things....spinning and knitting and well, you get the picture.
- Weathered Tips These are the ends of a fleece that matted together. It comes from weather, or sometimes coated animals that have not had their coats properly changed. If the tips are weak, they will break in the carding process and cause little neps ( tiny balls) in the roving or yarn. The will be weak in the finished project and look like pills in a sweater. We see this especially in cria alpaca and also sun burned sheep fleeces. Cutting them off, though time consuming, will make for a nicer end product.
- Fleece rot or Weather Stain- This is a coloration of sheep's wool, which cannot be washed out, caused by a bacteria known as Pseudomonas aerogenous. After prolonged wetting of the skin, bacteria multiply and produce a pigment which is typically green, but can also be blue, orange, brown or pink. ‘Weather stain is a yellow discoloration caused by bacterial products and pigment. These fleeces should be avoided altogether.
CONTACT:Jim and Lynn Snell
1640 S. 600 E