A Picture Tutorial
Following Geode’s fleece from the time the bundle of raw fleece enters the skirting room to its completion for sale:
1. The fleece, in its bundle and identified by Geode’s name and number, is brought to the skirting table – in this case, our dining room table. In the summer, we skirt on a specially made table in the yard, but when it is this cold (in February) I skirt inside the warmth of the house.
2. Open the bundle and remove any contaminants that you can see, including second cuts (small bits of fleece created when the shearer cuts the fleece once above the skin and then comes back with the next pass, clipping closer to the skin). Removing them now will save them from embedding into the cut side of the fleece when you flip the fleece out of its bundle.
The photos on the left show you the difference that just a few minutes of debris removal can make in the presentation of your fleece. This is especially important with show fleeces where contamination and presentation are a big part of placement.
3. After removing as much contamination as you can, flip the fleece out of the bundle with the cut side down on the table or skirting surface.
4. Begin to spread the fleece into a single layer, unfolding those areas that are folded over. Be careful not to tear the fleece – it should have come off the sheep in one piece and should be kept that way throughout skirting. Geode’s fleece in the photo below was coated all year long – you can see how clean the fiber is in the center where it was best covered by her coat. Leaving the dirtier portions of fiber on the fleece at this point can help you identify which end is which…. The head and neck will usually have the most hay contamination. The britch will usually be the most stained from lying in the yard. If you see marking crayon stains, you know that is the dock. Arrange the fleece on your surface with the head and neck on one end (in this case, the left), the dock at the other end (here, on the right), and the sides of the belly on either side of your table.
5. Remove any wool that is too short (shorter than most of the body of the fleece), too dirty (tags, manure, heavily contaminated with hay, etc.), or much different than most of the fiber of the rest of the fleece. The photo below is the same fleece as above, but with the dirtier fiber skirted off. The goal is to provide a uniform product for yourself or your customers, so if it isn’t “the same” and you can remove it without eliminating the bulk of your fleece, then do so. When you are finished, you should have an impressively clean fleece before you!
6. We put all removed fiber and debris into one of two bags – either “seconds” (left) or “scrap” (right). You can see the difference in the photo below – the scrap is trashed. It is unusable. The seconds are good, long fiber that has gotten dirty or stained. There is a market for this type of fiber, if you are willing to look. You can either wash it yourself or send it to a mill to be scrubbed.
7. It is time to fold and roll your fleece for presentation…. First, fold in one third of the fleece from one side. Continue to remove any contaminants or short fibers you may uncover as you handle the fleece.
8. Next, fold the other third from the other side over the first side, resulting in a narrow pile of fleece with the cut-side out, both top and bottom. Again, make sure you remove any second-cuts or contaminants that you uncover in your handling.
9. Finally, pull several samples from different parts of the fleece and photograph them for future reference. After the photo, we use these same staples to test for fiber strength. When you test for strength, it is important to pull a sample of the correct size. For longwool fleeces, it is less important, but for finewool fleeces, you want to make sure you have a sample with about the same diameter as a pencil or pen – less will break and make you think your fiber has a weakness. To test strength, hold each end of the staple tightly and give it a snap between your fingers – you should “hear” a “twanging” noise when you do this correctly. Strong fiber will have this twang – this vibration – when tested, whereas weak fiber will usually break (indicating a break in the fiber) or “crackle” (indicating a weakness). Make sure to test tips, too, so don’t hold your fiber too far in. Ideally, the tips should not tear off – but hogget fleeces (those that are of the first shearing for that sheep) can have tips that are a bit tender.
10. Fold in the neck end of the strip so that the outer edges will be inside the roll, and your best fiber (typically the shoulders) will be on the outside at the top of the bag. Again, look for and remove those second-cuts!
11. Finish your skirting by rolling the strip up from the tail to the folded-over neck. This should result in a bundle with all outer edges of fleece embedded within the roll, and giving your fleece a lovely, clean presentation like Geode’s, below. Congratulations, you’ve skirted your fleece!