Do you know what to look for when you are selecting a fleece for your next spinning project? On this page, you will find a few of the things to keep in mind while you are evaluating a fleece.
Each breed of sheep produces wool with different characteristics.
© GrassRootsGroundSwell | Flickr Rare Sheep
Selecting a fleece in terms of breed will vary depending on the intended use of your spun yarn. For fine work, like baby wear you might select a Merino fleece or perhaps a Polworth (not for beginners!).
For a woolen jumper to be worn outdoors a Border Leicester might be a better choice. Check out the page on types of wool for more information on which breed to choose for your project.
For you hand spinning to successful the fleece you select should have a staple length of between 10 - 15cm (4 - 6 inches). Anything less than this will make spinning difficult and definitely not a pleasure!
Damage in a fleece can be caused by a number of things, including inadequate food or water during the growing period, illness or the use of poor dipping techniques.
The most common sign of a damaged fleece is frequent breaks in the staple. A break is a weakness in the fibres, which when stretched causes the staple to break. When you are checking out a fleece, pull out a staple or two and check them for weaknesses.
A fleece that has breaks can be very frustrating to spin as the staple length is shortened through the combing process, and a good portion of your fleece might end up being unusable.
It is not impossible to spin a fleece that has a lot of vegetable matter in it, but it is not all that pleasant. When spinning the seeds, thistles and burrs in a fleece can be hard on your hands!
Second cuts are short pieces of wool that are caused when the shearer passes over an area on the sheep that he or she has already passed the shears over.
Second cuts can be removed from the fleece during combing or carding, but as you generally pay for your fleece by weight, a fleece without second cuts is preferable.
This is usually the factor that decides which fleece I will select. A harsh fleece is not pleasant to spin and can actually do a fair bit of damage to your hands.
You can also get a fair idea of the age of the fleece from the feel. A dry dirty feeling fleece has probably been sitting on the shelf for a while and will not be as pleasant to work with as a fresh fleece.
By this, I don't just mean the natural fleece color.
Although if you are considering a colored fleece you might want to see how consistent the color is throughout the fleece, as there can be significant variations in a single fleece. Unless this is the effect you are going for, I would think twice about buying a fleece with significant color variations.
Even for a white or off-white fleece you need to check the wool for any dis-colouration.
There is nothing worse than washing your completed garment to find a nice patch of dis-coloured wool, right there on the front where everyone can see it!
Selecting a fleece is an exciting experience. If you are anything like me you are already picturing the finished garment as you carry the fleece out to the car, and you are planning to start sorting and carding the wool as soon as you get home!