Posted in Spinning

Fleece sorting

February 23, 2013 - 3:22 pm

I volunteered last weekend at Madrona to wash some fleeces for Deb Robson‘s upcoming Explore 4 retreat. Thought I would document here, both so Deb can see what it looks like unrolled and so I can share some of my process. I have sorted one of the two so far.

First I dumped it out of the bag:


The tag gives some details about this Shetland fleece:


“Bently” gave this as a yearling fleece. The note says there was some that was cotted and removed; coated more or less means it was hanging in what look dreadlocks or matts. 

Next I unrolled it:


Unfolded it:


The neck is to the left and the butt to the right. The part that sticks out of the neck towards the top is what was underneath; shearers start more or less at one ear and shave under the chin to the other, so fleeces always have a flap like that.

Next I started looking at how to sort it. I identified three staples:


The sides are the long, double coated staple on the left. The center sample is the neck wool. The sample on the right is the back wool. The entire fleece is double coated, but the back and neck have less guard hair, with the back having almost none. The crimp also changes from tight and spiraled on the back to wavy around the neck and loose, almost long wool-ish on the sides.

I did some minimal skirting, identifying the mucky bits like this:


Then stated separating it into staple types. To separate I pull from the tips of the locks, gently separating them:


Until I have fully separated fleece. This is the neck wool and back wool.  Notice the back wool here has a grey undercoat:


Eventually I ended up with four piles:


That’s the skirtings to the bottom of the picture, the neck wool to the left, the back wool in the center, and the sides making a U around the back wool.

Next I divided it into lingerie bag sided sections:


until I had this:


Two bags of neck, three bags of back, and 7 bags of sides. The skirtings pile is perhaps a bag and a half worth- it looks like more because it’s handfuls of wool, and because it’s closer. I’m leaving the skirtings raw in a plastic bag in with the washed fleece, so Deb and her students can see what I chose to discard. One thing I didn’t attempt to do was remove short cuts.  There were some, but it didn’t seem like a big problem. Here’s what to watch for:


I labeled them so Deb can reassemble the washed fleece if she would like. There are zip ties with beads attached to the zippers on the bags; this allows me to wash the fleece without worrying about destroying the labels or contaminating the fleece with ink or something else that could leech into the baths.

For her reference, the bottom of the neck is in the bag with the orange tie and pink bead, and the top is in the orange with red bead. The side wool has brown ties, and the back has grey. The color order of beads is (1) clear (2) yellow (3) green (4) blue (5) purple (6) pink (7) red, and they were laid out like this: 

IMG_5711- labels



Deborah Robson

February 23, 2013 3:22 pm

Lovely! Thank you again!


February 23, 2013 3:22 pm

Amazing attention to detail! I wish I could (would) pay attention to detail and document fleece preparation this carefully.


February 24, 2013 3:22 pm

One of my projects on deck is a fleece processing book, which will probably grow from a collection of blog posts and additional commentary.


February 23, 2013 3:22 pm

Wow. Thanks so much for vicarious thrill and thorough, clear description. Will we get Part 2: The Scour?


February 24, 2013 3:22 pm

We will!!

And I have a fine wool queued up for a bath after this one and its partner. On the finewool you can see the truly insane lengths I go to in preserving locks for easy flicking at the next stage of prep. 🙂

caryl carr

February 24, 2013 3:22 pm

You did a great job – wonderful photos, which really make things clear.


February 24, 2013 3:22 pm

Wow, I am attending this Explore 4 and will enjoy playing with this beautifully detailed fleece. Thank you so much for posting.


February 24, 2013 3:22 pm

This is so cool! I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the process. Do you have sufficient lingerie bags to put the entire fleece into at one time?


February 24, 2013 3:22 pm

I have several dozen bags. The practical limit for me is that I only have room for 9 bags on my drying rack.

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