Friday, March 14, 2008

Skirting and Picking

These photos show various steps in the skirting and picking process. The two photos here, on the left, and below on the right are both from Priscilla. ( You can scroll down into the blog to learn more about her, and see her with her full fleece intact.)
The photo on the left is the skin side or cut side exposed. The photo below shows the mostly the top side, so you will see the tipped ends of the staples and wel and the gray undercoat.

The photo to the right shows, a small sectioned off portion of the whole fleece that I am working with. If a fleece is not intended for competition, but is to be used primarily as a hand spinning fleece this is what I do to ease the picking part.
The small section is moved away from the main body of the fleece and then I tease the fibers apart, and flip them over several times, sometimes shaking this portion in the wind so that the smaller parts of debri are removed and as much vegetable matter ( or VM) as possbile is removed.

The next photo shows the skin side of Irish Frost's fleece prior to the small sectioned off piece. You can see also some smaller pieces, that are called second cuts, and all of those as you can reasonably find are removed as well.
Once the smaller section is picked over it is placed back in the plastic bag, and another small areas is removed and worked on until the whole fleece is done. At this point I then weigh each fleece again, and that is my yeild weight...both the raw weight and the yeild weight are recoreded. I also decide that that point what I am going to do with a fleece. Sell it, or use it myself. I usually have more than enough for myself which is why my stash is so huge, but I normally offer the best ones for sale, because I can deal the fleeces with too much VM later in the process, but you can't offer it to the public.
This year, out of the fleeces I have I am keeping Nightshades, Cinnamon, and her black wether because there is just too much VM. The rest are cleaner fleeces. Nightshades fleece has a wonderful soft handle and is a solid jet black and a non fading black which is very rare but it is just too contaminated. The black wether is the same, but he has just started the greying process. And Cinnamon is too small a fleece weighing only about 1 1/2 lbs, and there are those annoying tips, from last years fleece which occur because Shetland "roo" or molt after shearing.


So the fleece is off the sheep. What happens after shearing?

The next step is skirting. Usually at shearing when there is enough help there is someone designated the "skirter." That person or persons is the one that handles the fleece and starts the process called skirting. Normally they are set up at a skirting table near the shearing area. They retreive a fleece once it is shorn off the animal, or it is brought to them by someone else. A skirting table is some kind of a perforated top set up high enough for the skirter to work without hurting their backs. I've seen some pretty neat skriting tables especially made for the purpose; even round ones that even revolved so that the skirter did not even have to move around the table, but instead turned the table to reach the various areas of the fleece. The fleece is laid out on the table and then the skirter proceeds to remove the icky parts, like the manure tags, clumped wool at the tail end, and normally skirts an area about 2 inches wide all around the fleece, as this removed wool of a different texture, and most of the belly wool, and shortened areas, and a lot of grosser dirt. When there are a lot of sheep being done and pressure to get the fleeces out of the way the skirting is brief, and relatively incomplete. The skirter does a visual inspection of the overall fleece, tests the strength of the staple, skirts as described, and then rolls the fleece and bags it. If is is a larger operation the various colors might be bagged together instead of each fleece into an individual bag.

How to roll a fleece. With the skin side down, starting at the neck or the rear, 1/3 of the fleece is folded over across the center, lengthwise. Next on the other side 1/3 of the fleece is folded over that.. then the rear end is rolled towards the shoulder area. So that when finished rolling it should be the skin side or the cut area that lies exposed for viewing. In the old days these rolled fleeces were each individually tied, but no longer. After the rolling practice each fleece is bagged, and labeled. Clear plastic bags are used for competiotns or if the owner just wants to visually see what's in a bag.

For hand spinning fleeces. The skirting practice is carried a bit furthe. Again depending upon how much help you have this can all be done at shearing. but in our case, since we are a very small opeation. Skirting is not done at shearing time because often it is only myself and husband to help the shearers. So it is bagged and labeled, and I do the skirting job later myself when time and weather permits.

( I was going to include photos at this point but this program will not let me. I suppose I should feel lucky because for over a week now it has reported "network error" and not even let me I will try posting the photos later.)

What I do is called "skirting and picking" I first weigh each fleece for the raw weight. Then it is removed from it's bag and spread out on my skriting table. My "table" consists of a rectangle made from 1 x 1 wire that we put onto wooden framework. I'd estimate it is about 4 1/2' x 5 1/2'. Then I stack my two picnic table benches on top of each other about 3 to 4 feet away from the picnic table and lay my wire skirting board down as the table part of the contraption; the benches and picnic table are the table legs. That puts it at a good height so my back doesn't ache during or after the process. ( Hurrah, it accepted my photo) so up above you can see the skirting table before any fleeces are put on it.)