Friday, September 2, 2011

Skirt that Fleece!

Cinnamon's (our 3 year old doe)  fleece before skirting.  Notice the coarse hairs at the front and rear?  Those should be removed because they are very poky.


What in the world is skirting a fleece?  Do you wrap wool around yourself and pretend to be America's Next Top Model?  Nope.  Skirting a fleece is a fancy way to say you're cleaning up hair or wool that's been shorn from an animal, so that the fleece can be sold, shown or used for felting or spinning yarn.

We have pygora goats, and skirting their fleeces is pretty simple.  The majority of the work is done before and during shearing time, in order to prevent minimal work once the fiber is off the animal.  When I shear my goats, I aways have 2 five gallon buckets: one lined with a garbage bag labeled with the date and the name of the animal.  This way I can identify which animals have better fleece.  My daughter takes the goats to fair for 4H and always needs to label the fleeces with the age, breed and gender of the animal, so she has to be careful to keep track of which fleece is which.  The other bucket is not lined, so that I remember it is the garbage bucket.  The garbage bucket gets all the grass and weed seed, poop, guard hair  (guard hair is the long, coarse protective fiber the animal grows), and second cuts .  Second cuts happen when you clip the hair, then notice your goat has an uneven haircut, and go back over an already shorn area.  These fibers are generally too short to spin and can cause yarn to be bumpy or prickly.  Some people still use them in felt, but I throw them away.  Kemp is another coarse fiber that occurs within the wool, and it should be removed when skirting or during shearing if you and your animal are very patient.  Kemp is hollow and resists dye, and is scratchy in garments, medulated fiber is similar, but is not fully hollow.  Both of these fibers look like hair in your fiber.  Once the fiber is shorn from the animal, you will skirt it again, either over a screen or some old fencing, or, like me, on your back deck.

The girls help with some early morning skirting

If your fleece is greasy enough, you can hold it up and simply shake it, and many of the second cuts will fall to the ground, making your skirting work simpler.

I'm not sure this is the best way to do this if you want your fleece to stay all in one piece, looking as if it were just a coat removed from your animal, but if you want that, you can skirt the fleece over a raised screen, allowing the second cuts to fall to the ground.  

I pick up the good big pieces that fall.  All the little prickly hairs that have fallen, i leave where they are.

This is guard hair.  Because pygoras are a breed descended from pygmies and angoras, they have inherited some of the pygmy guard hair.  This you will generally find along the ridge of their back.  Rather than pick it out from the finer fibers, i generally discard the hair from the entire ridge of the back. 

This is a close up of a second cut.  get rid of these!  they make your yarn lumpy and poky!  use them for mulch around your plants if you can't bear to throw them in the garbage.  

Unless you like the fresh-from-the field look, take the grass seed out of your fleece.  Even a beginning spinner would not enjoy picking these from fiber as they go.

Very important.  Thoroughly clean your work area before working with your next fleece, especially if it's a different color.  There is nothing more annoying than finding white hairs in a black fleece, or vise versa.

My simple labeling method for fleece bags.



This is coal's yearling wether fleece.  A wether is a castrated male goat.  Because they're not putting all that energy into reproduction, they generally have superior fleeces, at least in their younger years.  His fleece is dense, fine and long.  I love it, and I can't wait to spin it.  It won grand champion at the Evergreen State Fair.  

Eva, doing the shake down.

Yucky guard hairs.  That's the only hard part about coal's fleece, these are sprinkled rather liberally around it, particularly along the ridge.  If you are really meticulous, you will carefully hold onto the short, soft fibers and pull out the hairs.  







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