May 10, 2009

Sheep to Sweater Sunday n°1 "The Fleece"

I thought that it might be fun to reserve Sundays for a special column that I’d like to call « Sheep to Sweater Sunday ». I’d like to set aside this time/space to show you how I process ouessant fleece. This is also where I’ll keep you up-to-date on the fiber projects that I’m currently working on.

So let’s start at the beginning.

The fleece!

Actually I could go on for hours about fleeces. But for right now, let’s stick to the basics!

Ultimately the success of your final creation is dependent on the quality of the fleece that you start with!

So what is a good fleece?

Admittedly, different spinners look for different things in a fleece.
But here are a few things that I consider essential :

  • Good staple length & strength : Personally I prefer a staple length between 4-5 inches (10-13 cm), with the minimum being 3 inches (7.5 cm). Additionally it’s important to make sure that there’s no problem with wool break.
  • A well skirted fleece, with all low-quality, short wool (belly wool, etc), tags, manure, etc... removed.
  • Few if any second-cuts. They are a pain when processing a fleece. That said, speaking as someone who shears their own sheep, second cuts are, to a certain extent unavoidable. But the shearer should be careful to remove any second-cuts from the fleece before rolling and storing. It doesn’t take much time to do this and it makes processing the fleece a lot easier.
  • Very, very little vegetable matter, if any at all. A bit of straw here or there isn’t a problem as long as it’s a big piece that is easily removed. The worst by far is vegetable matter that looks like finely chopped hay or straw. It’s virtually impossible to remove during processing. It is true that combing a well scoured fleece does help with this. But honestly, it’s easier to start with a good fleece to begin with.
  • No cotting or matting. Unfortunately a matted or cotted fleece is destined for the compost heap! You just can’t spin a felted fleece! Cotting is very common in ouessant sheep. I believe that one aggravating factor is the fact that many breeders shear too late. Think about it : if you have a lamb born in March 2007, but don’t shear until June or even July 2008, the fleece has been on the sheep for 15-16 months. Add a nice dose of rain, lots of rubbing up against trees and having lambs jump up on your back ... well, in short it’s a recipe for a felted sheep and a wasted fleece.
That’s what I look for in a fleece ... and this is one of the reasons why I coated my sheep this past year. Coating has given me some lovely fleeces : no cotting, no vegetable matter, beautiful staple length, and exceptional "condition" and wool quality. But more on coats later ...

Here are a few examples of what I consider high quality ouessant fleeces ... and yes, they are from my little flock!

Noisette (brown) -- light to medium fawn ouessant fleece
Praline's fleece : skirted, tip-side up

coated last 5 months of the year (since December)

White ouessant fleece
RhumRaisin's fleece : skirted, tip-side up
coated since shearing last spring

Noisette (brown) -- dark chocolate brown ouessant fleece
Nougatine's fleece : skirted, tip-side up
coated last 5 months of the year (since December)


angella said...

hi from northern canada!

firstly, lovely fleeces, and what adorable excellent sheep you've got there :) i'm a fellow ravelry fibre-lover and thought i'd pop in to read a bit about you're woolish life.

ps. Dagobert is gorgeous! he certainly has a stoic face on him!

Diane said...

Hi Angella, glad you popped over for a visit. And thank you, I must say that I'm rather partial to my little flock...they are cute. I wish you could see the lambs : so tiny and sweet! Dagobert is a real looker and the rare grey color is awesome. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if I'll be using him for breeding ... just a little too big for my tastes. -sigh- one has to be selective. Too bad, as he has the most laid back personality for a ram.

nekobasu said...

Do you still raise Ouessants? I've been experimenting with different breed's fleeces and am having a hard time finding Ouessant for sale.

Thank you for visiting the Spinning Shepherd!