Lydia Hill on Presenting your Wool Harvest to Handspinners!

This evening’s post is very much aimed at closing the gap between WOOLGROWERS and HANDSPINNERS; a gap, in fact, identified earlier today by Lesley. Touching on the issue of WOOLGROWERS receiving peanuts from the British Wool Marketing Board for their fleeces, Lesley echoed both Laura Rosenzweig and Louise Fairburn in their respective accounts of The Wool Harvest. WOVEMBER does not wish to criticise The British Wool Marketing Board, (or most especially the Campaign for British WOOL) however sometimes it seems that bypassing a central marketing system for the sale of fleece is a way for Farmers to receive more money for the WOOL that they grow. WOOL which otherwise might be deemed too coarse to fetch a high price on the global WOOL market is sometimes better sold directly to a handspinner or felt-maker who specifically values its roughness, character, provenance and presence, and who will therefore pay a premium for it.

One of the highlights of WOOLFEST for farmers and spinners alike, is the FLEECE SALE for folks wanting to buy and sell WOOL in its raw and sheepiest state! HANDSPINNERS can browse according to colour, texture, regionality, provenance, and hand. To ensure that all WOOLGROWERS get the maximum return on their hard-earned work in Growing Wool, Lydia Hill has produced this helpful article so that if you harvest your wool and want to sell it to handspinners, you can present it at its best. Of course, it goes without saying that this is the work that all experienced WOOLGROWERS and WOOLSELLERS already do, and therefore helps us to understand a little more just what goes into WOOL…

Selling Fleece to Handspinners

Are you a sheep producer thinking about selling your fleeces to handspinners? Here is some information you may find useful.

Using marker sprays

Presenting a fleece for sale to a handspinner starts the moment you pick up the can of marker spray. Before you apply hieroglyphics to your sheep stop and think. Manufacturers claim stock marker sprays wash out of wool but a handspinner washing fleece in the bath at home does not have the benefit of a scouring plant. A small patch of sprayed wool can easily be discarded but handspinners are unlikely to buy a fleece which has large amounts of spray on it.

The best wool is found on the neck and shoulders of the sheep. Before you spray a nice big blob of colour on the back of a sheep’s neck consider putting the mark either on the forehead or further back on the sheep’s body.

Shearing time

A fleece with many second cuts is a nuisance for a handspinner as the short bits of wool will need picking out, this is time consuming and frustrating.

Make sure your fleeces are rolled on a relatively clean sheet or board. Don’t let the fleeces lie on a gritty surface or on bedding.

If you just have a few sheep, avoid putting them in a stable with shavings.

Fleeces handspinners don’t want

Sticky/yellow underneath – If the fleece is sticky at shearing time and the shearer has to resort to a hammer and chisel to remove the fleece have some mercy, please don’t offer those fleeces to handspinners.

Felted on the sheep – if the fleece has felted on the sheep and comes off resembling a sheep skin rug and you can’t roll it properly, you can only fold it up and stuff it in a sack quick before it pings open again it’s no good for a handspinner.

Sheep which have had flystrike – no handspinner wants to pick scabs out of a fleece or even worse try to deal with maggots or flystrike staining. Also the handspinner will not appreciate a dose of Crovect or any other flystrike treatment.

Fleeces full of vegetable matter – the odd bit of straw or vegetable matter won’t put a handspinner off a good fleece. But however lovely the fleece if it is badly contaminated with vegetation it is likely to be rejected. For example sheep which have been fed hay from a rack may well have a mass of hay seeds and bits in the neck wool. Imagine trying to pick out every single seed by hand.

Ok I’ve given worse case examples but remember processing a fleece by hand takes many many hours and only the best fleeces are worth the time.

Fleeces spinners love

Fleeces can be assessed while they are still attached to the sheep or after shearing. Look for:

Strong staple – separate a lock of wool. Holding the lock at either end give it a sharp tug. If the wool fibres break easily the fleece is unsuitable for handspinning. If the sheep has had a bad winter, a tough lambing or been ill there may well be a break in the fleece.

Staple length – handspinners can work with a whole range of staple lengths. It depends on the spinner. A short stapled fleece such as a Southdown will be desirable to some spinners. Spinners who use the long draw technique can work with shorter staple lengths. However there is probably more of a market for fleeces with a longer staple length such as Jacob, Romney and Mule.

Colour – many handspinners also dye their fleece so a fleece which is naturally white is more attractive than a yellowy one. However handspinners do love coloured wool. All those shades of browns and greys are exciting to work with.

Open, tangle free – the fibres should pull apart easily.

Preparing the shorn fleece

Once the fleece has been shorn remove any daggings.

Roll the fleece as normal – fold the sides in to the centre then roll starting from the tail end. Avoid twisting the neck wool too much. You don’t need to include the belly wool.

Avoid storing the fleece in bags which have been used for sand or anything else which might contaminate the fleece.

To sell the fleece

If you show your sheep put up a notice advertising your fleece and take some with you. Spinners tend to lurk around the sheep lines at agricultural shows.

Many areas have a Guild of spinners. In the UK the Association of Guilds of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers has a list of local Guilds on their website.

The Secretary of your nearest Guild will be happy to let the members know about your fleeces. You could arrange to take your wool to a Guild meeting – spinners find good fleece hard to resist!

Lydia asked if we could use a photo from last year’s WOVEMBER Photo Competition to illustrate what a nicely presented fleece looks like. It is no surprise, perhaps, that the photo she found for this purpose was taken by Diane Falck who as both a shepherd AND a spinner, knows a few things about how best to present fleeces to handspinners! For more examples of beautifully presented fleece fresh from the sheep, do check out Diane’s post from earlier today.

’100% Natural, 100% Beautiful, 100% Wool’ – Diane Falck AKA The Spinning Shepherd

Lydia Hill runs Shearer Girl Yarns. Her blog is Tales From the Sheep Shed. She can be found on Ravelry as shearersgirl and on Twitter as @romneyteg. All content unless otherwise stated is © Lydia Hill and republished here with her kind permission.

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This entry was posted by Felicity Ford.

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