Sorting & Skirting
Before shipping your fleece to Legacy Lane it is important that it be properly sorted and skirted. This allows us to deliver clean and uniform processing and adds value to the fleece by ensuring quality and consistency. The importance of good sorting and skirting cannot be stressed enough. The information below is designed to save both time and money and allow us to provide you with the best quality products possible.
Sorting - Sorting takes place at the time of shearing by a designated 'Fleece Handler' who is in charge of bagging and labeling fleece. Shearing can be a frenzied activity and it is imperative not to interfere with the shearer. The Fleece Handler should speak with the shearer in advance in order to devise a plan for working together as a team. On each bag, the Fleece Handler should make note of which part of the animal the fiber is shorn from, the staple length, and the animal's name. Fiber lengths should be kept as uniform as possible with no more than a 1-1.5" varience per bag. The blanket is the most important part of the fleece as it is usually the most valued fiber for making yarn. For standard yarn, ideal staples need to be no shorter than 2.5" and no longer than 6.5". Fibers shorter than 2.5" may be suitable for felt sheets or rug yarn, and fibers longer than 6.5" can be made into either Lopi or our Knotty'n'Nice yarn. Legacy Lane does not have the capabilities to process fiber over 8" in length.
Skirting - Skirting is the process of removing anything from the fleece that is dirty, coarse, contaminated or otherwise unusable. This must be done prior to shipping your fiber to our mill for processing. In order to ensure clean, high quality end products, excessive vegetation, guard hairs, fecal and urine stains, and short second cuts must be removed.
Bags for fleece should be clear plastic
Poke holes in the bags so fleece can breathe
Use a permanent marker to label bags with animal's name, staple length, and the section of fleece enclosed
A log book is a useful tool. This is where information such as staple lengh, dust and dirt content, pasture conditions, recent stresses, etc. should be recorded. This information is valuable to the mill in helping us produce the highest quality products
Baby wipes, dust masks, and protective eye wear are useful to have on hand
A one-inch wire mesh table is recommended for sorting and skirting activities. It is easy to make yourself by stretching and securing wire mesh over a wooden frame. The table should be a comfortable height and large enough (4' X 6') to comfortably hold at least three sections of fiber at a time
This is an example of fiber that has NOT been properly skirted!
Things to look for when skirting:
1. Vegetable Matter
Some fiber producers use a shopvac to get rid of excessive vegetation prior to shearing (avoid using a blower). Shaking the blanket lightly over a mesh table will help remove some contaminants. Remove by hand what you can. While a small amount of vegetation is acceptable, some fleeces are so matted with seeds, thistles, burrs, etc. that no amount of skirting and cleaning will make the fiber useable.
2. Tenderness in the Staple
This condition is characterized by a weakness in a portion of the staple. Fiber affected by this problem should be kept separate and clearly labled as 'tender'. As the effected fibers cause weak and uneven yarns, Legacy Lane offers a variety of alternative options for tender fibers. Tenderness in the staple can be caused by illness, stress, changes in feeding, birthing, or weather conditions. To check for tenderness, tightly stretch a staple between two fingers, put it close to your ear and try to break it. If the staple breaks easily with a 'crackling' noise then the fiber is tender. All staples should be equally strong throughout their length.
3. Tenderness in the Tips
Newborn fleece (first shearing) is the most vulnerable to tender tips. When dealing with a newborn fleece, the fleece handler should be careful to monitor fleece for this affliction. This tenderness is caused by the amniotic fluid gathering at the tips of the fleece causing fiber weakness at the end of the staple. The most evident trade mark for tender tips is a bleached appearance at the end of the staple.The strength test for tender tips is similar to that for testing tenderness in the staple. To avoid this problem in newborns, you can hand-shear the animal's blanket after four weeks of growth.
When a fleece is matted and staples are difficult to separate, the fleece is considered cotted. This is usually due to long, wet springs and poor weather which causes the fleece to felt near the skin of the animal. Depending on the severity of the cotting, the fleece may be used for felting or rug yarn. Please make note on the bag and in the log book when cotting is present.
This condition is generally an issue with sheep and angora goats that have long, white fleece. Arable fleece occurs in animals who are bred on crop-growing fields; land with poor, sandy soil; or land that has red earth. With an arable fleece, the fiber becomes caked in mud or sandy soil is blown deep into the fleece. One can solve this issue by soaking the fleece in cold water overnight. Please make sure to thoroughly dry the fiber before bagging and make note on the bag that the fleece has been washed because of arable problems.
Most often found in sheep's wool, yolk is yellowish portions of fleece near the skin. Yolk is natural grease formed from dry perspiration and lanolin. The presence of yolk is normal and can be dissolved in water and detergent. If fleece is left unwashed, yolk can harden into tiny fragments which bind fibers together.
7. Second or Double Cuts
During shearing, the shears may pass twice over the same area creating short cuts. It is necessary to remove second cuts from the fleece as they can create unevenness and slubs in yarn. At Legacy Lane we have the ability to use second cuts (with a minimum staple length of 2") to produce handwoven rugs or felt. In this case, second cuts need to be separated and labeled as such. To separate second cuts, turn the blanket shorn side up, and pick the second cuts off by skimming your fingers across the surface. Shaking the fleece over the sorting table will also help to alleviate even more second cuts.
Stains should be removed during skirting. Stains can be caused by tattoo ink, paint brands, grass, manure and urine.
9. Canary Stain (Canary Yellow)
This condition is defined by a bright yellow, unscourable stain or band of yellow in the fleece or on the skin of the sheep. It can also be identified by a strong yeasty smell. Canary Stain is caused by a parasite which feeds on the wool wax and then on the protein in the wool itself. This condition causes the wool to weaken and eventually disintegrate. Fleeces with canary stain are not usable for yarn or other products as the bacteria will continue to eat the fiber over time. It is important not to confuse canary stain with yolk or lanolin.
This is an example of fiber that has NOT been properly skirted!
10. Weathered Tips
Predominantely an issue with coloured fleece, weathered tips is the bleaching of end fibers. With this condition, tips become tender due to sun exposure and harsh conditions. While unwanted in some circumstances, certain clients welcome weathered tips as a design element in roving for handspinning.
11. Insect Infestation
If a fleece contains lice, mites or moths, discard it immediately. Insect infestation can contaminate other fleeces. NEVER SEND INSECT INFESTED FLEECE TO LEGACY LANE. One contaminated fleece can cause serious issues for our business and for other fiber producers sending their fleece to our fascility. If a contaminated fleece arrives at our mill we reserve the right to immediately discard and remove it from the property, prior to notification.
12. Fleece Rot
This is an unscourable colouration of sheep's wool caused by bacteria known as pseudomonas aeruginosa. After prolonged wetting of the skin, the bacteria multiply and produce a pigment which is typically green, but can also be blue, orange, brown or pink. A fleece which is aflicted with fleece rot should be immediately discarded.