Fleece Processing Introduction

Lamb picture 2022
Photo by S. Sorensen

When I first started with this hobby I struggled to find information to take me through all the steps.  For anyone that is new to this hobby, I wanted to create a place to help with all of the phases from raw wool to a completed project.  There will be a series of blogs that will take us from sorting, scouring, dyeing and spinning my own yarn. My hope is that as a beginner can learn along with me.

I am also offering information through our YouTube channel Murlo Discovery Channel. Be sure to subscribe to our blogs and YouTube channel so we can let you know about the next posting.

When spring arrives, it is always a great time for new beginnings. The sun chases the snow away for another year, and plants peak out from the ground. Shepherds shear their sheep and I look forward to purchasing fleeces. This year was no exception and I found two wonderful Rambouillet fleeces.

I am very lucky to have a shepherd that lives close by that has a variety of breeds for me to chose from. I found her about three years ago by searching on the internet for sheep producers in my area. One email later and I have made a friend. I am very grateful how she shares her knowledge about breeds and the uses of those fleeces. My first trip to her farm she spent so much time with me. She showed me what to look for in a good fleece and what to avoid. She asked what I would be doing with the fleece to make breed recommendations. She also introduced me to the sheep I bought fleece from. Whenever possible I encourage you please support your local producers. They will be grateful and I am convinced you will be too.

This spring I purchased two Rambouillet fleeces. The Rambouillet fleece is the largest of the fine wool breeds. Also known as the Rambouillet Merino or French Merino. This breed came about in 1786 when Louis XVI purchased 300 Spanish Merinos. It was not until about the mid 1800’s this breed came to North America.

The ram can be 220 to 300 pounds and the ewe 150 to 200 pounds. Due to their size it is not surprising that the raw fleece can weigh 10 to 15 pounds. The fleece is white to cream in colour.

The fleece we will be working on throughout this series was almost 10 pounds with a 3-inch-long staple and a 19-micron count. It is lovely!

The Rambouillet staple length ranges from 2.5 to 4.5 inches in length and a micron count of 19 to 25, making it next to skin soft. (Anything with a micron count of 30 up is when you hear people say they cannot wear wool because its prickly and scratchy). Micron count for human hair is about 100 microns for comparison. The staples or locks are well defined in the fleece and are almost square having flat tipped staples.

As this fleece was very large, I will be sorting into several pieces. One pile for the back portion, the section between the blue lines (which felt the finest), another pile for the sides and a last pile of the britch area. The britch is the back side and can be coarser staples, the section behind the red line. In this fleece I could not detect that it was coarser, but it was dirtier and would likely require a bit more scouring.

This is essentially how I choose to divide up this fleece. This is why you will want to have the entire fleece spread out with all the tips pointing up. From here I will be sorting and preparing for the scouring process.

Next Step: Part 2
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will cover what to look for in a fleece before purchasing. I will also cover how I sort and prepare the fleece for the scouring phase.  Please visit our YouTube channel for the Rambouillet Fleece Introduction video.