Fleece Purchase and Inspection
When purchasing a fleece, you want to look for certain characteristics.
The fleece should be fairly open. In the photo below you can see the individual locks. If the fleece is all stuck together, I would not purchase the fleece. If the locks seem stuck together it could be a bit felted. There is lots of work getting the fleece prepared for the spinning process, so I would start with a fleece I’ll enjoy working with.
You will want to check out the crimp. The finer the fiber the more crimp it is likely to have. The crimp can make the fiber easier to spin for the beginner and gives a good elasticity to your yarn. This fleece is very fine and has great crimp (lots of waves per inch, this one is around 16-17 crimps per inch)
You may want to look at the colour. There will be some yellowing from urine and sometimes the lanolin adds a yellow tinge (referred to as yolk shown in picture below). These for the most part will wash out enough that once fully processed it is hardly noticeable. If there is really bright yellow this is canary stain. It does not wash out or take dye very well so I would place that into the scrap pile.
Vegetable matter or VM is the bits of straw, hay and likely some barley or burrs in there as well. Sheep in my area are not often coated so there will be VM in the fleece. There is nothing wrong with the fleece, you just want to be honest with yourself on the amount of work you want to complete to release the fine fibre of this.
This particular fleece was not coated and amazingly clean.
Another test that should be done is to test the staple strength. You will be putting the fibre through several processes and a weak staple will not survive. Take a lock and hold between your thumb and index finger of each hand. Give it a few solid tugs. It should not break and if you hold it up to your ear you should hear a high-pitched ping. If you hear crackling, the fleece is not sound enough for our purposes, and I would recommend you not buy that fleece.
It can be common for tips to break off due to weather or perhaps the lambs first fleece. This can be dealt with, so I would not turn down a fine fleece that is a bit tippy.
Now you are armed with the knowledge to buy a fleece. If you are purchasing direct from a producer ask questions. They have a great knowledge base to tap into. Perhaps you are attending your first fibre festival. Ask the other shoppers what they look for. Remember when possible to support local producers.
Be sure to check out our YouTube channel, Murlo Discovery Channel to see the Rambouillet Fleece playlist videos.
Until next time, happy shopping!