Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Skirt(ing) Work

I first learned the term "skirt work" from one of my favorite blogs, Just Another Day on the Prairie.  I'd not previously been aware of this...probably because cooking, cleaning, ironing, grocery shopping...ain't my strong suit.  So much.  Linda's got that and all the "jeans wearing" ranch work under control out there with beautiful photography as well.  Around these parts I use skirt work to refer to skirting raw fleeces after shearing ;-). 


While ideally it's best to skirt straight off the shearing platform, at the time, we just quickly pick up each fleece and wrap it in a breathable cotton sheet, tag it, set it to the side and bring out the next sheep to be shorn.  Skirting comes later when I have time to relax and enjoy it.  Guess who's next up :-).

Over the years I've set up my skirting table in several locations.  In front of the Wool House is too uneven.  Behind the Wool House can be a wind tunnel.  In the barn aisle, too dark.  Why I never thought to set it up behind the barn, I have no idea. 


Earlier this spring when I was trying to get Maisie acclimated to living outside, I set up the table in the little lamb pen so we could hang out together and she could have fun exploring around, eat green grass Without Eating My Flowers that were starting to come up, plus, she's great company.  As were all the rest of the sheep, who were fascinated by what I was doing.  I love my sheeps :-).  This is a perfect spot.

Our table is simply a cattle panel with wire mesh stretched over, cable/wire tied together and then the pokey edges are covered in pipe insulation.  It sits on two saw horses and there are two boards underneath that stabilize and support the length. This is a good size, not impossible for me to move by myself, stores up against a wall, out of the way.  There are many different and maybe better designs out there...


So after I dump the fleece from the sheet onto the table I try to unroll/untangle it from how it was picked up.  Again, ideally there is a right and wrong way to gather a fleece.  However, some of ours are so big (Renny, Lila, Petunia...) that it's all we can do just to try to pick it up at all.  The good folks can pick up a fleece, walk over to the skirting table and fling it, like magic, into the air and it will come down properly laid out.  I've seen this on video.  Yes.


This is one of those huge fleeces.  I was able to pretty quickly get it laid out with the head facing us and the tail facing Maisie.  The "fuzzy" fleeces hold together pretty well.  The "curly" longwool fleeces don't and that's why I use the smaller wire mesh, so the individual curls don't fall through.  This was the day that I took the pictures of Maisie and Betsy along the fence :-).


First off I go around the outside and pull off anything that is too dirty.  This corner, tossed.  I also pull off much of the britch wool, which is the coarser, longer wool found on the lower back legs/hip area.  Some sheep have more britch wool than others and if it's significantly different from the rest of the fleece, I'd toss it. 


Here we have dirty tips, straw and see the grayish clumps on the right of this picture?  Second cuts.  If you biggify I think it will show that not only are these short, but also hairy, probably from around the face or maybe the legs.  That will be prickly if it gets mixed into the wool, so toss it.


These short pieces are probably not second cuts, but from shorter wool up around the face.  Still, I'd toss them as they're significantly different than the rest of the fleece, the longer lock.


Hopefully if you biggify this photo, you'll see why I included it.  I should have circled the area packed full of hay.  This is usually just around the top of the neck (unless you are Boudreaux ;-).  Sometimes I try to pick it out, but on this large fleece I just grabbed that small area and, yep, tossed it.


Now this would be a clue to me as to who this sheep was just in case her tag got misplaced.  Burs.  From a particularly adventurous sheep ;-).  I used to think burs meant a fleece was ruined.  I've since learned that while they are painful to pick out at this point, once the fleece has started the wash process they slide right out.  I wouldn't sell a fleece like this, but if you ever run across burs, just wait to remove them until the wool is wet.


Now, once most of the bad stuff has been removed I fold one side over the middle.


Oops, more second cuts.  With larger holes in your skirting table, these second cuts tend to go ahead and fall through.  With my small holes, they don't as much and I just grab them as I see them.  You can also shake the fleece to encourage them to fall out, but I don't do much of that until I get ready to wash as I like being able to roll the fleece up for storage and every time I shake one, it's never quite the same.


So, fold one side over, then the other over the top.


Start rolling from the tail to the head.


And stuff it in a bag.

Yep, that's Blossom!  Her fleece has since been washed and already back from the mill - beautiful bright white sproingy roving.  I'm going to keep at least half of it since it's her "baby locks", but might sell the other half at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival next week.  I'm pretty happy with my fleeces and roving this year and hoping anyone who's coming out will be as well :-).

Ack!!!  One thing I just realized I didn't include here is testing for fleece soundness.  This is important for a handspinning fleece.  You'll want to make sure the structure of the fleece itself is strong with no weak spots due to stress from illness, lambing...  The other spot to check is the tips.  Especially on lamb fleeces, the tips can be fragile and that could cause trouble during carding.  This is probably a whole 'nuther post and I've got to get back to "blue jean" work...so "to be continued".

19 comments:

Tombstone Livestock said...

That's a lot of fleece, good post.

small farm girl said...

That's one big fleece!!! Believe it or not, I do remember you teaching me how to do this. I even remembered the "boing" sound that you check for. I really enjoyed that day!

Tree Hugger - Suzan said...

It is amazing the work that goes into the preparations of the wool before the person even has the wool fiber to knit!!

Tyche's Minder said...

Bless your heart woman. It's like this post has mine name on it... :) I gotta get to work.

Michelle said...

An excellent tutorial; I'm going to pass it on to a new shepherd!

Deb W said...

Me too! A bunny friend, who recently got into sheep, wondered what to do with all the recently shorn fleeces. Duh! Take them to fiber festivals heis already going to! But, it he is to be successful, he needs to know this!!

Thanks for a great tutorial! Im sure MANY will find it helpful.

Thirteen Sheep (Or More) said...

This is The Best skirting tutorial!
And that is a huge fleece! I'm off to build a similar skirting table. Thanks!

Susan said...

What perfect timing! I am facing two, large fleeces that I am sure contain a bale of hay between them. This is very, very helpful. Now all I need is for the weather to cooperate! Could you send Maisie up to give me a hoof? :)

YarnKettle said...

While I grew up around sheep, we left the farm when I was still young. I remember shearing days and being the one to tamp the fleeces down into a big burlap sack. I know I flinched at that description too.

So many things I never learned, I am learning here. Thank you so much for posts like these. Oh heck I love all your posts. It gives me back all my happy memories of being on the farm without having to check for ticks.

thecrazysheeplady said...

No kidding - ticks have been awful this year! I found one on Maisie yesterday :-o.

Spinners End Farm said...

Nice post. I love skirting and save it for another day too. It isn't so rushed after shearing and you can enjoy yourself!

Far Side of Fifty said...

Very interesting ! Linda does skirt work and you do Blue Jean work..such busy women..a womans work is never done..I would rather be outside any day! :)

Terry said...

Blossom! I never would have guessed! It looks like a big fleece, and she's still my baby in my mind.

Linda said...

Lol a different kind of skirt work....I like yours better.

The Dancing Donkey said...

Thanks for this. We still need to check out our fleeces, farm buddy and I have been so sick, we couldn't face it.

MarmePurl said...

I went looking for this post, so I could show the Husband pictures of a skirting frame. Such a great post to remind me of all I learned at the Winter Wool Workshop.

Erika Keller said...

I was looking for designs for a skirting table, since I now have my first fleeces ever sitting in the barn loft awaiting their skirting, and saw your cattle panel frame. I have a 4.5 x 7 foot piece of sheep/goat panel with 4x4 holes that I think would work. Do you think the 4x4 spacing is too big? Or should I cover it with smaller chicken wire? The pipe insulation is a great idea!

thecrazysheeplady said...

4x4 spacing will be too big I think but you could always try it and if it didn't work, add some chicken wire. The pipe insulation is a HUGE help :-).

Erika Keller said...

Thanks, I'll give it a try and add extra wire if needed.

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