Skirting Your Fleece
How to get your fleece ready for processing at our mill
By: Amanda Kievet
What is “Skirting”?
Skirting is the process of removing the unsuitable-for-processing bits from your shorn fleece. This includes:
- Vegetable matter (“VM”) including hay, burrs, seeds
- Wood shavings*
- Short fibers or “second cuts”
It’s in your best interest to skirt thoroughly before bringing your fleece to the mill; a fully skirted fleece will result in the best yarn or roving.
*Note that sheep bedded in wood shavings tend to be covered in them and unless you get every single shaving out of the fleece, we cannot accept it. Wood shavings get stuck in our carder and can dull the teeth. We strongly recommend not bedding you animals in wood shavings.
- Skirting Table (more on this below)
- Garbage bags — to collect the discard
- Clear plastic bags — to store your fleece
- Index cards and Sharpies — to label your bags
Having a good skirting table will make the process of skirting more effective and enjoyable. We both made our skirting tables (tutorials here and here). The goal is to have a surface large enough to lay out your entire fleece which will allow debris to fall through to the ground. The other advantage of having a skirting table is you can tie garbage bags to the sides which helps free up your hands for actually doing the work.
If you don’t have a skirting table, you can simply use a tarp on the ground or a swept garage floor.
Me flinging at Savage Hart Farm's shearing day 2021
Skirting at Savage Hart Farm 2019
How to Skirt
Ideally you want to skirt right after the fleece has been shorn. We like to get a group of friends together on shearing day to have a team of skilled hands ready to skirt as fast as our shearer can shear. Put some sandwiches and coffee out and make a day of it — it’s one of our favorite days of the year!
The first step is getting the fleece spread out on your skirting table or work area. We have found that flinging the fleece is the most effective way to do this. (Here's a link to our Instagram video of the video from the above photo). Pick up the fleece by folding it accordion-style with the shorn side down, then while holding onto the sides give it a big fling like you would a parachute. This takes some practice; don’t worry if you don’t nail it on your first go.
Once the fleece is spread out shorn-side down, go around the edges and pick off VM, poop, short staple fibers, second cuts, and urine-bleached wool. It sometimes helps to take a look at a lock of wool from a clean section of the fleece to have something to compare against. You want to remove anything that doesn’t look like it belongs in the same yarn as that one nice lock.
Once you’ve gone around the edges, pick out any obvious VM from the middle of the fleece. Take special care to check for burrs if you know you have them in your field or you have already found one on another fleece.
If you have jacketed your sheep (good job!), one section to look out for is the neck. While the rest of the fleece is probably much cleaner than it would otherwise be, the neck on jacketed sheep tends to get matted with VM, so you need to rip the entire thing out. Be ruthless!
Once it looks good laid out, fold the sides of the fleece up into thirds and roll the fleece into a ball for storage. While doing so, look out for tiny fluffs of wool stuck to the shorn fleece. These are second cuts and are caused by shearing over the same section twice.
Make sure the fleece is pretty dry before storing it. If it recently rained, the fleece should be allowed to air out before going into storage.
Lastly, make sure to add a visible label with your name, a description of the fleece (breed), and anything else you want us to know about it.
We look forward to receiving your skirted fleeces at our mill where we’ll take it from there.
Huge thanks to Amanda's husband Cody for creating our Skirting Your Fleece video.