I'm not talking about choosing a fleece - that decision is very personal, sort of like choosing a purse or a wallet and it depends on what you want to do with the fleece. A lofty woolen spun yarn for a bulky sweater? A smooth worsted yarn for a fabric that wonderful drape? I'm not necessarily very good at it but I love the process of choosing a fleece. What breed of sheep did it come from? What color is it and how much variation is there in that color across the fleece? What's the price? All good and pertinent questions. Fleeces smell like the animal they came from and that's pretty wonderful too. What I'm talking about is picking a fleece.
So you have chosen your fleece or it's just been sheared off the animal. Now what is the next step in the process to turn this nasty dirty stinky fleece into wonderful fiber to spin? First the fleece is skirted. That means to take off anything that you are not interested in spinning. This is when the matted hair is removed along with the manure tags and anything else that's easy to remove that the customer wouldn't want to pay for. If a fleece is advertised at "heavily skirted" you shouldn't find much of anything other than the fleece itself and small to significant amount of very fine vegetable matter. You will still get the barnyard smell and more or less dirt and grease but all the manure should be gone. The next step? Pick the fleece. You need to spread the fleece out on a table and pick through it carefully and remove all the grass burrs and hay fragments and seeds and whatever other debris the pesky animal has managed to tangle into it's fleece. The sticks and stones and manure tags should be long gone.
The fleeces from my animals have never been skirted. I would do that right after the shearing if I sold the fleeces raw but since I don't, that's another job waiting for me. I have a wonderful skirting table. The frame is just under 5' by 8' with a long hinge down the middle so it folds for storage. The flat part of the table is 1/2" screening so that much of the dirt and sand and debris has a chance to fall through. This is not a job to be tackled in the living room while watching Downton Abbey. It's an outside job but our winds have been fairly significant this spring so I've set it up in the dye studio. There is good ventilation but no direct wind and a cement floor that can be swept or hosed off once I finish.
Did I mention that I hate picking a fleece. As in hate, Hate, HATE picking fleeces. That's one of the reasons I have so many here to pick. In the 7 years I've had my fiber animals, I've only used several fleeces... maybe 6 or 8 or 10 in total. I try not to do the math but it's fairly compelling. Seven years times shearing twice a year times 8 fiber goats added to seven years times shearing once a year for the llamas and alpacas times 6 animals. It's a scary number. Of course, I haven't had all these animals all these years but you get the idea. It's a large number of fleeces.
I have finally decided that if I'm not going to use these fleeces, which means picking them, then there is no reason for having all these animals that need to be fed every day and tended to and wormed and cared for. So I just need to pull up my big girl panties and get them picked. This is not a new realization I just finally got tired of feeling guilty about having all these fleeces that I'm not using. So I set up the skirting table in the dye shed and I started picking. I got two finished yesterday and it's not nearly as bad as I remember from the last time I did this. Do I love the process? Nope. But I should be able to make a big dent in the pile of fleeces. I still have the option of sending the white fleeces to the warehouse in San Angelo if I want to but for now I'm working ahead on the colored fleeces.
You would think the picked fleece above came from Piper or Parker, my honey brown goats but it's just a trick of the light. It's actually a silver grey fleece from Chaucer. I decided that the difference between animals is probably greater than the difference from one year to the next of the same animal so I'm lumping Chaucer's fleeces together. That's a tall kitchen garbage bag with two fleeces in it. There's room for another one in this bag and then I'll move to the next bag and the next and the next and the next....