Virginia Farm Wool Works
How much fleece do I need?
Raw wool contains vegetable matter, minerals, suint (sweat), wax or lanolin, moisture and clean dry wool. The average yields of clean dry wool vary according to the breed, but generally Merino types yield 62 70% of clean wool after processing, whereas Cross-bred fleeces yield 70 77%.
When buying fleece to spin, it is important to buy sufficient for the project you have in mind, as it is very difficult to match a naturally coloured fleece exactly if you run out.
From the above yield percentages, if your garment needs 1 Kilo of clean spun yarn, then you would need to start with 1.3 Kilos of Cross-bred fleece or 1.45 Kilos of Merino.
If you have a favourite knitting pattern which needs 16 50 gram balls of 8 ply equivalent yarn (double knit), you will need to start with at least 1.2 Kilos of fleece to allow for losses in washing and carding. It is helpful to attach a length of commercial 8 ply yarn to your wheel as a visual comparison for thickness as you are spinning. Dont forget that you must spin to only half the thickness to allow for plying!
Choosing your fleece.
A good spinning fleece should be open, sound, long stapled with even crimp. It should be well skirted and free of vegetable matter and manure. It should also be a suitable type for the end product you have in mind. Heavier garments which need to wear well or yarn which is to be used as a warp in weaving, will need a longer and stronger fleece than that chosen for babywear or fashion garments.
When choosing a fleece be sure to check it for faults such as:
A break (or window) When given a sharp tug, a staple of wool will part in the middle. This fleece should be avoided as it will break under hand preparation and cause pilling in the finished garment because there are so many weak ends in the yarn.
Canary Stain a band of unscourable yellow stain across sections of the fleece. Can be a disaster in a white fleece! Check a staple in hot, soapy water to see if it is stain or just a heavy lanolin deposit which will wash out.
Sticky indicates a fleece (particularly Merino types) has been shorn a long time ago and the lanolin has gummed the fibres together making it hard to draft
Colour Change In naturally coloured fleeces, changes in feed often cause a band of altered colour across the staples. It does not affect the strength of the fleece but can appear as a mottled colour in the finished garment though this can be attractive!
Cotting and Cross Fibres This usually occurs in the fleece from an aged sheep. The whole fleece hangs together like a floor mat and it is very difficult to separate individual staples. The fleece often feels dry and harsh and has poor crimp definition.
Vegetable Fault - contamination with burrs, prickles, hay, leaves, twigs and feed such as oats. Most commonly around the neck and legs, and this should be skirted off before sale. A fleece with burrs in it is a misery to spin and carding does not remove them but merely chops them up and spreads them throughout the fleece!
Unless you have a source of very clean fleeces for hand spinning, it is often preferable to pay the extra for a coated fleece (where the sheep has worn a coat all year). The advantage of this is that the wool under the coat will have no vegetable matter (VM), and will not have weathered or faded tips from the sun, giving a good true colour in a dark fleece.
Unevenness of type and crimp - If you are buying a whole fleece, spread it out and check a staple from at least 3 areas of the fleece (shoulder, hindquarters and mid-side)
Normally themed-side wool is the best, but they should be fairly even. If the hindquarter sample is much coarser and hairy, then this should be avoided as it will spoil the quality of your garment and in a white fleece a hairy section with kemp in it will dye differently.
How do I know what to ask for when I want a fine or a strong fleece?
Before Australia went metric, the fineness of a fleece was quoted in Bradford Quality Count, based on the number of 560 yard hanks of wool that can be spun from a pound of fleece. The finer the fleece, the more hanks could be spun from a given weight and therefore the higher the number e.g. 64. A coarse fleece such as Lincoln might give only 44 hanks, so was called 44s count.
Where woolclassing is done by eye in the shearing sheds, this standard is still used.
However, wool for sale through the auction system is now laser tested and scientifically measured and its diameter is expressed in microns. In the reverse to the quality count system, the lower the micron number, the finer the fleece.
The following table gives a rough equivalent of the 2 systems:
Micron Quality Count
19 = 70s fine
25 /26 58 medium
33 46 strong