I began to learn about washing of raw fleece last summer (2017). Relying on information gleaned from Sara Dunham (Equinox Farm in Cynthiana, KY) as well as online groups and fiber forums, I dipped my toe in the (often disgusting) fiber-washing water with slight trepidation, sure I would end up with a matted, felted wad of wool. I cleaned wool using both the traditional method as well as the “suint” method, and both yielded (surprisingly) successful results. Yay me! Lol. Therefor I have decided to begin the educational portion of my grant project blogs where I feel the teensiest bit capable...the washing of raw fleece.
Processing fleece begins with “skirting” the fleece. Skirting, simply put, is removing undesirable stuff—hay, brambles, burrs, felted/cotted bits of wool and yes, “poo-ey bits” as one British spinner called them in her YouTube video on the subject. Over here, we just call them poop tags or dingleberries…take yer pick. It sounds gross, but one gets used to the handling of such rather quickly.
The skirting process begins by laying the raw fleece out, cut side down, on a large (approximately 3 ½’ X 6’) skirting table. Skirting tables are as different and varied as the shepherds who construct them, but they are all designed to hold the fleece at a comfortable working height while allowing loose dirt and “second cuts” (short bits of wool made by second passes of the shearer’s blades over the sheep) to fall free of the fleece.
I enlisted the help of my husband to construct my skirting table: a frame made of 2X4s covered with the orange plastic snow-fencing used by construction crews and available at Lowes or Home Depot. This table is extremely light weight and easy for me to handle, and it works well for large ewe fleeces whose locks are dense and hold together well. It falls a bit short when used for lamb fleeces, as the openings are fairly large and tend to let whole locks fall through as the lamb locks are, at that point, much shorter—2”-3” at best. In retrospect, the only thing I would do differently is hinge it in the middle, which would make it easier to store and transport if necessary.
I have seen skirting tables made with chicken wire, hardware cloth, no-climb fencing, diamond V fencing and other materials; there really is no shortage of things that will get the job done. Truly, in most farming endeavors, necessity is the mother of invention. The “table” itself is generally supported by saw horses, which place the table at a fairly comfortable height to accomplish the skirting. The pics here show a close-up of skirting table construction as well as a large ewe fleece laid out for skirting.