Assessing a Fleece for Buyers and Sellers
Many handspinners and felters like to start with a raw fleece which they can prepare themselves. In the Sources & Stockists of British Wool section there is a page for British Fleeces.
However a frequent question is "what are people looking for when they buy a fleece?" A very sensible question, since good fleeces for hand spinning need to have certain qualities, and farmers wanting to sell fleeces direct to hand spinners need to know what the spinners will be looking for.
One phrase that does crop up is 'the lace curtain effect'. This means that the locks of wool separate so easily from each other that when you hold a fleece up it starts pulling apart and you can see right through it.
Here is a North Ronaldsay fleece opened out
Here is the same fleece held up and starting to separate to the point of almost falling apart. This is what hand spinners are looking for.
Here are some links to web pages, blogs, and articles that explain what an idea handspinning fleece would be like and how farmers can make minor adjustments to their shearing to maximise the value of their fleeces for handspinners.
Farmers & wool producers not familiar with some of the terminology associated with fleece & spinning fibre may find helpful this list of fibre and spinning terms from ispindle
One source that isn’t on line, but back issues are still available - the March 2011 issue 4 of YarnMaker magazine has an incredibly informative and detailed article with lots of photos written by Liz Lovick on how to assess fleece (link to all back issues here - there have been other helpful articles on fleece in other issues)
The Knitting Genealogist blog post Wool Sort 101 Very detailed post with lots of photographs about how to deal with a fleece from unwrapping to washing, with some extra historical information on the subject.
British Wool Marketing Board - Wool on the Farm
Some relevant information here in Characteristics of Shetland Fleece
New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Growers Association - article on judging of fleeces in USA, but a lot of the information is of relevance to UK
YouTube video, Fleece Shopping Tutorial filmed at the Maryland Fleece & Wool Festival, USA. (Note that there are differences between how fleeces are prepared and presented in USA, importantly being the lack of VM - vegetable matter - in these fleeces. American spinning friends find UK fleeces incredibly inexpensive, but would not accept the amount of VM we have in many fleeces in UK)