Have you been thinking about buying a raw fleece for processing into yarn but been nervous about what to look for? I just came back from a big wool buy in Eastern Oregon and it got me to thinking about what tips I could share with you about how I pick my fleeces. So here are some of my top tips to help you feel more confident about finding quality wool.
Before you head out to the farm or festival to buy that fleece, there are a couple things to consider. ..
First off is the offer of "free" wool. I always take pause when I am offered free wool. Generally free wool is offered by people that have the animals for reasons other than the fiber and therefore they aren't raising the animals with the wool in mind. Often times this wool has issues such as loads of vegetable matter, excess mud, was not shorn with care or even just hasn't been stored well. Obviously this is not always the case, but worth taking note. Conversely, just because it is for sale does not make it great wool. So dig in and make sure you are getting what you want.
Another thing to consider before buying a fleece is how are you going to process it? Are you going to do it yourself with handcards, combs, or your own carding machine? Or are you planning to send it to a mill for processing? Different breeds fleeces tend to do better with different processing types and even different mills. Make sure you know how you are going to turn this wool into yarn before you buy so that you can narrow your search a bit and that once purchased, the fleece doesn't just sit untouched in a corner.
Now that you have that all figured out, its time to shop! Here are my top tips to purchasing a quality fleece.
1. Check for wool moths. When you open the bag to look at the fleece make sure there are no wool moths or larvae visible. The larva of wool moths eat at the fiber effectively damaging it so I would recommend passing on wool with signs of moths. It is also polite to mention the moths to the seller so they can dispose of the fleece. Here is a quick reference link on wool moths but you can find an abundance of information with a quick google search. And please take note that all moths are not the same and most do not eat wool so it is good to know what you are looking for.
2. Gently open the fleece up and dig in a little bit. Be courteous and don't rip the fiber apart. But it should be ok to take a sneak peek inside the fleece and maybe pull a couple locks from different areas. Fleeces generally are rolled with the cut end showing. The cut end generally looks very clean so it is important to get a good look inside the fleece to determine if you like the fiber.
3. Check the amount of vegetable matter. Coated fleeces should have minimal VM (vegetable matter). Pasture raised animals also tend to have minimal VM. Prices often vary dependent on this so if you are patient with picking, you may be able to get a good deal on a fleece with a little more vegetable matter. This is totally up to you the buyer to decide what is acceptable. I generally don't mind moderate vegetable matter, but if the whole barn floor is in the fleece, I pass! If you are going to send the fleece to a mill, you should definitely pick out the VM prior to drop off.
4. Do the snap test. Take a lock of the wool out and holding your fingers at each end of the lock, hold the lock up by your ear and do a quick motion with the lock to stretch it. A strong fleece should make a clear pop sound. A weaker fleece may sound a little crackled or even break on the snap test. A solid pop is want you for ease of processing.
5. Test the tips. Again look at that lock this time looking at the tips. If they look a little frizzled, you can take the tips between your fingers and give a little tug. A strong fleece will stay together, a fleece with weak tips may break off. You may still be able to gently hand process this fleece at home, but if you are looking to have it milled be aware the tips may break off during processing.
Well there you have it, some of the top things I look at when I'm on a wool buy! When in doubt a good fiber farmer will always be able to offer advice and even point you in the right direction so it never hurts to as for help! I hope this helps a bit with your next fleece purchase. Please feel free to comment below and/or ask any questions. I am always glad to help!
I am Kim Biegler, the owner and operator of Ewethful Fiber Farm & Mill, along with my husband Mitch - my steadfast supporter, enabler, grass seed farmer, maintenance guy and all around love of my life! Visit the Mill's website for more about us and well, to shop for fiber of course! ewethfulfiberfarm.com