We're creeping up on that time of year when the alpacas, sheep and goats are relieved of their heavy winter coats. That's right, it's almost shearing time. The time for the animals to get naked!
It's also nearing the time when area fiber shows, with freshly shown fleeces, are starting. The next big show Ohio show is the Black Swamp Spinners Guild Market Day on March 24 in Bowling Green.
That's followed by A Knitter's Fantasy in Youngstown, Blessing of the Sheep in Peninsula, the Upper Valley Fiber Fest in Troy, the Great Lakes Fiber Show in Wooster, and Woolfest in Kirtland. That just takes us to the end of May. In August, we have the Mid-Ohio Fiber Fair in Newark. Folks, that's a lot of fiber in one state!
Many spinners would like to pick out their own fleeces at these shows, but are a bit afraid. What if it isn't a good fleece?
If you're never purchased a fleece before, here are a few tips:
-- Raw fleece is fleece straight off the animal. It is not washed. Sometimes it is skirted by the farm and sometimes it isn't. Ask the seller if the fleece you are looking at is skirted. Skriting is when the extra dirty parts of the fleece are removed, second cuts are removed, and most hay or debris that sticks to the fiber is pulled out as well. Tags are also removed (to be graphic, tags are poops that hang to the fleece). Raw fleece is cheaper than skirted fleece because less work by the farmer has gone into it. Skirting can take a bit of time so the price for a skirted fleece will be higher than a raw, unskirted fleece. A washed fleece is more costly yet.
-- Ask if it is a whole fleece or a blanket. The blanket of an animal is the best fiber, usually across the top and sides of the animal. The blanket fiber is more uniform. Legs and necks of alpaca can be nice too, but not as nice as the blanket.
-- Check for soundness. Pull out a staple of fiber. Hold it between your two hands, put it near your ear and give it a tug. It should make a nice pop or ping sound. You should not hear it tear or break. Avoid a fleece that you hear breaking.
-- Check the crimp.
Crimp should be even over the entire length of the fiber. More crimp means more bounce and elasticity. Less crimp isn't necessarily bad, it just means your yarn will not have as much spring as a yarn made with a fiber with lots of crimp.
-- Check for second cuts. Second cuts are when the shearer backs up the blades as he or she is shearing and goes over the same area twice. It gives you tiny (under an inch) lengths of fiber that are not desirable for spinning and, if spun into the yarn, will make your fiber itchy and fuzzy looking. A raw fleece that has not been skirted can very well have second cuts. A skirted fleece should not have many, if any at all. A good shearer won't have a lot of second cuts in a fleece and those that are there will have been skirted out.
-- Check that the tips (uncut end) are strong. Try to strip off the tip with your fingers. If a large portion of it breaks off easily, avoid that fleece.
With those hints in mind, you are now ready to hit the fiber show tour.
That'll Do Farm will shear in later April or early May. After that time, we will have some beautiful alpaca, mohair and Romeldale/CVM fleeces for sale. We will also be at Blessing of the Sheep and the Mid-Ohio Fiber Fair, as part of the Ohio Natural Fiber Network's booth.
Come on out. We'll be happy to talk fiber to you and show off our beautiful fleeces.