Visit My Etsy Shop

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tender Fleece - What Are My Options?

I recently purchased several raw fleeces at top dollar from a reliable wool grower I know. Before purchasing I tested each fleece for soundness - I took small staple samples from at least three places on the fleece and snapped them hard. All seemed strong and sound.

After washing one of the gray fleeces I was surprised to find pale creamy-colored neps (wool balls) throughout the fleece. I tested several more locks and discovered that the fleece was tender. Those neps were the tips of the wool, broken off during a very gentle washing. BAD NEWS!

The photos above are the Before and After shots of a staple of wool with tips, and with tips pulled off.

I called the farmer and she instantly refunded the cost of the fleece.

First of all, how did I miss it when I first tested the wool? Here are a few possibilities. The wool was very greasy. That high amount of lanolin could have given a bit of strength to the staples. I may have tested too large a hunk of fiber at a time. And finally, I REALLY wanted that fleece. So, I probably didn't snap as hard as I should have.

Second, what makes a fleece tender? My farmer friend said MANY things! That particular fleece came from a sheep that had had an infection in her udder while she was trying to nurse twin lambs. Then there was a weird April blizzard - sheep were eating snow while nursing lambs, yet another stress to the system.

Anything that stresses a sheep can cause a weak spot in her fleece during the time of trouble. A sheep can get a tender spot in her fleece if she gets sick, nurses triplets or quads, has a very difficult birth, etc. For a few days, the fleece doesn't grow well and it consequently weak at that place in the staple. This is a good reason NOT to reserve fleeces from farmers ahead of time - a fleece that was perfect one year may have faults the next, even with the very best care and feed available. It is also a very good reason to buy ONLY from a farmer who will give you a money-back guarantee of quality.

So, what are the options? If this fleece is carded as-is, the tips will break off and form balls all through the wool. The resulting batt or roving will be very, very lumpy. Nasty. The two options are, tear off all the tips by hand. This can be done. If the rest of the fleece is sound it might be worth the time. The tips can also be snipped off with scissors, but one would have to be very careful to cut below the tenderness. Combing might get out most of the tender bits but most is not good enough for most of us spinners!

I don't have time to snip or pull off bad tips or comb an entire fleece. I took my refund gratefully, and sadly said goodbye to that fleece.

Maybe next year!


  1. Thanks for the invaluable info!

  2. I've never worked with fleece before and wouldn't have an idea about what's good or bad, so your information is very helpful.

    Secondly, if I found the flaw you found with the fiber, I'd figure it was me, not the sheep. Experience is a good teacher, thanks for passing yours on.