Skirting the Fleece

An interesting aroma wafted from the box as I tore the tape from it. I knew it was sheep fleece, but I had never smelled anything like that previously.  It didn’t have a musty smell, so that was good. It just smelled like barnyard.

Barnyard is not a bad smell, really. Most people think of manure when you mention a barnyard, but the fleece did not smell like that. It just had a woodsy, outdoorsy, windblown scent – the kind of scent that makes you want to be outdoors singing “Climb Every Mountain” or something.

Climbing mountains is not what this post is about, however.

This post is about skirting a fleece.


My sources for this new adventure in spinning are:

I bought both books from Interweave Store.  I am also not receiving any compensation for this free advertising.
This video helped me understand skirting:

What is Skirting?

If you’re new to fiber processing like I am, you are probably wondering what skirting is. Well, basically, if you haven’t watched the above video, skirting is the process of removing vegetable matter (VM), thinner wool, dung tags (yes, yuck) and matted fiber from areas around the sheep’s legs, tail and neck. Remember, sheep are barnyard animals, so they can’t help the fact that they sometimes wear a little of what they eat or lie down in. They also can’t clean up after certain activities as well as we humans, so skirting is necessary to get that stuff off. Some spinners will say that buying an unskirted fleece is less desirable and I would agree with that if I were paying by the pound. In this case, however, I wasn’t so that didn’t matter. Besides, I really wanted to start from the beginning as much as I could. I obviously could not shear the sheep so skirting seemed like a logical start. This fleece was also pretty clean even though it wasn’t skirted.

Skirting Upside Down

Here is a video that my husband Mike took of the skirting process. Just to let you know, I made an error. You should skirt with the cut side down. I said this in the video but then I proceeded to skirt with the cut side up. I didn’t fully realize this until I watched the video later and by then it was too late. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

It took about an hour start to finish. The fibers on the Navajo Churro fleece are very long too so I found it a little more difficult to take the unwanted fibers off. The lady in the demonstration above didn’t seem to have difficulty at all, but that is probably due to the length of fiber in her fleece and her experience. She looked like she knew how to skirt a sheep.

Filming that day was my husband Mike. Stephen, my youngest son, is also in the video and he was holding our Alien Bee Light. The dog Chuck also made an appearance because he was sticking his nose through the fence to smell what the heck was going on. He must have thought it smelled natural enough because he lost interest.

Up Close

Here are some pictures. If we are going to get really serious about this, we’ll build a table that has chicken wire in the middle so that VM can drop off the fleece onto the ground, but plywood, a canvas and sawhorses are good enough for now.

I also found that wearing the gloves was a good idea, especially when I had to pick off a dung tag. That was gross, but it wasn’t huge or wet so we’re good. As in the case of handling all animals you want to make sure that you practice sanitary measures and handling a fleece is no different. After handling our fleece we all washed our jackets and jeans (and my gloves) and scrubbed up.

All in all, I am finding this a very satisfying experience. There is something about making things from scratch that just makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.

Next up … washing the fleece.

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