I started Shearer’s Girl Yarns last autumn so this summer will be my first opportunity to attend the major fibre festivals. I’ve taken the plunge and booked myself a stand at both Fibre-East and Fibrefest.
Fibre-East, 23,24 July, is a brand new fibre festival, located at Thurleigh near Bedford. The event will give fibre enthusiasts in the east and south of England a chance to attend a specialist event without a long trek. To date the main fibre events have been Woolfest in Cumbria and Wonder Wool Wales. Fibrefest, 20,21 August, in Devon, is a smaller version of Woolfest. This year Fibrefest will be at a new location, Bicton College, East Budleigh. The move should be a good thing as there will be more space and facilities at the college. I went as a member of the public in 2009 when Fibrefest was at Cold Harbour Mill, it was a great event but a bit cramped.
As a new exhibitor it is hard to know what to expect. I am currently trying to estimate how much stock I will need for the two events. I’ve already sent a number of fleeces to the mill for processing into batts. I spent a day crawling around on the floor selecting and sorting the fleeces. The mill advises a fleece will lose 30-50% of its weight during processing. Part of this weight loss is due to the removal of grease and dirt during washing, the rest is down to skirting, the removal of unsuitable fibre. I wanted to skirt the fleeces myself so I would only take usable fibre to the mill.
The best time to skirt a fleece is when it has just been shorn. Once the fleece has been rolled it can be difficult to tell which part of the sheep the different areas of the fleece came from. These fleeces had all been rolled so I had to unroll them and work out which bit was which.
It isn’t critical to know which part of the sheep the fibre came from as you can work your way over the fleece looking at a section at a time and judging the quality of the wool. It does help however if you can keep the fleece in its original ‘sheep shape’ as you can then see straight away where the britching and shoulder wool are. The neck and shoulder wool are the best sections of the fleece, the brtiching, which is the wool from the hindlegs and back end, is the worst quality. Also the wool along the centre of the back can be brittle from weathering. The edges of the fleece can contain shorter fibres and be too messy to work with. It depends how fussy you want to be.
Sorting a fleece or twenty is all about decisions – is that bit good enough or not? Would I want to spin it or wear it? I’m terrible at decision making so I spent hours deliberating! I weighed each fleece so I could estimate how many batts I will get back. After skirting the fleeces ranged in weight from 1kg to a humongous 4kg. The fleeces will be turned into 250g batts, a convenient way for spinners to sample different breeds without the commitment of an entire fleece. So far I have got Jacob, Poll Dorset, Portland, Portland lamb, Romney, Shetland and Badger Face Welsh Mountain. I have arranged with the mill to keep the breeds separate.
I’m also waiting for some yarn the mill is spinning for me. I selected the fleeces and skirted them at shearing last year. All of the fleeces are from sheep which are a cross between the North of England Mule and a Texel. A North of England Mule is a cross between a Blue Face Leicester and either a Scotch Black Face or a Swaledale. The BfL characteristics have carried through in these sheep. The staple is very long and soft. The fleeces all had ‘wow’ factor so I hope they will make a lovely yarn. I have seen a small sample and I was pleased with the lustre and softness. The yarn should be on sale at Fibre-East and Fibrefest (unless it all sells at Fibre-East of course!)