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Fleece

Fleece



In Britain there are more than 60 Hill, Mountain and Downland sheep breeds, which annually produce in the region of 37 million kilos of fleece wool.  It takes a full year for a sheep to grow its fleece.  Once a year, usually in the warmer months, sheep are gathered for shearing.  Shearing is a form of harvesting; this does not hurt the sheep and is required for their welfare.  A professionally trained shearer is a skilled and careful practitioner, able to shear one sheep in less than two minutes – 250 per day.



Fleeces must be kept clean and dry after shearing.  Each one is rolled and then packed into a big sack called a ‘wool sheet’ ready for the delivery to The British Wool Marketing Board for grading.  The raw fleece is delivered to grading depots and is graded on a series of criteria such as colour, length and strength of the staple into quality and type.

Fleeces of the same grade are pressed into tight, bulk bales for efficient handling and storage and then sold.  Once sold the wool is transferred to the scouring plant for the first stage of processing.



The raw wool is covered in grease, mud, seeds and anything else picked up in the field, so the wool is washed clean in a series of baths containing detergent and hot water.  The wool is then thoroughly rinsed and squeezed through rollers and then hung to dry.  This process produces clean wool and Lanolin.  Lanolin is a grease that is removed from the wool and purified which is used in face and hand cream, soap and ointment.



The scoured wool is now clean but very tangled.  The tangled scoured wool is then passed through a carding machine, which is a series of rotating rollers, covered with pointed wire or teeth, which gradually separates the tufts of wool into individual fibres and removes odd pieces of hay and straw which may still remain.  The wool is then removed from the carding as a continuous ribbon of loose fibres, the wool is then further processed by two routes, either the woollen process, wool which is ready for spinning or the worsted process, which is wool ready for combing.



Wool runs through a series of teeth, removing short fibres and drawing out long ones to align them in one direction.  With the longer fibres laying in parallel, a continuous rope of wool is produced called a top.  The ‘top’ is wound into a ball ready for spinning.  The process of spinning is the same for woollen and worsted wool. The wool is passed onto a series of machines which twist and draw out the fibres into a continuous thread of the correct thickness.



Worsted yarn is spun more tightly and is stronger than woollen yarn.  Worsted yarn is strong with a smooth regular appearance and is used a cloth.  Woollen yarn is woolly, or hairy and irregular in appearance and is used in knitwear and carpets.  The yarn is now ready to be woven into cloth or carpet.  The principle is the same for both.  Weaving is interlacing two sets of threads at right angles to each other.  It is made on a ‘loom’.  



The yarn which runs the length of the fabric is called the ‘warp’ and the yarn interwoven across the warp is called the ‘weft’.  This is carried by a ‘shuttle’.  The once woollen yarn is now carpet and is ready for distribution.  The once worsted yarn is now cloth and ready for making into a finished product.  The wool can then be dyed to any desired colour.



There are five fleece classes at the show and in each section the judge will be looking for a fleece that meets the criteria of each class and has the least number of faults.



The classes are:



Mountain and Moorland

Includes Swaledale, Lonk and Blackface this wool is mainly used for carpets.



Medium Wool/Fine Hill

Includes Derbyshire Grtistone and Cheviot the uses of this type of wool include carpets, tweed cloth, knitwear and blankets.



Medium Wool

Includes Texel, this wool is very versatile because of its characteristics and is used in knitwear, blankets and carpets, depending on its fineness. 



Fine Wool

Includes Suffolk and Down Breeds these wools are used usually in blends for knitwear and cloth.



Naturally coloured

Includes Jacob, Black Welsh, Herdwick.  Used undyed it has niche market appeal and in a wide range of textiles, including carpets and clothing.  It is also very popular with hand spinners.  

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