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Preparing a fleece for carding

by Steve Clarkson

The aim of fleece preparation is to achieve a high quality carded product, which is suitable for further processing (usually spinning or felting). The better the preparation, the better the carded product will be; the proverbial ‘Rubbish in – Rubbish out’.

Preparation should start at shearing, and collection of the fleece from the shearing board. The belly wool should be separated by the shearer, and cleared out of the way, so it will not get mixed with the fleece wool. Most shearers are well aware of this. During the shearing, wool from the face, the lower legs, and any dags or very dirty wool, can be swept out of the way, but be careful not to get in the way of, or upset the shearer. They usually like to do their job with minimal interference! Ideally, once the sheep is shorn, the fleece should be thrown onto a wool table, skirted to remove any obvious dirty wool, and then rolled and stored for further inspection and preparation, when time permits.

Diagram of a fleece laid out with the areas for skiring identified.Once you have decided that you like a fleece, and would like to have it carded, don’t just pick up the bag in which you stored it, and give it to the carder.Get the fleece out to skirt and clean it properly.

Lay the fleece out flat on the floor or a table. Check all around the outside edges of the fleece, to ensure that all the dirty, short, or hairy bits have been removed. Usually these are in the areas shown in the diagram. The belly wool should have been removed at shearing.

Then check the rest of the fleece. There is often an area of ‘weathered scruffy wool in the mid-back region. If so, it should be removed, as it will downgrade the final carded product.

Any wool that is badly cotted (matted) or heavily contaminated with vegetable matter should be removed. Carders hate wool that is infested with thistle heads, for example, as this material gets imbedded in the machinery, requiring time consuming cleaning of equipment. If there is a lot of vegetable matter left in the fleece, it will also still be in the carded product.

Weak Tips and Breaks

You can test for weak tips and breaks by holding a staple of wool at both ends and pulling hard, If the tips break off then you have weak tips, which will appear in your carded wool as short lumpy bits, which are not desirable. This is sometimes a problem with hogget wool if they have not been shorn as lambs. If you have a break elsewhere in the staple, usually as the result of some form of stress, then the quality of the carded product will be affected in the same way as if the fleece is of very short wool, (a product which, when spun, is weak). Second cuts of wool produced by the shearer, or any other short wool should be removed, for the same reasons as week tips and breaks.

To get a good carded product, wool should have a staple length of at least 60mm but preferably 80-90cm. Very long wool, over 150mm can also produce mechanical problems in the carding process.


Once the fleece has been prepared to your satisfaction, the final requirement before carding is washing the fleece to remove dirt and wool grease. Depending on the fleece, washing can reduce the weight of your fleece by 20 to 30%! If you are getting your fleece carded by a professional carder, then you are best to leave the washing process to them. They will know the best way to wash your fleece, depending on cleanliness, breed, length etc, and Often they use water hotter than is available in most domestic hot water systems.

Hopefully some of this information is helpful. Further useful Information is available in a number of  YouTube videos, including  ‘How to skirt a wool fleece‘ from  Joybilee Farm TV.

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