e Working with Wool ​​​​​

August 6, 2012


This is my first Working with Wool article and I want to record the things I'm learning as I work with wool as well as getting to know women who are interested in sharing their skills. One such woman is Jane.

Jane and I met at a local fiber guild meeting and we spent that afternoon talking about all the steps needed to take a fleece from "sheep to shawl."

A few weeks later Jane spent an afternoon teaching me how to skirt a fleece using her skirting table and one of Windward's fleeces.

Part of Sombrita's Fleece on Jane's Skirting Table

First, we laid out a section of fleece and talked about what it means to "skirt" a fleece. If you were to look at a whole fleece you would remove the "edges" thus taking off the "skirt." These edges are the transition from the full thickness fleece to the thinner and shorter sections of fleece around the belly and legs. We removed the skirt as well as fleece "tags" ‒ fleece matted with poop or other material.

Sombrita's fleece cut side up

With the fleece skirt and tags removed we took a look at both sides of the fleece, the cut side and the other side. With the cut side up we fluffed the fleece to encourage vegetable matter and dirt to fall through the table.

Jane's Table ‒ so I can build one for Windward

I'll talk about building our table later but now I want to finish talking about skirting. After you fluff the fleece, take a closer look at the wool. Is it stained (with urine)? Is its color consistent? Are you planning to dye it or leave it natural? And what to do with the wool that you removed?

Lilly's Fleece showing color variations

Last week Jane and I skirted 2 more fleeces and it really does not take much time. I think we had both fleeces skirted in about an hour. We looked at Lilly's fleece with the intent of dying the wool so we decided to remove the yellow stained wool keeping only the nicest sections. Oh, and the "skirtings" go back to Andrew for a felting or insulation project he has in mind.

Lilly's fleece ‒ a close up of the stained wool

The best (nicest, longest, strongest, etc.) wool comes from the blanket area, a wide section of wool across the back of the sheep, avoiding the neck, stomach, and tail end of the fleece.

A section of Lilly's blanket

Now the Table:

Realizing that a table four-foot deep by six-foot wide will take up a lot of space but only gets used about one month a year, I designed our skirting table to be dismantled for better storage.

Windward's new Skirting Table

I started by searching out cured lumber that was cut on-site several years ago. First, I assembled the table-top frame and mesh covering, built out of two layers of home-cut lumber with the mesh stapled down between the layers. Next I built modified saw horse legs that could be removed and secured to the table using wooden locks.

A side view showing the double layer table top and the locks

With the triangle braces installed, the table was still quite wobbly so Walt recommend that the sawhorse legs be braced with bolted on support pieces to maintain the collapse-ability of the table.

front view showing the cross braces

Our new skirting table is ready for use but how do we take it apart and put it back together next year. Some bright yellow paint came in handy as I marked all the joints to make reassembly easy.

One of the markings connecting the table to the saw horse legs

The next photo shows the lock rotated parallel to the table top and the top lifted off the sawhorse legs. These locks rotate perpendicular to the table to secure the top to the legs.

Table top lifted off one of the legs

With the bolts removed, the table can be leaned against a wall inside a shipping container freeing up floor space for other projects.