When the last snippet of wool is on the shearing floor, the sheep gets up and scampers. Any sign of regret that the coat of the last six – or maybe twelve – months is off? None whatsoever, not in June at 85 degrees, not in November at 50. It had been her mattress; and a record of her history with little bits of straw and alfalfa and everything else embedded in its fibers; and a source of her identifying odor (we know this because the dogs will sniff her hide); and the residue of all the chalk and spray marks the shepherd has made to keep track of her health and treatments.
So off she goes, and what’s to be done with the fleece?
First, get it out of the way so VC can get at the next one after his back is unkinked. And then into a bag, one bag per fleece, so it can be hung from a scale and weighed and tagged so we know whose it was and a record made. The bag will not be closed so the fleece can breathe.
So it is still a fleece, particular to one sheep.
After a while, when all have been gathered in, the bags will be gone through to remove all the extra bits that fingers can grasp, one bag at a time. The fingers belong to VC’s offspring.
Bits of kempy wool will be removed too and the wool that is all ensnarled with other stuff. It doesn’t amount to much, but when the wool has gone to the next location, the washing, carding, and spinning process will work much better with the debris gone.
At this point it is no longer an intact fleece because the wool will be packaged into boxes for shipping. The white wool will be intermingled at random, and Elizabeth will have sorted the natural colored wool into various groups to produce at the end skeins of different greys and browns.
When it gets to the spinners, it will be washed in a solution so that it doesn’t get clumpy, and then it will be carded, so the fibers are all straight. Both processes get rid of oil (lanolin), chalk dust, Flint Hills dust, and spray color.
And then the fibers are spun, twisted together to form the wool for Elizabeth’s fabrics and carpets. And, occasionally, a scarf for me to wear in the winter when I’m out with the sheep. They don’t give it a glance.
© Jerry Wigglesworth, June 2013