Shearing is arguably the most important day of the year for us as fibre growers, it's the day that marks the ticking along of the farming calendar. We're writing a series of blog posts on all things shearing, this time around it's time to look at grading.
After the shearers have left for the day, we get started on grading. This year it suited us perfectly - the afternoon heat had died down slightly, and a bit of a breeze had picked up through the sheep barns.
Grading is an essential process when it comes to handling wool to create a yarn, and one of two that the fibre goes through before scouring. It requires skill, experience and an extensive knowledge of fibre and sheep.Sally is our resident fibre expert, and brings all these attributes and more. Over two decades of grading and sorting fibre for yarn production means she can spot a quality fleece a mile off!
During grading, she’s doing a few distinct processes. Firstly, there’s skirting - the step to remove any unusable wool* from around the edge of the fleece, mostly belly and britch wool, which is likely to be mucky and cotted (felted). Next, she’s colour and breed sorting, keeping separate shades in their own sacks, ready for final sorting. Finally, she’s also separating the fleeces by age, fineness and sex. Younger sheep have finer fleeces, and ewes have finer fleeces than rams, so grading these separately helps manage the quality of the yarn.
As we steadily work through the sacks fleece by fleece, she’s also taking into consideration the upcoming breeding season this autumn. Whilst the quality of fibre is fresh in our minds, we start to think about which rams and ewes have produced the best fleeces and which shearlings (sheep that have their first shearing, usually at around 14-15 months old) will be worth breeding from.
As the sun was setting on shearing day, it’s a lovely way to round off the fibre growing year for us. Bob the Border Collie was by now exhausted, and whilst she takes her role as a wool dog very seriously, she was very much struggling to keep her eyes open - it had been an exciting day all around!
You can read a little more about grading, sorting and our approach to designing a yarn here.