Secrets to Sheep Show Success

Getting Fleeced

The first fleece I ever bought won a blue ribbon in its category. It was a lovely charcoal color, a medium to fine Corriedale with a 21/2” staple. It smelled heavenly. I bought it for a good price and split it with a friend.

It was a disaster. And I should have known.

You see, when I was learning to spin from Maggie Casey, she told me to take a lock of the wool and snap it sharply, listening for a sharp pinging sound. Judith MacKenzie told me the same thing. I pulled off a lock and pulled, and I did hear a ping . . . but also a little crackle. It wasn’t very loud, and in all the commotion I wonder whether the judge simply couldn’t hear it.

I should have listened to my ears. My friend told me that she cried in frustration trying to wash, card, and spin the fleece. I was determined and did eventually wind up with some nice yarn and a lot of waste. The fleece was just a little tender.

(An excellent shepherd has cautioned me that if you pull hard enough, any fleece will break. I’m not suggesting we all go around ripping wonderful fleeces to shreds, just that you give a sharp little tug between your fingers and listen for a bell-like ping.)

Check out the crimp on Rua, a Corridale/Cotswold/Lincoln/CVM who belongs to Dana Ruehlman of Boulder, Colorado. Photo at the Estes Park Wool Market by Christa Tippmann.

Maybe you’d like a little Shetland fleece? This one belongs to Emma Hopkins of Zionsville, Indiana. Photo at the Estes Park Wool Market by Christa Tippmann.

Hearing is Believing

I don’t know whether every spinner at a wool show gets overcome by wool fumes and makes a poor purchase, but I imagine a lot do. There are so many different breeds and breed standards to evaluate, and it’s easy to get caught up in the flurry of ribbons and go home with something inappropriate for your needs.

As for me, I have successfully bought a number of fleeces at subsequent shows, including one that got an admiring note in the box when it came back from the mill. I listen very carefully indeed.

You’ll want to keep your hands free for pinging at your next fiber festival, but in your pocket keep Judith Mackenzie’s handy wool-buying tips (available on her Three Bags Full video).

With a face this cute, I’d like to take the lamb home along with the fleece. Teeswater lamb from Roy and Myrtle Dow. Photo at the Estes Park Wool Market by Christa Tippmann.

Here are some of Judith’s basic questions to consider:

Is it healthy?

Is it strong?

Is it properly skirted?

Is it free of parasites and bugs?

Is it stain-free?

Does it have excessive vegetable matter?

Is it cotted?

Is it tippy?

Is it well shorn?

Happy spinning! And shopping! And wool-huffing!

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