Sometime within your fiber journey you will come across some fleeces for sale. The price of raw wool fleece can vary quite a bit and some really nice fleeces can even be found for…free! When you do come across a fleece or are new to shopping for a fleece at a fiber festival etc, here are some tips.
Look for consistency
A good quality fleece will be mostly the same color and staple length. Also take a look at a few of the staples from the fleece and compare them side by side. If they are fairly consistent you are looking good.
Make sure it’s clean…
Check for vegetation throughout the fleece. For the most part it should be clean, a little is ok but if there is a lot don’t pay much if anything for it. It could be salvageable depending on how tight the fibers have locked in the vegetation. If you do end up purchasing a fleece that needs some vegetation removed you’ll need some wool hand combs. If there is a lot of “veg” or vegetation in the fleece don’t bother with it unless it’s free and you have hand combs already and a lot of free time.
Investigate the Staples
You can tell a lot about a fleece by examining the staples. See if they have breaks anywhere or thin spots in the staples. When an animal goes through any type of illness or other trauma while the fleece is growing there can be thin spots or discoloration. Also note the tips of the staples. If the staples are too pointed that’s not good, they should graduate gently to the tip. You’ll also want to make sure the staple length is not too short, typically a 3-5 inch staple is desirable for hand-spinning depending on breed.
Make sure it pulls apart easily
Often fleeces that have been sitting for some time can get felted. This is where heat and moisture and a little agitation has bonded the scales of the wool together, not good. Once fiber is felted…it’s compost. You won’t be able to spin or process it, forget it.
You will find a variety of fleeces are available at fiber shows, most of which are from farmers who are showing their animals regularly. Use these tips above as well as your best judgement to determine what the fleece is worth to you. Also note that other unique breeds may need to be classified and judged with more subjectivity, these are basic guidelines and many factors determine if a fleece is right for you and your specific needs.