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Skirting The Issue

Skirting is the term that is used for removing VM and tags from the wool after shearing. VM is vegetable matter. Tags can either be grease tags or poop tags. Just think of a price tag hanging from a wool sweater. Same thing only ickier! What I tell my customers is, remove anything you wouldn’t want next to your skin. The carder takes care of the small stuff.

I first learned to skirt wool from a VERY particular person. What I didn't know was that I was tossing out good wool in the process. I was being a little too particular, but there’s a fine line. The picker and the carder at the mill do an amazing job of removing debris from a lot of what I was tossing in the compost heap before. What you have to be considerate of are poop tags, large pieces of VM, and cockle burs. Obviously things like feathers, twine, and any other foreign matter that shouldn't be there needs to be picked out as well. When you are doing a lot of skirting, sometimes things get overlooked, but if you are paying to send your wool off, it is monetarily in your best interest to remove excess waste and weight. We find all manner of things in wool once it arrives here. I have seen honey bees, paper bee nests (or the start of), feathers, any number or bugs who have mistakenly crawled into the wool and weren't able to get out, and even a hummingbird and a Goldfinch. They were tangled in the wool and never made it out, presumably gathering for their nest.

There are many things that are hard on the carder, not just the machine, but the person doing it. Thorns, rose briars and cockle burrs hurt and have drawn blood. It is easier to remove this stuff on the skirting table the day of shearing. We built a new PVC skirting table last year with plans I found on YouTube. I use it here at the mill for incoming wool that has not been skirted. Customers get charged extra for that. I will get to use it for shearing here this year for the first time. Debris can fall through easily as well as second cuts. Second cuts are literally when the shears pass through a sheared part of the sheep while shearing. It creates these little pieces of wool that are cut on both ends. Handspinners don't like them, but honestly, the carder spits them out too! Those can often be shaken out on the skirting table along with a lot of dirt and VM, which equals weight.

The bottom line is, skirting saves the customer money in a variety of ways and skirting fresh off of the sheep is really the easiest and doesn’t take a lot of time. I do mine alone with one shearer and often no helpers. My fleeces go into paper lawn and leaf bags to allow them to breathe. When in doubt, ask someone who has done it. We are always happy to share information and with that said, Kami Noyes has a good blog post on skirting a fleece with a visual diagram.

Bugs, burs, birds, twigs, poop, twine, sticks, dead animal parts, NO!

Belly wool, head wool, hiney wool, NO!

Neck wool laden with VM, NO!

Compost all of that and use the rest!

These photos show just some of the things I’ve found in incoming fiber that are not desirable!


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1 Comment

Mar 19, 2023

Great Review on skirting!!- And I recognize the skirting table from MTFibershed's Business Member Applicant Marie Everett! Thanks LaVonne Stuckey

Julie Tome

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