Wensleydale Fleece - "the finest and the most valuable lustre longwool fleece in the world"
- It is soft, fine, long, lustrous and 100% wool
- White, black or shades of grey in colour
- Bradford count: 44 - 47 (33 - 35 microns)
- Weight: up to 5kg of useful wool
- Average staple length: 12- 35 cm, 5 - 13 in.
The fleece is pure wool due to this unusual feature of the birthcoat of the lambs. The primary hair follicles, which in other breeds grow coarse fibres called kemp, in Wensleydales produce fine wool, giving a 100% wool fleece of very uniform diameter.
Mostly high quality, lustrous knitting wool and weaving yarn. Fleece of all shades is very popular with handspinners. It is combed, not carded, and spun "worsted", ( twisting parallel fibres), to retain the lustre. Some people incorporate the uncombed curling locks into their spinning.
The long crimped locks are also in great demand for felting , either felted into the background material or left loose to hang as a fringe. Our coloured fleeces come in a range of shades, from light grey through to black. The white wool dyes extremely well due to its uniformity and lack of kemp.
On the Sheep
It takes about 15 months for a lamb to grow a full fleece. They need to be kept in pasture devoid of thistles, thorn bushes, or any other debris which will inevitably finish up in their fleece.
Photographs showing sheep with their fleece to the ground are of yearlings (that is the previous year’s lambs) and are most likely to be ewes (often referred to as "hoggs in wool"). This is because we shear the rams in spring to grow a covering of fleece (which grows back in tight curls) to show as "shearlings".
The ewes are often left to be shown "in full fleece" and are shorn later in summer. Their fleece will never grow back as long again, although we still get a good fleece from the sheep for many years.(8 -10in / 20 - 25cm from a 2-shear then 5 - 8in / 12 - 20cm from then on.) They remain very curly.
Our main flock is sheared normally, but the shearlings we clip using hand shears. We tie them up tight on a halter, and clip downwards from the central parting. It is usual to leave a few centimetres of wool on the lower part of the body to give the sheep a square look when the fleece grows back.
Before shearing our sheep are dagged. The yearlings are then washed in cold water to remove the dirt that have accumulated over winter but leaving some of the lanolin.
After shearing we pick out any straw and other debris and skirt the fleece to remove any dirty, cotted or poor wool from the edges .
All the shearling fleeces and good fleeces from older sheep are then rolled and put into polythene bags labelled with staple length, weight, price etc, ready for sale.
A good fleece will have a high lustre, a good handle (soft to touch) and be evenly crimped all along the staple. The wool quality should not vary over the fleece. Some sheep have coarse wool on their flanks, which is not desirable, nor is a fleece with a lot of crayon or marking spray.
We sell the raw fleeces whole, (occasionally we will split one). They weigh in the region of 2.5 - 5kg, and are priced per kg. Prices vary according to the quality of the wool.
We sell some fleeces which have been washed.
To do this they are first soaked in cold water, for 2 or 3 days if necessary, the dirty water is changed, and the fleece gently squeezed. When the water is clean the fleece is added to a bucket of hand hot water with soap flakes or washing up liquid. It is soaked again for an hour or so and the fleece is gently moved around.
When clean, it is rinsed in small amounts with several changes of hand hot water. Is is then gently squeezed, put into a pillow case, tied up and spun dry.
The fleece is dried away from heat. It is important that hot fleece is not put into cold water because this matts the wool. If I’ve been in a great hurry I’ve put the fleece into a wool wash in the machine (in a pillow case!) . It works, but not so well as the fibres tend to jumble and felt.
Washed fleece is sold by weight starting at 100g.