In my quest to learn as much as I can about natural fibre (and wool in general), and since I had an opportunity to attend Fibre Week at Olds College this year, I decided to enroll in their Wool Judging course. Not only did I get to immerse myself in greasy wool (literally) I learned SO MUCH more about the fibre than I ever thought. We looked at over 40 fleeces and learned about the scientific side of wool as well as the artistic. I learned what to look for in a good fleece- not only from an artisan’s view but also what a commercial buyer would want. We learned how to count microns with the naked eye (more or less) and how to score fleeces based
on characteristics of breed. This last part is the most difficult because there are hundreds of sheep breeds and crosses within those breeds. Kemp (the coarse, usually white, kinky hairs you sometimes find in roving) is a huge point deduction in most breeds, except Icelandic and Scottish Blackface breeds. You wouldn’t dock points in this case because kemp is characteristic of those breeds. We learned about seasonal effects or health effects which can have a huge impact on the quality of the fleece for example, the fibres might break apart easily (called a broken fleece), and this is bad news for both the artisan and the commercial buyer. If a sheep isn’t sheared regularly their fibres can become matted or cotted, and this takes away from your useable content. Dyes, paints or brands will lower your overall score as well as too much vegetable matter or manure. Proper skirting is important. You may lose weight initially but the overall
clean yield is crucial, especially in a “by the numbers” judging method (which is used for a commercial judging card). Commercial buyers usually look for fine, white fleeces. This way the yarns they can make will be good for next-to-skin articles and they can dye white fibres. Whereas from an artisan’s perspective, we love all the natural colours. I also learned why the Blue Faced Leicester sheep are called that… the skin on their faces is a dark grey and with their beautiful white fibre their faces look blue. Very cool. Wool is such a wonderful fibre with so many benefits; it’s antibacterial, has a good memory, keeps you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot, it’s breathable and fire retardant just to name a few. Sheep are so cute too, how can you not love them?
This little guy was one of the sheep at the Grasslands Sheep Show in Drake Sask this past July. I was lucky enough to be asked to judge the show and I
had 13 fleeces which I had categorized from fine to coarse, and judged it with a commercial judging card. People were very interested and asked a lot
of questions and I was happy to explain what I was doing as I went along. I awarded prizes after a few hours and I was happy with the results. Val Fiddler (one of my classmates in the Wool Judging course) was my scribe and we got to get close and personal with some great Saskatchewan Sheep
breeds. She also had a good display with several of the sheep breeds we looked at for others to see, and it’s true, BFL sheep DO have blue faces. You can read the article she wrote on the Sask Sheep Breeders Blog. My picture was on the cover of their Oct issue of “Sheep Shape” and this article was in their magazine. I had a great time.