September means one thing at Ardalanish; the wool sort! It is the first step in the multi-stage process of turning our raw fleece into our weaving and knit yarn, with which we can make all the lovely things you see in the shop!
The sheared fleeces from this year’s clip have been rolled and stored in woolbags. We go through each fleece one by one, unrolling it and ‘skirting’ it, which means pulling off the bits around the perimeter of the fleece which are normally coarser and matted. The dirty ‘dags’ from the hindquarters, big pieces of ‘VM’ or vegetable matter and any part of the fleece that contain brittle, dry fibres that are felted together won’t make good yarn and don’t make the cut. We pay very close attention at this stage; the quality of the sort determines the quality of the yarn, and it surprises us each year how different the fleeces can be depending on the season we have had.
This year we are mostly sorting Hebridean fleece. As well as our own we have some from the North East of Scotland, various crofts on the Isle of Mull and even a few from Oxfordshire. It is immediately apparent that the expat Hebs down south have had a much easier season! Maybe the grazing has been lush and the weather mild in Oxfordshire this year, because these fleeces are just beautiful, silky and web-like and glossy with lanolin; a pleasure to handle. The Scottish Hebs were more of a mixed bag and although we got some lovely fleece from them, there were more than a few that were felted so much in the middle that they resembled sheepskin rugs! We have kept these ones back with the idea of trying a ‘vegetarian sheepskin’ experiment, so if we get some calm weather this winter we will give it a go and let you know how we got on.
After a few days of hard work, resulting in sore muscles but very soft hands, we pack the fleece into compressed bales and wave them off as they go down to be scoured and spun in Yorkshire. And now we wait! From a weaver’s point of view it’s incredibly exciting to get the yarn back from the spinners and see the results of our efforts, and begin to imagine all the possibilities on the loom.