Here are a few things that I look for when choosing a fleece for handspinning.
The fleece should be fairly clean and free of vegetable matter and other dirt and debris. It is possible to clean and card the debris, but it is a lot of work, so take this into consideration in your purchase and in the price that you pay.
Different breeds of sheep have varying amounts of crimp or waviness in the fibre. The amount of crimp affects how the fibre will spin and what type of yarn is spun from it. There are 2 general categories of crimp. Some are noticeably wavy such as the Romney, and other breeds have a more distinctive and closer together crimp, such as the Merino or Cheviot breeds. These are more suitable for spinning for light, fluffy sweater weights.
Photo comparing a Cheviot fleece(Left)
and a Romney(Right)
Washed (Bottom)and Unwashed (Top)samples
Different breeds of sheep have varying amounts of lustre or sheen in the wool. The lustre affects how the light is reflected and what the finished product will look like. Some wools are more suitable for blankets, and others are better used for finely spun, and woven fabrics.
If you are a beginner spinner, look for a staple length between 2 – 3 inches. It is more difficult to spin longer staple lengths of 4-5 inches.
When checking a fleece, check for breaks in the staple. Give a few of the locks a gentle tug. It should not break easily. If you find that the tip breaks, this fleece is probably not suitable for handspinning. The breaks will work their way loose in the finished product and cause pilling.
Ask to see a washed sample of the fleece. You can easily wash a small sample of the locks, in the kitchen sink. Just add a few drops of dishwashing liquid and wash the sample in warm water. This will remove most of the lanolin and you will be able to get an idea of what the clean fleece will look like. The yellow colour (the lanolin) should wash out. If the washed sample is still very yellow, then it would be best to look for another fleece instead.
More about Handspinning
The Whole Craft of Spinning: From the Raw Material to the Finished Yarn
Everything you need to know from set-up to finished product in order to create distinctive yarns for use in knitting, weaving, crocheting, needlepoint, embroidery, and macrame.
UK: Whole Craft of Spinning
In Sheep’s Clothing
A comprehensive look at the characteristics of wool of 100 breeds of sheep, this guide gives special attention to fleece characteristics, methods of preparation and spinning, and best end use.
UK: In Sheep’s Clothing
The Knitter’s Book of Wool: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding, Using, and Loving this Most Fabulous Fiber
The vast world of sheep and their wool into the language and context of knitting.
UK: Knitters Book of Wool