So there I was, wandering the aisles and reviewing fleeces at the Fleece sale. I wasn’t shopping for me, no I was not! I was shopping for the store. I was also training some new wool buyers.
See, I like the fleece sale. It’s a really great opportunity for me to expand my shepherds list for fleeces. The sale lets me evaluate fleeces honestly and anonymously with my shipping Wombat and whoever else I bring with me without the hazards of having a shepherd lurking at my shoulder getting bristly, worried, or upset at my critiques.
It has happened before when I’ve evaluated a shepherd’s fleeces against breed standard. I get that, all their fleeces are important to them and maybe Sally-Ewe had a rough lambing or was tormented by an obnoxious barn cat. But Sally-Ewe’s fleece is not breed standard. It was too short, didn’t have the right crimp, or it had unacceptable flaws. Perhaps it was horribly filthy; while I’m super supportive of 4H’rs that’s not going to get me to buy a fleece filled from tip to butt end with pulverized – *what* is *that*? As for that one, well, it may be an otherwise lovely merino, but I am quite sure that fleece had both scurf AND canary stain (and since it’s hard to see scurf in the grease that’s a shocker!). This one is really old and her fleece is, well, more kemp than wool now. Yes, your shetland may have a very fine micron count for the thel, but it’s still a dual coated breed – it’ll never be a fine wool. And also, by the way, Sally-Ewe’s fleece just wasn’t worth $100/#.* A little realism here. I will pay you fairly – but neither I nor anyone else should be gouged. I think I’ll pass.
See, I really need all my fleeces to reflect the characteristics of the breed’s wool accurately and appealingly. Sometimes my choices are limited but I can’t evaluate a Scottish Blackface using the standard for merino. The fleece sale, therefore, is perfect for evaluating a shepherd’s work as exhibited in fleece. I can see if a shepherd knows their standard, cares for the nutrition and land, is more focused on a spinner’s flock or the promotion of the breed. I can tell very quickly if I want to call them on the phone and ask for more, directly, at the time of shearing – or even reserve fleeces on the hoof. Many times after a sale I have gone out of my way to go go to the farm and meet with the shepherds. And reserve I do, my friends, reserve I do!
Back to this year’s MDSW….
So I’m wandering through the sale on Sunday, while my fleece buying trainees were in the skirting demonstration. My Wombat and I are exploring everything Saturday left and turned over looking for gems – and some more Shetland fleeces, which after PLY Away I was desperately in need of. Again.
Then I saw it. Ok, I saw THEM.
A gorgeous silvery-pearlescent fine wool fleece from a breed I strongly dislike(™). The staple length was good – slightly shorter than I’d like, but that color! The fleece was uncoated, but not egregiously unclean, just a slight bit of very large bits of straw and hay from the sheep lying down right before shearing – and that color! The staple was sound and pinged like a guitar string – and that color! The weight was good – and that color! The price was good – and that color! Obviously I must hold this for a bit to make a decision.
But then I saw it. Slightly further down the table….
A slightly darker, pewtery-pearl fleece from the same flock. An even better color. With even better staple. With even better length. With even cleaner fleece (perhaps this sheep didn’t lounge like its fellow). Even slightly bigger. And at the same good price. It’s beautiful. It’s got a stripe!
WHAT DO I DO?!?!?!?! I need two of these fleeces like I need a hole in the head. Right?
No really… right? I mean surely…. I have to make a decision. I can’t get them both. Right?
The Shipping Wombat is summoned. “Honey should I?” “Well,” says he, “we could use a colored one on the site. You know we need that. But I don’t think we need two.” BUT BUT BUT…. “BUT WHICH ONE?!?!”
I call for help from a trusted favorite shepherd friend. “Well, this one is prettier, but this one will photograph better – and really, it’s just as pretty. This is so subjective, Alison But if it were me, I’d chose…..” and she picked a fleece.
WHAT DO I DO?!?! Well, if you’re me and certain other fleece-meisters you get both. Right?
Well, I didn’t get both. I exhibited what is a rare and unusual amount of self control. Clearly I need I doctor. I did get one of them though – you didn’t think I was going to NOT get one of them did you? I’m sick, but I’m not THAT sick. Sheesh. Course, now I’m kicking myself for not getting both, but that’s what happens when I second guess. Never second guess. Never.
AND THEN! AND THEN! AND THEN!
I found this AMAZING Karakul fleece. I know I know – what can be amazing about Karakul? It’s so coarse and it’s just for rugs right? No my darlings. No. And this one I was secretly hoping was amazing. It seemed a bit disheveled. Was it tangled? Is this the undercoat – or is it a bit felted at the butt end? I had to find out.
I begged, I pleaded – actually I just asked. I needed to see the fleece open to make sure my instinct was right so I asked the fabulous ladies (YOU GUYS ROCK) at the fleece sale if I could open it up to check a few things. I wanted the fleece – but needed to be SURE. We barely started to unroll it when I confirmed this miracle. No wonder it seemed tangled. LOOK AT THE STAPLE LENGTH! “Surely it’s more than 18 months growth, right?” one of us asked. “Where is it from?” asked another. “California, and it’s clean and dry – I bet they just let it loose in some pasturelands,” I said. “It reminds me of the way it looks when they are allowed to shift their grazing naturally, with the seasons.” I have never seen a Karakul fleece like it. And the staple is as long as my forearm. No. Really. That’s my arm there.
And is that? Why yes! It’s THEL – there is an undercoat on this bad boy! A delicious, soft, yummy undercoat. And the outer coat. My friends, my own hair isn’t as silky soft as this Karakul.
I think we may have a fight on our hands…..
*Disclaimer: Names and dollar events have been fictionalized – and I haven’t encountered all these things in a single fleece – but the inspiring events were real.