In my Fleece to Yarn class I get to share something I love to do, analyze and skirt a fleece.
Skirting is the process of going over the fleece and removing the bad bits. Usually, this is the outer "skirt" of the fleece, the legs and edges tend to be full of dirt and have shorter fibers. Sometimes, the middle of the back had a lot of VM from other animals dropping hay on the sheep's back. A diagram for this:
One thing you may notice as you skirt is that the fiber changes quality. The neck area can be crimpier and softer, and the hind end -- haunches and before the tail -- can have kemp (coarse fibers) or be coarser overall.
So, do you blend the whole fleece for an overall average fiber, or do you separate and process the parts individually?
When I have a fleece with large differences, I separate and process them individually, planning specific projects to fit the quality of each part of the fleece. Something for finer wool with the neck fleece, something sturdier with the coarser fleece. In fact, when I had Shetlands of my own, I used to make 3 separate piles: the neck (softest) and the britch (kempy) and then all the rest.
But when the fleece is very consistent, I process it all together. Like this Targhee drying on my impromptu drying rack today:
Note: if I send a fleece to the mill, I give it a good skirting and bag it all up, so I could get maximum return, rather than separating it into batches.
One thing to consider about blending is that it doesn't necessarily make for a softer wool that the coarse wool alone. Blending two different fiber diameters can accentuate the differences rather than average them out. The best thing to do is sample. I've blended llama and Shetland to good effect before, nice llama from my 18 micron boy Mahogany and a local Shetland named Margee. It was lovely roving, nicer than Margee on her own. So, that worked out well, with fibers with similar hands going in. Adding fine fiber to coarse cannot stop the coarser fiber's prickle factor, though it will spread the coarse fiber around more so there is more distance between prickles.
So, consider what uses you want to make of the fiber. Would you get more out of it if the whole fleece were blended? Or could you do something different with the softest and coarsest parts and still make good use of the rest?
This article © 2013 Amelia Garripoli, Ask The Bellwether.