Kellie asked, "How long can a fleece hang around and still be useful. My BIL has fleeces left over from last year. Are they worth looking at?"
The short answer is, it depends. It depends alot on the storage conditions, the state of the fleece when it went into storage, the type of fleece. So, you aren't going to know unless you look!
A local friend of mine had fleeces going back to 1998 that she had skirted, rolled, and stored in cloth sacks cinched and hanging from the roof of her hay shed. We live in the fairly temperate Pacific Northwest, so temperature shifts aren't extreme. These were medium wool crossbreeds, and they were in fine condition. I know that because I washed and carded several of them for her.
If the fleeces get alot of temperature variation, then the lanolin will get harder to remove -- it will soften when warmed, reharden when cooled. Fine wools don't store as well as medium or coarse wools, the lanolin on them seems to get extra gummy and tough.
Really high lanolin coarse wools can get quite messy when stored, as the lanolin, in warm conditions, will move through the fleece to pool at the bottom -- leaving a bunch of fleece potentially swimming in lanoliny muck.
If they weren't well skirted before being stored, it raises the chances of critters finding them and moving in (mice, especially -- yeckkkk, but bugs too, or, eeek, moths), because the fleece has maximum stink if unskirted.
If they are stored in open bags, munchable bags, or otherwise, again, they may get discovered regardless of their skirtedness.
Alrighty-then. All that doom and gloom aside -- heck, take a look. If there's sun, do this somewhere sunny so the fleece can warm up and be more pliable. Take the fleece out of its storage sack (if it had one). Spread it out on a clean floor or table and
proceed to look it over. Besides skirting it, you'll want to check for signs of mice, bugs, and moths. Any moths -- toss the whole thing, and check near-by fleeces. Mice may simply nest and you can "edit out" their nests and trails to them -- be generous and remove alot around it. Most bugs are just static and you can take them out. Note, I always wear gloves when I skirt nasty fleeces, I don't want to touch bug guts!
And if the fleece looks usable but terrible with VM, well, I've had very good luck sending horribly dirty/VMy fleeces to Ohio Valley Natural Fibers (really old Romney, had it pin-drafted so it was carded twice) and Zeilinger's Wool Company (really VMy California Red -- they use crushers, so the VM doesn't stand a chance!)
Now, I have rather a collection of fleeces in my basement -- probably ten of them (gosh I hope my husband doesn't read my blog -- he never goes down there!). To store them safely, this is what I do:
* skirt them thoroughly
* roll them and bag them individually in really large 4-mil plastic bags (I got these at papermart -- they cost more than the 1.5-2mil ones you buy at the grocery store, but I am moth-o-phobic, having lost fleeces to moths before!)
* label the bag -- fleece breed, source, state ('raw/skirted'), notes about VM, that sort of thing
* seal the plastic bag (tape it down)
* put 1-2 plastic bags together in a well-taped-closed cardboard box
* label the box and date it, so I know when I stored the fleeces
I went through all the boxes about a year ago (these boxes were "made" about 2 years ago) and found one that had been "mothed" -- likely the moths got into the fleece in question when it was poorly stored before (by moi! sigh) Luckily it was (a) a fleece I didn't really care for, I'm just a packrat; and (b) was in a box by itself. I checked all the surrounding boxes too and they were moth-free. So I re-bagged, re-boxed, and tossed out the moth fleece as quickly as I could. It's toast.
I figure between the cardboard and the thick plastic, mice, moths & bugs are unlikely to move in. And I can go down there and moon over my fleeces all winter long, deciding which one I'll work with next summer. Ahhh summer ...