The first job of the morning was to open it and have a good look.
It's always so exciting opening a new fleece because even if it's a breed you know and love, individual fleeces vary between different animals, changing over the lifespan of the sheep and even shifting depending on the environmental conditions in any particular year.
Gritstones were bred in Derbyshire, becoming recognisable in the late 1700's, although the stock from which they were descended may well have been hill sheep tended in the area from Middle ages. They are a polled (non horned) breed and their fleece is of a mid staple length coming in at a Bradford count of 52-56.
As I unrolled it I noticed that the wool was quite dense. I was optimistic about being able to scour a good proportion of it. I was starting to formulate my washing plan..... hot water and detergent, then straight onto the stove to rinse and melt off the lanolin.
Nor was it too dirty, there really was only a handful of dagged wool to throw out. Not a kempy fibre in sight. The vegetative matter (VM) wasn't too bad either, the odd bit of grass and some wood shavings. I've seen plenty worse. I remember one particular fleece that I scoured which was more field than fleece!
The fleece looked so pretty. Uniform, with a regular crimp. Then I tried to grade the wool from the finest to the coarsest, as the shoulder wool is finer than the flanks.
That's when my hopes came back down to earth with a bang.
The fleece was cotted across the back and shoulders. This means that the wool is matted together, usually close to the skin. In essence the fleece has felted to a greater or lesser degree and cannot be pulled apart easily.
Light cotting can be relaxed in hot water and separated (although it's not ideal). Heavy cotting leaves the fleece almost like a sheepskin rug, but without the skin.
Sometimes you can cut the wool again if you have enough length in the staple.
I did my best, starting from the outer margins, pulling and teasing as I went, but I didn't get very much useable wool.
What wool I did get cleaned beautifully, which almost added insult to injury. It is now drying up on the top shelf of my airing cupboard. I have had to reassure my husband that I won't be felting with it but spinning it.
I know it felts! That's the problem!