Wool classing

Wool classing
Parts of a Merino fleece
Throwing a freshly shorn fleece onto a wool table for skirting and classing.
Wool classing in Australia, circa 1900

Wool classing is an occupation for which people are trained to produce uniform, predictable, low risk lines of wool. This is carried out by examining the characteristics of the wool in its raw state. The characteristics which a wool classer would examine are:

Breed of the sheep: Shedding breeds will increase the risk of medulated and/or pigmented fibres. Any sheep likely to have dark fibres should be shorn last to avoid contamination. The age of the sheep will have a bearing on the fibre diameter and value of wool, too.

Chemical usage: Ensure that all rules have been followed.

Brands, seedy jowls and shanks: Must be removed from fleeces and broken.

Stain: Must be removed from bellies and fleeces and identified in a separate line.

Wool crimp: The number of bends per unit length along the wool fibre approximately indicates spinning capacity of the wool. fibres with a fine crimp have many bends and usually have a small diameter. Such fibre can be spun into fine yarns, with great lengths of yarn for a given weight of wool, and greater market value. Fine fibres may be utilised in the production of fine garments such as men's suits whereas the coarser fibres may be used for the production of carpet and other sturdy products. Crimp is measured in crimps per inch or crimps per centimetre. Average diameter or mean fibre diameter is measured in micrometres (microns). For generations, English wool-handlers categorized wool along the above lines estimating spinning capacity by eye and touch. This spread worldwide as the Bradford system.

Wool Strength (also known as tensile strength) determines wool's ability to withstand processing. Weaker wools produce more waste in carding and spinning. Weaker wools may be used for production of felt, or combined with other fibres, etc.

Wool colour: Indicates whether wool is able to be dyed in light shades. Colour may be graded depending upon the natural colour, impurities and various stains present. Severely stained wool decreases prices dramatically. However, it is difficult to assess colour accurately without proper measurement, since some stains will wash out in the processing, whereas others are quite persistent.

The fleece is skirted to remove excess frib, seed and burr etc. to leave the fleece as reasonably even as possible in good respects. The parts of wool taken from a sheep are graded separately. The fleece forming the bulk of the yield is placed with other fleece wool as the main line, other pieces such as the neck, belly and skirtings (inferior wool from edges) are sold for such purposes where the shorter wools are required (for example: fillings, carpets, insulation). Whilst in some places crimp may determine which grade the fleece will be placed into, this subjective assessment is not always reliable and processors prefer that wools are measured objectively by qualified laboratories. Some of the superfine wool growers do in shed wool testing, but this can only be used as a guide. This enables wool classers to place wool into lines of a consistent quality. A shedhand, known as a wool presser, places the wool into approved wool packs in a wool press to produce a bale of wool that must meet regulations concerning its fastenings, length, weight and branding if it is to be sold at auction in Australasia. All Merino fleece wool sold at auction in Australia is objectively measured for fibre diameter, yield (including the amount of vegetable matter), staple length, staple strength and sometimes colour.

Classers are also responsible for ensuring that a pre-shearing check is made to ensure that the wool and sheep areas are free of possible contaminants. They are to supervise shed staff during shearing and train any inexperienced hands. At the end of shearing classers have to provide full documentation concerning the clip.


"Code of Practice - Preparation of Australian Wool Clips" 2010-2012; produced by Australian Wool Exchange Ltd

See also

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