These two terms are used a lot in handspinning circles and I really took it for granted that I knew what they meant. My son was baffled by the words – he thought he knew “tops” but not “roving”. He did know enough to suggest I to explain the terminology, and in the process I’ve clarified some things for myself.
I’m talking about sheep’s wool here but it’s much the same for all the animals which need shearing – only on a much smaller scale.
Fleece is the name given to the coat of wool once it has been taken off the animal although sometimes it may be used about wool before shearing.
Shearing is the removal of the fleece from the animal. It is usually done with electric shears – a bit like barber’s clippers – presumably that’s where the term “wool clip” came from, in reference to National Exports.
Classing – the wool classer sorts the fleeces into different categories based on the quality of the fleece. From here the clip is taken from the station’s shearing shed. (Large properties are called ‘stations’ in the outback).
Scouring cleans of the fleece – getting rid of dirt, grease and lanolin.
Before we get to the mill I want to take a tour of some interesting Queensland sites which are well worth a visit if you’re up that way.
The Isis Down Shearing Shed is a semicircular shed with 52 stands and was manufactured in England and brought to Australia in 1914. It is still in operation and is the largest in Australia. Only two were ever built – the other is in Argentina.
The Blackall Wool Scour is the only steam driven wool scour remaining in Australia – there were once 52 (curious how that number keeps coming up!) through the country. It is being restored and if you are lucky enough to be in town (peak season – winter) you will see it in operation.
Jackie Howe, from Blackall, still holds the blade shearing record. 321 sheep in seven hours and forty minutes. It was only broken in 1950 by a machine shearer. The origins of the workman’s singlet can also be traced back to Jackie and his shearing.
A classic Australian film from the 70’s featuring shearers is Sunday too far away . Paul Byrnes says that it is an “enormous [movie], empty, [with] confronting landscapes, beautifully photographed, a cast of funny, laconic, rough-hewn Aussie blokes who worked hard and drank harder, a sense of fun and physical prowess, but also a sense of ‘the great Australian loneliness’.”
We’ll get to the “tops” and “roving” bit in the next post.