There are over 100 different types of sheep and lambskins. We go through them to give a guide as to the criteria used when categorising sheepskins.
In the case of real sheepskin rugs, they are a by product of lamb and mutton. This is what we are discussing here, and not any type of synthetic or manufactured sheepskin look rugs, with or without real wool. The types of skins are derived from the following types:
Spring season lambskins are young lambs which are unshorn. July/August sees the beginning of production and reaches a peak by the end of the year. The beginning of production skins have a length of about 1.5 to 2.0 inches, a couple of months into production sees lengths of about 2.0 to 3.0 inch. These skins are most often used in high quality garments.
Shorn Lambskins which are lambs slaughtered throughout the season. Shorn lambs begin production circa January and have wool lengths of about 0.25 inches and will reach lengths of 2.5 inches or so at the peak of the production. Not all production is used in the garment trade.
Sheepskins which are mature sheep. Production is strong all year but November and the next two months sees short wool sheep. Wool lengths can vary from freshly shorn to 2.5 inches and often longer.
Dressing skins are cured by either drum salting or conveyor salting, which is used when clean wool recovery is required. Skins are cooled naturally and then cured. Specially prepared dried salt, containing bactericides and special fungicides, is always used in all processing.
In "drum salting" the proper penetration of the salt and chemicals is ensure by the skins being tumbled for two hours. They are then flat stacked up to 5 days to allow the drainage of all fluids from the skins.
In "conveyor salting" the skins are laid flat on a conveyor and showered with salt. They are then stacked in a folded state to allow even and deep penetration of salt.
Seed contamination is a fault in the skin. It is patches of scar tissue is left behind after a healed wound due to seed burrows during the animals life. This scar tissue can fall out after processing leaving small holes or it can remain in place leaving imperfections in the pelt which cannot be corrected. This is not as important in products where the wool faces out. There are five descriptions of seed types:
(1) "No Visible Seed" - Visually free of seed any contamination. This does not however mean the skin is free of seed, only visually free.
(2) "Light Seed" - Slight seed contamination visible in the wool but minimal mainly concentrated in the belly regions.
(3) "Medium Seed" - Light seed contamination is present over most of the wool surface but is concentrated around the belly area and the legs.
(4) "Heavy Seed" - Heavy contamination extending through the majority of the wool but especially prevalent around the belly area and the legs.
(5) "Burry" - Wool contaminated with hard seed. Can vary from light to heavy concentration. This level of seed can cause problems if it is not removed before fleshing starts as the rollers can sometimes punch them through the skin.
Australian Merino - These have rib lines in the pelt, and as such are also referred to as Rib Character or Ribby Skins. This effect is caused by the skin folds Merinos have bred into them to produce more skin area and hence higher wool yields. Some of these have visible lines on both wool and the pelt.
Shear Scar - Skins freshly shorn of their wool prior to slaughter can suffer shear scars. This term refers to the open cuts inflicted on the live skin during the shearing process. Too many cuts means the skin cannot be used.
Weathered Tip - Almost all wool will have the first few mm weather affected, be it by sun, rain or dirt. The removal of the wool tip is necessary to get to clean wool. This tip will look different to the rest of the wool fibre during processing. During dying, the wool tip can look too white due to its prior bleaching by the sun or it can be stained and look dark.
Wool Tenderness - wool affected by skin diseases are not useable as the quality of the wool is affected. Other problems include lice infestation, dead wool and regrowth. In general longer wool has weaker fibre.
Wool Length -
Skins are classed, packed and sold in standardised wool lengths :
Bares (newly shorn)
1/8" - 1/4" (03mm - 07mm)
1/4" - 1/2" (07mm - 13mm)
1/2" - 1" (13mm - 26mm)
1" - 2" (26mm 55mm)
2" - 4" (55mm - 110mm) Full wools
Wool Quality is represented as 3 types
GS - Good to Super " : Wool is of a good colour, free of seed in the main. May contain light dusty but high yielding skins.
ORD - " Ordinary " : Light to moderate seed, earthy, discoloured, heavy conditioned wool - or any combination of those faults in moderate degree. May also include slightly damaged wool.
INF - "Inferior" : Heavily burred and/or seedy skins, earthy, badly discoloured wool or wool of heavy condition, or any combination of those faults as well as damaged wool.
Wool Count (expressed in Microns)
Generally wool is represented as 3 distinct categories.
44/50 - Coarse woolled English breeds are generally only suitable for nappa production.
50/58 - Merino crossed with an English breed and termed " crossbred ". These are quick growing, heavier "spring lambs" for meat production. Towards the 58's range this type is commonly referred to as a "fine cross" as the breed is tending more towards Merino fine wool characteristics.
58/64+ - Generally fine wool Merino primarily raised for wool production. Tendency is for the ribby effect of the Merino breed to be prominent.
Pelt Quality is represented as 4 categories.
Nappalam is generally sold in either 90/10 (i/ii) or 80/20 (i/ii) or in some case a low grade 70/20/10 (i/ii/iii) selection.
1st Grade - "Sound Dressing", being of good shape, free from flay marks and knife cuts, free from seed. Clean, fresh stock. May include light rib, especially about the necks. Usually represented by the figure (i) when being quoted in specifications.
2nd - "Second Dressing", may include light rib and skins with occasional neck and/or flank cuts and/or faults. May be of slightly asymmetric in shape. May show light belly seed, otherwise free, or practically free of seed. Usually represented by the figure (ii) when being quoted in specifications.
3rd - "Third Selected Damage" - may show cuts and/or medium rib and/or light to medium seed or be misshaped but the prime area free from any serious detect. Usually represented by the figure (iii) when being quoted in specifications.
4th - "Damaged" - pelts showing heavy rib and/or seed damage and/or misshapen or otherwise damaged. All extremely badly damaged or interior pelts excluded. Usually represented by the figure (iv) when being quoted in specifications.
Pieces - Skins which have been torn into two or more pieces during the take-off from the animal. Mainly used for the toy or mosaic rug production.
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