Each and every single fleece is graded by a specialist. It takes 5 years to train how to sort wool to the standard required. Once the wool sheets have been unpacked and graded the fleeces are stacked in to these blue bins. When a bin is full it's loaded up in to the red machines in the background, and they compress the wool in to the giant green bales in the background. It's these that are sold in the global auctions, each containing a huge number of fleeces.
We're a hill farming area, so unsurprisingly there were a lot of coarser fleeces, but mixed in were some real treasures. Our fleeces were donations, so we were quickly ushered past the BFL bins, they're too valuable to give away. I don't think we did too badly though...
This was a bit full of beautiful Welsh Mule Hogg fleeces (i.e. the first shearing of last years lambs). A mule is a sheep from crossing a BFL Ram with a Hill Breed Ewe, and if you can get a fleece from a young sheep like these then the fibre is really stunning.
We also collected a few more breeds that are typical of the area. These are now all washed, and displayed so that people can handle real wool, and see what it feels like.
The depots are open to the general public, and if you go for a visit explaining you're a hand spinner you're in for a real treat. Probably best to ring first and check it's a convenient time, and if you get a group together you can often get a guided tour.
In the Newtown depot there was even a bin of coloured Shetland pulled to one side specifically to sell to hand spinners who call in, as the depot manager knows he can get a better price that way, because coloured wool isn't generally wanted by the large scale commercial buyers at auction.