Combing Wool

Well I’ve been busy and have finally gotten all of my raw fleece washed. I’d finished up the Shetland in the previous blog and then started in on some Polwarth and a Border Leicester x Wensley cross. We won’t go there about the Polwarth but I did take a lot of photos of the beautiful Bl x Wensley fleece I received from Vickie at Vickie’s Raspberry Hollow. This was the second fleece I’d recieved from them and it was a beauty.

I’d bought the whole fleece, the blanketed portion and the unblanketed portion. I wanted to make an Aran sweater and had no clue how much I needed so ended up buying about 7 pounds of raw fleece. I think it’s an over-kill but better safe than sorry. For the blanketed portion of the fleece I used the same method shown in the previous post about the Shetland fleece. I arranged locks in the tulle bags and cleaned them using power scour. Here’s a couple of pictures of the locks arranged in rows on the bed where they are finishing up drying. I also have a full duffle and knapsack full of just locks. I was going to take a picture of them piled on the bed but turns out I’m too lazy to take them out of the bags and then stuff them back in.

wensley in tulle with waste
Wool wrapped in tulle. That little bit of VM on the bed was all the waste there was in the blanketed portion of the fleece.

locks in a row another view
Locks on queen size bed.

locks in rows
Another perspective. This was the last of the locks and only a tiny portion of what I ended up with.

Washing and combing the unblanketed portion of the fleece.

bl x wensley fleece unblanketed in hot wash
The unblanketed portion of the fleece soaking in hot scour wash.

This section of the fleece was much dirtier than the blanketed portion, which you’d expect. There was a lot more VM as well but not too much (unlike the unmentioned Polwarth).

loading comb with fleece
Loading a comb with fleece. Note VM that has fallen out from pulling the locks apart.

loose hay and dirt
Loose hay and dirt from pulling apart the “clean” fleece.

first pass on combs
First pass on combs.

debris in comb waste
Debris collected in the combed waste.

This mass of fibre collects at the back of the comb. You have the fibre loaded in the one comb and you hold this in the one hand while making passes with the second empty comb. You’re basically transferring the wool from one comb to the other. While this is happening you are straightening out the fibres so each pass gets easier and the gnarls and chaff will get stuck and collect at the back of the comb that the wool is being transferred to. Enough passes will collect most of the VM, I found three worked for me.

second pass on combs
Second pass on the combs.

diz with mini hook
Diz with a mini hook. Outrageously expensive but very, very nice to use.

A diz usually has many holes in it. You use the size of hole according to what size of roving you want to spin from. The largest hole on this diz is for blending fibres off a hackle. The brass is nice and smooth so the fibre doesn’t get caught up on it and the metal won’t crack from having the wool tugged through it. The motion you use for pulling the fibre through the diz is to hold the wool behind the diz and pull back about 2-3 inches (depending on the fibre length), stop pull the lengthened wool through the diz, grab hold of the new roving behind the diz and pull again. You keep repeating this until all the wool on the comb is used up.

starting wool through diz
Starting the wool through the diz.

pulling wool through diz
Pulling wool fibre through diz.

wool sliver
Wool sliver from dizing off the combs.

combed bl x wensley roving
Picture of roving up against light to show how fine it is.

412 grams of combed bl x wensley
Finished combed wool in a pile, total weight after cleaning and combing was 412 grams. I started off with almost 2 pounds of raw fleece to get this amount so I lost 1/2 the fleece.

waste wool from combing
Waste wool from combing about 1/3 of a garbage bag filled. I know some might try to recomb this to get even more roving of shorter fibres but given how much wool I have (locks in duffle) I can’t be bothered. This stuff has a lot of nepps and chaff as well so not worth the effort to me.

So what I’ve learned over the last couple of weeks of washing wool is you basically get what you pay for. The unblanketed stuff is cheaper but it’s dirtier and has more vegetable matter in it. A lot of the dirt is going down the drain with the lanolin and because it’s got VM in it you have to comb it to get the stuff out so you end up losing a lot of fibre. I paid more for the blanketed portion but what I got were clean locks that I can spin from without losing any fibre to combing. I could probably drum card these as well although seeing as how long they are it’d be fiddly but I cleaned the blanketed Shetland and didn’t loose any to waste and that can definitely go on the drum carder no problem. I really think it’s worth it to spend more money per pound for a blanketed fleece because in the long run you don’t loose as much fibre and you save time, dare I even say it works out cheaper?

I have yet to spin the combed fibre but I’m hoping it’ll be as nice as I’ve heard it is otherwise why clean and comb my own because as far as I’m concerned it’s cheaper to buy roving by the pound rather than wash my own. Now having said that I guess it depends on where you get your fleece and how much it costs but labour has to figure in there as well. Anyhow it’s been interesting.


4 responses to “Combing Wool

  1. A very interesting blog post. I love seeing locks of fibre laid out like that – the colour of the fleece is beautiful! I cannot wait to see what you have made with it. I’ve not tried using a diz that often, but you make me want to have another go. Gorgeous fluffy fleece!

  2. Thank you 🙂 Using the diz isn’t that hard once you get the hang of it. I guess the trick is to pull out the fibres just enough so they don’t separate but enough to give you some room to move the diz up.

  3. Like you I prefer blanketed/coated fleeced. Bought one last year and love it. Less lanolin in the wool too which made it lovely to spin. I didn’t bother washing it – the lanolin and dirt doesn’t worry me, and washing after I had spun it was fine.

    • The difference between a blanketed fleece and one that isn’t is like night and day for sure. I didn’t like like spinning in the grease but must admit that you can get really fine with it.

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