A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a pair of English wool combs. They were sold out at the time but the people in the shop were kind enough to allow me to backorder. Now all I had to do was wait a few days and let the spiky goodness arrive at my doorstep!
Finally, they were here.
It occurs to me that these would make great Wolverine claws for Halloween, were I in the mood to risk self-injury… Seriously, despite knowing these are pointy, sharp objects, it still surprised me to find out exactly how sharp they were in a slight moment of distraction. Note to self: don’t daydream when handling wool combs.
If you’re not sure what wool combs are for, these brilliant tools are used to process fleeces for spinning. They work by separating, aligning and combing the wool locks, whilst also getting rid of any vegetable matter (VM). The end result is a fluffy and lovely cloud that you’re supposed to carefully diz off the combs, ending up with a longish sort of roving.
Ideally, you’ll place the locks facing the same direction, which in my case was cut side nearest the tines, ends on the outside.
These are lovely locks from a Texel cross lamb’s first shear’s fleece. I washed it myself. They’re so soft and all I want to do is bury my face in them.. (which I definitely have. Don’t judge.)
Next, you carefully start teasing the tips of the locks apart with the other comb, which will transfer a bit of fibre to said comb at each pass. As you keep doing this, the longer staples of wool will move and the shortest bits will remain on the clamped comb. You’re meant to discard these short bits, but I keep them to make dryer balls.
You can see above that the fibre left behind retains some VM. I don’t mind it because it’s clean, and won’t be seen once the dryer balls are covered in commercially processed wool top. Waste not, want not.
You will do this transferring of fibre from one comb to the other until you’re happy with how the wool looks. The one below was on the third pass.
There was still a tiny bit of VM but I don’t mind.
Since I wasn’t planning on spinning this wool, I didn’t diz it off the comb, I simply pulled it all off together very gently, so it all came off at the same time.
After 30 minutes I had a few clouds.
I’ll be gathering a lot of this fluff into a bag and, once I have enough, I’ll card it on my drum carder and make batts to sell to spinners and felters. Lamb wool really is like a cloud and I’m loving playing with it.
To end this post in my usual tradition, here’s a completely unrelated photo I took a few days ago that I find amusing. This was on a building I happened to pass by here in Edinburgh.
Every summer my weavers and spinners guild does a fibre poker challenge. You can choose weaving, spinning or felting. I am doing spinning and felting. This post is about the spinning challenge. I haven’t started my felting one yet.
In these challenges, they make up 4 decks of cards. The cards for spinning are Fiber, Colour, Type of Yarn and General Design. You pick one from each to get your poker hand. You are allowed to return one and draw another.
Fibre: surprise us.
Colour: dark rich colours
Type of Yarn: thick and thin
General Design: include locks
I decided I wanted to try spinning some of the silk hankies I have. these looked like dark rich colours. Well, not that dark but not pastel.
I looked up what was the recommended way of prepping them for spinning. It was to poke a hole in the middle and stretch them out. Most of the drafting is done in the stretching out. I did 2 of each colour. They stretch quite far. I am sure I could have stretched them at least twice as long but I didn’t want my yarn that thin.
I also have to do thick and thin. I decided the easiest way to do that was to use the required locks to create the thick parts. I think these are Bluefaced Leicester.
I don’t have a spinning wheel. I like to spin small amounts, so I use a drop spindle I have quite a few.
After I finished the 4 silk hankies I made it into a center-pull ball. My original intention was to ply one end against the other.
But then I changed my mind. I spun some purple silk top to use as the other ply.
I made it into a center-pull ball as well. I put one small ball on my thumb and one on a finger. I used a little painter’s tape to keep the outside thread from unravelling as I will be pulling from the center, then I can control how fast it pulls out. I like painter’s tape as it’s just sticky enough to hold but comes off easily without grabbing and pulling the fibres and doesn’t leave any sticky behind. If I was going to store the ball I would tie the two ends together instead.
Somehow I guessed right and had just a little more of the second simple single than the first fancy single.
That’s my laptop lid so as you can see there wasn’t much extra.
I wound it off into a skein. It looks a little wobbly at first but it needs to have a bath to let the spin show what it’s really like. I used the small extra piece to tie the skein in 4 places. I wanted the 4 ties because I am very good at tangling skeins.
Here it is after its bath and hang to dry. I didn’t use any weight to try to set the yarn, I wanted it to be its natural self. I am quite happy I managed to get a nice balanced spin. I took to pictures flipping it over so you can see both sides.
I spread it out more and took a close-up. I am really please with how this came out. It was difficult to get the locks in because naturally, the twist wanted to go to the thinnest part.
I hope you like it too. It was a bit of a challenge but that’s the point, get you doing something you wouldn’t normally do. I could have wished for some action shots but it’s hard to spin and hold the fibre and hold the camera. It puts me back to wondering why on earth my prehistoric ancestors got rid of the prehensile tail, it would be so handy.
In an earlier post we found out that 3 breeds of sheep were created by Agriculture Canada mixing existing breeds to create a sheep that would give; multiple births, fast-growing lambs and ewe’s with good mothering instincts. At first, their goal was to make a breed of sheep for research purposes but as the project continued they developed into 3 separate breeds; the Rideau Arcott, the Outaouais Arcott and the Canadian Arcott. Since they have been bred mostly for their meat, the fleeces around here are variable often strikingly different between individuals in the same flock. The Rideau Arcott’s fleeces I have worked with before, on my highly technical scale, have ranged from OOOOH! all the way to Ick!
This being the first Canadian Arcott fleeces I have worked with I am testing their qualities and seeing what they may be best for. If you find a Canadian Arcott, it will likely be more lustrous than the Rideau Arcotts, and less variability between individual fleeces. (This is a strong rumour and your Canadian may vary a bit from the breed standard. It’s always best to look at each fleece as an individual)
Last post I tested Ram #2 (it’s ram number two because he was the second one out of the bag.) His ewes are employed as lawn maintenance specialists at a local solar farm.
We found that the fleece worked well with both combing and carding preparations producing a niece yarn from each. I had kept the combing waste and had carded up extra fibre to try the next set of experiments with it. So let’s see what I found out next!!
Comb waist needle felting test
Let’s see what the comb waist is like for felting (I have had very good results from some of Bernadette’s Combing waste fibre for both core and outer layers) she has very good fibre so even the waste is good!!
Ram 2, even in this relatively clean section I have sampled, had some VM (Vegetable Matter) which the combs separated brilliantly. This meant my sample section had VM amongst the fibre short bits and naps. This will be a good test of some of the lesser quality fibre from this fleece.
33 test with comb wast
This is not as fast to needle felt as a Shetland but it has springiness and lustre. For an understructure that needs to be relatively firm but have some give that springs back, it might be perfect. (A belly perhaps?)
34 close up of needle felted ball-ish shape.
I was using a courser needle I think it was one of the T-36’s for this sample. It created a slightly dented surface but if I had switched to a T-40 or paid more attention to how I was poking, I think it would have been able to make it a bit smoother but it was quite acceptable for an underlayer. I did notice a bit of a very fine halo that is more visible in the shadowed areas.
Now the last consideration, can it be wet felted. I have a feeling it may not be good since it shows signs of stubbornness with the lovely fine crimp. But let’s see. There is always hope until it is crushed mercilessly.
So let’s try the carded fibre and layout a sample. To give it the best chance for felting I laid thin wispy layers in alternating directions North /south then east /west. I repeated until I had a puffy pile about an inch thick.
35 approximately 2.5 inches square
I had received a number of small bubble wrap bags with the larger needle felting tools (the 3 needle holders were all very poorly packed and had no bubble wrap)
36 bubble wrap bag that needle felting tool cam in.
I found one of the smaller pouches and placed the layered fleece inside with the bubble facing in. now to add soap and water. Hmm, maybe I better try and start it first in my hand then put it into the bubble wrap.
First, this wool is not a sponge. I used a lot of soap and warm water to wet the fibres, some of which collected in the bottom of the bubble wrap bag. I also discovered bubbles do not make good waterproof bags, they drip. So I put it into an extra-large sandwich bag to contain the wetness.
37 Ooops this bag leaks in the corners!!! need better waterproofing!!!
38 XL sandwich bag!! that will make felting safe!!
I started with gentle caresses across the bubble wrap then moved to gently rubbing it between my hands. I focused on working in both vertical and horizontal directions. The wool has spread out but doesn’t feel like it’s grabbing yet. Let me find a video to watch and I will keep going.
39-40 taking a quick peek
41 cant see what I’m doing too many bubbles!!!
As the soap built up I went and rinsed some of it out.
42 43 There does seem to be adhesion! But let’s see if I can get a bit more. I put it back into the bubble wrap bag and put that into the sandwich bag. Now, to add more enthusiasm to the rubbing!
44 Now off for a rinse and see what we have and is it felt?
45 Drying, look how thin it is. There was some shrinkage as well as some migration at the edges.
46 Yes, that is defiantly felt! with the lateral migration, it is very thin.
47 no longer the about 2.5inch square I started with.
47 it certainly isn’t an inch thick anymore!
Ann wanted to know “Did it shrink at all? When I have felted some of the “nonfelting” wool before it didn’t shrink. It did stick together but as you say, you could pull it apart. It would make good sheets of batting to go in a quilt”
I don’t think it would be a good one for quilting it flattened too much. I think it may have shrunk but it also spread so I think it spread about an inch but it is also a lot thinner than it started. It did shrink if you consider it vertically even with the displacement into extra width.
This might be effective when mixed with some more enthusiastically felting sheep and then used for a super thin light summer scarf or shawl. It may be a good base to build up from. I may have to do another sample to see how it reacts with different sheep and other fibre
it is softer in texture than the spun yarn. I could probably tear it apart if I really tugged a bit. It is holding to the pinch test but again if I was more aggressive I could likely pull off the uppermost layer. So a bit more aggressive felting might have helped its cohesiveness. Even with that stated it is at the stage that it is definitely felt and not fibre. It kind of reminds me of cookie dough that looked thick as it went in the oven but when cooked spread into a puddle
I think this would not be a top choice for most wet felting projects but some of its properties may be useful. I think this may be more of a fleece to look at for weaving. Its low elasticity would defiantly be a plus when making a warp!
PS just got my second covid shot yesterday and it may be bright and sunny out but I think it’s time for bed. this time I got the Phyzer version and it’s much nicer than the AZ (i feel like I was kicked in the arm by a small mule then climbed a large mountain.) if I can avoid getting covid it will all be worth it!! have fun felting and I will chat more when I wake up.
I told you last post that I had re-bagged the two Canadian Arcott Rams. They looked quite well skirted but one seemed more careful with his personal hygiene than the other. I started with Ram #2 who seemed to enjoy his dust baths.
3 Ram #2 4 Ram #15 #2 unwashed sample
Getting on to the Washing
Glenn got one of the washing buckets out and I pulled out the strainer buckets and divided the fleece into 7 portions, 4 quite clean and 3 less clean.
6-8 test washing of some of the cleanest looking parts of ram #2
This year I tried elevating the washing bucket so it was easier to lift and lower the strainer bucket within it. This was easier until it was time to dump the water out of the bucket. I lifted the strainer buck out and left it hanging to drip on one of the blacksmith hooks. That went well but as I started to tilt the bucket to pour out the dirty water it started to splash on the asphalt driveway. It was determined to get me wet with all the splashing! Luckily, I had thought ahead and worn my rain boots! So my feet remained dry but the lower part of my jeans may now need a wash (but with cleaner water this time)
Glenn brought the RV hand washer and spin-dryer up from the laundry room (it just sat there over the winter)
11-12 Glenn Helps with the spin cycle.
After a quick spin, it was onto the drying rack.
13 Now a pause, while the wool dry’s
14 Glenn takes time to smell the roses.
And now back to work. The test washing of ram 2 is ready to take a look at.
15 now it’s time to eat ice cream with strawberry and think of the different fibre preparations I would like to try with this fleece. let me go find my hand carders and my mini combs! (but after I finish the ice cream)
Now that we have the Canadian Arcott (Ram #2) cleaned let’s make a few tests to find out what this fleece wants to become! not all fleeces are good for all purposes, so we should get curious and try a few options. this will tell us more about this breed I have not tried before.
Hand Carding the wool Test
Let’s see what happens when we try hand carding. I have a few hand cards, I chose the ones I like the best with the curved backs and have a nice carding cloth. I got them second-hand and have not tried to figure out the teeth count I should probably figure that out eventually.
16-17 rolags from the Hand Cards
Yes, that feels quite soft and lofty but there is definitely some lustre too. This could be interesting as knit socks. If only I Knit!!
Carded spun sample
I used the carders, created rolags and used the Electric Eel Wheel 6.0 (EEW6) to spin the singles.
I plied on the spindle since I didn’t want to switch bobbins for a small sample
18-19 2 ply sample
20 I hung the wool to dry in the window. Even without sunshine, it dried quite quickly.
21 washed 2 ply woollen prep.
There is a bit of elasticity in the woollen preparation but not as much stretch as other fleeces I have spun. I think it would make a good blanket or throw if woven and used as warp or weft.
I then took some of the combed fibre and spun it on the Electric Eel Wheel 6.0 (EEW6) as I did with the carded sample.
27 EEW6 with 2 ply sample
It was easy to spin. I plied on one of my drop spindles since I still didn’t want to change bobbins for the short sample I had created.
28 Washed locks, combed fibre and 2 ply yarn.
29 the unwashed 2 ply samples.
You can see the halo already. I will wash and dry the rest of the sample. I made a mini skein, washed it, swung it around the bathtub, whapped it on the side of the sink then hung it up in the window with a small weight.
30 Hanging in the window to dry. Unfortunately, this seems to have inspired darker skies and rain!
33 washed 2py combed top
When dry; the yarn feels coarser than I had anticipated. It is not as soft as a Merino, more like a Corriedale but with less elasticity. There is very little stretch in the yarn so I am now curious as to how it would work as a warp for weaving. This breed may be ideal for warps.
Comparing the Woolen (carded) vs the semi-worsted (Combed) yarns. The Woolen does have more loft, bloom and halo and slightly greater elasticity. Both would work as weft but I suspect the Combed will be a bit better weft since it has less bloom or halo to interfere in the heddles.
Next, we will check out the felting properties of this sample of Canadian Arcott. We will use the comb waste to check its ability to be needle felted and some of the Carding to check if it will wet felt. Ann is thinking it will not. Let’s see what happens next week!
I promise we are almost done, but I suspect you wanted to see the culmination shots from this year’s harvest!
This year we had planted two rows of flax, which did not look too excessive until we started to harvest it. Even with the flax being shorter this year, we still doubled the number of stocks we were dealing with. So, it took 3 Saturdays to finish the processing of the line this time. We did not finish all the tow into batts, there is a small bag of hackle waste left. This year we kept the best feeling drum carder waste to try combing the tow into top.
We were chilly but from Cathy Louise’s research, we needed dry, low humidity conditions for the final part of the process. Other than Remembrance Day on the 11th, which often rains, it is usually dry and cold in November here. Thus, we waited to work on it. Sure enough, day 3 was about 4 degrees Celsius, which was quite nice in the sun but quickly lost its illusion of warmth when the sun hid out behind clouds.
Day 3 the plan – get the last of the Line through the hackles and finish tow from the hackle waste with drum carders. We had Ann’s drum carder with the blue metal base from last week and Glenn had pulled out my two. One is chain driven; the other is belt driven. One is a bit coarser than the other but both are in the medium range.
1 all 3 drum carders to finish the tow
To work on the line we had a coarse, medium and fine set of homemade hackles using nails. They had a hardwood base that had been predrilled before the nails were added. We also had an antique one that was between the medium and fine ones. The old one had blacksmith-made nails that tapered and had tin on the base.
2 all the hackles
3-6 The New Hackles
7-11 the old hackles
While we worked, we compared last year’s line to this year’s. The colour is different and this years is finer (last years is in the plastic bag).
12- 19 working on the line and tow
The team worked hard until lunch arrived (more pizza). Glenn joined us after stopping at the farmers market to pick up butter tarts from Ann, it was very busy so he was running late and just in time for pizza.
20 in the foreground; Cheese and mushroom pizza, mid-ground; flax going from the course to the medium hackles and in the background; the hackle waste to go to the drum carder.
The Cow supervisors were enjoying the weather and just generally looking cute decoratively draping themselves around the field beside the coverall barn.
21 the Supervisors taking a break
Back to work finishing the last bit of line and deciding to leave the last of the hackle waste.
22-24 the last of the line
It was time to clean up the drum carders then gather and weigh the culmination of our summer’s work. Henry had brought the air compressor over to help clean the drum carders. It was a brilliant idea. I do not think my carders have ever been so clean.
25- 27 Cleaning the Drum carders
Now it was time for the bagging and weighing. Cathy Louse had brought a scale and I had one of my wool washing buckets which we used to contain the fibre on the scale. As Cathy Louse weighed it, Glenn wrote it down on the bag and Ruthann kept notes on the totals.
28-30 doing the math
We divided the line into 8 sections of 33 grams, bagged and labelled it.
31-34 Line bagged and ready to go
When the line was divided, we moved on to the batts of tow.
35-37 bagging the batts of tow
That left a bag of waste from the hackles that could be drum carded later and two bags of the waste from the drum carder. This we had set aside to try combing it since the test sample looked like it had potential.
Now for the Totals you have been waiting for!
Ruthanne said we got 271 grams of line, 556 of carded tow, 130 grams of uncarded tow and 573 grams of carder waste that we can try to comb and see what we get.
Cathy Louise and Henry calculated that we got 1530g of useable fibre from 400 square feet. Henry did the math and figured if we had done a full acre we would have had 29.52 Kg of line per acre and Carded tow 76.5Kg per acre. If we tried an acre we would have to add Sundays as well as Saturdays or we would be working at it all winter! We would likely improve with all the practice but it’s still a lot of work!
We had a larger team than the final processing day. Some wanted to experience what it was like to process flax trying some or all of the steps. some were interested in the fibre to try spinning while others were not. It was a wonderful experience to be able to participate in. It was especially welcome to look forward to seeing friends during the fibre work parties, especially during covid! Thank you again to Cathy Louise and Henry for giving up a section of their Market garden, doing the ground prep and planting and the aromatic section of retting that we missed. Thank you also to all the other members of the Flax Study Group 2020.
38 the team for the final processing, Glenn taking the picture this time!
This year the flax study group planted the seed we had harvested from last year. We had enough to double our planting and had 2 rows planted this year. We had 2 covid-modified weeding parties at 4 to 6 inches of growth but without the wonderful cake to celebrate successful weeding!
The first part of the summer was very dry and hot so the flax was ready earlier than anticipated. We left the harvested bundles of Flax resting against the garden fence to dry.
Then the weather turned and it rained and rained and rained. (I should not have been trying to wash those fleeces in the side yard! See the blog post about sentient weather.) The flax started its retting while it tried to dry. Once it had finally dried enough, we were back out (August 29th) to extract seed from stock. The seeds this year are MUCH smaller than last years, and lighter in weight. The seed pods were definitely ready to pick but the dry weather was hard on the plants (shorter in stature and smaller seeds). We used a number of seed extraction methods. The double rakes were great and the pillowcases and rolling pins were effective too. Unfortunately, winnowing (using the wind to seperate chaff from seed) was not working, not much wind and the seed was as light as the chaff) we had the best success with Henrys Sieves from the grain silos. (Brilliant idea Henry!!)
Next the Flax, now de-seeded, went to the spa. (large trough of water with therapeutic cinderblocks to hold it under!) With the retting complete, we were ready to move on to the violent part of the process; Brakes, Skutching and the lovely Hackles! We set a date in November that we hoped most of us would be available to meet again at Cathy Louises’ coverall barn (the part the cows don’t live in! They are very cute cows but I don’t want to have to share the flax with them)
Now that we are all caught up again, let’s get to the best part of Flax processing; the vicious violent bits!
11/07/2020 Covid canceled our Guild sale but that leaves the Saturday free to start in on the flax. We met at the coverall barn on a fabulously wonderful un-fall-like day. It was so nice we worked in front of the barn, enjoying mild weather, the sun and no rain!
Step 1 Braking;
The first step was braking the flax stocks to loosen and start the removal of the outer stock covering (the boon) from the long inner fibres which will become the linen. Bernadette, Ann and Cathy Louise experimented with hand braking before sending it to the brake but that was not as helpful as we had hoped. If you did not have access to a flax brake this may be an option for you but it would take a lot of working the stocks to loosen the boon.
Glenn and Gord were our main brakers this year. Glenn’s knee has been bothering him (postal work has not been diminished by Covid) so he quickly gave up on standing and has perfected the seated braking position.
We had a couple of flax videos posted on our OVWSG flax study group Facebook page they were unfortunately in German (about Hackling) and in Russian about braking. From the video, Glenn modified his technique on the second Saturday to add scraping movements to the end of the braking. This seemed to make the next step a little easier.
The technique seems to be to hold the root end, start at the tip (where the seeds were) and brake towards the roots flipping which side of the bundle is facing up. This first pass was done vigorously. Then work from the tip towards roots a little at a time still flipping the bundle but scraping gently each section as it is finished. Then flip and work the roots, which often broke off.
23 the fibre is handed off to the next step
Step 2 Skutching;
As we got going, we had two primary brakers and 2-3 skutchers and the rest of us were on Hackle duty or taking photos. Skutching is a percussive movement hitting or flicking the stocks to loosen and remove as much of the outer layer as possible. The Skutching team were finding that splitting the bundle (by gently tugging on the ends) then reorienting the stocks parallel and continuing to skutch was effective.
30 fibre is sent to the next step
There was an intermittent breeze that kept depositing fibre into the shrubberies. (Sort of like pre-Christmas tinsel) I am sure the birds were sorry we didn’t do this part in the spring.
31-33 Early Christmas tincil
Step 3 Hackles!!
The next step is my favourite part, the Hackles. They’re like a very sharp multi-pitch Viking comb that is clamped to the table. The flax is dragged through the top of the sharp pointy bloodletting teeth, removing even more of the boon. I watched the German video about Hackles, it was highly informative even with my only random words of German. He definitely was adamant about the angle, I think? I tried to mimic his diagonal pull through with change of direction on exiting the hackles. I also tried the flipping one side up then the other for each pass. This left the flax quite clean.
The hackling starts through the coarsest teeth then moves to finer and finer. Each step removes more boon. I was able to take out a few stubborn bits by flicking at them with a fingernail. We also were drafting off the hackles as the tow built up in it. The remnants still trapped in the comb, we bagged to process with the drum carder next week.
44 some of the line
Just so you don’t think we were horribly overworked, we did break for Pizza
We did quite well today but only got about half way through the harvest, well we did double the planting we did this year! So far, the flax is short but very fine. We bagged the tow for next week and made little stricks of the line. We did do a lot of work but it doesn’t show from the pile remaining!
Some of the flax has a distinct hue of green. The rest looks very familiar.
11/14/2020 Day 2, similar in process to day 1 but with less sun or good temperatures.
It was much colder today, still no fluffy solid rain or serious cloud dandruff, yet (Yeah!!) so we moved into the coverall to work. The hacklers were by the barn door, while it provided great light there was a cool breeze. We continued to work on the braking and finished it off, leaving one bundle to compare with last years. We continued working on the skutching and hackling and added making batts with the tow.
Our tow team today was Deborah and Cathy Louise.
Deborah and Cathy Louise worked together to make batts of the tow. We tried one pass but decided to try a second pass which was markedly improved. They tried a third pass, but it was deemed very similar to the second pass. We found the waste from the drum carder to be very soft and have kept it. We tried hand combing it with small 2 pitch hand combs with a good test result. We will collect the carding waste and comb it later. Using the drum carder caused a lot of the chaff/boon to drop out underneath it.
67-68 first and second pass
69-70 Second and third pass
71-72 Drum carder waste combed
We compared last year’s plant after retting to this year and saw a difference in height and this year’s plants are much finer in the stock. They were planted about 2 weeks earlier, but also harvested earlier than last year. We did not harvest too soon since the plants had flowered and were producing seeds so it was the correct time to harvest. It was extremely dry this summer until we harvested then it rained, a lot!
We got most of the skutching finished today too.
We bagged up the batts of tow we created today. We will be weighing the amounts of line and tow we have created likely next week.
We will be back to work for our last day of processing this year next Saturday. There is a bit more to hackle then all the tow to process. When we are done, we will weigh out the tow and line and see what our yield was this year. Although the flax was definitely reduced in height the fineness of the fiber is spectacular, even the tow is soft and quite nice. I am looking forward to getting one of the flax wheels upstairs and put to work spinning part of this year’s harvest.
The spot we had the flax growing this summer is turned for winter and garlic has been planted there. It has been an amazing experience working with the flax team. Next year is a bit up in the air, we will hope to be changing planting locations or we may wind up taking a summer off.
I haven’t managed any felting this last little while but I have been doing some spinning. I spin on my drop spindle, making small balls I use to decorate my felt. I did have a wheel at one point in my spinning journey. I had an Ashford Traveler. It was a very nice wheel but it ended up sitting in a corner gathering dust, so I sold it. My favourite wool preparation right now is rolags. The wool just seems to draft so easily.
I’ve spun up most of this blue.
I did a ball of regular yarn and one of thick and thin. I can do both these very well but am having trouble making consistent and thick yarn.
I also have these nice orange-yellow rolags I am working on.
I’ve only done one ball of this so far. I had just wound it off into a wall when I took this so It has some cardboard in it so the center doesn’t collapse.
and lastly some wool I won at the Rosepath Auction at my guild in December. This is a funny cross between an auction and a draw. I spun the smaller ball of this and gave the rest to my friend Judy as she had tried to win it as well. I am not sure what this is other than wool and silk. At least we think so. Bernadette burned some at one of our guild socials and it stunk up the place like burned hair.
and here is the ball.
I have a lot of these balls more than I am ever really going to need for felting. I do make some small skeins, 11 yards, to sell. That is enough to cover an 8-foot scarf quite densely. I don’t knit crochet or weave so not sure what else I could do with it. maybe some crewel work or rug hooking/punching maybe, because I need another fibre hobby. LOL
(sorry this is a Long Post if you make it through to the end there are videos! make sure to check out the one on flax dressing its really horrible looking stuff but works exceedingly well)
After a break for the guild Sale and Exhibition we resumed the Flax project on Saturday, November 16th at 10am. It included a potluck lunch.
A quick review of what went before:
– April 4, 2019 Waiting for the soil to thaw and dry
– May 5th Prepare the ground and plant the seeds; germination expected in 10-14 days.
– May 13th Sprouts are seen
– June 08 2019 – Weeding party
– June 28 2019 – The first flowers have appeared
– July 7 2019 flax flowering is slowing down, seed pods developing
– July 9th added extra support ropes to keep flax from collapsing during impending torrential rain storm
– July 13 flax survived storm – wind and heavy rain
– July 18 Seed pods are showing signs of turning yellow
– July 27, 2019 at 10 am First Harvesting (1/4 of the crop has been left to be harvested in 2 parts later)
– July 29 Bernadette tries rippling, not yet ready.
– August 10 2019 Rippling and Winnowing the flax then beginning of the retting
– August 15 the remaining crop is ready to harvest for the seed
– August 17 2019 continuing threshing and winnowing. Retted flax laid out to dry
Which brings us up to November 16th at 10am. We converged at Cathy Louise’s Coverall barn where the flax was waiting for us.
1 kiddie pool of first harvest, retted flax
We kept the flax in the three sections of harvesting. The first harvest in the kiddy pool, second harvest on one end of the metal troughs (it’s the darker colour) and the last harvested, saved for the seed, which is the lighter colour and at the other end of the trough.
2 the later harvests darker, below, harvested before the lighter on the top of the picture
Starting with the largest amount, we began the breaking. (Let the Violence begin!). The Brake breaks up the outer fiber to start to access the long linen fibers within. We eventually figured out this was a very important step. Cole who has processed many local bass fibers (dog strangling vine particularly) had the most experience with the equipment. He had built his own brake, we had the loan of an antique and Gord had found a good rugged one for sale.
3-6 Using the Brake
After the fiber had been cruelly beaten by the brake its fate turned dire as it was firmly thwacked by a skutching sword. The best one seemed to be the Lilac branch that had been split and slightly shaped. It was a bit more flexible than the kitchen implements Cathy Louise had tried or the wooden swords similar to my Viking sword beater. Cole had brought a massive timber and a board with a hand-protecting hole cut in it. Both worked more ergonomically than the boards we had started with.
7-8 Skutching Knife made from Lilac
9-11 Skutching tool formerly a kitchen impliment
12 -16 our various skuching boards, note the handy safety hand hole to keep your finger safe.
The next step was the Hackles. This is the sharp part!! By this point, you really do need to have your tetanus shots up to date.
17 setting out the hackles
We set up a coarse, medium and fine set. We had been lent both old and newer Hackles, all were very sharp and really should be used with gloves. I found them highly photogenic.
18 i got a few really cool shots of these viscous implements of plant torture
We ran the flax through the teeth to separate the line (the long really good fiber) from the tow (the shorter pieces that are not as sought after but still will spin and weave up nicely)
19-20 drawing the flax through to hackles removes more of the shorter fibers and leaves the high quality line linen. you can see the tow stuck in the hackles and on the table.
We worked from the course to the medium to the fine. Producing small amounts of line flax.
21-24 Hackles and a growing pile of Tow
As you can see there was a lot of tow for as little bit of flax. We suspect that we will get a better yield with greater attention to breaking and possibly slightly longer retting. This is our first time and we suspect the growing season was not prime for flax so we hope for a better harvest next year. The Line flax we got from the process was very nice; most of it seemed quite fine from the first batch.
25-26 inspecting the flax and checking out the cows
While we were torturing plant life on one end of the coverall our neighbours were having an extended lunch or maybe it was second or third lunch. Like cats, cows seem to feel that there butt ends are one of their best features. I had trouble getting a shot that wasn’t mostly butt shots. (I had promised the study group not to take them but not all the cows would cooperate.) Thinking of lunch it was time for ours so off we went back to the house to enjoy it and get a bit warmer.
Lunch break Pot Luck:
27 – 35 Lunch
After lunch, Cathy Louise showed us her CPW (Canadian Production Wheel) she has an amazing spot to sit and spin in her loft.
Then it was back to work
36 – 40 thump thump thwak thump thwak thwak
At the end of the day we had 2 bags of floor findings from the Brakes and the same amount from the Skutching and possibly a bit more from the hackle leavings. We kept them separate to work on as part of the final days processing.
This was the amount of line linen we produced.
41-44 our days work, a little bit of good line linen and lots of tow
Final day of flax processing
45 the coverall barn that we were sharing with the cows and some annoyed birds
Saturday November 23 at 9:30 am, one week later and we were back at the coverall.
46-47 Alison had brought her course drum carder to try on the flax
48 First batt off the drum carder looked promising.
49-50 Bernadette arrived with the dew-retted flax she had done. It was a darker colour. She also had big English combs in her bag to try out with the flax.
51 -53 4 pitch English combs by Alvin Ramer
Unfortunately the combs were not as successful as we had hoped ( it shredded both the long and shorter fibers) so we continued with the drum carder.
54 -55 Here is the difference in colour between the two types of retting (field and trough)
56-57 We finished possessing the last of the flax and put most of the tow through the drum carder once before we cleaned up for lunch.
58 Cole made a quick bit of rope out of some of the coarsest waste. He used the strange wooden tool on the table to make the rope.
Lunch Break Pot Luck!
After lunch, we measured and divided the flax seeds. We kept part for next year’s planting from the late harvested plants. We each got a portion to either plant at home or make flax dressing from. (This is used instead of water when spinning the flax or to size a warp for weaving. Bernadette made some it was truly an interesting viscosity but worked extremely well for spinning.
65 We then weighed and divided the line flax.
66-67 the line is ready to be divided
We looked at the difference between the two methods of retting and tried to determine if the second and third sections harvested were much coarser than the first.
68 We kept aside samples for comparison later.
Then it was back to the coverall for a quick peek at the cows and to give the tow a second pass through the drum carder.
-73 We divided up the tow, did a final clean up and headed for home.
75 (Glenn took this just to prove I was actually there since I wasn’t in any of the pictures!)
I took a number of videos while we were processing the flax and Bernadette’s experimentation with flax dressing. If you would like to see all the videos please consider joining the OVWSG Flax Project Private Group on face book https://www.facebook.com/groups/642029912915854/?fref=nf
Cole using the Brake:
Drum carder with the Tow
this is the culmination of this part of the Flax study group. Bernadette has boiled 2 tbs of the flax seed to make a flax dressing which is used to size warps that are being difficult and to add in spinning flax.
11-25-19 flax dressing – Bernadette with wool and flax spinning using Flax dressing.
I hope you have enjoyed the Flax study group as much as i did participating (well i did more photography and not as much hands on but it was still a blast and i hope to be able to participate in next years study group). if this appeals to you too you mite want to join next years study group or maybe start your own.
PS it takes a lot longer to upload a video than it dose a picture so its much later than i expected it to be and i think i best head off to bed now.
In my Last post, we got up to the pulling of the flax plants, tying them in small bundles and laying them against the fence to dry. But this was not the worst fate for these unsuspecting plants. I was unable to attend this section of the processing but the rest of the group worked hard to Ripple and Winnow the flax.
The flax bundles were moved into the barn out of the rain Aug. 7th
August 10 Most of the flax group got together for a rippling and winnowing party. To Ripple the flax will separate the seed heads from the stocks. The flax from the first part of the harvest should provide the best fibre but the seed will not be as mature. The two sections we left till later should have coarser fibre but better seed viability.
We had a couple suggestions of how to get the seeds separated from the stocks. The use of two rakes did not work out well but Bernadetts’ description of pillow cases and rolling pins had a much better result.
Now that the flax stocks have been decapitated it’s time for winnowing. This will remove the chaff from the seeds. The instructions suggested a breeze was required. After a bit of experimentation it was determined a strong breeze or wind worked well.
Success, the seeds remain but almost all the chaff is gone.
There is worse in store for this poor unfortunate plant. At the end of the day it is thrown into a trough and weighted down with cinder blocks. This will not be a spa treatment or a mob execution. It will be a retting.
Day 1 Aug 10 the water is the colour of apple juice,
day 2 Aug 11 the colour of tea, then the retting really starts on Aug 13th.
Tuesday August 13 2019, 10:30 am
August 13 2019 5 PM
Aug 14 th
On Aug. 13 Cathy Louise tested a stock of the retting flax for separation of the boon from the stock. Some is still sticking to the fiber. so it needs a bit more cooking.
Aug 17 All the first batch was removed from the trough and moved to the field to dry.
Aug 17 the fibre is separating from the flax stalk.
On the Same day the second harvested batch went into the trough in the same water that had been used to rett batch one. There was hope that this would speed up the retting process. It seemed to have changed the colour (the second batch was darker than batch 1) but I’m not sure if it went faster. The final batch went into fresh water to rett after this batch was out.
another batch drying in the field
Batch 1 is now dry and is sent to the barn to await an even more terrible fate but first we had the guild Sale and exhibition in early November. So we took a brief paws.
A quick review: We tore the heads of the flax by stuffing them head-first in pillow cases and crushing them with rolling pins. Then took their severed heads and threw them skyward; letting the chaff separate from the seeds. Then off to a spa experience you would never want to experience. Submersion under cinder blocks until rotting starts. Next they were pulled out and left to dry over uncomfortable sticks in a field. Lastly bundled into the barn where they may be safe.
But wait! There is more indignity to come for the poor flax plant! it only gets more violent, We still have the breaks, skutching and hackles to deal with!! But I think I better make that part 3, I promise to have videos in the next installment. (And of course lots more violent fun fiber torture! I am sure it will all be worth it in the end!)
Have you looked with horror at the price of wool combs? Have you longed for a fine worsted preparation to inspire your felting creativity? If a fine pair of English 5 pitch are not in your budget or the husband-frightening tines of a Viking comb are out of reach and you’re longing for a small pair of Louet combs but they are priced just a bit too high for easy acquisition, may I make an odd suggestion?
1 Mini-Wool Combs for sale at local fiberfest summer 2019
Have you seen an implement called a Bee Uncapping Comb? I had a spectacular AH HA! moment in one of the aisles in Princess Auto (a local automotive and stuff store carrying a lot of stuff from China). The AH HA! was so loud and spectacular I am sure the entire aisle I was in lit up and glowed! I was standing in front of white Beekeeping outfits, gloves and these spectacular red plastic handled metal combs!! OOOOOOH!! Coool!!! The angle of the handle inclines inferiorly so using them as a pair like normal combs is not quite as comfortable as I would like. But they work very well used individually like a flick carder (another piece of handy equipment that is a bit pricey for its size. I got mine second hand and put it away in a very safe place…..somewhere in the living room I think… possibly towards the window? No I cant find it. It is obviously too safe a place.)
(Note the difference in price from picture #1 and picture #3)
3-5 Bee keeping supplys at Princess Auto
Being that the handle is plastic I may be able to persuade it to be in a more horizontal aspect. I deviate and will explain. During my secondary education (at Sheriden College and U of Toronto – that surprised you!) I was involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). It’s a historical reenactment group that does among a lot of other arts-related endeavours, medieval combat. Many of my friends aspired to metal armour but being on a student budget many had various forms of PVC plastic. One friend carefully cooked his plastic armour pieces in his mothers’ oven to soften them. Then using oven mits and towels self-moulded them to the right shapes to make Visby plate armor. It was a bit smelly but the plastic bent. I am suspecting if I find a particularly sunny day I may be able to leave the combs on the car’s dash and gently persuade them to be straighter. I suspect that will have to wait til next summer since the sun is abandoning us now (was it something we said?).
Those few of you who have not had such strong longings for a set of combs may wonder why you, as a felter, may want such a tool? Its all about Fibre prep.
This can be an important component of felting. Although you can now reasonably easily buy prepared fibre in Roving, top or batts of various sizes, sometimes you want to use a less processed fibre source.
This could be because of cost (free fleece given to you is a lot cheaper than buying prepared fibre but it will cost you in time.)
7-8 the Icelandic fleece that was actually a very long Shetland from the Wool growers Co-Op
This could be because you want to make just the right colour or fibre blend or combination. (remember nature is never a flat colour)
And you know that different fibre prep tools will give you different preparations or effects.
Carding = Woolen. Carders will give you a loftier yarn if you spin and a less aligned roving to work from if you felt. This may be helpful when you want to work on a sculptural project but may not be quite as smooth to lay out for a wet felted vessel. But the disorganization of the fibres does promote felting.
9 One of a number of similar Dog brushes that work similar to a Carder
Combing = Worsted. Whereas combing gives you a more aligned fibre preperation. The yarn made from Combed top would be yarn for men’s suiting material, smooth and with less pilling. Combed top is easy to pull out fine whisps for layout of wet felting or for picture felting but when laid in thicker layers may be harder to persuade to felt together with other thick layers. (this could be an affect you want but usually isn’t)
Fleece, teased locks, combed fiber
10-12 fiber prep with Commercial Combs
Carders come in a couple grades of carding cloth. The fine cloth is for cotton and other very short stapled fibre. These tend to be longer in size than the carders for wool which have a medium or coarse cloth for use with fine and medium wool. Carders are used as a set of two. They transfer the fibre from one card to the next bringing the fibres into a sort of alignment. Carders can create small batts, rolags or a semiworsted preparation. They are good for colour blending a reasonable amount of a colour. It you need more of a colour a drum carder may be more effective. If you want a smaller amount then the small pet combs/brushes that look like carders may be for you.
You can find Carders at auctions (often very beat up and only one is for sale) or you can by them second hand from spinners (usually the complete pair and in better shape) or you can by them from a modern manufacturer. Unfortunately this can be pricey. There are also the pet combs/brushes which used to be available at Dollerama but have not been available for months. I have spotted them at Walmart but for more money.
13-17 Colour blending with Carders
20-26 A punnie from a cotton carder using chopsticks
Combs are used with longer wools and other longstaple fibres. There are many types of combs, having one or more rows of teeth (Pitch); some are very long and sharp like my single pitch Viking combs. Some have two rows like my Alvan Ramer Combs which are bigger than the Vikings and heavier. English combs are large weapon-looking implements of fibre subjugation. They can have more rows or pitches of teeth.
27-29 Colour blending locks with combs
30 trying the Bee Comb – not as ergonomic when used with 2 combs. Wrist is straight when used individually.
When you have aligned the fibres, you can then draft from the combs or use a diz to make top. This will be easy to pull wisps from to lay out your wet or dry felting.
Flax has a similar multi-rowed teethed implement called a Hackle. (Fibre people have the coolest vocabulary) it is even more viscous looking but we will not get into that today.
I have been using them with the very long Shetland fleece I was gifted this summer at a demo then subjected you to the trials of skirting and washing it. I am getting fluffy clouds of combed fiber carefully stored in zip lock bags. Most will go to spinning a warp for my Medieval Icelandic blanket project but I am going to save as bit with witch to felt. I have been using the comb-waste for core wool for a little sheep.
31-32 Long Shetland fleece being combed
33-35 Using the comb wast as core wool for sculpture of sheep (grate not to have wast)
I have also been combing some died locks I purchased this summer to create the beginnings of a Van Gogh-ish night sky. At least I think it is a night sky. It may become something else by the time I finish it!
36-40 Opening locks with Bee Comb made a very animated sky
If I have piqued your curiosity, you may be able to find a couple Bee Uncapping Combs at Princess Auto or on line at a real Beekeepers supply store. I hope this will give you another possible tool to expand your fiber prep and thus your felting fun!