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Finishing the Flax  2020 Flax study group

Finishing the Flax  2020 Flax study group

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!

Year 2 Flax Study Group, The Violent bit’s at the end!

Year 2 Flax Study Group, The Violent bit’s at the end!

A review of year 2 so far

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)

 14 supervisors

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.

   78- 79

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





Flax Study Group Part 3

Flax Study Group Part 3

Flax Study Group Part 3

(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.

11 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.

22 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.


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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

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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.

1717 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.

1818 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)

192019-20 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.

21222324 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:


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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.

41424344 41-44 our days work, a little bit of good line linen and lots of tow

Final day of flax processing

45 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

4848   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.

5858 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!


59-62 Lunch!

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.


6565  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.

6868  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.


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-73 We divided up the tow, did a final clean up and headed for home.


75 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

Cole using the Brake:

Cole Skutching

The Hackles

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.

Flax Study Group Part 2

Flax Study Group Part 2

Flax Study Group Part 2

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.


1 aug.7 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.

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7 winnowing flax sead after winnowing

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.

8 Retting

Day 1 Aug 10 the water is the colour of apple juice,

9 retting day 2day 2 Aug 11 the colour of tea, then the retting really starts on Aug 13th.

10 Retting fermentation has started

Tuesday August 13 2019, 10:30 am

11 Retting Aug 13 later afternoon fermentation has startedAugust 13 2019 5 PM

12 Retting Aug 14 Aug 14 th

13 AUg 14 the testing a stockOn 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.

14 Flax layed out to dry after rettingAug 17 All the first batch was removed from the trough and moved to the field to dry.

15 Pulling strands of fiber from the flaxAug 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.

16 retting batch 2 aug 17

18 another batch drying aug 21another batch drying in the field

17 finished drying batch 1 and back in the barn Aug 21Batch 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!)

A cheap alternative to wool combs

A cheap alternative to wool combs

A cheap alternative to wool combs

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 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.)


3-1.jpg(Note the difference in price from picture #1 and picture #3)45

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.

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    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

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10-12 fiber prep with Commercial  Combs


The Tools

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.

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13-17 Colour blending with Carders

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18-19 Semi-Worsted

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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.

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27-29  Colour blending locks with combs

30.jpg  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.

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31-32 Long Shetland fleece being combed

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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!

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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!

Part 3 Why does everything seem to take so much longer lately?

Part 3 Why does everything seem to take so much longer lately?

Part 3 Why does everything seem to take so much longer lately?

Continuing from Part 2 and Part 1


Life is still trying to keep me from accomplishing my goals by offering other options to the one I thought I was going to be doing.

Earlier this summer I was gifted with a fleece at the Guild demo at the wool growers Co-Op in Carlton place Ontario. It was a horrible day for weather and we retreated to the storage part of the sorting building. Just down the hallway from us was where the volunteer sheep were waiting to participate in sheering demonstrations throughout the day.

 1 Shearing Volunteers 1


Icelandic looking sheep “CCWG Mascot” from the Wool Growers Co-0p Demo. 2


  This is the producer of the fleece  after shot. 3-4

5They said the amount of fleece they have in stock at this point in the year was down from other years. 5

6 The demo team is across from all this wool! It had been raining very heavily with strong wind gusts so we moved inside the sorting building. 6

  The demo team 7-10

The co-op sorts all the eastern wool from Canada and sells it all over the world. A lot goes to china. But some gets set aside for hand spinners. Most of it is soft and crimpy but sometimes it’s lustrous and not quite as soft. The Icelandic-like one I want to work on is soft but the half fleece I got was one of the latter ones.

I wanted to work on the big Icelandic-like fleece next but it’s too big to skirt at home (I no longer skirt on the grass it’s too hard to get up from and it would be embarrassing to have to ask passing strangers to extract me from the little bit of front lawn I still have). So I went to the guild and put a sheet over 2 of their folding tables.  They are 5’ long table and once I had the fleece spread out it took most of the table space. Here are views first from the sheep side (inside) of the fleece. You can see a few second cuts on the whiter part. Then the view from the outside of the fleece.

1112 Inside side of the fleece (guild library in the background) 11-12

13Outside of the fleece 13

14 Close up of the tog 14

15 Colour variations within the fleece, outside of the fleece 15

  16 Skirted 16

17 The very large fleece skirted and wrapped in a sheet waiting for washing. 17


So one more practice washing fleece before the main event! So let’s do the little half fleece I bought from the wool growers co-op at Twist fibre festival.

The half fleece is not what you would call small so off to the dollar store to get more of those handy bucket and then on to Walmart to see if they had any of the really big buckets I saw last summer. Walmart has kept the price the same but made the bucket smaller… Drat. After 3 Dollaramas I found 5 more white or light beige strainer buckets. Back home to start the processe.

The process 18-20

I had forgotten I had the turquoise bucket. It was upside down underneath a large pot of raspberries. The grey one was also a Walmart bucket but I found it second hand this spring and the blue bucket is this year’s Walmart bucket (unfortunately smaller).

I divided the fleece, from cleanest to areas of less careful personal sheep hygiene. Starting with the cleanest and working my way to the less appealing but still-worth-trying bucket the fleece goes into the soapy water, then rinse and repeat. The First strainer only needed one rinse. (I gave up on the hot water idea and found out-of-the-hose is cleaning the fleece fine just as long as I soak it a bit longer.)

Hummm. There is more wool here than I thought. Another drying rack would help immensely! Off to Ikea to see if they still have the grey one I’m using now. Really this isn’t as silly as it sounds I did a quick check on the computer and Ikea is only at the other end of my street. (4 stop signs away!) They have a similar one which will work. It’s now called a “MULIG” Drying rack, indoor/outdoor, white $24.99 Canadian. I like the grey one a bit better but they are the same height and work well for fleece I better write a product review for that!

Ikea images of “MULIG” Drying rack, indoor/outdoor

My neighbour wandered by the fence and I explained what I was up to. He looked amused and a bit skeptical. (the water was pretty dirty) he also mentioned one of the extremely Rubenesque raccoons from the neighbour behind him had been frightened over the fence and climbed into our garage…. “GLENN!! We need to fix the garage door now!”  Our Garage is sinking. Some previous owner paved the inside of the garage and right over the sill plates, leaving the 2×4 uprights sticking out of the asphalt. So my sill plates are long gone to dirt and thus my garage is decoratively sinking with a lovely spinal twist since the rafters were not spaced correctly when originally built. Oh and the roof leaks so there is a big silver tarp to stop that happening. Really it’s on the list of things to do but our contractor hurt his back after I hurt mine so I can’t fix his so the garage is awaiting help.

21Everything has moved and the door is being inspected, measured and a first pass is made with the cutter 21

If we shorten the door the door will close and no more overweight under-wanted raccoons will consider my garage as a possible winter vacation spot. Our neighbour lent Glenn a grinder/cutter thing and we had to move everything out of the way (that would be the fleece washing I had been doing… plus the dogs litter boxes (the rest of us knew they were really flower boxes) and a couple rain barrels.) Oh well, Raccoon eviction takes priority over fleece. I guess it could have been worse.  It could have been the skunk that is somewhere around here wanting our garage.

22Glenn removing part of the garage door so it will close and keep the raccoon out 22

Well that is impressively disgusting looking water! 23-26

28Drying Fleece at the guild 27   

If you are a member of the Ottawa Valley weavers and spinners guild face book group page, you may have watch the video I made to show just how much more exciting it is to watch fleece dry rather than watching paint. (I had been working on the library for 2 full days in a row on a long weekend and I was getting a bit odd.  OK, odder then usually odd).  My fleece is assisted in its drying by listening to Rammstein and fan noise.

Today’s forecast is cloudy with showers. And if the last set of dark ominous clouds that rolled past are any suggestion of what might be coming I may not start the Icelandic today but leave it for tomorrow and hope to not get a second free rinsing. Although rain water is said to be very good for rinsing fleeces.

Update: i was able to get the Icelandic like fleece washed, i used all my plastic straining buckets and all the big bins to soak them in. i divided the fleece up into colour sections then i used the temperature of water from the hose and left it to soak longer than i had with the hot water fleeces.


unwrapping sheet that holds the giant fleece after skirting, then dividing the fleece up by colour.

earlier this summer while looking for good second hand baskets at a one of the thrift stores i spotted and pounced on an camping/RV hand washing machine. (think giant salad spinner for jeans) it has a switch on the bottom to ether hold wanter in while you wash or you can turn the switch and it will drain the water out a hose that is stored in a little door-ed area near the bottom of the spinner. it works much better on Fleece than it would on close im sure.

the Deluxe salad spinner that thot it was a hand washing machine, (i tracked it down on line its called a Laundry pod and costs about 100.00. mine said 9.99.)

washing and spin drying the fleece

part way through the fleece washing Glenn wandered out and started moving around blacksmithing equipment on the patio (adjacent to the fleece washing. he had a small project to finish and an eviction to make. the sulpherus smoke from starting up the forge helped knock out the squatters who were eventually knocked down and added to the forge at the end of his project. unfortunately some of my fleece now has that fresh black smith smell.

41the soon to be evicted  (there in the roof above Glenn’s forge, most did not survive the Coal start up smoke. the few remaining did not survive the forge.)

Final outcome: what started out looking defiantly like an Icelandic or Icelandic cross fleece Pre-Wash (we pulled at the long stringy bits that looked like tog and it separated just like tog and left shorter stuff ) Post-washing seems to have been a humongous Shetland fleece.  i must have washed out the Icelandic! Or maybe i over spun dried it?

OK change of plan, i now have the fiber to spin the warp for my blanket so i will keep collecting  more tog to make the tufts! but that will take a while so i will have to show you that Much latter!




Why does everything seem to take so much longer lately? Continuing in Part 2

Why does everything seem to take so much longer lately? Continuing in Part 2

Why does everything seem to take so much longer lately? Continuing in Part 2

When last we chatted Glenn had just arrived home from a hard day of matching letters and number and not tripping. (don’t scoff this is not a job for me! unless you want your bills and fiber purchases lost to who knows where). i let him get comfortable at the computer for a couple minutes before asking him if he could drain the fleece for me. (He really is vary patent with my interesting hobby)

Fleece coming out of gray bucket with soapy water 36-37

The water is not as dirty as the last fleece! We filled a Dollerama bucket to just below the handles. The water from the hose was mildly warm from the sort of sun which is quickly becoming clouds. Glenn lifted and drained the fleece its container, tipping it to the side to let the water flow out. I may get another one and drill holes in the bottom, then gently placing it into the white bucket of clean water. I pick up and rotated the fleece holding container a couple times then left it to soak a bit more.

Draining the fleece from the wash bucket 38-41

Fleece going into the rinse bucket 42-43

During this delicate part of the fleece-washing operation we were interrupted by a hayness individual determined to steel birdseed! AH I had a weapon in hand so vanquished him in a torrent of bath water! Well I guess that was actually a shower from his criminal perspective. I ran him off twice and checked the lid on the feeder was tight. I’m sure he will break in and steel all the sunflower seeds but at least he will be vary clean when he does it. Evil rodent!!

Skwerl vanquishing!!! 44-47

After about 20ish minuets Glenn and I traipsed outside and I had him drain the fleece pulling the bucket from the rinse water.

Fleece has rinsed and is coming out 48-51

Onto the drying rack 52-54

Someday I should tell you about what my washing fleece inside set up looked like before I got the giant dirty Redo Arcott fleece. Maybe next time?

Its gaming night for Glenn, (no time for corn on the cob tonight so it’s been moved to tomorrow) and he is off to Kanata to play a game about saving sheep in the low country from levees and dikes that are about to brake. A vary noble endeavor! (I hope everyone including the sheep stay dry)


Sheep game 55

Now if the back neighbors raccoons don’t try to help I will have the first washed fleece dry by later tonight or maybe tomorrow morning. Then weather willing on to the next fleece tomorrow.

Update; the sun is defiantly gone after a brief valiant attempt at making it hard to see the computer screen. I may have to move the fleece drying under the dog shelter in a bit. I checked the weather forecast there may be unpleasant wetness later tonight. (That makes sense after all the watering earlier today.) So I will let the fleece drip a bit more before moving the rack.

I have gathered up the partly dry fleece and moved the drying rack. I went looking for a piece of sheers but found another fleece. Where did I get that one? It looks like it was poorly washed or was not washed I through it in the mostly clean soap water and added the rinse water. It can sit overnight and I will through it on the drying rack tomorrow. I put down a sheet since I couldn’t find the sheer for the Icelandic. Although the length is good the ends are vary thin on the tog end and quite thick ion the thule end. This will insure nothing falls through as it dries.


56The drying rack moved under partial cover in case of rain 56


P1570892Getting the last bit dry inside by the register.

I finished it off drying in its bucket in the bathroom (the register is rite behind the bucket and the air conditioning is on).  I took this into the guild social and Ann helped me separated some of the tog and thule.  i will sample spinning the two parts separately then do a sample together. Eventually i will have that Icelandic blanket i keep dreaming about. But that will be later since i have more fleeces to wash before the snow gets closer!

It is quite the feeling of accomplishment when you can start with raw wool strait off the sheep and process it into something to felt, spin or weave. This is just the start of lots more fun!

Why does everything seem to take so much longer lately?

Why does everything seem to take so much longer lately?

Why does everything seem to take so much longer lately? part 1

This morning I asked my hubby to please bring up the wool drying racks from the laundry so I could start washing a few fleeces. But first there was the little problem with the hose…. I went out to fix the Non-Kink hose which had sprung a leak followed quickly by a second leek.  With the help of a lot of teal duct tape the hose no longer aggressively throws water at me when I turned it on.  A fine mist is much better.

   Hose patch leaking less. 1-3

While fixing the hose I found that the pots and portable forest all needed watering. Yes my forest is portable. So a round of water for everyone! Oh no, the front garden looks thirsty and the grass seed on the little bit of grass also needs a drink.  While watering I washed out the big bin that I am eventually going to use to wash the fleece. Finally all the plants looked happy and my back insisted it was time to go sit down NOW!

Portable forest, planters and front garden 4-14

Sit, sit, sit, sit…. Ok I think I can get the kettle now and bring out the first fleeces. My smallest unwashed fiber is 6 oz. of Icelandic.  I also have half a lustrous fleece from the wool growers co-op (from Twist festival a couple weeks ago) there is also a full large possibly Icelandic fleece and 2 smaller full Shetland fleeces. I am not sure if the Shetlands are skirted hence having Glenn bring up the skirting table too.

15 Skirting table (yes it also looks like a close drying rack but less so with a sheet over it and fleece on top) 15

The Icelandic I am starting with is from Erin at Rocks End Farm. Her sheep have really nice fiber. As you know Icelandic sheep are an old breed and have a double coat. The tog is the long outer guard hair and the thule is the soft under coat. So in one sheep you can make your medieval outer wear from the tog and inner layers from the thule. You can even blend them together. We have heard that the Icelandic sheep in Iceland tend towards a coarser tog than many of the Canadian fleeces.  The Icelandic roving I bought from the World of Wool is very noticeably much courser than Erin’s fleeces.

16 Erin’s Icelandic Fleece 16

My end goal for this and the large Icelandic are to wash, then separate tog from thule. Most would crave the soft luxury of the thule but I’m after the tog. In fact most of the wonderful guild I belong to knows I’m on a quest for Tog. Some have been contributing to my growing tog collection. Once I have enough tog I can wind my wool warp (possibly from the thule or a thule/tog combination) for an Icelandic tufted blanket. It looks like a Raya rug or for those that don’t weave think of a deep shag carpet that you throw on your bed shag side down. The shag part traps air and body warmth. They were used for cloaks and blankets. There have been a few reports online about modern weavers trying this. I want to be one of them!

But back to step one. Wash the fleece, and I might as well wash the other fleeces I had been meaning to wash for a while. I have the drying rack set up. I have the skirting rack ready to check the other fleeces. I learned my lesson with the last Redo Arcott fleece, which was horribly dirty and full of chaff. It was worth every penny since it was free but it was a horrible amount of work to get it to a point I could use it for core wool. (Ann and her amazing picker and carder helped and did all the hard work after the washing!)

I ran the extension cord from the garage to one of my upside down planters that had become my water boiling station. Kettle on, I waited for the water to boil. And waited, and waited, and waited. Oh yah if you’re watching it water doesn’t boil. So while waiting for the first kettle I found my pruners and cut back more of the trumpet vine, then moved some of the thorn-less blackberry canes away from the blacksmithing and back into the bed along the house. Check the kettle, nope but there is a bit of steam. Hummm. Drag the vines to the composter, Yep first kettle done only a few more to go.

17 Kettle station with Sunlight dish soap 17

As the second kettle refused to boil I took pictures of this year’s set up. I am constantly amazed by what other non-felting, non-fiber people think things are used for.  The drying rack is from Ikea (they think it’s for cloths!!?!! Who could not see the amazing fleece drying potential?) The giant gray bucket with rope handles had been for sail last year at Walmart but I found it this spring second hand for a lot less and a smaller thinner one was at Dollerama. The gray bucket was labeled for storing kids toys. Who would keep kids toys in an unlidded container? (My kids had toys Mr. B had a box with a lid for most of his. Evil and Miaka’s were in small chest of Ikea drawers.)  The white plastic container with holes in the sides was from Dollerama. There was a bigger one earlier in the year luckily I hadn’t realized I wanted it since the medium sized one actually fits the gray bucket!

      The set up, buckets, drying rack fleece 18-23

Over the next 3 kettles worth of water (I will look for a bigger kettle while I’m out in stores now), I thot you might like a peek at the patio and the disaster which is my back garden. You may have noticed the somewhat rusty collection of implements partly hidden by tarps. I have not yet figured out how to use them in felting or garden decorations. That Glenn’s blacksmithing set up. He has a light duty farm forge (the second larger forge is under the trellis covered by a barbeque cover) hum I wonder If I could use one of them to heat the water next time? There is a leg vice it’s for pounding mettle and having the force transfer to the floor. There are 2 anvils back there somewhere and a cutting tool I’m not too sure what it is. It might cut really thick felt?

The west half of the back patio – Blacksmithing 24-28

My side of the patio is more comfortable with honeysuckle vine, trumpet vine and dwarf Japanese lilac standard giving shade. The sheet provides the remaining shade under the trellis. We have a few chickadees, one humming bird, a wood pecker and the evil Chipmunks (eaters of strawberries!).  Miaka’s garden swing is in the back yard. She seemed vary sure it was hers and would meow with grate annoyance until you relinquished the spot she wanted. (Evil just sat by the rock edge of the garden and ate chives when he didn’t think we were watching)

29 The east side of the patio – trellis 29

  backyard 30-31

Ah the water has boiled and I had layered loosely the 6 oz.’s of Icelandic fleece.  I checked and the water was finally close to hot. (Not cold and not warm but a little less than uncomfortably hot.) I had run out of distractions and had enough water so in went the fleece. Using the back of my hand I gently submerged the fleece so no dry bits were visible. Then went in to update my note to you while I waited the first about 20 minits-30 minutes soak.

   Layered fleece and putting it into the slightly soapy water to soak 32-35

Now that you have had a tour of the back patio and the fleece is starting its soak, Glenn is back from work.  He is about to be volunteered into helping with the rinsing.  Its probubly best not to tell him yet and let the fleece finish soaking.  i will show you what happens next, next week!


A tutorial: how to make roving with a drum carder

A tutorial: how to make roving with a drum carder

This week has been hectic. I haven’t had much time to do any felting. I did a little bit of stitching on my seascape, but not enough to show you and a little bit on a set of shoelaces. Mostly I made pasties for the market. They are more popular than we anticipated and we are down to the last few.  This is a few about to go in the freezer. They get bagged once they are frozen.

I thought you might like to see this post from way back at the beginning of our blog journey. This is one of the first posts I did.

After you have carded your wool and it is still on the drum you might like to have it as roving instead of a batt. This will show you how to use a simple diz to do that.  You can make a diz out of almost anything. mine is a piece of plastic cut from the side of a plastic sour cream container, it has a hole in the middle for the wool to come through. you pull a small bit of the carded wool through the hole and turning the drum backwards slide the diz around the drum pulling the wool through in a long rope as you go.  the diz rest directly on the drum. You control the amount of wool in the rope by how fast you slide it across the drum as you go around. If its too hard, you are trying to pull too much wool through the hole.


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