De-stashing is going to be a permanent condition I fear. While trying to purge unwanted and excess fleeces I found a lovely, soft lambswool with gorgeous crimp. The colour is a slight dusty rose and the handle is so soft it’s nearly like cashmere.
This fleece had been washed and then stored in very good conditions. It was not damaged in any way. Once I started to process it I discovered a load of problems that made me question the wisdom of proceeding with processing the fleece for spinning.
The first problem was that it was a lambs fleece. Amniotic fluid can damage the tips of the fleece and make them extremely brittle. Ann McElroy told me that when she is birthing her lambs the fluid dries out her hands to the point they start cracking. I don’t doubt her for a second.
The staple is very long, but those tips, so sad to learn how easily they snap off.
Tippy fleece when the length is this long is a fairly easy fix. Just cut the tips off, and process as you would for any normal fleece, either use carders or combs.
However, there was another problem and it is much more daunting and that is scurf. Scurf is sheep dandruff. It is caused, usually, from mites, but I’m sure it has other causes. I’m mostly interested in the results which are flakes of lanolin mixed with sloughed skin cells. These harden and are extremely difficult to remove from the fleece. Since this was a lamb fleece the little critter also played in the field and got into all sorts of mischief with bits of vegetation and dust. I was two seconds away from throwing this in the trash or compost, but I gave it a deep comb, just to see what results I could get.
There are nebs in there, so I put it through the comb a second time and removed them. The wastage was massive, nearly 50%. This wastage is from cut tips, scurf, vegetable matter, dust, tiny bits of straw etc. When I combed the wool I used a spray of water with hair conditioner mixed in to keep the stress on the wool to a minimum; it really helped.
This is residue from the first combing,
And this is residue from the second combing.
I freely admit the work involved in salvaging this fleece was NOT worth it. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about sheep dandruff. This is an exercise not to be repeated – ever!!
That said, the final result is rather lovely, nearly cashmere soft, grey lambs wool skeins. The yield is an astonishing 12 skeins of gorgeous two ply, that I’m really pleased with. Not at all sure what I’ll do with it, but someone will have a suggestion, I’m certain of that.
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!