Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Yesterday I went to my personal Mecca.... Susan's Fiber Shop in Columbus, Wisconsin.  She's an amazing woman that I've met many times over the years of attending fiber festivals in various parts of the country.  Starting with the Estes Park Wool Festival out in Colorado many, many years ago.  I was there for two reasons, first to pick up a set of wool combs that I had ordered and also to test spin a wheel I'm considering - the Kromski Fantasia.

She gave me a short lesson on combing - I took along some of the Nasty Romney, thinking that if combing could make that awful stuff look good, it would work wonders on any other fiber I presented for consideration!

If you've never seen wool combs, they are a pretty startling piece of gear - in the same way that a picker is - except on a much grander scale.  Spinning seems to be such a gentle craft, peaceful and serene, until you see this:
Welcome to the dungeon... mwahahahaha!
Gleaming instrument of torture, one might think.  This is one of the pair, clamped down in its base and ready for use.  The other one is swung toward the stationary comb once it is loaded up with wool locks to begin the process of combing.  Actually it works a lot like combing my own hair, although mine never gets as messed up as the Nasty Romney!
So, I'll load up the comb and get started.  Here is the first load of locks from the Nasty Romney that I dyed plum some time ago.  I've tried to spin this from a carded preparation, and I'm sick to death of picking out, ummmm "stuff" (it is the most diplomatic word I could think of) while trying to spin this mess.  Here is what the first part looks like:
First load of the combs -
Nasty Romney about to get what it deserves!

The other comb is there on the left.  Ready to start swinging, catching just the tips of the locks to draw them away on the moving comb.  This gives the trash an opportunity to fall out, as well as aligning the fiber into a very nice parallel arrangement that is a very different spinning experience than carded fiber.  Carding allows the fibers to be in a much more random arrangement in relation to each other.  Makes a fluffy yarn (think sweaters) that traps air and is warmer to wear because of it.  The combing makes a worsted preparation (think suit fabric) that is much smoother and silkier in appearance because the fibers are more parallel, they stay in alignment during spinning.  The worsted yarn isn't as warm, since it doesn't trap air, but it retains the wool's other appealing properties.  As I combed the locks, the fibers begin to transfer to the moving comb, leaving the short fiber and some of the trash trapped between the rows of tines on the comb.  Looks like this at the end of the first transfer:
After the first transfer on the combs
The fiber is starting to straighten out, and see the short stuff and the trash left on the stationary comb?  That all gets pulled off and can be scrapped, carded or used for felting.

Next step is to transfer the fiber back to the newly empty stationary comb for the next pass.  Further aligning and cleaning the fiber.  I was truly amazed at the speed of this process - sure beats picking out all the mess by hand at the wheel!  I also started to see a bit of luster from this fiber, which I sure wasn't expecting at all!

So, here it goes back to the stationary comb for the next round of combing.  I took a close up so you could see how the wool gets caught in the teeth of the comb and all the fibers are starting to line up.
Close up of what happens at the tines of the comb -
could that actually be luster in the fiber?
By this point, I was amazed that this was the Nasty Romney - it is starting to look and behave like much better quality fleece!  This might actually become pretty yarn!  Just a note, the shiny parts are the fiber itself - there is no added bling in this combing.  I might add some later on, but I want to test spin some of this without any additives to see if has really become nicer to work with - heck, it couldn't be any worse than it was when I started!

Thus ended the second pass of the fiber in the combing process.  Susan suggested four transfers on the combs for the best result on this fleece.  So that is what I did.
After the fourth transfer - ready to pull off the comb
Plum Nasty Romney - combed top
Here is the fiber after the fourth transfer.  I can hardly believe how consistent and smooth it is!  The next step is to draw the fiber from the combs.  This can be done by hand or with a small tool called a diz.  A diz is a small curved bit of plastic in this case, with a hole in the center to control the amount of fiber that can pass through at one time.  The first few draws off the combs, I did by hand, just pulling the fiber off the comb in a more or less consistent diameter.  This one, I decided to try out the diz.  I like using it, I got a much longer piece of top and far more consistent, as I expected.  Here's a look at what came off the comb:

I thought it was truly amazing... no stuff in the fiber, smooth and pretty!  I can hardly wait to spin some of this and see if it spins as well as I think it will!  I typically enjoy spinning top, so this should be a far more pleasant experience than this wool has given me up to this point.  I'm also very fond of this color, so I doubt that I'll blend it with anything else.  So... I'm off to spin some of this pretty wool.  I almost feel guilty calling it Nasty Romney anymore - but that is where it started...