Category Archives: Fiber prep

Fibre prep: Wool Combs

Don’t be scared, despite looking quite lethal this is not a torture implement, it is just a nice piece of scary-looking equipment designed to comb and fluff up fibres in a neatly ordered fashion.

With raw fleece, I haven’t always been entirely happy with the prep I obtained on my carders (rolags) or on the drumcarder (sliver of semi parallel fibres) with the Gotland especially. It spun up slightly hairy and even with low twist felt more wiry than the raw fibres had led me to expect. So I thought I’d try out another type of prep in the form of combing.

According to Anne Field’s Spinning Wool Beyond the Basics (1) ‘using wool combs does produce the best parallel arrangement of fibre’  which is essential for worsted spinning. Yet she doesn’t go on to describe the method, arguing that they are a very costly piece of equipment and that the method is thoroughly detailed in Peter Teal’s book Hand Wool-Combing and Spinning.

There are quite a few different types of combs, and you can read more about them and how they are used here. The ones I borrowed from my guild are English style combs, which means they come with a station which can be clamped to a table. Actually the box says they are Peter Teal combs, designed by the expert himself, they have been out of production for years and are considered to be the classics of the genre. Wingham Wool seems to be carrying a range based on the design, although I haven’t tried them myself.

I was quickly shown how to use them at the guild but I like to search for videos whenever I try a new technique. I’ve looked at quite a few different videos, and I think my favourites are the ones from the blue mountain handcrafts channel. The combs they sell look absolutely beautiful and there is much positive talk about them although I haven’t had the pleasure to handle them. Their videos on how to use all of their tools are very clear and simple.

I enjoyed the combing process and turning the fibers into a long roving through a diz, a lot more than I’d enjoyed carding. Maybe it’s all just a question of practice…

I’ll report later on how the combed fibres spin… At the moment I’m ever so slightly swamped and only managing to steal away a few hours a week for knitting and spinning, hence the lack of regular posting.

How about? what’s your favourite fibre prep tool or method? If you’re using combs already, do you have a favourite style?

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Gotland: Fleece washing

Gotland fibres from Wells Manor Farm

Gotland is a long wool breed, often said to have been established by the Vikings (there is quite a bit of its history on the British Gotland Sheep Society website if you’re interested in finding out more). The fleece  is  often praised for its lustre and softness, and I have to say that mine didn’t disappoint.

I bought the fibre at Unravel in Farnham, Well Manor Farm had a stall where they also sold their own natural dyed yarns (Eddie bought a skein and knit herself a beautiful shawl). I didn’t buy a whole fleece, just a small bagfull of fibres, because the moment I put my hand in the bag to get a feel I knew I was doomed and had to take some home, but I’m not all that experienced at prepping my own fibres (okay, you could say I’m pretty much a novice on the matter).

I washed the fibre in a series of 5 buckets with very hot water (decreasing in temperature) and washing up liquid in the first two. The fibers had hardly any vegetable matter at all and were really quite clean as much as wool straight off the sheep can be. I wasn’t exactly overly careful when handling the fleece in the water, I tried to minimise the amount of swishing around in hot water, but I still squeezed water out of fibers before moving it on to the next bucket. There doesn’t seem to have been any felting and I’m pretty happy with the results.

One mistake I made in the washing process of the Gotland, was to swish the water and detergent too much before putting the fibre in, I wanted to make sure it was all well distributed in the water before I set the wool in, but I ended up creating a lot of foam, which then proved quite difficult to rinse out of the fibres. Actually my wool dried with some soap suds in. I don’t think washing up liquid would damage the fibre like soap would, so I just decided to set it to dry that way rather than risk felting by too much handling in water. In the future, I’ll be more careful not to create so many suds…

The fibres were not very greasy and washed well, but I still took them through the 5 buckets a couple of times to make sure I got most of the lanolin and soap out. I spun them in my salad spinner in batches to get rid of excess water. I then opened up the wool gently so that there were no clumps to make sure it would dry more easily. The next morning I set them on an old towel in my garden, where they seemed to dry in no time… Well, four-five hours or thereabout. As far as I could see they didn’t suffer attack by either birds or cats, despite our garden being quite the social scene of the animal world.

I then tried using my handcards to make some rolags and spin my lovely Gotland but I have to admit I was quite disappointed with the samples I spun. It was a bit too frizzy for my taste so I decided I was going to try a few different techniques with this, and aim at spinning a truly worsted yarn, for a smooth and lustrous feel.

This required some equipment I didn’t have but my guild came to the rescue and I now have everything I need to proceed… So my next post on the subject should be on prepping the fibres with wool combs, since they apparently give the best alignment of fibres for worsted yarns.

How about you? Any experiences with Gotland? Any suggestions on the prepping, the spinning or even the knitting? I haven’t quite decided yet what I will make with it, I guess it depends on the qualities of the yarn I obtain…


Spinning Fibres: Silk hankies, two drafting possibilities

My very first fiber order contained a batch of silk hankies, also called mawatas, together with the merino I was planning to learn on. Having read in Knitty that silk hankies are amongst the easiest of fibers to spin on a drop spindle I decided I should include some in my first batch of fibers. The rationale behind it was simple, if spinning proved too difficult, or if I managed to spin the merino but not the silk hankies, I could just knit with them unspun, as I’d seen the Yarn Harlot do it.

Silk hankies are made by stretching cooked silk cocoons onto a square form. Wormspit.com shows a detailed explanation, with photos clearly illustrating each step, of how the mawatas are made.

I bought mine ready-made from Wingham Wool, they are sold in stacks, as each of them is incredibly thin. I then dyed them with acid dyes and because I hadn’t pre-soaked them for long (I was way too impatient), the colour is slightly deeper on one side of the stack than on the other. I’m planning to use this little error as a design feature at some point.

stack of dyed silk hankies

[Sorry about the greyish tones of most of those pictures, the sun hasn’t made an appearance in days around these parts. For a more accurate colour of the silk, have a look at the skein at the bottom of the page, the photo was taken on a sunnier day.]

 

I first set out to spin my mawatas using the drafting method described in Knitty.  Separate one mawata from your stack by grabing a corner and gently pulling, putting your second hand flat underneath to keep the stack stable. Poke a hole in the middle of your mawata with your fingers, and start stretching the hanky by pulling on it with both hands to enlarge the hole. You can rotate the position of your hands along the hanky to obtain a more even thickness.

predrafted mawata

Once you’re happy with the thickness, just break the loop to obtain a length of ‘roving’. Unlike silk tops, the fibres in the pre-drafted hankies do not slide against, but instead grab each other, which is also why you can even knit with the unspun fibre prepped that way.

 

For a beginner spinner, it truly is a very easy fiber since it can be predrafted to the thickness you have decided on, and you then only need to focus on spinning the spindle without needing to think about drafting the fibers as you are spinning. It helps deconstructing the movements involved in spinning in more manageable steps. And because the fibers in the mawatas are so ‘grabby’ there are no issues of the predrafted roving falling apart when handling it, or if the twist is introduced too slowly. This makes for a very forgiving predrafted roving.

However, one thing I didn’t like so much about that method was that once the mawata had been stretched, drafting it further whilst spinning (if I suddenly realised that the thickness was uneven for instance) became significantly more difficult, and required much more physical strength in pulling on the roving to make it thinner. It might just be that I am quite lazy at heart, but I like my spinning to be fairly effortless. I therefore looked for alternative drafting method for the hankies.

In one of my knitting groups,  a friend suggested I just tried to draft from the centre, rather than breaking the hanky. Gently but firmly pulling on the fibers at the centre of the hanky, I hold the rest of it lightly folded in my hand, as shown on the picture on the right, drafting from the mawata as I spin. It is now my preferred method of drafting silk hankies, because I am not a great fan of pre-drafting fibres. The edge of the mawata is always slightly harder in texture, so when reaching this part, I usually draft a bit further to keep the same consistency.

 

And just because I love the finished product, this was just a sample skein: 5.4 grams of mawatas gave me 120 meters of a thin 2-ply… I’ve been pondering what to knit with it…

5.4g skein, approx. 120m of 2-plied mawatas

 

 

A few mistakes I made with silk hankies, which you could easily avoid:

  • Make your hands as smooth as possible before handling the hankies (exfoliation and moisture are your friends), the hankies will catch on the smallest amount of rough skin.
  • Do not spin very thin silk singles on a Turkish spindle, you might not be able to remove your cop from the arms once done. Because the arms of a Turkish slide into each other, the centre part, which the shaft traverses, is generally thicker than the tip of the arms. When the time comes to remove the arms, the centre needs to slide through openings smaller than itself. With wool, the give in the fabric compensate for the difference in diameter. Silk, I learned the hard way, doesn’t always have enough give for the centre to work its way through.
  • Beware of plying using an Andean bracelet. Because the fibre is so ‘grabby’, silk singles can get tangled more

    Tangled singles...

    easily. Making an Andean bracelet is not impossible, but a tangle with silk singles will be much more difficult to sort out… Here is a bracelet of singles I have more or less given up on… well, officially it has simply been waiting to be untangled for the past six months… no signof the untangling fairy yet…

 

How about you? Have you tried silk hankies yet? Any tips to share?