I got a little cash for Christmas. That cash went into my overtime fund; I get extras that I want by working overtime or selling craft stuff so that I don’t take anything out of our household budget. When I got enough, and International Fleeces had their first anniversary sale, I purchased some two row mini combs. What, you say? I already have a comb and hackle set? Yes, well, different products for different uses. The Blue Mountain Handcrafts set is incredibly useful for wools over 3 inches long. The mini combs are incredibly useful for fine fibers and for fibers less than 3 inches long. On the larger comb and hackle set, I would have waste in the combs if the fiber was less than 3 inches. On the mini combs I have waste that is about 1 inch. This I can card into other wools for a tweedy blend on my drum carder. Waste not, want not.
So here is a picture diary of my combs and the absolutely filthy merino wool I washed, dried, and then combed with these new mini combs.
As you can sort of see from this picture, the water is brown from all the mud and the wool looks tan to brown. What you don’t see are all the manure tags and the vegetable matter (VM) that is stuck into the wool. Merino, being an especially fine wool, has lots of crimp and therefore EVERYTHING sticks to the fleece when the sheep is out and about. Everything.
This is the same wool soaking in its second bath. I heat the water to 150 degrees, squirt enough Dawn detergent (the original, without enzymes) to make the water blue, and soak for 20 minutes. As you can see, the wool is floating on the water because there’s no longer any dirt, oil, or manure to weight it down. It expands to at least double its starting dirty size after the second wash. You can still see all the VM in the wool though.
It gets wrung out in a towel, carefully, after three rinses; each rinse gets a little cooler and the wool soaks in each for at least 10 minutes to allow the scales to slowly close and prevent felting — sticking together. Then it gets put outside to dry.
That’s where my new mini combs by Valkyrie Supply come in. I load the combs with fiber, and comb from the ends to the tines. I make at least two passes; each pass means that the fiber is transferred from the loaded comb to the empty comb. This leaves the short fibers on the empty comb, and allows the fibers to be all in alignment on the combs, and all of the vegetable matter simply falls to the floor. Then I diz the combed fibers into a bird’s nest — basically a long piece of the combed fibers that I twist slightly as I wrap into a spiral shape.
These are a bunch of bird’s nests that were combed out of that dirty wool. Next comes the spinning, and I’ll ultimately end up with something like this:
This is superwash merino that I bought already washed, combed, and ready to spin. Which feels like cheating 🙂 But you get the idea.
I’m dying up little 3 and 4 ounce batches of the wool in different colors. So far I have Kermit the Frog green (it said Leaf Green on the bottle!) and Royal Blue which seems to be coming out more like a cobalt blue. These may be spun on their own, or may be spun in concert for a varigated self striping yarn.
Some will be carded and combed with my angora fiber and possibly dyed after that. I’m still thinking of a project for that.
All of this is time consuming, but very satisfying. I get exactly the fiber I want. And I learn something new every time I do it! And then of course there is the fact that when the apocalypse comes, I’ll be able to spin my own fibers and clothe my family with weaving, knitting, crocheting, and sewing. 🙂