Combing different fiber lengths

At the moment I have around 20 fleeces waiting to be spun. It is not always easy but I try to work them in order – first in first out. I have had to give up on some fleeces that have gone brittle and stale. The other day I finished a Gute fleece and next in line is a beautiful finull/rya cross that got a silver medal in the 2018 fleece championships. In this post I show you how I am combing different fiber lengths.

The finull/rya fleece has the most beautiful locks. They are more rya-like in their appearance, but still soft like finull. The outercoat is long and silky and the undercoat soft like cashmere. The draft feels like a luxurious night cream.

Finull/rya lamb's wool
My finull/rya fleece when I bought it at the auction at the 2018 fleece championships.

Cookie Monster wants all the cookies

One of the reasons why I have procrastinated for so long with this fleece is that I really didn’t know how to bring out the superpowers in it. Should I go for shine or softness? To get the shine my choice would have been to comb the wool and spin it worsted and for softness I would have opted for carding and woolen spinning. But deep down the Cookie Monster wanted all of it – both shine and softness.

To get both shine and softness in one yarn takes some planning and testing. Since this yarn was so soft I decided to go for a combing preparation – I figured that the wool was soft enough to still result in a soft yarn.

Combing different fiber lengths

After having read an article in the fall 2020 issue of Spin-Off magazine I knew what to do. Kim McKenna writes in her article Wool combing and the importance of planking about how to comb more evenly for a strong worsted yarn. My goal for this fleece isn’t a strong worsted yarn, but I think the technique will suit my goal perfectly – I want to make sure the fibers are as evenly distributed as possible.

Choosing a comb

Since the fleece I work with has quite a lot of different fiber lengths I want to make sure they are as evenly distributed as I can manage. Therefore I use a single pitched pair of mini combs. Using two-pitched combs may result in more of a separation between the fiber lengths.

Loading

I load the combs with the cut end as close to the tines as I can. I try not to load more than a third of the height of the tines. Too much wool will make it tougher on my hands and arms. It will also give me an uneven result.

First combing

I comb five passes, starting with the outermost part of the tip ends. If I go further in it will be more work and more waste. I use a circular motion – horizontal for the first pass, vertical for the second and then horizontal again. To save my wrists and shoulders I lock the arm of my stationary comb against the side of my torso.

I start combing at the very tip of the staples.

After the fifth pass I doff the wool off the comb in one continuous length. I pull both left, right and center to make the pulling motion easier on my hand. A lot of very short fibers are still on the comb, but they are too short to spin and I use them for other things.

I pull the fiber off the comb in one continuous length.

Planking and second combing

The resulting length now has most of the long fibers in one end and most of the short fibers in the other, which I don’t want. Therefore I divide the lengths into three to four shorter lengths and put them back onto the comb for a second combing. This is the planking part.

I divide the continuous length into shorter lengths and put them back onto the comb.

I comb another three passes to even out the fibers again. The motions are now very light since nothing is sticking to the combs anymore.

Three more light passes after the first combing.

Dizzing

I pull off the fibers through a diz and make a bird’s nest. Had I owned a pair of single-pitched combs with a combing station I would have used them for this step. Pinching the comb between my thighs isn’t ideal. The position isn’t very good for my back and my legs are far from relaxed.

I use a small dizzing hole since I want to spin a fairly fine yarn. There is still an uneven distribution of the fibers, but much more even than after the first time. The quality is also higher than after the first pass – I see no uneven parts and no nepps in the dizzed roving.

With a roving as well prepared as this the spinning feels very light. With the second combing the preparation takes more time, but I win it back when I spin and use the yarn.

Spinning a fiber as well prepared as this is a pure joy.

Since I combed the wool twice and dizzed the yarn gets very evenly spun and I find a relaxed focus behind the spinning wheel.

A Cookie Monster yarn

The yarn is finished. I 2-plied it and washed it last night and this morning it has dried by the air source heat pump over night.The yarn is very evenly spun and shiny. It is not as soft as I had hoped, but I still think I can wear it next to skin, perhaps as a shawl in some sort of lace pattern. Looking at it I realize that all the short fibers I removed were a part of the softness I imagined when I analyzed the staples. But there is not much I could have done here – had I kept the short fibers in the yarn they would have crept out of it sooner or later and created nepps. Still, I love the result. Considering that there still are different fiber lengths in the yarn it wouldn’t have been this even had I not planked after the first combing.

I made a video of the combing process. This time the video is available for patrons only. You can become a patron here.

Happy spinning!


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7 Replies to “Combing different fiber lengths”

    1. That is a great question! Sometimes the lanolin on old fleeces can get tougher, or start to smell. To check for brittle fibers, take a staple in both ends and pull a few times. If you hear a ping sound the fibers are healthy. A cracking sound means that fibers are breaking.

  1. Hi Josefin,
    I didn’t really follow the planking article in Spin Off, so thank you for making that clear and your findings are interesting too.

    I have small combs that I clamp to the edge of a table using ‘quick release clamps’ and find this works very well for dizzing.

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