Teasing

When someone oohs and aahs over a handspun yarn I say “It’s all in the preparation”. When someone oohs and aahs over a mean hand-carded rolag I say “It’s all in the pre-preparation”. Today’s post is all about teasing.

Teasing is a way to open up the wool. Either as a single preparation or as a pre-preparation before the main preparation. Teasing wool before carding is an enormous help in getting even, high quality rolags that are a joy to spin.

Staples of rya wool and mohair, wool teased with combs and hand-carded rolags like peas in a pod.
Staples of rya wool and mohair, wool teased with combs and hand-carded rolags like peas in a pod.

I never put wool on my hand cards unless it is teased first. To me, carding is about arranging the fibers evenly and loftily. To do that – without putting too much strain on me and the fibers – I therefore tease first. Without exception. When I teach spinning I always include fiber preparation and teasing.

Why teasing?

When I tease I

  • open up the wool from its state as a bundle of staples. Air comes in between the fibers and makes the fibers more evenly distributed
  • spend more time with the wool
  • prepare to card high quality rolags.

With teasing I can

  • get more evenly carded rolags with less strain on my body and the wool
  • blend fibers, lengths fleeces or colours
  • remove vegetable matter
  • get rid of the shortest fibers
  • leave the teased wool before I card, while carded and combed wool needs to be treated as fresh produce
  • experience more ease and joy when I card.

Without teasing before carding

  • the wool will be more dense and require more force to separate
  • I may strain my shoulders, wrists and arms
  • fibers may break, leaving nepps in the preparation
  • the rolags will be of lesser quality
  • there may be a lot more waste than with teasing.
I gently add the teased wool to my hand card to create an evenly arranged rolag.
I gently add the teased wool to my hand card to create an evenly arranged rolag.

How I tease

I use different tools for teasing – my hands, combs and flickers. Which tool I use when depends on a variety of circumstances.

Teasing with combs

My go-to tool of teasing is combs, usually my larger combs with a combing station that I clamp onto a table (but of course hand held combs work well too). I can tease larger amounts of wool this way and without putting too much strain on my hands and wrists. When I tease with my combs I also have the opportunity to blend different breeds, fiber lengths or colours. You can see a video here where I tease wool that I blend with recycled sari silk. Teasing with combs also helps getting rid of vegetable matter.

Pulling the teased wool straight out of the stationary comb, perpendicular to the tines.
Pulling the teased wool straight out of the stationary comb, perpendicular to the tines.

Teasing with combs is similar to combing in the middle but different in the beginning and in the end. When I tease with combs I don’t consider the direction of the staples the way I would if I were combing – I just make sure there is as little wool as possible on the handle side of the comb. Other than that I just add the wool as it comes.

Värmland wool teased with combs, ready for carding.
Värmland wool teased with combs, ready for carding.

The middle part, the actual combing, is the same as when I comb for a top. When I pull the wool off the comb I don’t pull it in one long section like I would if I were combing, I just pull it in fiber-length tufts.

All my combs come from Gammeldags in Sweden and I highly recommend them, both the mini combs and the larger ones with a combing station to clamp onto the table. You can read more about combs in general and the Gammeldags combs in particular here.

Teasing with a flicker

In some circumstances I use a flicker to tease my wool. This could be if there are certain things I want to remove with the flicker. One example is Swedish finull. Since the finull fibers are so fine the tips can be brittle. To avoid nepps in my yarn I use the flicker to allow any breaking tips to break in the flicker and stay there instead of ending up as nepps in my yarn.

Another example is if the staples have a lot of kemp (or too short fibers in general) in the bottom. A flicker can do a good job in removing some of the kemp.

To flick a staple I hold the cut end firmly and brush out the tip end with the flicker, using my thigh as support and a piece of leather as protection. I turn the staple and brush the other side of the tip. When the tip is teased I flip the staple to brush out both sides of the cut ends. I need to hold the staple quite close to the cut end to avoid having shorter fibers (but long enough for spinning) to stay in the flicker and go to waste.

Flicking as main preparation

I also use a flicker if I want to spin straight from the staples. Perhaps I want to keep something – a colour variegation or a fiber distribution. The flicker opens up the staple without disturbing the fibers in the staple too much and makes the spinning smoother. I used a flicker for my Icelandic fleece that I spun raw from the lock. I teased the staples with a flicker first and then opened up the teased staples further with my hands.

Another project where I used flicked locks as the main preparation was a pair of two-end knitted mittens. I wanted to keep the colour variegation in the yarn and spun a z-plied yarn from teased locks with a supported spindle. You can read about the finished two-end knitted mittens here. The post includes links to earlier parts of the process like preparation and spinning.

Flicking before combing

On some occasions I also use my flicker before combing a top. One example is a Swedish Gotland fleece that had very dense staples that were felted in the cut ends. Opening up the staples before combing made the combing a lot smoother and there was a lot less waste than without the teasing. Similarly, I have teased locks of a Norwegian NKS fleece that had solidified lanolin in the tips (in the post you can watch videos where I show the results with and without teasing before combing). Teasing the staples with a flicker resulted in less work for me and less wool waste.

Using a card as a flicker

Another option is to tease individual staples with your hand cards and get the same results as with a flicker:

  • Place the tip end on the upper edge of a hand card with a hand on top
  • Pull the staple from the carding pad, resisting with the top hand a few times until the tips are teased
  • Flip the staple and repeat for the cut end.

My flicker comes from Louët, but both Ashford and Clemes & Clemes have flickers. Clemes & Clemes has something called a lock pop that seems interesting. You can use a dog or cat brush as a flicker too (or several, they will definitely break). In this video I tease individual staples with a dog comb.

Teasing by hand

If I don’t want to bring too many tools or if I want to stay really close to the wool I tease with my hands. I hold the staple in my hand and tease perpendicularly to the direction of the staple. It obviously takes longer than teasing with a tool, but the benefit is the time you spend with the fiber, getting to know it and how it behaves.

Teasing by hand: Hold the staple lengthwise between your hands and pull almost fiber by fiber perpendicular to the direction of the staple.
Teasing by hand: Hold the staple lengthwise between your hands and pull almost fiber by fiber perpendicular to the direction of the staple.

In my recent spinning project with raw Icelandic wool I combined flicking and hand teasing and spun from what I ended up calling an accordion burrito.

Accidental teasing

A final and sort of accidental way to tease is when you separate undercoat and outercoat with combs. As you doff the outercoat off the comb in a top the undercoat stays in the comb, nicely teased.

After having doffed the long outercoat fibers off the comb I end up with accidentally teased undercoat fibers neatly arranged in the comb.
After having doffed the long outercoat fibers off the comb I end up with accidentally teased undercoat fibers neatly arranged in the comb.

I hope you experiment with teasing if you haven’t already, and enjoy the difference. I will get back to my teasing and a good period drama. To me, teasing will not only result in higher quality rolags, but also a joy in the carding process.

Teased rya locks in the sun (see as in the featured image).
Teased rya locks in the sun (see as in the featured image).

Do you tease your wool in a way I haven’t described here? What are the benefits?

If you have access to any of the breed study webinars I have released you can see how I tease there. And if you are a patron you can have access to all previous breed study webinars in a patron-only video library.

Happy spinning!


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9 Replies to “Teasing”

  1. I have a huge amount of a local fleece I bought recently. it is Merino and was very dusty and full of straw from being cut in the field :(, so I rinsed it first then dried it and now as the days get longer and warmer I sit outside teasing piles of it. It really helps me to select bits that are good and bits that are just good for compost. The waste from the carding I use for pillow stuffing and felt making.
    As usual I enjoy your blog. So nice to hear from a fellow wool freak!

  2. I admit, I have always thought of teasing as an optional extra step that doesn’t make much of a difference, but your article really shows me what an impact it has. I’m going to try it out on my current project!

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