Combing the Fleece

I know it has been a while since my last blog post on the Fleece Project. So much has happened this year, especially concerning my interest in fiber.

Because of the Fleece Project, I have learned how to wash wool and how to dye fiber. I am also learning about other fiber preparation methods, such as carding and combing.

The act of combing wool as a preparation for spinning has been around a long time. There is literary evidence to suggest that the ancient Babylonians* used it. There is also evidence that the Vikings used it.

Combing aligns the fibers in roving and removes short hairs, and vegetable matter. A nicely combed roving is a joy to spin.

To achieve roving, you first load the hackle with fiber. You then go over the fiber with your comb, combing in three different directions (left, right and from the top down), several times until it looks like you want. Then, using the diz (the round wooden piece with holes), you pull the fiber through one of the holes – depending on how large you want your roving to be – and move the diz up and down the fiber as you pull. Here’s a demonstration by Moonsong Fiberworks on cleaning fiber, plus a little inspiration.

When I first learned that I needed to comb this fiber, I bought a dog comb at a pet store to try it out. However, this method took way too long and brought back some painful memories of my mom combing the snarls out of my long hair when I was a kid. Besides that, I have a lot of fiber from that one sheep so I bought a comb and hackle set.

combhackle
Comb, hackle & diz

It looks like a medieval instrument of torture, doesn’t it?  Well, it was used as a form of torture during the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages. According to many sources, but most notably, Catholic Online, Saint Blaise is known as the patron saint of wool combers and the wool industry because he was tortured with iron combs before being beheaded. Ouch! It gives me shivers just to think of it. When I’m not combing, these babies are covered with thick cardboard.

Despite all that past drama combing works very well on wool.  Using the comb, hackle and diz, I’ve produced some roving that I have twisted into what is called a bird’s nest, to spin.

birdsnest

I’ve combed this many, but ….

birdsnest2

… as you can see, I’ve got a long way to go …

fleece

*Origins: The Ancient Near Eastern Backgrounds of Some Modern Western Institutions, by William W. Halo. Found on Google Books by doing a search on “origins of combing wool”.

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