Scott Moss: Shepherd, wool processor, dyer & spinner

Apart from those who only buy ready-processed rovings and carded batts, I imagine all spinners will be well experienced at carding fibres either with paddles or drum carders or flick carders. However, I have the impression that relatively few spinners normally comb woollen fleeces. I do comb and find my combs very useful indeed.

Combs and when to use them

Both combs and carders pull out the fibers in a fleece so that they are parallel. Combing also separates the fibers from one another and pulls out from the fleece the little balls of wool called “noils”. the other purpose of combs is to pull out the longer fibers, leaving behind on the comb the shorter fibers and noils. If I am going to spin a worsted yarn (smooth with no air or softness) in a single colour, I generally comb twice: once to get rid of the short fibers and noils and a second time to further refine the fleece and, at the same time, to run the fleece through my diz. The diz is just a flat piece of plastic or wood with small holes of different sizes. By pulling the fibers off a comb and through the diz, you are left with a sliver (a narrow rope of fleece with no twist in it) or a roving (a sliver but with some twist in it).

I bought my combs from Wingham Wool Work. A web search for “wool combs” will turn up other designs. Most wool combs have tines (the spikes) set at right angles to the handles. The tines on the Wingham wool combs are set at a slightly smaller angle, leaning back towards the handle. The most elaborate version of the Wingham combs allow for a static comb to be horizontal and you bring the comb in your hand downwards through the fleece on the static comb. In that situation, I find the slightly angled tines to make combing easier. But if the times of the static comb are upright, I find the angled versions to be a little more tiring to use.

Carders and carding

I use an Ashford wide drum carder. It is meant to hold 100g of fiber though I have never found it to hold as much as that. The drum carder enables me to card in bulk so I am not having to spin a little, card a little, spin a little, and so on, as you do with carding paddles and flick carders. As you can see in the Ashford web page on their wide drum carder, one use of a drum carder is to produce batts with stripes of different colours. These (or any) batts can be turned into slivers just by pulling gently a few centimeters at a time from one end to the other and back again. In stretching out the batt by this means, the fibers are pulled into parallel alignment. You are then left with a (usually pretty thick) sliver. It is by no means difficult to run a thck sliver through a diz to produce a thin sliver which I find more useful for spinning worsted. The sliver made from a striped batt changes gradually from one colour to the next because, in the batt, adjacent colours overlap. These slivers are used to spin “colour gradient” yarns.

Carding in this way gives the spinner quite detailed control over the patterns of garments knitted from the resulting spun yarn.