Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Santa came early

Since I had so much fun combing the Lopez Island wool, I've been all inspired to do more.  One thing I've had in my mind for a long time is to be able to efficiently comb fine fibers like merino and alpaca.  The Indigo Hound viking combs that I used on the Lopez Island wool are fabulous for medium and coarser wools, but not great for fine fibers because the tines are just too far apart.  They work, but it takes more passes and leaves more waste.

So Santa came early to my house and dropped off a set of Valkyrie extra-fine combs.

Valkrie extra-fine wool combs

I did the inaugural run with some more of the Australian merino that I used for the test skein on my Bee Hummingbird spindle.  I washed up a bunch more locks into puffy delicious puffs of puffiness.

Australian merino (17.4 micron) washed locks

I lashed on 13 grams of locks to one of the combs,

Australian merino (17.4 micron) locks on Vakyrie extra-fine combs

then combed it off with the other,

Australian merino (17.4 micron) on Vakyrie extra-fine combs after one pass

and then combed it back onto the first comb.

Australian merino (17.4 micron) on Vakyrie extra-fine combs after two passes, ready to diz

This wool is so gorgeous.  It's 17.4 micron diameter fiber, which is very fine, and it's so soft and smooth and lustrous.  This is only two passes through the combs, and it's ready to diz off into top.  These combs did an amazing job.

The next step was dizzing.  You pull a little tuft of wool through the hole in the diz, then draft and pull, draft and pull, draft and pull, each time pushing the diz back up toward the comb to pull in the next bit of fiber. The hole in the diz helps keep the diameter of the top consistent. 

Australian merino (17.4 micron) on Vakyrie extra-fine combs, dizzing off the fiber

Here's the finished nest of top- 12 grams of pure fiber bliss and 1 gram of waste fiber, in about five minutes.

Australian merino (17.4 micron) combed on Vakyrie extra-fine combs. 12g of top, 1g of waste.

Ah.  Maze.  Ing.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Half a fleece

Ta Daaa!

Lopez Island wool, all combed!

I finished combing the Lopez Island wool!

The half-fleece weighed 3.0 pounds in its raw, unwashed state.  After washing, it weighed 1.7 pounds.  The finished product is 673 grams (1.5 lb) of combed top and 109 grams (0.2 lb) of waste fiber.

I've never combed a chunk of fiber this big before, and I can't believe it only took two days to wash and three days to comb.  It's also unbelievable how well and how easily combing gets rid of ALL the vegetable matter in a fleece!  It was time well spent, and I really enjoyed it.

The finished top is just beautiful and I will very much enjoy spinning it.  The wool isn't super soft but I think it will combine very well in a sweater with some other San Juan County fiber that I was given way back in 2007 and spun in 2009.

I have a deep, deep stash.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Processing a fleece

Oh hello, remember me?  I've been playing with fiber.  There's a big pile of spun yarn that is yet to be photographed, but what I want to show tonight is this fleece that I finally got around to processing.

Lopez Island wool, half a raw fleece

This is actually half a fleece, purchased at the 2016 Columbia Gorge Fiber Festival, from a full fleece that I split with a friend.  It's from Lopez Island, Washington, and if I remember correctly it's a mixed breed dominated by Romney and Blueface Leicester, with lesser amounts of East Friesian, Coopworth, Columbia, Dorset, and North Country Cheviot genes in the flock.  It's been sitting in the closet for over a year, and this week was finally its turn to shine.

I washed it in two evenings, just in my kitchen sink in dishpan-sized batches.  It wasn't overly greasy, but the tips were pretty gunked up with hardened lanolin and dirt.

Lopez Island wool, raw

After one hot soapy soak and two hot rinses, the wool became a lovely creamy white and all the grease was out.  Some of the tips were still a little dirty and clumpy, but not too bad.  They opened right up during combing.

Lopez Island wool, washed

So here's the before and after.  Washed on top, raw on the bottom.  The lighting is wonky on this picture, but trust me, there was a big difference.  The separate shots above are pretty close to the actual color change.

Lopez Island wool, washed on top, raw on the bottom

Once the wool was clean and dry (furnace vents are wonderful for drying wool, if you can keep the cats off), my next step was combing.  You load the wool onto one comb and comb it off with the other, during which all the dirt and vegetable matter (bits of hay, etc.) falls out and the fibers are separated and aligned.

This is after two transfers from comb to comb.  Puffy and delicious.

Lopez Island wool, two passes through the combs

Then I used a diz (the round wooden thing with the holes) to draw the fiber off the comb.  The diz helps make an even-sized rope of fiber called top.  Wind up the top into a little nest, and voila!  Ready to store or spin.

Lopez Island wool, all washed and the first nest combed

That first nest was 20 grams of fiber, with 2 grams of combing waste there to the right.  The waste is all the short bits, neps, vegetable matter, dirt, and other undesirable stuff that the combs remove from the good fiber.  A combing loss of 9% is pretty good- there wasn't a lot of bad stuff to comb out of this fleece.  The finished top is pure spinning bliss.

I combed about half the fiber today, and will get to the rest over the weekend.  I love wool.

Lopez Island wool, halfway combed