So I’ve been combing a lot lately. And I was thinking while I was combing about how some of you might feel a little afraid of the combing. Maybe it looks like a lot of work or maybe the combs look scary or you’ve heard that there is too much waste involved, but hand combed top is one of my most favorite things to spin.
So we’ll start with some Blue Faced Leicester. We’re using that right now because that’s what I’m spinning now. BFL is not a wool that I would recommend for a first time comber because it is very curly from cut end to tip and so lashing on (putting the wool onto the combs) and the actual combing can take a little more time and more passes than some other wools. The process is still the same and the tips I will share here are basically the same.
With Blue Faced Leicester, because the locks are so long and thin, I like to line them all up before I lash on. This is about 2 combs full of fiber.
As I lash on, I take each lock and spread out the cut end a bit so it is wider than at least two tines. With wools with narrow locks like these, this helps the wool stay on the combs a little easier and begins to open up the cut end and get the combing going more easily.
As I lash on I am also careful to allow as little of the lock to hang out the back or hand side of the comb as possible. This will cut down on waste tremendously.
With combing as with all other wool processing methods, less is more, and cuts down on the overall work that has to be done. The more I load my combs, the more work it is to pull through the wool and that makes more work and more waste.
For many wool breeds I fill the combs no more than 1/4 to 1/3 of the length of the tines because the fibers fluff up and fill the tines. For BFL and other wools needing more management I try not to fill the tines more than about 1/6 the full length of the tines.
After lashing on I begin to comb out at the very, very tips of the wool. Even if I am only grabbing one or two locks in that first pass, I want to begin at the tippiest tip and work slowly, very slowly, in toward the other comb.
I generally use a bit of water or combing milk on the fibers to cut down on static while I’m combing. The combing milk which is my latest favorite is made with 1/5 Unicorn Fiber Rinse and 4/5 water. It doesn’t get rancid like some combing milks made with oil and it has a nice smell. You can add it by using a spray bottle or just by adding it with your fingers before lashing on.
Notice the position of the combs. The moving comb is pointed away from me and the full comb is pointing to the sky but angled away from my face. Safety first. You can surely hurt yourself with these if you aren’t following these directions. But don’t let fear stop you. Just be careful.
Here I am working my way in and grabbing more fiber as I do.
After one pass, the first comb is almost completely empty but you can see from the fiber on the now full comb more passes are still required to open up the rest of the locks.
Here’s a closer look at what is left on the first comb after the first pass.
And here’s what the fibers look like after that first pass.
So with BFL I generally have to do about 5 passes. The fibers might be well open after 4 passes but since I like to pull the fiber from the comb and spin from the cut end I like to do an odd number of passes. For finer fibers I will try to do as few passes as I can but these longwools can take an extra pass.
Here we are after 5 passes. Look closely at the top of the fibers. There is a little knot of fibers that didn’t get caught up in the combs. I just pull those out manually before I begin to diz the fibers off.
For using the diz I take a tiny bit of fiber and add some twist to thread it through the hole. The curved part should be facing the comb.
Try not to push the diz too far back into the fiber on the comb. It makes the removal more difficult. Push it only back to where the fiber begins to get thicker again, similar to when you are doing a short forward draw and you only bring your fingers back to where the fiber supply gets a bit thicker. If you come to a point where things don’t seem to want to move, give the fibers a bit of a wiggle back and forth and they will loosen up. As you pull a bit off, push the diz back toward the comb. I generally don’t pull more than a couple of inches or half a staple length. This helps to keep the top you are making a consistent thickness which will, in turn, help you to spin a consistent yarn.
I pulled too much fiber off the comb with this one. You can see the neps and noils beginning to come off the comb. This is waste.
Here is what is left on the comb after the wool has been dized off.
Now I take the top I’ve made and make a bird’s nest. The bird’s nest will keep the fibers organized until I am ready to spin it. As I wind it around my hand I add about a half twist to the top so it will hold together a little better. I begin winding from the last bit that came off the comb so that the first part that came off the comb will be the first part I spin. This ensures that I am spinning from the cut ends of the fibers first.
A lot of people are worried about the amount of waste with combing. This is a photo of the waste from this comb full. As you can see, it isn’t very desirable. Lots of shorter fibers, some knots and some VM. It also is the dirtiest of the wool here left on the comb.
And here is the result of about an hour’s combing.
I love combing and the resultant yarn that comes from it. If you are thinking about combing and are wondering what kind of combs would fit you best, please don’t hesitate to email or call the shop and we can help you decide. My favorites are made by Valkyrie. You can take a little look here but if you need more guidance we are happy to help.
Also, there is always the option of private lessons or group lessons if you’d like a little personal attention as you work toward the most perfect combed top.