Monday, February 18, 2013

Wool combing

[Photo: the
governor-scene from a stained
glass window from the area
of Soissons (Picardy, France),
early 13th century.]
I am still having a few computer issues (the new tablet which is not totally compatible with blogging tasks) hence sporadic posts. So here is one that has been in editing limbo for almost a month....
It was totally coincidental that the Mid Island Weavers and Spinners Guild held a Wool combing demo on St. Blais's Day, the patron saint of wool combers and throats .Yes, throats. Body parts had patron saints. Go figure! 
Legend has it St Blais either died from being combed (ie. his flesh was ripped with honking big sharp iron combs) or comb torture was just the warm-up to being beheaded . No matter how he died, he is remembered by those who use those combs.  
As I was saying, it was almost on St Blais's day that Karen Braun came to show us how to use those honking big combs but in a very gentle, well intended way. 
The large combs may have 3 or 4 or 5 rows of tines while small ones have one or two rows. Such powerful tortuous looking tools are used in a graceful gentle manner to produce soft, perfect fibres, all straitened and parallel with each other, without nips, noils, or foreign bits. Just pure lengths of perfect fibre. When pulled and stretched out, it is known as 'top' or' combed top'.
[Photo: large combs]
Karen's gentle technique was to separate the locks, lay them on a towel, all with the tips pointing in the same direction. Then she spritzed them with a little water and olive oil. Some people use hair conditioner. Whatever you use, the idea is to add a little moisture to keep the fibres slick and smooth and to cut down on static electricity.
[Photo: Small combs]
Locks, enough to half fill the tines, were then placed on the tines on the comb fixed to the table, cut end in the tines and the end tip out in front. The free comb then combed the fibers until most of the fibres now clung to the free comb. What was left on the fixed comb was tangles which are removed. Deftly, switching angles, one combs the fibres again between the combs and the fibres attach back to the fixed comb (you had to be there).
A few passes between combs and the fibre is perfect and ready to be drawn through a diz (a button hole will do) so a long length of parallel fibres is created.
The lengths are made into soft nests, ready for spinning.
I know this sounds crazy, but honest to gawd, this is one of the most satisfying sensory experiences. Almost a saintly experience, spinning the ultimate perfect preparation. No wonder there were Guilds of people who just combed wool. And no wonder they had a patron saint. Try it. Life will never be the same.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Staying on top of the stash

Remember when I mentioned Priscilla-the fleece-less-sheep-who-lords-over-the-guest-bedroom-looking-for-her-fleece? Well, she can have it. I want to give it back. She can have it. She can have them all. Every fleece I have. What started with one fleece has turned into, umm, 8, no, err, ten or is it 12? And we aren't even counting the rovings, the batts, the bags of smaller batches, and yarn...well let's not even think about that. Well, it is too many fleeces and life is too short. Besides, too many fleeces can be way too daunting. How can one choose which one to spin when you have too many? Then there are the standards each fleece needs to meet: cleanliness; purity, colour; handle; crimp; etc. . The bar rises higher with each fleece added to the hoard. Each new fleece gives you more reasons not to use the older ones. But the new one is too precious to use. It should only be used for the special project that just calls for the perfect matching fleece. So each fleece gets added to the guest bedroom. It goes in but never comes out. 
[Photo: a pearl perfect Bluefaced
Leicester fleece - setting the bar]
I know all this but I think I have a plan to keep the fleeces going in but also coming out. I will, from now on, only buy the very best fleeces. This will mean each fleece is excellent, I will just have to match a fleece with a project. So, with that in mind, I just bought the most beautiful Bluefaced Leicester fleece from Lorrie on Saltspring Island. Bluefaced Leicester is silky, lustrous, springy and pearly. Yes, the plied yarn will resemble a string of pearls. You can see the pearls in the picture. This is a fleece that Priscilla-the fleece-less-sheep-who-lords-over-the-guest-bedroom-looking-for-her-fleece can't have.