Blending a Combed Top and Sorting a Fleece

In The Tin Shed Yarns Shed
If you are going to spin a whole fleece from scratch and it's not all one colour, you need to have a plan.

Here are 13 Steps and Four Big Decisions you will be making before starting the huge task of spinning a whole fleece.

1. Go somewhere where you can make a dusty mess and lay an old sheet on the floor/ground. This is nice to do in the summer when the light is good and the warmth makes the lanolin in the fleece shine. Get two large baskets (see mine above) and an old bucket. Make yourself a cup of coffee because you will be working quite hard for the next hour or so.

2. Tip out the entire fleece onto the sheet and spread it out. Don't break up the staples....just roll bunched bits out.

3. Stand back and assess the colours in your fleece. Is it grey-dominant?......brown-dominant?

4. FIRST BIG DECISION Decide what colour you really like and what will be a "support" or accent colour; In other words, work out the rough percentage of dominant and accent colour.

Two baskets, two colours, one fleece....being processed in the shed. 
5. Sort the fleece into your two colours. Use baskets or hessian sacks or cardboard boxes for storage. 

6. Pull out "daggy" bits * and any staples shorter than your little finger, place in the old bucket and leave to soak in hot water....for as long as you can stand. Pour the fluid over your roses and use the wet left-overs as mulch around the base of a tree or bush.

7. Sit back, take stock, and have another coffee. Basically you have done the first step. While you were sorting you probably came across really soft underbelly wool and really wiry protective wool. Some spinners like to do a further sort at this point and totally remove the soft belly wool for other projects. The two types of wool have different properties and need further work to make them usable. This is a technical consideration that comes in all fleeces, coloured or not.

8. SECOND BIG DECISION Your next decision is whether to spin in the direction of the fleece's fibres or whether to spin across the direction of the fibres. You would have been muttering to yourself about this decision all through the colour sorting. If you are not sure, do some sampling. If you are going to spin across the fibre direction (worsted) you will be in for a lot more preparation from here on, but you will have a finer, well-blended yarn.

Preparing wool staples for worsted spinning. These will be combed individually, laid out across a flat carding surface then rolled with a flick carder into an airy sausage from tip to cut end. These sausages (rolags) are then spun individually from the inside out into a fine single. There is little drafting at the wheel.....the fibre preparation should be enough not to need it. It's a method used for lace knitting.
9. I will continue in the woollen spun method. I like to use a hackle and wool-comb. Drum-carders were popular when fleeces were not so readily available and when spinners were forced to work with shorter staples. You could make rolags as described above. Colour-blenders (me too) took to them in the nineties with new enthusiasm. These days, a new lot of spinners want whole fibres, and want control over the whole process. A hackle allows for combing, blending and wool preparation in one step....and it's one piece of equipment. So.....go get your hackle out, or at least clamp your wool-combs to your work-bench.

My double-toothed hackle 

10. Organise your life so that you get time each day for getting the fleece combed and blended. In a morning I can get TWO loads pulled through the hackle and spun. This provides me with 50gm of singles for 4ply.

11. THIRD BIG DECISION. Am I making yarn to match mill-spun or just what I feel like? I will only comment on density here; get yourself a Spinner's Yarn Gauge. To work consistently producing the same density means checking with one of these contraptions. If you live and operate outside of the US you will have to translate back into metric measurements.

12. There is only one more decision after this. 

My current fleece is brown dominant with a grey outer coat. I have layered the hackle with 2 parts brown and one part grey. I pull the wool through a diz working up and down and from right to left, clearing all the wool stacked in the hackle.

Starting a stack in the hackle. 
13. FOURTH BIG DECISION What amounts are you working to?....50gm balls?....100gm skeins?. You will need some kitchen scales and after a while you will will be considering volume and capacity on your bobbins. Two bobbins of 50gm amounts will ply up to 100gm....that's a lot for a small bobbin on a small wheel.

In the middle of all this work you will find that you are;

a) Organised
b) Happy
c) Proud of your consistency
d) Working more smoothly
e) Knowledgeable on all-things-fleecy
f) Considering equipment with more capacity
g) And if nothing else, tenacious.

Combed top pulled through a hackle ready for a high-twist spin for 4ply yarn.

Or......send your entire fleece off to a machine-carder.


Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

* Daggy" bits are those parts of the fleece coated in excrement.