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Brush Every Day

posted Mar 3, 2010, 5:57 PM by Mary Powell
Before it can be spun, wool must be untangled in some fashion. The method chosen to untangle the wool determines the final nature of the yarn. One method is to card the wool. This uses two big brushes with hundreds of teeth, called cards. The cards are worked against one another to brush and mix the wool. During this process, the hairs get fluffed up, mixed up, and laid end to end randomly. When spun, carded wool produces a soft, fluffy, and highly insulative yarn known as woolen. Short, fuzzy wools are best carded.

Another method is combing. A huge comb with just a few long teeth is used to untangle the wool while keeping their original alignment. The hairs get fluffed up, but not mixed.

Similar to combing is flicking, which uses a small brush. The lock of wool is held in one hand, while the other brushes it out, just like you would brush hair. Like combing, this retains the natural arrangement of the fibers, and doesn't mix them up. Yarn spun from combed or flicked wool is smooth, silky, and very strong. It is best made from curly wools longer than 4 inches, and is known as worsted.

Note that both woolen and worsted yarns are made from wool. Since it is more durable, worsted yarn was more commonly used for clothing. Woolen yarn, being softer, is better suited to knitting or delicate woven items.

Since the Leicester was most definitely long, and I was going to make a high-wear outer garment, I chose to flick the wool.

To do so, I pick one lock of wool out of the fleece.

See how tangled it is? The little dark bits are autumn leave that got caught in the fleece:

Holding it by one end, I brush. I'm using a simple dog brush. This one is modern but I have a wooden one as well. Wire for teeth was a major expense in fiber processing in the past.
I lay down a scrap of cloth or leather to protect my skirt and brush against my leg.

When one end of the lock is fluffy, turn it around and brush the other end.

Then everything is smooth, fluffy, and separated. Each hair is aligned with its fellows, and free to move, and clean of debris.