If I ever want to get this beautiful alpaca fleece spun and knitted (and I very much want to do both) then I have to get moving on the fibre prep. The fleece has already been washed and dried, and I’ve done several samples of various spinning techniques with some that I’ve prepared. However, I still have a 5 gallon pail full (a very full five gallon pail) of raw fleece that needs to be readied for spinning, so tonight I got a bit of a start on that project.
This fibre belongs to Diablo, a prize-winning alpaca from Tail Spin Alpacas. I intend to spin most of the fleece during the Tour de Fleece – which is an event put on by spinners all over the world that takes place during the Tour de France. Basically, it’s an excuse to focus on our craft for a whole month, to set challenges for ourselves and to share our successes with one another in a supportive forum. My challenge is to spin as much of this fleece as I possibly can during the tour (which runs June 30 to July 22). It’s absolutely gorgeous and my favourite alpaca colour, and with the supported spindle it’s portable, easy to spin, and relaxing.
But to spin it, I have to prep it. Enter the Large Weaponry.
I had a set of minicombs, and they work very well on alpaca and other open and airy fibres like Icelandic wool. A friend loaned me her big combs, though, and whoa … wow. I can do so much more at once, I just love them. Combs are dangerous things – with big long sharp tines stuck into handles they look like some sort of medieval torture device or weapon. Hence the terminology – the small combs are the Small Weaponry, and the big combs are the Large Weaponry.
Tonight I got out the Large Weaponry and combed up a bunch of fibre. It works like this:
Attach the combs to a solid surface (today I used a stool, but this does work a bit better on the table, I just didn’t feel like working over there tonight) with a c-clamp. Mount one comb with tines pointing up, and load it with fleece by dragging a handful of fleece down over the tines over and over until they’ve snagged a bunch of the fibre. Give it a squirt with the spray bottle of water-and-hair-conditioner so that it doesn’t frizz all over the place, and start combing with the other comb, held sideways. The locks will be combed out and gradually transfer onto the comb in your hand, with the short bits left in the upright comb.
The short bits get thrown in the ‘waste bin’ (though they can be carded and spun or used for felting). The combs then swap positions, the full one going on the stand and the empty one being used to comb out the fibre a second time. More waste will be left behind, and that again gets thrown in the waste pile. What’s left is all the long fibres, smoothed out and straightened, with most of the VM knocked out in the process of combing.
I just pull the entire poofy bit off the combs, as I will separate it into smaller pieces and spin from the fold, but you can pull it off with a diz and make top if you want. Since I generally spin woolen, I don’t bother with the diz, it adds more work and doesn’t give me anything I particularly need … and with two pounds of this to prep, no extra work is going to be done!
The poofy bits of fibre are then dropped into a bag and they’re ready for spinning. I’ll peel them apart into smaller layers and spin from the fold, but I’ve also taken the whole poof and just spun from the end … when you get to the top part that was caught in the tines, you can just quit spinning and toss what’s in your hand if it has too many lumps (that happens sometimes), or spin the whole thing and then just move on to the next piece. The Large Weaponry tends to produce too big of a poof to hold comfortably for spinning, so it needs to be divided into smaller bits – the Small Weaponry works great though for ‘just one handful’.
Combs are awesome: they do three jobs at once. They separate out your fibres by length, leaving second cuts and shorter lengths behind; they remove a lot of VM; and they separate and align the fibres for spinning. If you can only afford one fibre prep tool, most people would say get hand cards … I’ll suggest you consider combs instead (unless you are working with extremely short staple yarns most of the time, that’s different). They are also superb for blending fibres. Combs are awesome.
(And yes, we carry minicombs – both single row and double row!)