Sunday, January 09, 2011

combing merino

I bought a lovely merino fleece from Jean Near a while back and was at my wit's end over how to deal with it. Apparently I'm not the only one who has had this problem - a quick check on Ravelry revealed a number of people who have sworn off processing merino fleeces at home.

I didn't have any trouble washing it. Lots of very hot water and some Ecos HE laundry detergent (my new secret weapon for scouring fleeces) worked great, better than Orvus, dish detergent, or the specialty wool scours that I've tried.

Merino is a short fiber that doesn't lend itself to being combed with most wool combs. It's very fine and pills up if you look at the wrong way. Flick carding it to remove the vegetable matter resulted in many nicks to my fingers. I had resorted to hand picking it and then carding it but still got a lot of nepps in the batts.
I wasn't happy with the results and was starting to regret buying the fleece.

That all changed when I got the new Valkyrie Extra Fine combs. I already had the Valkyrie Mini combs and like them a lot for most of my combing so decided to try the extra fine ones. They are perfect for fine, short fibers like merino.
Mini comb on the left and extra fine comb on the right. I like to use both with the comb pad. These are not really mini combs; they're substantial and sturdy, especially the extra fine ones.

I clamped the comb pad securely to my kitchen counter which is a perfect height for me. Finding a really sturdy table is very important for the extra fine combs. There is a lot of resistance to the comb due to the narrowly spaced teeth.

I was able to fill the comb about 2/3 full of fiber.
I spritzed a mix of water with a bit of baby oil in it and then starting combing just the tips, working slowly up to the comb, then transferring the fiber from the working comb back to the stationary comb in the same way. I could get more nice fiber if I used my other hand to help pull the last of the long bits with the working comb. There was a lot of waste but about half of it was free enough of vm to save for future carding projects.

Here is what was left after a few passes-
beautifully uniform and silky merino.

I dizzed it off and coiled it into a little nest of super soft, perfect sliver.

Here is what I had after a few hours of work. I weighed these little nests and found that I had only produced 29 grams or about an ounce. It's definitely not a fast way to produce fiber but the results are exquisite!


Rhonna said...

I'm so glad they worked for you! I love mine for fine wools, although I had a little trouble with the super-superfine fibers. However, Chris is working on a new superfine comb, and I'm just a *little* excited (HA!) about the idea. I love the combed sliver; it's just lovely to work with, and yours look brilliant!

Monika said...

Wow - I'm impressed! I also know I will never buy a fleece and process it myself. Don't have the patience for that.

Jody said...

Looks wonderfully yummy (I am in luv with Cormo)! A while back I bought merino fleeces from Genopalette. They were not very nice but I did comb instead of carding. I didn't yet have my Valkyries so just used my mini combs.
I am using my big english on my Polwarth. Are you using combs on your beautiful Polwarth Susan?

Lynn said...

They look like little puffs of cotton candy!

Gloria Patre said...

That Merino "cloud" looks so dreamy! Kudos for you to go to all that work! I'm glad I have Anne at A&B Fiberworks to turn to when I have fleece that I'd like to get ready for spinning! Gosh you make it look SO easy! :o]

keri said...

What beautiful results! I'm a little nervous - I too have a superfine merino fleece and just ordered the mini combs but not the extra fine mini's. Now I'm starting to worry I should have ordered those. Did you get bad results with your regular minis?