Robin Russo will guide you to combing bliss at SOAR


Robin Russo is known far and wide as an authority on combing spinning fibers. Would you like to try combing for the first time or are you looking to perfect your hand-held comb technique? Join Robin at SOAR (Spin-Off Autumn Retreat) in St. Charles, IL, on October 20-26, 2013 for Making the Most of Your Hand-Held Combs. In the meantime, Robin shared some information about what combing is and how hand-held combs differ from other types. ~Kate

Join Robin at SOAR to learn more about hand-held combs and check out her DVD Combing Fiber. Photo courtesy of Robin Russo.

Do you believe that combing is just for worsted spinning? Read on. Although combing can produce a worsted top for a smooth, lustrous and durable yarn, it is also a very quick and easy form of fiber preparation or organization. Once the fiber has been combed, the spinner can choose a spinning technique to produce the type of yarn desired. A worsted spinning technique means the spinner prevents the twist from entering the drafting zone until the fibers have been drafted. Spinners often refer to this technique as inchworm or pinch-pull. This technique, along with combed fiber preparation will produce a yarn that is smooth, durable, lustrous and dense. The yarn also is generally finer and has higher twist than a woolen yarn. Woolen yarns are made from carded fiber and the long-draw technique, which means the twist is running into the fiber source as the spinner drafts the fiber. These yarns are softly spun, light weight and warm. However, they also pill.

The numerous combs available today allow you to choose a set that will work best for the types of fibers you work with most often. For production combing and a true worsted top, the English style combs are best. They have multiple pitches (rows) of tines (teeth) and one of the combs is always mounted (stationary). The more pitches on a comb, the faster and more complete the combing will be. The tines on English combs are also long, allowing more fiber to be combed at one time. The downside of this type of combing for most spinners is the large amount of waste, since combing is intended to remove the short fibers from the longer more lustrous fibers. As a felter, I never consider this waste a problem. In fact, the waste from a clean, long, luster wool can often be carded and used for woolen spinning. The other problem for many combers is the safety factor. English combs are very sharp and potentially dangerous. 

Hand-held combs are often referred to as Viking combs because they are the style of combing device that has been unearthed at numerous Viking sites around the world. They were the perfect tool for working with the double-coated sheep that were kept by the Vikings because they separated the long course hair from the soft, downy undercoat. Today there are numerous types of hand-held combs available to handspinners. The trick is to find a set of combs that best suits the many types of fiber you work with.  

Hand-held combs organize your fibers quickly and with very little waste. Two passes with the combs are usually sufficient to open the locks and remove any chaff or second cuts. This kind of organization removes very little of the softer, shorter fibers. If you have a very dirty fleece with lots of vegetable matter, more combing may be necessary. The hand-held combs also work well to separate the guard hair from the down fiber of a llama fleece.  

My combing retreat class at SOAR is the perfect opportunity to try out six different types of hand-held combs and as many different fibers and color blending as we can fit into the three-hour class. Hope to see you there.                       


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