Wool Processing: The Versatile Hand Carder

I’ve arrived at the gorgeous Border Leicester locks in my Wool Breeder’s Premium Spinning Collection, and I want to make sure I do the very special wool justice. I asked Kate Larson, author of The Practical Spinner’s Guide: Wool, for her advice on spinning wool this special.

Bright white, fine, and bouncy Border Leicester locks

Bright white, fine, and bouncy Border Leicester locks

Hand Carding Longwools?

I don’t own wool combs or mini combs, which are the tools I’d think of pairing with luster longwools. How would you recommend I prepare Border Leicester locks?

Hand carders—not just for carding!

Hand carders—not just for carding!

I do all kinds of things with my locks. If I am looking for a smooth 2-ply worsted yarn for lace knitting or weaving, I will often use combs or mini combs. You can get nearly the same preparation by combing locks with your handcards. Just grab a lock firmly in the center and pull it through the carding cloth. Then turn it around and do the other side. It’s much like flicking, but I find it quicker and more effective. If I am spinning for color-work knitting, I will card 3 to 4 inch locks into smooth rolags and spin them with a woolen draw. (Longwools for carded, woolen yarns–give it a try!) I also love to gently tease locks or do a rough combing with handcards and then use the half-opened locks for corespinning.

Natural Fibers Begin in the Barn

A new member of Kate Larson’s flock; photo courtesy of Kate Larson

A new member of Kate Larson’s flock; photo courtesy of Kate Larson

Little Merton the lamb has such a winning look, but he’s more than just a pretty face. What traits do you breed your sheep for?
I’ll tell you about one of my favorite ewes, Nora. She is a medium-sized ewe with a strong, level back and deep body–you should see the amount of grass this girl can eat! She has a fleece that rather fine for a Border Leicester, but most importantly, it has a supple, silky hand that I love. Lovely crimp structure, but not quite as bright white as some other sheep in the flock. (But don’t tell Nora.) One of the other great things about Nora is that she is clever. I select for calm, smart sheep that can keep themselves out of trouble. I find that it is highly heritable; all of her offspring have her quiet watchfulness, as did her dam.

Border Leicesters are your favorites, but of the other sheep in your book, which is your favorite—either in character or in fiber?
I love them all! When I was growing up, my family raised Columbias, so they have a special place in my heart. What I wanted to do in The Practical Spinner’s Guide: Wool was to highlight shepherds big and small, new and established, who are seeking to raise the best, healthiest sheep they can. These sheep are so different from one to the next, and I love to see what types of textiles we can make that highlight the best characteristics of each wool type.

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