How to Prepare Fiber with an English Comb
English combs have been used to prepare fibers for spinning for centuries. Despite their name, similar combs are found worldwide. English combs consist of two identical combs with long handles and four or five rows (called pitches) of long, very sharp, metal teeth. They come with a frame, called a box, which is clamped firmly on a table. When a comb is inserted in the box, it is held in place by a metal pin.
Using English combs is a lot of work and they are expensive tools, but for a special project, English combs can produce perfect yarn:
1Use clamps to secure the box to a table.
Combing works best on washed fiber. Carefully wash the fiber, and try to keep the fleece structure intact to make it easier to find the tips.
2Place one comb in the box and secure it with the locking pin.
It is also a good idea to keep the fleece in lingerie bags during washing. You can cut any sun-bleached or weak tips off with scissors.
3Load the comb that is secured in the box. Take locks of fiber and place them in the comb.
Ensure that you load the comb with the tips away from the handle.
4Take the free comb and pull it through the fibers, starting at the tip and working back toward the locked comb.
Count the number of times that you comb through the fiber (you will see why in step later).
5When the tangles are gone, unpin the locked comb. Turn it sideways and lock it in place again.
English combs are best for working with fiber that is over 3 inches long.
6Take the free comb and comb through the fiber.
This time, most of the fiber transfers from one comb to the other.
7When most of the fiber is transferred, unpin the locked comb.
Take off any remaining fiber and discard it.
8Change the combs, put the comb with the remaining fiber in the box, and repeat steps 4–7.
Do this until the fiber is clean and open.
9To make top, the fiber has to come off the comb, tip-end first. Take off the fiber on the odd-numbered pass so that it goes in the correct direction.
This step shows you why you have been counting all along.
10Use a diz to pull the fiber off of the combs. Insert a bit of the fiber through the hole in the diz, with the concave side up.
A diz is a concave disc with a hole in it.
11Using your thumb and finger, pinch the fiber as it comes through the diz, and pull the fiber and the diz down together.
The size of the diz that you use determines what size of yarn you can spin. When selecting a diz, keep in mind that you can spin smaller than the hole in the diz, but not larger.
12Slide the diz back up against the combed fiber and pull more fiber down, using the diz. Keep pulling until the fiber stops moving smoothly. Take the remaining fiber off the comb and put it aside.
Do not be alarmed at the amount of fiber that you discard—what is left is perfect. You can use the second-quality fibers for carding either with hand cards or a drum carder.