Long wool fleeces look so interesting and get your imagination going with possibilities! Long staple wools are an interesting wool to work with for any handspinner.
Obviously, long wools need to be worked with and spun differently than shorter stapled wools, but how do you work with this wonderful long staple wool?
To spin long staple wool, use the worsted style spinning technique. Long wools can be spun from directly from the wool locks or from ready to spin prepared fiber called combed top.
Long stapled wools, usually from longwool breeds of sheep with staple lengths of 5+ inches, need to be prepared differently before spinning than shorter stapled wools.
The preparation differences are partly due to the length of the individual wool fibers and partly due to the end use of the wool or wool yarn.
Cost To Spin Wool goes over the math so you can calculate for yourself if you should spin or buy your yarn.
Spin long wools worsted style
Plan to use a worsted style of spinning when using long stapled wools.
Worsted spinning takes advantage of the natural attributes of long stapled wool fibers, mainly strength and drape, by keeping the fibers aligned parallel in the finished yarn.
The parallel alignment of the fibers gives the wool and the finished yarn tensile strength, meaning the yarn is resistant to breakage.
If you want to spin a finer yarn, you’ll need to use combed wool, which will come in a bump, which is a ball of top. Combed top is commonly listed as roving (actual roving is hard to find), but it is really top.
Combed top means that you took the wool, combed it out then put it through a diz to make the fluff of combed fibers into more of a cloud like rope.
Can You Spin Combed Top? goes over when you would use combed top as your best fiber choice.
Buy long wool roving/top
You can buy long wool rovings, start your search on Etsy, which has been a good source of roving for me. Generally, you’ll need to search the specific breed roving, so “Lincoln wool roving”.
The advantage to roving is that it is ready to spin. As soon as your order shows up, you will be ready to start spinning!
The disadvantage of buying long wool roving is that there is not a lot of selection, some but not a lot.
You will get more results by going with locks, or individual sections of the long wool fleece and preparing them to spin yourself.
Spin from unprocessed locks of long wool
You can spin long wool fleeces from locks of wool, washed or unwashed. If you are buying the locks, chances are they have been washed.
Spinning from unprocessed, not combed out, locks of long wool is how I spun my Cotswold fleece. It went pretty well, I just opened up the ends of the locks with a flick carder and spun from there.
I was not sure how spinning Cotswold would go and I was concerned that the resulting yarn would be too much like twine, that has been known to happen to me in the past!
I was pleasantly surprised, the locks were a breeze to spin, so easy to work with! It’s actually very relaxing to just spin up a bunch of Cotswold, it’s so smooth and flowing, nice!
I have to be upfront here, while I loved spinning the Cotswold and the yarn was easy to knit, I didn’t like the end result. It was still too harsh feeling for my taste.
Of course, I knew that was possible and it could easily be that I did not spin the yarn in the way that would best take advantage of it’s strengths.
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Fiber preparation for long wool is combing
If you decide that you want to prepare your long wool more, specifically because it will separate out the fibers so they are more easily spun, then you need to use combs, not cards.
Combs are the wicked looking tools that have a wooden handle and a bunch of thin spikes sticking out, like a spiked paint brush turned to right angles.
Combs will separate out the individual fibers of long wools, just like cards for shorter staple length wools do. There is a stationary comb that is clamped to a table and the working comb that you hold and move.
This wool comb set looks the most beginner friendly to me, and, as a bonus, they come with a holder. I purchased a different set, which are fine, but if I had it to do over again, I’d get these instead.
Separate out the locks
First, you’ll have to separate out the locks from the fleece. You just grab the pointed end of the lock of wool, this is the end furthest from the sheep, and pull, the lock will come out.
As you are working with your wool, take the time to look over each lock as you put it on the comb.
You are searching for contaminants like VM (vegetable matter) that you don’t want in your finished wool. VM and other oddities are easier to pick out of the wool now rather than later.
Pull out all the locks you plan to use for your project then put them on the combs.
Put the locks on the teeth
Put the cut end of the lock on the spikes as close to the end as you can without the lock falling off the comb. This is called lashing on. Keep the locks up in the middle of the spike, this gives you room to work.
Start combing the wool
Then carefully move the working comb perpendicularly across the ends of the locks in the stationary comb to actually comb the wool. Take lots of small swings where you just grab the end of a few fibers.
This will take multiple passes.
Once the wool is all on the swinging comb, switch the position of the combs and comb through the wool again. Repeat until you are happy with the fluff and separation of the wool fibers.
Now you want to draw off the wool by pinching and pulling, pinching and pulling until you get what looks like roving. This is called a plank.
You want to put all of your planks together and recomb to make sure you have an even yarn.
Peasant Art Craft has a great article and video on using antique wool combs, if you would prefer watching a video.
Use a diz to make top
A diz, which is a large button like flat piece with holes that the combed fiber is pulled through.
A diz can be plain or fancy and made out of nearly any material, wood, plastic or metal, it doesn’t matter. It just needs to be flat and have small holes to pull the fiber through.
You start with your fluff of combed long wool and take then ends of a few fibers, twist them together and put the skinny twist through one of the holes on the diz.
Now you pull through the wool to make top.
Gently pull a bit of top through the diz then scoot back the diz towards the ball of fiber and repeat. If you pull too harshly or too far, you’ll break the top into smaller pieces.
You can still use them to spin, it’s just easier to keep the fiber in one long strand of top, so you don’t have to keep rejoining the fiber as you spin.
As you are making the top, keep an eye on the wool coming through the diz. With the wool fibers nicely separated out, you’ll see any VM or noils that weren’t taken out in the combing and easily remove them.
Use the combed top to spin
Now that you have the combed top, it’s ready to spin! I know it’s been a good amount of work getting the long wool ready, but it’s worth the effort to know that you have carefully prepared beautiful top!
The real beauty of this process is now you know how to prepare any long wool for spinning, which really opens up your options when sourcing your wool.
When you see some really neat long wool locks online, you can work with them now rather than hoping the shop also had some made into top.
That farm that you drive by every once in a while with the cool sheep, stop in and ask what they do with the fiber, since now you know how to work with it!