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Tips and Helpful Hints for Weavers, Spinners, and Knitters

OK! So we’ve got our fleeces! Now, how can we take care of them in a way that’s both efficient and kind? Here’s a listing of items that many spinners have found to help tremendously.


For your reference:  WASHING MACHINE FLEECE WASHING - an easy way to wash up to 8 lbs of fleece at a time!

1.  Make sure your fleece has been well skirted - remove the tags and pick out as much vegetable matter as possible.

2.  Divide the fleece into heavy-duty net washing bags. Use as many bags as necessary so fleece isn't crammed.  If only using one bag, add a towel to the machine during the spin cycle for even weight distribution.

3.  Fill your washing machine with the hottest tap water.  If machine only fills with "warm" water, turn off the cold water tap to machine.  Mix in your fleece washing solution (Basic-H by Shaklee is preferred; do NOT use Woolite because it is now with enzymes best for synthetic fabrics, not wool!)

4.  Put the bags of fleece into the washing machine and gently push them under the water.  Close the lid and cover the top of the machine with several layers of towels to help keep the heat in.  Before you go do other things, make SURE that the machine will not kick into any agitation cycles - or you'll have to cut a felt donut out of the machine!

5.  For SCOURING (removing dirt plus all lanolin/oils for squeaky clean fleece for dyeing or sending off for further processing):  Let soak for no more than an hour (water has to stay HOT).

     For WASHING (just to remove the dirt, some lanolin and oils will remain):  Let soak for several hours or overnight.

     Before spinning the water out (step #6), use a plunger, stick, whatever - and push the fleece bags up and down in the wash water - NOT around and around.  This will help disburse the dirt from fleece to wash water.

6.  Check the temperature of the water before spinning it out.  Still hot?  Lukewarm?  Cool?  Keeping your fleece still in the machine, let water drain out and put it on the spin cycle.  If your machine squirts water as it spins, turn off the taps during this cycle.

7.  Take the bags o fleece out of the machine and lay them aside.  If they are HOT, lay towels over and under them to help retain the heat.  Refill your empty machine with approximately the same temperature water that you just drained.  When the machine is full, gently push the bags of fleece under the water again, let soak for 20 minutes or so, push fleece up/down in the water a few times (not "around") then spin the water out as before.

8.  Repeat step 7 (rinsing) one more time unless you are using Basic H (available through Carolina Homespun), which only requires one rinse.  If you're getting ready to dye the fleece, you may wish to add some vinegar to the last rinse.  Otherwise a few drops of Oil of Pennyroyal for moth repellant, some hair conditioning cream rinse or other favorite additive may be put in now.

9.  Drying - no, NOT the clothes dryer!  Simply lay the fleeces out to dry in a breezy, shady area.  Old sheets spread out on the lawn, window screens, or some sawhorses - or web-woven lawn chairs work great.

Note Re: Mohair:  First wash should include about 2 cups of ammonia per 5 lbs mohair (NEVER for wool!!!)  Then do complete process starting with a 2nd wash at Step 3 without ammonia.  Do not allow any water to cool down!



More than likely, you're going to be storing fleeces.  Understanding raw fleece properties helps determine what you should (and shouldn't) do with your fleece.

  • Fleece contains lanolin which has a melting point of about 95 degrees.  Therefore, do NOT store fleeces where temperatures get that hot (attics, barnlofts, trunks of cars, uninsulated storage buildings).

  • Fleece attracts moths!  As a matter of fact, even fleece straight from the sheep may have certain insect (including moth and lice) larvae already in it.  Putting fleece into a freezer will help kill any already present larvae.  Moth repellant storage is important - whether short or long term.

  • Fleeces "sweat" - if packed firmly in plastic bags, it will cot to an extent where extra carding/combing is necessary.  You can keep fleece in a plastic bag for a short period of time (up to one month) as long as it will be in a relatively cool environment.

  • Long term storage Hand spinning fleece that you intend to keep for more than a month before spinning need special care to keep it in good condition.  If you don't plan on spinning the fleece within six months to a year (or if you've stored one that long already), its a good idea to go ahead and scour it to avoid having the lanolin oxidize which makes the fleece gummy and hard to spin.  One other important consideration before storage is to ensure that the fleece is completely DRY.  Storing a damp fleece can result in all sorts of nasties, most of which may result in disposal of fleece.

  • Moths! - Moth repellants DO NOT KILL past, present or future larvae.  Moth repellants REPEL moths, primarily through odor.  There are a variety of natural herbal moth repellants available in the form of sachets and oils.  I prefer oil of pennyroyal added to the last rinse water when scouring fleeces.  Its light, minty fragrance is pleasant to humans but repulsive to moths.  Odor based repellants need to be "freshened" periodically.  Now available is MOTHGUARD, developed for mothproofing precious oriental wool rugs.  No odor, safe (in its dry state), remains totally effective from one wash to the next (whether that's a week or 10 years), at which time you just spray it on again.  Comes in powder form with a 32 oz spray applicator and gallon refills, just add water.

  • Storage methods - Ideal storage for fleece is a relatively tightly woven cotton sack which can allow the fleece to "breath" and at the same time keep insects out.  Our fleece storage bags are mothproofed with pennyroyal.  Large amounts of fleece for long term storage can be kept in newspaper lined cardboard boxes.  Be sure to make the outside of the box with date of shearing or acquisition and description of fleece!


CARE AND USE OF HAND CARDS - Making the Most of Your Hand Cards


    When I learned to spin, my teacher believed that I needed to learn from scratch.  So I ordered 1 Ashford Traditional unfinished spinning wheel, 1 pair of wool cards, and 1 bag of mixed fleece.  The first thing she had me do after I had the wheel together and finished and some fleece washed, was to assign my cards to a hand.  I wrote L on one and R on the other.  Through the years I always check and make sure that I have the L in the left hand and my R in my right.  I thought this was kind of silly but 10 years later when I look at my cards they have worn slightly different.  By assigning a hand, the same card is always doing the same motion and the teeth are always bending the same way.  It makes for easier carding and easier wearing on your cards.

    Selecting cards is a personal thing.  Curved or flat?  It's all in how you learn.  Strangely enough, once you learn on one it's hard to just pick up another.  I got wool cards first because that was what I was learning to spin on.  I later got cotton cards for angora rabbit wool that we were overrun with after the rabbits came.  I didn't realize until much later that there are actually different wool cards that are suited to certain kinds of wool, the narrower the space between the teeth is for finer fiber (ppi is the standard terminology for teeth spacing - the higher the number the finer the spacing). 

    The object of carding is to comb the fiber several times by transferring it from one card to the other.  when you are carding don't dig one card into the other.  After you "charge" (add the fiber to the card) your left card with fiber, your right card will be combing.  Then transfer the fiber in the right card back to the left and comb again.  I then transfer left to right, right to left and either use the carded batt or roll the batt making it into a rolag.  Ready to spin.

    After I've finished a carding project I always clean my cards out with a dog brush and when they've become really dirty down by the carding cloth I get the ShopVac out and vacuum them (without putting the vacuum into the teeth).  I wash the wood surface from time to time with Murphy's Oil Soap then re-oil them with a light oil.  I also lightly oil an old T-shirt and rub over the teeth now and then (rubbing with the bend of the teeth) to help keep any potential rust away.  Before I use the cards again I card a few rolags of "waste wool" to remove any excess oil.  We dust and oil our wheels like the machines that they are but often neglect our cards, the tools we begin our work with.

    The last thing I think we should do is put our names and a date on our cards.  The fiber legacy we leave behind won't only be the socks and sweaters we've spun and knit and wove, it will be the wheels, cards, combs, niddy noddys, handspindles, etc. we used to make them.  One pair of cotton handcards I have, my mother-in-law got for me from a woman that is 70 years old.  They belonged to her grandmother Isadora Sutton (1860-1948) who lived in North Carolina.  When I go to schools to demonstrate spinning, I take Isadora's cards to show the children the tiny bits of cotton still left behind in the teeth.  It makes it real to them to know her name.  I tell them how she grabbed moments here and there during the day to card so that when the children were asleep she could sit down and spin the yarn for their clothes.  I show them how Isadora used them so much she wore the handles smooth. In 100 years or so, someone will find your cards with your name on them.  Your cards will show how you labored to create things for those you loved.  Your name will make the legacy of fiber and tradition we love real to them.

                                ..............Mauna Hair, September 12, 2000



Of all the skeinwinders, reels, wrap reels, and swifts , the niddy noddy is the one of the most primitive tools (or toys to some of us) for making a skein.  When I was a new spinner, I would be treadling along at my spinning wheel, and all of a sudden the wheel was going in the other direction.  Now I know that was just that I had treadled just before I should have, sending the wheel back the way it had come, instead of forward.  I had a similar experience when I fist began using a niddy noddy.  I had received great instruction, I had even wound a few skeins.  But the next time I picked it up I looked at the thing and went blank.  I knew how it worked I just couldn't figure out how to get started.  Now and then I see someone holding one with that same look on their face as I must have had on mine.  How does this thing work?  

Hold the yarn in the same hand you're holding the niddy noddy and begin by winding over the top of the first "nod" (end) nearest you, turn your hand slight clockwise (toward you) and wind the yarn under the next nod closest to you, again turn the niddy noddy slightly more clockwise (towards you) and wind the yarn over the next nearest nod.  Now, turn your hand completely counterclockwise (away from you) and catch the last nod at the bottom - you've completed one pass now begin again by going to the top of the first nod.

The rhyme about the niddy noddy goes,

      Niddy Noddy, niddy noddy         Two heads, one body

I can see little girls practicing and winding yarn saying this old rhyme.  But the second part of it was a practical way to count yardage.  Each one line would complete a trip around the noddy.  

     One, 'taint one, 'twill be one, 'tis one           (one complete wrap around)  

     Two, 'taint two, 'twill be two, 'tis two         (and on and one for each wrap)


Some antique niddy noddies were 1 or 2 yards plus 7 inches.  The extra inches allowed for shrinkage in the finished, washed and dried yarn.  Many of them had a slightly raised lip on three ends to hold the yarn on; the fourth end was smooth, sometimes curved slightly downward to allow easy removal of the wound skein.


Simple in design, ornate or plain, it's light, portable and great at getting the job done.  As you begin the rhythm of winding your yarn and saying the rhyme, you step back hundreds of years.  How many yards have been wound on niddy noddies over time?  Who knew that first time someone put three sticks together and began to wind on yarn that we would still be doing it today.





If you would like to stain your wheel, you should do that before applying this finish.


Mix 1 part boiled linseed oil

      2 parts polyurethane

      3 parts mineral spirits or turpentine


Rub this mixture on thin and when it starts to dry it will get tacky (depending on how dry the air is will depend on how long it takes - don't leave the wheel overnight or anything - stay with it).  When it starts to get tacky, start buffing it smooth with a soft cloth.  


This mixture will make the wheel water repellant and stainproof and leaves a wonderful, non-glossy finish.  



Thousands of years before handspinners ever began handcarding their fiber, they used combs to prepare wool for spinning.  Fiber that has been combed has traditionally been used to produce a worsted spun yarn.


Fiber preparation does make a difference in your finished product.  Handcard a portion of fleece, make a few rolags and handcomb some, spin both preparations separately and see the difference.  In carding, all the wool you put on the cards goes into your rolag.  In combing only the longest, most uniform fiber does into your roving, the shorter less desirable fiber is left behind in the combs.  Right away you will notice that almost always the yarns are a different color.  In combing the fibers are aligned, in carding they are somewhat aligned but jumbled.  The result is that the combed yarn is more light reflective than the carded yarn.  Carded wool makes a warmer yarn and garment because the jumbles have more insulating air pockets.  Combed wool spun into a worsted yarn (spinning the fibers parallel into the wheel and not across the fibers).  The worsted yarn makes a smoother, almost silky, more lustrous yarn, and a garment with a slicker, finer look.


As I watched my "combing friends" I thought, "I will never have the patience to do that."  I later found that a common misconception is that it takes longer to handcomb than to handcard.  In a timed event most people could, by weight, handcomb more fiber than handcard.  As a new spinner, I thought I could card every fiber.  I soon discovered that longer fiber that may be successfully drumcarded could not be rolled into nice handcarded rolags.  Most fiber that has a thre inch or longer staple length is almost impossible to handcard and roll into rolags and is better suited to handcombing.


Starting with washed clean fleece the process is simple.  The comb that is held in your left hand is filled about 1/3 full by placing the locks so that the shorn end of the lock is about a quarter of an inch to the handle side of the comb.  Holding your left hand stationary with the filled comb tines up, take the other comb in your right hand and just catching the ends of the locks left the comb pass away from your body and continue around with a circular motion to your right.  This circular motion makes sure you have a complete pass of the comb and you can establish a smooth, productive rhythm.


Each time you comb through the locks you will comb further and further down the locks.  When most of the wool has been transferred to your right hand comb you have completed one "pass" of the combs.  Trade hands with your combs and begin again.  Most of the time you will need to do at least three complete passes.  To remove the fiber from the combs you gather than combed ends and begin to draw it out in short "pull, advance your hands, pull, etc." movements.  The motion is similar to pre-drafting prepared roving.  


Some people thread this fiber end through a diz, a tool with different size holes to make thin sliver, this produces a more homogenized size in the roving.  The short waste left on the combs will be apparent as you draft the fiber down the combs.  The waste that is left can be used to card and spin, felt, or be used as stuffing.


Combing takes us back to the beginning of fiber preparation in our fiber history.  If you have ever been in a museum or antique store and seen a silky, finely spun thread woven into a beautiful piece of treasured textile you have most likely seen something someone combed long ago.


Mauna Hair, January 2002






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