Friday, 11 February 2011

Beating Wool

In the comments to my post about the beating frame, Iðunn asked about the procedure - I think, however, that this merits a proper blog post instead of a comment answer, so here it is. I do not have pictures of the beating process yet, but I will post them as soon as I get them.

Beating wool is something I have for a long time wanted to learn or see being done, so please keep us informed with pictures or even a video. Though I have seen those bows on medieval pictures and on a video about a German hat maker (Der Letzte seines Standes, I think it was)I'm still not quite sure how to do it.
There are three basic ways to fluff up wool: By beating it on a frame, by using a bow, or by teasing the fibres apart by hand. The first two methods use vibrations to loosen up the wool fibres, the third method is the straightforward mechanical pulling apart of the fibre staples.

A beating frame is a wooden frame strung with ropes in a lattice pattern; the (thin) ropes are under tension. The frame rests on trestles or some other support, and wool is placed on the rope lattice. By beating the wool (and the rope lattice underneath it) with a smooth, strong and flexible stick, the ropes and stick vibrate and thus start fluffing up the wool staples.

The bow method uses no frame and, according to literature, is better suited to short fibres than to very long fibres. A bow is strung and held or suspended so that its string is inside the loose heap of fibres. By hitting the string with a stick or plucking it, vibrations are induced that start fluffing up the fibres.

I have not yet worked with a bow, but the frame is a much faster way to fluff up fibres than teasing by hand - and they can get much fluffier as well. The downside? You need trestles, a large enough frame (if it is very small, you will hit the frame itself and break a lot of sticks, plus it doesn't work really well) and beating sticks.

Another thing I would like to ask you is about the distaff. I totally agree that spinners MUST use a distaff as it has been done since time immemorial. I have a distaff from Greece but somehow I can't find a proper way to hold it. When I put it in my belt it keeps falling forward. Also I'm not quite sure how to attach the wool to the distaff. I take pains to comb the tog and card the þel but when I wrap it around the d. it looks all messy. My distaff looks like sort of a trident.
I prefer rather short distaffs, and I tuck them under my left arm to hold them there. If you can't get your trident distaff to work, maybe you can try around with some different lengths to find out what suits you best? As for attaching, I just wrap my roving around the distaff-stick I use, and when I get to the end of the sliver, I tie the very end to the stick with a bit of string so that it doesn't slip off. You might try to place the end of your roving through the "fork" bit and then wrap it around the stem underneath - maybe that will help.

1 comment:

Iðunn said...

Thanks a lot for the instructions! Teasing wool by hand is indeed too time consuming if it's a lot.

Mongolians beat their wool just with a stick, so that might work as well, though the 'bouncing' effect seems to be missing.

I will try the frame method as soon as my Herjólfsnes gown is finished.

off topic: by the way, are you coming to the NESAT symposium? It would be nice to meet you there. If you like you can mail me mag20(at)