When preparing fiber you are faced with many choices. Outlined below are some of your options. I only go into detail on those which I prefer, as there are many references on the others.

clean vs dirty

woolen vs worsted

carding vs combing

A. Clean vs Dirty

First thing is to make sure that your fleece is thoroughly skirted. This involves removing the worst parts of the fleece, especially anything that contains tags, which are sheep feces caught in the fibers. You should also remove any parts of the fleece that are too dirty, matted, or full of vegetable matter and trash, or otherwise undesireable. If your fleece is rolled in one piece you can spread it out, and most of the parts you will be removing will be on the outside edges. You should be able to identify the butt-end, and easily locate the dirtiest parts of the fleece. If the fleece is in hunks, it is a little more difficult.

1. Clean: The reasons to wash it before spinning are that it can then be dyed more evenly in the fiber prep stage [although it can be dyed in the grease, this makes for uneven take-up of the dye], that you might prefer to work with it clean, or that it is so horribly dirty that it has to be cleaned before going any further. To get truly clean wool you have to use really hot water and make sure not to let the grease and dirt settle back onto the fiber or cool on the fiber.

2. Dirty: Allows you to have less time invested in fiber preparation, and is a great option if the wool is not very dirty to begin with. This also leaves in all of the lanolin.

3. Partially clean: Allows you to work with cleaner wool that still has some lanolin in it. Achieved by using water that is less hot.

A lot of references recommend all kinds of commercial products. Use them if you want to, I use some cheap conditioning shampoo, or Dawn dishwashing liquid. Wool is hair, after all. It is very important to handle wool gently, and agitate as little as possible. Felting is caused by moisture and friction. Don't try to handle large amounts at once, if you have a large amount to process it is better to "assembly line" it. Have two containers to work with, for the wash, and the rinse. I prefer a divided sink. Fill both containers about half-full with warm water. If you want to remove more of the lanolin that can be raised to hot. Put a few capfuls of the shampoo [or other product] into one of them after filling as suds aren't really desireable. Have your fleece divided into easy-to-handle sections with the worst of the vegetable matter already picked out. Slowly lower the fleece into the wash water and press down on it until it stays underwater. I use those straining kitty litter pans or some plastic orange crates with holes in them to hold the fleece as it can be left in them during washing and rinsing, and lifts out easily. Don't overload the water with wool as you will then have to agitate to get it clean. This would be a bad thing. The more the wool is moved around in the water the harder it will be to process later, as it will felt and mat. Let it soak for a while.
      After letting soak in the rinse water for a while carefully lift out keeping the wet mass as "together" as possible. Without wringing, gently press out as much of the water as possible. Then roll in a large towel and gently press again. Let it dry in an airy place out of the direct sun [if possible], preferably with good air circulation. One of the good alternatives would be on a covered porch on an old screen door suspended on sawhorses. You get the idea.

{Note: I've been told of methods that use multiple cold water rinses to remove the dirt, then one hot soapy wash, then one warm rinse.}

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B. woolen vs worsted

1. Woolen: The fibers are spun lying perpendicular to the length of the yarn or thread. This is usually accomplished by carding, either by hand or with a drum carder, and rolling into rolags. The wool is spun using the long backwards draw. The twist enters the drafting zone. The yarn spun woolen is very springy and has more bounce. It also is weaker and slightly more irritating to the skin. "True woolen" is spun from rolags. Semi-woolen is spun with other preparations, like from the fold or from roving or batts, but using the woolen spinning techniques.

2. Worsted: The fibers are spun lying parallel to the length. Technically speaking, a "true worsted" is made by combing the fibers, and spinning with a short forward draw while stroking the yarn. The twist is not allowed to enter the drafting zone. Worsted yarn is less elastic but stronger and less irritating to the skin. Semi-worsted is spun using the worsted spinning technique on other preparations.

Here is a link to a copy of a message that I wrote to a yahoo spinning list, going into the differences between woolen and worsted.

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C. carding vs combing

1. carding: A time honored method used by pioneer women for generations. It is also very difficult if you don't have a lot of wrist and hand strength, and very painful if you are not very coordinated. It uses hand-cards, and the fiber can be rolled from the end of the card to make a rolag, or from the side to make a semi-worsted preparation, or pulled off in a pile to make fluffy clouds.

2. drum carding: Gets rid of most of the problems noted above, but requires the investment of about three hundred dollars for a hand cranked machine [in my location at this time].

3. combing: The most ancient method. Traditionally requires faily expensive combs that are clamped onto a surface. A form of combing can also be done with a sturdy comb of any type. I use a dog comb. With this method and a hand-held comb, you hold the lock of wool by the cut end and comb it. The idea is to get out the trash and short fibers, and to separate the fibers. Sometimes you can get out of combing the cut end, or get by with just combing it a little. Lay the combed locks in a bucket or other receptacle.

4.flick-carding: Very easy and not time consuming. You put a piece of leather or other sturdy material on your thigh and lay the lock on it. You "tap" the wool gently with the flick carder, opening the fiber up. A dog carder [one of those little brushes with the bent wires] is a cheap and easily-acquired flick carder. This option is really only good for very clean wool with a minimum of vegetable fiber.

5.comb-carding: This is my own method, developed to be fast, efficient, and to leave me with a usable byproduct. You just put the old-fashioned hand card on one thigh, and pull the lock through it. After one to three passes you do the other end of the lock, then toss in a bucket. I usually start by holding the cut end first, as you lose fewer fibers this way. After you haved combed many locks the card will have a lot of wool in it. Then you use the other card. When that one is also full I either go ahead and card the wool, putting the carded wool into another container. If the wool in the cards is too dirty and has too much trash in it to bother, I use that little dog-card to strip off the filthy wool, and throw it into a trash bag to save for garden mulch.

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