How to Process Wool: Picking

We have now covered raising your sheep for good wool, shearing, skirting, and washing in our processing wool series.  Next it is time to discuss picking.

Once the wool is washed and dried the lanolin and some of the vegetable matter (VM) have been removed.  It is now kind of stuck together in clumps and there is still some VM left in it.

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The fiber needs to be opened up so it can be carded (combed).  And you need to remove the rest of the VM and any second cuts as well.  It can be done by hand, but the easiest way to do this is with a picker.  Although, even when you are using a picker you will need to be hand picking as you go as well.  From here on in the process you are pretty much constantly picking out what you can every time you have some of the fiber in your hands.

First, we like to weigh out about 1.3 oz of fiber.  We do this because our carder works best with about 1 oz at a time, and there will be some loss during the picking process.

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Take a clump and pull it open a bit, and try to grab out any second cuts and VM that are easily grabbed as you open it up.  Second cuts are short pieces of fiber that were caused by the shearer going over a section a second time.  Here I am pointing at a second cut.  You want to remove these because they will cause trouble later when you are trying to spin your fiber.

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Once it is pulled apart a bit, it is time to go into the “in” side of the picker.  Be aware, pickers are very dangerous.  They have very large nails inside of them that could really hurt you.  BE CAREFUL!  You do not put the full ounce of fiber through the picker at once.  Not even close really.  I usually do 2 or 3 clumps at a time.  You need to get a feel for the picker to see what amount is most effective.  To little, or too much can both cause it to not work well.  I put the “in” end on my left side.  In this picture the clumps are not pulled open yet and need to be pulled open before starting to use the picker.

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Next, you grab the handle of the picker and slide the top back and forth and back and forth from one end to the other.  The nails inside will grab the fiber and slowly bring it through the nails, which will open it up and let the VM and second cuts fall out.

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Once all the fiber has moved over to the other side of the picker, examine it and decide if it needs a second time through.

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Depending on how much VM is in your fiber you might need to put it through a second or even more times.  Remember to hand pick out easy to grab seconds and VM as you are moving the fiber over to go back through.

Every so often, turn the picker over to dump out the VM it has collected so it doesn’t put it back into the fiber going through.

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When the fiber is free from VM and second cuts and nicely fluffed up it is ready to go into the carding stage of the process.

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We will discuss carding in our next post in this series.

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