Wednesday 7 November 2012

Objects in Focus: Wool Carding Combs

The production of wool was an important craft in the Highlands and Islands in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the Carmichael notebooks there are plenty references to its manufacture: the different types of wool, fleece being pulled, baskets and even fairy lore associated with wool.
In the Carmichael Collection, at the West Highland Museum, there is a pair of wool carders that were used to make yarn. These carders are made of wood and rectangular in shape, there is a pad of leather on each with fine teeth protruding through. This particular pair was manufactured in Glasgow by R. McIntyre.
The entire process of wool-working from the raw material to the finished cloth was known as calanas. This pair of carding combs would have been used in the production of ordinary cloth, a different comb was used for very fine cloth. 

At what stage in the production of yarn were the carding combs used? Here is a breakdown of the various stages:

• The fleece was sheared.

• The fleece was washed, dyed and dried. CW120/320 is a list of native dyes from South Uist. 

• The wool was separated and straightened by using the carding combs. A handful of wool was placed on the teeth of one carder and the other carder brushed the wool repeatedly in the one direction.

• Once the wool was brushed thoroughly, the carder was brought in the opposite direction to remove the wool from the fine teeth. This created a sausage-like shape, called a rolag, and made the wool easier to spin.

• The wool was then made into yarn by using a spindle and whorl. This method was carried out by hand and was later replaced by the spinning wheel.

© School of Scottish Studies. Licensor
The end result was a continuous length of yarn that could easily be worked with.

The carding and spinning was carried out by women, often in pairs to keep a steady production line going. Carmichael notes in Carmina Gadelica iv:

The industry of these women is wonderful, performed lovingly, uncomplainingly, day after day, year after year, till the sands of life run down. The life in a Highland home of the crofter class is well described in the following lines:-
Air oidhche fhada gheamraidh
Theid teanndadh ri gniamh
A toir eolas do chloinn
Bith an seann duine liath,
An nighean a cardadh,
A mhathair a sniamh,
An t-iasgair le a shnathaid
A caramh a lian.'
© School of Scottish Studies. Licensor

In the long winter night
All are engaged,
Teaching the young
Is the grey-haired sage,
The daughter at her carding,
The mother at her wheel,
While the fisher mends his net
With his needle and his reel.

The School of Scottish Studies Archive has some amazing images in their collections, some of which are included here.

Carmina Gadelica, iv, 294-5.
CW1/56folio 22r, line 8 to folio 22r, line 15
CW89/173folio 35v, line 7 to folio 35v, line 19
CW111/82folio 18r, line 17 to folio 18r, line 25
CW120/320folio 92v, line 1 to folio 95r, line 19
CW126f/90folio 207r, line 10 to folio 207r, line 13
Kissling Collection, School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh.
Carders copyright Carsten Flieger

1 comment:

  1. Unique article. Thanks for sharing among us.
    If you have any curiosity about carding, then go through... What is carding


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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]