Since 2002 I have been a member of the Online Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers. Each month the Guild has a workshop on an appropriate theme. I have followed each of these workshops with great interest even though I have not necessarily been an active participant step-by-step. This month’s workshop is on wool combing. I have been involved with textiles for many years but it is really only fairly recently that I have become more aware of some of the processes involved with wool. So what is meant by wool combing? I knew about wool carders but never thought about wool combs. And now I find that I indeed have an ancestor who was a wool comber, in Edinburgh in Scotland and then in Limerick in Ireland. According to one of those little blue books that my sister is guarding closely, back many generations on my paternal grandmother’s side, there was a John Murdock who is described as being a wool comber. Following the loss of his property in Edinburgh, he emigrated from Scotland in 1690 to move to Limerick in Ireland. Reading between the brief lines in the family genealogy I gather that my great great great…. was a Jacobite. Following the Siege of Limerick in 1691 in which the family lost property again, my Jacobite ancestors emigrated to the United States, settling on Long Island and then later in Saybrook Connecticut.
So what did it mean to be a wool comber? According to a link in Wikipedia giving explanations for old occupations:
||Worked machinery combing – separating – fibres for spinning
Well, in the late 1600’s my ancestor would not have been operating machinery – he was living long before the industrial revolution. So wool combing for him probably meant a lot of washing and cleansing of the fleece by hand and then preparing the fibres for spinning by using handheld carders or strong combs made of wire. According to this link, he might also have been called a Carder.
•[L. carduus = a thistle] a cloth-worker who untangles shorter fibers with a wire brush or similar instrument prior to spinning as a step in cloth-making, a/k/a scribbler.
From a site regarding Medieval London I found an illustration of a leather comb with wires that would have been used further back in time, maybe in the 1500’s.
and from this site I found this illustration:
woman spinning and carding wool, artist george walker 1814
And from another site, I found out a bit more about George Walker, as follows:
Walker developed a reputation as a good artist and in 1814 and a local bookseller commissioned a series of paintings for the book Costume of Yorkshire. The book contained forty pictures of local people including: The Horse Dealer, Cloth Makers, The Collier, The Cloth Dresser, Stone Breakers, The Milk Boy, Whalebone Scrapers, Wensley Dale Knitters, Leech Finders, Sheffield Cutler and Factory Children. The book also included the first ever painting of a locomotive. The picture was of Salamanca at Middleton Colliery that had been produced by John Blenkinsop and Matthew Murray.