Before carding wool, the fiber is "picked," meaning the individual locks of wool are picked apart so that they can be easily spread across the teeth of carding cloth. The process is also supposed to help get rid of any grit or vegetable matter (seeds, bits of grass, etc.) in the wool. Picking wool can be done by hand or by picking tools. There are a few basic designs of pickers, but since I do not have one, this is a job I do by hand.
In the case of Pixie Girl's fleece, picking by hand was also necessary even if I had a picker tool. Even though the washing & rinsing process got rid of a lot of grit that was in the fleece, there was still plenty left that needed to be removed before spinning and I don't think a picker would be nearly as thorough as my hands for this particular fleece. There were also some short cuts in the wool (short cuts are an undesirable error in shearing) that I needed to remove before spinning. I initially tried just picking open the locks by hand, but quickly found out that I needed a bit of help with a flicker or small comb.
After experimenting with different tools, I came up with a process that works extremely well for this fleece: (1) use a metal dog grooming comb to open both ends of the locks, which removes any short cuts or neps, plus helps get rid of any big pieces of vegetable matter, then (2) finish picking the lock by hand, which removes almost all remaining grit plus opens the lock completely to prepare for carding the wool. I am pretty vigorous with how I use the dog comb on the fleece - if there are any tender (thin or breakable) fibers in the lock, I want the comb to pull them out, so that I'm left with the best possible parts of the fleece for carding. This combing step produces more waste than simply picking by hand did, but I noticed a serious improvement in my picked wool, so I think the extra time and increased waste is well worth it.
Granted, this handpicking process could be a very tedious & boring chore, but I actually find it relaxing and meditative. I tend to pick a handful of the clean wool each morning while I listen to Minnesota Public Radio and sip my morning coffee. I keep this task easily available in my living room, where I usually spend my mornings. I have a basket of the clean wool, a piece of leather I put over my lap where any of grit and stuff can land as I pick the wool, another basket for the picked wool, and a small basket for the waste wool from the combing. I can keep the whole works stored neatly under the coffee table - the baskets look pretty and it keeps the materials easily available to me whenever I want to spend a few minutes on it. This photo shows the baskets of clean wool & picked wool and line-up of unpicked wool lock, combed lock, and picked lock on top of the leather:
The picked wool is wonderful to touch - it is a soft cloud of fiber that will card beautifully. Here is a picture of me holding about 4 grams of picked wool - just 4 grams and look how puffy and soft it is!