When people say they’re “carding wool”, most of the time you get a look like a person has just been to the dentist and gotten a shot of novocaine. In the context of fiber arts, within the community of textiles, carding is the art of taking fibers of any kind from wool to cotton and all fiber in between those, and straightening them out in preparation for spinning. There are several ways to card fibers for spinning preparation: Commercial carding, hand brush carders and drum carders. By far the most efficient way is to have the fiber, we’ll use wool for the purposes of this post, sent into a mill and cleaned, carded and returned to you in a long rope form called “rovings”. Usually the wool is undyed but you can buy it dyed.
This is not the cheapest way, but you don’t have to fiddle around much with it in order to spin it. Most places use harsher methods to pick and remove the wool of fiber and vegetable matter so this might not be the preferred method if you’re using a more delicate fiber such as rabbit angora, silk or bamboo.
The oldest method is hand carding which consists of two large brushes that look a lot like a dog slicker brush. This will give you an end result of aligned fibers for spinning, but they’re called “batts” in this instance. It’s been done this way for centuries and while it does the job, the process is very long and it will take a very long time before you’ve carded enough wool for spinning.
The method of drum carding falls somewhere within the middle two above categories in both time and cost.
Within the drum carder family you’ll find anything from electric carders that can cost $800.00 or more, or you can spend $300.00-400.00 to buy one without a motor.
And then there’s me, and people like me who want a drum carder but don’t want to spend that much money on one. This one requires a bit of handy work and creativity to make one, but when you’re finished you’ve got a functional carder for under $75.00.
I’m not going to go into the construction of mine just yet and instead save that for another post.
Looking down at the drum carder, you can see I’ve begun to insert some dyed wool into the carder. [the blue, purple and greens on the small roller are from other batches I've done and not yet cleaned off the rollers.]
The bottom, smaller roller grabs the wool by rolling towards the left, while the larger roller moves to the right. Next I’ll turn the handle to the right to pull in more and more pieces until my larger drum is full and needs to have that batch removed. Notice the notch on the top of the large drum. That’s my indicator of when the large drum is full.
When that gap is full up to the top of the teeth, that’s the maximum amount of wool the carder is able to handle and needs to be removed now to do the next batch.
At this point I’ll gently wrap it around my hand, which is now called a batt. I’ll either keep on with the same color, blend colors together, or if it’s not quite as straight and as fluffy as I’d like, I’ll card it again.
Here are a bunch of various colored batts that I’ve carded.
These are all wool batts. If I’m carding alpaca or something like that, I’ll need to use a slightly different method and attachment which I’ll explain and show later on.