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The Joy of Hand Carding Wool

Updated: Mar 29

I was asked just the other day what are you working on – spinning? knitting? weaving ? felting? sewing?

“No”, was my reply, “I am carding”. That response was met with disappointment. No final project to rave over. But to me, carding wool is extremely satisfying. I do really love it- blending colours and textures is always exciting. No end project in mind means no constraints. You can combine any colour, any fineness, any texture. Once finished you can then decide its suitability for different projects. The only time carding is a bore is when I have to make 30 batts all the same- yuk.

I’m very fortunate that I was advised to purchase a Patrick Green Super Carder by one of my spinning instructors (shoutout to Wendy Bateman). At the time I was struggling to use hand carders for my Ontario Handspinners course at Sir Sandford Fleming in Haliburton, Ontario. The carder was a game changer. It is a Canadian product produced in B.C. or at least it was when I purchased it. The carder is heavy weight with drums that about 12 inches wide and 36 inches long. These drums will stop if they meet resistance (a sweater sleeve) and there are lots of warnings about where to not put your fingers. It even is taped up on arrival with a sign that says – “read the manual”. I actually did and I have to say I only have 2 slightly bent teeth after almost 15 years . I’ve never had to replace belts or done any grease work. I do vigorously clean between batts as some fibers don’t lock in and remain in the drum . You soon run out of space to fill a batt if you let these fibers build up.

When I was in the process of purchasing it, I was grilled by the owners as to my intended use as this machine is for very fine fibers (I had alpacas at the time). This machine has different spacing between drums and different carding cloth- Why is that different? Well, the teeth are softer, finer and shorter. The actual drum doesn’t hold that much which is good for spinning fine fibers (which will create lace weight – to fingerling).

I often see YouTube videos showing people loading up their tray with fiber. My machine would spit that out. I need to carefully tease open my locks and only cover the tray lightly, so you can still see through it. I don’t actually fill the tray – since the drum is electric and at its slowest speed – once I tease open a lock, I feed it in.

I can randomly feed in locks of different colours to create different effects. Some fibres like minced sari silk need to be sandwich between wool locks or they get caught up in one of the feeder drums. Longer silk fiber sometimes need cutting to a 3-5 inch length to go through or I have to stop the carder and apply the silk directly to the drum – smoothing it in with a special carding brush. Once the feeder drums are starting to fuzz up you are finished and can stop the drum to take off the batt. If I want a really blended look I will re-card. If I want four batts the same I will make 4 individual batts of various colours – divide them in 4 and re-card them into batts that are a combination of the four different batts, so all of the batts are basically the same.

It will be interesting to see how the Belfast Mini mill carder compares when it arrives in June, as I think the carder teeth are coarser. But Im hoping years of experience on my carder will allow me to know how to adjust the use to get maximum control.

Image 1: Lining up separated locks to be pushed into the drums.

Image 2: Using the burnishing brush to push the wool into the drum.

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You make me want to get my carder out and do some carding!

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