Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Handcarding wool for spinning - some words as to why it is worth it

The other day when I mentioned to another spinner that I was carding an entire fleece by hand, their reaction was shock followed by 'why don't you get a drum carder?'  It's not the first time this has happened.  I have two drum carders, actually, that I've acquired over the years, but sometimes they just don't cut it. Either the fleece won't work with the drum carder, it's too fragile, too variable, too short, too long... &c, or I want a specific result and can only get that by hand, or sometimes, I just don't have time to use a drum carder so I do it by hand.

Wait a moment.  Did I just suggest that hand carding is faster than drum carding?  Yes I did.  And it can be, unless you have one of those super-awesome ultra-modernized electric or steam powered drum carders... then of course, it's faster than hand carding.  Got to love those super-awesome ultra-modernized electric or steam powered drum carders.

What makes hand carding faster is that it's less restrictive.  With drum carding you have to dedicate yourself to the task at hand, whereas hand carding can be done while multitasking, anywhere you like.  You can do two or three minutes in the kitchen while waiting for the kettle to boil, then take your cuppa tea and card in the TV room, then you remembered you need to update your computer, take the cards to where the computer lives, and card a bit while waiting for the updates, or watching videos, or whatever you do on the computer....You can take the cards to spinning night, to the garden where your friends kid is running around,... anywhere (well, almost - just remember those teeth are dangerous and pointy).  Whereas a drum carder needs to be set up and clamped down in one place.  Think about it as the difference between a spindle and a spinning wheel, or more to the point, a knitting machine and two pointy sticks.   

So if judging by actual minutes spent at carding, hand carding is the slower choice, but if pure dedicated efficiency was the case, we wouldn't be spinning by hand or knitting our own socks.  It's the pure flexibility of hand carding is why I love it.  It's not for every fleece, but it does have it's uses and shouldn't be publically shunned by those who have never tried it and/or don't know how to do it properly.  (oh, sorry, that sounded bitchy.  But lately I'm so frustrated by well-meaning people who try to help by dissuading others from even trying.  Yarn people get enough of that in real life with all the 'why don't you buy your own socks instead of wasting time knitting them', I wish we would remember how this and be more careful when advising others to give up before they even started... but sigh. That's not a topic for today.)

But hand carding is hard on the arms and damages the cards?  Both true, unless you do it right.  Then it's not that way at all.

I'm going to give you a few tips and pointers.  Many of you already know this, but I'll start from the basics.

How to use hand cards to prepare wool for spinning into yarn.

First a bit of advice.  Have you ever heard that sound when the teeth (the pointy bent bits of wire) on the two cards rub each other?  This is a bad sound and means that your cards are being damaged.  It also means that you are having to put extra effort into the task of carding because now you don't just strain against the wool, but also against the teeth.  To make it easier on your arms, and your cards last longer, use this sound as a warning alarm.  Like a big loud klaxon.

There are lots of different opinions on how to card by hand, so I'm not going to be offended if you don't like mine.  The reasons why I think my way is good is because it's not tiring on the arms, it's fast, and after carding almost a dozen fleeces, I have only one bent tooth which I think was bent in transport and not from actual carding.  

First of all, we do what's called charging the cards (we put wool or other fibre on it).

The key to making carding easy is not to put too much fibre on it.  A small handful of wool, allow the tips of the fibre to catch in the teeth of the card, and then gently pull.

Here's the card fully loaded.  You notice how most of the fibre is at or hanging over the edge of the card?  That's good.

The next thing you do is to catch the end of the fibre with the end of the second card.
Can you see how far apart the two cards are?

It's just like combing long hair, you start at the ends, then move slowly up.  Catch a bit of the wool, move the cards apart, catch a bit of the wool, move the cards apart.  Remember the goal of this is to organize the fibre, NOT to move the fibre back and forth between the cards as quickly as possible.  I think I need to say this again, only in bold, because it is really important!  The goal of this is to organize the fibre, NOT to move the fibre back and forth between the cards as quickly as possible.

So by now, you've carded all the fibres that were hanging over the edge of the first card.  Now comes the tricky part.  If we were to just continue the same motion, we would have the two cards rubbing teeth - we don't want that.  So we hold the first card stationary (yes, I know I switched hands in the photos, sorry for the confusion) and move the second card in a rocking motion so that it lifts up just the end of the fibre.

Once the tips of the fibre are lifted up, and the cards are not touching each other anymore, we can pull apart the two cards, thus untangling the fibre and not rubbing the two cards together.  Continue doing this until the fibre is moved to the other card... but slowly and concentrate on organizing the fibre, not speed.  Speed will come with practice, but is useless unless it gets the desired effect.

Also for this, I find if I use my wrists too much, they tire quickly.  So I usually engage my whole arm, keeping wrist and elbow semi-ridged.  If something starts to fatigue, I put the cards down (where they won't accidently damage anyone) and stretch.  You know, repetitive motion stuff, bla,bla,&c.

This is after the first pass on the cards.  Much more fluffy than before, but still a bit tangled.  So let's do it again.

After the second pass:

 It looks ready to go.  At this stage you can choose how you want to organize the fibre: flat, rolag, or worsted-style rolag.  For this yarn, a traditional rolag works well.

And there you have it. Takes about 1 to 3 minutes  10 to 40 seconds per rolag.  The basket full is about 1/3rd of an icelandic fleece from a beautiful, and friendly sheep named Cloud.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I got rusty old hand carders at summer. I need to learn to use them. Nice photos, you could take animal photos once again, please.