Monday, December 3, 2007

From Clods to Clouds

Warning: Picture-heavy post. But, oh, so exciting for the fiber fans in the audience.

In today’s exciting post, I’ll show you how you can turn that bag or box full of washed fleece into fiber that’s ready to be spun.

A caveat: Not everyone has a drum carder. I know this, and the only reason I have one is because my husband presented me with one as a gift. Even though most of the pictures you’ll see feature a drum carder, there is a way you can process your raw fiber that will get you to the same place, maybe even a better place, with your wool.

To begin … this bag is full of clean chunks of wool. They still smell a bit sheepy and there are bits of straw and even some … um … other “matter,” but that’s OK, because this wool is clean enough for what comes next.

First I grab a hand full of wool and vent some of my frustration on it. I’ll grab a bit in each hand and p-u-l-l it apart. Then I’ll put it back in one bunch, turn it a bit, and p-u-l-l it apart again. Aside from the wonderful upper body workout and release of built-up angst, this process helps break up the fibers into smaller clumps that are mostly aligned in the same direction.

Now, if you have a drum carder, you know how it works. Since I couldn’t find nearly enough information about carding to satisfy myself, I’m going to go into a bit of detail here. Feel free to go get a snack, use the bathroom, or whatever.

OK, one of the best tips I picked up while trolling the Web is this: for the first pass on the carder, slowly turn the crank while lightly touching your fistful of wool to the BIG drum. Bits of the wool will be pulled out of your hand and become embedded in the teeth as you go. Doing it this way rather than letting the fiber travel through the feeder on the first pass is that you can easily control how much fiber is pulled onto the drum at a time, which dramatically cuts down on time spent pulling wads of fiber out from where it’s clogged up the works. As my dad always said, “Never force something, because it’s sure to break.” A little at a time is the way to go.

When the teeth of the big drum are pretty well covered with wool, it’s time to stop carding and pull off (doff) the batt. Slowly turn the crank until the seam in the carding cloth is just above the smaller drum. Use a doffer like I have here or another pointy object. Hmm, wonder where you could get a pointy object … Well, if you DO use a knitting needle, be sure to use one that you’re not going to miss if it bends or breaks, because this bit can be pretty strenuous.

Slide the tip of the doffer (or whatever) in at the side and gently press the tip down and lift the end in your hand. Easy does it. You don’t want to tear the fibers, just get them to separate.

Work your way along the seam until the entire batt has been split. Grab the upper end in your hand and slowly turn the crank toward you. Slide a very small knitting needle or other pointy stick in between the teeth on the carding cloth and release the fibers in the same way you did with the doffer.

Important: Use a needle/stick that has a smaller diameter than the spacing between the carding teeth. If you don’t, you’ll end up bending the teeth. Ask me how I know.)

When you’re done, you’ll have a batt. You can get excited, I’ll wait. OK, the batt looks pretty good, but you can make it even better, even fluffier. Pull the batt in half lengthwise. Feed half into the feeder part of the carder, turning the crank slowly and tugging back on the wool if it looks like too much may be pulled in at a time.

Also, note all the crap and crud that's accumulated in the teeth on the small drum. Better there than in your fiber! And this is what that twice-carded bat will look like.Quelle difference!

You can run that new batt through again (and again) or run the second half of the original batt through.

Let’s take a look at the before and after, or clods and clouds. Happy happy joy joy!

Now, before I start on this part, I have to acknowledge this post as my inspiration and starting point. I have hand cards with fine teeth, which are wonderful tools; however, for the kind of wool you see in these pictures, I wanted something a bit less delicate. What I wanted was a set of wool combs. What I didn't want was to spend a butt-load of money to get them. So I read about Chris Lansdown's project and decided to do the same thing for myself.

The savage-looking implement you see is a wool comb I made myself. I ended up using a Dremel tool when I couldn't find my drill. I wanted those combs and I wanted them yesterday.

Note that instead of using epoxy, I took the lazy way out and used duct tape to hold my nails in place. Gotta love that duct tape!Crude yet effective, my wool combs can take either raw or precarded wool and produce slivers or top (I'm never sure which is which.) Whatever you call it, it's exactly what you need to just sit and spin. You really don't have to have a drum carder to get readily spinnable fiber.Pulling across the grain, you and up with a big wad of shorter fibers caught up in the nails and the longer fibers sticking out, ready to be pulled through the hole in the bracket I'm holding. (This is a stand in for a "diz," a small disk whose hole size determines the size of the top. I tried using my wedding band, but it was a tad too big.)Just thread a bit through the hole in whatever you're using as a diz, and gently pull the fibers through, pulling from the left, then from the right to pull as much of the long fibers as you can.
Pull the wool, then push the diz, then pull the wool some more.
When you're done, you'll have a beautiful sliver of fiber, which you can gently wind around your hand, tucking the end in. Once you have a bunch of these beautiful puffballs, you'll be good to go with your spinning.

The shorter fibers that are left in the teeth of your comb can be carded and spun together. I know that there are terms for spinning with long fibers and with short fibers but just can't bring them to mind at the moment. Maybe later ...

If you're still here and if you have any questions about any of this, let me know.

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