Wool to Yarn: An Introduction to Carding Wool
Flemish girl carding wool. Painted in 1883 by Maria Wilk
In my first post called What is Carding I briefly went over the process of carding wool. In that post I went briefly over the tools I used while I demonstrated how to card wool at the Louisiana Renaissance Festival (LARF.) where I assumed the character of a journeyman weaver. I also was recently asked to re-assume that role again for the 2012 season for the Louisiana Renaissance Festival where I will be portraying a journeyman weaver creating his masterpiece before a master weaver, Lady Freida Leyland. As a result I have decided to expand on that post
Introduction to Carding Wool
What is carding wool exactly? Well carding wool actually does two different things. One, it is a process in which a person takes one or more locks of fiber and uses either a flick carder or hand carder to loosen the individual strands of fiber from the lock. Or at least that is what an encyclopedia might say. I think taking a closer look at the actual process will help you understand the question better.
First off we will need to take a look at the equipment that is being used. Then once we know what the tools of the trade in carding wool, we can look at how to actually card wool and the different ways I have came across to do this in the next few post.
Types of Carding Brushes
Side view of a Flick Carder showing how the metal teeth are angled
Flick carders are the smallest of the wool carding tools. Flick carders can have a rectangular head, square head, and honestly you can probably take any sort of shape you want and make a flick carder our of it, though it might not work as well. A flick carder is generally used by itself to open up a one or two locks of fiber at a time. This is accomplished by means of placing something over your leg like leather (to protect your leg) and then starting from the bottom of the lock, using a tapping or brushing motion and moving your way up as you go. The flick carder will remove vegetable matter (VM).
Hand carders are the next size up from a flick carder. In fact the hand carders look like an over sized flick carder, but there are some differences. When you use hand carders you will be using two carding paddles. Once hand carder will generally be held stationary while the other hand carder is moved over it. The purpose of the hand carder is to take several locks of wool and align them to create a rolag. The rolag when made properly will be light and fluffy and easy to spin
Bishop holding a Wool Comb. From the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Lavenham, England
Now wool combs look a lot different than carding tools, in fact wool combs were used before hand carders. The wool combs almost look like something out of a horror movie.. Wool comb have metal tines sticking out that are used to hold the wool while another wool comb is used to rake through the wool locks and open the locks up. It has been theorized that wool combs were modeled after a human hand. When you think about using your fingers to break apart locks you can somewhat see this. Wool combs also serve another great purpose, the combs help separate the long fiber from the short fibers. The longer fibers can then be used to make worsted yarn, and the short fibers can then be carded to create woolen yarn.
Doffer brushes are generally used to clean the other carding tools. They do look a lot like the flick carder but doffer brushes generally have less teeth per inch. This helps the tines of the doffer brush get down closer to the carding cloth and remove the fiber that is remaining on the carding tools.
1970’s Styled Drum Carder
Drum carders are the newest type of carding tool on the market. The first iteration of the drum carder was invented in 1748, by Lewis Paul of Birmingham, England. The drum carder operates by using two rotating drums which has a carding cloth attached. The first drum, which is the smaller of the two, is called the licker drum. The second drum (sometimes called a swift) takes the fiber off the licker drum.
In all the types of carders, there is one thing in common between them. They all require carding cloth. Carding Cloth is the pad with the little metal pins sticking out. The carding cloth can be attached to the hand carder, flick carder, drum carder, or doffer tool with staples. When looking at carding cloths and deciding which one is correct for the fiber you will be using, there are a few things you should know. TPI stand for teeth per square inch on the carding cloth. The TPI will let you know what types of wool the hand carder is best suited for. A general rule of thumb is the finer the fiber you are using the greater the teeth per square you will want. It should be noted that a TPI between 72 and 112 will give you the greatest range of carding wool, but it can not be guarnteed on to work on all wools. If you are planning to card fine fibers you will need to be using an extra fine carding cloth on your hand carders.
- Coarse: 48 teeth per square inch. This carding cloth is typically used for the more open fibers.
- Regular: 72 teeth per square inch. This carding cloth can be used for coarse and mid-range fibers.
- Fine: 96 teeth per square inch. Will work with most fibers, except for fine fibers.
- Extra Fine: 190 and up teeth per square inch. Can be used for Cotton, Merino, Llama, Alpaca, Cashmere, and other exotics.
Woman Carding Wool. From the William A. Barnhill Collection
Well now you should be familiar with the tools used for carding wool. In my next article called “Wool to Yarn: How to Card Wool” I will show you how to use some of the different tools shown here.
Lastly, I have included a few resources from some of our affiliates if you would like to learn more about using hand carders. I would have liked to include a link to where to buy some raw fleece, but it is hard to pin down exactly when the fleece would be available. I have found some from people on Ebay, Ravelry, and Homesteading Forums. You can also try contacting you local extension agent to see if they would know of any places to get some fleece.
Hand Carders and Flick Carders
The Ashford Book of Carding: A Handspinners Guide at Amazon
Wool hand carders and flick carders at Paradise Fiber
Drum Carders at Paradise Fiber
Wool Combs at Paradise Fiber
Hand Woolcombing and Spinning: A Guide to Worsteds from the Spinning-Wheel at Paradise Fiber