Using a drum carder – part 3, blending fibres

This tutorial will show you how I use my drum carder to blend different colours and fibres to make batts. If you don’t already know how to use your carder, check out my first post on the subject about the basics first, as it contains a few tips on how to get the best from your carder.

In this tutorial I am working with commercially dyed merino tops, and sparkle in the form of trilobal nylon (sometimes called firestar) and angelina. Any commerically prepped fibre can be used in this way. If you are wanting to blend any fibres with raw fleece, it’s easiest to first prepare the fleece as shown in this tutorial before moving on to blending.

I won’t be talking about colour or fibre choices, simply the mechanics of using the carder to get the results you want. There is plenty of information online about which fibres work well together, and the book ‘Color in Spinning’ by Deb Menz contains great in-depth information and explainantions about colour theory and selecting colours for your fibre.

My first batt is for a swap partner, she was the lucky winner of  a pair of batts I gave away on my blog a few months ago to celebrate the opening of my etsy shop. She asked for another batt that would go with these existing batts so she could use them all in a project together. I decided to go with deep reds and black, with a little yellow, and lots of gold sparkle. I wanted the batt to be fairly well blended, but not a completely even colour all over. Here are the colours I decided to use:


(as an aside, the table I use for my carding is a knitting machine table, it’s exactly the same width as the carder, and has space either side for my fibre and tools…and it doesn’t take up too much space)

Once you have picked your fibre, you need to get it ready for carding. My eureka moment with this came when I realised that commerical tops aren’t a long sausage of fibre as I’d originally thought, but are in fact a flat sheet of fibre, folded or rollled up. To spread the fibre out to run it through the carder, you just need to find the join, and flatten the fibre out:


This will give you a lovely sheet of fibre with all the individual fibres running parallel. Place the fibre in the feed tray of your carder:


You will notice that the fibre doesn’t reach the edges of the tray. This is where your other hand comes in, as well as using it to gently guide the fibre into the tray, you can also stretch the fibre out so it fills the full width of the drum. Once you’ve got it started, it will continue to follow the same path, so you’ll only need that hand to guide rather than spread the fibre too. Remember not to pull on the fibre, just hold it gently and guide it along as it gets pulled in.


I normally use around a 30-50cm length of tops at a time…shorter if I want a more blended batt, so I can get thinner layers of different colours.

When you’ve finished with the first section of tops, repeat the process with your other bits, alternating colours each time. When you come to add sparkle, you won’t need to use anywhere near as much as you would do wool. In this batt I put in 3 or 4 layers of gold trilobal nylon, using about this much each time:

Even this fairly small amount adds a lot of glitz to the batt…here it is on the carder:


After a few layers of fibre, the carder will start to look full, the fibre on the main drum will be getting close to the top of the teeth. In fact, it’s nowhere near full, it just needs squishing down. Run a bristle hairbrush over the drum while turning the handle, and this will compress the fibres and allow you to add more. The below pic is of the drum before and after going over with the brush.


Keep adding more layers in different colours until you’ve used up all your fibre, or until the drum is so full that even brushing it won’t allow you to fit any more on. My carder will hold up to around 110g, though I try not to make batts much larger than 80g.

When removing the batt, use your doffing tool to free a small amount fibre each time, working your way along the space between the teeth until the whole batt is no longer joined.


Take the fibre, and roll it up away from the join. If you keep your hands close to the drum when rolling, there shouldn’t be any stray fibre remaining on the drum.

The batt currently looks a little messy and not that well blended, so it’s time to recard it to even it out. Tear a thin strip off the edge of your batt:


The strip should be about 1/3-1/2 the width of the feed tray, or less if it’s a very thick batt. Take the strip and pull it apart from side to side, to thin it out, and make it the full width of the tray:


Recard this strip as before, gently guiding it in with your hand while you turn the handle.

Repeat this process, tearing off strips and spreading them out, then carding them. When it’s all done, remove the batt:


This is the effect I was looking for…blended, but not uniform, so the final yarn has patches of different colour. If you want a uniform batt, then repeat the stripping and carding process again until you are happy with the result. If you are blending different fibres (such as wool and silk), you will probably want to do 3 or 4 passes through the carder in total to get a smooth blend so you don’t come across patches of a single fibre when you are spinning.

For the next blend, I wanted to make a batt that faded from one colour to another across its width, with a little sparkle added. Here are the colours in the sequence I wanted:


When I first started carding, I would have torn off thin strips of each colour and laid them side by side on the drum. While this works, it’s fiddly, and you don’t get a nice shading from one colour to the next….so these days I use the below method instead.

Card your fibre, as above, in layers. Start with the colour you want on one side of the batt, and work your way through them. I split each colour of roving in half, and put a small amount of angelina fibre inbetween the two layers of the same colour…green angelina with the green shades, blue with the blues.

When your batt comes off the carder, it should look something like this, a solid colour each side, with layers of other colours in between:


Now you have to recard the batt to get the colours running across it.

As before, tear off a thin strip from one side of the batt. This time, rather than spreading it out flat, turn it on its side, so the layers of colour are running from one side of your strip to the other:


Repeat for the rest of the batt. Don’t worry too much if the colours don’t match up exactly from one layer to the next, this is what gives the final batt the shaded effect. When you’ve finished, your final batt should look something like this:


I hope this gives you some inspiration and the confidence to try making your own batts. Don’t be afraid to experiment with colours and textures, you may come up with something you really love!

Using a drum carder – part 2, carding raw fleece

This post will explain one method I use to card raw fleece on a drum carder. The basics of using a drum carder are explained in this post, and future posts will cover blending of fibres and cleaning of the carder.

The method outlined below is time consuming, preparing the fleece before carding is a lengthy process, and the amount of pre-preparation needed depends on the state of the fleece, and the desired end result. This is not the fastest way of doing this, but it’s the only way I’ve found that works with fleeces with dirty tips or lots of VM.

First, your fleece needs to be clean. Using a drum carder with unwashed fleece will get your carder very dirty and covered in gunge that will be hard to remove and will contaminate future batts. It may also damage your carder. A fleece washing tutorial will follow, but there are plenty of others already out there online.

The fleece I am carding in the below images is a cormo fleece.  It was a coated fleece so there isn’t much VM, but some of the tips were caked with mud, and I didn’t want this mud to get into the batts. In the below pic you can see a lock of the fleece, with its dirty tips, and also a few nepps at the butt end (which are a common feature of lots of raw fleeces). [clicking on any of the pics will take you to a larger version in my flickr account].


I don’t want any of the bits of mud, or the nepps, in my final batt. It’s very difficult to get a completely nepp-free batt, especially with a wool as fine as cormo, but the method shown helps get out as many of them as possible before carding. To remove the dirt and nepps (and any VM), grab the lock about half way down the staple, and run it over a hand carder laid flat on your lap. You can see that the bits are gone, the wool is fluffed up, and there’s a few lumps left behind on the carder. If the fleece had VM in, most of this would also be trapped by the teeth of the carder.


Turn the lock around, and repeat the process to detangle and remove any nepps from the bottom end. Repeat this process for as long as your patience will allow, or until you have enough fibre to make a batt.

Place your opened up locks of fibre on the feed tray of the carder. Don’t overfill the tray, you should be able to see the tray through the fibre.


Slowly turn the handle of the carder with one hand, while using the other to gently guide the fibre towards the licker in drum. Don’t pull on the fibre, just hold it in place while the carder pulls it in. The fibre will wrap around the large drum in thin layers. If you’re using a fine fibre like I am, you will probably find it doesn’t want to sink to the bottom of the teeth, and there will be patches of wool close to the top of the teeth like this.


If there are any noticeable lumps or bits of unwanted fibre/VM close to the top of the teeth, pull them out now, then use a hairbrush or similar to push the fibres down while turning the drum.

Add more fibre to the feed tray, and repeat this process several times, until the carder starts to fill up. You may find that some fibre wants to fall off the edge of the carder like in the below image. For the first pass on a raw fleece, I ignore this, provided it doesn’t start to get near the axel or moving parts of the carder. If it does start to go to places it’s not wanted, pull the fibre up and either place it on the edge of the drum, or pull it off and put it back in the feed tray, and in future try to feed the fibre a cm or away from the edge of the tray to stop it happenening again.


Once you’ve run out of fibre, or when the drum is starting to get full, you need to remove the batt. Use your doffing tool (mine is called a ‘knuckle saving batt pick’) and came with the carder…a knitting needle can be used too, but watch your hands on the teeth. At the break in the card cloth, use the tool to free a small section of fibre at a time, you shouldn’t have to pull hard, if you do, you’re trying to do too much at once.


Once you’ve severed all the fibres, run your tool along the gap to make sure there are no more small areas of fibre joined together, then you’re ready to remove the batt. Roll the batt off the carder (some people suggest to roll it around a rod, I’ve never found this to be necessary), keeping your hands as close to the carder as possible to pick up as many stray fibres as you can. You’ll see the drum is almost completely clean, the few straggly fibres which are still attached will be picked up as you roll. On the first pass, there may be a few fibres which aren’t joined to the rest of the batt that want to stay deep in the teeth…remove these after the batt is taken off by running your flick carder over the drum.


When your batt is off the carder, hold it up to the light and have a look at it. You’ll see the wool isn’t even at all, there are clumps, and areas where the fibres don’t run parallel…and you’ll also see in my batt, despite my best efforts, there are a few nepps. I am fairly sure these were always in the fleece and weren’t caused by me trying to card too much at once, or being too rough, though with a very fine fibre, you will start to add nepps however careful you are.


Take your batt, and tear it into strips lengthways. Each of these strips will be fed through the carder again. In the photo, the strip on the left is small enough to be recarded alone, the others were split in half again before carding.


Take one of your strips and spread it out flat between your hands, so its about the same width as the feed tray, then recard it, the same as before, turning the handle slowly, and using your hand to guide in the fibre.


Repeat this with the rest of the batt, then again remove the batt and hold it up to the light. You’ll be able to see the batt is more even, with fewer fibres travelling in the wrong directions.


Tear this batt into strips, and repeat, until you are happy that your fibre is carded enough. I did one more pass, making 3 in total, and I may do another one, but I don’t want to add more nepps.

My batt after 3 passes is looking a lot more even.


And that’s it…your batt is ready to spin!

A note on different methods.

If your fleece doesn’t have dirt, lumps, or VM in, you don’t need to comb the locks before carding unless the fleece is matted together. If the fleece is light and airy, you can just grab a chunk of it, and pull apart with your hands to separate the fibres. You will end up with a light and airy cloud of fibres, which can be fed into the carder in the same way as above. As the fibres will not all be parallel in this cloud, you’ll need to do several more passes to get it smoothly carded, I find normally around 6 passes gives me a lovely even airy batt.

If your fleece is clean but a bit neppy at the butt end, you may decide you don’t want to remove the nepps, to give yourself a textured yarn. Again in this case you don’t need to spend time combing them out, just fluff up the fibres and card, and the nepps will be incorporated into your batt.

Thanks for reading…any comments are welcome, and questions will be answered in future posts.

Using a drum carder – part 1, the basics

I was asked to write a tutorial on how to use a drum carder. This is a huge topic, so in this first post I will go over the basics. Future posts will cover carding raw fleece, and blending commercially prepped fibres, as well as how to clean your carder.

First, the basics. What is a drum carder?

A drum carder is a machine which is used to prepare fibre for spinning. It has two drums, one small one (sometimes called a licker-in) which helps guide in the fibre, and then a large one, which the fibre ends up wrapped around. When the larger drum is full, the fibre is removed, and the resulting chunk of smooth fibre is called a batt. There are several ways to spin from batts, and I will cover those in future tutorials.

There are several different makes of drum carder, I have a Strauch carder, which can be seen here. I chose the Stauch because it has finer card cloth than the others available, meaning it can be used for carding finer fibres, because the licker in cloth is of a unique design that doesn’t trap the fibre, and because it is chain rather than belt driven, meaning it will hopefully last as long as I do.

My carder (pre-cleaning as I took the pic to use in my cleaning tutorial):


Tools needed to go with a carder

If your carder doesn’t come with clamps to attach it to the table, then these are a very worthwhile investment to stop it moving around as you card and while you’re removing the batt. Here is a photo of the other tools I use with my carder:


The three on the left came with the carder. They are:

Flick carder. Can be used for opening locks of raw fleece before carding, and also for cleaning the drum. I only use it for the latter, I prefer to open locks on a hand carder laid flat on my knee. To use it to clean the drum, hold it against the large drum while turning the handle the opposite way you’d turn when making batts (normally anticlockwise). Don’t move the flick carder from side to side while the drum is turning, do one rotation of the drum with it in one position, then stop and move it over.

Knuckle saving batt pick. This is used to get the batt off the carder. At one place on the drum there are no teeth. When the carder is full, you use this tool along the toothless part of the carder to separate the fibres, an inch or so at a time, until the batt is no longer joined.

Brush. This small brush looks a little like a nailbrush, and is used for cleaning the licker in drum. Due to the design of the cloth on the Strauch, the drum doesn’t get covered in fibre like some other models, but sari silk and angelina especially seem to want to get trapped on it, so brushing with this brush helps free them.

The other tools are my own, and I find they help considerably with using/cleaning the carder.

Long thin forceps. Even after cleaning the drum with the flick carder, there are sometimes a few stray fibres which remain. These forceps are thin enough to get inbetween the teeth to pick out any fibre left over after cleaning. They are also useful for pulling off any fibres which get wrapped around the axles of the drums. Note that while they are thin, the tips are not sharp, so they don’t damage the cloth.

Large needle. I use this to lift off the fibre from the flick carder after cleaning the drum.

Bristle hairbrush.  I couldn’t afford a carder with a brush attachement, so I run this over the drum between layers to squish down the fibres and enable the carder to take more fibre in one go.

How to use a carder, the basics

Most carders have a tray onto which you place the fibre. As the handle is turned, the licker in drum pulls the fibre in under the drum, and deposits it on the larger drum. The large drum turns faster than the smaller one (mine turns 5 times faster), so the fibres are pulled apart as they are deposited onto the drum, smoothing them out.

Here are a few tips which will help you get the best from your carder:

– Don’t put too much fibre into the feed tray at once. You should just be able to see the tray through the fibre. If you put too much on the handle will be hard to turn and the fibres may tear or get caught between the drums. If you are carding commerically prepped roving, you can use as long a length of roving as you like, just make sure the piece is thin enough that the carder runs smoothly.

– Guide the fibre in with your hand. Place your hand on top of the fibre in the feed tray and gently hold it in place, moving your hand as the carder pulls it in. Don’t pull back on the fibre, this will encourage it to wrap around the smaller drum, instead just gently guide it to keep it pulling in smoothly.

– Turn the handle slowly. After a little use you will be able to feel how fast you can turn it and still have the fibres deposited smoothly on the drum. Turning it too fast will be harder work, and may rip the fibres, causing nepps (lumps) in your batt.

– If your carder doesn’t have a brush attachment, get a bristle hairbrush and run this over the drum while turning it between layers. This will help compress the fibre and allow you to get more on the drum. This is especially useful with very fine fibres like angora, which want to fly away all over the place and don’t embed into the teeth on the drum easily by themselves.

– Don’t allow the fibre to ‘fall off’ the edge of the large drum and wrap around the axles or anywhere else on the carder, as this may damage it. It happens to everyone sometimes, but try and move the fibre as soon as it starts to do this, and pull it off the axle immediately.

– When removing the batt, use your doffing tool (or batt pick, or whatever your one is called) to free up just an inch or so of fibres at a time, if you try to do too much you’ll find it very difficult, and you may rip the fibres. Once the batt is separated, take the end furthest from the small drum, and roll the batt up, keeping your hands close to the drum so more of the stray fibres are kept within the batt. The drum will move by itself as you carry on rolling, until your batt is freed.

That is all I can think of at the moment, if you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will update with answers.

Longdraw for beginners

I’ve just realised I’ve been neglecting my blog a little recently. I keep thinking of things to write about, then I write them on a forum on ravelry and don’t put them on here. I just spent half an hour typing up a post about longdraw, so I thought i would share it here.

Firstly, some of you may be asking what is longdraw? Well, it’s a drafting technique which, when used with rolags, allows you to produce a woollen yarn. Not ‘woollen’ as in ‘made from wool’, but woollen meaning a light and airy yarn which combines the long and short fibres from a fleece, wrapped round a core of air, making for a fluffy, bouncy, lofty yarn. This technique can be used for spinning other types of prep making a technically semi-woolen yarn, but with the same fluffy properties (though only spinning from rolags will give you the air core).

The technique relies on one of the properties of yarn (well, of any thread), that is, that twist will build up in thin areas, leaving the thicker areas untwisted. As you pull back, the twist holds together the thin areas, and thins out the thicker areas so you end up with an even single. This is why using a good prep is essential; if the fibres are long and running parallel to the yarn, some fibres from the thick areas will get trapped in the thinner areas and your lumps will be ‘locked’ in place. With a rolag, the fibres are running perpendicular to the length of the yarn, they will be pulled diagonally as you draft, so they overlap and the yarn doesn’t disintegrate, but the end result will be fibres that travel in a corkscrew path along the length of the yarn, rather than fibres all aligned straight and parallel twisted around each other. This method allows very short stapled fibres such as cashmere to be spun with ease, where a short forward draft would be difficult and time consuming.

These tips are aimed for people looking to try longdraw who have never done it before, they are just a few small things I found helpful when first starting. This isn’t a technique I’d recommend for beginning spinners, short forward draws are a lot easier to learn and do from commercially prepped tops/roving, which are easily available. Of course, in the past when using a great wheel, and in countries where cotton is the only available fibre for beginners, people did/do start off with a longdraw method (though maybe great wheel spinners started on spindles?), and they cope just fine, but given the tools and fibre preps available to us today, complete beginners will probably find themselves making yarn a lot more quickly and easily using another technique. This post is designed to help more experienced spinners who are comfortable with spinning and know their way around their wheel, but who want to add the longdraw technique to their spinning arsenal.

– First, pick your fibre. It’s possible to do longdraw from almost anything, but the easiest to start off with is well carded rolags of a medium fineness, medium staple (around 3 inches), nicely sproingy wool. I think my first longdraw was done using rolags from a jacob fleece, but i might have forgotten something else I used. Either way, airy preps like rolags or batts are a lot easier than roving.

– attach the fibre to your leader and spin the first foot or so using whatever drafting style you’re comfortable with. While it is possible to longdraw right from the start, when you’re first starting it’s harder to get this join right, and set the thickness of the yarn you want…starting from a patch of ready spun yarn is easier.

– You want your tension to be just high enough that it winds the yarn on quickly when you let it, but low enough that it doesn’t try and pull the yarn out of your hands. A higher ratio than you’d normally use for the particular thickness of yarn is desirable, but not essential, if your wheel only has one ratio, you can just treadle more before and after the draft to make up for it.

– start off holding your rolag with a few inches of ready spun yarn in front of the orifice, this will hold some twist and allow it to be redistributed throughout the part you draft.

– with your back hand (in my case, my left), pinch off a bit of your rolag. The exact amount will depend on the thickness of yarn you’re wanting to spin, but an inch or two is normally plenty…err on the side of too little at the start….too little and your drafting length will be shortened, too much and you’ll need a magic extendable arm to pull the fibres out long enough. Unless you have such a magic arm, the result will be that your yarn is very lumpy.

– Use the thumb and first finger of your front hand to hold the yarn just in front of the orifice. It’s this that you’ll be pulling back against. If you’ve built up enough twist in the few inches of already drafted yarn, this hand can stay in place until the end of the draft, but chances are you’ll have to open your fingers a couple of times during the draft to allow more twist in to hold the yarn together.

– pull back with your back hand, it’s a fast draft compared to short draw, but it isn’t THAT fast a movement, it should be fluid. Watch the yarn. You’ll see it break into big lumps held together by thinner areas. If you’ve got enough twist there, continuing to pull back will smooth out the lumps, leaving the thin areas as they are. If you see the yarn start to drift apart due to lack of twist, allow some more in with your front hand. Keep pulling back until there are no more thick spots (the yarn won’t be totally even, so don’t worry too much, most unevenness will come out in the plying).

– wait, and treadle. This is a long draft in a short period of time, you’ll need to treadle for a while to make up for it and get enough twist into the yarn before allowing it to wind on. Using a fibre of varigated colour makes this part easier as you can see the angle of twist so you won’t need to be stopping to check plybacks all the time. After a while you’ll get into a routine and know how many treadles you do while drafting, and how many to do afterwards.

– Pay attention to the feel of the yarn with your back hand. It’s reaaaaaally hard to explain, but once you’ve got it, you’ll be going by feel, it feels almost like you’re pulling on a piece of elastic. The feeling is probably the most important thing in terms of setting your drafting speed, and the hardest to explain.

That’s all i can think of at the moment…I hope it helps. If your computer is up to it, watch a few youtube videos to see different people’s styles…this vid is good cos you can see exactly what both her hands are doing:

Be aware that the american and english longdraw are different…both are still longdraw, they both involve drafting way more than the staple length of fibre, but there are slight differences in what your hands do….which are explained in this post:…. What I’ve explained above is the english longdraw, personally I find the american unsupported longdraw the most fun cos i can do it one handed, but its a little fiddlier to do cos I find you need to mess with your tension a little more to get it right, and its harder to explain as a step by step process, as it relies on how the yarn feels even more so than the english version.

I hope this helps some of you on your path to longdraw fun, and if anyone reading this (does anyone actually read this??) has any questions, just ask in the comments and I’ll answer in a later post.