Indigo vat from fresh Japanese indigo leaves

As I explained in my last post, this year I have been growing japanese indigo from some seeds I got with some pretty cards. I tried the ice extraction first as it seemed simpler, and after having such good results with that I decided to stop feeling daunted and give a proper vat a go. There are many recipes online for indigo vats, mostly from dried indigo, and I started to get a little overwhelmed with all the options. It didn’t help that almost all the instructions were along the lines of ‘for X indigo powder you need Y this and Z this’, and not having indigo powder, that wasn’t helpful. So I decided to think about what actually is going on, and how I can achieve that.

The first step is extracting the indigo from the leaves. I didn’t need a flocculating agent, which is what makes the particles clump together and fall out of suspension, as I was planning to use the vat straight away, so all I needed to do was get the pigment out of the leaves and into the water. I decided the easiest way was to fill my dyepot with hot tap water (at 50C) and chuck the leaves I had into it.

After 24 hours the pigment should be out of the leaves, then I’d need to get rid of the plant matter and raise the pH of the vat. I have washing soda and caustic soda here, and decided to go with the latter, as the former is a rather weak alkali. I was unsure how much to use, then found this chart. I calculated how much water was in my vat (around 8.5l) and knew I’d need in the region of 10g to get the pH where I wanted it, which is around 10-11.5 for cotton (8.5-9.5 for protein fibres). It was at this point I realised that all the info I’d found about how much alkali and reducing agent per X of indigo, well, it actually didnt matter how much indigo was there, the important thing was how much water there is, as that is what affects the pH and contains all the naughty oxygen we want to get rid of (futurevampy says this isn’t quite accurate, but never mind!). So, again following the chart linked above, I decided I’d need around 30g of hydros (Sodium Hydrosulphite/Sodium Dithionite) which I’d picked up from Willo Fibres at FibreEast.

Okay, the plan was formed, I understood in general terms the chemistry of what was happening, now all I had to do was get on with it.

I picked all my remaining indigo, which wasn’t as much as I’d have liked; 970g total, around 350 of which was stems. Next year I will grow far more!


I pulled all the leaves off and put them into the pan and covered them with hot tap water at 50C. The pan was placed in a plastic bucket surrounded with wool packaging material (I got a bunch of it on freecycle from someone who gets lots of food delivered insulated with it), put the lid on and put more wool on top, then left it in the greenhouse.


After 24 hours, it looked like this, with a nice metallic sheen on top. The fabric you can see is a bit of muslin I used to wrap the leftover leaves from the ice extraction in; I wanted to get the remaining colour out of them without filling my dyebath with tiny bits of plant. It was still pleasantly warm, wool is a really good insulator.


I fished out all the leaves into a mesh bag, and was left with turquoisey coloured liquid.


I made sure to squeeze all the liquid out of the leaves into the dyebath.


This darkened it considerably


The dyeing process is faster at higher temperatures (so long as you don’t go over 60C as this will destroy the pigment once it’s been reduced), so I got to play with my new toy, a portable hotplate I can use in the utility room/garden when I don’t want to make mess in the kitchen or do stinky plant stuff indoors. I managed to heat it up to around 40C before excitment overcame me and I moved on to the next stage.


The next stage was to get the pH to a suitable level. I have UI paper, and also a very handy pH meter that I bought to check my tomatoes are acidic enough when canning. I calibrate it before using for that, but for this I didn’t bother, I just checked my tap water was around 7 and called it good enough.

From my reading earlier, I’d decided to use in the region of 10g of sodium hydroxide. I put some of the dyebath in a mug and added just over a teaspoon of it, and stirred until it had dissolved, then poured it into the dyebath. Testing revealed the pH was 10.8. Perfect. On adding the alkali, the dyebath turned a dark green colour.

I took it back outside and aerated it by repeatedly lifting some out and pouring it back in. I did this for a few minutes until I was bored and my arm was tired.


I then added the hydros. I gave the bath a stir to create a vortex, then poured in about 30g, I didn’t weigh it, just estimated. I stirred it a little then put it back in the wool-lined box in the greenhouse for an hour.

During that hour I prepared my fabric. I decided to dye some muslin, some cotton tote bags, and some shibori thread. I put the fabric through the wash the night before to make sure it was scoured, and washed the thread by hand with some washing up liquid. While my dyebath was reducing I took this clean fabric and had fun with tying it in various ways.


After an hour, it was time to go! The dyebath was a bright neon yellowy green, with more metallic sheen on top. I tried to move this top layer out of the way before dyeing, with partial success. The bits that remained didn’t seem to affect anything negatively though.


I put my stuff in, squeezing as much air out as possible and holding it tightly in my hands before placing underwater and letting go. I decided to go for volume rather than depth of colour with this first attempt as I’d like to have enough fabric to make a dress out of. I left the stuff in for 10 minutes at a time before removing gently and allowing to oxidise, and then returning to the dyebath. Here are a few more pics.

Green dyebath:



Out and mostly oxidised. The thicker fabric at the hem of the bag has more liquid in and is still greenish coloured


Drying things







And the first lot dry. It’s paler than I was expecting, but it’s a lovely sky blue colour, so I’m happy with it.


I’ve now, about 8 hours later, just put the whole lot in the washing machine on a quick cycle to rinse out any excess dye, and I’ll try and update this post with photos once it’s all dry. The dyebath isn’t fully exhausted I don’t think, so it’s back in the greenhouse. Over the next couple of days I will try lowering the pH and dyeing some wool in it, and perhaps adding some synthetic indigo and having a try for deeper colours.

I will definitely be growing japanese indigo again next year, and if I’m lucky I’ll get another harvest this year. It’s been a really interesting and fun process, and I just love the colours it gives.

Indigo dyeing ice extraction method

I’ve done loads of acid dyeing, and a little bit of natural dyeing, but I’ve never dyed with indigo before. This year I decided to grow some woad, then did a little research about how much pigment it gives and worked out that with an average yield I’d need around 7 plants worth of leaves to dye a 50g skein of yarn. I didn’t want to fill the entire garden with woad, so decided to hunt for something a little stronger. It just so happened that a couple of days after I made this decision, these lovely cards with free seeds were advertised on ravelry. I bought the japanese indigo and madder ones, and soon had lots of lovely seedlings. The madder won’t be useable for another year or two, but the indigo has been ready for its first cutting for a while. I realised I’d been putting it off as the idea of making an indigo vat was a little daunting; there are so many methods, so many people reporting problems, so many things to check. I couldn’t even decide if I wanted to dye immediately or extract the pigment for later, and I didn’t want to waste my precious leaves by messing it up. Eventually I realised I’d better get on with it or the amount of pigment in the leaves would start to drop as it got closer to flowering time, and after a little reading around I came across the ice extraction method, which seemed quick and simple and gives more turquoisey results than a standard indigo vat. I couldn’t find anywhere that explained the chemistry of what is going on with this method, so I followed instructions a little blindly, but it worked out well in the end. This is what I did.

First, I prepared everything indoors. All the websites I read stressed the need to get this done quickly, and keep everything ice cold, so I figured getting everything ready first was a good idea.

I put a couple of cups of water in the food processor along with a few ice cubes


I got a bucket with a few inches of water in and again put a few ice cubes in


I wound the yarn I was using, and put it in to soak in cold water. I wound off a skein of wooltops poldale/nylon sock yarn into five 20g minis, and also grabbed some silk yarn that had been lying around for years to use up anything left in the dyebath after doing the sock yarn.


I set up a way of straining the liquid into a vessel. I decided to use my stainless steel dyepot even though it’s way bigger than I needed simply because it was there and easy to use and clean. I then lined a sieve with a mesh lingerie bag that I use when I wash fleece.


Once everything inside was set up, I headed out to collect some indigo. Our growing season here in the UK isn’t long enough for indigo to flower and make seeds to use the next year. I’m trying a couple of methods to get round this, the first being simply growing in the greenhouse. The second is growing in a pot, which I can bring indoors when it starts getting colder outside. I read that the greenhouse plants should have more pigment in, and I didn’t want to waste the best stuff, so I decided to go with the pot-grown plants (you can see the madder in the pot on the left).


I cut a couple of bunches of stems and put them into the bucket of cold water. I don’t know if this is necessary, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.


It’s perhaps 2 plants’ worth, plenty left for next time, and of course it will carry on growing for a second harvest in autumn. I weighed the leaves once I got indoors, and ended up with 270 of plant material, 90g of which was stems. These numbers aren’t completely accurate as there were some water drops on the plants as I weighed them, but they give a general idea.


I took the indigo back indoors and began stripping the leaves off the stems and putting them in the food processor.


Once it was full, I turned it on and gave the leaves a rough chop to make more room. I repeated this a couple of times until I was out of leaves and left with this lovely green goop.


I poured this into the strainer and then squeezed the mesh bag to get as much liquid out as I could. The squeezing produced a large amount of bright green foam as well as the dark green liquid.


My dyebath was ready! I squeezed the water out of two of the miniskeins (which I shall imaginatively name 1 and 2) and dumped them in, squishing them around a bit to make sure they were fully saturated.


It was at this point I knew I did indeed have some indigo pigment in there, as my nails were starting to turn blue.


After 10 minutes, I took the skeins out and squeezed out as much liquid as I could, then added skein 3 to the dyebath. A minute or so later, I put skein 1 back in.

Skein 2 looked like this, and my mesh bag must be made of nylon as it is also a lovely shade of blue


While waiting for the next skein to be ready, I cleaned up, including putting all the used leaves into a jar. I’ll finally be brave enough to make a fermentation vat soon, and these will be added as I’m sure there’s some pigment left in them


After a further 10 minutes, skein 3 came out for good, skein 1 came out and went back in, and skein 4 was put in.


After 5 minutes this time I removed skein 4, leaving skein 1 in for a bit longer and adding the silk yarn.

Here’s skeins 2, 3 and 4 side by side straight out of the dyebath


I left skein 1 in there for another half an hour or so, and after an hour I gave all of the skeins a rinse in cold water to remove any excess green dyebath that wasn’t actually bonded to the yarn. The silk is still drying, but the sock yarn is done!


To recap, left to right

1. Stayed in for about an hour in total, removed and squeezed out from time to time
2. First dip. 10 minutes
3. Second dip. 10 minutes
4. Third dip. 5 minutes
5. Undyed

This shows that most of the pigment was sucked up in the first 10 minutes by the first two skeins that were in there. Not much extra pigment was added to skein 1 despite it being in the dye far far longer than the others. There was enough left to give very pale colours on the later skeins though, giving a lovely gradient.

It was a very easy process, and far less daunting than a vat I have to test the pH of and really aereate at one point but be very careful not to aereate the rest of the time, and it gives lovely colours. I will be brave enough to do a proper vat soon though, I want to try getting some darker blues, and I also want to try working with cotton, which I didn’t try at all today as I read that this process works way better with protein fibres.

How to spin coils, an almost-tutorial

This is a lazy post. I keep thinking I should write more tutorials, but then I lack the motivation and extra hands to take step by step photos, so I just post vast swathes of text on rav, and the next time someone asks the same question I end up hunting through my previous posts. This is beyond tedious, as I have over 20,000 posts, most of which are completely stupid, and contain words and phrases such as ‘zombie apocalypse’, ‘sandy vagina’ *, ‘mmmm boobs’, and ‘fucking cat, imma kill her’. They probably weren’t that interesting or amusing the first time round, and they are even less so the second time, so even using rav’s awesome search, it becomes hard work.

Today, someone asked a question about spinning coils, and i provided a suitably verbose answer, so I decided to paste it all here, partly so I can refer people straight to this post without having to search my history, and partly so I can link unsuspecting people to a blog post that contains the word ‘vagina’ several times.

The first thing to note is that there are two types of yarn that are referred to as coils.



The first pic is what most people mean when they talk about coils, it’s just a normal 2 ply yarn with the odd coiled bit in. The second is referred to in the spin-off article mentioned above (Winter 2009 edition) as ‘supercoils’. They both use similar, but slightly different techniques.

Yarn 1
For this type of yarn you want to spin 2 singles from the same fibre. The singles need to have a LOT of twist, far more than if you were going to make a normal balanced 2 ply. I didn’t use enough twist on mine, so its not as tight as i’d have liked. Slightly thick and thin singles are good for this as the thinner areas help the coils to ‘grip’ better rather than stretching out and sliding around, but big fat lumps should be avoided if possible as they don’t look so pretty if they are on the coiling single, and will make the yarn fall apart if they are on the static one.
– When you get to plying, use a low-medium ratio, and a moderate take-up
– position one bobbin to either side of your body. In an ideal world they would both be on tensioned lazy kates to make the crazy amount of singles twist easier to deal with, but if this isn’t possible, I’m sure you can work something out.
– start off by holding both singles at around a 45 degree angle to straight (this is what i wrote, but i actually meant 45 degree angle to each other, either side of straight. So  a 22.5 degree angle to straight i suppose. Clear? no? well just spin a 2 ply for a bit and ignore me), and spin a section of standard 2 ply yarn.
– when you want to make a coil, bring your left hand down so the left single makes a straight line to the orifice, and move your right hand up, so the angle between the two is just shy of 90 degrees. Hold the left one tight and allow the right single to wrap round it. When you’ve got enough wraps, let go of the right hand single, and push it up the left one that you are still holding taught. This will make a lumpy coiled section.
– put your hands back to their original positions and spin some more normal 2 ply
– make another coil as above, this time reversiving the jobs of the left and right hands
– repeat until you are done and marvel at your awesomeness
This method of changing which singles stays straight and which one wraps means you should end up with a balanced yarn, and that if your singles are of the same length, you won’t end up with too much of one left over.

Yarn 2

This is the sort of yarn for which you need a different type of core, and you only need one singles to work with. I used the leftovers from my first yarn, but ran it through the wheel again to add more twist, as i knew there was nowhere near enough.

For the core, you want something that is reasonably thin, and very strong. Lots of people like to use crochet cotton, but i prefer something with a bit more grip that’ll hold my coils in place a little better, so i used some silk noil yarn that i had on a cone, i think it was meant for weaving.

When you are spinning this sort of yarn, the core remains static and all the wrapping is done by your pretty singles, which means a lot of twist builds up in the core yarn. You can spin it onto a bobbin first and guess the amount of twist you’ll be taking out to get an even yarn, but i had no idea, and know it’s always more than i thought, so i went with the alternate method of letting the twist out periodically as i was working.

– take your core yarn, and wrap it onto something that can hang freely and untwist while you are spinning. The spin-off article above uses a drop spindle, but that doesn’t work so well for me as it hits on the edge of the sofa/floor as i work. I found a suitable stone in the garden and wrapped several metres of the core around this, then secured it with a couple of half hitches.
– you’ll want to use a similar take up and ratio to the last yarn, or once you get good at pushing the coils up you may want to up the ratio.
– attach both yarns to the leader, hold the core yarn taught in your left hand, and the wrapping yarn in your right hand (with the bobbin on a lazy kate to your right)…or the other way round if you feel more comfortable that way.
– holding the core yarn tight and the wrapping yarn at almost 90 degrees to it to the right, treadle and allow the singles to wrap around the core. When you’ve got a few inches done, stop and push the singles up the core to make a solid wrapped section.
– There will be a fair amount of twist in your core now, so make sure your stone/spindle is hanging freely and can untwist this extra twist on its own….it might need a bit of a helping hand.
– repeat. a lot. alternating between spinning to wrap the yarn on, pushing it up, and releasing twist from the core
– when your spindle/stone is right up near your hand, let a little more core yarn out and keep going.

This yarn takes a long time to spin, and uses a lot of singles for a very small piece of yarn…but it’s so pretty!

I am plotting in my brainmeats a reworking of this post with more pictures to make the instructions more clear, but for the time being, this will have to do.

* in the interests of science, I did a search. I have used the the words ‘sand’ and ‘vagina’ together in 9 of my 20482 posts, and the word ‘vagina’  (or posted in a thread with vagina in the title) in 89 of them. Do you now see why I don’t want to search my post history?

How to spin from batts

I often speak to people who love the look of batts, but are a little indimidated by the idea of turning a rectangular chunk of fibre into yarn, having only previously spun from tops or roving.

A lot of the time, I find spinning from batts as easy, if not easier than using tops…the fibres are a lot fluffier and airer, and minimal effort is required when drafting. For very fine laceweight yarns, tops can be slightly easier, but for all other spinning I love the fluffiness of batts, the fact that you can get an unlimited range of fibre blends, and the fact that they often have pretty sparkle in!

The batts I am working with in this tutorial were carded especially for me by Kristina, who named them ‘Vamp it up’, and they are available in her shop. All other batts pictured were carded by me, and can be found in my shop, or ordered via a custom request if I am out of stock.


There are a few ways to turn these chunks of fibre into yarn:

1) Tearing into strips

Take the batt, and lay it out flat. Most batts made on standard carders will be longer than they are wide, and you will clearly be able to see the ‘grain’ of the fibre running along the length. You will be tearing them into strips along this grain…make the strips as wide or narrow as you want to suit your spinning style.

(I apologise for giving you the finger in the second pic…taking pics of yourself doing fibre stuff in a tiny room while trying to hold the camera remote in your hand is very difficult).


Here’s half the batt torn into strips, and the other half still intact. This pic is very very messy, normally the strips are a lot smoother and the edges much more even, but doing it with a camera remote in your hand is harder than I thought!


And here’s the start of the spun yarn:


This method is a good one to use for layered batts such as these, where you want to retain all the colours in each layer in the full length of the final yarn.

burning embers contrast batts

It is also useful if you have two similar but non-identical batts, as you can tear them into strips and spin the strips at random to ensure the finished yarn has even colour distribution.

If you wish to create a self-striping yarn, choose a batt like the one below, and spin the strips in colour order so the yarn gently fades through the shades.

choc cherry batt

2) Pulling the batt into a roving

Another way to prepare the batt for spinning is to pull it into a roving. Place your hands on the batt just over a staple length apart, and pull gently until you can feel the fibres give. At the start, the batt is very thick, so you will need to grip it fairly hard, but try not to pull apart too hard or you’ll break it. Work your way up and down the batt a few times, always with your hands the same distance apart, pulling a few centimetres each time to thin the batt out. Here’s a couple of pics…the first was at the start, and as you can see I’m holding on fairly tight. The second is after I’ve worked my way up and down a couple of times, so the fibre has thinned out and needs a more gentle touch.


And here’s the final roving, after working up and down the length four or five times.


Finally, the spun yarn.


With the batts I’m using here, there is little difference in the finished yarn with the two above methods, as the colours are evenly distributed throughout the yarn just as they were in the original batts. However, if you have a batt with uneven colour distribution like the one below, this is a good way to get all the shades present into all the yarn.

forest fire batts

If I’d have wanted a stripey yarn, i could have torn these batts into strips as above, but I wanted a more even blend with just the odd highlight of the bright colours, so I pulled them into roving before spinning, to make this yarn.

forest fire yarn
If you prefer a more even thickness roving than you can make this way, then you can use a diz. Thin the fibre out as above until it’s around twice the desired thickness, then gently pull it through a diz into a strip of roving.

3) Tearing horizontally

It is possible, but more difficult, to tear a batt across the grain, if you would like to spin a more woolen yarn. The easiest way to do this is to lay the batt on a hard, flat surface (so, the bottom of a light tent on a bed is NOT a good idea), and put a hard flat object across it (a ruler is good, but of course I couldn’t find one). While pushing down on the ruler, gently pull on the end of the batt, working your way across, to free the fibres. You’ll need to ensure the ruler is placed at least a staple length from the end of the batt, or the fibres won’t be going anywhere!


Here is the piece completely removed, and then rolled up so it can be spun like a handcarded rolag.


You can use this method on any sort of batt you want, though it suits longdraw spinning the best.

4) Removing layers

It is possible, if you’re careful, to gently separate the layers of a batt and spin them individually. For example, if you wanted to spin a batt like this into a striped yarn:

rainbow batts

You gently pinch the fibres on the top layer of the batt, and slowly lift them away. I don’t have pictures of this as I didn’t think they would show up very well given that I was using blended rather than layered batts, and also because I don’t like doing it very much, as you get little bits of flyaway fibre everywhere.

I tend to only use this method if I have a colour or a fibre in a batt that I wish to remove before spinning the batt. It’s possible to deconstruct a batt this way to make a stripey yarn, but really it’s a lot easier to buy batts that have the stripes running across the width rather than in layers.

5) Other methods

All the other methods I can think of are combinations of the above. For example, you can tear the batt into strips, and then tear these strips horizontally into chunks, if you really want to mix up the colours in a bright and cheerful batt. Or you could pull a layer off and roll it up into a rolag shape if you’d like to spin longdraw. Don’t be afraid to experiment, the first two techniques alone are very versatile and simple, and will hopefully give you some pointers and ideas about how to spin your batts.

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.