Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's My Birthday and I'll Card if I Want To

I celebrated my birthday earlier this week by spending some time with my drum carder. Well, first, I did some hand combing. Ok. Let me back up:

2007: I bought the fleece; a lovely light brown merinoX from a sheep named “Babes”. I got this fleece from my friend, Tina Ulbrick of Ewephoria Farm
. She is a wonderful shepherd and fiber artist who now raises corriedale sheep. Here’s a picture of a bit of raw fleece:

2008: I washed the fleece.

2009: I hand combed some of the fleece. Then I drum carded that combed fiber. Then I spun some of the drumcarded fiber. I made 3 yarns each of different thicknesses. The thickest yarn averages 48.6 yards per ounce; the medium yarn averages 83.9 yards per ounce; the thinest yarn averages 150 yards per ounce.

Here’s a picture I took last year of the yarn:

What fleece I hadn’t combed has been sitting in its own private plastic bin in my office. I have a 8 X 11.5 purple sign on it: BABES.

About 10 days ago, that bin started talking to me…..first at a whisper, then with an inside voice, finally yelling at me: I WANT TO BE YARN!

So, I got to work. In two evenings, I finished hand combing the washed wool….except for one chunk that was too tacky to easily hand comb.

AN ASIDE: I have had great success washing greasy fleeces such as merino with Dawn and very very hot water. But I had been persuaded by a friend to try Meadows Fibermaster on part of this fleece. Perhaps this wool wash is good for less greasy fleeces, but it left my merino too tacky to process further. So, I still have a bit of Babes to re-wash. Here’s a picture of that washed-but-not-washed fiber:

For my birthday, I took all the bits of hand combed top and put them though my drumcarder (Pat Green Deb’s Delicate Deluxe). The only reason I carded the already combed fiber was to even out the color; there had been some variation in the brown throughout the fleece and I wanted the final yarn to be even in color.

Here’s a picture of a big pile o’ carded batts:

A WORD ON MY CARDING TECHNIQUE: I must say upfront that I am no drumcarding expert. Despite reading everything I could get my hands on, and watching reputable videos of master carders, I struggled for quite awhile before I was able to card to my satisfaction. There are some important tips that most folks know: 1. card slowly….more slowly than you think you should. 2. don’t put too much fiber on the intake tray; you should be able to see through the fiber to the tray. I follow these tips religiously.

Now, most folks also suggest preparing the fiber before carding it. I’ve most often heard that the fiber should be opened or spread out sideways. I’ve tried this. It doesn’t seem to work for me; the fiber tends to buckle and tug as it moves from the intake tray under the lickerin drum. I hate that!

One day, I decided to draft my fiber LENGTHWISE, just as I do before I spin. Oh, what a difference! My fiber carded smoothly with absolutely no buckling. Now I use this pre-drafting technique all the time when I card.

BACK TO BABES: My goal is to spin up the rest of the fleece as I’d done before: some thin, some medium, some thick. I plan to make a shawl of the three yarns, using the thick yarn for the area directly over the shoulders, and then the medium yarn further out, and the thin yarn for a lovely lacey border.

Can I complete the shawl before June? That’s when I want it as a sample for a workshop I’ll be teaching at “Northern Wefts”, the Midwest Weavers Conference in Hancock, Michigan.

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