Thursday, January 29, 2015

Blending fibers with a drumcarder, Part 1

As some of you may know (gee, I hope more than some!) I've been writing occasional articles for Yarnmaker magazine. This is a wonderful little magazine published quarterly and it is always full of interesting tidbits from the UK and around the world. This is my first article for them, published back in 2012. Some spelling/terminology is British English. I just hope I can find the correct photos to include.....

Blending Fibers on a Drumcarder

     There are a number of basics to consider when blending fiber as you want to reduce wear and tear on the equipment and operator. The choice of fibers to blend is Step One. An old basic rule of blending is “animal with animal and plant with plant”. For a smooth even blend, choose fibers of similar lengths and qualities. For example, Merino wool and silk top work well because the length, thickness and softness are similar, while Merino and a silk hanky pulled into roving form will not work well due to the extremely long silk fibers. The Long Wool breeds (Romney, Border Leicester, etc) work well with mohair because the thickness (micron count) and staple length are similar. Adding soft fiber like cashmere to a harsh wool will not soften the blend; the harsh wool will still feel harsh in the spun yarn and it is likely that the much shorter cashmere will clump up and form neps in the blend. Fibers should not be so long that they wrap around the drum of a carder.

     Step Two is fiber preparation. The more prepared your fiber is, the less work for the operator and the less wear on your equipment. Raw wool needs to be clean; any lanolin left in the fleece will adhere to the card cloth and become sticky, attracting dirt and fiber which is difficult to remove. Clean dry fleece (wool, alpaca, llama, chiengora, etc.) will need to be picked apart and fluffed, removing vegetable matter (VM) and nepps/second cuts in the process.

I like to run the picked fleece through the carder once or twice to open it further and allow me to see any VM/nepps that I missed in the picking process. Combed tops and slivers should be split lengthways if necessary, and attenuated before carding because they have usually become compressed after mill processing and packaging for shipment. This process yields a more open length of fiber that will reduce fiber clumping on the carder drums and allow a more even distribution of fiber.


     For textured blends, I usually find a way to break the rules for a smooth blend. Choosing short yak fibers (1.27 to 0.63 cm) and longer Merino (5 to 7.6 cm) fiber stays within the animal/animal rule and softness rule, but breaks the length rule. Wool (animal) and linen (plant) of a similar thickness and length makes a crisp yet warm yarn. Long staple cotton and alpaca is another warm-yet-crisp blend. Wool and silk noil yields a nice tweed. One of my favorite blends is Merino (soft, animal, 5-7 cm staple length), angelina (soft, man-made, 5-7 cm staple length) and silk noil (soft, animal, 0.63 cm staple). What a great glittery tweed yarn it makes!

Part 2 coming soon!