Getting Ready to Card
A drum carder works best if you feed it a small amount of fiber at a
time - or, better yet, thin layers of fiber. If you attempt to feed a
carder too much fiber at once, you may jam the machine, bend its teeth
and/or tear the fibers. With wool and other fairly long fibers, this
means that it's usually a good idea to start by fluffing up the fibers
to eliminate thick clusters. Many spinners use a picker in this
time consuming but important process, while others open the clusters of
fiber by hand. Both of these methods work well.
The First Round
As with hand cards, I consider the first carding round to be a
preparatory step, and I let the equipment do the teasing. Because the
main objects of teasing are to prevent damage to the fiber and the card
clothing, to promote a smoother end product, and to make carding easier,
here's how to tease without working yourself into a lather. Instead of
feeding unteased fibers through the feeding chute - where jams often
occur - lay them directly onto the main drum from the top, where you can
see what is happening at every moment. Grasp a small handful of fiber or
a couple of good-sized locks. Hold them firmly, and allow a few fibers
to begin catching in the teeth as you turn the drum. Let the fibers be
pulled gradually from your hand, being careful to keep your knuckles
away from the teeth. (The fibers will not feed in gradually if the wool
has been abused in washing, and has become tangled or felted so that it
is hard to pull apart.) It's alright if a small cluster escapes your
hand,but if a large one gets away, stop the machine, back it up (if
necessary), and redistribute the fibers. After a few of these episodes,
you will learn how large a cluster your carder can handle fiber, they
become less efficient. When full, they are unable to process additional
How much is too much?
Each type of carder can efficiently
handle a different amount of fiber. The capacity depends on the drum
size and the length of the teeth. However, you can see when loaded
clothing is reaching its capacity. You need enough tooth exposure to
pick and and comb incoming fibers. You can also feel and hear when the
clothing becomes too full: the handle will turn with difficulty, even though no
new fiber is being added, and you'll hear a muffled, rubbing sound.
If you handle your wool gently, it will often remain in identifiable
locks. These can be pulled from the masses and opened before carding.
When feeding directly onto the main drum, grasp locks firmly by their
cut ends. Allow the teeth of the drum to tease the locks open before you
let the fibers escape to be carded.
Here's a suggested grip for the crank: two fingers and a thumb. If you
can't turn the handle easily with this arrangement, you are probably
trying to force too much fiber through at once. Stop and regroup. If a
clump of fiber escapes your hand, don't force it through the carder.
Reverse immediately and remove the excess. If you feel the machine
jamming, don't force the handle. Reverse the drum until you see the
offending clump of fiber and pull it off. (Because electric carders are
more relentless in their operation than hand cranked carders, and jams
are harder to prevent of back out of, you need to be much more careful
when introducing fiber during this stage.) Be careful not to feed fibers
in sideways, thinking they will straighten out. They eventually will,
but only after they have been torn by the teeth.
To remove a batt from the swift, slide a
rod along the seam in the carding cloth, under the wool, and pull upon
successive small sections until the batt is open all the way across.
These signals occur either when the entire drum is full, or when one
part of the clothing has been overloaded - in either case, it is time to
remove the fiber from the drum.