Carding wool with a drum carder

From September 2009

There are many methods for getting a job done, and this is my way of drum carding a wool fleece. The wool is Romney, a medium wool, with locks ~5″ long, shades of gray with reddened, sunburnt tips. The tips are sound (meaning they don’t crumble into mush when twisted between my fingers) so I won’t cut them off – I like the subtle shading they add to the finished yarn and keep weathered tips like these whenever I can.

Wool fleece, unless it is very clean, will be full of tiny flecks of stuff (VM, dirt, grit, powdered poo, etc.) so it’s a good idea to pick and card outside or at least in a well-ventilated room. A dust mask is a good idea, too – remember that many of our ancestors died from congested lungs from working with wool and other fibers.

First, gather your equipment –

My drumcarder is a Strauch Petite and the accessories are, from left to right: doffer, dabber brush, and a knuckle-saving batt picker. I don’t have the special brush attachment. Canine supervisor and MP3 player are optional.

Next gather your wool –


Laying on the carder is a handful that has been picked, which is just a fancy word for pulling the locks apart with your hands, letting any loose VM fall to the floor. To the left is a handful of washed locks. Some people drum card raw wool, but I find that it just gums up the carder and is gritty to spin so I prefer to wash first, card and then spin.

Continue to tease apart locks until the platform is full, and then start slowly turning the crank clockwise –

The wool will be caught by the smaller drum and fed onto the larger drum. Any fibers that get stuck in the smaller drum are garbage, so don’t worry if you get a bit of build-up there – it’s the job of that smaller drum to filter out short bits and large VM pieces that you missed while picking.

As the wool feeds onto the large drum you may notice bits of short fibers sticking out from the drum –

Pull these off and discard. The beauty of cranking slowly is that you can remove any imperfect strands and VM that the carder sorts out for you.

Periodically use the dabber to smooth the fibers down into the larger drum –

This will allow you to get more wool onto the drum, creating larger batts, as well as smoothing things along so you can get away with making fewer passes through the carder.

All smooth now –

Continue feeding picked fiber into the carder, moving it to the left or right to evenly fill up the larger drum. When the teeth are full –

It’s time to take the batt off for another pass through. Use the batt picker and pull up about an inch of wool at a time where the carding cloth has a gap –

Some people use an old metal knitting needle, but I find that I end up with skinned knuckles that way. Continue across until the whole gap has been exposed and the batt is loose to the right –

Grab the batt in one hand –

And slowly pull it free of the larger drum. It will fluff up amazingly –

It already looks pretty smooth, and maybe you like your yarn with a bit of “character” and can stop carding now. I prefer to run my wool through twice, and here’s how I do the next pass:

First, use the doffer to pull any fibers off the larger drum that didn’t peel off with the main batt –

This little bit of wool can be run through the carder again. Use the doffer to clean off the smaller drum, too, discarding that wool.

Now you’re ready to begin again.

Split the batt in half down the middle –

And then split one half into narrow strips, about 2″ wide –

Feed these strips into the carder, one by one, working from one side to the other as the cloth fills up –

Once all of the strips have been fed in (again, pull off any short fibers that show up and remove any VM that the larger drum picks out) it’s time to use the dabber one last time to smooth everything out and remove the finished batt. As before, pick the batt apart at the gap in the carding cloth and grasp the loose end in one hand –

But this time, keep the ends nice and neat, bunching them towards the center to roll off a compact batt –

Roll the batt tightly against the carding cloth, keeping it as compact as possible. Turn the handle as required to keep things moving along.

The finished batts store very nicely in a paper grocery sack –

Don’t forget to clean both drums before starting your next batt –

And that’s all there is to it!

To spin from a drum carded batt, simply unroll it, tear off a strip about 2″ wide and start spinning from one end. Some people like to pull the fibers through a diz to make a long strand of roving. Spinner’s choice!

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