Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Drum Carder – Do You Need One?

After the tutorial on using the hand carders, it is time to talk about drum carders.  Even with the large hand carders, I found that when I was preparing wool for large paintings (see the Tutorials on Wool Painting and Provincetown)  or when preparing rolags for class kits, I had to card many rolags at a time.  One evening, I spent 4 hours carding rolags for the class kits for a workshop I was teaching the next day.  It took until midnight to card all the colors needed for the class.  After that I started thinking about how to card more wool at one time than was possible with hand carders.  I looked at hand-crank drum carders for a long time and was shocked at the prices, even for small ones.  To see a range of drum carders available go to this link - http://www.pacificwoolandfiber.com/Drum%20Carders.htm.  Most people will find what they need in one of these. 
I knew I was serious about needle felting and have many more ideas to create that I haven’t even done yet, so a carding machine  was at least as important as choosing a sewing machine (which cost thousands nowadays).   I chose one and was ready to purchase it but had the nagging feeling I would be disappointed after spending all that money.  I shopped on ebay but still the cost was over $400 and, knowing me, I would outgrow it almost immediately.  It’s like anything else, if you get the lowest price item, you will wish you paid a little more and got what you really wanted.  So I waited some more.
Then I started looking at the larger ones, around $700 and envisioned myself turning the crank, feeding in the raw wool, and wishing I had a third hand, still too much money.  Then I said to myself, in a perfect world, if I had money to burn, which one would I get?  I started looking at the motorized ones – over $1000 for a small one!!   If only I had married a rich husband, I wouldn’t be in this quandary.  Of course, if I had a real job, that pays a real salary, I wouldn’t have the time nor energy to be a fiber artist at all, would I?  And I wouldn’t need a drum carder.  After an episode of “Artist Guilt” I waited some more. 
Then I found the Fancy Kitty Company, who hand builds different kinds of drum carders for individual customers.  Here is a link to their website:  http://www.fancykitty.com/index.html.  I was told that it would take 4 weeks to build once I ordered and that gave me time to save up the money.  The prices were almost half of what drum carders cost elsewhere and they are as good or better.  I settled on the Big Tom, with its 12 inch drum as opposed to the 7 inch ones I was first considering.  And I got the motorized one – the best!!!  Here is a picture of me with my new toy.  It arrived in 5 days.  I could hardly sleep the first night, I was so excited!!!  Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything to card the day I got it. 

Finally, I got some raw fleeces at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival (any readers going this year?  I’ll be there for a class on Thursday – look for my artwork in the Fine Arts Display).  I washed it and set up my fantastic Big Tom Drum Carder and got to work.  I was shocked at how much fleece expands and softens when carded into batts.  The batt shown here is a Suri Alpaca and I dyed it cloud colors for my Skyscape series in the future.  I ended up with 2 piles of batts, about 2 feet high and each one was 18’ x 36” from my one alpaca bagful.  I wish I had taken a picture.  This photo shows 1 undyed batt and the rest dyed and condensed from the dye process. 

 This machine has carded all types of fibers, from fine to course, and there hasn’t been anything I’ve asked it to do that it can’t do even small amounts or large amounts. 

Following are the tutorials:
1.      Begin with washed fleece, ready to card.  I also bought the teaser board, to untangle locks and chunks so they would feed more easily into the drum carder.  You can see the locks before and after pulling them through the teaser board.  This is mounted to my table with C clamps.  I usually sit at the table, tease the fibers, then place them on the running carding machine while watching a movie on my laptop nearby. 

2.      After preparing the locks, lay them in a single layer on the platform in front of the small drum, or Licker-in.  This carder has two motors, one for the Licker-In and one for the Swift (large drum).  Turn the switch to the on position on both drums and slowly turn the dials to the speed you want each to run.  I like a slow Licker-in and a fast Swift speed so that the fibers are able to separate and align more uniformly on the drum.

3.      Keep feeding in thin, single layers of fiber into the Licker-in until the teeth on the Swift look full of wool.  Each carder has a brush that helps the fiber load onto the swift evenly, but I also use my little pet brush to smooth out any chunks of wool that I see swirling around on the swift. 

4.      When the Swift looks full, stop both motors on the machine. 

      Take a wooden Doffer Stick or knitting needle and run along the metal seam of the Swift to get under the fiber and pull it apart.

5.      Gently move the Swift backwards as you pull off the carded batt.  It will appear much larger off the Swift than on it.

6.      After pulling all the fiber off the Swift, gently clean both drums with a pet brush to get all the remaining fibers off so they don’t get carded into the next batch.  You can eliminate this step if you are carding the same color or fibers again.  If you don’t clean it off, those fibers will muddy the colors of your next carding project.

7.      Enjoy your 18” x 36” fleece!!!

 Next time – blending fibers with the drum carder. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Blending Fibers with Hand Carders

The following tutorial on blending fibers and colors was taken from my book, "The ART of Machine Needle Felting" published by Tacony, the makers of the Babylock Embellisher.  In the photos I am using Ashford Hand carders that I purchased from a local wool shop.  To see more examples of hand carders, click on the following link, http://www.spinnerschoice.com/Hand%20Carders.htm.  I also recommend purchasing the book, "The Ashford Book of Carding" by Jo Reeve because complete instructions and pictures are given for carding different fibers for different reasons.  This information is written for spinners to prepare their wool for spinning but it applies to machine needle felters as well.  I would not be able to get the detail in my work I can get without this information and preparation before I begin.  As far as size is concerned, I recommend the large size of these carders as opposed to pet brushes.  Although the pet brushes do work for some carding, you can only card small amounts at a time which makes it difficult to prepare enough fiber in advance for your work. 

This first photo shows a mixture of blue Merino, (a soft, thin, long wool fiber) with Firestar Trilobal Nylon (a shiny, man-made fiber).  I didn't card it much so you can still see the separation of colors.  More or less carding will blend the fibers into new colors or maintain some of the original colors.

Merino and Firestar Trilobal

This next photo shows a mixture of Merino wool fibers with Angelina fibers, also shiny and man-made. 

Merino and Angelina

I think I put a little white silk fiber in as well, because I was making up rolags for my winter scene at the top of the Skies Over Lancaster Quilt that Tacony now owns.  I wanted the sky to look like a cold, icy mist in front of the sun, so I blended these together really well so you couldn't see the differences in fiber texture in the rolags but they can be seen when felted on the picture itself. 

Winter River Sky

Next I used the very coarse and crumbly Peace Fleece to create the autumn foliage in the second scene in the quilt:

Before Carding

After Carding

Skies Over Lancaster Quilt

 I also like to blend two different types of fibers that are the same or very close in color.  That way I get the best of both fibers.  For example, Merino wool is very plentiful, easy to find and inexpensive but it takes all day to felt away the thin and bald spots it leaves because it is so fine.  If I mix it with a short, fluffy, matte finish fiber, the area being felted fills in much quicker and I can even use the Merino as a top layer for it's luster and sheen.  That is what I did to create the Santa Fe medallions for the class sample:


Santa Fe Quilt

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and I will tackle the Carding Machine next time.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Hand Carding Wool Roving

I thought that it would be best to talk about hand carding before presenting machine carding so the logic would make sense.  What is hand carding and what does it mean for a needle felter?  The following post is an exerpt from my book, "The ART of Machine Needle Felting" and is an important preparatory step for successful work.  Otherwise, your work might look like creative dryer lint, if your wool was not prepared properly by carding.  I find I need to card my beautiful, carded merino roving after storage in a plastic bin.  After the bin has been raked through and the wool handled, the outside surface begins to felt a little and  the fibers need to be opened up again.  Without carding it is difficult to pull off thin wisps of wool from the stored roving, which is the secret to the Non-Dryer-Lint-Look.

Alpaca Fibers Carded into Rolags

There are so many exciting fibers available to felters it’s hard to know where to begin.  Some are short fibers, some are very long; some are curly, some are hairy, some are fluffy and some are smooth.  How do you tame these different fibers into being held under the needles to be felted? 

 By Hand Carding. 

Carding Paddles are sold in pairs and can be found wherever spinning and knitting items are sold, so they are pretty easy to find.   The large Hand Carding paddles work the best because you can card up several rolags (rolls of carded fiber) quickly and easily and stack them up before each project. You can also use pet brushes for this method as well.   This makes an unbelievable difference in how smoothly your felting will progress, not to mention the ease the felting needles will have punching the layers.  You don't have to make rolags after carding, but it sure helps to keep the wool organized and ready on your table and then stored back in the plasic bin without the fibers getting tangled.
Before Carding
After Carding

Carding transforms the fibers and brings out their natural beauty.  Even a rough fleece looks beautiful after having been carded into rolags and the process is very easy to learn.
1.     Place the Carding Paddles on your lap with the handles facing outward.

2.     Take small, thin chunks of fiber and lay them across the brush on your left lap.

3.     Holding the fibers down with your left hand, begin brushing sideways in one direction   (toward the right) with your right paddle.

4.     Brush carefully and slowly several times in one direction.  Don’t grind the teeth into one another, just brush lightly.

5.     Transfer the fiber from the left paddle on to the right paddle.

6.     Transfer the fibers from the right paddle back onto the left paddle and repeat the combing process.

7.     Keep combing and transferring the fibers from carder to carder until you have combed through all sides and the fibers are very fluffy and separated.

8.     You are now ready to roll up your first rolag.

9.     Begin folding the fibers in from the outside edge of the carder and tightly roll with your fingers.

10.     Roll up several times across the brush, lifting and rolling, so that the rolag will stay rolled when you put it aside on the table.  Make enough rolags for your chosen project. 

Next time - blending fibers and colors with Hand Carders