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. 

1 comment:

  1. thanks for the advice, ;o) love your art, talented….
    have a sore shoulder from hand carding 2 hours a day
    seriously thinking about an electric carder