Blending with a drum carder

I don’t do a lot of fiber prep work, generally, but I can be coaxed into it if the project is relatively small. (Larger projects – anything more than 1 pound, really – are sent to professionals.) However, I’ve been doing a little blending at home and wanted to show you how I make fibers for spinning sock yarn.

The hardware:

That’s a doublewide, motorized, Strauch’s Finest carder. Back in the day, I had wanted to get either a Strauch Finest or a Pat Green Supercard for the versatility (coarse to fine fibers), speed, and mechanical quality. I watched the used equipment sources and sprang for the one that came up first. I have no regrets about buying this, although I sometimes still wonder about the Supercard. (That and a right-flyer Wyatt Pegasus – why don’t they ever show up on the used equipment sites?!? LOL.)

The one limitation of this carder is very fine, hand-scoured fibers. (It particularly hated carding this type of wool.) I love the motor (2 hands free for feeding fiber), but because it is single speed, it tends to stretch and sproing or tear fine fibers. Someday, I will haul it to an electrician have a variable-speed motor installed. (Meanwhile, I comb everything that doesn’t card well.) Interestingly, the carder does very nice work with commercial fibers of infinite fineness, and I can card Merino and silk into batts and not have any trouble at all, as you will see shortly.

My carder is pretty old, made by Fricke in the 1980s (I think), and it was not quite functional when it got to me because the drums would slide around. I called Otto Strauch, who recommended that I send it to him for specific upgrades (new aluminum blocks to hold the drums, upgrade of the carding cloth on the licker-in and main drum). However, when I learned that he was in Virginia, my heart sank – I was a graduate student at the time, and I had already paid a ton of money to ship this gigantic, motorized monster. If I had to ship the carder 2 more times, it probably would have meant eating only ramen and cabbage for several months.

But Otto to the rescue! To save me the $X00 of shipping costs, he had me drop it off with his brother (who lived only 1 hr away from me in north Jersey!). Otto drove up from Virginia, drove the carder back to his workshop, and later that summer came back to New Jersey and let me know when I could pick it up. He didn’t know me from a stranger, and he did all of that in the name of customer service and because he is a hell of a nice guy. That’s one of the kindest things a stranger ever did for me – I’ll never forget it. He also gave me (gratis) all the little tools and niceties that come with a new carder (batt picker, cleaning brushes, etc).

So – back to blending! This is the starting fiber – superwash wool (left) and tussah silk (right), both from Spunky Eclectic.

I chose these fibers because I must have socks in superwash wool. Before I knew better, I once made a pair of socks out of handspun, nonsuperwash wool, and I got to wear them twice before they shrank into dwarf socks. I like to use silk instead of nylon for reinforcement. The colorways are similar, but not too similar – the wool has more brown, the silk has more blue.

I measured ~8 g of wool by pulling puffs off the end of the top. This opens up the fiber and prepares it for blending.

I topped off with silk to a final weight of 10 g. (I was aiming for a final proportion of wool/silk of somewhere between 75/25 and 80/20, which is similar to the ratio of wool/nylon in commercial sock yarns.)

For the first pass, I like to apply the fiber directly to the main drum by gently resting the fiber on the drum and letting it slide over the teeth as it turns. I’ve tried feeding it under the licker-in, but it seems more tangle prone during the first pass, probably because I let too much roll onto the main drum at once.

My carder doesn’t have the built-in brush, but a wallpaper brush from the hardware store has worked well for me. I pressed lightly but firmly on the drum as it turned.

I applied alternating layers of wool and silk until I ran out of fiber. Because I was processing only 10 g, I kept everything close to the edge of the drum and tried not to spread it out too far.

After that batt was removed, I easily could see that the fibers were not blended completely. Too much silk (shiny) on this side:

Too much wool (matte) on the other side:

I wasn’t aiming for a completely homogeneous blend, but I didn’t want globs of pure silk and separate pockets of wool. I split the batt into 3 parts, and this time, I fed each one under the licker-in. It will not tangle at this stage.

If too much fiber seemed to be going on the drum at once, I stopped the carder and fluffed the fiber that still was on the loading tray. I also tap-tap-tapped the licker-in with the brush (straight down to the licker-in but moved toward the drum as I lifted) to coax any stray fibers back to the main drum. Generally, when carding commercial top, I try as much as possible to keep the fibers straight and maintain the original worsted prep (but now with more air!).

For this ratio of fibers, I usually get a pretty even blend in 2 passes. Note also that I have no snarled areas and almost no wasted fiber (some sticks to the drum when I doff the batt, a little bit sticks to the wallpaper brush). The front and back of the batt looked pretty similar, so I declared this batt finished!

The color gradations are subtle but still evident. It’ll blend even more with spinning and plying. Each batt is slightly different and thus retains some of the character of the original fibers.

If it’s blended too many times, it appears as a single color (optical mixing). I try to stop before that happens.

15 thoughts on “Blending with a drum carder

  1. So neat. Would you mind sharing some of the used equipment sites one could find drumcarders on? :) I totally have no business looking for one, but I sure like to pretend I do.

  2. Something arrived broken when I got my Petite, and the way he handled the exchange was just so lovely– what a lovely man. I love that Otto Strauch! He lived with his wife in Highland Park (where I was at the time) while she was finishing up a Master’s at RU (also there too), it was so cool to have something in common with such a neat person. And your carder is a nice testament to his products- over 20 years old and still functioning perfectly.

  3. Wow, your silk blend of a few days back got me planning more carding projects. It’s dye garden season and everything white in the house is at risk, plus there are dyed rovings from last year. I bought some of Carol Lee’s sock roving and I’ll need to be blending that too – the nylon is all on the side and gets a fraction of the color from natural dyes. So much fun, so little time.

  4. Otto is one of the nicest people I have ever met. He is great! When I was looking for a motorized carder he was with me on the phone at least 2 hours. At the end he said: Get a Supercarder! Have you tried pulling roving out of the carder? it is super easy to do with a diz. There is a YouTube video just up. I love to do it that way. Saves time in fiber preparation pre-spinning.

  5. Thanks for all the info. As usual, beautifully written, exquisitely clear and pictures too! Lovely batts, can’t wait to see the sock yarn. Those are the two carders that I’m torn between. But I can’t seem to come to any final decision.

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