As I sat in front of the Weavers Shed at the Louisiana Renaissance Festival (LARF.) I could be seen taking handfuls of raw wool and turning them into what looked like a big fluffy ball. When I was asked what I was doing I would reply “I am carding the wool.” Which would almost always, lead to the next question I would get asked. “What is carding”? Well the short form of the answer is you take a lock of wool, run it across some form of sorting device which then removes the tangles and debris from the fiber and get the fiber going in the same direction. In practice it is a little harder than that.
I guess the first step to answering the question “What is Carding?” is to look at some of the materials you will be using. The first thing we need to look at is the wool that will be carded. Recently we did a historical re-enactment of how spinning was done in the 16th century at the Louisiana Science Fiction and Costume Convention. We demonstrated how to spin wool on a spinning wheel, how to use a loom, and how to card wool. The wool we used came from a specific breed of sheep called a Gulf Coast. The wool came from a friend who is on cast at the LARF. She has quite a few sheep and we were able to procure the fleece from one of them. In this form the wool does not really look as if much thread can come from the lock. Sort of looks like a matt of hair you might find on a dog, but out of this can come quite a bit of thread once the spinning process is done
So now that we got the raw material to process the next thing you will need is something called a carding paddle. Actually you will need two, one for each hand. If you are wondering what they look like I have added a picture below of the carding paddles I used. They are a set from John Day Woodworking. As you can see in the picture the hand carders look a lot like the brushes you use for pets. Well they are very close. If you look at the metal teeth you will see they are angled where the typical pet brush has metal teeth that are straight as you can somewhat see in this picture of a Flick Carder.
Next question you might be asking is what is the difference between a hand carder and a flick carder. Well for hand carders you usually use two paddles and for a flick carder you normally use it by itself. On a flick carder you put the lock of wool in the flick carder and then flick either the flick carder or the lock of wool (it is a matter of personal preference) up to open the lock of wool up a little. Can you use a hand carder as a flick carder? Yes you can, but the flick carder is smaller and easier to work with
As you can see the teeth are all angled a certain way. This is to help straighten the wool out when it is carded, the teeth will hook into the wool and help pull the strands apart from each other. So how do you card wool? Well you need to place a little washed wool on one of the carding paddles. Then you take a paddle in each hand and pull them apart It will take multiple passes to get the wool in a good enough state where most of the fibers inside the wool are pulled apart enough to create a rolag. A good tip is to place the wool on the carding paddle that has the strands of fiber running the same way you are carding the wool. Once you have a rolag, then the wool is ready to be used to spin a thread of wool on either a drop spindle or a spinning wheel.
So now you know the answer to the question “What is Carding.” If you have any further questions feel free to contact us for help. If you do plan on carding your own wool you might want to make sure you have a pretty decent amount carded before you begin spinning. Depending on how fast you spin, it is possible to card for a few hours and only have an hour or so of spinning. Personally, I have more fun carding for some reason. I guess it was because I could directly interact with the children when we do the demonstrations. I really enjoy watching their faces when they get to touch the locks and even let some of them help card the wool.
If you like this post there is a follow up post at
An Introduction to Carding Wool
If you would like to learn how to card I can recommend starting with The Ashford Book of Carding: A Handspinners Guide.