After ruining the first skein of laceweight by thwapping it around too hard (resulting in unpleasant little nubs where the angora “slipped loose” of the cashmere/silk blend), I’ve been leaning towards blending fibers together before spinning. If it were just the silk/wool, I’d be set–I have a pair of mini-combs, and I’m not afraid to use them. 🙂 But the angora has a fairly short staple, so blending them on combs has been difficult to impossible. If I want to blend them together, it will have to be on hand cards. And I’ve never managed to use hand cards successfully.
On the other hand, I *did* just get laid off, so I probably shouldn’t run out and buy that $300 drum carder ($370 by the time you add on the brush attachment and shipping)–and I don’t really have space for it, I’d only use it a couple times a year (if that), and even the Petite makes a much bigger batt than I want/need. Five or six ounces of fiber will do me for a year and a half, so getting a drum carder is absurd.
So, over the last few days, I spent some time thinking about the problem I had on the hand cards (fibers doubling back over onto themselves) and how a drum carder differs from hand cards. Then I started trying to duplicate the drum carder method on hand cards.
A drum carder works by having fiber picked up by a small drum and slowly transferred to a large drum. The secret is that the big drum rotates much faster than the small drum, so as the fibers come in contact with the large drum, they’re drawn off into a thin layer on the big drum, rather than staying as a giant wad of fiber. The small drum does two things: (1) it moves the fiber into contact with the big drum, and (2) it holds the fiber back, ever so slightly, so it tends to straighten as it winds onto the big drum. This tends to align the fibers so they lie mostly parallel.
Hand cards work in a somewhat similar way, with the top card picking up fiber from the bottom card, and the slight friction tending to straighten the fibers. However, there are two problems with hand cards that tend to result in fibers doubling back on themselves. The first is that, unlike in the drum carder, there is a good chance of picking up the fibers in the center or the far end when using hand cards. This is both because hands don’t have the precision of drum carder alignment (“you should just be able to fit a business card between the two drums”–that’s precise) and because the fibers in the top card often get caught back on the bottom card, which usually doubles them over.
The second problem is that hand cards aren’t continuous; it’s very hard to avoid loose fibers at top and bottom. These tend to get caught during the carding stroke, again producing doubled-over fibers. A drum carder doesn’t have this problem, for three reasons:
(1) the fibers are much better-embedded into the carding cloth after a pass on a drum carder (probably because the big drum rotates so much faster than the small drum),
(2) loose fibers get picked up by the small drum, rotated around, and redeposited on the big drum (instead of getting doubled over at the edge of hand cards)
(3) the carding cloth is continuous, meaning there are no edges to produce doubled fibers.
I’ve played around with various ways of using hand cards, including using the equivalent of a brush attachment: stroking the hand card with a brush between passes to push the fiber lightly into the carder. This works a lot better than conventional carding, but I still wasn’t really satisfied with the results…
…so I’m thinking of making a small drum carder to my own specifications. Or rather, a blending carder, which would just be one drum covered with carding cloth, equipped with a brush. I had thought about making a full carder with two drums, but since I’m working mainly with prepared fibers (combed bombyx, combed merino, and partially-combed angora), I think I can get away with just one. I’m blending, not carding.
The nice part about making my own would be getting a smaller carder that’s easier to store and handle. I figure a carder with a 4″ wide, 6″ diameter drum would be much better for my purposes than a bigger one (even the Petite)–I can do an experimental batt with much less fiber (important because I work with expensive and hard-to-find fibers), and I don’t want or need big batts because I spin very, very fine.
So I am seriously thinking about making an experimental drum of my own. It won’t be super-cheap, but a 6″ diameter drum requires about 20″ of carding cloth. At $5.75/inch, that’s a bit over $100, but since carding cloth runs 8″ wide, if I cut it in half, I’d only need $57 worth of carding cloth. That’s a lot cheaper than $374 for a Fricke Petite.
Of course, then I get the fun of trying to build my own drum carder with brush attachment. I’m still considering what I’d do for a cylinder, but am leaning towards some kind of hard foam–I can cast my own if I need to. If I can get an axle centered, then I have the basic part of the drum carder. From there, it’s just a matter of putting together the bearings and adding a crank to it. I think it’s probably possible to replace the flyer on my electric spinner (temporarily) with the little drum carder, which would save me lots of space, too.
The only question is whether it will work, and of course I won’t find that out until I can get some carding cloth. So I’ll probably order some on Monday.
I figure there’s about a 50-50 chance that it will actually work as intended, but if it does, it’ll be a lot cheaper and better than a full-size drum carder. If it doesn’t, then I’ll have learned a bit more about how carders work, and about how to design/build random tools, and what the heck, at least I’ll have been entertained for a few days. Since I’ve got some time off, that sounds like a good thing.
Meanwhile, today I’m going to work on turning one of my acrylic spindle whorls into an Akha-style spindle, since I’m trading it for some satin angora. It’s a very pretty whorl, crystal-clear acrylic with blue glitter on the outside, transparent hot pink seed beeds in the center, and a ring of silver beads along the outside to rim-weight it. It is unfortunately a bit too heavy for its size, but it will make a very pretty spindle nonetheless. Acrylic spindle whorls are tremendously fun–if you haven’t tried making them, you should. Mix the acrylic with the hardener, pour into molds, wait twenty minutes for the first layer to set, drop in your decorations, and fill the rest of the way. It’s like making candles with “treasures” embedded in them–and the results are beautiful.
Anyway, it’s also a beautiful day out, so I may go walking, too.