The Tools, Part One
Are You Ready for Some Prepping?
Have you taken the plunge and bought a fleece, or gotten your hands on some washed locks, or maybe a friend gave you some plant fiber … but you aren’t sure what to do next? Grab your favorite beverage and read on. Playing/creating with fiber is like any craft, having tools – preferably the right tools makes for better outcomes. As there are different types and characteristics to fibers, there are also tools that work better for those differences in fibers. Generally when you know your fiber – sheep, alpaca, yak, cotton, flax, you will learn if the fibers are short, or extremely long; fine or coarse; crimpy or straight. (You can check online or in a breeds book to learn the characteristics of your fiber.) This information will guide you to the better tool for prepping your fiber to spin and/or use for your project. This article will primarily explore carders and combs, but will also briefly explain a picker as well.
Some important information to keep in mind as you are prepping your fiber. First, tools will last longer if the fiber is clean, or if wool is washed. Second, designate your tools. If you use them for wool, don’t use them for cotton or plant fibers. Wool and cotton especially are mutually opposed to one another – meaning they are natural enemies with regards to breaking each other down. Third, it also helps to know if you’re spinning what orientation you want the fibers to be. Woolen or worsted prep. Fibers in a woolen preparation go every which way and trap air for a lighter, fluffier yarn if you’re spinning or wanting the fiber for needle art work. With a worsted prep, the fibers are all running parallel. The yarn will be smoother and denser. Lastly, pay attention to your tools when you are using them. They can bite you if you’re not careful.
Now let’s explore the tools. Flickers or Pet brushes, I use these to open both ends of a lock. It makes carding and combing work smoother. They are light tools and easy to use. Pickers are a tool designed to open up locks also. It’s a large tool and some varieties require set up. The process is rough on wool in my opinion. I tend to only use a picker when I have a large project; am going to use my drum carder to prep batts for spinning; and I’m making rugs, slippers, or socks. They do make the work of opening locks go quickly. And once set up, easy to use. Carders are used to produce a woolen preparation. There are hand carders and drum carders. Hand carders are usually wooden paddles that are covered with a pad and sharp pins mounted closely together to “card” the wool and make rolags. The closer the pins, the finer the fiber can be used. (They look similar to a larger dog hair brush.) Carders can be used to prepare fiber for spinning, for needle felting, or even blending dyed locks or combining various fibers. Shorter wools may work better with hand carders. Note: wool hand carders are made slightly differently than cotton hand carders, but the process of carding is basically the same. A drum carder is a larger tool and more expensive. It generally has two drums and an area to feed in the wool. There is a handle to turn the drums. A batt is produced in the woolen prep, but you can use much more wool and create a larger amount of ready to spin, blended, or prepared fiber for felting. With any tool you need to be respectful of it, but especially with combs. Combs have long, sharp tines. They can be dangerous if one is not careful. Combs are generally used for finer, more luxurious wool. Combing produces a worsted preparation. The combs are designed to have all the fibers going the same direction. It leaves the longer fibers while the shorter, broken fibers, and imperfections are left to discard.
My next article will include some finer details on how I use these tools. I don’t have a favorite – except when it’s the tool in my hand(s) 😉