Wool Weather: for Fiber Folks

It’s a delightful challenge, to blend all sorts of fibers with a particular goal in mind. Working in my studio is like making soup in a kitchen brimming with fresh veggies, herbs and spices, except that the “staples” — like onions, potatoes, carrots, celery — are bright balls of merino wool; and the herbs and spices are silks, yak, camel, cashmere, Finn wool, CVM, kid mohair, Wensleydale… Just the names of the different fibers evokes abundance!
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Sometimes a theme will guide my selection of fiber: a winter sunset, thoughts of spring, the soft tones of a child’s little face… Other times my inspiration is a longing to explore pure color; or to work with a specific fiber, such as a downy, buff-toned alpaca fleece or fuzzy Finn wool or whimsical curly locks.
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I’m still learning how to craft batts, roving and rolags. Quality control is ongoing: I dissect my work in the
process of spinning and felting with it, analyzing the way it looks and works. My goal is a versatile, functional “art batt.” As I work, I see if there are layers of interesting color, sheen and texture; and how the amount and placement of merino in the batt functions in both wet felting, and in spinning — and then lightly felting — yarn.
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For many years, I worked as an illustrator, translating clients’ ideas into visible forms, developing logos, ads, posters, invitations, book illustrations…. Now, as a fiber artist, in addition to creating batts to use myself, I think I would also enjoy the challenge of crafting custom, thematic art batts for others to use for spinning and felting. What sorts of themes, goals, colors, joys, memories might be expressed via fiber — interpretations of others’ imaginations? How creative and challenging, to blend fiber to transform someone’s glimpse of an idea, and to conjure another person’s creative longing. I think it might feel like musical improvisation, or music that is commissioned. It would be a collaboration, although not shared in the moment as music may be. Knowing that the fibers I’ve chosen and blended would be used by another artist would be sweet…

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Published in: on January 29, 2014 at 2:11 am  Comments (3)  

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  1. Your batts look lovely. I am new to drum carding and I’m wondering how many times you need to, generally, run your wool through? I am finding that three times seems good for merino, but if I use alpaca or anything super fine, it seems to tangle up. Is there a trick to using the finer fibers? Thanks!

    • Hi Terri — Thank you so much for your comment and questions! I’m also quite new to drum carding. What kind of drum carder are you using? I’ve seen folks card finer fibers by sandwiching them between longer-staple fibers before feeding them through (although since you wish to card only alpaca, this info may not be very helpful to you…); however, my preferred way is to gently (don’t hurt your fingertips!) place shorter fibers directly onto the larger drum and let the drum carry them off my fingers. In this way, they do not get tangled or wind up on the small drum. I don’t know if this is a good way to card pure alpaca on a drum carder, but you might try it in a small batt. Use a very light touch and a small amount of fiber, so you don’t warp or damage your carder. Have you watched online videos? There are likely some that specifically show ways to card short fibers. It could be the kind of carder cloth on your drum carder — the finer ones are better for short, fine fiber; the problem might be the cloth on your drum carder: does it have long, coarse teeth? I’ve been running fibers through just one time, because my goal is highly textured art batts with dramatic color variations; and I apply a thin “base layer” of merino, for two reasons: first, it helps with removing the batt from the drum; and secondly, I use the batt either for wet felting, or to spin into yarn that I’ll lightly felt: the merino wool helps it felt. I’ve never carded pure alpaca. If I wanted smooth, evenly-blended fiber (maybe for spinning fine yarn or felting a heathered-looking item) I would run the batt through more than once. I think if you contact an alpaca farm that sells their own carded fiber and other products that they have first drum-carded, they could provide specific info to help you with using your drum carder to process pure alpaca. I’m interested to know the answer to your question. Please let me know what you find out! (p.s. After posting this reply, I found a blog post online that might be just what you’re looking to know: northstaralpacas.blogspot.com Their February 4, 2008 post is a pictorial about carding alpaca on a Strauch drum carder — she offers some great tips for dealing with short, fly-away, tending-to-tangle alpaca fibers!)

  2. Thanks so much for the reply and the link. I have an Ashford Wild Drum Carder. I didn’t make myself clear in my original note–I have not tried to spin batts entirely of alpaca; just had been adding in the shorter fibers to my marino to create more interesting batts. In spite of doing the sandwich technique, I still get clumps of fibers on occasion that I have to pick out. I will definitely check out the blog you indicated for tips and will also try adding the short fibers directly to the large drum, as you do. I love carding. There is something very satisfying about watching all those lovely fibers come together and creating a beautiful palette! Thanks again!


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