first things first

fiber prep.

one of the most important things i learned at SOAR was that fiber prep not only matters, but it also guides what sort of yarn you can get from your spinning.

fiber prep

there are two major kinds of fiber prep. you can do both at home, have either done at a small mill depending upon what equipment they have, or you can purchase commercial wool that has been processed in one of these manners.  the two ways to process wool are to comb the wool, which produces combed top or just top or to card the wool, which produces roving, sliver, or a batt.

carding: carding is done in one of three ways – hand cards, as pictured above, drum carder, or larger piece of machinery that is somewhat like a drum carder. here’s what the hand cards look like on the other side. although i plan to show you how to use hand cards here sooner or later, the main thing to understand about carded fiber is that the wool is brushed, but the fibers are not completely parallel and they contain some shorter pieces of wool still, called noils. in other words, they’re jumbled up a bit. if you want a smoothy smoothy yarn, this preparation is going to be working a bit against you.  the benefits of carded prep include the ability to trap heat, obtaining lots of loft, and it’s an affordable way to prepare fiber at home.

these are my samples spun from roving:
from roving
here’s a closer view.  click all sizes for an even better view.

combing: to make top at home, you need a set of wool combs, which i’ve yet to purchase. in this process, you comb out all of the short hairs and noils, leaving a very sleek, parallel tube of fiber.  i got to try this for the first time in one of my classes and quite enjoyed it.  the benefits of combing are high stitch definition, slicker, smoother wool, and top is a very nice smooth spin because all of the noils have been removed.

EDIT: i was reminded by lauren’s comment that i totally forgot one of the major benefits of combed top: wool spun from it is stronger and longer wearing. thanks lauren :)

here are my samples spun from top:
from top
and a closer view. click all sizes to see it even better.

so the question for the spinners out there is, what sorts of fiber prep have you tried?  any one in particular that you favor?  any roving or top (i.e. merino top, carded corriedale…) that you keep going back to again and again?

i might favor carded fiber just a bit.  you know me and the rustic woolie appeal ;) although smoothy drapey bfl is also pretty dang yummy…

12 thoughts on “first things first

  1. Well that’s a tough question!

    I loves me some combed top. I love it even more when I’ve done the combing myself, but combing in quantity takes a lot of time. I expect to spend a lot of time combing my Polworth fleeces to make a sweater for myself.

    I bought a drum carder for creating my warm woolens. My hats, my socks, my gloves and mittens. The thing that gives carded fiber the ability to trap warmth is air. A poofty carded batt has more air trapped in it, and in the yarn spun from it, than does combed top. Unfortunately, that means it pills more too. This is fine for yearly disposables, or soft fuzzy baby items, but it’s less than fine for a sweater that you want to take years of abuse (I abuse my sweaters thanks).

    Most of what we buy for dyeing, or already hand dyed, is top, although it’s marketed as “Roving” which is a pretty generic term these days. I’ve fallen head over teakettle for this South African Fine Top I got from Amy at Spunky Eclectic. It’s super soft and smooshy!


  2. I’m with you. I like the carded fiber. I love spinning from batts. Top, not so much. I learned to spin on a wheel first then recently I learned on a spindle and prefer the fibers to be carded. It’s easier for me to draft.

    I bought a small drum carder a year ago and I finally have it in production! LOVE IT!

  3. I took a spinning class this summer and tried rolags, drum carded batts, combed top, and a cloud preparation. I liked them all! I found the batts were the easiest to spin for me. I liked the “uneven” results in the yarn. But, I’ll admit that combed merino top was pretty gorgeous.

    I just spun up some targhee from Paradise Fibers. They have two preparations and I used the smoother one. It is totally divine! Super soft and easy to spin.

    I love you blog, Cosy!

  4. I must say, I love me a jumbled up carded batt, especially when spinning for an instant grat project like a hat or scarf. I do prefer combed top if my intention is to spin a large quantity at an even gauge, like for a larger project, but that’s not very often. I’m definitely in the rustic camp for most of my fiber prep. Sometimes I pass up carding altogether and just fluff up a pile of locks, kind of like tossing a salad and then spin straight from that.
    Beautiful yarns, Cosy…seems like you had an awesome time at SOAR!

  5. I just worked on handcarding my own fiber for the first time this week- while fun and interesting I know I prefer combed top. I just can’t resist smooth, even yarn.

  6. I like to spin top. Roving, batt, rolag, etc… not so much. I do not own combs, and I usually buy my fibre already prepared.

    I enjoy spinning top primarily for the experience of spinning it. I do like resulting yarns, but the main appeal is that I (at least in my mind) have total control of the fibres and what they are doing. Each fibre is my subject, and I am the supreme and omnipotent master. I forget what word it was the you once used to describe me while I’m spinning: attentive? obsessive? barking mad? (ok, that’s two words.)

  7. I enjoy lots of variety. I do a little of everything, so I’m not awesome at anything, but I appreciate the differences between each type of fiber.

    If I had to choose, it would be the carded fibers. That may be because I’m better at preparing my own carded fibers rather than combed fibers. I like their fluffy airy quality too. In fact, I just got a set of REAL handcarders this weekend and a flick-carder, so I’m very excited to finally have the right tools for the job.

  8. I learnt the same stuff from Maggie at SOAR and I have to say, now that I know how to card properly, I’ll be carding more. And drum carding, when I get one!

    Although, saying that, if I’m buying fibre, then I prefer tops.

  9. I have to say, I like a nice combed top. The little bits and noils and inconsistencies so often present in a true woollen just drive me insane (a bit obsessive here).

    If I want a more woollen-style yarn I tend to spin tops with a semi-woollen draft or from the fold, I’m usually happy with the bounce and warmth I get from that.

    That being said, when I can get really good carded prep, (or can be bothered doing it myself), prep with no noils or uneven bits, then spinning longdraw is awesome! Commercially prepared stuff most often doesn’t cut it though in my experience.

  10. Pingback: a new way to spin « cosymakes

  11. I also like variety. (and being late to the party, apparently.) I’m such a spinning neophyte that it’s all good, for the most part, as far as I’m concerned. I do have to say I loved spinning from dyed locks of cotswold and can’t wait to do that again. I’m going to be doing some wine bags as gifts and I think I’ll use some dyed locks to make the yarn.

    I have hand-carded and like it. I like carding to blend fibers as well. I just got a hackle and haven’t quite figured it out yet. It has potential, but all the waste bothers me and I’m not quite sure what to do with it.

    Would love to try drum-carding at some point as well as combing.

    As to preps I prefer, it depends on what I’m spinning for. I’ve been defaulting to three ply fingering to sport weight lately and that seems to work best with a combed prep. Like I said, though, I’ve got a lot to learn yet.

  12. Pingback: a new purpose | cosymakes

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