Recently my friend Mary Ellen made reference to the happiness that can come from purchasing something new. Not just anything, but think about when you were a kid and spent months saving up allowance for something really special. I remember spending about a year saving up for my first stereo, and I loved it from the first day I had it. It seems like something changed, either from childhood to adult life, or in our culture since then. Now it's more likely that Ill spending months paying off a previous purchase, instead of saving up for the future. The last thing I saved up for was my spinning wheel about ten years ago.
Unlike many spinner I only own one wheel. I do have some extra flyers, 3 sets of hand cards, and 2 sets of combs, but they were all acquired over 5 years ago, and one of the sets of carders was used and practically free.
So when a very slightly used drum carder came up for sale by a member of my guild, I decided that now might just be the time for a new equipment purchase. I didn't save up, but I'm counting this as my up-coming Christmas money, well spent. After spending about 3 years hand carding wool for my purple sweater set, I think it's high time I treat myself to this lovely time saver.
Behold, the Fancy Kitty Kitten Drum Carder:
The lovely woman who sold it to me decided that her life was too short for fiber prep, and she could happily spin prepared rovings from now on. I don't blame her--our guild has several very talented dyers who sell their work. I've decided that life is too short for hand carding. Either way, she was so over fiber prep that she gave me a bag of fibers she had planned to blend on the carder, and a partially finished batt.
The thing is that I like dying, and while multicolored rovings look great, and make for very attractive multicolored yarns, they necessitate very simple knitting. What I've discovered about myself is that the knitting is my primary goal, and I prefer to work with simpler yarns that allow for more complex knitting. I've made the mistake of trying to do colorwork or cables with visually complex yarn, and it just becomes a muddy indistinct lump that I spent a lot of hours on. So for me a drum carder makes it possible to buy a fleece and dye sections into related colors I can then card together for more subtle heathers that will still allow cables or lace to dominate visually. Or I can dye for individual skeins of closely related solids for a fair isle.
Of course this will lead to buying fleeces. But it saves me the cost of shipping and processing, which is what I used to do. And did I mention it saves me the time of hand carding to blend colors? Life is too short for hand carding.
So I ran home, put the drum carder on the kitchen table, cranked up my audio book, and started cranking fiber through.
I quickly discovered that I had questions, and that none of my spinning books had answers. How do I only own spinning books that refuse to address the drum carder beyond acknowledging it's existence?!?!
For instance, as I worked, there was a lot of fiber staying on the licker-in. I kept trying to remove it and feed it back through, but it kept ending up there. Then I realized that what was on the licker-in looked like this:
Could it be that unlike hand cards, drum carders separate out the neps and short crap? I checked the internet. The internet had way too much information, but it seemed to confirm that yes, it did separate this stuff out on purpose! So I stopped trying to undo the help the Kitten was offering, and put that crap aside.
I already know from my fleece study experience that I prefer to flick card first, removing as much of the short and tangled wool as I can, before either carding or combing. It seems the same will be wise with the drum carder, and produce the kind of smooth batts I prefer to spin.
Eventually, I made this:
with the fibers the original owner was so kind to pass along. I was a bit dissatisfied with dizzing the blue roving off the drum. Too much fiber was left behind, so I will probably tear the pink batt into strips or into a roving to spin. It was way too time consuming to diz off some of the roving, and then still have to remove a small thin batt of what was left. It will be much faster to remove everything together as a batt and then deal with it from there.
At this point I got excited and went off on my own. I love to spin cotton, and a little while ago a friend gave me this:
a bale of cotton. That puppy must weight 20 pounds. I was going to hand card punis from it, but that was going to take the rest of my life. The carding cloth on this Kitten looks just as fine as on my cotton hand cards, and if it all goes to hell I might waste, what, one or two ounces out of 20 pounds?
I didn't really find any guidance on doing this, but I was also too cocky to look. In the name of science, I experimented.
First I fed in the cotton in the usual way:
and about half of it stayed on the licker-in. Not good. So I added it the other way I'd been shown, directly onto the drum as I cranked.
This was much more successful. 3 or 4 times the amount added in only left this:
on the licker-in.
I removed the batt, split it, and recarded in thin layers a few times, just like with the first 2 batts.
Then I had to decide what form the carded cotton should finally take. A batt seemed too big and loose, and like it might fall apart before it ever got to the wheel, so I tried 2 things.
I dizzed off a roving which was generally frustrating. So then I tried rolling the batt around a knitting needle to make a puni, just like I would have done with hand cards.
I got 4 fairly thick punis from one batt:
as opposed to this mess of roving from the other:
I got in a little time on the wheel this morning, and as I suspected the punis are quite nice to spin from, but the roving is a bitch. If I wasn't an experienced cotton spinner I would have thrown the roving out the window! At this point I'll still spin it up just to see what I get, and keep examining how the 2 preparations work. I may try making the punis just a little smaller to compare, but by and large this will now be my go-to for prepping that bale of cotton.
So thanks very much for the drum carder! Now I need more time to knit and spin. I don't suppose I can do that this week instead of putting up the tree, making cookies, and cooking Christmas dinner for both sets of parents? I thought not.