If you’re like me, you’ve been hoarding fiber in every form from the moment you fell under the spell of spinning. Most of us start with fairly long-stapled wools in white or other natural colors, move on to commercially dyed roving or top in solid colors, and then (when we deem ourselves “good” enough) delve into the amazing array of hand-painted roving found at wool festivals, brick and mortar fiber shops, and in countless online stores.
Eventually, we all end up with more fiber than we have room to store, and we lose interest in some of the fibers and color combinations that once made us swoon.
Like so many spinners, I started with knitting but became far more interested in yarn than in finished objects. Something similar happened when I started spinning. I became fascinated with fiber and now spend more time with my drum carder than I do with my spinning wheel. I love to play with fiber and create batts spontaneously - with as little thought and planning as possible. For me, spinning is a process of discovery. The results of my carding are revealed as I spin.
So, here’s a how-to on how you can build your own one-of-a-kind spinning batt, full of surprises and guaranteed to spin up into an art yarn with lots of unexpected twists and turns. You don’t need to buy a thing. Everything you need is whatever you have on hand.
Of course, if you don't own a carder, then you'll need to get your hands on one. Ask friends, or check with your local fibery store or fiber guild -- they often rent or loan carders.
1. Rehash your stash
First, grab the things you like the least in your fiber stash. You know, the stuff you never use because you now hate the color combinations or the fiber is felted or is not as soft as you had thought it would be. Don’t forget your yarn stash too. Dig out those lonely commercial yarns bought long before you started spinning. Get ready to breathe new life into these goodies.
2. Choose a base fiber
The next step is to decide on the base for your batt. This is the stuff that will tie all the other elements together. I like to use a neutral color - white, brown, grey, or black - since everything else will be a cacophony of color. A next-to-the-skin-soft wool or alpaca is a good idea since some of your add-ins may be coarser fibers.
3. Deconstruct your stuff
Now take a good look at the fiber you pulled out of your stash and start to dissect it. Separate the colors in your painted rovings by pulling them apart into small pieces - the length of each color. Take a scissor to unwanted commercial yarn and cut lengths from three inches to as long as a foot.
4. Hunt and scavenge
Before you start carding, dig up anything else you can think of to add to the mix. It’s amazing what can be carded: old silk ties and scarves cut into small strips, ribbons, frayed blue jean trimmings, dryer lint, lace, the leftover fibers from previous carding sessions. All kinds of stuff can be carded into your batt, so raid your attic or basement and clean out your drawers. Who knows what you have tucked away that could add texture and interest to your creation?
Be sure that you use fibers that work with your carder. If you put something big and chunky like strips of blue jean trimmings through a fine cloth carder, you may bend the teeth. Start slow and use smaller pieces until you learn your equipment's limits. If your carder seems to object to a fiber you use just take it off, and try something else. You can also try feeding add-ins directly onto the main drum to bypass the intake drum.
5. Go with your gut
Now you’re ready to start cranking. Grab some of your base fiber and card a thin layer onto the drum. Alternate between a layer of the base fiber and a layer of all the other stuff you’ve prepared until the drum is full. For this batt I used four layers: black, colors, black, colors; the fibers I used are alpaca, merino, corriedale, silk, firestar, angelina, and yarn snippets. The more layers, the more blended the effect.
When carding the textured bits and pieces, don’t think! Resist the urge to control how the colors and fibers are combining. Consider this an exercise in trusting your intuition. If you catch yourself thinking something will look ugly, force yourself to use it. You might find that the yarn you spin from the batt is hideous. But it’s also possible that you’ll love the results, or at least discover something you never would have known otherwise.
If you want to keep your batt layered, do not recard the batt. The more passes through the drum carder, the more blended a batt becomes.