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Stick & Stone Fiberarts

Blending dry fibers for spinning using hand cards is a rewarding habit.

I learned this technique in the first year of the OHS Spinning Certificate course and I have been playing with variations of it ever since. You can blend for colour, fiber content, economics, originality, or just because you like the nifty sound the carders make when you wield them just so.

Following are step-by-step instructions to take you through the blending process, ending up with roving that is ready to spin. Yes—blended roving from your hand cards.

But first, I'll answer some of the FAQs that come my way when I preach this habit:

  • Why would I blend colours instead of dyeing?
  • If blending blue and yellow gives me green fiber to spin, why don’t I just dye the fiber green?

    Dyeing certainly has its place, and yet I tend to blend more than I dye. Blending with hand cards is a portable technique and very little equipment and space is required. All I need is fibers to blend, a tidy surface to set the fibers on, and hand cards. There are other advantages over dyeing as well. For example, I can try a very small amount and keep tweaking the colour variation until it’s just right before replicating the colour in a larger batch. I can see the effects instantly and don’t need to wait for the dyeing results. As with dyeing, I can record my “recipes” and repeat a colour if I choose. And—best of all—the colours resulting from blending dry fibers have a rich, heathery depth that cannot be imitated by dyed fiber.

  • What fibers do I use to blend?

    In theory, if it can catch in the teeth of hand cards, it can be blended. In practice, there are some fibers that make more sense to blend than others and I think of these as “ingredient fibers.” For example, primary colour-dyed wool roving or other solid colours of dyed wool roving are the sorts of things I always have in the blending cupboard. I could blend using more interesting preparations, but in my opinion, I’ve already paid for the interesting work to be done to, say, a painted roving. To override that by blending it feels like a waste of everyone’s time. Other ingredients I tend to keep handy: white alpaca, white angora, black Merino roving, a range of dyed kid mohair locks, white silk brick, and a whole host of naturally coloured wool rovings in grey, brown and tan.

  • Can I blend different fiber types?

    Yes! In fact, blending various fibers can be one of the most satisfying ways to create your own unique luxury yarns. It can also be an economical way to take a small amount of a very valuable fiber such as cashmere or qiviut and blend it with other fibers to give your finished yarn a wonderful hand at a fraction of the cost. It can also be an interesting way to create effects, for example adding a dash of sparkly Angelina fiber. However, you need to be aware of how the different fiber characteristics interact. As you try to blend two different fibers, one may bunch up in the batt, perhaps even forming neps and noils. Or, just when you’ve overcome these challenges in the blending, you find that when you go to spin the preparation, the fibers have separated in your drafting hand. This takes some finesse. My recommendation: focus on blending the same fiber of different colours first, and then play with different fiber blends once you’re happy that you’ve got the motions down pat.

  • Why not use a drum carder for blending?

    You can. But you don’t have to, and I personally find I have more control over the colour effects when using hand cards. Some argue that you can crank out a lot more fiber with a drum carder. Maybe. (If you’d like to challenge me to a race, name the time and place!) Duels aside, this is a portable, less expensive way to make fabulous blended roving. You can be very productive with hand cards, and this method offers endless possibilities—don’t think of hand cards as second fiddle to a drum carder. It’s also a lot easier to clean up after each use. And you end up with roving in the end, just like you would with a drum carder.

Enough preamble. How do I make blended roving with hand cards?

Here’s what I do:

1. Let’s say I’m after a shade of green. I will select my ingredients accordingly, emphasizing blue and yellow but always including a dash of other colours to give the blend more depth. At this stage, the final colour is completely impossible to see—it just looks like garish colours sitting on top of each other looking somewhat dreadful. Just wait!

Note: I can sample with a small amount to see if I like this combination, or I can blend up a huge batch if I already know the proportions. The process is the same regardless of the quantity. Keeping detailed notes and fiber samples is an important habit. Whether you want to repeat a colour or not, your notes will serve as a great guide for any future blends.

2. Using hand cards [below], I blend batts that contain a rough approximation of the proportions of the blend I’m after. I blend each batt until the colour is fairly consistent in any one batt. At this point I’m not worried if Batt 1 is on the bluish side and Batt 2 is on the yellowish side. I just want to be sure that each batt is one “solid” (if heathery) colour.

3. I stack the batts [below] on a table or other clean surface. If I’m blending more than 2 or 3 batts, the stack will fall on its side. That’s okay; I keep lining them up side-by-side. At this stage in the blending there will be a lot of variety in the colour of the batts.

4. Once I’ve blended all the fiber into batts, I gently stretch them out to the same length (about a yard/metre), keeping the ends of the batts together and trying to stretch them fairly evenly.

5. Taking the fibers from the end of my stretched out batts, I card again, meaning that each new batt will have a little bit from each of the first bunch of batts, ensuring the blend is evened out. Each carderful comes from the end of these batts until it’s all been recarded.

6. Again I line the batts up. When the whole second carding is complete, I decide: card one more time to make the blend more even (sometimes necessary with a huge batch)? If yes, repeat steps 4 and 5. If no, then proceed to step 7.

7. I stretch the batts out again as for step 4, and I keep on stretching! I draft the long group of side-by-side batts into a roving by continually pulling the ends of the batts through one gently gripped hand, like a giant fan of fiber funnelling through my hand and similar to the motion you use to pre-draft regular roving. This blends the fibers one last time.

8. From this long stretched out bunch I create a nice nest of roving.

Voilà! You can make a batch as small as two batts’s worth as I did for the stripes in these knitted/felted mittens made with a wool/angora blend:

or a whole sweater’s worth:

And of course you don’t have to spin this fiber. Blending is also a great way to create the mix you want for felting, something I use for these felted rattle toys:

...or for matching fabric to disguise a stain on wool. The possibilities are endless. All you need is a tidy surface and a pair of hand cards, and suddenly the world of blended fibers is all yours. Enjoy it!


Lorraine Smith is a spinner, knitter and weaver, and the publisher of Spinners’ Quarterly, a printed newsletter exploring the ancient craft of handspinning in the modern world.

She once wandered away from a proper job to ride a bus across Canada, spinning yarn to make a blanket along the route. She has since returned to Toronto where she lives with her partner, children’s author Matthew Beam, and Mink and Fera, the cats in charge of “volunteer fibers”.