Spring Cleaning Your Strauch Drum Carder

Have you been bitten by the spring cleaning bug? As you tidy up, don’t forget about your drum carder! While our machines are designed to require little to no maintenance or adjustments over a lifetime of use, there are a few things we recommend doing regularly to ensure smooth operation. You’ll need just a few supplies (and some good lighting) to get the job done!

Spring Cleaning Your Strauch Drum Carder
Supplies:

Doffer/Cleaner Brush
Microfiber Cloth
Wood soap or cleaning wax
Tweezers

Removing Fiber from Shafts
Fiber can accumulate on the shafts which turn both drums, and you will find that your carder becomes increasingly hard to crank if it is not removed on a regular basis. A long pair of tweezers helps with this (we used some that are also used to repair computers). Remember to direct your efforts in the opposite direction that the drum is turned to remove fibers that have wrapped around the shafts while in use. You may need to rotate the drums or make a few passes in order to remove all of the fibers in these areas.
Spring Cleaning Your Strauch Drum Carder

Cleaning Carding Cloth
There is no need to clean out fiber from the drum after removing each batt you make, but we do recommend doing this between each project or session, especially if you’re changing the color of fiber you’re working with.

Use the center portion of the Doffer brush to contact the curve of the large drum. Starting at the seam, swipe the Doffer brush down the drum in the same direction as the teeth on the drum. Continue across the width of the drum. Slowly rotate the drum backwards (counterclockwise) as you use the brush to clean the entire drum of fiber. Do not brush across the drum since the card cloth may become frayed.
Spring Cleaning Your Strauch Drum Carder

More Places that Fiber Accumulates

While the unique “Slicker-Licker” carding cloth on the small drum is designed not to hold onto the fiber, it will tend to grab shorts, second cuts and neps that you really don’t want in your batt.

If there are any fibers stuck in the brush attachment, simply remove them by hand.
Spring Cleaning Your Strauch Drum Carder
At this point, you may be impressed with all of the fluff and fiber you’ve removed from your carder – but don’t throw it away! This fiber can be used to stuff pillows or toys, OR you can put them outside for birds who are building nests this spring!
Spring Cleaning Your Strauch Drum Carder

Finishing Touches
Last but not least, take the soft cloth and dampen it with a mild wood soap to dust off and clean all of the wood parts of your carder. Make sure that whatever you use is specifically designed to clean and nourish wood, and take care that your cloth is not sopping wet as you work (you don’t want water to trickle into any areas where it could cause rust).
Spring Cleaning Your Strauch Drum Carder

With just these few simple steps, your drum carder will look good as new this spring! For more tips on choosing, maintaining and using your Strauch Drum Carder, click here to download our free guide.

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Evaluating Fleece & Fiber: A Beginner’s Guide

Do you speak fiber? There are many words specific to evaluating, preparing and processing fiber – and if you are newer to the fiber arts scene, it might seem like a foreign language! Today, we’ll talk about what to look for when shopping for fleece and fiber, and share some of the most commonly-used terms that you may encounter in the process.
Bale of shorn wool with vegetative matter (VM)
If you are sourcing fleece or fiber directly from the source, is possible that you will see it prior to being skirted and/or scouredSkirting the fleece refers to the process of removing stained or damaged fibers, vegetative matter (VM for short), and second cuts (very short pieces of fleece remaining in the fiber, caused by shearing the same area twice). Scouring a fleece describes the process of cleaning these fibers to remove grease, dirt and debris. Even if you are purchasing a “clean” fleece, we strongly recommend washing these fibers prior to both storage and use, as any lingering grease can attract pests and damage fiber processing equipment (more on that here).

Aside from the cleanliness of the fiber, here are a few more things to look for before making your purchase:

Superfine merino wool fleece from a shorn sheep - crimpy fiber

  • Crimp: This is the natural wave that runs along the fiber shaft; extremely fine fibers have 12 crimps or more per inch, while rougher fibers have 3 crimps or fewer per inch.
  • Fiber Diameter: Directly affects the softeness of the fiber. This is measured in microns, a unit of measurement that is equal to .00004 inch; the lower the micron count, the softer the fiber.
  • Loft: This refers to the airiness of the fiber, and while there is not an established system to measure this quality, the loft of a fleece or fiber relates to the softness and warmth. High loft is thick and fluffy, low loft is thin and dense. The higher the loft, the better the insulation characteristic.
  • Luster: Describing the shininess of the fiber, luster refers to the amount of light that is reflected, from very shiny (reflecting a lot of light) to matte (reflecting little to no light), with semi-lustrous fibers in the middle.  The luster of a fleece is easy to assess at a glance.
  • Staple Length refers to the average length of a single length of fiber in its natural, unprocessed form, and it influences the loft and handle of the yarn you produce based on twist per inch needed. We cover staple length in greater detail on this blog post.
  • Tensile strength: If the fiber breaks easily when you are handling it (and don’t be afraid to give it a tug to test its strength!), that indicates a weakness in the fiber.testing tensile strength of wool fleece fiber

When taken together, the above qualities contribute to the overall uniformity of the fleece, which is desirable for producing a consistent yarn once the fiber is processed. From there, personal preference will play a part in the fibers you select, and we encourage you to explore the many types of fleece and fiber available on today’s market. The possibilities are endless!

We’d love to see what you’re carding and spinning over on Instagram – be sure to share your photos using the #strauchfiber hashtag.

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Celebrating Distaff Day & Breed-Specific Wools

Earlier this month, we celebrated Distaff Day at Wild Skeins, our Local Yarn store here in Hickory, NC. A distaff is a long tool used in handspinning which keeps fibers from getting tangled and dates back to medieval times. Distaffs are still in use today, primarily for spinning flax fibers, although they can be used to spin other fibers as well. Distaff Day is said to coincide with the Catholic holiday celebrating St. Distaff, but handspinners and fiber enthusiasts have adopted this day to celebrate all things handspinning and fiber (more on that here). 

The Spinner by William-Adolphe Bouguereau [Public domain]

The Spinner by William-Adolphe Bouguereau [Public Domain]

Funnily enough, no one was spinning with a distaff at the event, but several Strauch products were set up for demos, and we got to see some locally-sourced fleece and fibers get processed on a Strauch Drum Carder!

distaff7

One of the benefits of handspinning is that you have complete control over the fiber content of your yarn – and generally speaking, you have a wider range of fiber options than you would find in commercially-made yarns. In addition to other fiber-producing animals, there are hundreds upon hundreds of sheep breeds to explore – you just have to know where to look for them! Here are some tips to get you started: 

Festivals & Shows

A good place to start is your local fiber festival, farmer’s market, or state or county fair. Here, local or regional farmers are invited to sell their wares, and you can frequently speak directly to the person who raises the animals, or meet the animals themselves. Some shows have sheep shearing demonstrations, breed judging, and fleece auctions as well. Needless to say, they are an excellent place to start exploring breed-specific wool! You can find a list of fiber events and festivals here on the Knitter’s Review website. 

sheepshearingdemo

Breeder’s Associations

A growers or breeders association for the particular animal or sheep breed you are interested in can be a wealth of interesting information. Most associations also have a list of breeders you can contact to ask about purchasing their fiber, and maybe even visit the farm or ranch to see the animals in person!

Online Shopping

If you aren’t able to attend any festivals or shows, the good news is that you can also find breed-specific wools online. Of course, you can’t touch them ahead of time to assess their quality, but there are many farmers who are selling their fleece and fiber on Etsy or even via their own websites, so it’s worth giving them a try! Author & wool expert Beth Brown-Reinsel has a list of breed-specific yarn and fiber producers found here on her website.

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If you’d like to learn more about breed-specific wool, here are some excellent reference books worth adding to your shelf: The Knitter’s Book of Wool by Clara Parkes; The Field Guide to Fleece and The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, both by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius, and The Spinner’s Book of Fleece by Beth Smith.

 

Will you be working with breed-specific wools in 2020? Be sure to share photos of what you’re carding, spinning and felting over on Instagram using the #strauchfiber hashtag, too!

 

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Fibery Challenges for 2020

Happy New Year! The fresh start of a new year is the perfect time to take stock, make plans and set goals for the year ahead. There are many ways to include crafting and fiber arts in your resolutions, and today we round up some fun ways to help you meet your goals for 2020!

winter carding challenge

1. Winter Carding Challenge

All are welcome to explore the wonderful world of fiber prep during the Winter Carding Challenge, which is taking place in our Ravelry group through the end of February. Created by one of our wonderful makers, Emonie of Hopkins Fiber Studios, this season-long challenge is full of fibery inspiration AND includes a prize drawing for participants! This is an excellent chance to explore your stash and perfect your drum carding skills (or hand carding, if you prefer!). For anyone who is new to drum carding, we have a free guide to help you build your skills, and don’t forget about our free printables to keep your carded batts and handspun yarns organized!

makenine

2. 2020 Make Nine

This informal challenge has grown in popularity in each year on Instagram, where crafters have been sharing their lists of 9 projects they want to make in a given calendar year. Just search #makenine2020 (or last year’s #2019makenine) for loads of inspiration – this self-guided challenge can be customized for any craft or skill level! Following along with what other folks intend to make and how they progress throughout the year will be just as fun as sharing your own to-do list and progress throughout 2020.

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3. #Spin15ADay in 2020

This is another Instagram-based yearly event that challenges spinners to spin for just 15 minutes each day of the year. Of course, you can spin for more than 15 minutes if you like, but the point is to get in you in the habit of daily spinning, allowing you to enjoy your craft while explore new fiberst, techniques, and the like. There is also a Ravelry group dedicated to the #Spin15 challenge for those who aren’t on Instagram.

yarnstashdestash

4. Yarn Stash Destash

This 14-day challenge guides crafters through daily tasks, making it easy to sort through the various supplies, books and tools associated with knitting. Although this challenge focuses specifically on yarn for knitting and crochet, each prompt can easily be reframed to cover just about any craft supplies you need to sort through, from fiber to fabric and all points in between. Originally posted near the end of 2019, participants are encouraged to tackle the challenge in their own time whenever they  wish; the first prompt can be found here on Instagram, and from there you can scroll through the @ithoughtiknewhow Instagram feed to find the rest of the tasks.

ravelrychallenge

5. Ravelry Challenge

In its third year, this simple challenge takes place in your Ravelry notebook. Just click the “Challenge” tab on the far right to declare how many projects you want to complete in 2020 – you can change your goal at any time. Throughout the year as you mark projects complete in your Notebook, Ravelry will track your progress towards your goal. If you have a lot of WIPs (Works in Progress) left over from 2019 or sometimes struggle with finishing projects once you start them, this is a low-stress way to keep yourself motivated & accountable throughout the year.

We’d love to hear about your own crafty resolutions for 2020 in the comments below. Be sure to share photos of what you’re carding, spinning and felting over on Instagram using the #strauchfiber hashtag, too!
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3 (More) Ways to Give Back With Handmade Crafts

Although crafters can use their gifts to help those in need year-round, the holiday season is  an excellent time to search out more ways to make a positive difference in the world by donating handmade items where they are needed most. 

Last year, we blogged about an organization called Growing Peace in Afghanistan, where we sent one of our drum carders to be used by the women who process fiber for finished goods which support their families. In that post, we also shared some suggestions for charitable giving, and would like to share a few more with you in today’s post!

Close-up of hands knitting

  1. Your Community: While there are many national and international organizations doing good work, there’s plenty that can be done in your immediate community – you just need to know where to look. A good start is to call local hospitals, shelters, nursing homes and even hospices to ask them about their current needs. They may have restrictions on types of fibers or care requirements for donated goods, so you’ll want to make sure that whatever you are donating meets those conditions, otherwise your donation will be in vain!
  2. I’m Not Lost: If you have a lot of hats, scarves and mittens and happen to live in a cold climate, this might be a good option for you. As mentioned here on the Mason-Dixon blog, you simply leave your handmade item in a public place (i.e. parks, outdoor shopping centers, etc.) with a small note that says it’s not lost! Of course, there is no guarantee that a person in need will find it, but it’s better than having it sit in a drawer or storage bin in your house, unworn.
  3. Hat Not Hate: In 2019, the #HatNotHate campaign collected 23,117 blue hats to promote their anti-bullying message in schools throughout the US. While these donations do not necessarily target those in need of warmth, the positive message of spreading kindness is certainly worth supporting, don’t you think? In 2020, their goal is to collect 100,000 hats – click here to find out how you can contribute.

Do you have a charity where you donate your finished handmade projects? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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Easy DIY Felted Ornaments from Felted Batts

Last month, we showed you how to wet felt a batt to make felted coasters. This month, we’ll show you an easy DIY project for making festive holiday ornaments!

project-supplies

Supplies: 

1 felted batt (click here for a step-by-step photo tutorial)

Cookie cutters

Heavy card stock 

Fine-tip pen

Scissors (we recommend two pairs, 1 for cutting paper and 1 for cutting fiber)

Ribbon, string, twine or yarn in approx 10-12” lengths (for hanging ornaments)

Straight pins

Darning needle

optional-supplies

Optional embellishments: embroidery thread, small beads or sequins (will require needle & thread to attach); additional wool (will require a needle felting tool)

To Make Ornaments:

First, take the cookie cutters and trace the outline of each shape on the cardstock. Cut out to create a template that you’ll use on your batts. 

tracing-cookie-cutters

Pin the template to your batt and cut around shape as shown below to remove from batt (this will make it easier to cut more precise lines in a moment!).

cutting-on-batt

Cut remaining fiber into the shape of your template like so:

removed-from-batts

Use the darning needle to attach your ribbon, string twine or yarn at the top of each ornament for hanging anywhere you like.

cut-out-shapes

Your ornaments can be used as-is, or you can embellish them with embroidery thread, small beads, sequins, or needle felted details! 

embellishideas

Not only do they look great on a tree…..

finished-tree

….You can also attach them to gifts for added decoration.

finished-gift2

For more fun DIY ideas for celebrating the season, check out our Pinterest board here.

Happy holidays from all of us at Strauch!

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How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts

Wet felting is a technique that uses friction to blend together wool fibers into a solid sheet. Today, we’ll show you how to felt batts straight from your drum carder into a thick sheet of felt that you can cut into smaller squares to be used as mug rugs or coasters. This is a fun, fast DIY idea for holiday gifts, or any time of year, and it’s oh-so-easy to do.

Wet felting supplies - How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts

Supplies:

2-3 finished batts (we used a striped batt and a heathered batt from this previous blog tutorial, the number of batts you use will determine the resulting thickness)

Mesh screen, cut into two equal pieces, approx. 20”x30”

Bubble wrap – two equal pieces to match mesh screens

2-3 plastic shopping bags

Old towel

Container filled with hot soapy water (you can use dish soap or a wool wash like Eucalan)

Large, waterproof work area (kitchen table or counter, or card table works well)

Rubber bands

Rotary cutter

Cutting mat with grid

Acrylic ruler

Instructions:

Start out by preparing the batt for the wet felting process. You’ll do this by creating a series of layers, starting with the first mesh screen. Place 1 layer of bubble wrap on top, then lay the first batt in the middle of the screen & bubble wrap.Rip second batt in half and lay both pieces on top of first batt to cover from top to bottom like so:

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts

Place second mesh screen on top of batts. Your layers should look like this:

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts - how to layer batts

Begin dousing everything with hot soapy water and work through with your hands by rubbing in small, circular motions. Once fibers are soaked through, rub more vigorously and add more hot, soapy water if needed.

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts - add warm, soapy water

Tightly roll up your shopping bags and secure with rubber bands like so:

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts - rolled up shopping bag

Starting at one end, begin rolling the screens and fiber around the shopping bags and secure with rubber bands.

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts

Place a fresh towel on your work area, and then begin rolling everything back and forth approximately 50 times, working your rolled up fiber across the length of your forearms, from elbow to wrist and applying pressure as you work. Friction aids the felting process, so make sure you are very thorough!

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts

Remove rubber bands and unroll everything. Remove top screen layer and flip everything over and roll up again as before, then roll 50 more times to ensure even felting on both sides. Repeat this process until the batts are felted.

Unroll, remove felted batt from screens and bubble wrap, and rinse under cold water in the sink until the soap is removed (if you used a no-rinse detergent like Eucalan, you can skip this step!). Reshape if necessary and lay flat to dry.

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts - lay felted batt flat to dry

Once your batts are dry, use your rotary cutter, acrylic ruler, and cutting mat to cut into 4-inch square coasters. If you don’t have these supplies handy (or prefer a different shape), you can take a piece of heavy cardstock and draw your desired shape on it, then cut it out with scissors to use as a template when cutting your felted batt into pieces.

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts - cutting felted batt into pieces

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts - cutting felted batt into pieces

Don’t be afraid to get creative! You can embellish your coasters with embroidery or needle felted accents, and you can even stitch two together to create a thicker quilt-style coaster. The possibilities are endless!

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts - cutting squares to make felted coasters

We’d love to see what you’re carding, spinning and felting over on Instagram – be sure to share your photos using the #strauchfiber hashtag!
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Staple Length: A Quick Guide for Fiber Artists

The term staple length is frequently used when talking about fleece and fiber, but have you ever wondered why staple length matters and how it affects your choice of tools and techniques in a given project? In this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about staple length, but were afraid to ask!

What is Staple Length?

Staple length refers to the average length of the average length of a single length of fiber in its natural, unprocessed form (as it comes off the animal or plant). Natural fibers have a wide range of possible lengths depending on where they come from, whereas a continuous synthetic fiber or natural silk thread would be referred to as a filament. Fibers are generally classified as: 

Short – up to 4 inches* (ex: cashmere, yak down, merino wool and some cottons)

Medium – between 3-5 inches (ex: medium wools such as Dorset, Suffolk or Cheviot)

Long – 5 inches or longer (ex: Blue Faced Leicester, Lincoln, Romney, Teeswater)

You can test the staple length of any fiber by hand by simply removing a portion of it and measuring it with a ruler; this was how staple length was determined before machinery was invented for faster and more precise measurement!  

*yes, there is some overlap between short and medium staple length!

measuring fiber staples

Why Staple Length Matters

Knowing the average staple length of your fleece and fiber will help you choose the right tools and techniques to get it to do what you want.  Generally speaking, shorter fibers are finer and require more twist to hold together making them more challenging to work with. You can alleviate these challenges by adjusting your fiber preparation (discussed below) or blending your shorter-stapled fibers together with longer stapled components. Longer fibers can be drafted easily and generally hold together with slightly less twist,  so a beginner would probably want to get their feet wet with some longwools before diving into shorter-stapled fibers such as cashmere or merino wool. 

Staple Length & Processing Fibers

When it comes to processing fibers, your goal is to preserve the natural staple length as much as possible. Never cut into your fiber with scissors or a blade; if you need to separate fibers, pull from either end gently until a piece of the fiber comes away naturally. 

The good news is that our drum carders are designed to be universal machines that can process the shortest, finest fibers up to the longest of longwools without damaging fibers (you can learn more about choosing & using the right drum carder for you in our free PDF guide, Drum Carding 101). 

strauch drum carder with fibers

Staple Length & Handspinning

You will want to keep your hands positioned approximately a staple-length apart as you draft. For short-stapled fibers, this can be a real challenge, and that’s where fiber preparation can come into play: some folks like to turn their short-stapled fibers into punis or rolags, which allow for easier spinning using a long draw method. We have a quick tutorial on making rolags on a Strauch drum carder, found here

Another option is to spin from the fold, a technique in which you break off a section of your combed top, fold it over your finger, and then begin drafting out fiber from the center, as shown below.

handspinning from the fold

Handspinning Resources & Tutorials

Once you understand the concept of staple length, you can dig into more specific handspinning techniques. Here are some resources to bookmark:

We’d love to see what you’re carding and spinning over on Instagram – be sure to share your photos using the #strauchfiber hashtag!

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Staple Length: A Quick Guide for Fiber Artists

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Mike’s Fiber Journal: 2019 Fall Festival Recap

As the 2019 fiber festival season winds down, we’d like to check in and share a few snapshots from our most recent appearances at the Shenandoah Fiber FestivalFall Fiber Festival and Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair (SAFF)!

Preparation is key for each show – here are some Jumbo Ball Winders that are almost ready for their new forever home:

IMG_5055

We had a great time at the Shenandoah Fiber Festival, which took place Sept. 28 & 29 in Berryville, Virginia. It’s always fun to chat with Strauch fans while showing them how our tools and equipment can make processing fiber and winding yarns easier!

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At the Fall Fiber Festival in Montpelier, Virginia the following weekend, we happened upon a booth with a familiar sight inviting us in:

IMG_5062That beautiful Strauch Double Wide Drum carder belongs to Liza from The Foldout Cat, a small business focusing on fiber and freestyle Saori weaving. Her booth was filled with beautiful colors and fibers which could be blended into beautiful batts on the spot!

IMG_0151IMG_0152Seeing the animals that produce the fibers we love is another reason we enjoy fiber festivals! We’ve seen sheep, alpacas, goats and more throughout 2019 alone. Here are a few shots from these most recent shows:

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For a truly “fleece to fiber” experience, you can shop for fleece by the bagful, sorted by breed, fiber grade, or use:

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If you’re lucky, you can watch a real pro evaluate and prepare a fleece for processing, which is always a great learning experience!

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Our final show for 2019 was the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair in Fletcher, NC this past weekend. We had a great time at this show, which is always a busy one to close out the season. This year’s show hall did not disappoint, it was filled with plenty of inspiration!

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We were hosted by our friends at The Earth Guild, and here is our corner of the booth, ready for shoppers:

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Mike’s daughter helped out, making sure that the ball winder was properly set up for winding demos.

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And of course, you’re bound to run into a fiber animal or two along the way. At this year’s show, we met a very large and fluffy angora rabbit!

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We’ll be adding shows for 2020 soon; in the meantime, you can keep tabs on Facebook or Instagram, or click here to sign up for the Strauch monthly newsletter!

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Drum Carding 101: How To Re-Card a Batt for Better Blending

Have you ever carded a batt and wished that the colors were blended just a little bit more to create a more subtle look? Although Strauch carders are designed to perfectly prepare your fibers for handspinning the first time through (no need to card multiple times!), there are times when you’ll want to re-process a batt for purely aesthetic reasons. In this post, we’ll show you how to re-card any batt with ease, and show you how the same batt looks the first, second and third time through a Strauch drum carder. 

New to drum carding? Click here to get our free e-book, Drum Carding 101!

How Do You Know When to Re-Card a Batt?

Some batts will blend better than others, and ultimately this comes down to a matter of preference. Make sure that you have chosen colors that will not become muddy the more they blend together – click here for more tips on successfully choosing colors for your batt project. 

The style of batt you are making will also affect whether or not it’s a good option for re-carding; a striped batt is more challenging to re-card, while layered and heathered batts are well suited for this technique. We’ll be using two of the batts created in our previous blog post to demonstrate this technique.

better color blending starts with carding batts multiple times on a strauch drum carder

How to Prepare Your Batt for Carding

You will need to do some prep work before sending your batt through the carder again. Start by dividing your batt into smaller strips like so:

Drafting a batt to re-process in the drum carder

Draft out each strip so that you won’t be sending too much fiber through the drum carder during your second pass; make sure to spread the width of the strip out to cover the full width of your drum as well.

If you are working with a striped batt, you will first need to carefully divide each color in your batt as shown above, but then you will need to work with shorter stripes of each color and only draft lengthwise (as shown below) so that you can send all of your colors through the carder at the same time.

drafting strips to re-card a striped batt

Time to Card!

Just as when you card your batt the first time, the name of the game is to turn the drum slowly as you feed each section of fiber back through your carder. If you are making a striped batt, make sure to feed your fiber through in the same order as before so that you can preserve the color placement. 

Here’s the layered batt prior to re-carding….

layered batt prior to re-carding

After processing through the drum carder a second time….

fiber batt carded twice on a strauch drum carder

And a third time!

fiber batt carded three times on a strauch drum carder

Wondering what happens when you card a striped batt a second time? This creates a subtle, slightly more blended or “faded” effect, rather than having well-defined stripes in your batt:

striped batt comparison

We’d love to see what you’re carding and spinning over on Instagram – be sure to share your photos using the #strauchfiber hashtag!

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Drum Carding 101: How To Re-Card a Batt for Better Blending

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