The drumcarder is such a versatile tool. I have yet to find a yarn effect that I haven’t been able to achieve by preparing my own fiber blend, provided that I have carefully planned and designed the yarn I had in mind. Through the years, I have tried hackles, combs, handcards, and blending boards, but the drumcarder calls me back every time.
Recently, I’ve noticed many beautiful, exciting knitting patterns using marled yarns. I wanted to see if I could re-create this visual effect by using a blending technique rather than the typical method of spinning two contrasting singles and plying them together. I knew that the drumcarder would give me a consistent effect when blending a batt from commercially prepared fibers, and that was my starting point for this project.
What Is a Diz?
“Traditionally a disk or curved plate made of horn, bone, or occasionally metal; has a central slot or hole; and is for the purpose of condensing and controlling fibers during the drawing-off step of combing. Dizzes are used in wool-combing, rough combing, and carding, as well as in reprocessing of
other fiber forms, not necessarily wool. Essentially, it is a
pre-drafter and sliver-forming aid.”
—Alden Amos, The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning (Interweave, 2001)
The hole the fiber is drawn through determines the size of sliver or combed top you wish to create, so it’s helpful to have several holes.
Planning & Tools
I set out to create a blend that evenly swirls two colors together, producing a marled effect in the singles, but that would not be visually overwhelming as a two-ply yarn. I wanted to highlight the slow color shifts that are possible with a hand-blended preparation, so I decided to pull the fiber off the drum using a diz to create roving rather than a batt. If I kept the fiber in batt form and pulled it into strips, it would spin into a comparable yarn, but using a diz to make roving allows a more subtle shift between the colors, producing the marled effect I wanted. The diz method also allowed me to visually assess how the accent colors would swirl with the base color before I even got to the spinning wheel.
When pulling roving from the carder, it is important to begin with a small amount of fiber on the drum. If you begin with too much fiber, you run the risk of packing it too tightly. If your base color is sticking in the carder, it will be difficult to pull equal amounts of each color into the diz for a balanced two-color marl.
For my fibers, I selected a base of blended natural brown Corriedale/Ouessant from R. H. Lindsay Company to accompany combed tops of various breeds in equal parts natural white, mustard yellow, and cornflower blue. I am most known for my textural blending techniques, but I like to keep things smooth when I am focusing on color effects. I don’t want to distract or detract from the detail of the finished cloth by muddying the work with flecks and threads.
Carding the Batt
1. I began by creating a layered batt. I fed each of the three accent colors one by one onto the full width of the drum. I used about a quarter ounce of each color beginning with a layer of white, followed by a layer of yellow, and then blue. I removed this three-color layered batt and split it lengthwise into two pieces to create two separate, identical rovings.
2. Looking at the cross-section of each piece, I can see each layer of color that I fed into the carder. With the half-batt laid to view this cross-section, I lightly pulled the fiber until the three colors were spread out about the width of my drumcarder. Because of the orientation of the batt as I spread it out, the colors were parallel to one another with a subtle blend between them. Each half-batt with blended stripes weighed around 0.4 ounce. I put one half-batt aside and kept one for my next step.
3. Starting with an empty drum, I began a new batt with my natural brown base color. I loaded about 0.6 ounces onto the carder, taking care to cover the drum as evenly as possible. I did not burnish (compress the fibers) at any step in this process to avoid packing the fibers too tightly on the drum. Burnishing the fibers would cause the same issue as loading too much fiber, making them harder to remove with a diz.
4. With the base layer in place, I slowly added one of the half-batts on top of it. It is important during this step to be sure this layer is spread thinly and that the amount that is being pulled in by the first drum, the licker-in, is consistent. I control this by resting my hand on the half-batt as I gently feed it onto the drum.
Pulling the Roving
At this point, I was ready to pull my roving. This meant selecting a diz that was well suited to the job at hand. I have been drawn to dizzes since I first began blending fibers, but I have struggled to find one that I love. I used a large concave two-hole button for a long time before purchasing a gorgeous bird’s-eye maple diz that turned out to be pretty ineffective because the holes were too large, and it was not concave at all. So I recently created my own diz design and began producing them; my diz was a great fit for this project.
5. I began the pulling process by separating about an inch of the fiber with my doffer and threading it into the hole I decided to use on my diz. How much I was able to thread through the diz determined the amount of fiber I separated.
6. Pulling a roving can be tricky, even when you are using a stationary tool such as a hackle, so it is especially important when using a drumcarder to be patient and work slowly until you achieve a rhythm. I gave the fiber threaded through the diz a gentle pull while simultaneously pushing the diz down until it gently rested on the teeth of the carder. Pull, push, pull, push, slowly making your way around the drum while simultaneously moving gradually across it. With each pull and push, you are catching just a tiny bit more fiber as you move across the drum. For anyone who has dizzed from a comb or hackle or even tried spinning across a top, the concept and movements are similar.
7. Once I pulled the entire blended batt into roving, I wrapped it into a loose ball while putting a light amount of twist in it for stability. Twist is inserted naturally in the roving as your hand rotates around the growing ball with each wrap. Like any technique, this one takes practice. I repeated these steps and created a second roving right away using the other half of the striped half-batt.
Spin & Swatch
I tend to knit cozy hats in medium-weight yarns when I want the instant gratification of a small project, but even if it was going to be a small one, I wanted to swatch and test my blending methods. I settled on spinning an S-spun singles yarn. Using my Schacht Ladybug with the bulky flyer, the medium whorl at a ratio of 6.5:1, and a short backward draw, I created a light worsted-weight singles. I wanted my finished yarn to be close to 9 wraps per inch, and spinning it slightly finer than my end goal allowed me to account for the bit of blooming the yarn was certain to do after it was washed.
Watching my marl go from a fluffy roving to a squishy singles was incredibly rewarding. I had wondered if I would prefer the look of a two-ply yarn, but this singles yarn perfectly mimicked the color effect of its two-ply counterpart. The shifts between accent colors were subtle and lovely.
Any knitting patterns I choose to pair with this yarn will use fairly simple stitches so that the marl in the yarn can shine without being too busy. I find that stockinette stitch is often a great choice when I have a visually stimulating yarn like this. With that in mind, I created a standard swatch using a U.S. size 7 needle.
I was pleased with my swatch; the finished cloth amplified all the careful and intentional blending techniques I employed. The marling was distinct, and the base color helped it look consistent even as the accent colors shifted from one to another.
On Sampling and Scaling Up
This sampling process allowed me to fine-tune my technique before putting a lot of time and effort into creating a fiber blend for the project. If I were going to knit a larger garment such as a sweater, I would likely create several small two-layer batts of accent color and base color. By creating a transitional blend between two colors as they intersect (white/yellow and yellow/blue), I could easily re-create the delicate shift from one to the next. I would also probably opt to put more fiber on the drum at a time, maybe 2 ounces or so. Additionally, rather than pulling a roving for such a big project, I would remove each batt whole from the carder before tearing it into spinnable strips to save time. Everything about this blend from roving to knitted cloth was relatively easy to predict, but I was still stunned at how close to my vision the results were. The combination of blended striping with the marling worked marvelously.
Designing My Ideal Diz
My creative passions lie in two media: fiber and metal. I appreciate and collect handmade tools as useful keepsakes, and I have always wanted to find a way to use my metalsmithing skills to create tools of my own. In the past, I have experimented with various materials to create a diz, but I was never fully satisfied with the results and how time-consuming creating them was. Over the course of the last year, I have worked to develop a diz that allows various sizes of roving to be pulled with ease, and that I could make efficiently and customize with various colors.
Although you can use nearly anything as a diz, including a large-holed button, a milk-jug cap, or even a washer, a specialized tool can often give better and faster results. A good diz is concave to funnel the fiber toward the hole as it is pulled through. Ideally it has more than one hole size so you have multiple options in one tool. With these characteristics in mind, I created and cut my own dies for use on a hydraulic press. These dies are capable of punching out the overall shape from copper sheet metal, pushing the shape into a concave form, and even puffing the three circular sites where the holes will be punched.
I hand finish each diz with one side powder coated in layers of candy colors, speckles, and sparkles, while the other is left as bare copper with a light patina applied. The resulting diz is lightweight and comfortable to hold while pulling roving, and I get to play with color every time I make a new one!
Emily Wohlscheid is a fiber and jewelry artist working in west Michigan. When she is not finding ways to combine her passion for these two media, she is sharing her skills in the classroom locally and around the country. Learn more at www.bricolagestudios.bigcartel.com.