Linda Ligon’s article “Handcarding Then and Now,” reveals the ways in which handcarding wool has changed over the centuries. Here, Linda explores 3 fascinating methods used by today’s spinners: classic, nontraditional, and downright whimsical.
If you were learning to spin in the Dark Ages—the 1950s through the 1970s—you probably had a copy of Elsie Davenport’s Your Handspinning. This little book influenced a whole generation, or maybe two. In their books, Marilyn Kluger (The Joy of Handspinning), Paula Simmons (Spinning and Weaving with Wool), Lee Raven (Hands On Spinning), and others took a similar approach.
Allen Fannin, in his rigorous Handspinning: Art and Technique, notes that most carding methods brush only the fibers on the top of the layer of wool. If you want to card the entire mass, you need to transfer it from one card to the other in such a way that the underside becomes the top. Mabel Ross (The Encyclopedia of Handspinning) notes the same problem. Think about that the next time you card some wool: Dress a thin layer of dark wool onto the cards, then a layer of light on top of it. Card using your preferred method. See what happens.
Classic carding method:
You have to imagine the wool. Imagine that you have loaded a fairly thin, even layer on the left card, the card that will never leave your left hand. As you gently stroke the wool with the right card, the wool is transferred to that card. Some tips will extend out from the front edge of the right card, and you must be careful not to let them double back and tangle.
When as much of the wool as possible is on the right card, note that the wool that was on the bottom layer of the left is now on the top layer of the right. At this point, the authorities use different techniques, but the aim is to maneuver the right card in such a way that the wool is caught and deposited back on the left card. At that point, the wool can be rolled off, or the entire process can be repeated until the mass is as uniform and spinnable as you please.
Maggie Casey, Rule-Breaking Handcarder
One of the traditional hard and fast rules of carding is to devote one card to the left hand, always the left hand, and the other to the right. Do not dare to pick up your left carder in your right hand! If you follow this rule, you have to do a certain amount of gymnastics as you doff the wool from one card to the other. Some experts say to never change your grip. Some say to change your grip, but don’t change your hands. And so forth. You can certainly get into a good rhythm and master the intricacies of the process, but might there be an easier way? One of our favorite contemporary spinning teachers has found one.
Maggie Casey takes this approach: brush the wool from the left card onto the right card, swap your cards, and brush it back from what is now your left card onto what is now your right card. And so forth. How simple is that? You probably don’t need to worry about the carding cops coming to bust you for changing your cards from hand to hand.
Casey carding method:
Again, imagine the wool. Imagine that you have loaded a fairly thin, even layer on the card in your left hand, which will soon become the card in your right hand. Stroke the wool gently until most or all of it is transferred to the right card. Switch hands.
The formerly right card is now in your left hand. Stroke it off onto the left card, which was formerly the right card. Sounds confusing, but it is beautifully simple and easy to master and remember.
Rita Buchanan Dancing
If there’s a way to simplify even further, you can count on Rita Buchanan to have found it. In her video How I Spin, Rita brushes the wool from the left card to the right, then—without changing anything at all—brushes it back from right to left. She credits some unknown spinner at SOAR (Spin-Off Autumn Retreat) for this idea, and she has used it to card squillions of pounds of wool over the years. Her handspun yarn is very good indeed.
You’d almost have to watch her video to capture the charm of this method, for she makes it into a graceful, athletic dance. You don’t have to stand up and sway while you card, but it sure looks like fun.
Buchanan carding method:
Are you beginning to feel a little odd, imagining wool? (Would you rather be imagining chocolate?) Bear with us. Load the left card, which will always be in your left hand. Stroke the wool off onto the right card, which will always be in your right hand.
When most or all of the wool is transferred, keep your cards in exactly the same position, but begin stroking the wool off the right card back onto the left. This is carding reduced to its simplest, most physically efficient form, but the lower layer of wool will never quite get equal treatment.
For more resources on using handcards, check out the following articles:
- “Why I Love My Handcards: Carding Wool Three Ways“
- “Doing the Thing: The Process of Handcarding“
- “Cleaner Carding: How to Keep Your Handcards Spick-and-Span”
Linda Ligon is a co-founder of Long Thread Media.
Originally published August 29, 2018; updated April 14, 2023.