One of my personal missions is to help spinners love handcarding. As a new spinner trying out my first pair of handcards, I was dubious that any joy might lie in creating heaps of rolags. Eventually, I found the carding methods that are best for my body, the fibers I use, and the variety of yarns I want to spin. Now as I crisscross the country teaching, I try to shorten the learning arc for others and help spinners enjoy carding wool. Here are the two most frequently asked questions I hear:
Q. What type of handcards should I buy?
A. There are so many great brands of cards available; we are spoiled for choice. There are obvious differences, such as TPI (teeth per inch) and shape (flat or curved). However, other variations can be significant to your carding comfort but are more difficult to experience unless you see them in person. The length of the teeth and gauge of the wire can make some cards feel more aggressive than others. Overall size and weigh vary quite a bit. Mini or student cards tend to be lightweight and easy on tender wrists but typically hold less fiber. Handle attachment is another personal choice. I hold my cards where the handle meets the wooden card back, and I usually prefer a handle attachment that is horizontal to the carding cloth. You might prefer a handle that attaches to the back of the card at an angle.
Guild meetings, festivals, and workshops are a great time to see and try handcards.
Q. What can I card?
A. Handcards are often thought of as a tool for handling only short fibers, but we can use them in many different ways for fibers long and short. In the handspinning world, we often talk about the 3½-inch threshold: If a fiber is under 3 ½ inches, it can most easily be prepared with handcards into a woolen preparation. If it is over 3½ inches, it can most easily be prepared into a combed, worsted preparation. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but does offer some guidance. Fibers such as cotton, cashmere, camel down, yak down, and short-stapled wool work best as carded rolags or punis. If you are preparing a long-stapled Leicester or Suri alpaca, using the carding cloth to comb individual locks for a worsted preparation might work much better. To see these methods in more detail, check out my last carding post.