Carding rolags

I do love a well-made rolag. But making even hand-carded rolags takes practice. I have carded rolags for at least four sweaters. For one sweater I actually calculated the amount of rolags: I used 576 rolags for one single sweater. That’s a lot of practice. Many followers have asked me lately about hand-carding rolags. In this post I describe how I do and why.

A basket full of hand-carded rolags. The rising sun and a lake in the background.
Hand-carded rolags in backlight. Hard to beat.

A wise spinner once said: The spinning is in the preparation. I find this to be very true. So much of the quality of the spinning is born in the preparation. Not only is a thorough prep essential to the quality of the yarn, but the preparation stage also gives you a chance to get to know the fiber.

Even and consistent

I want my rolags to be even and consistent: Even as even distribution of the fibers throughout the rolag. Consistent as in the size and shape of the rolags. This is my goal. There are several ways to get there and I will show you my way.

Even through teasing

The first thing I do is tease the wool – I open up the staples to make a pre-prep before the actual carding. I do this to avoid the risk of over-carding. If I card wool too much fibers will break and leave nepps. One could argue that teasing takes longer and leaves more waste. But I’m not in it for the speed. The faster, unteased, alternative will result in lower quality yarn with the waste in the yarn instead of outside it.

How I tease

I tease in three different ways: With combs, with a flick carder or with my hands. I can also tease with my hand-cards. The important thing is that I open up the staples so that the carding is really just arranging the fibers in an even and consistent manner.

  • My go-to teasing tool is the combs. I load the combs with wool, not considering the direction of the staples. I comb the wool, usually in two passes. This opens up the staples and in a fairly quick way. You can see how I tease with combs in this video, with a discussion in this blog post. I can also blend different fibers together by teasing with combs. In the above mentioned video I blend wool with recycled sari silk.
  • If I am dealing with very fine fibers with brittle tips, like Swedish finewool I use a flick carder and flick each staple separately. This way any fibers that are bound to break are left in the flick carder. I can also use a flick carder for dirty or otherwise damaged tips. I use my flick carder to sort out solidified tips in this video. There is a discussion about the video in this post. If I don’t have a flick carder I can use regular hand-cards to achieve the same result.
  • Sometimes I just want to work with as little tools as possible and tease with my hands. I do it in this video, with a discussion in this blog post. For the purpose of the video I spin straight from the teasing, but it is a great way to tease for carding too.
My favorite way to tease wool is with combs.

Even through carding

When my wool is teased it is time to card it. The teasing has evened out the spacing between the fibers a bit. but I want to do it more and in more manageable chunks: Rolags. The teeth grab hold of the fibers throughout the area of the carding pad and evens out the spacing between the fibers over several staples of wool.

Consistency

Consistent rolags are consistent in shape and size. If I use the same amount of wool in the same distribution over the carding pad I get a good chance at consistent rolags. By making sure all the fiber on the carding pad is carded equally I can control the final shape and size. With consistent rolags I can achieve a yarn that is high in quality, easy to spin and consistent over all the 500+ or so rolags required for one sweater.

A basket full of carded rolags. Fern in the background.
well-defined and consistent rolags are a joy to spin.

How I card

There are probably as many ways to card as there are carding spinners. I will show you my way. For me it gets me to my goal – even and consistent rolags. And who can’t resist high quality rolags? I want to be able to card rolags that I can’t resist spinning.

A basket full of hand-carded rolags, arranged like a bouquet of flowers.
Learn how to card rolags that you can’t resist spinning.

In the second half of this video you can see how I card rolags and shape them.

Loading

I pull my teased wool onto the cards. When the wool doesn’t stick anymore I stop. That way I know I haven’t overloaded the cards. I remove any excess from the handle side of the card, especially if I am dealing with long fibers.

Frame

I leave an empty frame around the wool. The wool will fluff up when I start carding and it will spread outwards in the next stroke. If I load the wool on the whole carding pad area it will fluff out outside of the carding pad and be left uncarded. This would result in an uneven rolag.

I pull the wool onto the card and leave a frame around the wool empty.

Carding

When the card is loaded I start carding. I stroke the wool gently between the cards. This pushes the wool just a bit into the teeth – not all the way down. Just to get a rhythm and avoid over carding I count my strokes and passes – three passes with six strokes for each pass.

When I start carding the wool spreads over the cards, but not outside the teeth if I have left a frame around the wool empty.

To strip the card between passes I place the cards with the handles in the same direction and transfer the wool in two strokes. I make another six strokes. By the third pass the wool is spread evenly across the card area and there are no uneven parts left.

Making Swiss rolls

After the third pass I use the active card and my free hand to lift the wool off the stationary card and make a rolag: I lift the end of the batt with the card and push the lifted bit down with my hand. Lift some more and push it down until I have rolled the whole batt to the handle side of the stationery card. This way I make a Swiss roll of the carded batt. To keep the stationery card steady I push the handle against the inside of my thigh.

I make a rolag with the help of the active card and my hand. I keep the stationery card in place with my inner thigh.

You know when you can’t resist some frosting on your Swiss roll? This can be applied to carding rolags as well. Just to give my rolag that extra roundness and firmness I roll it once more between the cards: When I have reached the handle side of the stationery card and there actually is a rolag, I lift the rolag between my open hand and my active card, move it back to the beginning of the card again and roll the rolag gently between the cards. You need to find the right amount of pressure to actually make a difference to the rolag without squishing it.

I usually card enough rolags for one batch – be it one bobbin or one spindle-full, but usually around 20 or 25 grams. This way I make enough rolags to be able to control the consistency and enough to keep them fresh – old rolags tend to go bad after a while. Just like Swiss rolls.

Happy carding!


You can follow me in several social media:

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    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Gute wool

2-ply yarn of Gute wool, spun with longdraw from hand-carded rolags.

In the spring 2019 issue of Spin-off magazine I wrote an article on sorting fleeces of Gute and Gotland wool. A few weeks ago I covered Gotland wool in a blog post and a live webinar. In this post I will look a bit closer at Gute wool.

This is the second part in a breed study series with live webinars. I look at Swedish breeds to start with and from the spinner’s point of view. A bit about the breed, the characteristics of the wool, how I prepare and spin it and what I want to do with the finished yarn.

Next Saturday, May 25th at 5 pm CET I will host a live webinar where I share my thoughts and experiences on Gute wool.

Gute sheep

Gute ewe at the Skansen outdoor museum
Gute ewe at the Skansen outdoor museum in Stockholm. I love how Gute sheep look almost like an oil painting in their faces.

History

The Gute sheep is a rustic breed and the oldest sheep breed in Sweden. It derives from the horn sheep or Gotland outdoor sheep in Gotland. In the 1920’s a breeding program started, aiming for a hornless sheep that was adapted to meat and pretty skins. This resulted in the Gotland sheep. Around 10 horned sheep were saved, though, and were used to restore the old horn sheep. Some of these sheep were moved to Skansen outdoor museum in Stockholm and their descendants are still at the museum today.

The name was changed to Gute sheep. Gute is an abbreviation of the Gotland outdoor sheep (Gotländskt utegångsfår), and it also refers to a person that has lived in Gotland for at least three generations.

Gute sheep today

A major part of the conservation program for Gute sheep was to keep the genetic variation of the breed. This means that the breed has not been improved. Gut sheep have a big genetic variation. The breeding standards emphasize breeding for all the breed specific characteristics and discourage breeding for or against specific characteristics.

There are around 1500 lambing Gute ewes in Sweden today in 107 flocks according to the Swedish sheep breeders’ association (2018).

The Gute sheep is a symbol of the island of Gotland. Gute ram parking barriers are a common sight in the medieval city of Visby in Gotland. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Wool characteristics

Gute wool has a wide variety of qualities, from very fine undercoat to black kemp. There is a wide variation between individuals and also over the body of one individual. This makes Gute sheep ideal for a small household. Go back a hundred years and see yourself as a small farmer with lots of different kinds of wool for lots of purposes from only a small flock of Gute sheep.

Gute wool has a long outer coat of around 40 micron, a very fine undercoat of around 17 micron and kemp. All these fiber types are present all over the fleece, but to varying degrees. The long and strong outer coat protects the sheep from wind and rain and the fine undercoat keeps the sheep warm. Kemp keeps the staple open and perpendicular to the body of the sheep. This protects the sheep even further from wind and rain and lets even more air in to the staple to keep the sheep warm. There is basically no crimp in the wool. The colour can vary over the body and over the staple.

Gute wool from one individual. The sheep has long and strong overcoat, fine undercoat and kemp over the whole body, but to varying degrees.
Gute wool from one individual. The sheep has long and strong overcoat, fine undercoat and kemp over the whole body, but to varying degrees.

Gute sheep have some primitive characteristics left, one of which being rooing. This means that they naturally shed their wool once a year, usually in the spring or early summer. The fiber thins out and eventually breaks to pave the way for a new fiber. The different fiber types are rooed at different times. A shepherd who knows this can choose to shear the sheep at a specific time depending on which fiber type is being rooed.

Processing

I like to find the superpowers of a fleece and take advantage of these when I prepare and spin it. When I wrote the article for Spin-off I played with different preparation and spinning methods to find the best yarn for the Gute fleece I had.

Since the kemp keeps the staples open, Gute wool is light. I wanted to keep this lightness in the yarn that I spun. I could comb the fiber to make a strong yarn, but when I tried that I just enhanced the coarseness of the wool and it felt more like rope. That may have made a wonderfully strong and rustic rug yarn, but that was not what I was after.

Sampling and swatching

Since the three different fiber types are depending on each other for their respective characteristics, I wanted to keep them together. Therefore I wanted to card them and spin a woolen yarn. For extra lightness I wanted to spin with low twist and 2-ply it. This resulted in a very pleasant sample with a rustic feeling. Below are the samples I made for the Spin-off arcticle. The felted swatch comes from a 10×10 cm woven sample. I love how the yarn felted – very evenly and with a nice touch to it.

Samples and swatches of Gute wool.
Samples and swatches of Gute wool.

Flicking tips

To tease the wool before carding I flick carded the tip and cut ends. When I looked at the staples after flick carding I saw something interesting. I found a lot less kemp in the flicked staples, especially at the cut end. A lot of kemp was stuck in the flick card.

After flick carding the staples a lot of the kemp was left in the flick card.
After flick carding the staples a lot of the kemp was left in the flick card.

This means that the kemp alone had been shed. If you look at the picture above with all the staples in length order you can see the shedding point (the rise) at around 2 cm from the cut end.

In a previous blog post I used my combs to tease the locks before carding. I think using combs for teasing would take away too much of the fine undercoat. By using the flick card I only open up the staples and remove some of the kemp.

Rise and yield

So, the cut end of the kemp was now in the flick card. Left in the staple was the rooed end and the tip end, both thinly tapered rather than straight angle cut. This means that my yarn would be less itchy than a Gute yarn with the cut ends in the yarn. How come? Well, a yarn is itchy if it makes the skin yield to the fiber. If instead the fiber yields to the surface of the skin, the yarn doesn’t itch. Since the kemp ends are thinly tapered, the fibers will yield to the skin. By all means, this is still a rustic yarn that is more itchy than, say, a merino yarn, but the yarn I spun is surprisingly comfortable against my skin.

Carding

After having flicked the staples I carded rolags. Gute wool is wonderful to card, It feels light and airy, but still rustic. There is sort of a fudge-like feeling to carding Gute wool – slow but still smooth. I did use the wrong hand cards, though. Since I card mostly fine wools I have a pair of 108 tpi (teeth per square inch) cards. I contacted my supplier, but the 72 tpi cards were out of stock. The 108 tpi cards are not ideal for Gute wool, but they do a decent enough job.

I carded the flicked staples and made rolags. Photo by Isak Waltin.
I carded the flicked staples and made rolags.

There was a lot of kemp waste on the floor after I had carded the flicked staples. The kemp has quite a prominent medulla (the central core of the fiber, consisting of air-filled cells) and therefore breaks easily.

Ok, my 16-year-old just read this post over my shoulder and was convinced I had made half of the words up. He basically rofl-ed.

How I card

To load the stationary card, I just gently pull them onto the teeth of the card. I gently stroke the wool with the active card. I make 6 strokes for each pass, transfer the wool and make another two passes. I roll the carded batt off the stationary card and make a rolag with the help of the back of my hand. One final roll of between the cards and a baby rolag is born.

Newborn Gute rolags.
Newborn Gute rolags.

If you want to dive into carding, here is a video where I card rolags, start at 4:12.

Spinning

Spinning Gute wool in the morning sun. Photo by Isak Waltin.
Spinning Gute wool in the morning sun. Photo by Isak Waltin.

I wanted a yarn that had as much air as possible in it. I also wanted a yarn that would resemble the function of the wool on the sheep as much as possible – strong and durable, yet still light and airy. Therefore I spun the carded rolags with longdraw at a low ratio for a low twist yarn. The longdraw captures a lot of air between the fibers and the low twist makes sure the air isn’t squeezed out in a tight twist.

2-ply yarn of Gute wool, spun with longdraw from hand-carded rolags.
2-ply yarn of Gute wool, spun with longdraw from hand-carded rolags.

I got the result I wanted – a remarkably light and airy yarn that is still strong and has a really rustic feeling.

A quick comparison with Gotland wool

Let’s go back a few steps here. Remember I told you that Gute sheep and Gotland sheep have the same mother, the horn sheep? The breeding of Gotland sheep was aimed at pretty skins with lots of shiny outercoat and very little undercoat. This makes Gotland wool very dense. Aiming to find the superpowers of a wool, I spun the Gotland wool into a shiny, dense and thin yarn and the Gute wool into a light, strong and rustic yarn.

Below are the Gute and Gotland yarns side by side. They are the same length and the same weight. Gute wool has a lot more undercoat than Gotland wool, but still less undercoat than outercoat. The kemp helps keeping the Gute yarn open and airy.

Gute and Gotland yarn. Both are around 100 m and 45 g.
Gute and Gotland yarn. Both are around 100 m and 45 g.

Looking at these two skeins makes me wonder if the breeds have anything to do with each other at all. But they do. And the picture tells me that it is possible to find the superpowers of a fleece and make them truly shine in a yarn.

Use

I used the Gotland wool in a project that would show the shine and the drape of the yarn. With Gute wool I want to enhance the sturdiness, the lightness and the warmth.

Knitted swatch of Gute yarn.
Knitted swatch of Gute yarn.

While the Gute yarn knits up evenly and very appealing, I was really intrigued by its felting abilities.

A woven and felted swatch from Gute wool.
A woven and felted swatch from Gute wool.

The Gute fleece I bought consists of many qualities and lengths. Dividing the fleece to suit different purposes is appealing. But my plan now is to spin it all up like I have with this first skein and weave a simple tabby pattern. I want to take advantage of the splendid felting abilities and full the fabric into a vadmal material, hopefully in a fulling mill. I can’t imagine I will get enough fulled fabric for a jacket, but perhaps a vest! With handsewn buttonholes. Wouldn’t that be something?

Live webinar!

This Saturday, May 25th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Gute wool from a spinner’s perspective. I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Gute wool. I will use my Gute fleece as a case study and show you glimpses of how I process the wool.

This is a chance for me to meet you (in the chat at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The previous live breed study webinar I did was a great success. I can’t wait to see you again in this webinar.

You can register even if you can’t make it to the live event (I’m sorry Australia and New Zealand, I know it is in the middle of the night for you). I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar. So register now!

The event has passed


Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Flicking tips

A ball of wool

After a discussion in a Facebook spinning group about solidified grease in the tips of a fleece, I decided to do a mini study of different ways to prepare a fleece for spinning. I have a fleece of my own that is wonderfully clean but has tips with solidified grease.

The fleece

On the last wool journey with my wool traveling club, I bought a beautiful NKS fleece. NKS stands for Norsk kvit sau: Norwegian white sheep. This is basically what crossbreds are called in Norway. The fleece I chose had a full year’s growth.

In Sweden most sheep are shorn twice a year, which naturally makes the fleece shorter. This means that the fleece shorn in the early spring is of worse quality (since all the nutrients go straight to the lamb) and usually has more vegetable matter (because the sheep have spent much of the winter indoors). The fleece shorn in the autumn has better quality (since the sheep has no lamb to nourish) and less vegetable matter (since the sheep are out grazing). So: Twice a year gives a better but shorter autumn fleece. Once a year gives a longer fleece but can be more mixed in quality.

Lanoliny tips

The fleece was wonderfully clean and shiny with staples of around 12 cm. The tips, though, were greasy. I think that the Norwegian rain had pushed all the lanolin out into the tips. I washed the fleece straight away by soaking it in rain water. It wasn’t until recently (one year after I bought the fleece) that I started processing, and by then the greasy tips had solidified.

Experiment: Flicked vs unflicked tips

I wanted to make an experiment and compare different preparation methods. First, I prepared the way I usually do with a fleece I want to comb: Loading the combs with the cut ends on the tines and combing three passes, then pulling the wool off the comb in one long top.

Combing this way was a struggle. It took a lot of muscle power to get the combs through the wool. And after three passes it was not nearly in a condition I could approve (I always do an uneven number of passes so that I pull the wool off the combs from the cut ends). So, I did five passes. Pulling the wool off the comb was also difficult, the wool was still uneven with bits of solidified gunk left. I picked as much of it out, but there was still stuff left when I spun the top, which of course interrupted my spinning flow.

When you play the videos, a captions symbol appears to the left of the settings symbol. Click or unclick the captions, depending on your preferences.

This was not a pleasant combing experience. So, I tried a different way. I flicked the solidified grease ends before combing. Combing the staples with the tip ends flick carded was a whole different experience.

A lot of gunk was left in the flicker and the floor was sprayed with gunk powder.

A floor dirty with wool waste.
Powdered gunk and gunky flicker waste.

The combing was easy and pleasant after flick carding the tips and I was perfectly happy after my usual three passes. Pulling the wool off the combs was also nice and smooth and the spinning was uninterrupted and yummy.

A skein of white handspun yarn.
A finished skein of fingering weight 2-ply NKS wool, spun with short draw from hand combed tops on a spinning wheel. 194 m, 70 g, 2766 m/kg.

I spun the skein above with both of the preparation techniques. Mostly the flicked version, though, since I only combed a couple of bird’s nests with the tips unflicked. I also knitted a swatch with the finished yarn.

A knitted swatch
A knitted swatch, 25 stitches and 39 rows in 10×10 cm

Other ways to use a flick card

This was one example where flick carding the tips made a big difference for the preparation and spinning experience. I also use my flick card for several other purposes:

  • To remove brittle tips. If I have a fleece with fine fibers and brittle tips I can use the flick card on the tip ends. The brittle tips will end up in the card instead of the yarn (as nepps).
  • To flick both ends of a staple. Sometimes I want to spin from the lock. A flick card is a good tool to separate the fibers in individual staples and spin staple by staple.
  • To tease staples before carding. This might take time, but will give a good result. Fibers that are too short, brittle or dirty will stay in the flick card and the good stuff will go to carding.

Do you use your flick card for other purposes?

Tech stuff

In these videos I have played with both narration and captions. As you may know, I want to shoot my videos outside if possible. But the area around our house is quite noisy. In the background on the other side of the lake you can see the most intense motorway in Sweden, and it makes a lot of noise. Also, we live close to a city airport and the planes fly just above our house, it’s almost like we can tickle the planes on the bellies if we stretch enough. This is why I wanted to try to narrate the clips. And I think it worked out.

In a previous video where I tested my makeshift studio, I added equally makeshift captions. Since then, my editing software has upgraded with a function for closed captioning. Yay! I think they work too.

Please let me know if there is anything of the technical stuff I can improve.