Carding fiber is one of the most relaxing chores that I do. It requires no real thought and it's the type of repetitious activity that allows the mind to wander and the body to completely relax. There is no machinery involved, no electricity expended, and no carbon emissions to be concerned with. Each movement of the brush is a link with generations of women who sat in the evenings, carding fiber just like me.
Fiber can describe any hair from nearly any type of animal. People usually spin alpaca, sheep's wool, or angora (either goat or rabbit) but that is certainly not the limit of fibers available. Dedicated spinners will spin everything from dryer lint to dog hair just to see if they can. Before it can be spun, however, the fiber needs to be carded.
Carding brushes the fibers and causes them to all face in the same direction. It takes out tangles and helps the spinner to find burrs and knots that she might have missed during the cleaning process. Carding allows the experienced spinner to blend colors and different fibers to get special effects in the finished yarn.
When the fiber is carded it is carefully rolled into a small bundle called a rolag. These bundles make it easy for the spinner to attach the fiber to the thread she is spinning and create strong, smooth joins in the thread. Until fiber is cleaned, carded, and spun it cannot be used for your favorite knitting project.
How to Card Fiber
The only thing you really need to card fiber (besides the fiber of course) is a pair of carding combs. Several companies make them and you can find them all over the internet. It is fine to buy used carding combs.
There are different shapes. Some are flat and some are curved. I prefer the curved ones because they fit over my thigh and make it easier for me to hold one comb steady while I comb with the other.
If you have a group of spinners locally it is a good idea to visit a meeting or two and see if you can get a close look at different types of combs before you decide on one. I used two dog brushes until I found the hand cards that I liked best, so you may want to try that to buy yourself some time. You follow the same steps with the two dog brushes as you would with the carding combs.
Once you get your cards mark them for your right and left hand and don't change which is which.
Steps to Carding Fiber
These instructions are for a right handed person. If you are left handed you will do things with the opposite hands.
1. When you are ready to begin sit in a comfortable chair.
2. Lay one of the cards across your left knee. Mark it L for left.
3. Pull the fiber gently through the teeth of the card so that it sticks.
4. With the right card gently brush across the fiber so that it becomes evenly distributed over both cards.
5. Gently pull the wool off the right carder and lay it on top of the left.
6. Repeat the brushing process until the wool is fluffy. It will take about five or six times for most people.
Gently pull the fiber from the right carder and lay it on top of the left. Carefully roll it off the carding tool and into a fluffy roll. This is the rolag. Place it in your basket and repeat the process. When the basket is full of rolags you will be ready to spin your yarn.