How to Card Sheep Wool

Written by fabianna dardati
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How to Card Sheep Wool
In springtime, the sheep await their turn with the shearing machine. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Carding sheep wool and other animal fibres is necessary to prepare it for spinning. Before the Industrial Revolution, there was no choice but to spend hours doing it by hand with hand carders. Today there are other options. The method you choose depends on time, budget and willingness to use elbow grease. Before carding, the fibre should be "picked," or pulled apart and freed of any larger visible organic material. This can be done by hand or by machine. Washing is also recommended after the picking process.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Two hand carders, or
  • Drum carder, or
  • Industrial fibre mill

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Instructions

    Hand Carding

  1. 1

    Grab the handle of one hand carder in one fist. With the carder teeth facing upward, take a piece of fleece at the end of your fingertips and pull it along the teeth, catching small pieces of fleece. Dress the carder with small pieces of fibre, not big chunks. Spread the fleece out evenly.

    How to Card Sheep Wool
    Expert shearers get the fleece off in one piece. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images News/Getty Images)
  2. 2

    Take the second hand carder and hold it over the first one, teeth facing downward.

    How to Card Sheep Wool
    The newly sheared sheep escape the shearing shed. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images News/Getty Images)
  3. 3

    Push the upper carder lightly into the fleece of the lower carder, and pull the carders in opposite directions. It is similar to brushing hair, smoothing the strands and softening the tangles. Repeat until the fleece is evenly distributed between the two carders and you feel no more resistance against the fibres.

    How to Card Sheep Wool
    The wool is picked to remove large debris and to separate the locks prior to carding. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images News/Getty Images)
  4. 4

    Transfer the fleece back onto the first carder and repeat the previous step three or four more times, until the fleece is very soft and airy.

    How to Card Sheep Wool
    Alpaca wool is processed similarly to sheep wool. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images News/Getty Images)
  5. 5

    Roll the fleece off the carder and place it into a bag or other container for storage until you are ready to spin. Repeat the entire process again with new sections of fleece.

    Drum Carding

  1. 1

    Take a piece of fleece and pull it to form an evenly distributed, thin, flat square as wide as the entry tray of the drum carder.

    How to Card Sheep Wool
    A hand-cranked drum carder imitates the motion of the hand carders. (Mark Dadswell/Getty Images News/Getty Images)
  2. 2

    Begin cranking slowly and evenly in a clockwise motion, gently pushing the fleece into the device until the end of the square catches on the drum teeth.

  3. 3

    Watch the larger drum. The fleece will begin to appear there. Notice that it is now tensed smooth against the teeth. Continue cranking. When all the fleece from the tray has been transferred to the larger drum, add another fleece square to the entry tray and repeat the carding process.

  4. 4

    Stop adding fleece to the tray when the "batt," or mass of carded fleece on the large drum is almost as thick as the length of its teeth.

  5. 5

    Turn the drum carder until the seam of the larger drum is showing. Find the horizontal space across the drum where you can insert a doffing stick.

  6. 6

    Insert the doffing stick underneath the fibres along the seam, and gently pull upward to separate these fibres from each other until the entire batt has been opened. Grab one of the free ends of the batt with one hand, and pull upward to remove it from the drum while slowly turning the crank with your other hand.

    Machine Carding

  1. 1

    Find a local wool-processing mill that offers services to local fibre farmers and artists. Some may take special orders. A mill can assist with any phase of the fleece-to-yarn process.

    How to Card Sheep Wool
    Small industrial fibre mills may accept custom orders to process your fleece. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)
  2. 2

    Provide detailed instructions about what process or processes you would like performed. You may pick and wash the fleece yourself and just have them card, it or you may have them perform the entire wool-to-yarn process.

    How to Card Sheep Wool
    The dye process is done before carding. (Kim Steele/Photodisc/Getty Images)
  3. 3

    Take your raw fleece to the mill and provide instructions.

    How to Card Sheep Wool
    The carding process influences the quality of your final product. (MASH/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Tips and warnings

  • Alpaca fleece does not contain the oily substance called lanolin that characterises sheep wool; however, alpacas enjoy rolling in the dust, so a light washing of the fleece is sometimes recommended.
  • Experiment with mixing fibres. The carding stage is ideal for combining cotton, alpaca, sheep, acrylic silk, cashmere, angora and other fibres.

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