Carding is a mechanical process that breaks up locks and unorganised clumps of fibre and then aligns the individual fibres so that they are more or less parallel with each other. The word is derived from the Latin carduus meaning teasel, as dried vegetable teasels were first used to comb the raw wool. These ordered fibres can then be passed on to other processes that are specific to the desired end use of the fibre: batting, felt, woollen or worsted yarn, etc. Carding can also be used to create blends of different fibres or different colors. When blending, the carding process combines the different fibres into a homogeneous mix. Commercial cards also have rollers and systems designed to remove some vegetable matter contaminants from the wool.
Creating a rolag using hand cards.
Common to all carders is card clothing. Card clothing made from a sturdy rubber backing in which closely spaced wire pins are embedded is known as flexible card clothing. The shape, length, diameter, and spacing of these wire pins is dictated by the card designer and the particular requirements of the application where the card cloth will be used. A later version of the card clothing product developed during the latter half of the nineteenth century and found only on commercial carding machines, whereby a single piece of serrated wire was wrapped around a roller, became known as metallic card clothing.
Fibre is carded by hand or by several types of machine.
Hand cards are typically square or rectangular paddles manufactured in a variety of sizes from to . The working face of each paddle can be flat or cylindrically curved and wears the card cloth. Small cards, called flick cards, are used to flick the ends of a lock of fibre, or to tease out some strands for spinning off.
Irreler Bauerntradition shows carding, spinning and knitting in the Roscheider Hof Open Air Museum.
A pair of cards is used to brush the wool between them until the fibres are more or less aligned in the same direction. The aligned fibre is then peeled from the card as a rolag. Carding is an activity normally done outside or over a drop cloth, depending on the wool's cleanliness. If the wool contains a lot of vegetable matter, much of it will fall out during the carding process, which is the reason for a drop cloth. If the carding is being done to mix two pre-carded fibres, a drop cloth is not generally necessary.
To card, the person carding sits with a card in each hand. The card in the non-dominant hand (left for most people) rests on a leg. A small amount of fibre is placed on this card and the other card is pulled through the fibre. The moving card separates, straightens, and aligns the fibres. Vegetable matter falls out as the fibres are aligned. Catching too many fibres makes it hard to pull the cards apart. This step, repeated many times, transfers small amounts of the wool to the moving card. Once all the wool has been transferred, the cards are swapped hand-for-hand and the process repeated until all of the fibre is sufficiently aligned and satisfactorily free of debris at which time a rolag is peeled from the card.
Carding Llama hair with a hand-cranked drum carder
The simplest machine carder is the drum carder. Most drum carders are hand-cranked but some are powered by electric motor. These machines generally have two rollers, or drums, covered with card clothing. The licker-in, or smaller roller meters fibre from the infeed tray onto the larger storage drum. The two rollers are connected to each other by a belt- or chain-drive so that the their relative speeds cause the storage drum to gently pull fibres from the licker-in. This pulling straightens the fibres and lays them between the wire pins of the storage drum's card cloth. Fibre is added until the storage drum's card cloth is full. A gap in the card cloth facilitates removal of the batt when the card cloth is full.
Some drum carders have a soft-bristled brush attachment that presses the fibre into the storage drum. This attachment serves to condense the fibres already in the card cloth and adds a small amount of additional straightening to the condensed fibre.
Cottage and commercial carders
Cottage and commercial carding machines differ significantly from the simple drum card. These carders do not store fibre in the card cloth as the drum carder does but, rather, fibre passes through the workings of the carder for storage or for additional processing by other machines.
A typical cottage carder has a single large drum (the swift) accompanied by a pair of in-feed rollers (nippers), one or more pairs of worker and stripper rollers, a fancy, and a doffer. In-feed to the carder is usually accomplished by hand or by conveyor belt and often the output of the cottage carder is stored as a batt or further processed into roving and wound into bumps with an accessory bump winder. The cottage carder in the image below supports both outputs.
Raw fibre, placed on the in-feed table or conveyor is moved to the nippers which restrain and meter the fibre onto the swift. As they are transferred to the swift, many of the fibres are straightened and laid into the swift's card cloth. These fibres will be carried past the worker / stripper rollers to the fancy.
As the swift carries the fibres forward, from the nippers, those fibres that are not yet straightened are picked up by a worker and carried over the top to its paired stripper. Relative to the surface speed of the swift, the worker turns quite slowly. This has the effect of reversing the fibre. The stripper, which turns at a higher speed than the worker, pulls fibres from the worker and passes them to the swift. The stripper's relative surface speed is slower than the swift's so the swift pulls the fibres from the stripper for additional straightening.
Straightened fibres are carried by the swift to the fancy. The fancy's card cloth is designed to engage with the swift's card cloth so that the fibres are lifted to the tips of the swift's card cloth and carried by the swift to the doffer. The fancy and the swift are the only rollers in the carding process that actually touch.
The slowly turning doffer removes the fibres from the swift and carries them to the fly comb where they are stripped from the doffer. A fine web of more or less parallel fibre, a few fibres thick and as wide as the carder's rollers, exits the carder at the fly comb by gravity or other mechanical means for storage or further processing.
Historian of science Joseph Needham ascribes the invention of bow-instruments used in textile technology to India. The earliest evidence for using bow-instruments for carding comes from India (2nd century CE). These carding devices, called kaman and dhunaki would loosen the texture of the fibre by the means of a vibrating string.
In 1748 Lewis Paul of Birmingham, England invented the hand driven carding machine. A coat of wire slips were placed around a card which was then wrapped around a cylinder. Daniel Bourn obtained a similar patent in the same year, and probably used it in his spinning mill at Leominster, but this burnt down in 1754. The invention was later developed and improved by Richard Arkwright and Samuel Crompton. Arkwright's second patent (of 1775) for his carding machine was subsequently declared invalid, because it lacked originality.
From the 1780s, the carding machines were set up in mills in the north of England and mid Wales. The first in Wales was in a factory at Dolobran near Meifod in 1789. These carding mills produced yarn particularly for the Welsh flannel industry.
By 1838, the Spen Valley, centred around Cleckheaton had at least 11 card clothing factories and by 1893 it was generally accepted as the card cloth capital of the world, though by 2008 only two manufacturers of metallic and flexible card clothing remained in England, Garnett Wire Ltd dating back to 1851 and Joseph Sellers & Son Ltd established in 1840.
A carding machine in Haikou, Hainan Province, People's Republic of China This product (rovings, rolags, and batts) can be used for spinning.
Carding of wool can either be done "in the grease" or not, depending on the type of machine and on the spinner's preference. "In the grease" means that the lanolin that naturally comes with the wool has not been washed out, leaving the wool with a slightly greasy feel. The large drum carders do not tend to get along well with lanolin, so most commercial worsted and woollen mills wash the wool before carding. Hand carders (and small drum carders too, though the directions may not recommend it) can be used to card lanolin rich wool. A major benefit of working with the lanolin still in the wool is that it leaves the worker with soft hands.
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