I started yesterday by telling you about one of the two aspects that affects Shelter's milling process: fleece dying and color blending.  The second quality that significantly affects the process is its preparation as a woolen-spun yarn. Woolen-spun yarns, unlike their smoother worsted-spun cousins, are prepared using a process called carding.

We left off in our last post with a mish mash of loud-colored wool going into the Picker. Once the Picker has done its work, the wool gets loaded onto the Carder: a giant machine with several rolling cylinders covered in metal teeth. The purpose of this machine is to open up the fiber, blend the wool together evenly, and prepare it into individual plies of roping which will be later spun into yarn. You'll notice right away that the carder has already whipped our bright wool confetti into shape, producing an even, golden heather.

Unlike combing, which occurs during worsted-spinning, carding allows large amounts of air to be trapped within a cloud of slightly jumbled fibers. These tumbleweed-like layers of wool allow for a loftiness and springiness that will translate into the behavior of the finished yarn. The carded fiber emerges as a 'web' halfway through its carding process; the wool at this stage looks incredibly beautiful and delicate, like a gentle veil of color floating through space.

If the fiber was being prepared for handspinning, it could be taken off the machines at this stage in batting form. Below is a box of freshly carded grey fiber that wasn't spun beyond this point. If you could reach your hand in here, you'd be amazed at how soft and fluffy this stuff feels. You might want to set up camp inside of this box.

As the fiber approaches the end of the carding machine, a large cylinder called the doffer is used to relay the bat into the final section of the machine, where it is split into several individual ropings (the term "roping" is specifically used to describe this stage in woolen spinning mills, versus the more commonly known term "roving" which is used in a worsted spinning processes.) These fine strands of roping will make up a single ply in every spun yarn, but as yet have no twist in them. If you've ever knit with an unspun icelandic yarn before, the plies at this point have a similar appearance.

The unspun roping strands mark the conclusion of the carding process. When a batch of roping cakes are ready, they are removed from the Carder and stored on racks (shown here) where they await the next step of the process: the spinning frame. It is there they will get their first taste of true twist.

Tomorrow, we'll make some plies.


  • Hey Jared,

    I’m really enjoying the virtual/photographic tour of Harrisville Mills and the production of Shelter yarns. Thanks for sharing with us all.

    I do have some questions/confusions that I hope you can answer/clear up.

    I always thought the carding produced roving used to create woolen spun yarns. While combing produces top used for worsted spun yarns. Are these designations only for hand spinning? This is the first time I’ve heard the term roping. Very interesting.

    Thanks again!
    ~Michael aka WonderMike

    WonderMike on

  • You know you could sell those fibers to hand spinners and they would be very happy

    Desiree on

  • Oh my goodness… that box of gray fiber is amazing. Is there anyway I can get my hands on some? I’d love to spin it up on my spindle!
    Thank you so much for this tour, I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s post.

    Andrea on

  • Unlike when one finds out how a magician performs his illusions, this behind-the-scenes tour only adds to your particular brand of magic! Thanks so much, Jared!

    Tamara on

  • Wow. Thank you so much for these posts. I’m really enjoying learning about the process of making yarn.

    Rebecca on

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