Nicky Adkins

Making, Doing and Mending

Blog for Nicky Adkins, at Nicky Adkins Handmade

From fibre to carder to roving

With the arrival of my new friend, Big Mabel, I've been having great fun. My first batt, slightly graduated blue, was so much fun to make. Turning the handle on the drum carder is so satisfying, seeing the first few strands of fibre being caught by the feeder drum and watching as it's pulled in, then the effortless magic of seeing it transfer to the main drum, perfectly combed and evenly spread. The resulting batt was luxurious in its density and a thing of beauty in itself. The fibre spun up beautifully, easily and quickly.

Previous blending was done on a blending board, pulled out into rolags and though fun to start with, quickly became very slow and labourious. Getting enough rolags made up for 100g of yarn took ages, and spinning them up would mean contending with uneven spread, and those occassional little neps that refused to tease out. Anything that stops the flow of spinning is frustrating, and the experience was never quite what I'd hoped for. Not so a Big Mabel batt!

I worked across it, tearing off strips and pre-drafting. As the complexity of the colour became focused on the bobbin, I could see that it was going to make gorgeous yarn and it did. Chain plying it was so satisfying, and the evenness of the single meant that there were no weaknesses along its length so no breakages. Win! The finished yarn is just drying, photos to follow. 

As they're intended for spinning, a smooth batt is exactly what I'm aiming for, and Big Mabel makes it so easy. Here's the process:


The fibres used are two shades of purple merino, (Amethyst and Storm) with black (Raven) and grey (Ash) to add depth. As a sparkle addict, of course I had to throw in a fair quantity of Angelina! This shade is called forest blaze, and it sparkles alternately orange, green and slightly purple


Look at how beautifully it took to the drum! The key lesson I've learned so far is to make sure I don't add too much fibre at once. It's the top tip that I picked up from the tutorial videos I'd watched online too, but it's not until you have a go that you can get a sense of just how much is too much, which is what I learned in the batt I made after the blues one. The horrible thing is that you can see it rucking up under the feeder drum and you know it's going to come through lumpy but once it starts you can't stop it. And once the fibres are caught, trying to hold them back will only pull them onto the feeder drum where they'll catch too far down to be transfered. In the picture above, you can see my current measure of the 'right' amount of fibre to go through on each pass. 


I took the advice of various helpful videos and added the Angelina straight onto the main drum. It's just too flyaway to feed through properly. The finishing brush pictured at the back of the drum below is a complete godsend for flyaway fibres! I'd previously used a paintbrush as an ad hoc finishing brush, which worked well but a proper fitted one is well worth the money if you're shelling out on an expensive piece of kit. 


The final colour added was the grey, because I wanted to be sure that there was only a little bit used. The inspiration for this batt was a tiny ball of leftover yarn that I'd used to make a scarf for my mum a couple of years ago and I have absolutely no idea which yarn it was! The scarf was very much loved, but eventually accidentally machine washed. Woe. So the plan is to make her a new one for Christmas, with yarn as close to the original as I can manage. 


Doffing and removing the batt is one of the most satisfying things I'e ever experienced. Look at it! How cleanly it comes away, how straight the fibres are! 





Et voila! Gorgeous. But having spun up a couple of batts now, I know that you can get small sections of yarn that are entirely one colour or the other, or a much denser clump of sparkle. So I decided to put it through the carder again, for a second pass. 


The batt was split into three long sections, then a handful of of each section pulled off at a time. This meant that every collection of fibre fed into the carder would contain a fairly even quantity of each colour and sparkle.


It's so much more even on the second pass that I was slightly worried I'd just made mud! By this stage I felt a real attachment to this fibre though. I knew it through and through.

Then it was time to try something new. Using a diz to turn the batt into roving. As a spinner, a length of continuous roving is the ideal. Pulling batts into strips does work, but you end up with fibres everywhere and if you're trying to a graduated colour, you stand more chance of just getting stripes.  I'd seen videos on how to do this, but had the sneaking suspicion that it was waaaay harder than it looked. 


And you know what? It was tricky. Some of the fibre it picked up was a fair way across, so I'm going to need a lot more practise. 


But IT WORKED! I made roving! Look at it. Look how its held together simply by passing it through a hole. Look at the direction of the fibres, and how there's a consistency to it though it's still possible to see the four colours used and the sparkles. I love it.


This is the whole batt in roving form, approximately 50g. What amazed me was how much fibre could be fed through the diz hole (is there a proper word for the diz hole?) As you can see from the image below, the diz I used (from the wonderful Succaplokki on Etsy - their needle gauges are my favourite gauges ever) has many options, and I used the third hole which is only a couple of mm across. Quite excited about trying the smaller two in future! 


A second batt means that I should have enough yarn for mum's scarf. And joyously, I can always make more. Can't wait to spin this up.

Nicky Adkins