How-to: hand card alpaca fiber

Note: I’m out-of-town this week, so this post is going up automatically.

A long time ago, in a small apartment in northern Colorado, I processed four alpaca fleeces without a drum carder. It was…time consuming. I often spun from the lock, right off the fleece with no processing. But Tulip had very short staples last year, and I had to card her fiber.

[picture of Tulip’s fiber]

Wikipedia tells me that the word “carder” is derived from the Latin word for teasle. Teasles are a plant with a prickly flower, which apparently was used for combing fiber. Suddenly hand carders don’t look so bad, actually.

[picture of my hand carders]

I have Schacht Spindle hand carders, with the finer carding cloth that has 112 teeth per square inch. The carders have a lovely curve, which keeps them from slipping off your thigh has you work. Many people mark the carders with L and R, to indicate which are held in which hands. It’s supposed to keep them from wearing funny. I never bothered. In addition to the two carders, I have pet brush that I use to clean the teeth of the carders between different colors.

[picture of hand carders with Brittany fiber in them]

I start by putting one carder on my thigh with the teeth facing me. I have the handle facing out from my legs, so it’s easier to grab. I take Tulip’s fiber in my dominant hand, with the tips that were on the outside of her body sticking out of my fist. Then I drag those tips across the teeth of the carder, allowing the fiber to pull out of my hand as it catches on the carders. I often press gently with my other hand to help it “stick” to the carders.


This is called “loading the carder”, and the cold, hard, truth is that the less fiber you put on the carders, the better the end product will be. There is really no substitute for taking the time in the early steps to do this right.

[picture of me carding]

Once the carder is loaded, I hold the handle of the carder on my thigh with one hand and pick up the other carder. Now, I gently comb the fiber on the carder with the other carder. The motion is kind of like petting a cat; you don’t want to press down to hard. I’m super careful not to start combing too high on the carder on my thigh, as it creates tangles along the front edge of the other carder. These tangles are called “nebs” and they make spinning harder.

[picture of nebs]

Most of the fiber will transfer off the thigh carder and onto the other carder as you brush. After a few swipes, you can probably move on. The next step is to transfer back onto the thigh carder. To do this, pick up both carders and hold them with the teeth facing each other. Starting near the handle of the empty carder, scrape the top of the full carder upwards. The fiber will transfer to the empty carder.

[picture of transfer]

I usually repeat the whole process one more time, or more if I’m blending. To make a blend, I generally load half the carder with alpaca fiber, and the other half with whatever I’m blending. As you transfer the fiber between the two carders, it will get mixed.

To remove the fiber, start as if you were going to transfer between carders. After you’ve loosened up the end of the fiber, you can usually pull it right off.

[picture of removal]

Rolling it end over end makes a rolag, which spins into a woolen-type yarn. You can also spin from the ends for a worsted style yarn.

[Picture of rolag and worsted prep]

About cliffhousealpacas

Once upon a time, my dad drove by some funny looking animals standing on little dirt hills in a field. Thus, the dream of an alpaca ranch was born. Now, we are embarking on a grand adventure of raising alpacas and becoming fiber artists.
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1 Response to How-to: hand card alpaca fiber

  1. Pingback: Happy birthday to the blog | Cliff House Alpacas

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