How Rugs Are Made: Preparing the Wool for Spinning
By understanding how carpets are made, you will have a greater understanding of the artistry and craftsmanship behind them. In an earlier article, we discussed the importance of sheep wool and how it is sheared. The topic of this article is about the next part of the process, carding and combing the wool.
Carding vs Combing
Once the wool has been removed from the sheep and washed, it is tangled and matted. To spin it, you must remove the mats and get the fibers into somewhat of alignment. This is why it must be combed or carded first.
It is worth mentioning at this moment that plant fibers are also carded in one part of the processing, but there is much more to that process. Silk requires an entirely different type of processing that does not even resemble the process for wool or other animal fibers. The carding process that will be discussed applies to wool, camel hair, ox hair, goat hair and other animal fibers.
The first thing that must be distinguished is the process of combing from carding. Combing is just what it sounds like, using a comb to remove the knots and tangles. These little knots are called “noils” and create lumps in the fiber if they are left in before spinning it. Combing is the oldest form of fiber processing.
Wool combs often have long, curved teeth that are attached to a wooden piece in rows. It has a handle attached for holding it. The wool is passed through them, and all of the debris, such as vegetable matter, are removed. During this process, only the longest fibers are retained for spinning. A collection of short and unusable fibers collect on the comb. These are often discarded or used for stuffing items such as mattresses or used to make felt.
Combing produces fibers that are well aligned. It results in a yarn that is strong and does not have a lot of fuzziness or fluffiness. Many times, combing is used to produce wool that is to be used for warp because it is strong, but it is not very soft. It is also worth noting that there are separate spinning techniques for wool that has been combed and wool that has been carded.
Wool cards are first recorded in the 13th century in France. They consist of a wooden paddle through which rows of nails have been placed. Two sets of these paddles are brushed together. This causes the fibers to be separated and aligned in the same direction. It is much like brushing a long-haired dog or cat. This is an excellent way to process fibers for spinning and results in an evenly spun yarn. It also produces fibers that are suitable for making fluffier yarns for weft.
Eventually, the stiff wooden paddles with nails driven through them were replaced by a cloth that had thin wires perforating it in evenly spaced rows. The wires were small in diameter and curved. These could be easily mounted onto a piece of wood with handles. The advantage is that they were easier on the fibers and did not break them as much. When the teeth wore out, it was much easier to take off the old cloth and replace it with a new one. These are the hand carders that we know today.
In 1748, Louis Paul in Birmingham, England, had the idea to wrap the piece of cloth around a cylinder that could be turned with a handle. He placed two of these cylinders together, and the wool would pass through the rows of teeth on the cylinders. This is known as a drum carder and was much faster than doing it by hand. Of course, this process was later mechanized, and the human component was taken out of it. Modern carding machines can process high amounts of wool in a very short time.
The Carding Process
The carding process itself is simple. A card is held in one hand with the handle facing away from the body. The teeth are pointing up. The other card is held in the other hand with the teeth pointing down. The one that is held with the teeth pointing up and the handle facing away is known as the stationary card. The one that is held in the other hand with the teeth pointing down is known as the working card.
The process starts by loading the wool onto the stationary card. This is done by brushing the wool across it and allowing the fibers to be caught by the teeth. Next, the working card is passed in a downwards motion with a flick at the end to straighten the fibers. This process results in the fibers moving from the stationary card to the working card.
After all the fibers on the stationary card have been processed, the person either switches hands with the working card now becoming the stationary card, or they perform a movement that transfers the fibers back onto the stationary card. This is repeated at least two times, sometimes more depending on the level of processing required and how matted the wool was in the beginning. Using a set of wool combs is almost the same process; only combs are used instead of carders.
How the Carding Process Affects Carpet Quality
One of the reasons why understanding the carding process is important to carpet quality is that it affects the quality of the yarn that can be spun. An under processed wool will have a lot of knots in it and will not produce yarn or thread that is even.
Sometimes, these knots will cause places that can break during the weaving process. The carding process plays an important role in the ability to spin thin, even threads that produce the highest quality carpets.
For the most part, those who make hand-knotted carpets do not have access to a carding machine. Many of them had hand carders beginning in the mid-1800s, but this depends on location. They had primitive cards made from wood and nails long before they had ones made from a more efficient and easier to use carding cloth.
In some primitive tribes, they still use combing as their primary method of fiber preparation. They work with what they have. This is especially true in tribal rugs, such as those that came from the Caucasus Mountains. One can still find Berber tribes in Morocco that use hand combing or carding as their primary method of fiber preparation. Even using hand carding methods, you can get well-processed wool that can be spun into a very fine yarn. It just takes longer than with the more sophisticated equipment.
Now you understand how processing the wool plays a role in the quality of the carpet that is produced. As you can see, it is quite a technologically involved process. For the most part, the process of carding and combing remained the same for thousands of years, and it is still practiced the same way in some remote tribes of the world.
We hope that you have enjoyed this little explanation of a rather simple process that is part of the bigger process used to produce the excellent quality carpets that we have on our website. Enjoy looking around, and you will appreciate the work and special care the went into creating every one of them. Perhaps you will find that unique piece that is the perfect touch for your design.