What is Carding Wool?

A Kaminsky

In the days before machine looms and store-bought materials, wool was a major source of income, and being able to spin and weave it meant a woman could provide warm clothing for her family. Carding wool is the process by which wool fibers (or cotton, for that matter) are separated and prepared for spinning. It can be done by hand, or nowadays, by machine.

Carding wool is the process by which wool fibers are separated and prepared for spinning.
Carding wool is the process by which wool fibers are separated and prepared for spinning.

Carding wool by hand takes practice. The carder takes two carding combs, which have upstanding teeth, and loads one with the wool fibers. Using a back and forth motion, the person places one carder on top and "combs" the carder through the wool on the lower carding comb. When all the wool has been transferred from the bottom carder to the top, the carding combs are flipped over and the process is reversed. When the wool is light, airy, the fibers separate and free from tangles, the mass is formed into a rolag, or roll of fiber, for use on a spinning wheel.

Carding wool can be spun into thread.
Carding wool can be spun into thread.

Carding wool by machine doesn't take as long, and obviously, more wool can be carded at one time. When carding wool by machine, the operator puts the wool fibers on a drum with very coarse teeth. The wool is then transferred over a series of rolling drums, each with successively finer teeth. When the operator takes the wool off the last drum, it is separated into individual fibers and is ready to go to another machine to be spun into thread. The carding technology has changed little in the past several years, mostly because the drum method is the most efficient way to get large amounts of wool fiber carded and ready for use in garments in a relatively short time.

Many fiber and spinning guilds still teach the carding wool technique by hand. They also teach how the wool can be spun into thread, and even how to weave the thread into cloth. Someone wanting to appreciate the hard work and craftsmanship of a bygone era could begin with learning to card wool and spinning it into thread.

When the wool is airy and free of tangles it is ready for the spinning wheel.
When the wool is airy and free of tangles it is ready for the spinning wheel.

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Discussion Comments


I'm wondering what tpi (teeth per inch) should my drum carder be if I was to card angora wool? Thanks.


Could anyone give some tips on carding wool fleece if I want to incorporate it into a mohair yarn?

I have carded regular raw wool before, but I never used the spinning fibers that resulted in a mixture -- only to make pure yarns.

So what kind of consistency do I need to look for if I want to make a wool-mohair blend when I spin it?

I know that some fibers tend to cling better if they're left more rough, but does this hold true for wool and mohair? Or do I just need to card the wool as usual and then incorporate it into my yarn?

Any tips would be greatly appreciated!


Did you know that they also make wool carding machines? That can really take a lot of the tedium out of the preparation for handspinning.

Although I love making my own yarn, I have to say that it can get old carding wool over and over again until you get that perfect consistency.

Of course, I suppose if I really wanted convenience then I could just buy pre-made spinning fiber, but where would the fun in that be?

I guess I just like my handspinning to be moderately labor intensive, instead of very labor intensive.

What about you guys? Are you die hard carders, or do you prefer to leave some of the work to the machines?


Nice article! I grew up carding wool with my grandmother (she kept sheep and goats), and all of what you said is spot on.

I'd just like to add that it does take some technique to learn. Though carding wool isn't particularly difficult, it can take some getting used to to get the best consistencies with different kinds of wool.

For example, working with plain raw wool can take a little more force than working with a softer wool, like mohair wool.

Of course, the type of wool batts that you get are affected by the material of the wool as well as how you use it, but you can up the quality with better technique.

I would really encourage anybody who gets the chance to try carding wool sometimes. It's actually a lot of fun, and it's satisfying to get all the tangles and debris out and end up with a cloud like fluffy pile of wool.

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