Getting Acquainted with Big Tom and Fine Fiber

For today’s Fiber Friday, I’m going to take you on another photo adventure with my Big Tom drum carder by Ron nderson at Fancy Kitty (no affiliation, just a happy customer).  Up to now, I’ve been carding medium domestic wool, and it has done a great job.  Big Tom currently comes standard with 120 tpi on the swift, so it is certainly suited for fine fibers, and it was time I tried some.

My subject wool is this oatmeal mill-end Superwash Merino.  I got it cheap, and yep, I got what I paid for… is a mess.  Can I make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear?  We shall see….
I have done a few batts of this, just feeding it in tufts, and not taking any special care. What I got seemed nice enough on the surface, although it seems rather dense for merino (me being used to the combed top I dye).
But, hold it up to the light, and you can see the problem:
Now, I know for a fact that most of those noils were in there to begin with, and I just pushed them down in the batt with the brush and then I *gasp* burnished those suckers down in there. So this is my own fault. My new mission, to get rid of the crud and make a nice fiber prep.
From looking at a variety of carders prior to my purchase, I knew that even the more ‘famous’ carders are advertised that they can card fine fibers ‘with care’. Well, what does that mean? I decided that I needed to take advantage of the construction of the carder. For reference, I’m carding this at around a 4-5 to 1 ratio between the swift and licker in. I removed the brush so any burnishing would be done deliberately by me.
I didn’t take any special care with the actual fiber, since I wanted to see how well the carder itself would deal with these imperfections. I pulled out tufts, and put them on the tray, lumps and all.
The licker in is really great at capturing short fibers and large blobs of neps and noils. So strategy one is to keep the licker as clean as possible so it can do its job.
When fairly clean the licker caught most of the junk, and if something got loose on the swift, it picked it back up when that spot came around again. Admittedly, it seemed like a boat load of fiber caught in the licker. Hold that thought, I’ll come back to it later.

The fine teeth of the swift will not easily absorb clumps, so it was pretty easy to see anything that got past the licker, and just pick them out. (Hence the reason for not having the brush on.) I found that it helped to have good direct lighting for this.
Although it was a little tedious to keep cleaning the licker and picking out bits (great preps take time, right?), soon I had enough of a batt to pull off.   I’ve been asked a few times about doffing, so I’ll cover that here, too.
Here, I’m lifting the edge of the batt. I just use a knitting needle.
I have generally used two dowels or larger knitting needles for pulling the batt off, but had heard of the paper towel tube method and I said ‘duh, more torque’. (yes, I’m a geek). So this is actually a plastic wrap tube (sturdier), and a wooden dowel. Tuck the tube under the fiber, then use the dowel or needle to make a ‘brake’. (The ends will wrap up the other way over the dowel.) It makes it easier to get the batt started, since it cannot just spin on the tube.
Then just roll!
So how did Tom and I do? Check this out:
And here is all the fiber I had cleaned from the licker in while carding…
Just for fun, I put the brush back on, cranked it down, and fed all that junk through the carder.
It went right on, now that it was all fluffy, with little getting trapped on the licker in. But all the lumps went in there, too, since I had the brush on and wasn’t picking any. Again, on the surface, I got a nice looking batt, but using x-ray vision….

And here are the two batts side by side.
On the left is the junk batt, and on the right is the one I labored over. The junk batt is quite dense, while on the other hand the nice batt feels lighter (even though it actually weighs a bit more) and fluffed out very nicely….like merino should.

So, can Big Tom handle fine fibers….absolutely. With care and willingness to accept waste, Tom can turn a ratty mess into a fine fluffy batt. No piece of equipment is a miracle worker, so as always…if you aren’t getting the results you want, try something different. I’m glad I changed my method with this fiber, it has really opened up the possibilities of what I can do with it.

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4 Responses to Getting Acquainted with Big Tom and Fine Fiber

  1. Mary says:

    Awesome!!! What a great tutorial!!! I’ve have just learned a lot from you!! Thanks!

  2. Phyllis says:

    I really enjoyed the drum carder pictoral.
    Even though they aren’t perfect they are still great tools.

  3. wildflower (Marlea Cauffman) says:

    Thanks for adding the lighter fiber.. and yes it has worked I now do Alpaca with some care of how I put it on and a watchful eye . It has worked out for me at last.. thank you again . Marlea

  4. Julie Trnavsky says:

    Thanks for the excellent tutorial! I have a little tom and have been picking out noils etc. I do clean the licker to get cleaner batts…but taking off the brush cleaning the drum is a great method.

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