Handcarding a gradient from batts

This is another post taking a closer look at ways you can use BarberBlackSheep Haunui/Merino batts. Previously I showed how you can use them for wet felting and embellishing using the Turning Leaf colour way to make some autumnal leaf decorations.

Today I’m looking at how you can use the 5 batts in the colourway and blend them with hand carders to smooth the transitions for a seamless gradient yarn. You can do this on a drum-carder too and I’ll do another post on that in due course but I’d like to start with hand cards.

This is partly because it’s a really adjustable way of smooth colour transition but mostly because the majority of spinners are more likely to have hand cards than drum carders. Not everyone can justify the extra expense of a drum carder or has the space for one but most of us can stretch to a pair of hand cards and they range in price from very reasonably priced basic ones to super soft and flexible deluxe ones so there’s something for everyone.

I’m not going to repeat the actual hand carding technique. If you’re new to hand carding or need to “brush up” (!) on the process you can take a look at this blog post I did on hand carding rolags a while ago.

I apologise for the photos not being particularly beautiful – today it has rained nonstop here in Wales and was so dark and overcast that I had to use studio lights and white sheet as a background. It’s less than ideal but hopefully you’ll see the process clearly.

I’m using my Still Waters colour way – a wool blend of 35% Haunui New Zealand Halfbred/65% Merino.

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I’m using them in the colour sequence I pack them in but you can arrange the colours in the order that pleases you best so take your time moving them around before you start to decide on your sequence.

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I’m creating one gradient for a singles yarn that I will then Navajo Ply for even colour changes. If you wish spin yours the same way or make a singles yarn or a single that you can ply with another single for a barber pole yarn, carry on like this.

If you want to spin a 2-ply yarn but with the same colour changes you’ll need to start by dividing each colour into two – it’s probably easiest to do this directly along the fold line in the middle and make a “mini batt”. Then you need to do the following process twice; first with one group of 5 mini batts and then with the second group of 5.

Starting with your first colour, unroll the batt and split off one third.

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Take the larger section and put it to one side – this is your beginning point and it’s ready to spin. I just wrap it back into a little nest to keep it together. Taking the second colour unroll the batt …

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… and split that into 3 equal sections. At this point I should say I’m just eyeballing the quantities – the more you do this the more accurate you get and it doesn’t need to be absolutely perfect. But if you’re worried about not getting the right amounts then you can use digital scales (you’ll need them to weigh down to 1 gram)

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Set aside the batts and strips you aren’t working on – it helps to have finished sections on one side of you and the ones still to blend on the other. If you can have a spare surface or a basket to place the finished nests in that helps to keep them in order ready for spinning too.

Take one section of your first colour and one of the second and divide each strip into 4 pieces.

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Now arrange them in three groups:

a) two pieces of Colour 1 and one piece of Colour 2

b) One piece each of both Colours 1 & 2

c) one piece of Colour 1 and two pieces and Colour 2 like thus …

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The amounts of fibre in each of the three groups will almost certainly be too much to card in one go. Remember the rule that less is always more with both hand carding and drum carding – you get better results if you don’t try and cram too much fibre on in one go. So working methodically and keeping the groups separate, split the group into half again or even further if that’s easier.

Here I’m working with Group A. I lay some of the first colour on the carder, then some of the second colour, then top it with the remaining piece of the first colour again.

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Blend the fibres by hand carding two or three passes as per your normal technique or following the method in the link at the beginning of this post. DSC_0030

We’re not making rolags with this technique however (although if you prefer to spin from rolags you can absolutely do that instead). Lift the fibre from the last carder as usual so it lies on top of the teeth.

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Then starting at one of the shorter sides roll the little wad of blended fibre so the fibres lie parallel to each other.

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… which gives you a small “sausage” like section of fibre that is almost like a chunk out of section of roving.

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We’re now going to attenuate and pull the fibres out just the same way as if you were pre-drafting fibres for spinning (which is in fact all you’re doing!) So you want to hold your two hands sufficient distance apart to allow the fibres to slip past each other as you gently pull them out into sliver. I can’t show this because I don’t have three hands – which of course on the whole is a good thing but less so when you’re trying to take photographs of making things by hand! You’ll just have to imagine my right hand drafting the fibres back in this photo.

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Now you have your little section of sliver you can roll it up into a little nest and put it next to the first colour. Continue with the remaining section of Group A and then do the same with Group B and Group C. You’ll have a gradient of nests reaching from one “mother” colour to the next like this.

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Pretty huh?

If you think at any point that there is too big a jump between shades it’s the simplest thing in the world to smooth out – you simply take the two nests and remove a piece of each and re-card them together to make yet another transition shade. I told you it was versatile!

Now you’re going to do the same thing with the next two shades. Colour 2 was split into three pieces. We just used the one piece up, the second piece you’re going to set aside as the “mother colour” which is spun as it is and now you’ll take the third piece ready to blend with the next section. Divide Colour 2 into four pieces ready and taking Colour 3, split it into three strips to repeat the same process.

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2 x four equal pieces in 3 groups. Split as necessary and blend. Roll sideways and draft into sliver. More pretty gradient nests …

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Keep doing this with the 4th and 5th colours. Remember that the 5th colour you’ll split it into a 1/3 and 2/3 like you did with the first colour. You can in fact make a never-ending gradient by carding a third of Colours 1 & 5 together to join the gradient back in a loop or alternatively you can tack another gradient set on in the same way – lots of my Haunui/Merino batts colour ways compliment each other so you can make an amazingly long gradient yarn this way if you choose!

You don’t need me to keep waffling; you know where you’re going now. Here are the rest of the pictures though.

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Wooo… lovely long gradient nests waiting to be spun up.

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It’s super awesome fun. I hope you’ve enjoyed this gradient tutorial and that it’s inspired you to have a play with making your own gradients. You can do this with so many fibres, not just my batts. Keep experimenting.

The more blends you do between shades, the better and smoother your gradient colour changes will be. The closer the colours are the smoother they’ll be too so if you’re working with colours that are contrasting in either hue or value (in terms of light and dark) you might want to do extra blends on the transitions. Remember that at this “nest” stage it’s still really easy to adjust this though by carding two transitions together.

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Don’t forget to post pictures of your BarberBlackSheep Haunui/Merino yarns in my Ravelry group if you’d like to show them.

Happy spinning!

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