No Tools? No Problem! No-Tool Fibre Preparation for Spinners

For your fibre preparation, lightly layer staple lengths of fiber, then hand blend it into a batt or rolag.

Hand cards, drum carder, hand combs… oh, my! Exploring fibre preparation can be a far deeper and more expensive dive than a curious spinner may have anticipated. Don’t fret! You already have everything you need to begin exploring basic fibre preparation for your next spinning project: your own two hands—and your stash of fibres, of course. Together, you have all you need to get started.

What exactly is fibre preparation?

Fibre preparation is the way we manipulate direction, alignment, aeration, and even color in our fibres before they go on the wheel or spindle, to impact the end yarn we spin. Every change we make prior to spinning the fibre will have some kind of effect on that yarn, making it more woollen or worsted along the spectrum, depending also on the draw used to spin it. And while your hands can’t truly replace real fibre preparation tools forever, you can put them to use in thoughtfully replicating many preparatory possibilities. The following hand-prep methods can provide you with a greater understanding of how these preparations affect your spinning and your yarn.

Tease and Whip

It doesn’t get any easier than this, but the “Tease & Whip” is the basis for spinning your airiest down to your densest, “no-tool” yarns. This method releases the sheaves of fibres that are mechanically aligned and then pressed together during commercial processing, and further compacted through the hand-dyeing process. Longer fibres tend to grip together more notably than shorter ones, and long-term storage—even with best practices—worsens compaction.

Two ends of the same crunchy braid of fibre, before and after the Tease and Whip!
Two ends of the same crunchy braid of fibre, before and after the Tease & Whip!

Liberating your fibre strands this way allows them to slide past each other with ease, no matter the draw you add or the gauge of singles you’re spinning for:

  1. Hold one end of your strip of fibre in between your hands. Starting at that end, carefully tease the fibre open to its full width using a gentle pinching motion. This is vital to unlocking the layers of compressed fibres and the next step of the process, and you should see results from just this step.
  2. After you’ve teased open a foot or two, forcefully “whip” the fibre strip as hard as you can, multiple times. (For added effect, do this over your head during spinning guild.) This harsh whipping motion forces air back into the fibres that were opened in step 1.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until your fibre has been returned to like-new status. If you prefer, you can break or strip it into more manageable lengths first.

I have yet to meet the braid of fibre I couldn’t save with a good tease and whip. Try it. You won’t believe the results.

Hand-blended top

Fluffy fibres are ready for most anything, including re-alignment with light blending. This isn’t the same type of full colour and/or fibre blending and alignment one gets using a hackle or hand combs, but the process will lightly marry together two or more strips of fibre (with optional angelina, firestar, etc.), allowing you to play with a more worsted-like fibre prep and marled colour play. This works best with less-slick fibres, and fibres with similar lengths and traits. Hand-blending will also incorporate angelina into a grippier fibre, without the need for carding tools. Bits and bobs of wool are perfect here, but you can also strip down multiple hand-dyed braids to merge their colors less obtrusively in your finished fabric.

  1. Strip fibres vertically into manageable widths, and lengths of a few to several inches. This ensures better blending potential.
  2. Gently tease them open to about 75% of full width.
  3. If adding angelina or firestar, take a light layer, lay it on top of one strip of fibre, and then work it into the open follicles, teasing both fibres together widthwise.
  4. Lay your strips of fiber one over the other, then carefully (and patiently) attenuate them together, staple length by staple length. Note: as you attenuate, your sliver will take on a light twist in one direction.
  5. Gently attenuate one more time, paying attention to thicker areas.
  6. Roll your sliver into a nest, ready for spinning.

Batts and rolags

Carding blends fibres together while adding air, helping to make woollen and woollen-like yarns. Normally, we rely on drum carders, hand cards, and blending boards to create these lofty batts, but here again, we can use our hands to blend up similar results, without any tools. Be sure to layer lightly for the best results.

For your fibre preparation, lightly layer staple lengths of fiber, then hand blend it into a batt or rolag.

For your fibre preparation, lightly layer staple lengths of fiber, then hand blend it into a batt or rolag.
Lightly layer staple lengths of fiber, then hand blend it into a batt or rolag.
  1. Pull fibre by staple lengths and lay down a light layer.
  2. Do the same with the fibre(s) you wish to blend with your first layer, repeating steps 1 and 2 a few times.
  3. Hold down one end of the fibers with your palm. Blend the fibres together by gently pulling from the bottom of the stack and bringing that fibre to the top. The staples will split naturally during this step, but do your best to keep the fibre from folding over on itself and making noils. Keep at it, shuffling from the bottom of your fibre deck to the top. If the stack is too thick, split it in half. (Blending does get easier once you get started.)
  4. When the batt is blended to your liking, spin from it or roll it into a rolag.

Fibre Preparation Takeaways

I hope you’ll try any or all of these no-tool ways to prepare your fibres, as you re-imagine your own stashes and spinning potential. Do let us see your results over in the School of SweetGeorgia forums, or in the SweetGeorgia Discord group! When you do get your first hand combs or hand cards (or blending board!) be sure to watch Katrina Stewart’s Carding for Colour, or my Blending Boards: From Rolags to Roving!

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