Five Tips for Prepping Your Own Fiber

  Merino drumcarded from raw fleece, then spun and handpainted with food coloring in 2012.

imageplaceholder Deborah Gerish
Group Content Manager

When I bought my first wheel in 1996, it felt as though the spinning world had become my oyster: now any yarn was possible. Like many new spinners, I wanted total control over the materials. So although I bought lots of commercial fiber, eventually raw fiber called to me, singing a siren's call of "prep me!" However, I didn't know what I was doing. My first dyeing attempt produced a giant felted rope–sure, it was now a pretty color, but I couldn't do anything with it. My first hand cards produced little but frustration and a sore back (yes, I was doing it wrong); I ended up processing my first raw fleece with a dog comb. A Christmas gift of combs sat unused for years. I couldn't afford a drum carder until 2011. Only then did I start seeking out Internet resources for drumcarding and combing.

  Leftovers from combing a Cotswold X Clun Forest ewe became fluffy batts on the drumcarder, then soft yarn, in 2013.

My learning curve would have been much faster with Interweave's new digital bundle on fiber prep. The three eBooks (Essentials of Drumcarding, Essentials of Handcarding, and Combing: A Spinner's Guide) alone would have helped me match the best techniques to different fibers in my stash. Video downloads for carding and combing would have shown me good techniques from the get-go.

I did eventually learn to process fiber and now love to spend hours with my combs or drumcarder (though not the hand cards, thank you very much). If I could now provide advice to my newbie spinner self, I would tell her:

  1. Fiber prep doesn't have to begin with raw materials. It can involve blending commercial top or colors.  
  2. Sometimes you'll want to plan the whole project first, from washing to eventual knitting. That plan will tell you how to prep the fiber. Sometimes the fiber will tell you what it wants to become, and that's okay too. Serendipity is a good teacher, and adventures with fiber will only make you stronger.  
  3. Get all the grease out of the fleece before carding and combing–it will save a lot of grief later.  
  4. Buy an entire fleece or blanket whenever possible, because you'll really know that animal's fiber when you're done processing. But buy carefully. Wool from a critter that slept in mudponds for 6 months will not be easy to clean (ask me how I know this).  
  5. Buy the digital fiber prep bundle: it's a fantastic bargain, and you'll learn from spinners like Maggie Casey, Carol Rhoades, Rita Buchanan, Norman Kennedy, and Robin Russo.

Fiber prep missteps happen to everybody, and they're not the end of the world–in fact, they can teach us a lot. But there's a lot to be said from sitting at the feet of the masters.


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