You don’t necessarily NEED carding tools to whip up your own blended fiber composition, but a Blending Board surely helps blend even the trickiest of fibers! Even beginner fiber artists will find these simple blending recipes easy to follow and be swept away by the magic of creating their own blends. This Blending Two Fibers Together on a Blending Board and With No Tools At All recipe was featured in our September 2021 Fiber Club package with our newest colors of delightful and lustrous Dyed Mulberry Silk and Dyed Flax Top.
Once you understand and get a feel for these two drastically different fibers, the possibilities and variations become endless! This ode-to-summer recipe is simple to follow and worthy of a craft day out in the sunshine with friends. Though it is so easy to do, you’ll make it a regular on your blending days.
Before you get started, draft out a staple length of each fiber and take a closer look at its structure and length to better understand how they react when handled and drafted. Upon further inspection, you’ll notice that Flax and Silk draft very differently. This is especially notable when hand spinning and evident when pulling the fibers off of the blending board. Flax has a woody texture and grabs a bit better than Silk does. Silk has a longer staple and is smoother, drafting slicker than Flax. Work slowly, blend evenly, and account for these differences when handling for a smoother experience. We’ve found that a heavily blended composition of the two fibers is easier to work with as the difference in texture and staple length is less apparent. When blended, the contrast and characteristics of these two fibers complement each other beautifully, lending themselves to a wide variety of garments that require less memory and more drape.
Level: Adventurous Beginner to Intermediate
Total: 2-4 hours to blend and 3-6 hours to spin (dependant on skill level and speed)
Yield: Adjust starting weight of fiber to achieve desired weight and yardage of yarn. For this demonstration, we used approximately 6-17 grams of each fiber. 4 colors of Flax and 4 colors of Mulberry Silk – blended in groups of two. See below.
- One color of Dyed Flax – in this demonstration we used approximately .5 of an oz. Use however much you need to achieve your desired yardage/weight.
- One color of Dyed Mulberry Silk – in this demonstration, we used approximately .5 of an oz. Use however much you need to achieve your desired yardage/weight.
- 90 TPI Large Blending Board (optional) – a Drum Carder, Hackle, or Hand Cards can also be used to blend the two fibers with a different approach and technique.
- A Hand Spindle or Spinning Wheel.
Directions for Blending on a Blending Board:
If you’d like to try blending the fibers without any tools, please scroll down further past this section.
- Place the ends of the Dyed Mulberry Silk Top onto the furthest corner of the Blending Board and draft the Silk top down toward the base of the board while applying pressure to the end of the staple length as you go in order to adhere the fibers evenly onto the surface area of the board. For this demonstration, we used the 90 TPI board.
- Continue step 1 across the board horizontally until the surface area is evenly covered with one thin layer of Silk.
- Use a hard bristle brush or a carder to comb/brush the fibers down in preparation for another layer of fiber.
- Place the ends of the Dyed Flax Top onto the furthest corner of the Blending Board and draft the Flax top down toward the base of the board while applying pressure to the end of the staple length as you go in order to adhere the fibers evenly onto the surface area of the board.
- Continue step 4 across the board horizontally until the surface area is evenly covered with one thin layer of Flax.
- Repeat steps 1 and 4 one or two more times until you are happy with the amount of fiber on the board. Keep in mind, the more fiber you have on the board the harder it can be to pull the fibers off later.
- Use two wooden dowels and sandwich the fibers that hang off of the bottom of the board in between them. Hold the two dowels together with the fiber secured tightly in between them and roll the dowels up towards the top of the board one rotation to secure the ends of the fibers. Tip: offset the dowels on either side by an inch or two to make it easier to pull one dowel out at the end of this process.
- Pull the dowels up away from the board and towards you about one inch or two and allow the fibers to draft. Keep in mind the staple length of the fibers and be careful not to draft them too much, as this will result in the fibers separating from the board. If you happen to accidentally separate the fibers, simply pull the center dowel out and slide the fiber rolag off of the other dowel and repeat steps 7 & 8 with the remaining fiber on the board.
- Continue to draft the fiber out while rolling the dowels up towards the top of the board. The goal here is to make a roll of fiber. Be careful not to roll too tightly as this will make it harder to pull your rolag off the dowels later. Worth mentioning: Depending on the amount of fiber on your board you can make one big rolag or several smaller ones. Keep in mind a larger rolag, or a rolag that is rolled tightly can be difficult to spin. Start out by making loose rolags with less fiber.
- Continue these steps until the amount of fiber you started with is used up and transformed into handfuls of rolags. Be aware of the amount of each fiber you use for each layer on the board as this will determine the fiber content percentages of your finished yarn. If you’d like a yarn that has more drape and shine – lean heavier on the silk. If you’d like a lighter-weight yarn with a less glossy appearance – use more flax. You are in control of the composition here. Weigh your fibers and create groupings of your desired weight to ensure each blend is consistent.
Note: Use grist to calculate the amount of fiber needed to achieve the desired yarn for your intended project. Weigh your fibers before blending and record those weights in order to keep track as you progress through the process of making yarn.
Directions for Blending Without Any Tools:
- Start by dividing your top into manageable pieces.
- As you divide the top, combine pieces of the Flax with pieces of the Silk.
- Divide these combined pieces further, pulling a staple out and laying it back on top of the bunch.
- Continue this process until you are happy with the amount the fibers are blended. You can also lay a staple of each fiber in a row on a surface alternating between flax and silk, layering the rows several times and rolling from one end to the other in order to create a faux-rolag.
- Keep making little bundles like this until your fiber supply is used up and set them aside.
- When spinning, treat the bundles like a top and spin across the end or fold over your finger to spin from the fold. You can also pre-draft these bundles out further to create a pencil roving.
Rolags are a convenient way to spin as the fibers are swirled around in a tube which can make drafting, especially long draw, a breeze! When spinning, you may choose to pre-draft the rolag before starting or to draft the fibers as you spin. Either way works well, it’s just a matter of preference, so try both out and see which works best for you!
Use a short forward draw to achieve a smoother worsted style yarn or use a long draw to quickly spin the rolags and achieve a woolen style yarn. Keep in mind as you spin that you may run into varying lengths of fibers and/or sections of only one type of fiber. This will require special attention in order to spin as each instance will draft differently. Take your time and ensure you are incorporating a high enough twist with minimal intake. Silk is a slippery fiber and flax is prone to breaking so use your best judgment as you go and take your time, making sure you adjust your wheel before you begin and again as you get going.
Use your dominant hand to control your single and the twist that enters the drafting triangle. Use your non-dominant hand to control your fiber supply. When spinning with a short forward draw use your dominant hand to pinch the yarn at the apex of the drafting triangle – this prevents the twist from entering your fiber supply all willy nilly. Use both hands in unison moving away from each other to draft the fibers out – this will thin out your fiber supply. When you are happy with the number of fibers in your drafting triangle, slide the fingers that are controlling the twist back towards the base of your drafting triangle – this controls the twist and allows it to slowly enter your drafted triangle. VIOLA! You’ve just made a single!
Note: If you release your “pinch” at the apex of your drafting triangle, the twist will enter your fiber supply, making it difficult to draft. If this happens, simply use your dominant hand to roll the single in the opposite direction that your wheel is spinning – this will remove the twist allowing you to draft the fiber further.
In this demonstration, we spun fine singles because we wanted to achieve a lace weight. We plied these singles onto themselves in two ways: 2-ply and a chained 3-ply.
Flax is naturally a “hairy” fiber, if you wish for a smooth yarn that is more comfortable to wear next to skin, we recommend wet spinning your rolags. This technique will smooth the flax fibers that stick out every which way and help bind the fibers together. To do this, keep a cup of water within your arm’s reach as you spin and simply dip your drafting fingers into the water before drafting. Allow the water to enter your drafting triangle and smooth the fibers down as you allow the twist to enter. Do this periodically as you spin for a delightfully smooth yarn.
Fun Facts & Tips:
Flax is a natural cellulose bast fiber, meaning it is produced from the bark and stem of the Nettle/Flax plant. The seed heads of the plant are removed, the woody stem is rotted or retted, the fibers are broken and struck to remove the woody bits, and finally, the fibers are hackled to further remove impurities and shorter fibers. Traditional Flax is available in what is called line bundles or strikes with an even staple length of up to 22 inches! The Flax in your package is considered Top, the staple length is shorter because the fibers were broken in order to be carded on large machines. When spinning, a low twist and a low ratio are best. Water can be handy in order to smooth the fibers down, keep a cup of water by you as you spin and wet your fingers periodically. Let the moisture coat the fibers before allowing the twist in for optimal results. Because of the varying staple lengths (compared to line or strike), this flax preparation takes a little more time and patience to spin. Spin slowly and allow your hands to adjust as you draft.
Mulberry Silk fiber is the highest quality of silk available today. This protein fiber is made using the secretions of domesticated Bombyx Mori Silk Worms that feed on the leaves of the mulberry tree. This is enormously contrasted by Tussah Silk, which is made by wild silkworms that have been permitted to graze on anything and mature into moths, which results in shorter yellow-toned fibers. The process of obtaining Mulberry Silk Top, also known as Cultivated Silk, has many crucial steps. First, the cocoons are harvested and boiled before the silkworms emerge, removing the gummy glue that binds them. Next, the worms are removed and often consumed. Then, the cocoons are unraveled into a single strand of pure white silk. Finally, these long strands are broken in order to be carded on large machines and turned into Top. When spinning, a high twist and a medium ratio is best. To make the spinning experience easier, control the draw with low tension, pre-draft the top into smaller pieces, and use a short forward draw. Silk truly shines as fine singles or plied onto itself.