We recently bought an Ashford Blending Board – as an alternative to using traditional hand carders.
If we could have only one means to prepare fibre for spinning, then hand-carders would always be the right choice, since they can be used with almost any fibre. We’ve used them for everything from a raw unwashed fleece to blending dyed pre-dyed merino tops. A blending board isn’t suitable for fleeces, but is more efficient when blending tops. (If we’re spinning with just a single type of top, roving or sliver, then carding isn’t necessary at all – whether with carders or a blending board : all that is required is to pull off a length of fibre, and spin directly from that.)
Until we got back from Navarra, about six weeks ago, we were absolute Blending Board Beginners. Since then, we’ve been on a really steep learning curve, exploring the minutiae of making practical and efficient use of the board. I say ‘we’, but as Denise has now handed over to me the mantle of spinner-in-chief, it’s been me taking the initiative, and sharing what I learn with Denise.
For those unfamiliar with this method, these are the steps that I’ve adopted.
The Uist Landscapes yarns that Denise produced enormous quantities for about fifteen years were all made using traditional hand-carders. Denise says that it worked well for her, because she could vary the mix of colours loaded onto the carders each time, whilst still maintaining a consistent mix over the longer term. I think that’s remarkable, but unfortunately my brain is wired differently, and I need a formula and a method that I can obectively measure and control : that’s the engineer in me. The blending board suits me well (when working with tops, that is) because the quantity of fibre loaded onto the board is sufficiently large as to ensure that the amount of any individual colour/fibre can be pulled off the source top (which in most cases can be measured by length – avoiding the need for weighing scales). The tops of each fibre or colour are broken down into thin strips fibre, if possible the full length of the board, and distributed spontaneously – though with an eye to maintaining consistency. It’s my nature to want each step to be objectively measured, but I have to try and resist that, otherwise I might as well give up the handspinning and invest in a factory!
[D > Jonathan, did you realize that one of your photos is out of focus? J > It’s not out of focus, it’s called motion blur : I was working so fast … ]