I love art batts! Since I feel a bit frightened of them at times, I invited Carla Hanson of Purple Lamb Fiber Arts to give an overview of batts and how to prepare them for spinning. Take it away, Carla!
I’d like to thank Sandy of Indigo Kitty Knits for kindly inviting me to be a guest blogger on her blog this week. She asked me to talk to you about working with art batts. I’d like to talk to you about types of art batts and how to get them ready to spin.
For the first couple years after I started spinning, when I wanted to make multicolored yarn, I would do it by switching back and forth between different colors of top. Eventually I invested in a set of hand cards which made it possible to combine different kinds of fiber in a reliable way, but it was slow going because the hand cards can only do a fraction of an ounce at a time, so it took more time to card than to spin.
A couple years later, I ordered my first art batt off Etsy. It was like hand-carded fiber only better. The carded batt was thick enough and big enough to combine lots of different types of fibers and colors. I was sold! A few batts later, I started looking for a drum carder of my own and eventually purchased a used Ashford carder.
Using a carder is like creating from an artist’s palette, and spinning from art batts is like making a beautiful painting. It goes beyond that, though, because handspun yarn is not only a work of art in its own right, it’s also a work of art waiting to be made into another work of art–the finished project that is woven or knitted or crocheted from that yarn.
If you are just moving into the realm of art batts, you may be wondering how in the world you take this big rectangle of fluffy fibers and turn it into yarn. It’s not as hard as it looks! If, on the other hand, you’ve been spinning from batts for a while, it might be nice to take a look at a few techniques that may be new to you. There are lots of options to choose from depending on how you want the yarn to look and what type of batt you have. Let’s talk about types of batts first.
Types of Art Batts
There are really just a few basic types of art batts to spin from in terms of how they are made, and there are as many variations within those types as there are batts. The main types are layered batts, striped batts, and gradient batts. Let’s talk about each one.
Layered batts – These batts are made from layers of different fibers that generally go all the way across the batt. When I make a layered batt, I try to ensure that each color and fiber type covers the whole surface of the carder’s teeth. My daughter Mary, who is my batt-making assistant and has a great sense of color, prefers to divide each ingredient into thirds or quarters and make multiple thinner layers of each ingredient. Some people take a more spontaneous approach to layered batts and layer different materials in different areas in a more-or-less random fashion. That will create a more varied yarn, which can be great, but it will also be a less repeatable or predictable yarn, which may or may not be what you are looking for. Ultimately, there’s no wrong way to make or use a batt–it’s just a question of what you prefer and what kind of yarn you want to make from it.
This is a layered batt seen rolled up
Striped batts – Striped batts are made with each ingredient laid on in vertical stripes in different areas on the carding cloth. When I make striped batts, I like to make the stripes thin, and I often make 2 layers of each ingredient so the yarn has more color variety within each area, but other people make them one color deep, which makes it easier to make a predictably striped yarn like one you would use for self-striping socks, for example.
Gradient batts – Gradient batts are another type of striped batt, and they are made the same way gradient yarns are made. One side of the batt has one color, and then the colors fade or transition from one side to another. Usually there is some overlap where the colors meet each other, which helps the batt hold together and also creates subtler transitions in the yarn.
How to Spin from Art Batts
Let’s talk about the different ways to prepare them to spin and why you might choose one way over another. I’m going to go over all the different methods in the section on layered batts since every option works with layered batts, and then we’ll talk about which of those would be appropriate to a striped or gradient batt.
Spinning from a Layered Batt – Layered batts offer the most options for methods of spinning. I’m going to give each method a letter name so I can refer back to it. You can do any of these when you’re spinning a layered batt:
A. Pull off hunks of fiber at random and spin them.
Pros: It’s really easy and takes no preparation.
Cons: It’s not repeatable if you want repeatable, and the colors will be really random in the yarn.
B. Pull the yarn into a roving and spin from one end. To do this, you take the batt, fold it into half or quarters along the length of the fiber, and gently pull until you feel the fibers move just a bit. Next, scoot your hands down the length of the batt and do the same thing. Continue doing this all the way along the length of the batt over and over again until the fiber is just a few inches wide. I learned this technique from one of Deb Menz’s wonderful videos on color blending. By the way, if you break it at some point in the process of thinning and lengthening the fiber into roving, don’t worry about it. Just think of it as a new piece of roving that you join on as you spin.
Pros: This makes a really consistent yarn where all the colors are blended all the way through the batt.
Cons: It’s a lot of work. It takes a long time to do this, and it’s really only worth it when you want your yarn to look the same from end to end.
C. Tear strips off the batt about as wide as you like to spin from. If you’re not sure how wide to make them, try starting by tearing the batt in half and then in half one more time along the length of the fiber. You can then spin directly from the strips, or you can thin them out further by gently pulling them into roving using the same technique as in letter B–just not as much. I don’t usually do this. I just spin right from the strips since the fluffiness of batts makes them sort of like predrafted fiber anyway.
Pros: If the layers go all the way across the batt, this will be almost as consistent as the roving method but with almost no work.
Cons: This is the method I use most of the time, so maybe I’m a little prejudiced in its favor, but the only con I can think of is that it’s not quite as consistent as the roving method.
D. I’ll call the next method the W method because the fiber looks like a W when you’re done. Lay your batt on a flat surface and carefully divide about a 2-inch-wide swath of fiber, dividing until you are about 2 inches from the bottom of the batt. Now turn where you are tearing, heading back up to the top of the batt. Continue doing this, basically turning your batt into roving. If it breaks along the way, no big deal. Just start again and keep going until you get to the end of the batt. Here’s a fun video from Atomic Blue showing this technique and much more.
Pros: It keeps the colors in the order they were in the batt, and it’s a little less time consuming than method B. Also, it’s really good if you prefer spinning from a nice long roving.
Cons: You can accomplish almost the same thing by tearing off strips like #3 with less hassle.
E. The last method we’ll talk about it the rolag method. Roll the batt up using a dowel rod or a knitting needle. Carefully remove the dowel, and pull the rolag gently to make it thinner just like in method #2. Spin from the end like you’re spinning from a rolag. Here’s a great video showing this method from Grace Shalom Hopkins.
Pros: You have the potential to spin a very consistent yarn this way, and it’s a straightforward way to keep all the colors in the order they were in the batt. Also, this will feel more familiar if you are used to spinning from rolags from hand cards or from a blending board.
Cons: It’s a little more work than some of the other methods.
Here is the same batt as above, shown unrolled to see the layers.
Spinning from a Striped Batt –In the case of a striped batt, you really can spin it any way you can spin a layered batt, but the method you may want to choose depends on the look you’re trying to get in your yarn. Here are some options with that in mind:
1. If you just like the colors and don’t care about the stripes, go for any of the above methods that you like.
2. If you want to make yarn that keeps the stripe pattern that was in the batt, you have two options really. The first is to use the W method I discussed in Method D above. The second is to tear off strips as in Method C above. Either way works just fine, but if you go for the tearing off strips method, make sure to start at one edge of the batt and keep tearing strips off the same edge, or else tear them all at once and lay them out in the order that you plan to spin them.
3. If you want the colors to blend more thoroughly so that all the colors are throughout all the yarn, I suggest the roving method discussed in Method B above or the rolag method from Method E.
Spinning from a Gradient Batt
Really there’s not a lot of different between spinning from a striped batt and spinning from a gradient batt. Once again, if you just like the colors but don’t care about keeping them in order, then use whatever method you like best. If, however, you want to take advantage of the gradient to make a gradient or ombre yarn that starts with the color on one side of the batt and ends with the color on the other end, then here are the methods I find work best:
1. Use the W method discussed in Method D under layered batts. If it breaks in the process, just make sure to keep the colors in order by laying them out in the order you intend to spin from them.
2. Tear the batt into strips as in Method C under layered batts, always going from one side to the other. Again, I find this method the easiest to use.
3. Use the rolag method from Method E under layered batts.
A yarn spun from the featured batt.
Hopefully this post will make it seem less and not more intimidating to spin from your first batt, or if you have spun from batts many times before, hopefully this will give you some additional options to play with. No matter which methods you decide to try, I wish you lots of fiber fun!
Carla Hanson is the mother of a large, busy homeschooling family. She devotes every spare moment to playing with fiber, most of which makes its way to her Etsy shop,. The batts shown in this post where created by Carla.
When she’s not at her spinning wheel or her carding table, she can be found at any of the following: