By Anne Podlesak
Working with batts can be a great addition to your spinning technique arsenal. They are a very versatile preparation, and allow you to spin yarns ranging from very fine laceweight all the way up to bulky, funky art-yarns. They allow you to experience a wide range of fibers, from good-ol’ merino to luxury fibers blended with wool or sparkle, or silk waste.
Batts are created using a carder of some kind, either a large industrial carder (which can create quilt-sized batts) or, what handspinners will more frequently see, a cottage industry-sized batt, which usually is no more than 12 inches wide. Fibers are run through the carding machine which opens and blends them into a fluffy preparation similar to roving (as opposed to combed top), in which the fibers are not perfectly aligned. The more times the fibers are run through the carder, the more blended the preparation. One pass through the carder will usually produce chunky blends, which work wonderfully for felted products or can be spun into bulky yarns. Several passes through the carder will create a lovely heathered blend of the fibers, suitable for finer spinning.
Depending on how you wish your final yarn to look, you have several different techniques you can employ to spin your batt. If you have purchased something like a 2-ounce or 4-ounce batt from a small fiber processor or indie artist, they will come as one or several batts, often rolled to protect them during shipping. Unroll the batt(s) and take a look at the preparation. See how the different components in the batt have been blended. Are there large sections of fibers or are the different components more blended? Are there portions with specific colors that you’d like to highlight or do you want to have the colors intermix together for a more heathered appearance?
If you have a chunky, artsy batt, and you wish to retain that character with all the individual components maintaining an individual and equal say in the composition of the yarn, you may choose to simply strip off sections that are a comfortable size for you to spin (I usually strive for something about the size of commercial roving, since I’m used to spinning this type of preparation). Starting at one end of the batt, strip off sections lengthwise that are a nice, working size, and spin directly from these. This can be a lot of fun, as you’ll be able to enjoy each individual fiber and color as you come to it. Just relax and enjoy the spin.
You can also use this technique of preparation for a more blended batt, and go one step further by lightly attenuating out the fibers, to create a little more alignment and smoother spinning, if your goal is a smoother, finer yarn. You may still have some sections where one color or fiber takes center stage for a while using this technique, but it will still yield a beautiful finished yarn.
If the batt preparation is very well-blended, and/or you wish to create a more homogenous finished yarn, you may also choose to attenuate the entire batt into a thinner roving-style preparation. To do this, and there are many different methods, so experiment a bit and see what works best for you, I first unroll the batt and lay it flat, letting it relax for a bit. I then roll it into a tube shape, lengthwise. From there, I will grasp one end of the tube of fibers and begin to gently pull the batt into a roving shape, keeping my hands just slightly farther apart than the fiber staple length. I will continue gently pulling the batt into this preparation until I have a long length of fiber, which is airy and very easy to spin from. I usually loosely coil the fiber back into a bird’s nest so that it doesn’t get snagged or pulled apart (or used as a napping spot for wandering animal-helpers) while I am spinning, and to keep it cleaner.
What happens if you get a batt that isn’t quite what you expected? Maybe it has some nepps in it from the carder, or some of the added components aren’t very well blended, and seem sort of clumpy? You can still wind up with a great finished yarn! Some options:
- If the nepps and other small bits bother you, there’s nothing wrong with picking those out as you spin, if you are striving for an even, smooth yarn. Yes, this will take a lot longer and yes, some might think this borders a little on the obsessive, but if it gets you the yarn you want, there’s nothing wrong with that!
- Think about embracing the “unwanted” parts of the batt as a design feature of your yarn. You could spin a bulky singles yarn that incorporates all of the batt, the good and the bad, and likely will wind up with a lovely lofty yarn with a lot of character that will knit up into a warm, snuggly project.
- You could also consider stripping the batt into roving-sized pieces and combing the fibers. This will align them more, blend them further, and allow you to remove the smaller nepp-sized pieces, although a few may still sneak past you. Re-carding may be successful in blending the fibers to your satisfaction, but with very fine fibers (such as merino or bouncy fibers such as targhee) you may actually add more nepps back into the finished product, so be sure to do a small sample to be sure that this technique will give you the fiber blend you want.
- If all else fails, that batt might be the PERFECT felting project!
So in conclusion, batts are a wonderfully versatile preparation. They allow you to experience custom blends of different kinds of fibers and colors, to create a completely unique yarn where you get to decide exactly how it will look!
Photos © Anne Podlesak