Decisions, decisions, right?! As you may recall, my Strauch 10th Anniversary Finest was part of my massive destash last Spring.
The destash was an effort to raise money for replacement windows in our house. We LOVE the new windows so it was all worth it. When I decided to sell the Strauch, I told my husband that it would need to be replaced sometime in the Summer, probably in August. (He gets extra pay then.) He agreed so the Strauch went bye-bye.
Fast forward, I was looking (some say stalking) at the Spinners’, Weavers’, and Knitters’ Housecleaning Pages where there was a “Pat Green Deb’s Delicate Deluxe” for sale for $400. That seemed like a great price to me so I emailed the seller. Now, I am not casting aspersions, but after talking to Susan McFarland of Susan’s Fiber Shop, I became aware that not everyone knows what Pat Green Carder they have. The seller may think they have a Deb’s DD but may not be aware that it is actually a Pat Green Standard Carder. Susan said to always ask what the side pulley diameter is. The Deb’s Deluxe is approx 9 1/4″ and the Standard is more like 7 1/4″. (It may be more like 1/2″. I can’t remember. I just focused on the 9 and the 7 part.) So good tip there from Susan! Thank you. Wouldn’t you know I sold my Bosworth charkha to pay for it only to find out that Susan’s warning proved fruitful? I took a good look at the picture and the pulley wheel was way to small to be a Deb’s DD.
I went to the Pat Green website and thought that maybe I would get a new Deb’s DD. I called and talked to Paula who let me know that they were redesigning it so the carder would not be available until the earliest Jan 2013! So, plan #2 down the loo. I looked at the other hand-crank carders they had and half-heartedly discussed them with Paula as well. I have had a Pat Green carder in the past and honestly, I wasn’t too thrilled with it. I found it to be very basic but it was a basic model. I considered buying The Supercard but $3200 for a carder? I can’t find a way to justify that.
I didn’t want a…count ’em…THIRD Strauch finest as I figured that I couldn’t be that married to the idea if I kept selling them. What to do? I looked at all the “high-end” options and felt a bit weary from the “high-end” prices. Does a carder have to cost thousands suddenly to work? What was the deal? Calgon, take me away!
When I had an active Twitter account, I hung out with a lot of very talented fiber artists who produced lovely batts for sale. I went through my memory to see what machines they preferred. One brand that I had no experience with but has a LOT of fans was Fancy Kitty. Fiberistas raved about the carders, pickers, etc and the amazing customer service. I thought I would give it a go and check out their stuff. I also really wanted to talk to them to see this fabulous customer service for myself.
Wow, was I surprised at their prices. They are really affordable. It is great to see a manufacturer who thinks about keeping costs down to help EVERYONE get quality spinning equipment. No wonder so many independent fiber producers are going crazy over this brand.
I thoroughly checked out the site and had pretty much decided on the Big Tom. The videos and blog posts by The Painted Tiger really impressed me. I love the batt she made with one pass. Be sure to check out the size of the batt. They are as big as the PG Supercard: approx 38 inches long.
I called up Ron Anderson, the owner of Fancy Kitty. To my surprise, he answered the phone, many times in fact, as I made repeated calls. :) Sorry Ron! He IS amazing. Ron answered all my questions. Then, he surprised me by suggesting that I get a motorized Little Tom instead. I could save money he said. I hadn’t even noticed the option to motorize it on the site. Ron said that the Little Tom is the same drum carder as the Big Tom except that the it has a set ratio since it has one motor to control the swift drum (the larger one). The Big Tom has two motors, one for the swift and one for the licker-in drum (the smaller one).
His name is Big Tom.
On a follow up call to Ron, asking about the heat the motors give off (No worries there folks! You should always be able to touch them.), we discussed how open the fibers would need to be to work well. I know that all carding requires open fiber but I had to ask after having watched a lady with a Supercard, hand flick each lock. The horror! My wrists hurt just watching. Luckily for her, she seemed to be having fun. Ron told me that I might want to look at his bench picker. It is more gentle on fiber as it is easy for the user to control the momentum of the teeth. I told him that I had a Pat Green Triple Picker once, and indeed, a Meck cradle picker, and found them to both tear fibers. I sold them both and stuck to using my fingers to fluff out the locks. He explained that the bench picker is gentler on the fibers than the cradle pickers. He said to be careful not to stuff fibers in and to use the picking sled slowly. Ron said a lot of his alpaca breeder customers use the bench picker to make clouds. Nice, huh? Plus, the bench picker with legs and cover, makes a very nice table for your drum carder. Heaven.
Bench Picker, me lovey.
Choices! The idea of getting the bench picker was really starting to take hold and if I bought the Little Tom, which is what Ron recommended, I could now afford the bench picker with the money I saved from not buying the Big Tom. Mwah-ha-ha! Admit it, the idea came to your mind too. :) But would the Little Tom do everything?
Big Tom, Little Tom Intellectual Showdown
Let the battle begin! I wrote “intellectual showdown” as I have no way to do a side by side real life comparison. They are essentially the same carder though with the exception already stated of two motors and licker-in ratio control added to the Big Tom.
First things first, I was honest with myself as to what kind of carding I would be doing and have done in the past. Also, I thought about the percentages of what types of batts I would make. Wool for me is all over the board. Since I imported wool, I guess you know that already, I LOVE wool. All kinds! But of course, I too have preferences. I love long wools the best. Doh! Then, why do I need a drum carder? I have plenty of awesome combs and a new-to-me Lani hackle coming this week. The truth is that although I LOVE longwool, I spend a lot of time spinning top, commercial blends, and flicked out fleeces like CVM, Border Leicester, Romney, etc. Don’t forget my love of luxury fibers! I am a sucker for those. You should see the amazing Suri fleece downstairs. I also have fiber rabbits, so there you are. A wide range of fibers. (Notice that I go a little coo-coo when thinking about fiber.)
So let’s put a percentage on them. Fine fibers and luxury blends are probably going to account for 80% of what I now spin. I spin the occasional art yarn but I usually make those in a salad bowl and go from there. The bench picker would be fabulous for mixing art fibers up.
With this reality check in mind, it was time to pick out the drums for the carder. One of the nice things about these carders is the array of swift drums and even licker-in drums. You have a choice of: 54 tpi:art batts, 72- 90 tpi: medium wools, 120 tpi: fine wools, 190 tpi: pure exotics. And that is for EITHER drum. Nice, right? Since I don’t have as much variation to my spinning habits as I once had, I went with the 90/120 tpi to start. I love drum carders where you can change out your drum as one size does not fit all when it comes to carding cloth and fibers. Think of your handcarders? Would you use your medium wool carders on silk? It’s like that.
With the drum cloth densities chosen, I am still left with the question, which one? Big Tom or Little Tom? I went to the Fancy Kitty group on Ravelry to see what people had to say there. A lot of people LOVE their Big Toms. I was concerned at the lack of response to the Little Tom. Didn’t anyone buy it? Well, yes and no. After talking to Ron yet again (he really does have incredible customer service), I found out that the Little Tom had only been on the market for six months. Ohhhhhhhh, now I see! Not enough people out there gushing about them yet. I decided that if they were gushing about Big Tom, people would probably be gushing about Little Tom soon enough since they are so similar.
And just like Little John in “Robin Hood,” Little Tom’s a BIG BOY!
I did some research into ratios in my huge spinning library and went back to look at the “drum carder issue” of an old Spin-Off. I talked to Ron extensively about ratios several times. I watched 2 Deb Menz DVDs that discuss drum carder choices. What did I come up with? Well, in my opinion, as long as I can change the speed and can change out the drums, I can pretty much do anything that the Big Tom can do on the Little Tom. Ron said that the main advantage to the second motor is working with finicky fleeces. Let it be known, although I think it is known, that I am a fiber snob. I only buy very nice fiber. I also LOVE fiber equipment and tools. Thus, I know what fiber needs what preparation and I have the tools to work with it.
For an example of finicky, say I had a Cormo lamb fleece with tight sun-bleached tips. I would normally flick those tips right off or cut them off before working with them. I always check for fiber soundness before I work with a fiber so no worries about there being any further breaking. There are a lot of options if the hypothetical fiber ripped on the slowest Little Tom feed. I could flick it well and try again, I could feed it directly onto the swift drum, I could just flick the locks and spin, I could pick it into a cloud and spin, or I could comb it. Like Tim Gunn says, “Make it work, people.” No big deal. This scenario has never happened to me and unless it was a general occurrence, I can’t see this being a reason to sway me to the Big Tom. “Just in case” and “what if’s” are in reality a rare treat. I couldn’t use “fear” or needing “total control” as a factor in my purchase.
Make it work, people!
In the end, I realized I would be fine with the Little Tom. The added benefit was that I was able to purchase the temptress (meow!) bench picker at the same time. Little Tom arrives in two days and the bench picker in three!
One more note: When I was first considering all the options out there, ratios were a concern of mine. There was talk of higher ratios being more gentle on fine wools, that the fibers would blend quicker, etc, as you have probably heard yourself. Of course, those things are true but one has to keep in mind that the size of the drums comes into play when considering drum carder ratios. It isn’t realistic to compare the ratios stated for one drum carder to another. One brand with a 4:1 ratio may have much smaller drums than another which makes it an unfair buying point. Truly, a ratio of 4:1 means that the bigger drum turns 4 times in the time it takes for the small drum to go around once. That is all. An Ashford carder, for instance has ratios of 4:1 and 6:1. The Little Tom has a 4:1 ratio. So they should make a similar batt, right? Nope. The bigger the drums, the slower the fiber gets fed into the batt. It has the same effect as a higher ratio. Drum size will influence blending and how gently your fibers will feed on your swift drum. The Little Tom has a 38 inch circumference swift drum. The Ashford site lists the batt size as 24 inch so I will go with close to that for circumference. You can see that looking for a specific ratio will not give you an accurate idea of what the carder can do in terms of spreading out fiber in a batt, and how fast or slow the feed rate is. The best test is to try in person. I do not have that option being in Wyoming but Fancy Kitty has a 14 day 100% satisfaction guarantee. With all the positive feedback from fiber artists I love and respect, videos, blog evidence, and my numerous conversations with the owner of the company, I feel very secure in giving the Little Tom a home. I am pretty sure that I will love it. I will let you know.
Update to this post: I am working on an article about drum carder ratios. It frustrated me that there are no great answers available about fixed ratios vs variable ratios, etc. In this post I came to the practical conclusion, that I would “make it work” as we have all done in the past. But I like to understand the why’s of what I am doing so more investigation was needed. So please stay tuned. I have a lot more info that may help you out.
Why I do not recommend Fancy Kitty drum carders can be found here! Try and buy in person.