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Mastering the Art of Fibre Carding: Understanding Carding Cloth TPI

  • 7 min read
Ashford Cotton Hand Carder (Image credit: Ashford on Instagram)
Ashford Cotton Hand Carder (Image credit: Ashford on Instagram)

Carding is an essential process in fabric making and fibre crafts; however understanding carding cloth TPI numbers can be confusing. Carding is the process of straightening fibres to produce beautiful rovings or blended batts that are uniformly smooth and consistent. The primary objectives of carding are to separate individual fibres, remove impurities, and align the fibres in a parallel arrangement. There are several basic kinds of carding tools, such as drum carders, hand carders, and blending boards.

In this article, we will discuss the carding process, the significance of TPI numbers, how they impact the carding process, and how to choose the right TPI for different fibres.

What is Carding Cloth TPI?

One of the important elements of carding is the teeth per inch (TPI) of the carding cloth. The term TPI, or Teeth Per Inch, describes how many wire teeth are on a carding tool's cloth for every inch of its width. Wire teeth are used in carding to separate, arrange, and combine fibres to produce a uniform and smooth batt or sliver. The density of these teeth is determined by the TPI value, which also has a variety of other effects on the carding procedure.

Understanding Carding Cloths and TPI Numbers

Carding cloth is a fundamental component of any carding equipment because it's the abrasive surface that separates, cleans, and aligns fibres. Different types of carding cloth come with various teeth per inch (TPI) because they can process different fibre types and quantities.

TPI numbers usually range from low to high, with lower values indicating fewer teeth per inch and higher values representing more teeth per inch. The TPI choice depends on the fibre type being carded, the desired outcome, and personal preference. Here, we will explore the implications of different TPI numbers:

Coarse Cloth

Carding tools with low TPI numbers are often used for coarse fibres like wool or for initial processing stages. These tools have widely spaced teeth, allowing efficient removal of debris, vegetation, and larger particles. Low TPI carding tools create a more textured, less refined batt or sliver, making them suitable for rustic projects or when you desire a more untamed appearance in the final product.

Louet Standard Drum Carder - Thread Collective Australia
Louet Standard Drum Carder

For carding fibres with coarse cloth, the range of TPI numbers is typically between 45 and 54. A lower TPI number means that there are fewer pins on the carding cloth, which allows for easier carding of coarse fibres. A 45 TPI cloth, for example, would be perfect for carding extremely coarse material like llama, mohair, or long-staple wool fibres.

Here are examples of carding tools with coarse cloth:

Standard Coth

Carding tools with 72 TPI strike a balance between efficient fibre separation and a smoother finish. They are commonly used for a wide range of fibres, including medium-grade wools, alpaca, adult mohair, or blends. These tools offer a versatile approach, enabling you to achieve a moderately refined batt or sliver that is suitable for various spinning techniques.

Ashford e-Carder - Thread Collective Australia
Ashford e-Carder (Image credit: Ashford)

Corriedale fibre, for instance, works well with TPI numbers ranging from 72 to 90, providing a balance between fibre opening and alignment.

Here are examples of carding tools with standard cloth:

Fine Cloth

Fine cloth carder has 90 to 120 TPI. With closely spaced teeth, these tools deliver exceptional fibre alignment and blending capabilities. They produce a smooth, consistent batt or sliver, ideal for achieving a polished, lustrous yarn.

Ashford Fine Small Hand Carder - Thread Collective Australia
Ashford Fine Small Hand Carder

When using fine cloth, you have to ensure that the fibre being worked on is clean and free from any contaminants that may get caught in the teeth. Any foreign objects or impurities can quickly damage the fibres and disrupt the carding process.

Here are examples of carding tools with fine cloth:

Extra Fine Cloth

The range of TPI numbers that fall under the category of extra fine cloth varies but typically has 190 to 255 TPI. This range of carding cloth is unique in that they are able to handle and prepare very fine fibres. They produce a thinner, more uniform batt that is ideal for creating soft, delicate fabrics.

Ashford Super Fine Drum Carder - Thread Collective Australia
Ashford Super Fine Drum Carder

Extra fine carding cloth can be used to card all fibres, including cotton and merino, and especially very fine fibres like cashmere, angora, silk, dog fur, and other exotic fibres. High TPI carding tools are favoured by spinners who prioritize finesse and want to maximize the quality of the final product.

Here are examples of carding tools with extra fine cloth:


Do remember that not one set of carders will work perfectly for every type of fibre but usually, carders with a cloth ranging from 72 to 112 TPI may be used for carding wool of most types.

Choosing the Right TPI for Carding

Wool carded with the Ashford Super Fine Drum Carder (Image credit: Ashford)
Wool carded with the Ashford Super Fine Drum Carder (Image credit: Ashford)

Selecting the appropriate TPI for your carding needs depends on several factors, including the fibre type, desired outcome, and personal preference. Consider the following tips when choosing a TPI:

  • Fibre Type: Different fibre types have unique properties, and some TPIs are more effective with particular kinds. Low TPIs are advantageous for coarser fibres, but higher TPIs are necessary for the best performance of finer fibres.
  • End Use: Consider the end use of your spun yarn or carded batt. If you aim for a rustic, textured appearance, lower TPIs may be suitable. For a more refined, polished finish, a higher TPI is best to use.
  • Experimentation: You may want to try various TPIs in order to select the best one. The best outcome can be determined by experimenting with various TPIs and your fibres, then evaluating the batt or sliver quality.

Understanding TPI numbers is essential for maximizing the efficiency and quality of your fibre carding process. Remember to experiment and find the TPI that works best for your specific fibre processing needs, and enjoy the art of creating beautifully carded fibres for your spinning or needle felting projects.

How Do TPI Numbers Affect the Texture of the Yarn?

TPI measures the density of the teeth on a carding cloth, and this impacts the texture of the finished yarn. A higher number TPI signifies that the teeth are packed more tightly, resulting in a finer carding cloth that yields smoother and more blended fibres. On the other side, a lower TPI means that the teeth are wider apart, resulting in a rougher carding cloth that generates more textured fibres.

When choosing a carding cloth, it is crucial to match the TPI with the type of fibre being utilized. Fine fibres are best carded on higher TPI tools, whereas coarse fibres lower TPI equipment. By paying attention to TPI and the micron count of the fleece, you can obtain the ideal texture and blend of fibres in your desired yarn.

How Do TPI Numbers Affect the Colour of the Yarn?

The TPI number of carding cloth impacts the colour of the yarn to be spun by regulating how much blending and texture is accomplished in a single pass on the carding tool. Fine fibres carded on equipment with a TPI of 120 or more produce smooth, lofty batts and rolags with little to no texture or integrate fibres and colours together thoroughly.

On the other hand, coarse fibres carded with a TPI of 50 or lower maintain plenty of texture in the fibres and blend loosely, resulting in a chunky, textured batt with bolder colour variations. The TPI number, therefore, plays a key role in defining the ultimate colour and texture of the yarn.

Carding Tools for Fibre Preparation

The selection of appropriate carding tools, along with the consideration of TPI values, is crucial for achieving the desired results. Whether it's the cleaning of fibres, transforming raw fibres into workable batts or rolags, or maintaining uniformity, carding tools and their components play a vital role in the overall quality of the final product.

Carding cloth TPI - fine (Image credit: Schacht Spindle Company on Instagram)
Carding different colours of fibre (Image credit: Schacht Spindle Company on Instagram)

Three popular carding tools used by fibre enthusiasts are drum carders, hand carders, and blending boards.

  • Drum Carders: These are versatile and efficient carding tools commonly used in fibre processing. They consist of two large cylinders (drums) covered with carding cloth that is studded with wire teeth. When it comes to fibre preparation, drum carders are a game-changer since they take less time and effort while still allowing you to concentrate on the process. You may create fine, finely textured batts that are ideal for spinning or felting with the right drum carder in your arsenal.
  • Hand Carders: These are smaller, handheld carding tools that consist of a rectangular wooden or plastic paddle with carding cloth covering one side. Hand carders consist of a pair of carders resembling paddles with carding cloth attached to them. These paddles can have varied TPIs, which will determine whether it is suited for coarse or finer fibres.
  • Blending boards: These are a specialized type of carding tool designed explicitly for fibre blending and for working with larger quantities of fibre. They consist of a rectangular board covered with carding cloth and feature a curved or tapered section for easy removal of the fibre batt. Creating textured batts is another excellent use for blending boards. These batts come in a range of textures and hues and can be used for spinning or felting. The wire teeth on the blending board provide the user more control over the fibre placement and blending, resulting in a completed batt with a wider range of textures.

Drum carders, hand carders, and blending boards each have their unique advantages in the fibre preparation process. Drum carders offer efficiency, large batch processing, and fibre blending capabilities. Hand carders provide control, portability, and versatility for smaller-scale projects. Blending boards excel at precise fibre blending and artistic expression. Understanding the features and benefits of these carding tools will help you choose the right tool for your specific fibre projects, enabling you to achieve exceptional results in your fibre preparation journey.

To learn more about the different carding tools and how they work, read the article "Preparing Fibre for Spinning"on our blog.

Apply What You've Learned About the Fibre Carding Process

In conclusion, understanding TPI (Teeth Per Inch) numbers is very important for anyone involved in the fibre carding process. The TPI directly impacts fibre opening, alignment, batt quality, and overall control during carding. By selecting the appropriate TPI for different fibre types and desired outcomes, fibre artists and enthusiasts can achieve optimal results in their carding endeavours.

Whether working with fine, medium, or coarse fibres, the right TPI on your carding equipment ensures gentle handling and proper alignment. It allows for the effective blending of fibres, resulting in smooth and consistent batts or rovings. Moreover, the TPI number provides control over the carding action, preventing excessive fibre damage or clumping.

As with any craft, experimentation and personal preference play a role in finding the perfect TPI for specific fibre processing needs. By considering the guidelines provided and consulting experienced fibre artists, you can confidently navigate the world of TPI numbers and elevate the quality of your fibre carding journey.

Take out your fibre supply and get started with the carding process!