Carding is the process of cleaning, disentangling, and intermixing fibres to produce a proto-textile material that is suitable for further processing. The term is derived from a latin word - 'carduus' - that refers to thistles, as dried thistles were among the first things used to comb raw wool.
Modern carding is done via card clothing; a sturdy, flexible backing embedded with closely spaced wire pins (Larger commercial cards also have a number of rollers that are designed to remove contaminants like small vegetable particles from the fibre). The first known mechanical carding machine was created in 1748 by Lewis Paul in Birmingham, England; prior to that, carding was done with combs by hand. The first known evidence for hand carding practices date the 2nd century CE in India, where bow-instruments were being used to clean and untangle fibres.
Interest in building larger and more complex carding machines really took off during England's cotton boom, when demand for the fibre resulted in commensurate demands for industry infrastructure that could rapidly produce it. In 1838, the Spen Valley alone hosted more than 11 card clothing factories and by 1893 it was considered the card cloth capital of the world; today, only two manufacturers of metallic and flexible card clothing remain in all of England - Garnett Wire Ltd. dating back to 1851 and Joseph Sellers & Son Ltd established in 1840.
Carding is one of the less visible aspects of the yarn business, perhaps because it is not as easily transformed into a hobby as spinning or dyeing, but it is absolutely essential to the creation of the fibres we all enjoy. We encourage everyone to consider the hard work that goes into getting the dirt, grease and knots out of our yarn before it can be spun and to give thanks to those who do the cleaning for us.