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Featured Engineer: Lena Ekelund of Ekelund Carder

by The SpinArtiste on May 24, 2015

LE - SELFPublisher’s Notes:  Featured Engineer?  What the heck?  Read this post…and if you’ve been reading here for awhile, you have NEVER seen me write that.  But, I want you to read this post because this is not just about the making of and features of a drum carder.  This post will intrigue and make you smile.  Lena Ekelund of Ekelund Carder tells the story of designing and developing her carder in a very entertaining and informative way. 

Spin Artiste (SA):  Tell us your fiber journey.

Lena Ekelund (LE):  Please note I never wanted to go in reverse in the production chain from the yarn itself. Boy, how I failed.

Dear reader, feel free to jump to the next question as this answer is very long.

My journey started already when I learned to crochet at around five years old. At that time it was only chain stitches. When I was around ten I spent a vacation with an aunt who showed me how to do square potholders. I wish I had some of them left as mementos, most had really interesting shapes, four corners yes but in-between all different angles.


In Sweden, when you are eleven years old, you start having one semester textile handicraft and one metal and wood each year. I guess I got bored at textile class when I was told to go back and start over with chains and it wasn’t until we got to double crochet stitches, that the teacher got my attention back.

It was around this time when ABBA won the European Song Contest in Brighton, UK with the song, “Waterloo” that fashion was wearing flared jeans, clogs and triangular crocheted shawls. I got totally hooked, excuse the pun. Any money or yarn I got hold of went into making shawls. It turned into a competition of who made the longest and largest, tassels not included. We had to end then they reached the floor. I sat crocheting shawls in class as much as I could. Some teachers flat out refused to let me. Others said I did not pay them attention and tried to catch me unaware. It was no problem for me as I always answered them correctly.


Yes, I was a bit of a rebel already then.

LE - Other - Pippi l+Ñngstrump longstockingWhen learning to knit, it was the same all over again. We were influenced by Pippi Långstrump (Longstocking) and her long blue winter scarf. Again, it was a competition to see who made the longest striped scarf, no narrower than 10” or 25cm. It ended up with textile teachers wringing their hands over running out of yarn and grans happy to see their old stashes being used up. Unfortunately there were some accidents in escalator stairs when the tassels got caught up in the stairs and brought the wearer along. At least that is what we were told by the adults.

Jumping ahead in time.

I continued to craft. I got hooked on stoneware pottery and still am.LE - FO - a vessel of hearts made by Lena Ekelund

My kiln is not accessible now, so I started to challenge myself with fibers again. LE - FO - Detail Cheviot Hills, commisioned needel felting

For a while I made needle felt work. I found it brought back they joy of painting but now with fibers instead. I made a series of paintings. I started knitting again and made a series based on old rock carvings found in and around where I live. The Vitlycke World Heritage site a bit up the coast inspired my motifs. LE - FO - Rock-Art

LE - Other - Pelle helping out_1600

I continued knitting while yarn and knitting needles became thinner and thinner and the yarn softer and softer. Mohair was tested and disregarded as my skin itched. Oh, joy when I found one-ply alpaca from individual animals at a stud farm in southern Sweden. I started knit so many lace scarves I had to start selling them for a while just so I could make more.LE - FO - Machaca Mara lacy scarf

However, first I and then the farm ran out of the singles. I couldn’t anywhere in Sweden find any more. I wanted my yarn to be traceable all the way back to the animal and to be locally sourced.

So, I’m not only a rebel but a picky one at that.

It turned out to be close to shearing time at the farm. LE - Animals

I was invited to come and see and talk to the spin-master there to pick up the wool. From her I could ask for singles to be spun just for me. So, this was great. But then, fate struck. At dinner,  the second night we all started to discuss spinning and the engineer in me wanted to understand the process of spinning. The farmer proposed I tried to spin and a Peruvian, rather large, top-whirl spindle was brought to the table. The spin-master explained about staple lengths and briefly showed me before asking me to try. Bugger! Turned out I was a natural now also the chain from fiber to yarn was broken. So much for that promise to my self to stick to yarn. Back home I went downstairs and rummaged around and found a hook, rod and a bunch old cds. Now I had my first spindle. Soon I built a better spindle from a wooden toy wheel.

LE - EQ - first proper spindle Still my fave Merino Rainbow third roving

LE - EQ - Early spindle on granpa's travel chest

Not only a picky rebel, but in addition a chain breaker

To spin, you need to card. How I tried to card manually on ancient carders from a forebearer. LE - EQ - my old handcards

The time spent on carding would leave no time to spin on the drop spindle I had made from stuff in the garage. Nor on my newly renovated wheel from the 1780’s.LE - EQ - My new love 1780s lead rim and cherry wood making a safe trip home in my Volvo

I tried some manual carders but they either tore the alpaca fibers apart or just messed them up. I went on to try the electrical carders on the European market and the results were depressing. Okay, here we go again. I need a carder.

SA:  What was the process like designing and developing your first carder? 

LE:  Messy. That is the best description of the process.

We were doing this as a passionate pet-project in our free time and for the fun of the contest to develop and design a carder taking carding to a new level.

I by now understood alpaca fibers were thinner than many others; mine were often close to 15 micrometers in diameter. Alpaca tears easier due to the structure of the fibers. I ordered card-cloth from the only source I,  still to this today, have found. (If you know of others, please let me know.) They gave me a delivery date. The dates came and went again and again. In the end we told them we are coming up to the current delivery date and expected the cloth to be ready to pick up. We packed up the car and drove all the way to Holland and back home after two nights and some sightseeing. This must be one of the most expensive cloths ever. The distance from my home to the manufacturer is over 1200 kilometers or 740 miles one way.

I’m not only a chain breaking picky rebel but persistent too.

Again I scoured the garage for things and at friends workshop I got what was not available at ours. Our friend owns an electronic and prototype company. He is the hub in producing the carder still today. He milled the drum using his old kitchen top and aluminum from his stores. A former colleague at Volvo helped me with the licker.


What a privilege it is to have such friends!

SA: What was the most difficult part of creating your very first carder?

LE:  At first it was holding back and resisting the challenge to do a carder for me and my alpaca fleeces. By now you are starting to know me. Accepting this would not last. I can not resist a challenge like this. We were thinking, discussing and testing different locations for the licker, different cloths, building a long row of prototypes for well over a year before we figured out how to card really good batts from alpaca — All this from our salvaged motors and a handmade housing. This carder was only about function and just for me. Note, only for me, only one to build and alpaca fibers the driver. However it turns out the Ekelund Carder handles the other fibers too.

SA:  I’m sure your background in engineering has contributed to your creating a premier carder, but would you say your background in engineering has also  impacted your style or approach to fiber art? 

LE:  I am the oldest of four and the only girl. When growing up I was daddy’s girl and he took me along when fixing the car and had me around when fixing things a detached house needs. I totally loved it. This formed me and made my career choice an easy one despite going against family traditions where women became nurses, midwifes or similar.  My engineering background is important. Figuring out how things work I have been doing all my life. I am curios and lazy by nature always looking for easier and faster ways to do stuff.

I confess, I am a persistent, chain breaking picky rebel lazy and curious engineer with a soft spot for fibers

Before I started with alpaca, I felted fiber paintings. I didn’t know how to properly do it so I read some about it and forgot most of it. The stubborn and curious engineer kicked in and I worked with trail and error again and again. After a while I figured out how to felt without staining the glass I mounted the paintings in over time. I know there are other ways, but this process is still mine. Today I only have the first test I ever made left. LE - FO - first felting test is still clear

I suffered a major hard disk failure around that time and lost all my pictures. Nope, I had no recent back-up. I always forget to do them to this day. Live and learn does not always lead to action in my case I am afraid.

SA:  What has been your favorite aspect of designing carders, and what has been the most valuable feedback from your customers? 

LE:  I must admit the visual design has been a delight. Why do carders need to look as others do? I want the design of my Ekelund Carder to catch your eye, heart and other senses with WOW! I want! I need!

I received the most inspiring feedback from a customer:  she leaves it out on a sidetable in the sitting room as a conversation piece.

Remember, there were not supposed to be any customers just me. The challenge to make a working carder from a blank sheet was the thrill. After I had my carder a while, word spread about this mad fiber nerd who designed and built herself a carder. During the following year I was invited to fiber-events here in Sweden as the freak show. At all of these events I met great people. LE - Action - rainbow hand bornholm

My batts blew them away and the machine so quiet you could stand and chat while carding. Many wanted a carder as good as mine and asked if they could order their own. Okay then, let me talk to the electronics guy and see if you can. I did and we decided to give a shot. Figuring out how to make it from standard parts turned out to be much harder than we ever thought and our major problem. Some took years and delayed the carder production to  no end.

From the shows I got to know fellow carders and fiber artists more experienced than me. With them and knowledgeable potential customers I arranged workshops.

Naturally safety was our first priority:  NO external moving parts to get caught in, no way to get to the drum when running, a finger-guard for the licker and more.

Next came one of my wants, soon to be all of ours when modified. We concluded that what we wanted to be able to change the speed not only for the drum but also the licker independently to suit all fibers.

We wanted a carder with the best carder cloth, the number of tines and their length as well. We tried a whole range of card cloths with different length and number of tines per square inch, fibers and looked at the results and catalogued them to our knowledge-bank. Yes, the engineer strikes again. All this made us exceedingly exited and we all wanted our electric dream drum carding machine to become reality.

SA:  What is the fiber art scene like in Sweden? How have you seen it develop over the years?

LE:  The fiber art scene is not getting the media attention it deserves. In Sweden it is still hard to get away from old ways of valuing anything made from fiber.

But not all is bad, far from it. The interest in fiber arts and textiles is hot. We have a number of acclaimed artists represented globally. If you are visiting Sweden this year, there are museums and exhibitions around the country for arts and crafts. We have a many earlier fiber artists to draw inspiration from:   Märta Måås-Fjetterströms, of MMF carpets and textiles are receiving more and more recognition and many of her patterns are now running again. Her earlier carpets now reach new top prices at each auction they appear at. The MMF artistic advisory committee each year selects an artist to design The MMF Textile of the Year. Ragnhild Monsen is a favorite on mine. LE - Other - ragnhold monsen

I hope she becomes one of yours too. A young up-coming fiber artist is awarded bi-annually by the Swedish National Museum. This year Ida-Lovisa Rudolfsson won the award. The jury motivation: With curiosity and skill she builds a textile world revolving around the common every-day, waiting and dreams. LE - Other - Ida Lovisa Rudolfsson

Realism is not uncommon in fiber arts in Scandinavia. Ulrika Berge is creating fiber art with a range of different techniques. She is working in both 2D and 3D in her works. Ulrika is not only creating realism in her works. She makes the most exquisite three dimensional works of flowers and dreams. LE - Other - ulrika berge working

I have visited several exhibits she has been represented at. They all leave me breathless.

Sweden is at the forefront in boundary crossing textile design. Development of the interface between fiber arts and functionality is gaining ground. There are masters degrees offered at several universities. One that stands out is Textile Borås where research and innovation go hand in hand with the industry. This university has an education focusing on presenting multi-purpose functionality and ingenuity. This is a new and innovative subject giving fiber an extended arena. Their work with combining fiber art with practical applicable fiber inventions is receiving well earned recognition. LE - FO - interactive textile design  bor+Ñs

Their museum is a must if you are here and like me, passionate about fibers and textiles. I visit here as often as I can to see their exhibitions both at the school and the museum to find inspiration.

LE - Other - Stamps from 2012

See links below.

SA:  I love that you not only strived to create a carder that works well, but a pretty one at that! Why was creating an appealing aesthetic important to you, and what inspiration do you draw from to get just that “right” look?   

LE - EQ - EC by the sea My favourite spot at Killingholmen on the Swedish west coast

LE:   I am a design engineer. I have trained in engineering and design and guest lectured at amongst other Textile Borås to get in touch with today’s students and vibes. I believe that form and function go hand in hand.

I am fortunate and live on the beautiful west coast of Sweden. I have less than five minutes to the sea.

LE - Other - Landscape - Harbor

I take my inspiration from my sea:   rocks smooth from the last ice age. A sea dotted by islands in the background and mussel shells gathering where the sea meets land. A carder with a design conveying the same peace and power as I find by my sea. The waves lapping the sea on a calm day in June, the raging storms in November and ice in March are equally inspiring.LE - Other - Landscape - Sunset

LE - Other - Landscape - Winter morning on the sea

LE - Other - Landscape - Morning is breaking

SA:  I adore your motto, “designed around you.” What personal experiences as a fiber art consumer influenced you do take up such a motto?  

LE:  It is what you want that made this carder what it is. You are most important to me. I am here to translate your wishes to reality.  As I mentioned earlier I did not find a carder able to create batts to the quality I needed. I realized there was a whole community out there sharing this frustration. Again I brought out the engineer side of my personality and started to collect wants from others. In my industry we call this creating a focus group. The gathering of needs and wants from others more experienced than myself using the format of focus groups made me design the Ekelund Carder as it stands here today. We are all fiber artists; no matter how we use our carded batts. Almost ten years ago I was part of the management team for a concept car at Volvo. We called this Your Concept Car and we built this on similar premises. LE - Self - Me presenting the YCC in Shanghai

Find your most demanding customers to set the standard. With all those needs and wants on our original wish-list I believe we did.

To meet your needs and exceed your expectations is my goal. Feedback so far indicates I have. All fibers carded by my customers come out great. Another confirmation of meeting the needs exceeding my expectations in the carder.

SA:  What can you tell us about your studio?

LE:  My studio is divided in two studios as it is. One studio is in a separate building were my pottery was previously. Here it is now fibers high and low. I really need to restrain myself. The voice of my heart is often much stronger than that of my brains.

LE - HSY - getting organized all bags of wool now have a spun sample

I find it useful to keep the unwashed fibers apart from the house. Quite frankly unwashed wool is smelly and unwashed alpaca is dusty like nothing else. Here all fiber preparation is done to the stage of washing. My other studio is located in our house and is dedicated to my ongoing fiber projects, spinning, yarns and all my fiber related bits and pieces. This studio is airy, light and peaceful. It has a bright wide window offering views of my herbal garden and the sheep gracing over in the fields. In the winter bare trees challenge the darkness with their silhouettes.

This view is my inspiration over all seasons:

LE - Other - Landscape - gray on gray on a winters day

SA:  Have you had a favorite custom carder, and if so what was it like?

LE:   All Ekelund Carders are custom carders as we only build to order.

LE - EQ - Delivery including Show and tell in Lithuania 2013

My personal favorites are all of them.

One experience that I would like to share is having a family calling me over at the UK alpaca show to say my carder changed their lives. They had opened up a complementing business to the one their existing one. They and their alpacas go trekking and when the visitors come back to the farm, they all want to buy something from “their” alpaca. His mother started to card and spin and local women knitted up garments from each individual alpaca. It took them less than three months to pay off the investment they had made. Another favorite is an Italian customer who wrote me and wanted to order one right away. A week later she mailed me and was disappointed in the machine. We set up a skype call and we concluded it was due to feeding style and settings while running the carder. She wrote me the next day to thank me for my time on skype with her and sent some pictures of perfect batts. All is good.

SA:  I know safety in a carder is super important to you. How have you made sure your carders are so reliable, user friendly, and more importantly safe?

LE:  Let’s start with safe. LE - Other - Safety comes first

This is paramount. Did you know Nils Bohlin at Volvo invented the three-point safety belt? In 1968 Volvo selected not to protect it by patenting. This leaving the belt for the rest of the car industry copy for free. Why? To save lives! Using a belt lessens the risk you are injured in a crash with over 50%.

When you invest you deserve only the best. There are no external moving parts. None what so ever! Being belts, shafts, wheel, etc. Ekelund Carder has what I call a smart lid. LE - EQ - first production run

A see-trough lid for you to see what happens on the drum and the lid has an integrated finger guard. As soon as you open the lid the power is cut off. The reliability of the carder comes from a number of factors.  We only use the same quality of components as is used by industry. The aluminum housing assures stability regardless of temperature and weather. Additionally the sturdiness from the housing provides a machine staying put when run no matter what the speed. The chassis will be here long after I am gone.

User friendly. Remember I am a lazy one? This is a good characteristic to have in this job. Our dream carder needs to be easy to clean. The Ekelund Carder will stand on its own when tipped. Just stand it on the back to wipe away the dust and bad fibers from the inside. Stand it on its front when you feel it is more convenient. The licker, you no more need to pick with crochet hook to get the fibers out.LE - Action - Removing the licker

When the licker is dirty you take it out by removing three knurled (there must be a better word out there) nuts by hand. Pull out the licker, clean behind the licker if dirty and the licker itself. The integral brush you only need to remove one knurled screw to take out. Finally the aluminum makes it easy to wipe down and look as new. Oh, almost forgot, the carder makes a perfect blending board.

LE - Misc - Annies cupboard


LE - Action - Trying out to do rolags tooSA:  What is your hope for Ekelund Carder in the future? 

LE:  My hope is for the Ekelund Carder to reach further afield. Both in geography and use. Thus far many owners are small holders of animals and crafters. Another large group of customers are alpaca owners or spinners. I hope the carder will attract carders using other fibers. I am looking forward to I see work from fiber artists using the carder in new innovative ways. When you are telling your friends and show your carder really is making a difference thatbrings carding to a new level. I hope for an even wider range of users to find their way to my carder. I want to meet owners to chat and exchange experiences and ideas. And for the carders to continue to exceed expectations of those who use it.

Just the other week I was for the first time in the UK to present the Ekelund Carder. The event was one of the UKs largest alpaca shows of the year. I attended with my local dealer, Ann Fisher-Rhodes at Spinwise.

My design of the carder does stand out and call for attention. Interest in the carder left no time to even think about a break. To get continued praise and feed-back from existing customer and those seeing it for the first time makes up for all the hard work and late nights.

LE - Other - Late at work with the happy man aka brush handle

My heart almost burst of joy and pride when users tell me your first and second impressions.

I hope to see end-results from carded fibers that exceed my expectations and opens up my eyes wide. New experiences and insights keep feeding my imagination and creativity. Without sharing, one plus one continues to equal two.

For the Ekelund Carder one plus one equals at least five.

SA:  What was the last really great book you read and why?

LE:  I have not read my really great book from start to end and probably never will. However it is my fiber bible. The title is “The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, more than 200 fibers from animal to spun yarn”. Authors are Deborah Robsson and Carol Ekarius. It is worth every penny. If I want to find out about a breed, characteristics of fiber, how they look raw and clean, how they spin and knit, this is where I go. If I want to know where they live and their history, this is where I go. If I could only keep ten books of my many bookshelves this would be one of them and gran’s old cookbook with her annotations another.

SA:  Do you have anything else to add, in closing?

LE:  This is a fragmented story of the creation of the Ekelund Carder. As messy as the invention and creative process was.

The Ekelund Carder is what comes out if you have a persistent; chain breaking, picky, rebel lazy engineer wanting something she ought not to. Her failure to resist and the group of amazing artists providing generous amounts of their time and experience makes it all come true. Ekelund Carder the best Swedish carder out here.

I am also looking for a dealer or two in Canada and in the US — tips from folks reading this would be appreciated!

As a thank you for reading my story to the end I have created rolags and batts just for you to the value of $120. Like and follow and comment on my page on facebook “Ekelund Carder” and leave a comment below to enter.  A winner will be drawn at random.  Deadline for entries is Sunday, May 31st at 5 PM EST.  Best of Luck to all!


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