To comb with a card; to cleanse or straighten by combing. A card is an instrument for combing wool or flax, or for cleaning and smoothing the hair of animals, usually made by inserting bent teeth of wire in a thick piece of leather, fastened to a piece of wood. — Webster, 1882
Great improvements have been made in this village. The unsightly roof of the Woolen Mill has been removed, and the walls have been carried up one story higher, with brick. Two first-class stores in the room thus made, will soon be ready for occupancy. – Malone Palladium, October 15, 1868.
The traditional way Mrs. Wilder would have carded wool by hand would have been to use two paddles studded with metal wire teeth, and to comb small amounts of sheep’s wool between the paddles, moving the fibers from one paddle to the other multiple times in order to straighten the fibers into a uniform mat. This mat would then be rolled from one paddle into a rolag, the traditional roll of fiber used in hand-spinning the fibers into yarn. Carding is time-consuming work when large quantities of wool are needed for knitting or weaving, so it’s not surprising that Mrs. Wilder started sending her wool to the carding mill in Malone. A carding machine could card as much wool in several hours as Mrs. Wilder (and her daughters) could process over an entire winter! Typically, some of the wool provided was kept as payment for carding of the rest.
The first carding mill in Malone was built by Hiram Horton, who owned (among many other parcels) a large tract of land south of Main Street and east of the Salmon River, as well as water rights to power generated by the river. He built carding and fulling mills and the woolen mill run by David McMillan until 1863, when it changed hands; it was located near the sawmill at the south end of Catherine Street. A portion of McMillan’s advertisement in the Frontier Palladium for August 1, 1861, is shown at right. By the early 20th century, there was only one carding mill still in operation in Franklin County, in Fort Covington.
Carding Machine. Tufts of washed wool are placed into a feeder to be grabbed by the roller, drawing them through the machine where they are combed into parallel lines of fibers by one or more pairs of rollers. Dirt and other debris is removed during the process. The rollers were wooden or metal drums wrapped tightly in a membrane covered with small, metal teeth, which straightened out and separated the individual woolen fibers as the wool passed between the rollers. The rollers had special purposes and names (doffers, strippers, workers, tumblers, fancies, etc.) and were set in motion by hand, steam, or water power fed to a drive shaft. At the end of the path, a smooth sheet of wool fibers of the desired weight or size was rolled and separated.
carding / carding-machine (FB 15) – For more information, see W.C. Demond, Twenty-five Years’ Experience in Wool-Carding and Spinning (Springfield, Massachusetts: Samuel Bowles & Company, 1867).