Spinning Blog

Do You Know the Difference Between Top and Roving?

What is roving? Are you overwhelmed by the learning curve of all the different preparations of spinning fiber available? Here is a simple breakdown of each type of spinning fiber, and what styles of yarn it is used for. Different spinners prefer spinning different preparations of wool, so it’s fun to try out all of these types to see which is your favorite!

Dyed Wool Top

Dyed Wool Top via Ashley Martineau of Neauveau Fiber Arts

Top is fiber that has been run thru a wool comb, which looks like a giant hair comb. True top is processed by hand, has all the fibers going the same direction with very little air between the fibers. This is the preparation of wool that traditional spinners use to spin worsted yarns (not worsted weight, but worsted style).

Commercial top is a machine-made version of top. But since it’s processed by machine, it isn’t as perfect as if done by hand. Nearly all of the fibers are going in the same direction, and most of the air between the fibers has been eliminated.

Natural colored roving

Natural colored roving via Soup to Knits

Roving is wool that has been run thru a mill on a carding machine. A carding machine has many teeth that brush the fiber (like a giant hairbrush) into generally the same direction. Since roving fibers are not all going in the same direction, when you spin this preparation of fiber you’ll get a more fuzzy texture than top. When you spin roving into yarn, it’s called woolen style yarn (or simply “woolen” even if it’s not made out of wool). Roving is also a great fiber for felting, as the fibers are not all in alignment and can grab onto each other easily during the felting process.

Hand Blended Rolags

Hand blended rolags via Vicke Vera

Rolags are fiber that has been processed using hand cards or a blending board. The fibers are combed thru on the cards or dragged across the board to spread them out, then they are rolled by hand into long rolls. Rolags are like thinner, longer versions of art batts and are great for spinning medium weight textured thick and thin yarns.

Hand Carded Art Batt

Hand carded art batt via Atomic Blue

Batts are fibers that have been processed on a drum carder. A drum carder is like a giant round hairbrush with a handle that you can put fibers through to have them brushed and blended. Many fiber artists enjoy creating art batts, which are full of texture, color and usually some sparkle. These fibers are fun to spin and create bulky, thick and thin yarns with lots of random chunks and variety.

Dyed Wool Locks

Dyed wool locks via Enchanted Yarn

Wool locks are fibers that have been washed and sometimes dyed, and can be separated into individual locks from the sheep. You can also spin directly from wool locks, or put them through a drum carder into an art batt for added texture. You can also process them using hand combs into true top. They are a unprocessed form of fiber that can be processed into any of the forms above.

Raw Wool for sale at a Sheep and Wool Festival

Raw wool for sale at a wool festival

Raw wool is fiber that has been sheared off the sheep. It has not been processed at all. Some spinners enjoy spinning “in the grease” directly from the raw fleece. You will need a very clean, heavily skirted fleece to spin in the grease. Or you can wash the fleece and process it into any of the forms above.

Sometimes you will hear the terms “combed” and “carded.” That just defines if the fiber was processed on wool combs or carders. Combs are like hair combs and carders are like hair brushes.

I recommend trying all these preparations of fiber if you’re interested in spinning, just to feel how each one is unique and see the yarn it was meant to create. Also it’s fun to experiment with different fibers so you can find what your preferences are.

A note for beginners:
If you’ve never spun before, try pencil roving as one of your first preparations of fiber. At first glance, pencil roving may look like yarn. But it hasn’t been spun enough to be a secure yarn (and pulls apart easily). Pencil roving has been pre-drafted for you. Drafting means to pull the fibers apart to create a thin, even yarn. Most preparations of fiber require you to draft while you’re spinning. Pencil roving removes that step, so you can practice simply feeling the fiber spin between your fingers and letting the spun yarn wrap around your drop spindle or bobbin. Once you are comfortable spinning pencil roving, then you can practice drafting other preparations of fiber and spinning them into yarns.