It’s no wonder so many people wonder what roving is, since the answer varies a little bit from source to source. The simple answer is that wool roving is the long, fluffy rope that is the final step before hand spinning or felting wool. It doesn’t have to be made from wool; other fibers can be prepared as roving, or blends of many fibers.
This roving shows the fluffiness, with lots of air in the preparation. There is some chaos in the direction of the fibers, even though most go in the same general direction. This has been prepared by carding, rather than combing. Click on the photo to see this gorgeous Merino roving at The Woolery.
Roving is soft, even, and pleasant just to look at or to touch. I once attended the Estes Park Wool Festival with an old friend who was not a fiber artist at all. He taught Viking Literature, and had heard that there were Icelandic sheep at this show. He took one look at some roving and bought a pound of it. (It was Corriedale, not Icelandic.) I asked if he wanted me to teach him to spin, and he laughed. Nope. He just wanted to touch it.
How is roving made? Here’s where things get a little confusing. If you follow my blog or site, you know that I don’t like hard and fast rules. I understand that lots of the terms we use may be different in Europe than they are in the U.S., or even in different regions of a single country. But… some fiber arts teachers and authors are very specific:
- Roving is made from a carded process.
- Tops are made from a combing process.
- Roving is fluffy and not perfectly straight.
- Tops are very orderly, shiny, and straight.
- Roving makes woolen yarn.
- Tops make a worsted yarn. (In handspinning, worsted means a tight, smooth, shiny yarn– not a size or weight of yarn as the term is used in knitting.)
This shiny tops is made from Tencel fiber. You can see how the fibers all follow the same direction, and there is very little air space in the rope of prepared fiber. This gorgeous fiber is great for blending with wool for some extra shine, or just spinning on its own. Click on the picture to purchase from The Woolery.
To card fibers at home, the traditional method is to use hand cards. Commercially prepared rovings are made with very large carding machines which process large amounts of wool quickly. Here is some uncarded wool along with handcards and rolags (the traditional carded preparation made with the handcards.) You can get hand card that look just like these but much newer by clicking here.
For home preparation of combed tops, there are many variations on these vicious looking wool combs. The wool is pulled off through a “diz,” which has a small hole to control the size of the tops. Wool combs of various types can be found here.
So… most people use the term “rovings” for a carded preparation. You will occasionally hear the term “rovings” used for a combed preparation as well. It’s not wrong to use the term to describe any long rope of fiber ready for spinning or weaving, but the distinction between roving and tops is a little more accurate.
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