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In any craft, art and business or industry; there are always confusing terminology's to try and figure out. One of the misunderstandings is the difference between top and roving.
Many are using the term roving when it is actually top, some have made comments that you cannot use top to needle felt. I hope I can explain the difference so you know you can use both. To eliminate top as a wool fiber choice limits the choices of fiber available because a large majority of the unspun fibers available are in top form. It also limits the new person trying different things.
The difference in a nutshell: after the wool has been cleaned it is carded which opens the fibers and causes the fibers to be in random direction, depending on how that carded fiber is taken from the carding machine, it is roving or batt. If the carded fiber is combed by another machine to remove short fibers and align the fibers in the same direction , it becomes top.
Carding can be done on hand cards (see picture at end of page), which look like paddles, about 4 1/2 in. by 8 inches wide with a handle. Rows of needles (not sharp like felting needles) are all across the paddle area. A similar looking tool is used to brush dogs, it is considerably smaller but also considerably less in cost. The next 'upgrade' would be the table top size carding machines that are operated by a hand crank, next are mini- mills which are large, nearly room size, machines that operate with electricity and can make a batt about 24 in. wide and as long as you want or roving in any length you want. Finally the commercial carding machines that are used in the preparation of wool into yarn.
Small mini mills and hand or hand crank carders cannot produce top but the amount of roving they can produce cannot fill the demand right now so most of the unspun fiber is coming from large wool processing plants or imported and that fiber is in top form, prepared for yarn but most certainly used by wet and needle felters.
Most of our wool goes into our yarn, however I have some cleaned and carded by Sue Pufpaff's Fiber Mill so a couple of our items are true roving or batts and are identified as such. The rest of the fiber that I sell and use is in top form.
Using top is not difficult, I tear off a short length and pull it widthwise to open the fibers more. If my project is large, like a hat or scarf that is all that is needed because when I lay out the fibers in layers they are mixed enough. If I am making a small piece or only want to do one layer, I roll the spread fibers in my hand first to mix them up. Hope this helps and that you all will remember the most important rule in felting (taught to me years ago by Sue Pufpaff for wet felting but just as true in needle felting): there are no rules. Have fun and experiment.
|Roving: on the left is a piece of merino-rambouillet
roving, fibers are going in random direction. The piece on the right of
both pictures is merino top with fibers going in the same direction.
The picture to the right is a close up of the two. Merino and Rambouillet are both fine grade wool with very tight crimp. Wool has a memory to return to its original shape so when roving or top is allowed to relax in an unconfined space it will expand (open) on its own. Makes it hard to take a picture of the straight Vs random fibers.
|These are wool cards also known as hand cards, they are
sold as a pair. A light layer of cleaned wool is placed on one card, the
second card is used to brush the fibers open.
Brushing is done with the top card going across the bottom card, beginning near the left hand handle. The wool transfers from one card to the other and the cards are changed from left to right hand to continue the same procedure. Once the wool is opened, the brushing direction is reversed and the wool lifts free of the needles of both cards. The wool is very open with fibers in random direction.
|This is a close up of the needles on the wool cards. The cards shown above have a curved wood back so the opened fibers can be rolled back and forth to form the random fibers into a log shape, called a rollag. This shape is used by hand spinners to draft easily into a single ply on their spinning wheel.|