FIBER FAQs —- Fiber Prep – What does it all mean ? top, roving, rolags, clouds

Chapter 1 – Fiber Prep 

As a long time spinner and fiber producer (alpaca), wool and other fibers buyer and working with many mills and working with and selling commercial yarns over the past 12 years, I get many questions on terms commonly used in the fiber world.  I can see why they are confusing and many used interchangeably (incorrectly). So to help “demystify” spinning and yarn, I am going to try to pull all these terms together into one blog post.

I also started and own the largest and original spin for trade group on Facebook “Spin a Pound, Get a Pound™”.  Based on question we receive daily in the group and privately, I think this will help a lot of the newer members, especially the growers in communicating with their spinners.  I co-mod this group with a great bunch of wonderful ladies who make me smile each day and who make running the group fun and manageable.  If you are a grower of fiber or a spinner, come join us!

This will be ongoing as there are tons of topics to discuss.

So onto today’s topic —– Fiber Preparations 

  • Top – top whether commercially prepared or hand prepared aligns the fibers in one direction.  This prep allows for a more dense yarn/fabric and is good for hard wearing items like socks.  Combing fiber also removes any residual shorts, neps, noils and VM.  For hand preparation, combs or comb/hackle preparation and then dizzing the fiber off of the combs or spinning is all referred to as top.  Commercial top is what is most often used for hand-painted braids that all spinners go crazy over.  Commercial top holds together well and stands up to wetting, dyeing etc.  For hand prepped top, it is best to dye the fiber prior to combing.  Top does produce more waste than any other prep method, but it is a superior, consistent preparation.  Spinning from top is the only way to produce a true worsted yarn. 

    Braided commercially prepared top –  undyed (left), dyed in my Rainbow colorway (right)
  • Roving – often confused and used interchangeably with the term “top”.  Roving is fiber that is pin drafted (commercial) off the carder or dizzed off (hand prep) a drum carder.  Most small farmers have roving made rather than top because there are only a few mills in the US that comb fiber into top.  Also, the weight requirements for a batch are out of reach of many smaller fiber producers, and because of the waste while making top, the cost per ounce for top prep increases dramatically over roving.  Most of the smaller mills in the US are simply not equipped to produce top as it is a separate machine, so if you are buying mill prepped fiber for a small farm, more often than not it is roving.  When a small fiber producer is selling top, they make sure to label it as such. 
    Roving (Romney wool) in a ball)

    The same roving (Romney) spread to
    show the definition.  Fibers are not all
    aligned like top
  • Batts – a batt is simply fiber pulled off the carder in one piece whether commercially prepped or hand prepped by a hand spinner.  Batts are a popular and sought after fiber prep because tons of color, texture and different fiber can be used.  Batts can be smooth or textured.  They can be layered or well blended.  The can be plain or crazy.  Batts by far is the most fun for me to prepare.  Because each spinner spins a batt differently (rips strips, rolls, dizzed etc) exact batts given to different spinners can produce wildly differing results.
    Sand and Sea™ Batt Jelly Rolled
    Witch’s Apprentice ™ Batt rolled (left)
    and jelly rolled (right) 

    Maleficent™ Spinning Batt laying flat


  • Rolags (punis) – rolags are produced in one of 3 methods.  Hand cards, blending board or pulled in pieces off a drum carder (rather than the entire batt). This prep is the traditional way to spin a true woolen yarn using the long draw method. 
Fiber on a Blending Board – (rolag prep)
Rolags ready to spin
  • Clouds – clouds are picked but not carded or combed fiber.  Handfuls are held by the spinner and drawn from the hand.  Totally a fun way to spin and very common with fibers like loose cashmere or angora bunny.  Depending on the fiber and amount of openness to the lock, this can produce a lumpy bumpy are yarn or a smooth yarn.  
  • From the lock – spinning from the lock is a method similar to cloud spinning.  Locks of fiber are flicked to open them and done one lock at a time.  This is often done with very fine fiber like sharlee merino when over prepping can cause neps and noils, but is also used for those spinners who do not have combs, hand cards or a drum carder.  This is also popular with spinners who like to spin in the grease. 
  • From the fold – whether spinning from a lock or top, the fiber is folded over a finger and is drawn from the middle.  This allows more air to be trapped than spinning from a lock or top in line.  Trapping air allows for a more lofty yarn.  Spinning from the fold can also be done with top or roving. 
  • Flicking a lock – using a flicker brush, dog brush or even a hand card, flicking open the lock prepares it either to spin directly or to get ready for carding.  This is most often done for tight or dirty tip fleece.  Swing or box pickers can also open locks to prepare them for carding, but for very fine fibers, pickers can be too aggressive and cause neps and noils and flicking is preferred.  Once the lock is flicked it can then be spun “from the lock” or “from the fold” or go on to further preparations. 
Next Time – Worsted vs Woolen (woollen) and what does semi-worsted mean ? 

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