What is the Difference Between Wool Top and Roving?

So you've got your spindle or wheel all set up, you've had a wee practice and you're ready to invest in your first floofy goodness but what do all the options mean?

Hand Dyed Wool Top

There are numerous different forms of preparation that we spinners use to create the ideal yarn for our intended purpose, each with their own advantages and characteristics. From batts and rolags to wool tops and roving - what are they all? Over the next few blog posts I intend to break down the difference between them all to give you a better idea of what you're looking for, starting with the prep that I recommend to all my students - wool top. 

In recent years the terms wool tops and roving have been used interchangeably, much to the chagrin of pedantic spinners such as myself. This confusion has been very much fuelled by the internet age whereby doing a google search for 'wool top' will bring up a variety of items of clothing and not the prepared fibre for spinning. Nevertheless what is the difference between the two? 

It all comes down to the method used to prepare the fibre at the mill. Wool top or tops is created by combing the fleece, thereby creating a worsted prep in which all the fibres are aligned in the same direction (imagine walking up to a sheep with a hairbrush and giving her an Avril Lavigne circa 2004 hairdo). This in turn when spun using a short draw technique creates a strong, sleek and durable yarn, great for weaving, knitting, crochet and garments creation. 

By comparison, roving is a carded preparation which uses carding cloth - such as that of a drum carder or traditional hand cards - to tease out the fibres for spinning. This method creates more air pockets in the fibre and therefore a warmer yarn when spun, particularly when combined with the long draw technique. It is however a weaker yarn than its worsted cousin and thus recommended for items such as hats and scarves or items that won't undergo too much wear and tear such as socks or jumper elbows.

Both preparations are ideal for novice spinners as they are arguably easier to manipulate than the chonky art batt and can be purchased without the need of extra tools like hand cards. I personally prefer to teach using combed top using the front draw method but each to their own and there is no such thing as the spinning police!

From here there are further rabbit holes that we can tumble down, such as the difference between hand dyed top and custom blends, pencil roving, Batts versus Phatts™ etc. If you're keen to make like Alice and chase after me into this magical world of fibre and floof then let me know below what you want to learn about next!




Images: Above - Hand Dyed Wool Top
Below - Alpaca Pencil Roving



This is all very interesting,
I wish that I lived closer.
We are in North Wales.
Can you only make a wool top with hand carders ?
I’ve done a little carding with alpaca and sheep, and have done a little drop spinning.
Finding it hard going but fun at the same time, I was considering a dome carder however I knit socks and just read your blog about wool top being stronger for knitting some products.


I’m a long time knitter who is (incredibly) tempted to start spinning. This article is brilliant – anything you choose to keep writing about on this topic would much appreciated, thank you!

Tricia Livingston

Really enjoyed the blog and learned quite a bit. Looking forward to the next ones. Thank you

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