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Expanded FAQs - What is Combed Top?

When you first visit us at Created by Elsie B, you may not realize that our product line has evolved over time, and we didn't find our passion in fiber arts immediately. For people that are new to our small business, we still sometimes get asked about exactly what it is that we do. Does Elsie B sell yarn? Is this roving? The short answer is that all of our dyed fibers start as combed top, but what, exactly, is combed top? How do you differentiate it from other types of fiber, and what is it used for? Today we'll tackle that question, breaking down wool processing to help you understand the properties of this versatile type of wool fiber.

Wool Processing

Though processing wool is an age-old tradition that isn't terribly complicated, there are still several steps to move a fleece to fully processed wool that is ready to spin. A fleece that is straight off a sheep is full of grease, lanolin, bits of debris and even crusted manure. (Yep, super yummy!) That, obviously, is a much different animal (ha!) than the bouncy, springy Elsie B beauties that we ship to your door. Let's take a look at the processes used to complete this transformation.

  • Cleaning - Raw wool must be cleaned as the first step in creating a market-ready product. Manure tags are trimmed off the fleece and the remaining wool is immersed in either a soapy water or acid bath to remove both grease and bits of dirt and debris.
  • Picking - This step separates, fluffs and lubricates the fibers, preparing them for further processing.
  • Carding - As the final preliminary step, carding combs the wool fluff, not only removing smaller bits of debris but also smoothing the fibers. Home artists can card on a small scale, but commercial processing uses very large machine carders.

Roving vs Combed Top?

Many people use the terms roving and combed top interchangeably, but they are actually slightly different products. When wool is removed from its initial carding, it is more accurately termed as roving. It might appear as a long sliver of fiber or a wide batt. Fibers will have some alignment and a moderate level of smoothness. It is, however, still more raw than a finished length of combed top, and roving will contain a variety of long and short fibers. Combed top has gone through several cycles of carding, making it extremely smooth and stable. Short fibers and most nubs are removed in order to create a more consistent product that is highly suited for spinning, and all the fibers are oriented parallel to each other. Combed top can contain just one type of fiber like our Merino wool or a blend of fibers. When spun, it creates a finer yarn with a more controllable spin.

We hope this helps clear up any confusion and gives further clarity of what combed top is and what properties you can expect when purchasing Created by Elsie B fibers. Simply put, combed top is ideal for not only spinning, but also felting and other fiber arts, and we're proud to offer it as our primary product to our valued customers - you!

Have you ever processed fiber from scratch? We'd love to hear about your experience and what you liked and disliked about the process!

 

 

Rosa Zerkle

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