What Is The Difference Between Rolags And Roving?

If you are looking into handspinning, you have surely come across the terms roving and rolag, and many other fiber related lingo, too!

Clearly you can use both roving and rolags to spin your own yarn, so what are the differences that you need to know between rolags and roving, so you know which one you should use for your handspinning?

Roving is ready to spin prepared fiber that can be spun in the woolen, worsted or semi worsted style. Roving is normally professionally processed at fiber mills but can also made by hand at home. Rolags are hand carded tubes of ready to use wool that can be spun into a true woolen yarn.

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Rolags are hand carded tubes of wool

Rolags are hand carded loose tubes or cocoons of wool that are used to spin woolen style yarns. Rolags are made by hand carding wool then rolling it up into a loose tube.

Rolags can be made from fiber that is carded with hand cards, blending boards or drum carders.

To make a rolag, the wool is first well carded. Careful and thorough carding, no matter the tools used, is the key to the success of the rolag preparation.

Well carded wool will make the rolag one cloud of easy to spin fiber, whereas any neps or noils, due to insufficient carding, will make the rolag harder to work with.

making faux rolag with knitting needles
I’m using two knitting needles as the center support to roll up a few faux rolags like the one pictured above. These are easier to make for beginners, but are not as airy as rolags made on handcards.

Use two rods to make rolag

Once the wool is well carded, you can roll it up into a rolag using two dowels or knitting needles, if you are using a blending board or drum carder.

Use the dowels to pinch a bit of wool and roll until you get the rolag size you want.

When you have the amount of fiber that you want on the dowels, remove them from the rolag, one at a time and lightly roll the rolag between your hands or on a table to push in any stray fibers.

Hand cards traditionally make rolags

If you are using hand cards, transfer all of the wool to one card by moving the cards opposite of the carding motion.

Now that the carded wool is all on one card, you can make the rolag with the hand cards, themselves, or with your hands by rolling it up from the edge of the card.

I have to cheat and roll them up by hand, but if you get really good you can make the rolag with just the cards themselves.

When you are done, you will have a tube of ready to spin wool. If there are fly away fibers sticking out of the rolag, lightly roll it on the table or between your hands to tidy up the rolag.

Remember, your purpose here is to have a light and airy wool preparation, so roll lightly and keep the rolag fluffy.

Is Merino Hard To Spin? goes over some tips to spinning with merino wool, which, if you are so inclined would make a nice rolag!

dyed corriedale combed top
This is some dye corriedale combed top. Notice how much smoother looking it is than the blue rolags.

Roving is a carded long rope of wool

Roving starts out the same as rolags, with a section of well carded wool, but from here out, roving and rolags are handled differently.

After carding, the roving is taken off of the carder with a diz, which is a big button like disc with holes to pull the wool through.

Once the roving is dizzed off of the cards, it is in one long, loose “rope” of carded fiber that will have the fibers of wool running in mostly the same direction but not as well aligned as with combed top.

To add a bit of confusion, it is now commonplace to use the word “roving” to mean almost any prepared fiber, not just fiber prepared specifically to be true roving. Most “roving” sold is actually combed top.

The roving described here is true roving, since it is carded, not combed, and will be fluffy since it has the carded fibers running in multiple directions.

ball of pink pencil roving
This is pencil roving, pencil because it is thin and roving because the fibers go in all different directions.

Similarities between rolags and roving

Rolags and roving are similar in use to the handspinner. Both rolags and roving:

  • are used to spin woolen style yarns
  • are an airy and loose fiber preparation that can be spun into a fluffy yarn
  • can be made at home
  • tend to be made from shorter stapled wools

Rolags and roving can both be used with the same spinning techniques, but will give different results due to the different preparation of the fibers.

rolag and section of roving side by side
The top tube shaped roll is a rolag that I made around two knitting needles, the bottom of the picture has a section of roving, both are the same wool, which is naturally colored Merino.

Differences between rolags and roving

Rolags and rovings are different mainly in appearance and availability.

Since roving is pulled off of the cards with a diz, it is in a long cloud of ready to spin fiber rather than having a roll or tube shape of the rolag. Roving is also available from fiber mills, whereas rolags are not.

Rolags are made by hand, not mill processed, so if you want to use rolags for your spinning you need to make them yourself or buy them from a shop owner who will hand card and roll them for you.

With a little bit of practice and some small dowels or long knitting needles, you can easily make your own rolags at home!

If you want to learn more about rolags, read Carding Rolags in which Josefin Waltin talks about her process of making rolags for sweater yarn.

Are you a beginner looking to get started with spinning? Try my Spinning Course! It will take you from total beginner to confident spinner!

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