When looking for ready to spin wool, you’ll come across some different fiber preparations, including combed top.
What is combed top, what it is best used for and where can you get it when you decide to buy some for your project?
Combed top is used for worsted type spinning where the desired result is a smooth, consistent and well defined yarn. Combed top is commonly available from most fiber sources.
Wool Roving Or Top: Which one should you use and why? goes over the differences between the two fiber preparations and when you should choose one over the other for your project!
What is combed top?
Combed top is a ready to spin, continuous wool preparation in which all of the fibers of wool are well separated and aligned in parallel to make a smooth, even fiber.
Combed top has had the noils, contaminants and short fibers removed during the combing process, which is what makes combed top different from true roving.
For commercially available combed top, the fiber would have been washed and carded then combed, with each step removing more and more of the non wool from the resulting ready to spin fiber.
The term roving usually means combed top
The term “roving” is commonly used to mean all ready to spin fiber preparations, but true roving is a specific preparation in which the wool fibers run in different directions and the wool looks puffed.
The roving that is usually for sale to spinners is actually combed top, not true roving. If you read the descriptions you’ll find most rovings are actually combed top.
I find that the larger online stores are more specific about the words used in the wool descriptions and will specifically list top or roving, while smaller retailers have more of a tendency to use roving for all fiber.
What is combed top used for?
Combed top is used for spinning a nice, even yarn that is commonly spun worsted or at least semi worsted, depending upon the fiber used and, of course, the spinning.
Combed top also has a specific meaning, true combed top means that a long stapled wool was put on wool combs and combed out then made into top with a diz.
When should you spin with combed top?
Combed top is a wonderful wool preparation to spin when you want an even and smooth yarn, specifically for worsted spinning.
Combed top is ideal for anyone who wants their fiber to be as free from VM (vegetable matter) and other contaminants, including short fibers, as possible.
I found a world of difference between the fiber I was preparing at home and the combed top I purchased, clearly I need to be more thorough in my carding at home!
The biggest difference I noticed is that when I spin with my home prepared fiber, I have quite a few noils and bits of VM to pull out, so I end up with a little circle of wool confetti all around me on the floor.
Any odd bits I just toss out then sweep up later. I end up with a lot of cast off pieces since I like to spin raw wool right from the fleece, so I pull out anything weird as I spin, which is where the mess comes from.
With combed top, I was shocked, no mess! I knew that the combed top was likely to be more uniform than what I was carding at home, but I still expected noils and such, not so!
If you get a 4 ounce bump of combed top, you can spin 4 ounces of yarn, there is no waste, unless of course you have some fiber that you have to toss because of spinning mess ups.
Despite my best efforts, I still end up with times where I get the drafting wrong and have to pull out small sections of wool that I messed up, but that is becoming more of a rarity with commercially combed top.
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Looking for a great resource on which fiber to pick and how best to use it? Consider getting The Fleece And Fiber Sourcebook, filled with wonderful pictures and details on just about any wool you can find.
Where to purchase combed top
On the plus side, finding and buying combed top is easy! You can find combed top at nearly any fiber seller’s shop, small or large, since it is by far the most common ready to spin wool that is being sold.
Buying Wool From A Small Farmer gives you tips on buying wool straight from the farm!
Once again, you may need to carefully read descriptions to see if the wool you are interested in is roving or combed top, but if you poke around a little, you’ll find combed top easy to find.
If you want to buy a good amount of combed top, like a half or full pound, consider the larger retailers for the best prices. I have found the best prices on larger lots of wool to be at The Woolery.
Here’s a link to the main protein fiber page at The Woolery, they have a pretty large selection of fibers, are fast to ship and have good prices.
If you want to buy smaller amounts of combed top, like for experimenting with different breeds of wool or to test out a wool’s suitability for a project, go with a smaller shop, I have great results on Etsy.
Of course, the larger retailers have smaller amounts of wool for sale, as well, but with the smaller amounts of wool their prices tend to rise per ounce, putting them at or higher than some smaller shops.
Read descriptions for amount sold
Be sure to read the description of the wool before you purchase, some of the lots of wool available on the site are sold unusual amounts.
What I mean here is that you need to compare price per ounce, since the bags are sometimes very different in weight.
For instance, I have seen 250 grams of wool as the amount in the bag, how much is that? 250 grams is 8.8 ounces, which is just over half of a pound. So, this 250 bag is a bit more than two 4 ounce wool bumps.
The other weight that I found that I have trouble visualizing was 100 grams, which is 3.5 ounces. So, this 100 gram wool bump would be just a bit smaller than a 4 ounce wool bump.
If you want to go a bit deeper and learn about more than just combed top, read Roving and Sliver and Batts! Oh My! from Paradise Fibers which goes into the differences of a few more fiber preparations.