Frequently Asked Questions of Marr Haven Wool Farm

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  • Roving versus Top
  • Organic Wool & Yarn
  • What is a Spinning Mule
  • Top 10 Yarn Questions & Answers
  • Needle Felting vs. Wet Felting
  • In any craft, art and business or industry; there are always confusing terminology's to try and figure out. One of the misunderstandings is the difference between Roving and Top.

    Many are using the term roving when it is actually top, some have made comments that you cannot use top to needle felt. I hope I can explain the difference so you know you can use both. To eliminate top as a wool fiber choice limits the choices of fiber available because a large majority of the unspun fibers available are in top form. It also limits the new person trying different things.

    The difference in a nutshell: after the wool has been cleaned it is carded which opens the fibers and causes the fibers to be in random direction, depending on how that carded fiber is taken from the carding machine, it is roving or batt. If the carded fiber is combed by another machine to remove short fibers and align the fibers in the same direction , it becomes top.

    Carding can be done on hand cards (see picture at end of page), which look like paddles, about 4 1/2 in. by 8 inches wide with a handle. Rows of needles (not sharp like felting needles) are all across the paddle area. A similar looking tool is used to brush dogs, it is considerably smaller but also considerably less in cost. The next 'upgrade' would be the table top size carding machines that are operated by a hand crank, next are mini- mills which are large, nearly room size, machines that operate with electricity and can make a batt about 24 in. wide and as long as you want or roving in any length you want. Finally the commercial carding machines that are used in the preparation of wool into yarn.

    Small mini mills and hand or hand crank carders cannot produce top but the amount of roving they can produce cannot fill the demand right now so most of the unspun fiber is coming from large wool processing plants or imported and that fiber is in top form, prepared for yarn but most certainly used by wet and needle felters.

    Most of our wool goes into our yarn, however I have some cleaned and carded by Sue Pufpaff's Fiber Mill so a couple of our items are true roving or batts and are identified as such. The rest of the fiber that I sell and use is in top form.

    Using top is not difficult, I tear off a short length and pull it widthwise to open the fibers more. If my project is large, like a hat or scarf that is all that is needed because when I lay out the fibers in layers they are mixed enough. If I am making a small piece or only want to do one layer, I roll the spread fibers in my hand first to mix them up. Hope this helps and that you all will remember the most important rule in felting (taught to me years ago by Sue Pufpaff for wet felting but just as true in needle felting): there are no rules. Have fun and experiment.

    Roving: on the left is a piece of merino-rambouillet roving, fibers are going in random direction. The piece on the right of both pictures is merino top with fibers going in the same direction.

    The picture to the right is a close up of the two. Merino and Rambouillet are both fine grade wool with very tight crimp. Wool has a memory to return to its original shape so when roving or top is allowed to relax in an unconfined space it will expand (open) on its own. Makes it hard to take a picture of the straight Vs random fibers.

    These are wool cards also known as hand cards, they are sold as a pair. A light layer of cleaned wool is placed on one card, the second card is used to brush the fibers open.

    Brushing is done with the top card going across the bottom card, beginning near the left hand handle. The wool transfers from one card to the other and the cards are changed from left to right hand to continue the same procedure. Once the wool is opened, the brushing direction is reversed and the wool lifts free of the needles of both cards. The wool is very open with fibers in random direction.

    This is a close up of the needles on the wool cards. The cards shown above have a curved wood back so the opened fibers can be rolled back and forth to form the random fibers into a log shape, called a rollag. This shape is used by hand spinners to draft easily into a single ply on their spinning wheel.

    In the United States, companies which spin fibers into yarn, natural and synthetic, use machines called spinning frames for the high speed and increased production; however, one spinning mule is still in operation. The mule was invented nearly 200 years ago at the time of the cotton gin and is still used extensively in Europe and Asia.

    The principle of the mule is to duplicate the motion of a hand spinner to retain the natural elasticity of lanolin-rich wool fibers. In hand spinning, the spinner's hand moves to and from the tip of a spinning bobbin. Raw wool fibers are drawn and spun between the tip of the bobbin and the spinner's fingertips. In mule spinning, a carriage containing a row of bobbins moves back and forth, simultaneously drawing and spinning a six foot length of carded roving attached to each bobbin.

    The yarn that is spun has a softer twist and more loft. The traditional woolen system yarns are created which require only two plies for the standard worsted knitting weight. Mule spun yarns have a distinctive appearance and desirable homespun qualities.

    National Organic Program
    Many of you are interested in why we do not list our yarn as 100% Certified Organic since our natural yarns are 100% Chemical Free; that is a very good question and deserves an answer. There is some expense and much time required for a farm to be 'certified'. You can read all the regulations and provisions at this USDA website, Agriculture Marketing Service at the USDA. We follow all the organic practices but choose not to pay an outside certifier to use the term organic (legally) on any label or information about our yarn. One reason we choose not to pay a certifier to come verify our record keeping is there are no regulations regarding the processing of wool after it is removed from the sheep.

    Our sheep and farm are raised and handled in accordance with the standards for NOP livestock standards found in section 205.237 Feed, 205.238 Health Care and 205.239 Living Conditions.

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    What is the difference in wet felting and dry felting- also know as Needle Felting? The answer is water but that doesn't explain the processes very well. A simplified description of wet felting is: soapy water and agitation cause the wool or other natural fibers to bond together to form a felt fabric.

    Dry felting is done with a felting needle shown on the right. These needles originally were used in commercial felt making machines. In very recent years, they were discovered by fiber artists who use them to create anything from sculptured 3 dimensional felt artwork, for accurate placement of designs on wet felted and knit pieces or to make garment items like hats. New items are being added frequently to expand this fiber art. See our needle felt supplies page for the latest additions.

    The needles may be used singly or several in a hand held tool. They are approximately 3 1/2 to 4 inches long with a very sharp thin end that has barbs which are difficult to see with the naked eye. Most have a triangular shape on the sharp end, there is a star shape with a more efficient profile for finer and faster work which is more resistant to breaking. The barbs entangle the barbs of the natural fibers creating the felt fabric.


    An issue of National Geographic (vol. 173, #5, May 1988) called wool the "Fabric of History". It tells, “the secret of wool is the structure of its fibers, which absorb moisture, insulate against heat and cold, resists flame, and maintain their resilience.” This is why more people use wool in all seasons.

    The characteristics of wool fiber are found in wool yarn. Warm weather sweaters are often made in the lighter sport weight of yarn. Both weights of MARR HAVEN YARN are spun from our Merino Rambouillet sheep, fine-grade wool breeds, and feel soft and comfortable in most seasons. The same issue of National Geographic shows a variety of animals with spinnable hair or wool; it states the Merino fiber is so fine that 5 strands equal the width of a human hair.

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