Ever wonder what to do with the pillowy soft mass of fibers found for sale in craft stores, specialty yarn shops, and local yarn cottage industries. This unstructured mass of unspun fibers is known as roving.
What is roving?
Roving is a continuous sheet of fiber that has been washed and carded. A carding machine loosens the fibers, and removes particulate matter in preparation for spinning. The resulting roving is an unstructured batt of fibers which lie relatively parallel, and may be dyed or left in its natural state. A slight twist is applied just enough to hold the fibers together, which is packaged as yarn for crafters.
Roving can be made from any fiber mix, such as linen or viscose, but merino wool roving is commonly found. The unspun yarn or roving falls into the jumbo (7) weight category, so it’s very thick and bulky.
What can you make with roving?
Spinners use roving in its continuous sheet format right from the carding machine, to spin into yarn. There are other techniques incorporating roving that are used by knitters, crocheters, and other fiber artists. These include thrummed mittens, needle felting, and supersize blankets and other home accessories.
These charming, speckle patterned mittens are a tradition from the east coast of Canada, specifically Newfoundland and Labrador. Thrummed mittens are excellent at insulating your hands from the extreme cold.
A thrum is a short length of unspun or roving yarn. Traditional thrummed mittens use natural, unspun sheep’s wool separated into small pieces. These small pieces are knit into the stitches with the working or main yarn for the mitts. The ends of the fleece form a cozy pillow on the inside of the mittens. The speckle pattern on the right side can also be created with dyed or coloured roving. This technique works for both knitting and crocheting.
When roving is matted, tangled, and compressed, it forms “felt”. Traditionally, felting is the process of applying heat, moisture, and agitation to wool, forming a matte, dense fabric. Invented around the 1980s, needle felting is a newer technique, which sculpts dry roving into objects, such as felted miniatures, or to decorate a base textile like a scarf or pillowcase.
The tool used to felt wool roving is a very sharp, barbed needle. You also need a special felting surface to work on, like a foam pad, to avoid poking yourself. The needle felting techniques vary depending on the type of project. For example, to make a simple small ball, take a piece of roving and roll into a ball. Place the ball on the work surface, and poke it repeatedly with a barbed needle, until the fibers bond together to form felt.
Just as get rich quick schemes rarely work, trying to knit up one of these popular, quickly made roving blankets is not going to give you the results you were hoping for. These blankets are typically arm knit or made using 50mm knitting needles or a huge crochet hook. I’m going to tell you why a blanket project is not the best use of roving yarn.
The beauty of any knit fabric is mainly due to the structure of the yarn. The spinning, plying and twisting of staple fibers into yarn provides cohesion, strength and durability. The drawback for knitters is that roving is unstructured. You can see by looking and touching a batt of roving, that it’s nothing more than a mass of soft fibers. After finishing the last stitch and placing your blanket on the sofa, it will be ruined in no time. Because this yarn has no structure or nothing to hold the fibers in place, the project absorbs dirt, breaks apart, not to mention a possible laundry accident that may make it stiff. If you own a pet, it may find the blanket one of the best toys, and all you end up with is torn apart bits all over the floor. In addition, a blanket made from roving has significant weight to it, unless made with a fiber like wool.
Another important consideration is the cost of purchasing roving for a blanket project. Roving yarn can be an incredible expense, possibly hundreds of dollars depending on the fibers it’s made from. Not the best use of your dollars or skill for an item that’s not going to last.
If you are still interested in knitting with roving, stick to small projects, like a decorative pillow cover that won’t get much abuse. There are numerous online tutorials on using roving for any of the above techniques.
Roving yarn is unstructured, with limited use for knitting. As with all yarn types, it’s about choosing the appropriate project. Roving provides the needed insulation in thrummed mittens or felted into objects and decorating textiles. But the next time you admire one of those beautiful, quickly knit blankets made from roving, think twice.