Before you start knitting or crocheting with woollen top there are some things you need to know.
1. What is it?
You may know "woollen top" as unspun wool, roving or sliver. I won't go into the technical aspects of these names as there are differences between them and they can also mean slightly different things in different localities. But essentially, when I refer to "woollen top" I am referring to commercially processed fibres that have been combed to run in the one direction. Tops are typically used for spinning worsted yarns.
2. Woollen top is not a yarn
I use woollen tops for my art installations. I source them in large 5kg to 10 kg bumps, as show in the image above. There is nothing like working with woollen top. With the softest of handles and the delicacy of fairy floss, working with this wool is like working with a cloud. My process is straightforward but laborious. It first knit various forms with the woollen top and then, without exception, I felt these pieces to give the fibre functionality and a robustness it otherwise would not possess.
Woollen top has a myriad of crafty applications. Spinners use it to spin yarn. Weavers use it to add beautiful textural elements to their works and felters and fibre artists will have secret closests full of this delectable fibre to create works of art.
BUT- it is not a yarn. It is not spun or twisted in anyway and it has no inherent functionality and longevity as a textile in its raw form. You may find that roving has a slight twist to it in preparation for spinning, but in my experience, the level of twist doesn't add to its functionality or longevity as a made up textile in any substantive way.
3. What to expect from a textile made from woollen top
In my experience, and based on the wisdom of many wool farmers and experienced crafters I've come into contact with over the years, textiles such as blankets, throws, scarves and knitwear made from woollen top left in its raw form will:
- pill excessively, even with the gentlest of uses;
- easily break, tear and pull with damage and use;
- change in its structure and aesthetic once washed, even with dry cleaning; and
- not last over the longer term.
4. What you can do to make your textile made from woollen top functional
Textiles made from woollen top left in its raw form look so delicious, luxurious and comforting. I totally get it. But they are very vulnerable and fragile sadly. And your pets will be extremely drawn to the wool. It's like catnip. So what to do?
Felting is your best option but please note that it will change the inherent structure of the cellulose fibres of the wool resulting in a change in the overall aesthetic and feel of the piece. If you are using a high quality top/roving such a merino (19 to 22 micron range), your textile will remain soft to the touch but it won't have the same fluffy cloud like feel or aesthetic.
After felting, the stitches become more defined and and the woollen top, due to the felting process, becomes more structured and dense in its form. But the upside is you create a textile that is functional.
Felting is not for the fainted hearted. It requires a great deal of patience and experience. The best way to learn the process of felting is to read as much as you can about the various methods and be prepared to make a heap of mistakes. Your mistakes, however, will be your greatest learnings. I will write more about my felting process in an upcoming post.
Alternatively, to make a large scale super chunky textile, consider knitting or crocheting multiple strands of the same yarn together. Or, try one of the large scale felted yarns on the market. There are many alternative nows. I always recommend buying a yarn made from all natural and ethically sourced fibres. They are best for our animals and best for the environment. Our choices on this front matter more than ever.
You can view a number of art installations I have created using my process of felting woollen top here.