A Sheepish Admission Posted on 03 Jul 21:05 , 0 comments

Words are important. I firmly believe in the proper naming of things. As an avid gardener, I know my plants by their botanical names (and, often, when doing a garden tour, have a hard time remembering all the common names). Names make the unknown known. Give something a name and it can be distinguished from other things. As a skier, for example, it is useful to distinguish powder, corduroy, corn, crud or graupel. Armed with the right terms, you can talk more easily about snow conditions with other skiers.  

 I am, therefore, somewhat sheepish that I don’t use the proper names for wool preparation. Why, you might ask. Isn’t that important for a wool dyer? Well, yes it is, but times change. So, what’s the deal? There are different types of long “packages” of COMMERCIAL wool preparation. One is a combed preparation called “top. ” Another other is a carded preparation called “roving.” Top has the fibers straightened and aligned parallel to the “rope” with the short fibers sorted out. It is ready for “worsted” spinning. Roving, on the other hand, is not sorted and the fibers are more loosely straightened and drawn with a little twist put in to keep it from falling apart in the machines. Sliver is thick version of either combed or carded, partially drawn out with no twist. In “mill talk” the sliver is a thick rope which will be drawn out more to become roving before spinning. (An interesting side note, when referring to COTTON preparation, the word, “sliver” is pronounced with a long i…when talking about worsted wool preparation, it is pronounced with a short i.) In addition, there is also pencil roving, lap, pin drafted top and more.


Maia with bumps of top, not roving

So, since there are all these nice words for different kinds of preparation, why don’t we all use them? When I first started spinning in the 1960’s, there was much more consciousness about terminology, but that has shifted rather radically. My hypothesis is that the more prevalent use of the word “roving” for all of these various preparations is related to the internet. Both the word “top” and “sliver” have a plethora of non-textile related definitions. Searching on the internet becomes a much more difficult problem with those terms. Roving as a noun is more specific to textiles, so you are more likely zero in on what you want as a spinner. On Etsy, for example, if you put in the word ‘top,’ you received over 850k results which are mostly not about spinning. If you type in roving, you get 100k items which are about wool for spinning and felting. The last two decades of searching on the internet has, I believe, altered how we use terms. Language changes, new words are added, old ones fall away, and words are twisted into new meanings.  I sincerely doubt that we shall really return to the ‘proper’ mill terminologies anytime soon, any more than we are likely to return to the original definition of the word ‘nice’ or ‘bully.’ (Look up the etymology of those words!)