Batts vs roving vs tops

I’ve just taken delivery of some delicious short fibre merino batts from New England Felting Supply – very exciting! But why am I going to the trouble and expense of ordering wool from abroad when we have some great suppliers in the UK?

new england batts

The reason is that I’m attending a workshop on felting pods with Andrea Graham at Atelier Fiberfusing in a couple of weeks’ time. And in the list of materials she specifies “wool batt – not combed roving”.

I’ve never felted with wool batt – I’ve always used roving (or tops). And I now realise that this is because batts are not very easy to get hold of in the UK – most suppliers sell only tops.

(Quick digression: While  writing this piece I also discovered there is another whole discussion about the difference between roving and tops. It seems to depend on how well the fibres are aligned, which I guess is of huge importance for spinners, as it could make the difference between a smooth yarn and a lumpy yarn. As a felter, I need the fibres to be aligned differently to encourage felting.)

I rang World of Wool, my usual supplier, to ask whether they did batts, and the answer was no, though they said they are planning to introduce some this summer.

I found some Etsy sellers offering hand carded batts for spinning, but they tended to include other fibres such as alpaca and angelina, and they seemed quite small.

So what is the advantage of felting with batts rather than roving/tops? Coincidentally, Fiona Duthie recently published a post about this. It’s quicker to lay out flat projects with batts, as there are already several layers of fibres in different directions. By contrast, using tops gives you more control over the size and shape of your felt, as you can make it thicker or lay out fibres in a particular direction to influence shrinkage.

But if you use the same weight and type of wool and lay out the fibres to the same size, the end result should be the same, whether you use batts or tops. I’ll let you know how I get on!

And do let me know of any wool batt suppliers in the UK. Interestingly, Fiona’s list of suppliers were all outside the UK. Given the current exchange and postal rates, it was cheaper to order from the US than from Europe!

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Flextiles uses shibori, ecoprinting and felting to create original, one-off upcycled pieces. Extending the life of a garment by an extra nine months reduces its environmental impact by 20-30%.

19 thoughts on “Batts vs roving vs tops”

  1. You’re gonna love Andrea Graham! I took a 2 day web-video workshop with her 2 years ago (doing pods) and it forever changed the course of my feltwork. I recognize the batting you got from NEFS.. and it’s a gorgeous product to work with.

    I will say that since roving is also more readily available in the states, I continue to use it for most projects. However, wool quilt batting is still my favorite thing to use for basing out larger projects.

    Happy felting! Can’t wait to see how your workshop projects turn out.

    1. Thanks Shana! Had a look at your site – it was very interesting to see how your paintings translated to 3D felt work. And I thought I could definitely detect some shades of Andrea in some of the pieces! 😉

      I particularly liked your Aculeus, Quiet Rattle, and Polypore Slug. Hopefully I will be equally inspired by Andrea’s workshop – I’m really excited by it. I’ve done very little needle felting – mostly all wet felting. I just hope I’m allowed able to take my newly acquired felting needles in my hand luggage on the aircraft!

      1. I’ve never tried to carry on felting needles, but they do allow knitting needles… so all should be good.

        Needle-felting came pretty natural to me once I saw someone do it (all the reading in the world wasn’t helping.) And the wet/needle combinations are what I rely on now to make most of my work. I still feel like a fledgling when I strictly wet felt, so I’m taking a 3 day course with Lisa Klakulak this fall!

      2. Well, you will love Lisa Klakulak. I did a workshop with her last year. She’s very precise – the complete antithesis to those who say that felting forgives everything – but I incorporate her principles into a lot of the work I do now. Have fun!

  2. I do believe that Wingham Wool have recently added Norwegian wool batts to their website, though I have not tried them yet.Quite a few colours too.
    I am in the process of doing some experiments with my drum carder, laying them at 90 %.

    I did do this with my home carded batts for a bag I made recently out of gotland and it worked out very well.

    1. Thanks Meryl – that’s interesting. I once had a bad experience with some wool that wasn’t fast from Wingham Wool – it ruined a nuno scarf I was making. And when I rang up to tell them the man I spoke to said it was just excess dye washing out – made it sound as if it was my fault! But if I find I like working with batts I might give them another try.

      I guess buying a drum carder is the next step. Someone brought one in to our class at Morley College once – we were all swooning over the wonderful combinations we could create!

      1. I also have to admit to only using them once,but like you, found them a bit strange to deal with, but also might try again sometime! I did not buy coloured stuff from them though.Still trying different suppliers myself.
        Just be aware that carder is the right type for what you need. My louet ( a bargain ebay find) is very fine (120),absolutely great for blending fine stuff, but not for heavier wools or scoured fleece.
        For that I will have to hire one from the Guild I belong to. But it is brilliant for blending up my own mixtures. Have done a lot of Suri alpaca, Marino and silk for spinning and it came out brilliant.

  3. Ps. I have had a little colour bleed on some other roving I bought, but it did not affect the end result.

  4. You will love the short fiber merino batts – they felt like a dream. I hope you enjoy your class. I like felting with batts, the layout time is decreased significantly. You can do layering with batts if you need to make something thinner or thicker too. Just peel layers off the batt. Having a drum carder is really helpful for blending. I used one of my batts for the most recent post I did on the studio blog.

  5. Hi, do carded merino as well as other wool batts. Colour good with no problems running. Felting with batts give a different handling experience when felting. Great blogging. Angela

  6. I’m kind of relieved that I haven’t succumbed to the felting bug. This all feels a tad technical.

  7. I felt with carded batts and I sell wool carded . I buy wool from farm home dye and the client can choose the colours.
    The wool often is in grease and felt very quick ..bliss!
    Blending table could be cheaper before to go to buy a carder and work well too.
    Happy felting!

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