Rolags are small hand blended rolls of fiber ready to spin from either end. I love them a lot and here are some reasons why.
1. They are great for beginning spinners. You don’t have a big bundle of fiber to manage. Roving and batts can feel like a huge, unwieldy chunk in your hand. Tearing them down sometimes feels a bit sacrilegious, or maybe you aren’t quite confident in your joining skills yet (although the answer to that is practice!). At my January spinning retreat we were all laughing about the way I hold a bundle of fiber. I admitted I hold my bundle “like an animal” and people laughed and denied it, but I was telling the truth.
2. Rolags are easy to spin on a hand spindle or wheel.
3. You can create a very unique yarn by spinning two different sets of rolags and plying them. We all spin because we want to make something unique, right? Rolags make that so easy.
4. There don’t seem to be any ugly rolags. As an experiment, I’ve purposely tried to make ghastly combinations. I’ve blended colors that brought some very unpleasant images to mind, and they turn out fabulously. I just don’t think is possible to make unsightly rolags.
5. They spin up quickly and who doesn’t love instant gratification? I know I do, and I’m certain that everyone can see a time and place for it. Sometimes we want a big complex project that really grows our skills and sometimes we want candy – a project that is pretty and easy and gives us quick and beautiful results. Rolags are for the times you want candy.
6. They are unique combinations of fiber that are difficult to get in any other way. You can get this if you work with batts, which brings you back to that big bundle of fiber to handle. Rolags are different than batts in other ways, you can better see what is coming with rolags. Don’t get me wrong, batts have their uses, and I love them. But rolags are much easier to spin, and you get beautiful blends of gorgeous fibers in them, just like in a batt.
7. You can buy or make ones that are sparkly. Many of us love a little sparkle once in a while. If you don’t, no problem, just buy or make yours tinsel-free.
I personally love it sparkly.
8. You can experiment with expensive fibers without spending a lot of money. Since rolags are made in small amounts you can play with things like camel, yak, and quiviut without breaking the bank. That’s always nice.
9. You can get color combinations that are impossible to achieve by dyeing roving. Rolags are made from fibers dyed previously, so you get cool striping effects and can blend colors that would make a mud color if you painted them on the same roving.
10. They expand your horizons as a fiber artist by introducing you to new fibers. You’ll never know if you love camel, rose fiber or llama if you don’t work with it, right? Rolags are one of the few ways you can play with unusual fibers. One of the reasons we spin is to grow and learn, and trying new fibers feeds this.
11. Bonus Reason – Wool rolags are wonderful for hand felting. They can be torn apart to separate the colors, or unrolled and used as is for a more free form work. And you thought rolags were just for spinners.
I hope I’ve convinced you to give rolags a try. You can find them all over Etsy and, if you are lucky, at your local fiber festivals. Here are the rolags currently available in my Etsy shop in case you are in the mood for a bit of fiber porn.
I’d love to hear about your experiences spinning rolags or about your plans to do so, please comment below to share them with me.
We are all artists! Resistance to doing our work can be paralyzing. Melissa Dinwiddie is a creativity coach who published this great list of ways to overcome that stuck feeling.
Stephen Pressfield’s book Turning Pro is full of great ideas on overcoming resistance. Here’s a very short YouTube video of him discussing some of the ideas from the book. This book is definitely worth reading. I enjoyed it more than his other books on this subject, which I found a bit too aggressive and even warlike.
As a beginning spinner I am always learning things that surprise me. I attended a spinning retreat in Northern Indiana recently and some things I learned amazed me.
1. Some spinners think it’s easier to spin a thin yarn than a bulky. Along with this goes the belief that it’s difficult to control the thickness of the yarn. I am NOT an expert spinner by any means, but I know the secret. It’s nothing glamorous and your parents and grandparents knew it. It’s practice! Simply practice spinning different types of yarns to get better control. Along with this goes acceptance of what you make. Let go of the need for perfection. Things made by humans cannot be perfect. I think even DaVinci had days he felt that everything he made was junk!
2. Some spinners don’t like to knit. They make yarn and save it or give it away. That amazes me. But see the next point to understand about giving away precious handspun yarn.
3. Spinners are generous. As a newbie (first time I attended), I received a gift that included two rovings and some llama fiber. Someone else gave me a beautiful handmade shawl pin. When I asked to buy a second one for a friend she would not accept payment and insisted on giving it to me.
The spinners donated an enormous pile of hand knit outerwear to a women’s shelter in Gary, Indiana. Some of them knit all year long and fill shopping bags and totes full of hats, gloves, scarves, socks, children’s wear. They’ll never meet the recipients or hear a thank you from them.
They also created a piece of art when they yarn bombed an old chair. It was given to an art studio.
I love these people!
4. Other spinners love to try new things too. There were spinners teaching themselves to spin coils, to spin bulky yarns, to chain ply. I sold many rolags to people who were excited to try them. Here’s one that sold.
I will see the buyer regularly, can’t wait to see what she created.
5. I can spin without hurting myself! This is marvelous news. For a long time I didn’t understand how to stay pain free when spinning. I’ll blog about it soon.
6. My yarns don’t have to look like everyone else’s. They are still beautiful. Most of the spinners were spinning, white, cream, gray or black wool into fingering or worsted weight yarn. I was spinning bright batts and hand dyed rovings into colorful super bulky yarn. And that’s ok!
One of the things I enjoy most about spinning is the endless opportunities for learning. I plan to attend the retreat again next year. I’m looking forward to seeing all my new friends again, and immersing myself in three days of spinning and learning.
TED has published a list of the most popular talks of 2015. My favorite is number three on drug addiction and how everything we think we know about it is wrong. What’s yours?
Did you know the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has an exhibition of knitted plants that are scientifically accurate?
There’s a short article in the Wall Street Journal about the exhibit and the artist who created most of it. She’s a self taught knitter, which is kind of amazing.
If you are a chicken keeper you may worry about your darlings out there in the cold, it is January, after all. Maybe you’ve thought about knitting them each a sweater, but thought that would be a bit silly. Well, in my relentless pursuit of knowledge, I’ve run across a pattern for a chicken sweater. Pictures first!
Wow, it’s 2016 already! That was a quick year. Here are some things I want to learn more about or try for myself in the New Year.
I am in love with these gorgeous pillowcases and finally found a great tutorial. The series extends over several weeks, and covers creating the pillowcase and adding the edging. You could start with a purchased pillow case if you want to get right to the edging.
Here is the foundation for the edge. The actual crochet edging is the next post.
I would love to put pretty edges on white pillow cases. Perhaps my lovely sister will do it for me. Linda, are you reading this?
I’ve been abusing my hands, wrists and elbows lately by knitting a big entrelac project and spinning yarn. I tend to grip everything quite tightly in my quest for control, so I get very sore. This is very common among knitters, crocheters, spinners, painters, anyone who does a lot of hand work. Some of you will be happy to find this great site full of Finger Yoga. Click on poses and explore! Very simple stuff and your hands and arms will thank you.
Would you like to live in a house like this?
Yes, please! Can you believe it’s created from a used shipping container? Apparently there are heaps of these just rusting away on the east coast. Wouldn’t it be great if these could be repurposed into inexpensive housing for retirees, young people just starting out, or people who’ve been affected by natural disasters?
Here is a Buzzfeed blog post about shipping container homes that shows how fabulous they can be. I dream of creating one for myself someday.
Celebrate with me! I recently wrote my first guest post for another blog. This is a big milestone for me. I hope you’ll read my post. I wrote about using hand spun yarn. Check it out here on the Purple Lamb blog.
Carla Hansen owns Purple Lamb. Her Etsy store is full of beautiful spinning fiber and hand spun yarns to die for. Here are a few pictures of her creations to lust over.
Let me know in the comments if you have questions about knitting with hand spun yarns. I’d love to hear your tips too!
I love art batts! Since I feel a bit frightened of them at times, I invited Carla Hanson of Purple Lamb Fiber Arts to give an overview of batts and how to prepare them for spinning. Take it away, Carla!
I’d like to thank Sandy of Indigo Kitty Knits for kindly inviting me to be a guest blogger on her blog this week. She asked me to talk to you about working with art batts. I’d like to talk to you about types of art batts and how to get them ready to spin.
For the first couple years after I started spinning, when I wanted to make multicolored yarn, I would do it by switching back and forth between different colors of top. Eventually I invested in a set of hand cards which made it possible to combine different kinds of fiber in a reliable way, but it was slow going because the hand cards can only do a fraction of an ounce at a time, so it took more time to card than to spin.
A couple years later, I ordered my first art batt off Etsy. It was like hand-carded fiber only better. The carded batt was thick enough and big enough to combine lots of different types of fibers and colors. I was sold! A few batts later, I started looking for a drum carder of my own and eventually purchased a used Ashford carder.
Using a carder is like creating from an artist’s palette, and spinning from art batts is like making a beautiful painting. It goes beyond that, though, because handspun yarn is not only a work of art in its own right, it’s also a work of art waiting to be made into another work of art–the finished project that is woven or knitted or crocheted from that yarn.
If you are just moving into the realm of art batts, you may be wondering how in the world you take this big rectangle of fluffy fibers and turn it into yarn. It’s not as hard as it looks! If, on the other hand, you’ve been spinning from batts for a while, it might be nice to take a look at a few techniques that may be new to you. There are lots of options to choose from depending on how you want the yarn to look and what type of batt you have. Let’s talk about types of batts first.
Types of Art Batts
There are really just a few basic types of art batts to spin from in terms of how they are made, and there are as many variations within those types as there are batts. The main types are layered batts, striped batts, and gradient batts. Let’s talk about each one.
Layered batts – These batts are made from layers of different fibers that generally go all the way across the batt. When I make a layered batt, I try to ensure that each color and fiber type covers the whole surface of the carder’s teeth. My daughter Mary, who is my batt-making assistant and has a great sense of color, prefers to divide each ingredient into thirds or quarters and make multiple thinner layers of each ingredient. Some people take a more spontaneous approach to layered batts and layer different materials in different areas in a more-or-less random fashion. That will create a more varied yarn, which can be great, but it will also be a less repeatable or predictable yarn, which may or may not be what you are looking for. Ultimately, there’s no wrong way to make or use a batt–it’s just a question of what you prefer and what kind of yarn you want to make from it.
This is a layered batt seen rolled up
Striped batts – Striped batts are made with each ingredient laid on in vertical stripes in different areas on the carding cloth. When I make striped batts, I like to make the stripes thin, and I often make 2 layers of each ingredient so the yarn has more color variety within each area, but other people make them one color deep, which makes it easier to make a predictably striped yarn like one you would use for self-striping socks, for example.
Gradient batts – Gradient batts are another type of striped batt, and they are made the same way gradient yarns are made. One side of the batt has one color, and then the colors fade or transition from one side to another. Usually there is some overlap where the colors meet each other, which helps the batt hold together and also creates subtler transitions in the yarn.
How to Spin from Art Batts
Let’s talk about the different ways to prepare them to spin and why you might choose one way over another. I’m going to go over all the different methods in the section on layered batts since every option works with layered batts, and then we’ll talk about which of those would be appropriate to a striped or gradient batt.
Spinning from a Layered Batt – Layered batts offer the most options for methods of spinning. I’m going to give each method a letter name so I can refer back to it. You can do any of these when you’re spinning a layered batt:
A. Pull off hunks of fiber at random and spin them.
Pros: It’s really easy and takes no preparation.
Cons: It’s not repeatable if you want repeatable, and the colors will be really random in the yarn.
B. Pull the yarn into a roving and spin from one end. To do this, you take the batt, fold it into half or quarters along the length of the fiber, and gently pull until you feel the fibers move just a bit. Next, scoot your hands down the length of the batt and do the same thing. Continue doing this all the way along the length of the batt over and over again until the fiber is just a few inches wide. I learned this technique from one of Deb Menz’s wonderful videos on color blending. By the way, if you break it at some point in the process of thinning and lengthening the fiber into roving, don’t worry about it. Just think of it as a new piece of roving that you join on as you spin.
Pros: This makes a really consistent yarn where all the colors are blended all the way through the batt.
Cons: It’s a lot of work. It takes a long time to do this, and it’s really only worth it when you want your yarn to look the same from end to end.
C. Tear strips off the batt about as wide as you like to spin from. If you’re not sure how wide to make them, try starting by tearing the batt in half and then in half one more time along the length of the fiber. You can then spin directly from the strips, or you can thin them out further by gently pulling them into roving using the same technique as in letter B–just not as much. I don’t usually do this. I just spin right from the strips since the fluffiness of batts makes them sort of like predrafted fiber anyway.
Pros: If the layers go all the way across the batt, this will be almost as consistent as the roving method but with almost no work.
Cons: This is the method I use most of the time, so maybe I’m a little prejudiced in its favor, but the only con I can think of is that it’s not quite as consistent as the roving method.
D. I’ll call the next method the W method because the fiber looks like a W when you’re done. Lay your batt on a flat surface and carefully divide about a 2-inch-wide swath of fiber, dividing until you are about 2 inches from the bottom of the batt. Now turn where you are tearing, heading back up to the top of the batt. Continue doing this, basically turning your batt into roving. If it breaks along the way, no big deal. Just start again and keep going until you get to the end of the batt. Here’s a fun video from Atomic Blue showing this technique and much more.
Pros: It keeps the colors in the order they were in the batt, and it’s a little less time consuming than method B. Also, it’s really good if you prefer spinning from a nice long roving.
Cons: You can accomplish almost the same thing by tearing off strips like #3 with less hassle.
E. The last method we’ll talk about it the rolag method. Roll the batt up using a dowel rod or a knitting needle. Carefully remove the dowel, and pull the rolag gently to make it thinner just like in method #2. Spin from the end like you’re spinning from a rolag. Here’s a great video showing this method from Grace Shalom Hopkins.
Pros: You have the potential to spin a very consistent yarn this way, and it’s a straightforward way to keep all the colors in the order they were in the batt. Also, this will feel more familiar if you are used to spinning from rolags from hand cards or from a blending board.
Cons: It’s a little more work than some of the other methods.
Here is the same batt as above, shown unrolled to see the layers.
Spinning from a Striped Batt –In the case of a striped batt, you really can spin it any way you can spin a layered batt, but the method you may want to choose depends on the look you’re trying to get in your yarn. Here are some options with that in mind:
1. If you just like the colors and don’t care about the stripes, go for any of the above methods that you like.
2. If you want to make yarn that keeps the stripe pattern that was in the batt, you have two options really. The first is to use the W method I discussed in Method D above. The second is to tear off strips as in Method C above. Either way works just fine, but if you go for the tearing off strips method, make sure to start at one edge of the batt and keep tearing strips off the same edge, or else tear them all at once and lay them out in the order that you plan to spin them.
3. If you want the colors to blend more thoroughly so that all the colors are throughout all the yarn, I suggest the roving method discussed in Method B above or the rolag method from Method E.
Spinning from a Gradient Batt
Really there’s not a lot of different between spinning from a striped batt and spinning from a gradient batt. Once again, if you just like the colors but don’t care about keeping them in order, then use whatever method you like best. If, however, you want to take advantage of the gradient to make a gradient or ombre yarn that starts with the color on one side of the batt and ends with the color on the other end, then here are the methods I find work best:
1. Use the W method discussed in Method D under layered batts. If it breaks in the process, just make sure to keep the colors in order by laying them out in the order you intend to spin from them.
2. Tear the batt into strips as in Method C under layered batts, always going from one side to the other. Again, I find this method the easiest to use.
3. Use the rolag method from Method E under layered batts.
A yarn spun from the featured batt.
Hopefully this post will make it seem less and not more intimidating to spin from your first batt, or if you have spun from batts many times before, hopefully this will give you some additional options to play with. No matter which methods you decide to try, I wish you lots of fiber fun!
Carla Hanson is the mother of a large, busy homeschooling family. She devotes every spare moment to playing with fiber, most of which makes its way to her Etsy shop,. The batts shown in this post where created by Carla.
When she’s not at her spinning wheel or her carding table, she can be found at any of the following: