The terminology used to describe wool and its preparation can sometimes be confusing so here’s a little explanation of some of those terms:
Batt – this is a sheet of wool fibres that has been carded. The carding preparation method leaves the wool fibres lying in lots of different directions which is ideal for needle felting, wet felting and hand spinning. Batts can be huge if prepared on an industrial machine or smaller if prepared on a drum carder or hand carders.
Guard hairs – some sheep, especially primitive breeds, are ‘double coated’ which means that they have a layer of wool fibres plus a layer of longer coarser fibres called guard hairs. The guard hairs provide additional protection in harsh climates. These coarse hairs can be separated from the softer wool fibres to avoid scratchiness in yarns and used for things like whiskers, eyelashes etc on needle felted creations.
Lanolin – is the waxy / greasy substance secreted at the base of the wool fibre to assist with waterproofing and protecting the sheep from the weather. If you push your fingers into a sheep’s fleece on a cold wet day, you’ll find that underneath the sheep is warm and dry. Lanolin can be removed from the fleece with hot soapy water. Some sheep breeds are naturally ‘greasier’ than others.
Locks – Sheep’s fleece naturally divides into little ‘clumps’ and these are known as locks. This lock structure is more defined in some breeds than others. If you buy commercially prepared fibre, the lock structure has disappeared during processing. Buying raw fleece means that you can keep the lock structure, where desirable, to use in your designs.
Raw wool / fleece – this is the fleece as it exists when its just been sheared from the sheep. It will be dirty and a bit smelly but is the most economical way to buy fibre.
Scoured – scouring is the term used for commercially washing fleece. At home you would use the term ‘washing’. Buying a scoured fleece, you would expect it to be clean and with little smell, though it would still likely have its lock structure as it would’ve had no combing or carding.
Lanolin rich – this is a fleece that has been washed only in cold water. This removes most of the dirt and impurities but leaves much of the lanolin behind. You might see fleece advertised as ‘lightly scoured’ which is often the same as lanolin rich.
Staple – this is the term used to describe the general length that a particular breeds wool will grow to. For example the staple length of Teeswater fibre could be as much as 35cm whereas a Hill Radnor fleece might only reach 12cm.
Lightly scoured - see lanolin rich.
Hand processed – this means that the fleece has been washed and prepared on a small scale, usually in someones home, rather than in industrial premises.
Tops – a fat 'snake' of fibre, tops look like roving but are a combed preparation of the fibres, meaning that the fibres are presented parallel to each other. This is not an ideal preparation for needle felting.
Roving – roving looks like combed tops, and presented in a long snake like shape of fibre. Roving is a carded preparation and is ideal for needle felting as the fibres are lying in all directions.
Pencil Roving - as for roving but in pencil thickness ready to spin into yarn.