A skein of Corriedale Pencil Roving
Corriedale Pencil Roving knit up
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Crown Mountain Farms Corriedale Pencil Roving

First Impressions
Unspun fiber can be a cruel temptress to those knitters who don't yet know how to spin. They are lured by the look and feel of the fiber, and then thwarted by their inability to transform the fiber into yarn.

Pencil roving solves the problem by giving us a knittable form of unspun fiber. It is made from commercially prepared roving that has been drawn into fine narrow strips the diameter of—as the name suggests—a pencil.

Pencil roving is somewhat similar to White Buffalo Unspun, except that White Buffalo is made up of six thin strands of fiber, and pencil roving is made up of one substantial fiber mass. It knits up very quickly at 2.5 stitches per inch.

This particular pencil roving caught my eye for two reasons. First, it is made of pure Corriedale fiber, which is the result of a cross-breeding of Merino and English Lincoln Longwool sheep. The merino brings you a soft, supple hand while the English Lincoln Longwool adds luster and durability.

And second, this pencil roving has been hand-dyed in 42 splendidly vibrant and varied colorways with tempting names like Azure Sky, California Poppies, Berry Pie, Flaming Plums, Ruby Slippers, and—reviewed here—Watermelon.

Knitting Up
Despite the fact that these fibers haven't been spun, they are remarkably cohesive. But if you're nervous that it'll fall apart in your hands, you can wind the roving into a ball before you begin knitting with it. This act will introduce a small degree of twist that will help hold the fibers together.

I used a pair of super smooth, dull-tipped US 13 Turn of The Century needles for my swatches. Although the needles still snagged the fibers, the dull tip kept the needle from doing any damage.

I also tried to keep my hand movement broad and slightly exaggerated while knitting, keeping at a slow but steady pace and always watching my work. There's no need to rush this yarn anyway—it knits up fast enough as it is.

My stitches appeared large and even, like plump yeasted bread dough that's been knit and left to rise in a warm dark place. Swatches were perfectly square, with none of the bias you can sometimes get from single-ply spun yarns.

Because I love to spin, I also tried spinning a few yards of the roving. It behaved beautifully, drafting smoothly and forming an even strand. The short bursts of color on the roving translated into longer, smoother color patches on the yarn. When two strands were plied together, all those different colors twisted around one another like a candycane. And when knit up, the striking color contrasts softened into a more subtle play between hues.

Blocking / Washing
Before taking your garment anywhere near water, be sure to darn in any loose ends. Otherwise once it hits the water, it'll start to dissolve.

After briefly imitating lifeboats, confidently bobbing on top of the water, my swatches gave up the fight and relaxed into their warm soapy fate. They did not bleed, nor did they change gauge—but the fabric did flatten and relax into perfect form.

This yarn begs to be felted. If you don't want this to happen, keep any agitation in the water to a bare minimum. Just dunk your garment in the water, tap it with your fingertips until it is fully saturated with water, gently squeeze a few times to disperse the soap evenly, and that's it.

Pull the garment together in your hands, lift it from the water, and drop it in clean water of the same temperature. Repeat this process until no more bubbles appear in the water.

The dense fabric is actually more air than fiber, which means you'll be squeezing lots of water (plan on at least two towels for the job) and then blocking an almost-dry piece of fabric.

The whole process is a lot faster and easier than it sounds. Just don't get this fabric anywhere near an agitating washing machine unless you want thick felt on your hands.

It's hard to imagine something knit from unspun fiber holding up at all. But the truth is that once you've knit the fibers into place and washed them to set, they're there to stay. At that point your worries are the same as with any single-ply yarn: pilling and eventual bald spots on high-wear areas such as elbows. My swatches did begin pilling relatively quickly.

While not rough or hairy in texture, this fiber does have a somewhat scratchy aftertouch, especially around sensitive areas such as the neck.

Just as with White Buffalo Unspun, Crown Mountain Farms' Corriedale pencil roving would be ideal for any kind of winter outerwear, especially hats. It'd also do well for home accessories that require thick fabric, such as potholders, blankets, or tea cosies.

Lacking drape or flow, the thick knitted fabric produced by this pencil roving almost stands up on its own. You can either use this to its advantage (imagine a bold '50s-style women's coat) or downplay it (perhaps a pullover with set-in sleeves and greater shaping to flatter the body hidden beneath).

And let's not forget the spunky hand-dyed multicolor combinations, which add another element to the equation.

Unlike many hand-dyed yarns, cost is not an issue here. At $.08 per yard, it falls on the low side of its peers—Brown Sheep Burly Spun retails for almost $.10 per yard, Reynolds Bulky Lopi runs $.09 per yard, and White Buffalo brings up the rear at less than $.02 per yard on closeout at Elann.

I enjoy fast-knitting instant gratification, but I also enjoy taking my time and creating more intricate knitted items with finer stitches. This pencil roving does double duty by providing superfast instant gratification as yarn, but also a slower, more delicate gratification as spinning fiber—assuming you know how to spin!

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