Worsted vs. Woolen- What a Difference a Name Makes

For ever I have seen the term “worsted wool”. Never bothering to look up the term, I thought it just referred to that yarn with a “heavier feel” used to make sweaters and jackets. Taking the spinning seminar from Cecilia Quinn I learned the difference between worsted and woolen is in the way the fibers were treated and spun. Taking out my notes this is what I have. Please know that this is short and simple, I’m not undertaking a book with all of the varieties. ๐Ÿ˜Žย I’m just going to write about the two I learned about. I know, I know, this is quick and dirty, and there are all sorts of exceptions.

First, a staple is an individual lock of wool length.ย  The length determines the type of spinning it is suited for: worsted or woolen, or in-between.ย For various reasons, wool can have both long and short fibers.

Worsted yarn has a long-staple and has been finished by combing the fibers so that they are parallel and all of the short fibers have been removed.ย ย  During the spinning process these fibers are kept parallel. This wool should be spun using the short forward draft, without the twist entering the drafting zone.ย  This method removes the air from the fiber, making it dense. Worsted yarn is best used in outerwear, hats and mittens. Since it doesn’t have air, it does not tend to be “fuzzy”.

Woolen yarn consists of fibers of varying length that are carded so the fibers are not parallel.ย  This leaves both short and long fibers which are at different angles. This wool should be spun using the long draft. This leaves air in the fibers making a fluffy, softer yarn that can be used for objects such as shawls, baby clothes, etc. The yarn can look “fuzzy”.

Before spinning, hold up a staple sample to the light, are the fibers of equal length and parallel? Spin worsted.ย  Are the fibers “helter skelter”? Spin woolen. (Why do my fingers keep typing wollen?)

My point in going back through my notes is the spinning instructions that came with Crabby McCrabby Pants: “You need a fine single and we are spinning for worsted, not woolen.” So, it looks as if this will be a short forward draft spinning project! Good thing I had the class so this was familiar to me! ๐Ÿ˜Ž Of course, I’ve been practicing long draw because that’s what we focused on in the class. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

Something mentioned in the instructions that I had not run across before is “To set the twist” before knitting.ย  I haven’t done that before. Have any of you?ย  Did I miss something in Spinning 101? I mean, something else? ๐Ÿ˜Ž So after I soak the spun yarn, I hang it up and hang a weight from it.

Crabby McCrabby Pants. ย I just LOVE that name!


10 thoughts on “Worsted vs. Woolen- What a Difference a Name Makes

  1. Great review of basic spinning terms! And yes, setting the twist is quite common after spinning. I remember once about 20 years ago when I was doing a lot of spinning, and I had spun many skeins of raw wool (very smelly). I hung them over dowels, connected the dowels to chains (which I then hung from the patio awning), and then put dowels through the bottom of the skeins and weighted the dowels. I was very proud of my work. Later I heard my daughter and a friend clamoring up the back steps and I heard her friend say, “Phew – why does it smell like sheep in your backyard?” My daughter replied, “Oh, my mom’s been spinning a lot and all the wool is hanging in the backyard.” The friend: “Why would wool have anything to do with sheep?” ๐Ÿ™‚


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