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Friday, July 24, 2009

Woolen, Worsted, What's Up With Those?

When I hear the word "woolen" I think of something made out of wool - anything. Could be mittens, could be longjohns (itchy ones). When I hear the word "worsted" I think of that medium weight yarn I learned on, the stuff that isn't bulky, isn't sport, and definitely isn't baby.

For spinners, woolen and worsted have specific meanings. Each word describes the manner in which a strand of wool is prepped and spun. I'll try to make it simple.

Woolen - the individual fibers are every which way in the strand. Fibers enter the twist without being smoothed out. A lot of air is spun into the strand, and the resulting yarn is poofy, fuzzy, sproingy, you get the idea. The yarn at the top of the photo is woolen-spun.

Worsted - the individual fibers are parallel to one another. They enter the twist with as little "fuzz" as possible. The resulting yarn is smooth, sleek, not as puffy.

To get truly WOOLEN YARN, we must spin from a carded rolag. (Above photo) and use a long draw spinning technique. The fibers are all over the place, none of the fuzzies are smoothed out. Since most of us don't have time to sit and make rolags all day, we can get a semi-woolen type yarn by using batts carded on a drum carder, either at home, or commercially. Carded fibers are semi-straightened - there is still some air left, and messy fibers. And, carded fibers can be spun the short way - i.e. rolled into fake rolags. It works!

Typically, or traditionally, wools used for woolen spinning are shorter staple wools - down wools, like Dorset or Clun Forest, for instance. The woolen sample I made is from Dorset. Woolen spun yarn makes GREAT mittens, hats, vests, and children's wear. If you'd like to try Dorset, I've got some dyed rovings at my etsy store.

WORSTED YARN is typically prepared by combing. The fibers lie parallel to one another and the spinning technique keeps them that way, tucking in the stray fibers JUST before the fiber enters the twist - short, two-handed draw, for example. Worsted yarn is less fuzzy, has less loft, more compact, and usually has more drape in a finished garment. Traditionally, longwools are prepared and spun in this way - Romney, Lincoln, Blue-Faced Leicester. The example worsted yarn above is from combed Falkland Wool top.

If you think about wool fabric, picture flannel (woolen spun) versus gabardine (worsted spun); woolen hunting jacket vs. Pendleton worsted blazer.

Having said all that, please spin your wool any way you want.

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