Woolen Yarn Balls

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One of the very first spinning techniques I learned about was how to spin worsted vs. woolen yarn.

Of course, the more I researched, the more I learned everybody seems to have different opinions on what worsted vs. woolen yarn even is!

Today my hope is to clear up some of the confusion and of course share some tips for spinning woolen, worsted and semi-worsted yarn. Hopefully, this will simplify the meaning of each and give you a good starting point to learn more!

The Difference Between Worsted Vs. Woolen Yarn

Worsted Yarn is strong and smooth. Woolen Yarn is soft, light, and fluffy. Both yarns are great, but there are advantages to using certain yarns for certain projects.

Some will argue that spinning woolen vs. worsted is not even an actual spinning technique, but a way to describe the final yarn produced.

The main things which set apart worsted and woolen yarn are how the fiber is prepared and how the fiber is drafted while spinning.

If you are spinning a very fine wool to be used for weaving fabric, then you most likely would want to use worsted yarn. Worsted yarn is ideal when durability and longevity is important.

Woolen yarn is airy and this makes it better for softness and insulation. It is a great choice for “fuzzy things” like stuffed animals, and very practical for things that need to be warm like blankets, hats, and gloves.

Some people like worsted yarn for socks because it is more durable, but it’s not always very soft or fluffy. Woolen yarn is very soft and warm for socks, but it’s not always very durable over time and wear.

Fortunately, you can have the best of both worlds with semi-worsted (or semi-woolen, depending on what side of the worsted. vs. woolen debate you want to take!).

Semi-worsted has a bit more airiness than true worsted yarn, but can be a bit smoother and sleeker because it is spun in a similar way as worsted yarn.

If in doubt on whether you are making woolen or worsted yarn, all you need to think about is what fiber preparation method you used and what type of drafting technique was used to produce the yarn! This will help you sort out the confusion!

How to Spin Worsted Yarn

How To Spin Worsted Yarn
How To Spin Worsted Yarn

Spinning worsted yarn is relatively easy to do and begins by starting with the right fiber preparation.

Preparing Fibers for Worsted Spun Yarn

If possible, spin using combed top wool with a longer staple length. Removing shorter fibers ensures the yarn will be smooth. Merino, Romney, Leicester Longwool, or Teeswater are all excellent choices.

Combing the fibers ensures all of the fibers run parallel in the same direction. If you use carded fibers while spinning worsted-style you will end up with a semi-worsted yarn, more on that in a bit!

Drafting Technique for Spinning Worsted Yarn

Drafting Worsted Yarn
Drafting Worsted Yarn

When you are spinning worsted, it is very important that you pay attention to where your hands are in relation to the fiber in the drafting zone.

The drafting triangle consists of the area that starts with your forward/pinching hand and the fibers in between to your back/drafting hand.

This can be confusing {especially if we consider right-handed vs. left-handed spinners!} – but here is a diagram that explains it a bit better.

Drafting Triangle
Drafting Triangle

The drafting triangle is not always obvious when you watch a spinner, especially if they spin very quickly or are experimenting with other spinning techniques. It’s not always even a triangle shape!

When spinning worsted, the twist never enters the yarn being drafted. Your forward/pinching hand will gently guide pre-drafted fibers and then slide up and down while the back/drafting hand slowly feeds fibers into the draft zone.

How to Spin Woolen Yarn

Woolen yarn is light, airy, and sometimes even fluffy or fuzzy. Again, this spinning technique comes down to how the fibers are prepared and how they are drafted while spinning.

Fiber Preparation for Woolen Yarn

You can use almost any type of natural fiber to spin woolen yarn. Any type of sheep wool, angora, or alpaca are all great choices to experiment with.

The key for making “true woolen” yarn is to make sure the fibers are not all parallel with each other. This typically can be done by working with carded fibers or spinning from the fold if you are using combed roving.

How to Draft for Spinning Woolen Yarn

How To Spin Woolen Yarn
How To Spin Woolen Yarn

When you spin woolen yarn, you don’t need to use your forward hand for pinching the twist. You can use your forward hand to draft the fibers right into the twist.

Spinning woolen yarn really only requires one hand – your forward hand does the majority of the drafting while the twist enters the fibers.

While it’s not really so much a spinning technique, by using carded fibers and allowing the twist to enter the drafting triangle, the result is a light and airy yarn.

This method of drafting can be combined with a number of other techniques. You can practice making woolen yarn when spinning long draw as well as spinning from the fold.

Spinning Semi-Worsted {or Semi-Woolen} Yarn

The real confusion for worsted vs. woolen spinning comes when we start talking about semi-worsted and semi-woolen yarns!

In most cases, semi-worsted and semi-woolen yarns could often be confused for the same thing. Most people define semi-worsted as spinning worsted using carded fibers while spinning the way you would for worsted yarn.

Semi-woolen is when combed fibers are spun in a way where the twist enters the fibers, usually when spinning from the fold.

Again, this is an area where there is a lot of debate, so if you find yourself talking about worsted vs. woolen with a group of spinners it is likely you will be presented a lot of different opinions!

No matter what kind of yarn you spin, the important thing is that you have fun doing it!

When I first started spinning, I didn’t really even worry too much about whether the final yarn would be worsted or woolen – I just loved the texture and colors.

Sometimes even now I find myself switching between both while spinning to achieve some funky different textures while spinning art yarn.

Hopefully this will be helpful for you if you ever wondered what woolen or worsted means! If you are just learning to spin on a wheel, this can be a great way to practice different drafting techniques and learn a little bit about how the twist and fibers work together.

Have any questions? Any tips? What’s your perspective on the whole woolen vs. worsted debate? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

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