A Few Thoughts on Woolen and Worsted

Do You Prefer To Spin Woolen or Worsted?

Totally depends. Some things I simply must have be worsted, and others I want woolen. For the most part though, it’s sort of a spectrum depending on what I think the yarn will be for, and which technique I use with what prep is decided by what I think the use will be.

A few generalities…

Socks: Woolen prep, worsted technique, or worsted prep with woolen technique. I want a little bit of bounce and give that I don’t usually get from a pure worsted.

Weaving: worsted. I don’t care about bounce or stretch or fluffiness; in fact I don’t want those things.

Sweaters: Woolen prep, woolen technique, or worsted prep and woolen technique. I probably want a bit of memory and bounce, but the exact amount doesn’t matter. Since it’ll be a lot of fabric, odds are I also want a fatter yarn.

Lace: almost always worsted technique, but prep can vary. I consider the fiber combination when thinking about how much it’ll stretch in blocking. I want it to stretch, but not stretch forever. My favourite lace yarns are usually just slightly lower-twist than weaving yarn, and sometimes less exacting about perfect smoothness.

From commercial top: depends on the fiber, and if I want fuzz or smooth. Either result can be achieved from commercial top.

How Do You Like To Mix and Match Techniques With Prep

1. Commercial top spun with woolen technique:

Spin from the fold with long draw or supported long draw. When I spin this way, I move as fast as I can, keep the wheel going really fast, and stay as hands-off as possible. The goal is to, regardless of prep, draft the fibers against the twist, with twist in the drafting zone, correcting slubs not by adding more fiber from the undrafted mass, but by pulling harder on the existing yarn. What I try to allow for is the maximum amount of air in the fibers as they’re being spun, without me squeezing any out. This produces a much loftier thick yarn than the predrafting methods in my experience, and would be worsted prep, woolen technique.

In some cases, with some fibers or variants on commercial top, this requires some double drafting, where an initial long draw of 18-20″ leaves slubs that must then be resolved directly with either another draw out to 30-36″ inches, evening the slubs, or by going back over that length and correcting the slubs from the spun points at either side. If I have to really get into the slub and manhandle it, a lot of the woolen-ness is lost, and I deem the prep sub-optimal for spinning with woolen technique.

2. Carded Preparations Spun With Worsted Technique:

Taking carded roving or sliver, drum-carded batts, or rolags produced with handcards, and spinning short draw (not more than about 6 inches on a draw), keeping twist out of the drafting zone by making sure it stays downstream of my forward hand. I then slide my forward hand tightly along the drafted portion of the fiber, smoothing the fibers and pushing air out, while allowing twist in slowly.

For me, whether or not there’s twist in the drafting zone and whether or not you compress the yarn as you let the twist in and/or before you wind on, define the most important distinction between worsted and woolen techniques.

Twist in the drafting zone, no compressing of the yarn = woolen technique

No twist in the drafting zone, smoothing the yarn as you go = worsted technique.

A note: If I’ve got a true combed top, I’m going to spin it true worsted. A real top combed by hand is labor-intensive and I do it for specific results.

Thanks to Mr. Jimbobspins for asking the questions about this on the Knitty forums.

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4 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts on Woolen and Worsted

  1. Thank you, for this post and all the other valuble information you’ve written in this (new-to-me) blog. I’m a new spinner (9 months) who is almost entirely self-taught, due to my relative geographical isolation. I’ve only seen one or two people spinning in person. It’s essential to me to hear the details of more experienced spinners’ techniques, so I can experiment and grow in my own craft.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to write information on this. I have printed this off so I can sit back with a cup of herbal tea and try to soak this in. I’m a visual learner and it takes me a bit longer to figure things out when they are written, but it gives me a chance to be a couch potato for a little bit :P.

  3. Thank you for all the great information. Even with weaving, however, there are some instanced where a woolen rather than worsted yarn is desirable. A cuddly shawl or blanket, for instance, is far more endearing. Worsted is indeed more commonplace for wovens, but woolen has its place, too. Sometimes worsted is used for warp and woolen for weft.

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