Woolen and Worsted Spinning
The character of the yarn made from the fleece
of the sheep varies depending on the breed from which the wool is
obtained as well as they manner in which it is spun. The arrangement
of the woolen fibers within the yarn will determine if it is a
woolen or a worsted yarn. A Woolen yarn is that of which has been
spun with little regard for any particular orientation of the
individual fibers, the fibers being mixed and crossed as they may.
Woolen yarns are a bit rough, lack luster and are prepared for handspinning by carding.
In Worsted yarns the individual fibers lie
smoothly, and parallel to each other in the direction of the yarn.
Worsted yarn generally has a well defined luster and are prepared
for spinning by combing. Usually a worsted yarn is made from longer
fibers than allowed by woolen spinning.
Selecting Wool for Spinning
good quality wool is very important, perhaps especially true to the
beginning spinner. Trying to learn spinning with a bad batch of wool
can be a frustrating ordeal.
Many factors can affect the quality of a
fleece, the wool of the sheep. The breed has much to do with the
wool’s characteristics. So does the pasture in which the sheep have
lived and grazed, as well as the climate. Drought can have the
affect of causing the fiber to be shorter than normal. Too much
alkali in the water the sheep drink can cause the wool to be weak
and a bit harsh.
While some breeds have longer wool than
others, and other breed specific qualities, when selecting a wool
for spinning there are a few things to look for:
1. Uniformity of fiber length over a large
2. Strength and diameter of the fiber
should be consistent over the length without being brittle.
3. The feel of the wool should be soft,
supple, elastic and give the impression of having come from a
healthy sheep. Color and luster should be good as well.
Several options exist for the hand spinner
today when it comes to buying wool. Prepared wool is available in
rovings, pre-carded and clean. Many buy a fleece after judging at a
county fair, or from a sheep farmer that specializes in wool for
hand spinners. Where the wool is taken from the fleece is of
consideration as well.
Shoulders and Sides - generally the
choicest of the fleece in terms of softness, uniformity of character
and the length and strength of the staple.
Lower Part of the Back - closely resembles
the shoulder and sides, though not as soft.
Loin and Back- of good character though in
contrast a bit shorter and not so fine.
Upper Parts of the Legs - Moderate in
length but of coarser fiber. The presence of vegetable matter, and
burrs, is to be expected.
Upper Portion of the Neck - Mostly of
inferior quality, being faulty and of irregular growth, vegetable
matter, and burrs, is to be expected also.
Central Part of the Back - Closely
resembling the wool from the Loins and Back. Can be delicate.
The Belly - Short, dirty and of poor
quality, with a tendency to be weak.
While some like to spin their
wool “in the grease”, it is usually desirable to wash the wool
before carding and spinning to remove the grease (sometimes called
yolk) and suint the dried perspiration of the sheep, as well as
removing any dirt or other matter. Washing a fleece must be done
carefully, using soft water and soft soap to not injure the fiber.
Sometimes, soaps having a soda base are used for scouring coarse
wool or a dirty fleece. But as a rule, scouring a fleece or yarn,
especially the finer grades, a soda based soap is not advisable, a
soap made from a potash base being a better choice. Avoiding any
caustic alkali being of prime importance. Soaps containing caustic
alkali should not be used, they will entirely dissolve the fiber in
the presence of hot water. In her 1987 book “Hands On Spinning”,
page 110, expert hand-spinner Lee Raven defines the pH level to
avoid as anything over 9-9.5 (Lee Raven’s book is HIGHLY recommended
reading for new spinners). Soap for scouring should neither contain
unsaponified fat as well. Matthews recommends a soap made from olive
oil as being highly desirable, as well as those made from
“cotton-seed oil, maize oil, tallow, oleine... and palm oil”. A soap
containing some mixture of the above being acceptable also.?¹ pg
Once it was customary practice to scour
wool using stale urine or lant, ammonium carbonate being the active
detergent. Some sources recommending the lant being diluted 1:1 with
water, others giving the ratio as one part lant to 5 parts water at
medium temperature for a fine wool giving good results. The practice
is said to give an excellent feel to the wool after drying.
Water temperature, for wool, should be kept
below 120 deg F (Bowden gives 130 for coarse, 140 for fine wools),
fibers such as Alpaca and Mohair should not be subjected to water
higher than 100 deg F. (Bowden “lowest temp above 60, these “even
more sensitive to temperature and free alkali than wool”)
During washing, it is important not to
agitate the wool too much, the risk of felting being ever present.
(limit “squeezing and pressure” Bowden) Drying after washing should
be done below 100-120 degrees.