Worsted vs Woollen Spun

Worsted vs Woollen Spun

We are a worsted spinning mill, but what does that actually mean? In commercial wool yarn manufacturing there are two spinning methods – worsted and woollen. (Worsted spinning shouldn’t be confused with worsted weight yarn – but that’s a topic of conversation for another time!)

It all goes back to the sheep and the difference in the staple length of the fleece. Whereas the ‘micron’ is the measurement of the diameter of the fibre (learn more about that here), the staple refers to the length. An average measurement of wool will be between 5cm and 12cm. Longer staple wools are more valuable and go on to produce finer, more luxurious textiles.

The different methods of processing fibres are chosen first and foremost to enhance the natural characteristics of a particular fibre and to achieve a yarn suitable for its end use.

Shorter fibres go through a woollen spinning process which results in yarns with a softer stitch definition which might be described as more fuzzy - visually you may see small ends of fibre in the structure of the yarn. Woollen spun yarns are known for their characteristic loftiness, lightness, and warmth.

All fleece needs to be scoured (cleaned to remove the grease and dirt as well as any vegetable matter, dust, and debris), then carded, a process that opens up the fleece and detangles the fibres. In the woollen spinning process, once the fleece has been carded it is ready to be spun. At this stage when the fibres are still jumbled up - and not smoothed in one direction - the fibres are twisted. This maintains the air between the fibres resulting in the lofty, lightweight nature of woollen spun yarns.

Longer staple fibres are used in worsted spinning. The fibre that we work with here in our factory in Baildon arrives to us in bales of ‘tops’. This fibre has already been scoured and carded, as for woollen spinning, but it has additionally been combed. This process removes the shorter fibres as well as any tangles and the combing straightens the uniform longer length fibres in parallel alignment.

The first process for us in the mill is gilling, where the fibres are again aligned side by side and it is at this stage that different fibres or colours can be blended together to create heathered shades. Worsted spun yarns, like ours, are characterised by an excellent stitch definition and a lustrous appearance, and will give a softer touch when comparing fibres of the same micron. This is why worsted yarns go on to make fine suiting and tailoring fabrics.

For hand knitting worsted yarns are the perfect choice for intricate and textured stitches and garments for which you would like a sophisticated drape. Knitting with worsted yarns is smooth and easy on the needles, so that you can enjoy the process of every stitch.