Woollen or Worsted?

Woollen or worsted? You may or may not have come across these terms before, they sound like so many others in the knitting world. Woollen does not necessarily mean something that is wooly and worsted is not just a yarn weight found commonly in America. What I’m talking about here is the way the yarn is spun. Woollen and worsted spun yarns have very different properties and are great for different projects. But how do you identify them and what are they good for. It’s taken me a while to puzzle that out but I will share with you what I have learnt.

woolen-worsted-web

There are two distinct ways in which fibre is spun into yarn and this twist gives different qualities, from plumpy and fibrous to strong and smooth. The shelves of Knit With Attitude contain a selection of all these types and hopefully after reading this post you will be able to identify them.

woolen-web

Woolen examples above are Kettle Yarn Ramble and The Fibre Co. Lore.

Woollen

Woollen spun yarns are lighter and airier, are a lot more squishy and often fuzzier or more fibrous. The twist is often quite loose and the yarn has less strength. Woolen spun yarns are carded and the fibres spread out evenly but they are not combed and don’t all lie in one direction. They face all directions creating the bouncy airy quality. This process also does not remove fibres of different lengths, which gives you a yarn with more of a halo and more likely to bloom after washing. As they are not combed to remove the shorter fibres you often find bits of hay and vegetation within the yarn.

Woollen spun yarns have these qualities:

  • It is warmer due to more air trapped in the fibre.
  • This airy trapping along with the irregular direction of the fibres creates a plump squishy yarn.
  • It’s more likely to bloom and have a halo due to the various fibre lengths, this may give slightly less definition to textural stitches.
  • It is much lighter but weaker than worsted spun yarns

How do you identify a woolen yarn? Characteristics to look for are: Light bouncy twist, irregular ply, more fibrous with a halo or fuzzy, squishy. It’s a great yarn if you are looking for something warm and cosy with a softer definition and less drape.

worsted-web Worsted examples above are John Arbon Knit by Numbers and Hey Mama Wolf Schaffewolle #03.

Worsted

Worsted spun yarns are denser and strong, they are often smoother, closely plied and lustrous. Worsted spun yarns have an extra process which involves aligning the fibres and combing out shorter hairs. This leaves you with an even fibre with a tight twist, where air is squeezed out. This results in a yarn that is much stronger and denser, owing to the alignment and evening out of the fibres and less likely to bloom or be fuzzy because of this. All this gives you great definition and drape.

Worsted spun yarns have these qualities:

  • Great stitch definition due to tight twist and even fibres.
  • A smooth even yarn with less halo.
  • Strong due to the longer fibres and less air between them.
  • Often softer due to smaller fibres being removed.
  • Not as warm as woollen due to being denser.

How do you identify a worsted yarn? Characteristics to look for are: A tight even twist, very little halo or fuzz, more lustrous, denser. It’s a great yarn if you are looking for superb definition and durability and more drape.

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