What Are The Characteristics Of An Easy To Spin Wool?
When looking for wool to spin, it seems like most any description, from combed top to buying raw fleeces, will tell you this breed has an easy to spin wool.
What does that mean? What are the characteristics that make a wool easy to spin?
There are 9 basic characteristics that make a wool easy to spin, let’s work through them one at a time.
Is Spinning Your Own Yarn Worth It? goes over the costs of spinning your own yarns compared to buying wool yarns.
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Medium micron count of 23-30
An easy to spin wool will have a micron count of 23-30, which is commonly called a medium wool.
Fine wools are under 23 microns and long or coarse wools are over 30 microns.
Medium wools are, not so surprisingly, not quite as soft as fine wools, but softer than long or coarse wools.
This in between micron count makes for wools that are easier to work with than fine wools, but do not have the complications of longer wools.
Looking for a great resource on which fiber to pick and how best to use it? Consider getting The Fleece And Fiber Sourcebook, filled with wonderful pictures and details on just about any wool you can find.
Staple length of 3-5 inches
An easy to spin wool will have a staple length of 3-5 inches. Staple lengths in this range are easier for you to work with.
3-5 inches is long enough to give you some time to draft and pinch the wool, yet not so long that the fiber is awkward to work with.
What Is Staple Length? (and why it matters) will go more into the reasons why staple length of the wools you are considering matters to you and your projects!
Staple integrity, strong individual fibers
An easy to spin wool has integrity, which means that each fiber is strong.
Fibers that do not have integrity will break at weak points. Weak points in the fiber can be in the middle or on the end of the staple.
Weakness in the middle of the fiber gives you half the length you think you have and is caused by the sheep going through a stressful event at this point in her life.
Giving birth is a common reason for a sheep’s fleece to have fibers with a weak point.
Weakness more towards the end of the fiber can be from sun damage or rubbing against the coat that was put on the sheep to keep out contaminants like VM (vegetable matter).
When this weak end breaks off, you are working with a shorter fiber than you thought you had.
Low in grease (if using raw)
If you are planning on working with an entire fleece, especially if you plan to use it raw, you’ll want wool with a low grease content.
Low grease fleeces can be spun as is or spun after just a suint soak, which gets out the dirt but leaves the lanolin.
Higher grease fleeces have enough grease that the grease is distracting while spinning.
I like spinning raw wool, but when the grease gets to be “too much” then it bothers me and I wash the wool, instead.
What’s too much grease? That depends upon your tolerance. Too much is completely your call. For some folks any grease is too much!
Freshly shorn fleece
Working with a freshly shorn fleece is another tip for anyone getting an entire fleece that sort of goes with the tip above of being low in grease content.
By freshly shorn, I mean shorn within the past year.
Fleeces will get old, really it’s the lanolin that hardens up over time, making an older fleece more difficult to work with than one that has recently been cut.
How can you tell if your fleece is spinnable or too old?
Take a few of the fibers and pinch the ends with each hand, now pull quickly while listening carefully.
Did you hear a zingy noise? If you hear the zing, the fiber in the wool is good to go.
If you didn’t hear the zing, your wool is not the best candidate for spinning since the elasticity it should have is gone.
Clean, little to no debris
An easy to spin wool is clean, meaning it has little to no dirt or debris of any kind, like VM.
Dirty or contaminated wool is more of a pain to spin since as you go you are going to want to pull out those little bits or they end up locked in your yarn.
Of course, you could recard or recomb the wool, to try to get more of the VM or other debris to drop out, but it would be much easier to start with a clean fleece that has less debris to begin with!
Fiber is well prepared
An easy to spin wool has fibers that are well prepared, by this I mean well carded or combed.
If you are buying roving or combed top (link to The Woolery’s protein fibers page), this is done for you. If you are working with fleece, the fiber preparation is all yours.
While this is not exactly a characteristic of the wool itself, it’s more about how the wool was handled, fiber preparation has a large influence on how easy the fiber is to work with, so we’ll talk about it.
Fiber preparation can take a not so workable fiber and make it much easier for a handspinner to work with.
Fiber prep can be combing or carding
Carding some of the more closed (hard to separate) wools will make a world of difference as far as being able to work with the fibers.
Combing can take a fleece that is tight and maybe even has some undesirable fibers in it, tangles or short bits, and remove them to get you a nice, even cloud of spinnable wool.
Fiber prep can be washing or soaking
Lastly, the preparation that makes spinning a ton easier could be soaking or actually washing the wool.
Washing the wool would involve using a detergent to remove the dirt and lanolin, soaking just removes the dirt but leaves the lanolin.
The amount of grease and/or dirt in the wool determine which is best for the particular fleece you are working with.
For example, we have one black ewe and I keep her fleece at shearing, so I can work with the wool for my spinning.
She is more of a Finn type sheep and has lovely wool that has felted tips. I tried carding the wool, as is, then spinning it. So it was still unwashed, just carded.
It didn’t go so great, I still had a lot of waste when I spun because of those tips being tangled.
Then I tried a suint soak, which is just soaking the wool overnight in lukewarm water. This removes the dirt and sweat from the sheep but keeps the lanolin.
Soaking combined with flick carding the locks made a world of difference for spinning this fleece! Now I was getting yarn that I liked!
The point here is that the wool didn’t change in the slightest, it was the preparation of the wool that changed, mading a hard to work with fiber easy!
Wool has a bit of grip
Easy to spin wool will have a bit of grip to it, this means that there is enough crimp in the fibers that they try to hold themselves together.
What Is Crimp? goes over more details on crimp in wool and why it matters to your spinning and resulting yarn.
This is the reason why longer stapled wools are not on the easy to spin list, they have little to no grip. Anything with luster, has little to no grip.
Grip combined with a workable staple length is why I highly recommend Corriedale to all beginning handspinners.
The grip helps you keep your yarn together, rather than watching it zoom up onto the bobbin without you!
If you are using a spindle, try Blue Faced Leicester (BFL) instead of Corriedale.
I find that BFL works better for a spindle because it naturally has a bit more slip to the wool, making it easier to draft, which I find to be the hardest part of using a spindle.
You like the wool
The final thing that makes an easy to spin wool is that you like it.
When you enjoy exploring the possibilities of the wool you are working with it keeps you happily spinning and learning.
I know that you liking or not liking the wool is not a characteristic of the wool, it’s a characteristic of you and the wools you like to spin, but either way, it matters!
For me, working with a wool that I love the looks, feel or color of really makes a world of difference to me.
This is why I keep out the fleece of that black ewe, mentioned above. I just love the color! I’m sure there are other fleeces on our sheep that would suit me just as well, but I am attracted to that one, every time!
The Joy Of Handspinning has a nice breakdown of wool types and basic characteristics of each, including spinability.