Can You Spin With Other Materials, Not Just Wool?

When you are looking into handspinning you’ll hear a lot about spinning wool, but what about other fibers? Can you handspin fibers other than wool?

You can handspin fibers other than wool. Spinnable non wool fibers include: other animal sourced fibers, like mohair or silk, cellulose (plant) fibers, like bamboo, hemp and flax, and synthetic (man made) fibers like nylon or sparkle.

Is Spinning Your Own Yarn Worth It? helps you dig into the costs and benefits of spinning yourself versus buying yarn.

blue and white Merino/silk blend fiber
This is a wool and silk blend that is 80% Merino and 20% silk.

Non wool fibers for handspinning

While there are a huge variety of wools and wool blends to spin, all you have to do is look through an online shop or two and you’ll start to see quite a few non wool fibers listed for spinning, too!

These non wool fibers can be used as the only fiber in the yarn or as part of a blend with wool or other non wool fibers as the fiber source for your yarns.

There are non wool protein based fibers for spinning

Other sources of protein based fibers are available, aside from wool. Some of these protein based spinning fibers are animal sourced, others are plant sourced.

You may be thinking of angora or mohair, for instance, as wool, but they are actually hair, not wool.

Both could be spun by themselves, but they are commonly blended with wool to make them more easily managed and to give the final yarn some of the characteristics of both the wool and the non wool fiber.

yarn with mohair curls
This is an experimental spin for me, the base yarn is Falkland but the curly bits are mohair, I like the look!

Some of the protein based non wool spinning fibers are:

  • angora (rabbit)
  • mohair (goat)
  • cashmere
  • yak
  • silk-multiple types and preparations
  • milk
  • camel down

Cellulose based spinning fibers are from plants

Cellulose spinning fibers are plant based and can be spun alone or blended with wool, as well.

One of the interesting things about cellulose fibers is that they seem to be cooler to wear than wool.

Some of the cellulose based fibers available for handspinning are:

  • mint
  • cotton-available as bolls, sliver, top, ginned and punis
  • hemp-can be grown chemical free and available as top or tow (short fibers)
  • seacell-made from brown algae and wood
  • flax-available as a strick (which looks like a braided roving), top, bleached top, and tow (short fibers)
  • banana-made from the stem of the plant
  • lotus
  • kapok-from the seed pod of the world’s largest tree species, needs to be half or less of spun fiber
  • rose-made from the bushes, not the flower
  • tencel-made from wood pulp
  • soy-made from soybean processing waste
  • pearl-a wood viscose containing pearl powder
  • nettle-from the giant stinging nettle of Nepal
  • raime-also called Chinese nettle or Chinese Silk plant, has been cultivated for 5,000+ years
  • corn
  • pineapple

Synthetic fibers are man made fibers for spinning

There are quite a few synthetic fibers available for the handspinner, generally used as a cheaper alternative to a luxury fiber, like cashmere, or to add strength without sacrificing softenss.

Another popular reason to use a synthetic fiber is to add a characteristic to your yarn that you can not get from wool, for instance the sparkle type fibers that add that lovely and eye catching glitz.

Some of the synthetic fibers available for spinning are:

  • many variations of nylon including: icicle-a sparkly nylon fiber, faux cashmere and faux angora
  • panda-a merino and bamboo viscose blend
  • bamboo-made from bamboo top in a process similar to the way viscose is made
  • viscose-made from specially processed wood pulp and created as an inexpensive substitute for silk
  • angelina-a polyester fiber that adds sparkle

Of course, this is not an all inclusive list, but it does give you a good idea of the huge variety of fibers that you can spin that are not wool.

Please note: the division between cellulose and synthetic is not as clear as it would seem. I went with the divisions on The Woolery site, as of February 20, 2022. Any errors to the lists above are mine.

If you want to see the source of this list for yourself, head on over to The Woolery and look under spinning fibers, then cellulose fibers and then check out synthetic fibers, as well.

As you are spying around, remember that some of the non wool fibers, like silk, will be listed with the rest of the wools under protein fibers.

Is Merino Hard To Spin? goes over when to use merino and when you should consider another wool, instead.

You can spin non wool “add ins”

You can also spin non wool add ins, which could be anything from beads and feathers, to adding sparkle or silk. Just look at a few videos with folks making art batts and you’ll see some wonderful add in ideas!

The most popular non wool add ins that I see are silk and sparkle, which are both available in all kinds of colors and can be blended into your spinning fiber, however you please.

This is a fun opportunity to create your own, unique to you spinnable fibers and yarns that are only limited by your imagination!

Why use a non wool fiber to spin?

The main reason why you would use a non wool fiber to spin with is that you are wanting to spin a yarn with properties that you can not get from wool or wool only fiber sources.

For instance, let’s say that you want a hard wearing but soft yarn to make your own socks. Anyone who has knit socks only to have them wear out at the heels, is well aware of this problem!

How can you make soft, yet more durable socks? Add mohair to your base wool yarn and get the advantage of harder wearing yarn, longer staple length and dyeability.

The reason to use mohair versus a hard wearing wool is that you keep the softness when you work with mohair. There are plenty of durable wools, but they are generally not soft, that’s where the mohair wins.

Or consider if you want a more silky feel to your yarn, for instance a wonderfully soft merino that you want to give that extra touch of smooth silkiness, why not add some actual silk?

An additional consideration is, as much as I love working with wool, I have to admit that wool can be too warm, especially if you are an outside type of person in the warmer parts of the year.

If you still want to wear a handmade garment in the warmer weather, you can, you would need to make it out of a more warm weather friendly fiber like cotton, ramie, viscose or bamboo.

The only downside or maybe more neutrally put, challenge, to non wool fibers is that they tend to have very little elasticity, so there is not much forgiveness built into the yarn.

This is good as far as having drape and shine, but not so good as far as being more challenging to spin with.

The Woolery has a wonderful selection of non wool fibers for you to work with. This is a link to the cellulose fibers page, click over to synthetics, as well!

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