Worsted vs Woolen: My experience

This week’s post is quite different. It took me the entire last week to prepare it because I wanted to experiment two different spinning methods; worsted vs. woolen.

You may already know the difference, and there is a lot of theoretical references in the web, magazines and books. That is what I consulted at first, but I really wanted to experiment myself to see the difference between the outcome yarn. Obtaining worsted and woolen yarns depend on many factors. The type of fiber, how you prepare it, and the drafting technique you use to spin it. In the following paragraphs and pictures, I will take you through these factors, so let’s start.

The Fiber

For this experiment I choose two type of fibers that were already blended: Polwarth & Tussah Silk Both fibers have a staple length between 6″-7″ The micron count are between 23 and 24, however the silk can go to 28 micron count. Please see below a picture that shows the length.

Fiber Staple

Fiber staple length

I could have chosen two different types of fiber, but I wanted to see what happens if I use the same for both methods.

The Equipment

In order to prepare the fiber in one way or another, I needed to use two kinds of equipment: hand carders for woolen; and wool combs for worsted.

Equipment needed

Equipment: Left: hand carders 72 points. Right: wool combs with double pitch

Hand carders are used to mix fibers with different length and micron counts. When you card your fibers, they will cross with each other creating a web, just like  Judith MacKenzie described them in her book “The Intentional Spinner.” On the other hand, wool combs will separate different lengths of fibers, and will align them instead of crossing.

Fiber Preparation

Woolen:

Carding the wool for woollen preparation

Carding process

As you can see from this picture, the fibers are too long when carded. The experts would say that they are way too long. In general, in order to card yarn, you have to choose fibers with shorter staples, not longer than the size of your hand carders. But again, this is an experiment.

Once I carded my fiber, I was able to create rolags. Here you can find an excellent description of what a rolag is among with other types of fiber preparation.

Rolags

Rolags ready to spin

Worsted:

Combing wool for worsted

Combed fiber

The above picture shows the wool already combed. As you can see, the fibers are aligned in one direction and are ready to be pulled out with a diz or your hands. Once I finished, I obtained slim tops that became bird nests ready to spin.

Bird nests and combers

Wool combs and bird nests

Before going into the spinning and drafting techniques I used, I would like to show you the waste I got using both methods of fiber preparation. In the following picture you can see the amount of waste next to the hand carders, which is small. Contrary to the waste that is next to the combs, this is considerably larger.

Wool waste

Fiber waste after preparing the fiber

Well, you can use the waste for felted project or as stuffing for toys, but it is good to know beforehand that you will have more waste combing your fiber than carding it.

Drafting Techniques

Woolen: The drafting technique I used for spinning woolen yarn was the long draw. This technique allows the twist in the fibers before they are in tension or attenuated. I drafted back, which means that I drafted the fiber pulling backwards.

Long draw

Long draw

Worsted: I used the short draw that allows the twits in the fibers under tension. The drafting is forward, which means that I pulled the fiber towards the wheel.

Forward short draw method

Short draw

Once I finished the singles I let them rest for a entire day, and I plied them in the evening. The general rule is to leave the singles for at least overnight in order to have them rest and the twist relax. If you have energised singled for different projects such as textured yarn, it is better to leave the singles for more days.

The plied yarn and finished skeins

Below I added the pictures of the plied yarns. Both are 2 ply, and you can see already the differences between them; but I will deepen into the details when I talk about the swatches I knit.

Woolen 2 ply yarn

Woolen yarn 2 ply

Worsted 2 ply yarn

Worsted yarn 2 ply

I let the plied yarn rest overnight on the bobbins before skeining;  and I washed them the following morning; it took me a day to dry. Before the finished yarns. I obtained a bulky weight yarn using woolen method; and worsted/DK weight, using the worsted method.

Skeined yarns

Woolen (left) – Worsted (right)

The Swatches

Swatching the yarns was part of my experiment; as by only doing it, I would be really able to see the differences in the final fabric. For the woolen swatch, I cast on 30 stitches using a needle size US11/8mm. I knit in stockinette stitch for 32 rows. In fact, I knit until I was almost run out of yarn. I wanted to use the entire skein. The gauge I obtained was 21st/28 rows for 4″.

For the worsted swatch I did the same. I cast on 30 stitches but using this time a needle size US7/4.5mm. I knit also in stockinette stitch, but for 70 rows. My gauge was 12st/17 rows for 4″. Below you can see the finished swatches before blocking.

Swatches

Finished swatches: Worsted (left) – Woolen (right)

The next step was giving the swatches a bath of 30 minutes; then I gently pressed the swatches with a towel to take the water away. I lied them on my blocking math and pinned them down. As can be seen from the pictures below, I needed to use more pins (18) for the worsted swatch because the cast on and bind off borders; and the edges were curling.

Worsted swatch blocking

Worsted swatch

On the other hand, I only required 8 pins to block the woolen swatch. The fabric was more relaxed.

Woolen swatch blocking

Woolen swatch

The results

Let me list the different characteristics I found about the yarn with my swatches.

Woolen:

  • Light fabric due to the lofty and airy yarn.
  • Very stretchy
  • Very soft / Fluffy
  • It loses the shape faster while pulling the fabric through the side edges.
  • It has drape

Worsted:

  • Heavier fabric / dense
  • Stretchy
  • It has drape
  • Soft
  • It returns to its shape after pulling the fabric through the side edges

Conclusion

I think there is no “best way” in using these methods of spinning. After doing this experiment, I believe that it depends on the type of project you have in mind, because it will determine which one to use. After finding the characteristics of each swatch I can see myself knitting with the woolen yarn big and lofty sweaters, hats and scarfs. But I certainly know that they will not last long, and they will pill very fast. However, I liked the how light and soft the fabric was. I would use the worsted yarn to knit as well fitted sweaters and cardigan, gloves, socks (3 or 4ply), shawls, scarfs, etc. The strength of the fabric is noticeable and they will last longer and keep the shape. They will not stretch as I can see from the woolen swatch.

Both swatches

Worsted vs Woolen swatches

Before doing this experiment I was into worsted spinning; I did not like spinning woolen, but I got to like it. I am so happy I have done this; and I think am a better spinner than I was one week ago.

I encourage you to try it as well, you will definitely have as much as I had.

That is all my friends. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy this post! Leave me any comment or suggestion if you like, and feel free to share this post with your friends and community. Also remember you can follow me on TwitterFacebookInstagramRavelryTumblrFlickr and Pinterest!

  5 comments for “Worsted vs Woolen: My experience

  1. February 25, 2015 at 16:30

    Hello Gabriela!
    What a beautiful description of your experiment, this inspires me to try to do something similar.
    But i think in the description there is a small confusion? The carded rolags are used for the woolen yarn (long draw) and the combed top for the worsted (short draw), right? Did you do it the other way around? Then I think you have “semi-worsted” and “semi-woolen” yarns, very interesting too 🙂
    Greetings from Zurich and I am going to return to your blog for sure 😉
    Anna

    • Gabriela
      March 15, 2015 at 13:07

      Hello Anna,
      Thanks for visiting my blog that has been in hiatus for a long time. Yes, indeed I titled wrong the description above each picture of the carders and the combs. Thanks for noticing it and letting me know, I really appreciate 🙂 I will start writing again and I hope you come back!
      Happy crafting from Schaffhausen!

  2. nancy
    December 12, 2015 at 20:43

    I don’t understand why you changed needle size between worsted/woolen. Isn’t that going to affect the outcome of your experiment? Although I do see a difference in the yarns, I would have love to see swatches knit at the same gauge.

    Overall this has really helped me see the difference – I’m a self-taught spinner so pretty much just ‘spin’ without delving into the nuances. I hope I have MORE time to spin and refine what and how I’m spinning to specific projects.

    I’m also just taking up weaving for the first time – I wonder how woolen/worsted variations would change in weaving.

    Thank you for this post!

    • Jennifer Hill
      November 29, 2016 at 07:16

      You will find that worsted yarn is stronger & makes excellent warp.
      I wouldn’t use a woolen spun yarn for anything but weft. It will break.

  3. January 14, 2017 at 20:28

    Thank you for taking the time to do this and for sharing. I tend to spin woolen but would prefer the smoother worsted

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