Woolen, Semi-Woolen, Semi-Worsted, Worsted Spinning

In 1987 I took a wonderful 3-day workshop with Patricia Emerick on spinning fine fibers at the Interweave Press SOAR in Winter Park, CO. This was the first year that IWP had Margaret Stove and many people in our class were disgruntled that they weren't next door with Margaret. Except for a few of us. I had attended a seminar with Patricia previously and knew her to be a wonderful spinning teacher. And we had a great time.

Patricia, wisely, was not trying to compete with Margaret. Instead she offered us a different approach to fine spinning. She had six different fibers going from Pollwarth (the coarsest) to the finest (quiviut). Patricia had a variety of tools for us to process the fiber with. Patrick Green's drum carder with the fur cloth, cotton hand cards, dog combs, flicker, true English combs, peasant combs and great little double-row of fixed tines from Tynsel Handspinners. The combs we used in class were the Russian Paddle and English combs made by Mr. Meck (now deceased) in Oregon. Obviously, not all techniques work with all fibers. Trying to comb a short fiber like cashmere simply won't work.

What Patricia had us do was to take each of our fiber sources and divide them in half. Then process each half with a different technique -- using all the fibers and techniques by the time we were done. And I was amazed at the different end results. There is a considerable difference between a worsted-prep, woolen spun and worsted-prep, worsted spun.

Taking the exact same fiber source you can end up with six, very different yarns.

Besides having a lot of fun with Patricia, getting a swell introduction to using wool combs, and playing with some exotic fibers, I also learned a valuable technique. What I learned is that if you have a special fleece, it is well worth the time and effort to try out a variety of techniques to find what will produce the yarn you want. It's a very exciting step when you go from finding a use for the yarn you made to making the yarn you want.

If I have a special fleece, I will try to do just that. I create at least six samples:

Of these, I find the "worsted prep + woolen spun" hardest to spin.

So let's define the terms a bit. Woolen prep refers to hand carding the fibers to produce an open, lofty fiber mass with all the fibers going every which way. Semi-worsted prep refers to using some of the various "peasant combs". The ones we used in Patricia's class were the Russian Paddle combs made by Mr. Meck. There are many varieties of peasant combs still available. A few of them are: Valkyrie makes the Valkyrie combs, Indigo Hound makes the Viking Combs, and Louet makes the Dutch Combs. Worsted prep refers to using some variation of the "English combs". It produces a "top" of parallel fibers of an even length. If you become a worsted spinner, you should start saving as these seem to start at ~$200. Peter Teal makes combs that are ~2/3 scale which are quite nice. He finds the weight of the combs more comfortable for most people. Alden Amos makes combs that full sized (for robust combers) that are wonderful. For step-by-step directions on worsted spinning, please get a copy of "Hand Woolcombing and Spinning" by Peter Teal.

Woolen spun refers to a form of spinning that incorporates the maximum amount of air into the yarn, producing a lofty, insulating yarn; great for sweaters. This is probably what most spinners start out doing. A common side effect for new spinners is letting the wheel go too fast for your ability to feed in fiber. The next thing you know, the twist has traveled up through the "drafting triangle" right into the fiber source. This gives you the yarn that bears a resemblance to the "anaconda that has just swallowed the chicken". More accurately, several chickens. Worsted spun refers to a very controlled form of spinning, where the twist never moves past the pinched fingers. The thumb and forefinger are pinched together just before the drafting triangle, and this produces a yarn which is extremely long wearing, and almost cool. This is the yarn that has been traditionally used in men's suits.

For those of you who are fighting with learning worsted spinning, let me suggest that you elevate your right hand. The twist will not go past your hand. An easy demonstration of this is to spin, put a pencil under the yarn feeding into the orifice, then raise the pencil above your left hand by ~4 inches. Keep treadling. You can see the twist accumulate to the right of the pencil. Lower the pencil and watch the twist travel up the yarn, into the fiber, and now you have a mess. You can do the same thing with worsted spinning. With your right hand rotated so that the thumb is on top, pinch off the yarn between your thumb and forefinger. Now elevate your hand a few inches. You won't have to fight the twist nearly as much to produce a good worsted yarn.

If you have comments, please send email to: Rosemary Brock.

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