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woollen and worsted

You may notice when looking at our website we have quite a variety of different yarns in much the same weights but available in Worsted and Woollen spun variations. I thought today we’d go through and look at the differences of both and why you may choose one over the other depending on your project.

l-2ply Lace r-Shetland Supreme 2ply Lace

l-2ply Lace r-Shetland Supreme 2ply Lace

In relation to the fibre preparation before spinning – Woollen spun fibre is carded and this means the fibres are still overlapping having been carded back and forth over each other, this creates a very airy fibre which when spun is warm and springy.

Worsted spun however is combed so all the fibres are lying relatively parallel to each other which creates a smoother and stronger yarn, the combing process also removes many of the shorter fibres, one aspect which can be found itchy by the wearer.

our new Shetland Heritage Naturals are Worsted Spun

our new Shetland Heritage Naturals are Worsted Spun

I’ve made this very rudimentary illustration to show what I mean when these two methods are used in a finished yarn: (ignore the similarity to a hairy leg!)


The image above also illustrates what it is people sometimes find itchy about wool, those fibres poking out are what irritates the skin and this is why worsted spun can be less itchy than woollen, although worsted spun can still have a visible ‘halo’ the location of the fibres are not actually poking out in the same way as woollen spun.

The reason we have similar weights available in both woollen and worsted is because both approach have pro’s and con’s and depending on your intended final finish it is always good to have a choice!

Woollen Spun Worsted Spun Equivalent
1ply Cobweb 1ply Shetland Supreme
2ply Lace 2ply Shetland Supreme
Shetland Supreme Jumper Weight Shetland Heritage Naturals (slightly thinner)
2ply Jumper Weight Shetland Heritage (slightly thinner)
Shetland Aran (discontinued) Shetland Aran Worsted

In relation to the thinner 1ply yarns Woollen Spun has a crisper feel, whereas the Worsted Spun has more drape and softness. In this photo below you can see the 1ply Supreme (worsted) on the left has more of a halo whereas the 1ply Cobweb (woollen) on the right has better stitch definition – it almost feels like cotton although it is 100% wool. For projects using 1ply you need to think what the finished item will be used for – a baby’s christening shawl which wont be used often may benefit from being knitted in the crisper 1ply Cobweb but a stole that will be worn close to the skin and often may be better in Shetland Supreme.1plyThe loftiness in the fibre of Woollen Spun yarn means air is trapped within the yarn making it warm to wear, it also is known all over the world for its use in Fair Isle knitting because of the way the fibres interact with each other. In the below image you can see the effect of the two different spinning processes in Fair Isle, worsted spun on the left and woollen on the right. Both successful and traditional in there own right, its only down to your preference. You can see the Shetland Heritage garment has a sheen and flatness whereas the Supreme Jumper Weight garment has a slightly fuzzy look due to the fibre preparation we mentioned earlier.jwAt the top of this post you can see an image of 2ply Lace and Shetland Supreme 2ply Lace next to each other, the loftiness of the Woollen Spun 2ply is evident to see in the thickness of the yarn and the smoothness of the 2ply Supreme Worsted spun is also clear to see. In finished garments these two aspects can still be seen, In the 2ply Lace the crispness works extremely well in traditional Lace patterns and similarly the drape of the Shetland Supreme 2ply also works well in Shetland Lace patterning.2ply laceDue to the fibres being combed and all the fibres aligning Worsted Spun yarns are very strong and quite hard to break, Woollen spun has the short and long fibres jumbled together so it is easier to pull apart, this is another thing to think about for your finished garment – Shetland Lace can need quite aggressive blocking so it may be worth looking into the Worsted Spun ranges if this is something that concerns you.

I hope this quick look into our worsted and woollen spun yarns has been informative and it might make a bit more sense why we have similar weights in both Woollen and Worsted spun!

Happy Knitting!

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Gail Roche #

    This was really helpful…thanks for taking the time…Gail Roche

    Sent from my iPad


    July 22, 2016
  2. Susan' #

    Great idea! Thank you, yes, helpful.

    July 22, 2016
  3. Freyalyn Close-Hainsworth #

    Interesting post. One of my most popular handspinning workshops is where I discuss and demonstrate the difference between woollen and worsted prep and spinning – it’s lovely to see the difference so clearly demonstrated in commercial yarns too.

    July 22, 2016
  4. Sabine #

    Very interesting and helpful!!
    Thank you very much for this!

    July 24, 2016
  5. Linda Shearer #

    Thank you for this, it explains a lot! I have shared it to the Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers & Dyers FB page.

    July 24, 2016
  6. Catherine #

    Very interesting post. I will print it off for future reference. Thank you.

    July 24, 2016
  7. Toria #

    That was really helpful, thank you.
    Just a suggestion, it would be really helpful if all your diagrams and pictures of the same type were on the same side all the way through, just for ease of following through.
    Thanks again.

    July 24, 2016
  8. philhellene #

    At long last I understand what this is all about, thank you!

    July 24, 2016
  9. I found this so enlightening — never have understood the difference and now it is clear, thank you!

    July 25, 2016
  10. Reblogged this on Adrienneknits's Blog and commented:
    This is a great explanation of the difference between woollen and worsted spinning, thank you J&S, I always struggle with this when asked. I hope that it makes things clearer for all my knitter friends

    July 25, 2016
  11. Such a concise and cogent explanation – thank you!

    July 27, 2016
  12. Betty Revie #

    Thank you , very informative as I was baffled by the difference.

    December 10, 2020

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