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!

A Legacy of Shetland Lace

A Legacy of Shetland Lace is a new book released by the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers.

A collection of 21 stunning projects designed by members of the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers. The book contains everything from scarves and stoles, to wraps and lace tops.

As well as the patterns the book has wonderful pictures and explanations of abbreviations, Shetland words to do with knitting, grafting and finishing. Each pattern is supported by a biography of the designer which charts their story with lace and knitting. There are patterns in this book from some of the best lace knitters in Shetland. Hazel Tindall, Mary Kay, Ina Irvine and Kathleen Anderson to name but a few..

The Legacy of Shetland Lace is a modern and contemporary book that encapsulates our lace knitting history in a group of well designed patterns.

photo courtesy of the Shetland Museum and Archives

Shetland ladies were (and still are) renowned world- wide for their superb knitting skills and their ability to produce designs from their environment and surroundings. Not only did they carry out most of the croft work they also were accomplished hand spinners and would spin a gossamer fine lace yarn which would be knitted into shawls or scarves. These works of art would be sold to the local merchant or knitwear shop and provide much needed income.

All the patterns in the book can be knitted with our Shetland Supreme 1 and 2 ply worsted yarns which come in a range of five natural colours, any patterns calling for 2ply can also use our 2ply Lace Weight Yarn which comes in twenty five shades. There is a lovely pattern by Hazel Tindall which calls for Chunky Shetland wool, in which our Shetland Aran BSS16 would be a perfect match!

We at J & S are proud to say that we have reproduced such a fine yarn as used to produce these unique garments all these years ago. In conjunction with our local museum we attempted to revive the art of Lace knitting which was becoming a thing of the past. Part of our inspiration was taken from reading in the local archives that Queen Victoria had stockings made in Shetland from Shetland wool. The yarn used was a combed worsted yarn and not a carded woollen spun yarn, the worsted spinning produces a smoother finer stronger thread which captures the unique characteristics of Shetland wool, especially the soft handle required to wear next to the skin.

We congratulate the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters,Weavers and Dyers on their superb publication A Legacy of Shetland Lace. Their efforts and skill carries on the distinct culture and heritage of some of the finest knitters in the world.

The book is available here for £23.99