Handspinning Wool

Hand-spinning is still an important skill in many traditional societies. Hobby or small scale artisan spinners spin their own yarn to control specific yarn qualities and produce yarn that is not widely available commercially. Sometimes these yarns are made available to non-spinners online and in local yarn stores. Hand-spinners also may spin for self-sufficiency, a sense of accomplishment, or a sense of connection to history and the land. In addition, they may take up spinning for its meditative qualities.

Within the recent past, many new spinners have joined into this ancient process, innovating the craft and creating new techniques. From using new dyeing methods before spinning, to mixing in novelty elements (Christmas Garland, eccentric beads, money, etc.) that would not normally be found in traditional yarns, to creating and employing new techniques like coiling, this craft is constantly evolving and shifting.

To make various yarns, besides adding novelty elements, spinners can vary all the same things as in a machined yarn, i.e., the fibre, the preparation, the colour, the spinning technique, the direction of the twist, etc. A common misconception is yarn spun from rolags may not be as strong, but the strength of a yarn is actually based on the length of hair fibre and the degree of twist. When working with shorter hairs, such as llama or angora rabbit, the spinner may choose to integrate longer fibres, such as mohair, to prevent yarn breakage. Yarns made of shorter fibres are also given more twist than yarns of longer fibres, and are generally spun with the short draw technique.

The fibre can be dyed at any time, but is often dyed before carding or after the yarn has been spun.

Wool may be spun before or after washing, although excessive amounts of lanolin may make spinning difficult, especially when using a drop-spindle. Careless washing may cause felting. When done prior to spinning, this often leads to unusable wool fibre. In washing wool the key thing to avoid is too much agitation and fast temperature changes from hot to cold. Generally, washing is done lock by lock in warm water with dish-soap.


A tightly spun wool yarn made from fibre with a long staple length in it is called worsted. It is hand spun from combed top, and the fibres all lie in the same direction as the yarn. A woollen yarn, in contrast, is hand spun from a rolag or other carded fibre (roving, batts), where the fibres are not as strictly aligned to the yarn created. The woollen yarn, thus, captures much more air, and makes for a softer and generally bulkier yarn. There are two main techniques to create these different yarns: short draw creates worsted yarns, and long draw creates woollen yarns. Often a spinner will spin using a combination of both techniques and thus make a semi-worsted yarn.

Short draw spinning is used to create worsted yarns. It is spun from combed roving, sliver or wool top. The spinner keeps his/her hands very close to each other. The fibres are held, fanned out, in one hand, and the other hand pulls a small number from the mass. The twist is kept between the second hand and the wheel. There is never any twist between the two hands.

Long draw is spun from a carded rolag. The rolag is spun without much stretching of the fibres from the cylindrical configuration. This is done by allowing twist into a short section of the rolag, and then pulling back, without letting the rolag change position in one's hands, until the yarn is the desired thickness. The twist will concentrate in the thinnest part of the roving; thus, when the yarn is pulled, the thicker sections with less twist will tend to thin out. Once the yarn is the desired thickness, enough twist is added to make the yarn strong. Then the yarn is wound onto the bobbin, and the process starts again.

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