Woollen Spun vs. Worsted Spun: Yarn Structure Explained

23 November 2022
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When we look at the structure of the yarn we are working with, we tend to look at the fibre content or the number of plies in that yarn. But we tend to overlook the most fundamental element in the structure of yarn: the spinning style. Most yarns can be sorted into one of two broad categories, woollen or worsted. These terms are used to describe both the way the yarn was spun and its resulting characteristics. Whether the yarn is hand spun in your home or spun mechanically in a giant mill, there are very distinct results based on the way the fibres were prepared and the way the spinning twist entered those fibres.

This article is part of an ongoing series about yarn structure, to help yarn crafters make better choices for their projects.

Other articles in this series:

Boyd Photo2

While the definitions of woollen and worsted yarns can be debated, each style of yarn has a very distinct physical appearance when knitted, crocheted, or woven into cloth. Woollen yarns (upper) have a softer, more diffuse look whereas worsted yarns (lower) make very distinct stitch patterns.

A quick aside to address the words we use here. Both woollen and worsted have other meanings related to yarn; many people use the word woollen to describe anything made from wool, like a woollen blanket or a woollen hat, while the word worsted is used to describe a size range of yarn. These uses of the words are not related at all to the way the yarn is spun.

To be honest, there is a lot of debate and confusion over the way the words are used when they are used to describe spinning, too. Hand spinners have been debating the definitions of “true” woollen and worsted yarns since before I learned to spin, twenty-seven years ago, and some mills use the terms differently, too. But the debate over the words themselves is less important than understanding the yarns they describe.

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All images by Michelle Boyd.

Copyright © Michelle Boyd except as indicated.

About Michelle Boyd

Michelle Boyd is a Master Spinner, weaver, and writer who lives in Olds, Alberta, located in Treaty 7 Territory, the ancestral lands of the peoples of the Blackfoot Confederacy. Michelle learned to spin in 1995 when her local yarn shop closed, and she became obsessed with the art and science of making yarn. She has taught workshops across North America and instructed for the Olds College Master Spinner Program for fifteen years. She is also a frequent contributor to both PLY Magazine and Digits & Threads and is currently completing her first book about spinning.

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