Knitting Tips: Woollen or Worsted?

Woollen spun 2ply Jumper Weight Shetland yarn from Jamieson & Smith

Woollen spun 2ply Jumper Weight Shetland yarn from Jamieson & Smith

Worsted spun Dovestone DK from Baa Ram Ewe

Worsted spun Dovestone DK from Baa Ram Ewe

So what's the difference between woollen spun yarn and worsted spun yarn, then? And what difference does it make?

It all starts with the preparation of the fibres. For woollen spun yarns, the fibres are carded into a web, evenly spread but going in all different directions. This produces a yarn that is:

  • an even thickness

  • light and fluffy
  • more likely to have bits of vegetation remaining in it
  • uses all the types of fibres in the fleece
  • strong enough for knitting but probably not weaving.

Worsted spun yarns, on the other hand, are carded and combed in such a way that the fibres are all going in the same direction. This produces a yarn that is:

  • denser and heavier than woollen spun yarn
  • smooth and soft 
  • unlikely to have bits of vegetation in it
  • uses only the softer fibres in the fleece as the coarser ones are removed 
  • stronger and more suitable for weaving

Woollen spun yarns are, on average, more economical to produce, as a smaller proportion of the fleece is discarded during the preparation for spinning.

When choosing a yarn for your project, it helps to know whether you have a woollen or a worsted yarn, as they can behave differently when knitted. For instance:

  • woollen yarns are better for insulation as they contain more air, whereas the denser worsted spun yarns tend to have a better drape.
  • a  ball of woollen yarn is likely to be longer than the same weight ball of worsted yarn.
  • woollen yarns, with their longer, coarser fibres, are less likely to pill or shed than a worsted yarn with its shorter, smoother fibres.
  • if you use a woollen spun yarn for a pattern written for a worsted yarn, you may find that the garment comes out longer and wider with the same number of stitches and rows. Using a worsted yarn for a pattern written for a woollen yarn will almost certainly make the garment smaller and shorter.

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Judith Goodfellow