Wool Characteristics

Contrary to popular belief, not all wool is rough and itchy. There are many different breeds of sheep, each with their own characteristics. Some wools are better suited for rugs and others for fine lace.

Sheep’s wool is classed by its thickness or diameter in microns (1 micron=1/1000 millimetre), by the amount of crimp it has (how wavy it is), by the length of staple (how long the fibers are) and by its lustre or shine. Crimp is a natural and permanent feature of the wool. It doesn’t wash out; rather it is restored when the wool fibers relax in water and it gives the wool yarn its loft and bounce. So a crimpier fiber will produce a yarn that is more springy and lively. I will reference only a few of the breeds, just to demonstrate the wide range of wools that are possible.

The fleece of the Churro sheep is nearly straight, coarse and long. The Churro sheep was introduced to America by the Spaniards. It is used by the Navajo in making rugs and blankets.

Romney is a medium diameter with an average staple length of 6.5 inches. Romney is one of the major sheep breeds in New Zealand. Other ones include Perendale, Coopworth and Lincoln, to name a few. Romney fiber can be spun worsted with a light twist making a soft yarn for sweaters, or clothing fabric. Coarser Romney wool, when spun with a tighter twist is suited for furnishing fabrics. Romney fiber dyes well, producing yarn with good colour.

Merino wool is the finest of all. It’s average diameter is 15 – 25 microns and staple lengths are 2 – 4 inches. Merino has a very close crimp, and can be spun into a very fine yarn, suitable for lace, fine clothing or baby blankets. Merino is naturally a very white fiber, so when dyed, produces light coloured, pastel shades.

What kinds of fleece do you like to spin best?

Handspinning Books
The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook: More Than 200 Fibers, from Animal to Spun Yarn
The Whole Craft of Spinning: From the Raw Material to the Finished Yarn
The Practical Spinner’s Guide – Cotton, Flax, Hemp (Practical Spinner’s Guides)
Spin Flax & Cotton: Traditional Techniques with Norman Kennedy
The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning: Being A Compendium of Information, Advice, and Opinions On the Noble Art & Craft
The Knitter’s Book of Wool: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding, Using, and Loving this Most Fabulous Fiber
The Intentional Spinner