What is the difference between worsted and woolen wool, and does it matter for your clothes? Read to know the difference when you start shopping for your new fall/winter 2022/23 attire.
- What Are the Characteristics of Wool Fiber?
- Spinning of the Raw Wool Creates Either Woolen or Worsted Yarn
- Woolen and Worsted Textiles Differ in Thermal Properties
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Note: Terms marked with * are explained in the High Latitude Style Glossary (opens in a new tab for best user experience).
What Are the Characteristics of Wool Fiber?
Wool is a protein hair fiber derived from sheep. Its fineness, structure, and properties differ depending on the variety of sheep (e.g., Cheviot, Merino, Leicester, Lincoln, Ramboullett, Shetland, Sussex). Wool fibers range from 16 microns (superfine Merino) to more than 40 microns (coarse hairy wools) in diameter. The fibers are several centimeters in length, have coarse scales, and a natural crimpiness. Therefore, one can spin wool fiber easily.
Wool is highly absorbent and has excellent moisture transmission properties. The natural lanolin makes garments of wool felt (e.g., duffel coats, lodden coats, jankers) water repellent. Wool has a low thermal heat conductivity making it a good insulator.
Furthermore, wool fibers are elastic. Consequently, wool textiles are wrinkle resistant except at high relative humidity and temperatures exceeding 150oC (302F).
Spinning of the Raw Wool Creates Either Woolen or Worsted Yarn
The annual yield from shaving a Merino sheep, for instance, provides up to 18 kg of greasy wool. After the annual shearing, the raw wool is scoured* to remove grease, and dirt. The next steps are carding, combing, and spinning the wool into yarn for fabrics or knitted garments.
Typically, spinning process for woolen yarn uses short wools with a wide range of lengths and diameters to create a low twist bulky yarn. On the contrary, the worsted spinning process typically applies fine fibers of nearly similar length and size to yield highly twisted fine yarns. Consequently, fabrics woven from woolen yarns are more bulky, and less tightly woven than those woven from worsted yarns. The tight weave results in a fine fabric with a flat surface.
Woolen and Worsted Textiles Differ in Thermal Properties
Wool clothes are bulkier than clothes from other fibers. The looser texture of woolen than worsted yarn entraps more air. Because thin air layers are bad conductors, woolen textiles provide higher insulation from the cold of winter than attire from worsted yarns. Therefore, worsted wool clothing is great for warm winter climate regions like California, and for a spring or fall wardrobe in cold climate regions.
Photos of me: G. Kramm
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