Guest post by Andrea Lyn Van Benschoten
In my previous post, I provided you with the initial steps to create your own yarn. This is the beginning of a wonderful fiber journey! Now I want to take the next steps and talk about different types of fiber, and considerations when purchasing fiber for spinning.
All about Fiber…Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral
At the heart of yarn spinning is fiber selection. Fiber for spinning can come from not just animals like sheep and alpaca, but from cotton plants, flax (also known as linseed), hemp, and even man-made items like rayon and acrylic. Each one spins differently, feels differently, and will react differently when used in a project. As you spin more and more, you will develop your own favorites.
Suffolk: An often overlooked fiber by spinners, the Suffolk sheep is a member of the Down family. An average fleece weighs between two and four kilograms and has a staple between five to nine centimeters. Its fiber diameter is between 25 and 33 microns. It mixes nicely with other fibers and spins up best in a worsted weight. It has great elasticity making it the perfect fiber for sock yarn!
Bluefaced Leicester: A member of the English Longwool family, the Bluefaced Leicester (often called “BFL” by spinners) is a favorite breed for spinners. This is a very versatile fiber with beautiful luster. It is widely available and very predictable as to how it spins. An average fleece weighs between one and two kilograms and its average staple length is between eight and 15 centimeters. Its fiber diameter is between 24 and 28 microns.
Cotswold: Another member of the English Longwool family, Cotswold doesn’t require much twist to go from fiber to yarn because of its long staple length (17 to 38 centimeters). An average Cotswold fleece will weigh between 5.5 and seven kilograms and has an average fiber diameter between 33 and 42 microns.
Romney: The Romney sheep is known for its very distinct locks and its color variety. At 29 to 54 microns, it is not known for “next-to-the-skin” softness. Another member of the English Longwool family, an average fleece weighs between 3.5 to 5.5 kilograms and has a long staple length averaging 10 and 20 centimeters.
Rambouillet: A member of the Merino family, the Rambouillet has a well-defined crimp and dense locks. This fiber is known to be flexible for spinning, as it blends very well. The yarn from Rambouillet fiber is perfect for projects that call for extra warmth. An average fleece weighs between 3.5 and 8 kilograms with a five to 10 centimeter staple and a fiber diameter between 18 and 24 microns.
Gotland: This modern Swedish breed is comfortable for next-to-the-skin projects and comes in mostly shades of grey. Its fiber diameter is between 18 to 35 microns and has a nice staple length between 7.5 and 17 centimeters. A fleece can weigh between 2.5 and 5 kilograms.
Icelandic: The Icelandic sheep is considered one of the purest livestock breeds in the world and can be tracked back to when the Vikings settled Iceland. The Icelandic has what is called a “double-coated” fleece. The strong outercoat, called the tog, is not well-suited for knitting or crochet, but the fine undercoat, called the thel, is next-to-the-skin soft. The thel is an incredibly warm fiber with a very short staple (five to 10 centimeters).
Shetland: Found on the northern most islands of Britain, the Shetland is an excellent all-around fiber. Its average micron count is between 20 and 30, but it can be as low as 10 or as high as 60, depending on the sheep. A member of the Northern European Short-Tailed family, the Shetland has an incredibly wide variety of colors – a complete array of browns, greys, and blacks.
Coopworth: This breed was developed in the 1950’s by breeding a Bluefaced Leicester and a Romney. This fiber provides good stitch definition and is known for its lengthy staple (12 to 20 centimeters) and good crimp. A typical fleece weighs between 3.5 and eight kilograms and has a fiber diameter between 30 to 39 microns.
Cormo: Originated in Australia, this breed was developed by combining Corriedale rams (male) and Merino ewes (female). Fiber from the Cormo has a very well-defined crimp, excellent elasticity, and dense locks. Known for its fiber consistency and softness, it is perfect for next-to-the-skin projects. A typical fleece weighs between two and five kilograms, a staple length between seven and 13 centimeters and a fiber diameter between 17 and 23 microns.
Corriedale: Developed in the 1880’s in New Zeland, Corriedale provides medium-soft “multi-purpose” fiber. It is known for its even crimp and long staple. It is important to note that Corriedale can vary widely in quality, so make sure to let you fingers be your guide. This fleece can weigh as much as nine kilograms and have a staple as long as 15 centimeters. The Corriedale has a wide variety of color options.
Musk Ox: Also known as Qivuit, many spinners consider this the crown jewel when it comes to fiber choices. Unlike wool, it will not shrink or felt regardless of water temperature. It is incredibly soft, warm, and completely hypoallergenic. It is also incredibly expensive, averaging 50 pounds for 100 grams, which is why it is often blended with other fibers.
Alpaca: The alpaca is a breed that has been providing quality fiber for thousands of years. Like the Musk Ox, it is known for its softness and warmth. Unlike the Musk Ox, however, it is not nearly as expensive. Alpaca fiber has a wide variety of colors, from reddish browns, to silver hues, to black. Alpaca fiber has an average micron count of 15 and 35 microns, a staple length between five and 15 centimeters, and a fleece weight between one and three kilograms.
Llama: Like the Alpaca, the Llama is a member of the Camelid family and originated in South America. It is the perfect fiber to blend with other fibers such as fine mohair, silk, or angora rabbit. Llama fiber is known for its versatility, so the sky’s the limit when it comes to project possibilities! Their staple length can go from seven to 20 centimeters, have a fleece weight of one to 2.5 kilograms and a fiber diameter of 16 to 45 microns.
Angora Rabbit: Angora Rabbit Fiber is an incredibly warm and decadent fiber. This is a very soft fiber and is best spun with a blend of wools. Many spinners even keep these rabbits as pets so they always have their wonderful fiber on hand to spin! There are four main breeds of Angora Rabbit that are popular with spinners: the English Angora, the French Angora, the German Angora, and the Giant Angora.
Many, many more!
Believe it or not, this is only a “short” list of the different fibers available to spinners. When picking a fiber to spin, trust your judgment and let your fingers be your guide. If something doesn’t feel comfortable to you, chances are it won’t be comfortable to spin with or use in a project. Don’t be afraid to experiment and blend fibers together. Ultimately, selecting fiber for spinning is a very subjective process. Just follow your creative spirit and make sure to have fun!
So how do choose?
Like I said, if something doesn’t feel comfortable to you, chances are it won’t be comfortable to spin. Many experienced spinners suggest starting with a medium-staple fiber like Corriedale, Merino or Polwarth. Any of the medium or fine wools will also be very forgiving for a new spinner and have a wonderful feel. Medium to fine wools include Romney, Coopworth, and Shetland. Many of my personal favorite wools include Cooriedale, Merino, and Coopworth. I also love Bluefaced Leicester.