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How to Spin Wool into Yarn

Updated on April 28, 2013

Why Spin Wool?

Wool has an important and long standing relationship with humankind; it has been in use for over 12,000 years!

Spinning wool is both simple and complicated. Simple because you don't need much equipment. Complicated because it takes some measure of skill to master the technique. The reward is creating a garment from a pile of fluff!

As an organic fiber there is no equal in the natural world. Humans have used wool and wool products in one form or another for eons.Wool is also one of the easiest fibers to spin, which makes it a logical choice when beginning spinners.

The Importance of Wool

Sheep migrated along with humans to colder areas providing early man with renewable sources of fiber from their fleece besides also being an important food source. Civilization indeed is partly due to the domestication of sheep and the commerce that was a direct result of the wool trade.

Wool has many admirable qualities that make it ideal for garments for hot or cold climates. Surprisingly wool is even great for use in rainy weather.

Wool can hold up to 30% of it's weight in water and still not feel wet against the reason that Scottish shepherds wore woolens in the cold, damp highlands, Bedouin nomads sheltered under woolen caftans in the hot desert to keep out the heat. Wool fleece was put out in the cold night in the desert in biblical times and water wrung out it in the morning where it had condensed overnight.Wool in the form of felt was and still is used to build Mongolian yurts (portable tent-like homes). That is versatility!

Wool is resilient, strong, warm, cool, water resistant, fire resistant, and very long wearing provided you know how to wash it. Wash it incorrectly and you may get wool felt!

Because of it's versatility and unique characteristics wool is a particularly rewarding fiber to spin into yarn.Best of all, spinning wool requires very little in the way of equipment.

Spinning wool has been done throughout the ages.
Spinning wool has been done throughout the ages. | Source

What you will need

Spinning wool is a simple process which can be done with very basic tools.

The most basic equipment needed is a drop spindle and sections of processed wool....(unprocessed wool is unwashed containing debris,lanolin and manure tags...yuk).

How Wool is Spun on a Drop Spindle

  • The first step is to tie a "leader" ( a piece of ready made yarn length) around the dowel to of the drop spindle to hold the spun yarn in place...while the remainder of the leader is wrapped over the disc and into the hook attached to the disc. The wool yarn hangs and twists into yarn from this hook as the hanging spindle is twirled in one direction until a length of yarn is spun.
  • The second step is to draft some strands of fleece into a length suitable for the thickness of yarn to be spun. The drafted wool is overlapped unto the leader yarn as the spindle is dropped and spun clockwise until the right twist is in the yarn works up the length of drafted wool. The drafting and spinning continues until the yarn is too long to manage and needs to be wrapped around the dowel.
  • The wool is pinched to stop the process of spinning or for that matter to stop the wool from unravelling while the yarn is wound around the dowel.
  • The spun yarn is wound around the dowel. As one length is wound onto the dowel, another length is drafted from the fluff and set to spinning as the spinner keeps pinching and drafting the wool fibers in a coordinated and hopefully even manner.
  • The trick is to get the yarn nice and even. This type of spinning typically produces a wool yarn that has flaws that add to the appeal when it is crafted into the final product.
  • Beginners will no doubt get a very uneven yarn so speed is not the objective, rather an effort to get the feel for how much wool to draw out each time as well as how much spin to give the spindle.

The yarn is spun until the dowel is full. Once full the wool has to be un-wound and re-wound into large skeins created by winding around a chair back or from elbow to hand creating a large loop which is then gently and loosely wound.

The finished skein needs to be placed in water (gently) to condition the yarn and then hung to dry with a weight to take out the "kink".

As you can see, this isn't a quick craft and this is one skill that is akin to learning to ride a bicycle effortlessly. Practice makes perfect.

Wool Terms Used for Spinning

Drop Spindle: Drop spindles are simply round tapered dowels with a weighted disc on one end with an attached hook. The weight of the drop spindle determines the thickness of the yarn. Lightweight spindles produce lightweight yarns. Heavy spindles produce bulky yarns.

For beginners a medium weight spindle is considered the best.

Fleece can be bought natural or dyed various colours.

Rovings: Cleaned and washed raw fleece. You might want to buy raw fleece but it must be washed of lanolin, dirt and manure tags! A long process; then the fleece still needs to be combed and finally carded before it is ready for spinning.

Combed wool: After washing the wool is combed to free it of debris like straw and other foreign objects.

Carded Wool: Wool fleece that has been washed and brushed to align and straighten the fibers so they are untangled and easy to draft prior to spinning into yarn.

Drafting Wool: The process of gently pulling out a certain number of fibers from the carded piece of wool. The fewer the strands, the thinner the yarn will be. No matter how thick this final yarn is, it is called one ply. To create two ply another yarn must be created and combined with another one ply yarn.


Submit a Comment

  • Scribenet profile image

    Scribenet 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Hi Kalmiya! Yes, the dyeing of wool is also fascinating subject. Our ancestors were very enterprising to learn to spin and then weave or knit the garments and even dye them different colors. I don't think I would ever have enough skill and patiense to even make a scarf...but I certainly enjoyed learning about it and creating this Hub.

    Thank you for your comments. :)

  • Kalmiya profile image

    Kalmiya 5 years ago from North America

    What an interesting idea for a hub! I love knitting and some while back was interested in learning how to spin yarn myself but there's just no time for learning it right now. Another neat aspect of this is finding natural ways to dye yarn (like onion skins for yellow) etc. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Scribenet profile image

    Scribenet 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    There is an article on HubPages about making yarn out of cat and dog hair... I was tempted to give it a try, but only have one cat... his hair is long enough to twist...over two inches, but I would have to comb him for a long time to collect enough for a project !

  • Ann1Az2 profile image

    Ann1Az2 5 years ago from Orange, Texas

    I might do that - the price of yarn keeps going up. Maybe I'll spin yarn out of my cat hair - I have 4 cats - it wouldn't be hard to gather fur! lol

  • Scribenet profile image

    Scribenet 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Hi Ann!

    It is a skill no doubt that takes practice.

    Weight of the spindle is important and there are specs of the net for which weight goes with what weight of yarn as well as knowing how much wool to draft from the fleece ( trial and error if you ask me!) your homemade drop spindle's weight may have had something to do with your difficulty, that said, it still takes some practice to perfect.

    Kudos to you for assembling your own and giving it a try!

    Now the woman that makes her cat and dog hair into yarn..."my definition of an optimist!"

    Thank you for your comments...maybe you should give it another go!

  • Ann1Az2 profile image

    Ann1Az2 5 years ago from Orange, Texas

    I have actually tried using a drop spindle. It was interesting to say the least. I never could quite get the hang of it but I never had the benefit of the video, either. I made my own drop spindle.

    There is a woman whose name has slipped my mind that spins her own dog and cat hair, makes it into yarn, and makes stuff out of it - she's got her own website.

    Good hub and very informative.

  • Scribenet profile image

    Scribenet 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Thank you starstream...I appreciate the link... your article will make a great resource on here as well, I will go check it out !

  • starstream profile image

    Dreamer at heart 5 years ago from Northern California

    I added your article here on spinning to my spinning article which I republished today. This gives the readers another piece of information and opportunity to expand their knowledge.

  • Scribenet profile image

    Scribenet 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    starstream... Some of the finished yarns I have seen on the net are so gorgeous, even the dyed beautiful...and the so called "flaws" are really what makes the final items unique! I drool!

  • starstream profile image

    Dreamer at heart 5 years ago from Northern California

    You are so right. Drop spinning is definitely an art. It isn't expected to be machine made perfect but instead offers many chances to add texture and additional fibres to your finished knit hat or weaving.

  • Scribenet profile image

    Scribenet 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Thank you ChitrangadaSharan! I wanted to show how simple it really is...but also that it requires a certain amount of practice and skill to master. I really have great respect for the artisans who do it well. I definitely think it is an art.

  • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

    Chitrangada Sharan 5 years ago from New Delhi, India

    A very interesting hub! It would be so much fun to do it all by oneself--the joy of creation. And you have explained it so well, step by step. We usually get to see only the finished product in the shops. Thanks for sharing.

  • Scribenet profile image

    Scribenet 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Hi starstream! I look forward to your article on spinning. There is something about spinning...probably from childhood 'fairytales" that has always fascinated me and it is "magic" in it's own way isn't it ,when transforming a lump of fiber into garment? :)

    Thank you very much for your comments!

  • Scribenet profile image

    Scribenet 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Hi Suzie! That is so great... actually raising the sheep, sheering and all the way to knitting with the wool. How cool is that! However, it has to be very time-consuming.

    Spinning wool is such an ancient craft, but so great it can still be done today by hand...and of course those garments are really treasured!

    Thank you for the interesting comments!

  • Scribenet profile image

    Scribenet 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Eddy...So glad you found the topic interesting. Thanks!

  • starstream profile image

    Dreamer at heart 5 years ago from Northern California

    You have done an excellent job of explaining how to spin using a drop spindle. I first learned to spin this way many moons ago. It opened doors for me to explore spinning, weaving, and design. Thanks for this facinating article. I also wrote an article about spinning which I need to republish soon!

  • profile image

    SusieQ42 5 years ago

    What a great idea for a hub! I had friends years ago who raised sheep, sheered them, and the last I remember, the wife was knitting socks from her sheep's wool. She dyed the wool and had many colors to choose from. Great hub, thanks for sharing!

  • Eiddwen profile image

    Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

    So very interesting.


  • Scribenet profile image

    Scribenet 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Hi donnah! Great to hear from someone who has experience spinning!

    I guess the drop spindle is a good first step for those considering spinning before they buy more complicated equipment...though I have to say I have always loved the "look" of a spinning wheel. So romantic!

    Thank you for your comments!

  • donnah75 profile image

    Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

    A spinning wheel is quite fun to learn as well. I always found the spinning wheel to be easier than the drop spindle, but that might just be me. It is certainly not easy to create a yarn that is even and consistent. But it is fun! I spent a lot of time in my childhood learning this craft. Fun hub idea.


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