Hand Spinning(total newbie)

I have been wanting to get into spinning my own yarn. I have done a lot of practicing with a drop spindle. I have even played a bit with carding different fibers and then spinning them together. I recently realized that I don’t like the yarns with the halo fuzz(too stiff and pokey for me). I was told I need to spin worsted; so I went and did a bunch of reading on worsted vs woolen yarn. Where I am stuck is what do I need to make worsted yarn? I have hand carders, but those seem to be more for making woolen yarn. Do I need to get combs instead? I have some raw fiber from alpaca and a fluffy dog, lol. I have also read that roving is more for woolen yarn while combed top is for worsted yarn. The fibers I have found online seem to be all labeled the same(as if it can go either way). Is there a difference in the roving vs top(then there’s art batts too)? I know there’s a lot of questions, so even suggested reading material or how to books would be very helpful. I have been learning for months now, but it all seems to be making my mind frazzled. Thanks for any help.

Good questions all! First, congratulations on your next step down the rabbit hole! It is confusing when you are getting started using spinning terms. Woolen yarn is generally soft and fuzzy. It is spun from roving (carded fibers) in that the fibers aren’t aligned in any certain way. To spin woolen, you let the twist enter the drafting triangle so air is trapped in between the fibers so it’s considered a lofty, soft yarn. Of course, you can over twist it and it becomes nothing like lofty or soft. Long draw is an example of spinning woolen.
has fibers that are aligned in the same direction (butt to tip or vice versa) so when spun there are very few ends to poke out. Worsted yarn is generally smoother since when spun, no twist is allowed into the drafting zone and the yarn is smoothed down by the hand as the twist travels up the fiber. Worsted yarn is great for items that will see hard wear - jackets, bags, etc. Woolen yarn is more for against the skin and softer items (shawls, cowls, hats).

Of course, these are general terms and uses…

Now for the roving verses top. Roving is for creating woolen yarns and Top is for worsted yarns.
Roving is when fibers are carded -either by hand or my machine. Roving can be made into batts, punis, rolags, etc. Top is when the fibers are combed and are aligned in the same direction. The combing of the fibers removes the shorter fibers so there are less ends to stick out there and there in the yarn. Sliver is when top is split. Hand combed fiber is made into nests or uses a diz to create long lengths of top.

Here’s the rub. It’s common to actually spin semi-worsted or semi-woolen yarns. You can hand card fibers into an almost worsted prep by aligning the fiber on the cards in the same direction similar to top but it won’t remove the shorter bits. Keeping the fiber aligned tip and butt as you spin will give a more worsted yarn but not perfectly worsted so it’s considered semi-worsted. I did this for a long time before I bought combs. You can spin top from the fold allow the twist to enter the fiber and have a more woolen yarn. So you can mix up prep ( roving or top) and spin it the way the other was intended to be spun and have a different yarn. You would choose to do this to get the yarn you want for the project you have in mind. Say you have a pile of top at home just the right color for a nice cowl. BUT…you want it soft and lofty. Pull the top apart in piece the length of the staple ( length of the lock of wool) and spin it from the fold allowing the twist to enter the drafting triangle. Ta da. Or if you only have roving and want a smoother yarn, do a short forward draft, allowing no twist into the draft zone and smooth the yarn back with your hand as it twists together.

If you aren’t sure if the wool is roving or top, ask. If you have some already and don’t know which it is, look at it closely-- maybe even with a magnifying glass.

And then there is ‘worsted yarn’ that has nothing to do with how it was prepared and spun but is referring to the weight/size of the yarn. Don’t get discouraged, it’s just words. I had to write it all down on a piece of paper and hang it on my fridge and bulletin boards so I could remember which was what. You’ll get it.

Hi CheshireWillow! You don’t sound like a total newbie; lots of spinners don’t have as much figured out as you do about the differences between worsted and woolen spinning! If you prefer a smoother yarn, start with combed top. You definitely can purchase commercially combed top, and most of the idie-dyed rolled braids you see for sale on Etsy are that preparation. The problem is that the terms top and roving are so imprecisely used that it is often worthwhile to inquire to be sure of what you are ordering. Of course, you can comb your own fiber (more tools, more work up front). You can also make preparations without investing in combs that are virtually combed (flick your locks, lay them carefully on the card, then card, keeping the fibers parallel, then diz a roving off the card - almost as aligned as when combing, but not a true worsted prep). You can also roll a fiber cigar off the hand card that will be more parallel with the fiber than if you rolled a rolag, which would put them into a spiral. In my opinion, the easiest worsted prep to hang on to when worsted spinning is a chunk off of a braid of dyed top. I usually don’t predraft, since it seems to stay together better as is. I spin back and forth across the top as one would in wheel spinning.

The second factor for making smoother yarn in worsted style is keeping the twist out of the drafting zone. Your fiber hand closes the gate to the fiber supply just before you open you drafting fingers to let the twist run up. The third thing is actually smoothing back the freshly drafted fibers with you drafting fingers with the twist following just behind. The smoothing back tucks in the ends of the hairs. This is a step I often skip, since I enjoy watching the twist jump when I am ready for the drafted fiber to receive it, and I like the slight halo that it gives. So I decide how smooth I want my drop-spindled yarns to be.

Art batts and smooth batts usually come off a drum carder and are generally more woolen than worsted preps. If you tear off pieces that are parallel with the length of the batt, the fibers will be more aligned than if you spin off the sides (which would be more like spinning from a rolag, or would be folded with jumbles coming along for the ride).

Maybe you have seen Abby Franquemont’s book Respect the Spindle. I highly recommend it, as well as any of her videos. PLY magazine’s latest issue, Summer '19, Suspended Spindle, issue 25, is also a super resource targeting the drop spindle.

It is good that you know what you like - you can concentrate on that and it will be a spotlight as you sort out all the information that is out there. Hope that helps somewhat but be sure to ask more questions as you go…

A new spinner! YEAH! I love beginners because, even after almost 10 years, I too am still a beginner and that is a good thing. Keeps your mind open to new ideas and new challenges. That is how you grow and learn. Commercially spun top is mostly for spinning a firm, smooth worsted weight yarn that is good for heard wearing articles like socks and warp yarns for weaving. Worsted weight yarns have very little air in between the fibers which makes them hard wearing. Long fibers (called staple length) make very good worsted weight yarns in general. The way the fiber feels in your hands (called fiber hand) is also a good determiner of how a yarn is going to act if spun worsted. Get the FLEEC AND FIBER SOURCEBOOK. It is a book that has many types of fiber listed. I wish I had had this book when I began spinning. I did spin some fiber I did not like and some that did not come out as intended and, after I got this book, I understood why. The other book I suggest you get and read is a book by a gentleman who is now gone from us named Alden Amos. His book helped me straighten out what spinning is at it’s most basic and taught me some technical aspects of spinning that solved some problems for me.

Some tips:
Find out what you want to do with your handspun. Do you want to knit with it? Do you want to crochet with it? Do you want to weave with it? Reason to find out what you want to do is, that is going to determine how you spin your fiber. Do you LOVE art yarn? That is also going to determine what type of wheel you get if you decide to get one. What you want the yarn for is going to decide everything.

Do you like spindle spinning? Get GOOD spindles. That goes for wheels too. TRY OUT EVERYTHING YOU CAN. Get to fiber fests if you have not already done so and try, try, try! This spinning activity can be expensive and if you get what you truly do not like or find you will not use, that is a waste of time and money. That is why I suggested you really sit down and think about what you want to do with handspun and why. Look at the two books I posted. See if your library has them and read, read, read. Ignore the internet for now. You need to be put on a path you can actually follow by reliable sources. These two are some of the best.

If you have any other questions do come back and see us. If you can. Join a spinning guild in your area too.




I’ve been wanting to learn to spin also. Thanks for the tips on the book to get. I’ve been watching some Craftsy/Bluprint videos and they make it look so easy!! It’s nice to have a place to ask questions when I get started, thanks.

Glenda, you really really can do it! I have made spindle-spun yarn that I cannot distinguish from my wheel-spun yarn. I have been spinning less than 4 years, and only had one lesson, but I practiced A TON, and I let myself be a beginner. There is something extremely thrilling about being a total novice at something and little by little getting better at it. It makes all the videos you watch so interesting because you begin to notice how different people hold their tools and fiber, the various preparations and types of spindles, etc. Just dive in and have fun!

Thank you all so much for the info! Sorry I have not really been active on here a lot. Lots of really great info for me to read, learn and process.

What, in your opinion, is the easiest fiber breed to learn to spin with? I have ordered a few types of top (Corriedale, Merino Superwash Undyed, , but don’t want to be discouraged by a less easy-to-spin choice.

In my opinion, Corriedale is a good choice, and so is BFL (Bluefaced Leicester). Merino Superwash will be a little bit short and a little bit slippery but totally doable once you have spun a few skeins of stuff like Corriedale. Remember to keep you hands far enough apart of allow the staples to be moved forward. This is something you definitely can do even if you don’t take a class - there will be some timing to practice and there will be many awkward moments but you will get it.

Thanks @Carlota, I am expecting my first fiber to arrive today!!!

I like BFL and non superwash Merino. Happy Spinning.

It might not be the wool breed that you need to think of first. I’d like to mention using roving rather than top; medium to coarse wool rather than fine wools; and a longer staple length.
I think roving is easier to start with than top. The fibers in top have had the burrs on the sides of the wool shaft removed. The fiber can slide right past each other so they are trickier to draft. Roving fibers latch on to near-by buddies and drag them along so you have more time to pay attention to other things. Spinning with Border Leicester (maybe any of the Leicesters) and coopworth will give you a more coarse wool that again, will not slip so much as you draft. The staple length is also longer and it gives you more time for your hands to react. Polypay is easier to find and is a great first wool. Palworth is almost too coarse for me to use, but easy to learn to draft with. Natural colored wool is usually a bit more coarse than its white counter part if you have a choice . Shorter staple lengths only give you a couple inches of space to accomplish all the pieces of spinning. I like a 3-4" staple length when I am trying a new technique. 2" and less keeps my hands much closer together and I get cramps from those short little movements.
I wish you the best as you play with your new fibers!

Newbie spinning fiber question. What do you do when you get hand-dyed fleece and it has pills and is a little bit clumpy besides pre-drafting and trying to pick every single little bump out? Embrace the thick and thin, (which is pretty much what I decided to do)?

I am guessing that this is a braid of hand-dyed mill-combed top? It can be very frustrating to fight with a neppy braid. I had one recently that was not dyed that was like that - and I finally decided to practice my thicker drafting (increased my take-up, reduced my ratio) to get it over with and become something I would not fret over. Most times, when the inevitable little pills and miscellaneous inclusions come along, I clip a magnet to my pants thigh and keep tweezers and trash can right there ready to work on any snarls or VM or felty bits that present themselves. To my way of thinking, if there are lots and lots of bumps, we can have an interesting texture. But if the bumps are only occasional, I like to remove them. I am starting to learn about working with raw fleece and avoiding the bumps in the first place and that is another rabbit hole with lots of interesting side tunnels.