Spinning Terms: Buying Processed Fibers

This is part of a sometime series that defines terms and ideas related to spinning. This one is about buying processed fibers.

Many spinners find that buying processed fibers is the easiest way to get fiber to spin with. After all, there are only a few ways you can get good fiber to spin with.  Either you start with the raw fiber and do it all yourself, or you send that marvelous raw fiber to a mill for processing, or you buy beautiful fibers already processed for spinners.

In any event, if you want to spin you need fiber, and the most common way, for most people, most of the time, is to buy fibers that have already been processed, and maybe even dyed, by someone other than themselves.

Buying Processed Fibers

buying processed fibersNow this is the fun part!

All those beautiful colors, and the crazy stuff they blend together!  This is what going to fiber festivals is all about! You can buy batts, top, or roving. There are single breed fibers, or lovely exotic fibers blended together. You can take it home and dye it, or find it dyed in a plethora of to-die-for colors.  Or buy a plethora of solid colors and take it home and blend it yourself!  The choices are quite literally endless.

But as in any other part of life there are things you need to be aware of, and things you need to be careful of when you buy processed fibers.


I hold a view (that may or may not be fair) that fiber people are the most honest, decent, loving, supporting, caring, and amazing people on earth.  There are always exceptions, but so far in my experience they are the EXCEPTION, and so trust for me is something I give freely, until I am proven wrong.  Other people have to earn my trust, fiber people have to do something to lose it.

But a little common sense comes in handy here.  If it’s a shop on Etsy selling fiber, and the picture is not clear, the fiber looks a bit messy, and there have been no sales…I admit I will be doubtful.  You have to find the level of trust you are comfortable with.

I often take cards from people at fiber festivals, or take pictures of cards of fiber I see in shops if I think the fiber feels good and looks good but I don’t actually buy at that moment.  That way I can feel more trust in them if/when I buy over the internet later.

Buying fiber is not like buying pencils.  A simple #2 lead pencil is very like a thousand other simple #2 lead pencils.  It’s unlikely that you will go wrong when buying one. But each sheep on each farm in each town has different fiber. So just because you love the breed doesn’t mean you will love THAT bag of fiber – but if you can trust who sells it then you have a better chance of being happy. Learn who you like, and learn how to tell why you like them and it will help with your trust of others.


buying processed fibers - CotswoldWhen buying fiber keep in mind: What You See Is What You Get.  If the fiber looks felted, or the colors look uneven, or there might be some kemp – it’s not going to suddenly get better when you bring it home.

If you think there might be problems, then there might be problems – and problems don’t usually magically disappear.  It’s not going to get less kempy if you wash it, and the colors will not even out if you spin it worsted instead of woolen.  If it’s a problem then it’s a problem.

What you see is what you get. Make decisions based on what you see rather than what you want to see. This is sometimes hard when you are overcome withe intoxicating “yarn fumes,” but do the best you can!  And remember, even our mistakes can teach us a lot! (Ha! Ask me how I know that!!)


When buying yarn for a sweater I always do my math to decide how many skeins I need.  Then I buy another one, just in case. This is common sense. Yarn is sold by dye lots, and not all dye lots are the same (no matter what Walmart might tell you!).  This is especially true of fiber!  So much fiber that we purchase online or at a festival comes from “indie” dyers – non-commercial independent dyers who dye in relatively smaller batches of wool. If you want to spin a sweater, and all you get is 4 ounces you will be extremely unsatisfied with your results.

You also can’t think that because the fiber is “undyed” or “natural” then that won’t be a problem.  Even if you process fleeces from the same sheep they will vary in color and hand (how the fiber feels) from year to year.  Don’t expect to buy more later. If you want a sweater’s worth get it all at once.  If you buy it undyed, buy and spin it over time and then dye the yarn you might be OK, but you will STILL have differences in hand. Maybe it won’t be enough for you to really worry about, but it might be enough to drive you crazy.  Just keep it in mind.


One really great reason to purchase commercially processed fibers is that the manufacturer probably has better access to exotic fibers than you do.  I know people who raise sheep and some who raise alpaca, but I don’t personally know anyone who raises angora, or yaks, or silkworms.

If you want to play with fibers that are processed from fibers that are exotic to you, then buying it pre-processed is the way to go!  I don’t have enough time to spin as it is, I certainly won’t have time to spin if I am trying to raise silkworms at home!!!


As with any fiber purchase you must be aware of the possibility that worms – evil wool eating worms – can infiltrate your innocent fiber and be transported into your safe and worm-free home.  It’s a very sad thing.  It’s a heartbreaking thing. But, it is nevertheless, a THING. And you MUST be aware and act accordingly.

I don’t care how much you love, honor, and trust the person you buy your fiber from you must treat it like an enemy combatant as soon as you get it home.  I coo over it at the fair, snuggle with it in the car, but as soon as I get it home it goes into the freezer.  It stays there for no less than three days, then it comes out and sits in the garage for a few days, then back into the freezer for a few days…or weeks.  Then it gets double bagged (with a dryer sheet in both bags and it placed in my storage area with lots of light, and frequent checks for stowaways.

There is nothing sadder than seeing the first sign of a cocoon or the flutter of wings against the plastic.  But the devastation of losing ONE bag of fiber is nothing to the horror and soul wrenching depression of knowing your whole stash is infected. It happened to me once. It generally happens at least once to most spinners.  After that you are so paranoid so it’s unlikely to happen again, but please, be ever vigilant.

Support Crafters

buying processed fibers - my booth at a fairSomething that I try to always think about when I buy fiber is where is it coming from.  If I have a choice between a large multinational company that also sells wheels, looms, and yarn and a small local farm that is raising their own flock of sheep and trying to sell fiber to support themselves, I will go with the local crafter every time.

Obviously, I don’t buy fiber from local peeps just cause they are local – the fiber has to be good quality and what I am looking for, first.

My point is that big companies sell fiber as an “also” but small independent dyers or farmers sell it cause that’s what they have to sell.  My small purchase means nothing to the larger company but might mean a HUGE amount to the farmer.

I like my purchases to mean as much to who sold it as it does to who bought it.  I have bought some really lovely fiber on Etsy from people I had never met, and some rather questionable stuff from people I see frequently – but I still prefer to support the little guys.

What do you buy?

Do you buy the fleece, and deal with it from there or buy the fiber and get right to the wheel?  What are some tips you have for buying from fiber fairs or online? Share your wisdom!!


Spinning Terms: Woolen Versus Worsted

This is part of a sometime series of posts that defines some terms and ideas related to spinning.

The first thing you have to understand is that “woolen” and “worsted” in the context of spinning does not mean what it does in the context of knitting, so just toss all your preconceptions out the window.  Worsted yarn and the worsted style of spinning are not the same thing.  “Worsted weight” yarn does not refer to the style of spinning but to the size/width/weight of the yarn. Yes, I know that it’s awfully confusing that they chose to use the same word, I’m sorry!! Don’t think about this as “worsted yarn” think of it as a style of spinning that happens to have the same name.

Worsted Spinning

Worsted spinning uses fiber prepared very particularly, so all the fiber is the same length, all the cut ends are facing the same direction and all the fibers are totally parallel.  Usually this is done by hand with combs or flicks, to spread out the fibers in the locks, but still keep them VERY, VERY organized.  Worsted is spun using the short draw or the “inchworm” method of spinning. In my strange little head I think of this as the “military” version of spinning.  Meaning that everyone is in their place, standing straight and tall, no questions asked, no deviations allowed.  Worsted spinning is tight, usually fine, smooth and not very soft.  The goal in worsted style spinning is to allow very little air between the fibers so it has a smooth dense appearance.  It will be strong but have a much harder “hand” than woolen spun yarns.  These types of yarns are not going to felt as much, or pill as much, but you really don’t want it next to your skin. This type of yarn works well in weaving.

Woolen Spinning

Woolen spun yarn uses fiber that is carded, either by machine or by hand, and the fibers are pretty much going every direction.  They are basically parallel, but not fanatically.  This feels to me like the “occupy wall street” version of spinning.  Everyone is there for the same reason, but still doing their own thing, not regimented in any way.  Woolen fiber is spun using the long draw method, and produces a “loftier” (or puffier) yarn that is softer and will keep you warmer because of all the trapped air.  This is like that yarn you snuggle up to in your LYS and go “ahhhhh” because it feels so good and is light and fluffy and wonderful. But it will pill like crazy, and won’t take a lot of wear and tear.

My Spinning

I like to think of these two styles of spinning as the two extremes.  99.9% of the time, 99.9% of spinners, are spinning neither woolen nor worsted.


Spinning is something most of us do for fun, enjoyment, and relaxation.  Our lives don’t depend on it, and we aren’t being watched by the “Yarn Police.”   As a result we do not prepare our fiber fanatically, and when we spin we use both the long and short draw.  Some people spin “more-wooleny” others spin “more-worstedly.”  Where your spinning falls along the continuum shouldn’t be important to anyone other than you.  If you are spinning something out of a long coarse fiber to use on a loom, you will probably spin closer to a worsted style.  If you are spinning something out of an alpaca, wool, silk mix to knit a pretty hat for a favorite friend you will more than likely spin more woolenly.  The bottom line question to help you decide how to spin is:  What do I want the yarn to end up looking like?  That will determine how the fiber is prepared, and how you spin it.

Another question you might ask yourself, if you don’t have an end result for the yarn you produce, is: How does the fiber feel like it should be spun?  After you have a bit of experience most fiber will tell YOU how it wants to be spun, you just have to play along.

Woolen Versus Worsted

I recently spun some lovely Coopworth.  This yarn was used to knit a sweater for my younger brother.  He lives in Maine and spends a great deal of his time outside in the winter.  He appreciates a good wool sweater, and will wear it a lot.  He doesn’t care how I spin it.  What he cares about is that it is warm, doesn’t pill too much  or get stretched out of shape, and that it lasts a good long time. Trust me I won’t be spinning him another sweater anytime soon.  Still trying to figure out how I talked myself into this one!!    I am spinning it more-worstedly because loft isn’t really all that important.  It will be woolenly enough to be warm, but worstedly enough to keep it’s shape and last a long time.

I recently spun some multi-purple fiber into a thick and thin yarn to use as an accent yarn in a project.  This was spun more woolenly because the use I had for the yarn was to look pretty, feel soft, and it won’t get much wear.  It’s only a small accent so the fit of the garment is not depending on the construction of the yarn.  I was going for a look and a feel, and so woolenly made more sense.

Sometimes when I sit down to spin I don’t have a particular project in mind.  I am just spinning.  Even when I do that I make a choice about which way my spinning will lean. I don’t really think “woolen versus worsted” per say but I ask myself: Will this be a good yarn for a shawl, or socks?  Will it be soft and pretty or a “work horse” yarn?  I think about this, almost unconsciously at this point, and my decisions works hand in hand with what the fiber is whispering in my ear, to inform my hands to do what they need to do to get the result we are looking for.

If you are a new spinner the best and worst advice you can get is “practice more!”  It’s the worst advice because you don’t want to have to practice more, you want your spinning to be effortlessly perfect, NOW.  It’s the best advice because it means you have a build in excuse to spin MORE! But really, the best and only way to consistently spin better and better is to practice.

HOORAY!!! I think I will go spin now.

Ready to get on your bike?

It’s time to start thinking about that crazy spinnathon called The Tour De Fleece.  Every year in July spinners from all over the world enjoy a mirror event to the famous Tour de France.

DINAN/LISIEUXHistory of the Tour De France

A little history, cause I always like to know where stuff starts:  The Tour de France is one of the three Grand Tours of bicycle racing.  The oldest of the the three, it started in 1903 and has been held every year, except during the two world wars.  It is traditionally run in July.  It used to be a competition between French riders and raced over only French soil – a country that has always been a bit cycle crazy.

Today twenty or more teams of nine riders compete over three weeks of grueling racing.  The 21 segments include time trials, mountain stages through the Pryenees and the Alps, flat, and hilly stages.  The route althernates between clockwise and counterclockwise routes through France but often dips into other countries like England, Belgium, the Netherlands and other countries.

In 2015 the race will Start in the Netherlands, and finish as always on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.  The race will include 9 flat stages, 3 hilly stages, 7 mountain stages, 1 individual time trial, 1 team time trial, and 2 rest days.  The end of one day’s ride and the beginning of the next days ride are often miles apart, so at the end of the day the riders often have to jump in vans to be driven to the next stage, and sometimes they have to actually fly because the next leg of the race is so far away.

Riders’ times are added up as they go along and the rider with the lowest total score gets to wear the coveted yellow jersey.  There are also other contests held within the Tour.  Recognition is given to the rider who wins each stage, A green jersey is worn by the winner of the sprints, the polka dot jersey for the best climber, and the white jersey is worn by the best rider of the 25 or under age group.

2015010637_960x440History of The Tour de Fleece

The Tour de Fleece was started on a blog by Star Athena in 2006.  It came about because Star, who had been spinning for about a year, wanted to connect with other spinners.  In this pre-Ravelry era it was often hard to find the larger community of spinners.  Star calls herself a “cycling nerd” and found the synergy of biking and spinning yarn to be a no-brainer – “We spin, they spin” she said in a 2012 interview with BlogTalkRadio.

The basic concept behind the Tour de Fleece is that spinners set themselves a goal and spend the 21 days of the Tour de France completing that goal.  The goal can be as complicated as spinning all the fiber necessary to complete a huge project or as simple as committing to spin every day of the Tour.  Then during the Tour when the bike riders take a rest day, the spinners take a rest, and when the bike riders are in the mountain stages the spinners try to take on something they consider a challenge.

In 2006 when Star created the Tour de Fleece there were about 30 spinners.  When Ravelry was invented she moved it over there, where it is run by volunteers.  Many people sign up for formal teams and chat with each other through Ravelry, and they also have wild card teams. Last year over 6,000 were involved at some level.

Spinfoolish Tour de Fleece

Picture2Last year we had a team and this year we plan to have one, too!  The Spinfoolish Tour de Fleece Team will be open to anyone who wants to take part in this extraordinary adventure.  For those of you who aren’t quite sure how the Tour de Fleece is different from the other big spinning event Spinzilla (held in October) here is a breakdown of the differences between them.


Spinzilla is a week, which is mostly manageable for most people.  The Tour is 21 days of spinning – think of it as three weeks of spinning almost every day (there are two rest days) which makes it more of a commitment as far as time goes.


Spinzilla is all about the length of the yarn you spin.  You have to formally sign up, measure what you spin, upload your total with appropriate photos to the governing body.  The Tour is totally informal – you sign up with us so you can get the emails and be on the Face Book page, after that it’s all about staying with it for the full 21 days.  It’s fun, but that might be more fun that some people are willing to endure!


For the groups that I have been a part of there is almost no pressure at all.  For Spinzilla there is pressure to formally sign up and to get your measurements in on time – but mostly the pressure comes from ourselves cause what is the point of joining the group and then not doing anything?

For the Tour I think the only real pressure is to stick with it.  If you sign up and then give up after the third day it seems to me that you aren’t really trying all that hard.  You don’t have to spin for 6 hours a day for EITHER event!!  The way I look at it if you genuinely can’t find 15 minutes a day then just don’t sign up.  I think most people know what they are capable of, and for many people being a part of a “formal” spinning event is just not their idea of a good time, so they know not to sign up to begin with!


I think goal setting is a personal choice.  For many people a goal provides one with a yard stick to determine if they did better or worse than they hoped to, or better or worse than last year.  Spinzilla of course has real numbers to play with so there is a formal ranking of the teams, but to me being on a team is kind of like being nominated for a Oscar – there is a lot of pride in being nominated even if you don’t ever win.

I have done the Tour twice now, once all by my lonesome, and once with a small last-minute team, and my goal has always been just to GET THROUGH it. To spin everyday, come hell or high water, is an accomplishment that I am excited to take on and proud to accomplish.  You can set the bar of your goal as high or as low as you want during the Tour.  I missed two days last year – one day I made up during a rest day and the other just stayed missed.  We had a lot of fun last year – we posted what we had spun and complained and moaned about our “challenges” during the mountain stages days.  I can guarantee that cotton will NOT be on my challenge agenda for this year…although last year proved that is certainly is a CHALLENGE for me!


Because there are actual numbers for the Spinzilla event we always have a prize for the person who spun the most length, and we always try to get other prizes donated for a drawing that every team member takes part in.  There are no measurements taken during the Tour but I am happy to accept donations to be used in a random prize drawing.  Spinfoolish Designs will be donating a little sumpinsumpin for the drawing. Contact me if you have anything to donate or can get one from a spinning source who loves you!

Sign up!

So if you are interested in throwing down the gauntlet and joining our team you can do that by visiting the Tour de Fleece page.  You sign up for the team mailing list, and will be sent a link to join our private Face Book group.  There is no cost to enter, and you can withdraw from the team up to the day before we start (July 4th this year) – but once July 4th dawns you are one of us and it’s spin or die – in a very non-pressure, fun-oriented, totally-supportive way.

Fiber Pack

Over the years it has been shown that some people have trouble with the “challenge days” in terms of having some fiber that is new or challenging.  It is unlikely that you will purposefully and in cold blood buy a fiber that you don’t think you will like – of course!  But sometimes you find that your preconceptions about fiber are just that preconceptions!  The reality is a lot more fun (or even less fun!!) than you though it might be.

As a result, every year I try to find new, unusual, or less ubiquitous types of fiber.  I then create a pre-collected, pre-organized, pre-vetted pack of fiber from a number of different types of sheep.  These are the Tour de Fiber Packs!  Generally 5-10 breeds per pack and 2 oz of each.  This is a great amount to have enough to spin and really get a feel for the fiber, but not so much that you can’t get it done in one day. Perfect for challenge days!

Tour de Fiber Packs are only available to team members, and have sold out so quickly my head spins…every year!  Learning about new fibers is just one of the ways you can challenge yourself during the tour, but the Fiber Pack provides a simple way to experiment without having to buy a 4 oz braid in a color you love, only to find you don’t love the fiber!  And it is also a cool “gateway drug” into different breeds.  Never spun Criolla before? I have and LOVED it!  Never spun corn silk? I have, and hated it! But now I know!!  We have a lot of fun learning during the tour and the Spinfoolish Tour de Fiber pack just adds to that fun!