So Fine: Linda Ligon on Spinning Fine Wool

I love to spin fine, even wool yarn–lace weight, no more than sport weight. It’s just what my hands and my wheel want to do. The trick is to have fiber that wants to do that, too. Hence my quest over the year for fine wools.

So how fine is fine? Let’s talk microns (μ). A micron is a millionth of a meter. Just picture that if you can. In popular literature, it’s often described in relation to a human hair, which might be 50 to 75μ in diameter. Talk about splitting hairs!

Split one of those 50μ hairs in half, and you’d get a fiber on the coarser end of the Merino scale, which typically ranges from 25μ down to 18μ. The finest Merino on record, now get this, was 10μ in diameter! Split a human hair into five equal parts, and one of those parts would be the size of that record-setting fiber from New South Wales. The finest Merino I ever got my hands on was 15μ. I couldn’t even see its components.

So what can you spin with fiber like that? Some experts in the wool industry say that a yarn has to have at least four fibers in cross section to hold together. Some say seven. Either way, you’d have a yarn that was . . . impractical. But wouldn’t it be fun to try to spin that? Maybe on a tahkli. My wheel would just eat it up.

Spin Fine Yarn

Spinning actually useful yarns from fine wools, be they Merino or Cormo or Polypay or any of the others, requires some know-how. If you’re starting with raw fleece, removing the abundant grease without making a felted mess is important. Then you have the options of spinning from the lock, or carding, or combing. Even if you’re starting from prepared top, of which there are many elegant preparations, you need to know how to optimize the crimpy short fibers and produce durable, bouncy yarns.

Over the years, Spin Off has been fortunate to have some of the very best teachers in the world share their knowledge and experience in dealing with these itsy bits of fluff. We’ve made an ebook of their collected wisdom called Spin Off Presents: Spinning Fine Wool. If you like fine, you should get it.

—Linda Ligon

Featured Image: Superfine Merino by Gloria Hall from Spin Off Presents: Spinning Fine Wool. Photo by Joe Coca

Posted January 18, 2016. Updated June 5, 2019.

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