About Wool and Yarn
Wool Grading and Softness
Wool is graded on a numerical count, which is how finely a wool can physically be spun. It is also important to know the micron number, which is the diameter of the individual fiber. So, “soft” in count means a higher number, “soft” in microns means a lower number.
The “softness” of a wool is based on the diameter of the wool, ranging, more or less, from a “count” in the 80s (less than 17 microns) to a count in the 30s (40 microns). In sensitive people, wool “allergies” are generally caused by their skin being prickled and irritated by the cut ends of individual fibers that are larger than 30 microns. So THIRTY microns is the magic number for most people….and most sensitive people really need 21 or less microns not to be bothered. (This does not include people who have a systemic allergy to wool, which is quite rare.)
Most Merino wool is well below 30 microns, BFL is typically 24-28, most cross-breds and Shetlands are also above or just on the cusp of the magic 30 microns, the average for Corriedale is 25-32 which means some is finer and some is coarser. Falkland averages 24-28, while Romney is 30-32, so it is more likely to feel scratchy to sensitive persons. Most American-grown Alpaca (suri and huacaya) is generally in the 25-28 micron range, but can range from the finest of about 20 to the very coarsest of about 35.
Breed, bloodlines, and age can affect the micron number, so hence, there are wide ranges for wool. Short of getting a micrometer, breed specific characteristics are the easiest way to choose.
Making a wool Superwash can be done by applying a very thin molecular resin coating over the scales of the individual hairs of wool to keep them from tangling/felting, or by removal of the spurs on the scales (also a chemical process). There are some versions of this process which are more sustainable than others. Alas, most superwash is not marked as to which way it was processed. The superwash process makes the wool shinier and sometimes stiffer.
There are many different charts with yarn weights in relation to “wraps per inch”, “yards per pound”, and gauge. Alas, so much has to do with perception (how tight is a wrap?) and technique (how loosely do you knit?), etc. For consistency, this is the chart that I am using to give you yarn grist/size information:
Weight WPI YPP
cobweb 35+ 3500+
lace 25-34 2400-3500
fine fingering 23-24 2200-2400
fingering 19-22 1600-2200
fine sport 15-18 1400-1600
DK 12-14 1100-1400
worsted 9-11 850-1100
bulky 7-8 400-850
super bulky 6 or less 400 or less
Mainly, I rely on the number of yards (and I always round DOWN to the last increment of 5 when counting, e.g. 237 yds. becomes 235, 364 is listed as 360). Just to make it even MORE confusing, since we live in the Pacific Northwest and wool absorbs moisture from its environment, even the WEIGHT of the yarn may vary. But I hope this gives you some reference point for getting an idea of the yarn sizes.
Washing Wool Garments
Here is my preferred way to wash wool. At first glance, it is going to sound unconventional, but this is how I have washed fleeces (and yarn) for years---and it works wonderfully for garments, too. It gets stuff clean and won’t harm the wool. Remember: DO NOT AGITATE.
1. Put hot (yes, hot) water into a large sink. Squeeze a tiny dab of dish detergent (preferably Dawn) into the water. Do not agitate to sudsing.
2. GENTLY lay the garment in the hot water and gently press it down into the water. Do NOT AGITATE. In fact, once it is in, just don’t touch it. * Leave it for an hour or so or until the water is cooled.
3. Scoop the garment towards you and press gently against the front of the sink. Lift without stretching any parts of the garment. Drain the water.
4. To rinse: Fill sink with water about the same temperature as your drained washing water and GENTLY lay the garment in again. Leave it alone. DO NOT TOUCH IT. Did I mention that you shouldn’t agitate?
5. Repeat from * 2 more times. Add a little splash of white vinegar at the last (3rd) rinse.
6. Lay the garment flat on a thick towel, roll and press. Do NOT wring. (You can stand on it, just don’t twist).
7. Move it to a second towel if it is a big, heavy item. Roll and press. It will be almost dry to the touch. (Remember wool can absorb 20% of its weight in water and still feel warm and dry.)
8. Take a dry towel and lay garment out flat to dry.
Superwash is more resistant to felting and shrinking, but it, too, will benefit from this treatment. Your Superwash garment will be less likely to stretch and distort. After all, if you take the time to make a beautiful, one-of-a-kind handmade article, don’t you want to take the very best care of it?
Hand dyed yarn and wool may retain some residual color. Environmental standards preclude the use of heavy metals, so some colors, especially aqua and turquoise may run a bit when washed. Magenta is another difficult color. Small amounts of color residue will not affect the intensity of the yarn’s color. You should wash dyed handspun separately from other garments.