Handspinning Glossary

Every pursuit has it's vocabulary. Many textile terms were common words in a society where fabric by hand was an everyday activity. But modern industrial life is so far removed that they are often entirely baffling.

This list will grow as I get to it. If you have something specific you would like to see, send me an email.

cable yarn
A type of plied yarn made up of other plied yarns. The plied yarns are overtwisted and then the cabled yarn twists two or more of them together in the opposite direction. Each element may have two or more strands and they can vary by number or color for different effects.

A thick sheet of carded fiber. A batt can be divided into sections for spinning or used for felting.

The form created as spun yarn is wound on to the shaft of a handspindle. It can be oblong or short and wide, but the end not touching the spindle whorl should be tapered so the yarn does not slide off and tangle. A well-shaped cop holds the yarn in place and unwinds smoothly.

A flat, usually curved, disk with a small hole through which fiber passes. Fiber is pulled off the wool comb or hackle into a top through the diz to maintain a consistent diameter preparation.

Animal fiber in raw form, typically unwashed. It still retains the structure of how it was grown on the animal and often contains dirt, grease and vegetable matter.

A small wire brush with bent teeth, resembling a miniature hand carder, for opening up wool staples. A flicker may be used to comb individual locks of wool for spinning, or to open up the ends for further processing.

A waxy substance secreted by glands of a sheep's skin and a major component of the greasy coating of raw wool. Commercially, it is extracted as part of wool processing for cosmetic and medical uses.

A small tangled bit of fiber in an otherwise uniform preparation, that does not draft smoothly. It looks like a tiny lump like a pill on a sweater. Neps are sometimes caused by over-carding.

Very short fibers, too short for worsted spinning, removed during the combing process. Some, particularly silk, can be blended with longer fibers for texture effects. The noil from hand combing wool can be carded for fluffy woolen style yarns.

A general term for the solid mass of yarn wound on a bobbin or spindle shaft. The yarn on a cone or tube or wound in a ball or skein can also be called a package, although as an end-product these are often called a put-up. A well-formed package unwinds smoothly, it's primary purpose.

One strand of a yarn made up of several singles twisted together. To ply is to twist two or more singles together in the opposite direction from which they were originally spun.

s twist
The twist inserted into a yarn when you turn the spindle counter-clockwise. Named because the diagonal line of the twisted fibers resembles the diagonal line of the letter S.

The product of spinning: drafting shorter fibers and twisting them into a continuous yarn. A single (or singles) yarn can be a final product or the first step in a plied yarn.

A type of yarn put-up that is made by wrapping the yarn around a frame of fixed size to form a large loop. Yarn has to be made into a skein for washing so it will dry evenly.

spiral yarn
A two-ply novelty yarn with one thick and one thin ply. The singles are sometimes spun in the opposite direction, one S and one Z, and then plied in the direction of the smaller single.

A small section of fleece, typically about a finger's width.

staple length
The average length of cut fibers. For animal fibers, this is the length of fiber grown between shearings.

A rotating frame that holds a skein of yarn for unwinding. Some fold, and all are adjustable for different length skeins.

Fiber prepared for spinning by combing, which removes the shorter fibers and arranges the longer ones in an overlapping parallel alignment. Top is typically used for dense, smooth yarns spun with a short draft spinning method.

Vegetable Matter. The hay, seed, grass or other organic material often found in raw fleece.

wool comb
A device with one or more rows of metal tines set close together, for processing wool into top. They usually come in pairs, or one with a handle and one that is clamped to a table or workbench. There are many different styles of wool combs, small hand-held combs and large mounted combs.

z twist
The twist inserted into a yarn when you turn the spindle clockwise. Named because the diagonal line of the twisted fibers resembles the diagonal line of the letter Z.