A Beginner's Guide to Choosing the Right Wool for Hand Spinning

A Beginner's Guide to Choosing the Right Wool for Hand Spinning

Choosing the right wool for your hand spinning project is both an art and a science, and it begins with understanding the unique properties of different types of wool. 

Wools are as diverse as the breeds of sheep they come from, each offering distinct characteristics that can dramatically affect the outcome of your hand spinning project.  From the micron count determining the softness and thickness of the fibers, to the staple length affecting the structure of your yarn, the type of wool you choose plays a crucial role in the end product.

In this guide, we'll explore the world of breed-specific wools, diving deep into the different types of wool fibers available, their distinct characteristics, and how to choose the best one for your project. Whether you're spinning for a soft baby blanket, a durable rug, or an intricately patterned sweater, there's a type of wool that's perfectly suited to your needs.  Let's start our journey into the fascinating world of hand spinning wools.

Breed Specific Wool Characteristics

When selecting wool for spinning, there are three crucial characteristics to consider: staple length, micron count, and crimp. Each of these attributes plays a significant role in determining the feel, durability, and appearance of the spun yarn.

1. Staple Length

The staple length of wool refers to the length of each individual fiber in the fleece. This measurement is usually given as a range (for instance, 2-3 inches) and varies from breed to breed. The staple length has a direct impact on the strength and structure of the yarn. Longer staple lengths result in a stronger, more durable yarn, while shorter staple lengths tend to produce softer, more delicate yarn. Furthermore, longer staples are easier to spin, making them a good choice for beginners.

2. Micron Count

Micron count, or fineness, measures the thickness of the individual fibers of wool. A lower micron count indicates finer, softer wool, while a higher micron count corresponds to thicker, coarser wool. Generally, fine wools have a micron count of 23 or lower, medium wools range from 23 to 30, and long or coarse wools are 30 and above.

The micron count not only determines how soft the yarn will feel against the skin but also influences its durability. Finer wools, with a lower micron count, are ideal for delicate items worn close to the skin, like baby clothes or luxurious scarves. On the other hand, higher micron count wools are more robust and perfect for outerwear or rugged use items.

3. Crimp

Crimp refers to the natural waves or curls in the wool fiber. The degree of crimp influences the elasticity and loft of the yarn. Wools with a high degree of crimp, like Merino and Cheviot, produce elastic yarns that bounce back into shape well, making them ideal for items that require stretch, such as socks or fitted garments. Wools with less crimp, on the other hand, yield yarn with more drape and luster, giving your yarn a bit of a shine. These are often used for shawls, flowing garments, or other items where a draped effect is desirable.

Understanding these three key wool characteristics will allow you to make an informed decision when choosing the perfect wool for your spinning project. In the next sections, we'll dive into specific breeds and their unique wools, enabling you to match your project requirements with the perfect breed-specific wool.

Wool Breeds

Sheep breed plays a significant role in the characteristics of the wool they produce. Here we will look at some of the most prominent wool breeds, categorized as fine, medium, or long/coarse.

Fine Wool Breeds

Fine wool breeds are typically known for their soft and fine fibers, which make them an ideal choice for next-to-skin wear.


Merino wool is renowned for its super soft texture, with a micron count typically ranging from 18 to 22. The staple length of Merino wool varies but is generally on the shorter side. The wool is high in crimp, making the yarn elastic and resilient. It is excellent for garments that require a soft touch, such as scarves and baby clothes.


Often referred to as "French Merino," Rambouillet wool shares many characteristics with Merino. Its micron count ranges from 19 to 23, making it also super soft. The wool has a high crimp and is well-suited for next-to-skin wear.


Cormo is a crossbreed between Merino and Corriedale, taking the best from both parents. It boasts a fine micron count of 19-22 and a moderate to high crimp, making it soft and elastic. Its longer staple length, compared to Merino, makes it easier to spin.


This breed produces wool with a micron count of 18-23. Debouillet wool is exceptionally soft and fine, similar to Rambouillet. It is excellent for lightweight garments and luxury items.

Medium Wool Breeds

Medium wool breeds offer a balance of softness and durability, making them versatile for a wide range of projects.


Corriedale wool has a micron count of 24-31, making it softer than many medium wools. Its staple length is longer, and the wool has a distinct crimp, making it easy to spin and versatile for many types of projects, from clothing to rugs.


Romney wool is known for its ease of spinning, due to its long staple length and medium micron count. The wool is lustrous and durable, suitable for outerwear and weaving projects.


Cheviot wool, originating from the Cheviot sheep, is celebrated for its bounce. It is known for producing yarn that is highly elastic, allowing your creations to maintain their shape effectively over time. The wool is medium grade, typically featuring a staple length of 3-5 inches and a micron count generally within the range of 27-33, making it a versatile choice for a variety of projects. Its durability and resilience make it a popular choice among spinners.


Columbia wool is medium-grade with a micron count of 23-30 and a staple length of 3-5 inches. It is highly versatile, suitable for both garments and home textiles.


Southdown wool is on the finer end of the medium spectrum, with a micron count of 24-29. It is known for its bounce and resilience, ideal for knitting and weaving.

Long or Coarse Wool Breeds

Long or coarse wool breeds are known for their durability and luster, making them suitable for outerwear and decorative items.

Blue Faced Leicester:

This breed produces wool with a high luster and a micron count in the mid to upper twenties. The wool is long, fine, and soft for a longwool breed, making it a favorite for many hand spinners.


Lincoln wool is one of the longest and most lustrous of all the breeds. Its high micron count makes it less suitable for next-to-skin wear but excellent for outerwear and home decor items.


Teeswater wool is long, lustrous, and relatively fine for a longwool breed. It is known for its drape and sheen, making it ideal for shawls and other drapey items.


Wensleydale wool is similar to Teeswater, featuring a long staple, high luster, and soft texture.


Wool Breed Category Micron Count Staple Length Special Characteristics Ideal Uses
Merino Fine 18-24 2-4 inches Super soft Next-to-skin wear
Rambouillet Fine 19-23 2-4 inches Very fine and soft Fine garments
Cormo Fine 17-23 3-5 inches Soft and elastic Knitting, weaving
Debouillet Fine 18-23 2-4 inches Soft, high crimp Garments, next-to-skin wear
Corriedale Medium 25-32 3-6 inches Balanced, easy to spin Outerwear, knitting
Romney Medium 27-35 5-8 inches Lustrous, versatile Outerwear, rugs, weaving
Columbia Medium 24-31 3-5 inches Medium crimp Outerwear, knitting
Southdown Medium 23-29 2-4 inches Medium crimp, resilient Upholstery, outerwear
Blue Faced Leicester Long 24-28 4-6 inches High luster Woven fabrics, knitting
Lincoln Long 36-40 8-12 inches Very lustrous Rugs, tapestry weaving
Teeswater Long 33-35 10-12 inches High luster, wavy Weaving, outerwear
Wensleydale Long 33-35 8-12 inches High luster, long locks Weaving, rugs, decorative items

Casting Off: (conclusion)

Understanding the differences among wool breeds is critical to spinning yarn that aligns with your specific project needs.

Each breed of sheep produces wool with unique characteristics - from the super soft fibers of Merino and Rambouillet, to the high luster and length of Lincoln and Teeswater.  These characteristics, including staple length, micron count, and crimp, play a significant role in determining the feel, look, and functionality of your spun yarn.

As we've explored, fine wools like Merino and Rambouillet, with their high crimp and lower micron counts, are ideal for next-to-skin wear, producing comfortable garments that are a pleasure to touch.  Medium wools such as Corriedale and Romney, on the other hand, offer a balance of softness and durability that is well suited for outerwear and knitting projects.  Long wools from breeds like Blue Faced Leicester and Wensleydale, with their high luster and longer staple length, bring a distinctive aesthetic to woven fabrics, rugs, and decorative items.

However, these breed characteristics serve as a guide rather than an absolute rule.  The joy of handspinning lies in experimentation, in discovering the surprising possibilities that each wool breed brings to your spinning wheel. So, we encourage you to explore.  Try different breeds, play with different techniques, and allow your creativity to flourish.  Each breed of sheep offers a new texture, a new luster, a new experience in your journey as a handspinner.

The world of handspinning is rich and varied, much like the wool breeds themselves. Understanding these breed differences only deepens our appreciation of this craft, bringing us closer to the natural world that provides these remarkable fibers.  So, keep spinning, keep exploring, and above all, enjoy the unique qualities that each breed brings to your creations.

Happy spinning!

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