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Beyond Your Default Spin-along Day 5

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Beyond Your Default Spin-along Day 5

October 9, 2020

Welcome to the final day of our spin-along!

Today we’ll cover: Drafting

Drafting involves attenuating fibers and adding twist. There are several drafting methods, but as with fiber prep, they fall into two main camps, depending on when twist enters the fiber supply. If twist happens in front of the hand closest to the wheel orifice, you’re in the worsted category. If twist happens behind that hand, it’s a woolen draft.

But there’s another twist (sorry, couldn’t resist) to this simple picture—spinners can mix up fiber prep and drafting styles to produce “semi-” yarns. Back when the spinning police still came around and checked people’s yarn, worsted drafting was only done with combed fiber. In fact, true worsted yarn could only be made from wool, and all the cut ends and tip ends of the locks had to go in the same direction. Woolen yarn was only made with carded fiber, specifically rolags, and long draw, a very dramatic woolen draft. Those were the only right ways to spin yarn.

Nowadays, spinning teachers talk about a continuum between worsted and woolen yarns, instead of an either/or dichotomy. They allow—nay, encourage—people to spin carded fiber with a worsted draft or combed fiber with a woolen draft. Drum carders and blending boards show up in people’s spinning studios; you can make your own unusual fiber blends and wild batts or purchase them all over the place. The yarns produced from these combinations are called semi-worsted or semi-woolen based on the fiber prep. A semi-worsted yarn comes from combed fiber and some kind of woolen draft; a semi- woolen yarn comes from carded fiber and some kind of worsted draft. If your first spinning lesson involved roving and a short forward draft, you spun a semi-woolen yarn!

(Find these terms hard to remember? Just skip the “semi.” It’s actually less complicated and more informative to indicate exactly what type of fiber prep you had and what draft you used. Compare “commercial roving spun with a short forward draw” to “semi-woolen.” It would be easier to replicate the first yarn than the second.)

Worsted Drafting

In worsted drafting, where twist enters the fiber only in front of your forward hand, you compress the fibers. This compression creates strong, lustrous, drapey, dense yarns.

You can ply worsted singles or finish and use them as singles; they’ll keep their structure either way.

  • In short forward draw, your “smoothing” hand moves forward as it pulls out a small amount of fiber from your “fiber” hand. The fingers of your smoothing hand pinch at the tip of the drafting triangle to shut down the twist.* Stephanie recommends making tiny rolling motions, right at the point of the triangle, to make drafting easier. As fiber leaves the drafting triangle on its way to the orifice, your smoothing hand travels forward and slides back to smooth the yarn and smoosh out the air. Staple length determines the distance between your hands.
  • Short backward draw is just like short forward, with one crucial difference. You guessed it—your hands move backwards. Both hands move and reposition themselves in sync. Just as in short forward draw, the distance between your hands has to account for staple length. As your “fiber” hand moves backwards, it’s releasing and attenuating the fiber. Meanwhile, your “smoothing” hand pinches* at the tip of the drafting triangle, and compresses and smoothes these fibers.

*If twist enters the fiber supply and starts creating a rope, don’t panic. Stop your wheel. Separate the fiber supply and the spun yarn. Let the fiber supply dangle from your fiber hand and it will untwist by itself; you can help it along with your hand too. (This trick also works for overtwisted singles: let the yarn hang down from the orifice and unspin itself.) Tease out any fiber that’s too twisted to re-spin. Rejoin the fiber and continue spinning.

Woolen Drafting

For woolen drafting, where twist enters the fiber behind your front hand, you manipulate the lofty fiber as little as possible to leave the air in. Long draw and its variations are the most common types of woolen drafts.

Your “fiber” hand still holds the fiber supply, and it moves backwards. There’s a drafting triangle where these fibers turn into yarn. But the hand closest to the orifice does not pinch the tip of that triangle; it does not compress the air. Instead, that front hand gently pulls the yarn toward the orifice and lets go.  The drafting triangle and the twist are free to go wild, but they don’t.

Beginners often fear they’ll lose control of everything, ending up with ruined fiber, lumpy yarn, and tears of frustration. Face your fear, manage your expectations, and try this type of drafting. It’s true that woolen-spun yarn won’t be as even or consistent as a worsted yarn. However, when you ply woolen singles, you can lightly mush some of the lumps into a more even yarn—just don’t compress all that air!

Some tips for woolen drafting:

  • You must ply woolen-spun singles: plying creates structure for this yarn. You may want to felt the plied yarn slightly, for even more structure.
  • The distance between your hands is no longer bound by staple length. It’s now dictated by how much twist you want in the singles and how big you’re making the singles. The rule of “Skinnier yarns need more twist; fatter yarns need less twist” still applies.
  • Long draw comes in several flavors; you’ll find excellent resources online.

Drafting & Your Default Yarn

Think about your drafting and be intentional about it. New methods can help you break out of your default box. Stephanie’s drafting tips can help you produce the yarn you want.

  • Try long draw. It will produce less consistent yarn, but you can work out the bumps when you ply (see the tips for woolen drafting above).
  • Are you struggling with worsted drafting? Move your hands further apart. “Short” is a relative term, depending on the staple length of your fiber. Remember, you cannot draft when you are holding onto both ends of the same staple.
  • Limit your fiber supply and make skinnier yarn by drafting off a hand carder. Prep the fiber and leave it all on one carder. Hold the carder in your fiber hand and get your front hand ready to draft. At one side of the carder, make a join with your drafting hand. Work your front hand across the carder, drafting out just a little fiber as it moves. You can smooth the yarn before it goes into the orifice, or you can leave it fluffy. This method automatically loosens your grip on the fiber supply (because you’re holding the carder instead of the fiber) and it’s easier to control how much fiber enters the drafting triangle.
  • Try spinning from the fold, a woolen draft. Pull out some sections from your combed top, about a staple length long. Set up your fiber supply in your fiber hand: fold one section of fiber in half over the index finger, holding it in place lightly with your thumb. Make a join at the tip of this index finger. Move the front hand forward to draft. As the folded fibers come off your fingertip, they fall out of their perfect combed alignment and some air gets into the mix. This technique will help you spin skinnier yarns or create a fluffier yarn from top.


  1. Mix and match fibers and drafting methods. Make plyback samples and compare them to each other and to your default yarn. Combinations: worsted drafting on combed fiber; woolen drafting on combed fiber; worsted drafting on carded fiber; woolen drafting on carded fiber.
  2. If you have a variety of fiber in your stash, compare staple lengths. Then spin one long singles with sections made of each fiber. Note how the distance between your hands has to change as you switch from one to the other.
  3. If you have a blended top or a batt made with different staple lengths (say, silk and merino, or a wool plus cotton), try out a worsted and a woolen draft on it.
  4. Try every spinning experiment you can think of, making plyback samples and taking notes along the way.

We hope this SAL has given you new spinning tools and a deeper understanding of your default yarn. We also hope you find joy and inspiration challenging yourself as a spinner. Spin on and have fun!

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