Key Terms and Definitions

Batt/batting: A form of prepared fiber, ready to spin or as an intermediate step in getting ready to spin. Batts come from carding equipment, are light and airy, and the fibers are somewhat aligned but overall are more helter-skelter. Think of a quilt batt.

Card: Carding is a way to separate the fibers in preparation for spinning. This method is used both industrially and in hand spinning, although they are different in scale and tools. Fibers prepared by carding are arranged in different directions and not parallel to each other. Carded fibers are generally spun woolen style. 

Carding cloth: a rubberized fabric with stainless steel teeth embedded in it used on the carding machine.

Chalky: Fiber that is chalky or has a chalklike surface lacks luster.

Clip: Used mostly in the wool industry referring to shearing. Generally, in reference to a whole flock shorn at one time and refers to one season’s yield of wool.

Combing: 1. A second stage of fiber preparation for spinning after carding. This step removes short fibers and lines up the fibers parallel to each other. The result is a smooth feeling yarn that is dense and has less air. Combed fibers are usually spun worsted style. 2. A method of gathering fiber from an animal by using a comb to collect the fiber as it is naturally shed.

Coverage: The amount of fiber produced across an animal. All standard harvest sites on the animal should produce harvestable fiber.

Crimp: Refers to the natural curvature of the individual fibers. Some animals naturally grow fiber that has a tight crimp to the fiber and other animals have a low crimp, or straighter fibers. Wool tends to be a crimpy fiber whereas yak and alpaca has less crimp to it.

Cotted fleece: A fleece in which the fibers are matted or tangled.

Dehairing: The process of removing longer, coarser guard hairs from a dual coated animal such as the yak, alpaca, or goat. The longer and coarser hairs are less comfortable to use in garments and therefore are generally less desirable for fiber production.

Density: The number of individual fibers on the animal. More hair per square inch means a denser coat. For fiber production, a higher density of down is desirable. This term may be used in relation to fiber coverage on an animal.

Down: The ultra-fine fiber a dual or tri -coated animal produces as an under coat. This is generally the desired fiber. Cashmere, yak, camel, and bison are all examples of animals that produce down fibers.

Drape: Used in reference to how a finished product hangs and behaves. This is influenced by the fiber and by the technique used to produce the product. The more the stitches move in relation to each other the more drape a product has.

Elasticity: The amount of stretching a fiber can do without breaking and returning to its original shape and length. Wool tends to have more elasticity than other fibers but not all wools have the same amount of elasticity.

End Product: Final point in the process. In textiles we tend to think of this as a knitted, woven, or felted product although woven or felted cloth may have one more step and be sewn into an end product like clothing.

Fiber diameter: Thickness of the individual fibers. Natural fibers are inherently variable in diameter, but the average fiber diameter of any sale lot is by far the most important characteristic in terms of processing value.

Fiber Mill: A location used for the spinning and/or weaving of fibers into textiles. Usually based around wool. Note, mills come in all sizes from mini mills to large factory productions all of which tend to specialize in a particular product.

Felt: A textile in which fibers have been joined together and cannot be pulled apart. This can be done intentionally or accidently using heat, moisture, agitation and a bit of soap. In felting, the fibers lock into the other fibers, this is a permanent condition. Some fibers felt easily and some resist felting. Wool tends to felt well, although not all wools felt.

Fleece: the coat of wool from a wool-bearing animal obtained by shearing. Differs from pelt or shearling. See Pelt and Shearling.

Flick: a method of opening up locks for spinning so the fibers don’t stick together and yet remain in the same relative position in which they grew.

Full: Washing of a fabric, generally woven, under conditions like those used to produce felt but stopping short of creating felt. Used to fill in air spaces between individual yarns and create a unified fabric.

Grade: The quality or relative fineness of wool. Defined by USDA and ASTM Standard Specification D3991.

Grading: Classifying the fleece according to fineness.

Grease: Lanolin and a suint (sheep sweat) mixture in the fiber that is secreted from the skin. Lends a waterproofing tendency to the fiber. Some animals have more grease than others even within sheep breeds and individual animals. Animals such as yak, alpaca, and rabbit do not have this grease.

Grist: A yarn’s thickness.

Guard hairs: Coarse, water-repellent fibers that overlay and protect the downy undercoat. Found in some sheep breeds, musk oxen, camels, and yaks.

Hair: Straight, non-elastic, and glassy. Stronger and usually coarser than wool. Lacks felting properties.

Handle: A subjective term in reference to how the fiber handles and feels as one works with it and assess all the attributes that comprise quality, such as fineness, length, and elasticity. Used in fiber judging.

Heterotypic hair: A type of hair that changes consistency with the season. More wool-like in the winter for warmth and more hair-like for the summer to shed rain. Results in fiber harvest that can be variable depending on the time of year when the harvest is taken.

Kemp: A coarse, hollow fiber found in the fleeces of some sheep breeds. Kemp is brittle and has less elasticity. It also takes dye differently than the rest of the fleece. Tends to be considered a contaminate.

Histogram: A method of graphing data that illustrates the major features of how the data is distributed. In fiber analysis it usually shows the fiber diameter and the percentage of fibers at that diameter so you can get an idea of how fine or coarse many of the fibers are at a glance.

Length/Staple: Refers to the length of the fibers in a fleece or on the animal from tip to base. Wool is most desirable in the two inch or longer range but should not be so long as to be a detriment of processing. Some animals produce a staple length of a half an inch (one centimeter); such as the yak and some longwool sheep breeds or alpacas can produce staple lengths of up to 15+ inches (38 centimeters). Yak also have long staple lengths of fiber on their skirts, but the most desirable down fiber ranges from a half an inch to two inches (one cm to four cm) with an average of about one and a half inches (3 cm). For showing an animal or the fleece, the key is to have a uniform staple length in all the harvested fiber.

Locks: Natural divisions in a fleece composed of small clumps of fiber that hold together.

Loft: Airiness of a yarn, lock, or fleece. Higher loft means more airiness and generally warmer finished products due to the insulating properties of the air.

Luster/lustre: The shininess of a fiber. Relates to the fiber’s ability to reflect or absorb light.

Matting: Where the fibers on the animal are felted together. Generally called a cotted fleece when referring to sheep’s wool.

Medulla: In mammals, the mostly continuous cellular marrow inside the hair fibers that is in most medium and coarse fibers.

Medullated fiber: Animal fiber containing a core portion, the medulla, that causes the fiber to be stiffer than nonmedullated fibers.

Micron: A micron is a unit of measure in the metric system. It equals one-millionth of a meter and one-thousandth of a millimeter. It is a shortened word for micrometer. Written as µm.

Non-medullated fiber: Animal fiber that does not contain a medulla. Tends to be fine in diameter.

Nep: A tangled knot of short broken fibers

Noil: The short fibers removed in combing. Usually refers to wool but can be in cotton, silk, or rayon.

OFDA: Optical-based Fibre Diameter Analyzer

OFDA2000: A portable lab instrument capable of testing fiber for Average Fiber Diameter (in micron), variability of fiber diameter, fiber diameter variability along the entire length of the fiber, comfort factor and many other measured traits.

Overdye: To dye one color over another

Pick or tease: Plucking the locks or fibers apart to fluff them up and separate any spots that are stuck together.

Ply: Layer or strand. Rope and yarn are made by twisting plies together to create a larger, stronger, and more balanced yarn or rope.

Quality: The average diameter or fineness of wool/fiber.

Raw fiber: Fiber that is straight off the animal without having had processing done.

Rolag: Fiber that is prepared for spinning with the use of hand carders. The carded fiber is rolled into a sausage like roll.

Roo: To pluck the wool from a sheep after the fiber has loosened and is naturally shedding. This can only be done from sheep that retain the primitive characteristic of seasonally shedding.

Roving: Fiber that is washed and carded and ready to spin. Generally, a mill preparation and long lengths of carded fiber in about an inch to two-inch diameter bundle. Used to spin woolen yarns.

Scour: Washing wool but in the most thorough stage. This is the complete removal of all lanolin and suint enabling the fiber to be processed by mechanical equipment.

Scorecard: The card listing the standards used to judge either an animal or the fiber from the animal.

Second cuts: When a shearer takes a second pass with the shears or clippers and the cuts don’t land in the same location. This results in small, short bits of wool that cling to the fleece. If they stay in the fleece, they can make it difficult to spin a smooth yarn.

Shearing: The process of cutting the fiber off an animal with clippers or scissors.

Style: This is a subjective reference to how the fiber looks and feels. Often used in reference to how crimpy a fiber is. Many fiber artists believe the more crimp a fiber has the better it is.

Skirting: A practice of removing off-sorts from the fleece, such as stained or inferior fiber.

Sound fiber: Fiber of any quality that is strong in staple.

Tender fiber: Fiber having weak places and consequently limiting the use of the fiber.

Top: Clean and combed fibers aligned to spin. Used to spin worsted yarns.

Vegetable Matter: Burrs, seeds, hay etc. that may be in the wool. These are generally considered contaminates as they can make the wool/fiber more difficult and costly to process.

Waste/Drop: The fiber considered inferior or too contaminated by foreign matter to be made use of. Often literally the fiber that ends up on the floor of the mill and thrown in the trash. Depending on the stage where this fiber is pulled out of the process it may become an off-sort and be used in another manner. For example, short fibers (second cuts) may be used as felt instead of yarn.

Woolen: Within yarn construction; woolen refers to the method of preparation and spinning that incorporate a lot of air, are lightweight, and have high insulations qualities. Fibers are arranged by the card to encourage the maximum air to fiber ratio. 

Worsted: 1. When referring to spinning; a worsted yarn is prepared and spun to enhance the sleekness and draping qualities of the fibers. Combing is the preparation used to create a worsted yarn. 2. This term can also refer to a particular weight, or size, of yarn, regardless of how it is spun.

Example: You can have a worsted spun, worsted weight yarn. You can also have a worsted weight yarn that is woolen spun.

Yield: The amount of clean fiber left after the vegetable matter, grease, and other contaminants have been removed.