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What Is Worsted Yarn?

Worsted yarn can be used to knit a cozy winter sweater.
A skein of worsted yarn.
Worsted yarn is a type of thick thread often used in knitting.
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  • Written By: Mandi Rogier
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2014
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Worsted yarn is a type of thick thread typically made from woolen fibers. The distinguishing characteristic of this yarn is the manner in which the fibers are prepared. They are combed before spinning so that shorter strands are removed and the long strands that remain are forced to lie parallel. The finished yarn is very durable, smooth, and easy to work with.

The term “worsted” originally comes from the location where this yarn was first produced. The village of Worstead, in England, was known primarily for the production of this sturdy yarn in the 12th century. At that time, all worsted yarn was made from fleece. Today, it can be made from a variety of materials, both natural and synthetic.

When spun by hand, this type of yarn will contain only long staple fibers. Machine-made yarns, however, can contain medium length and even short length fibers while still technically being referred to as worsted. In either case, the finished yarn will be smooth and even with no variations in thickness.

Worsted can also refer to the weight of the yarn in question. The Craft Yarn Council of America has created a standard yarn weight system, which defines worsted yarn as being medium weight. This weight has a knit gauge of 16 to 20 stockinette stitches per four inches (10.2 cm), and a crochet gauge of 11 to 14 single crochet stitches per four inches (10.2 cm).

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Crafters will find that worsted yarn is very easy to work with. It can be used for both kitting and crocheting. The fibers are twisted tightly together and the finished yarn is quite compact. This allows for detailed stitches that are easy to see.

Finished fabrics that are made with worsted yarn are referred to as worsted fabrics. These materials are strong, smooth, and typically hold their shape very well. Fabrics such as serge and gabardine are frequently made from worsted yarn. Products that can be made from this yarn include hosiery, suits, and even carpets.

When a product is made from worsted yarn, that item can itself be described as “worsted.” This term acts as an adjective that accurately defines items made from this type of thread. Therefore, you may hear of products such as worsted suits.

The counterpoint of worsted yarn is woolen yarn. Woolen yarn is made from fibers that are carded, but not combed before spinning. Shorter fibers are left in, giving the finished thread a thicker and softer feel. Products made from a heavy, warm material are often composed of woolen yarn. Cozy blankets and winter sweaters are often made from this type of thread.

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