Part 4 – Clapdale Wool: Spinning

Using 100% British Wool yarn and tweed has been an important part of our business since we began 35 years ago and we’re proud to manufacture all our British Wool jumpers right here in Britain.

However we’ve always wanted to go that step further, and so in 2021 following a grant from the Yorkshire Dales National Park we launched our Clapdale Wool Project. This innovative project will use wool sourced within 5 miles of Glencroft’s warehouse, paying farmers more for their fleeces than they currently get. We’ll use all the breeds and cross breeds on these fields – Dalesbred, Teeswater, Texel, Mule and Blue Faced Leicester – to produce a wool that directly relates to the local area. We also hope to kickstart a circular economy for wool, with 10% of profits fed directly back to local farmers.

We’ve so far written about the background to our project, gathering the wool, the scouring (cleaning) process and the carding and combing. Over the course of these processes we’ve ‘lost’ 271kg of our original 571kg of raw fleece, leaving us with 300kg to spin into yarn.

‘Wool tops’ suitable for worsted spinning were produced by the carding and combing process and it’s these which are now taken to our state of the art spinners in their West Yorkshire mill.

Checking fibre length

Prior to spinning our technical expert checked the fibre length across the wool blend we had created. As it contains wool from five different breeds and cross breeds we have quite a lot of variation and this was evident on the board. You can see on the board below wool fibres ranging from 7cm to 20cm, although the bulk were between 10 to 12cm.

Wool fibre length comparison board

There can be issues with the spun yarn you produce if the wool fibres are excessively short or too long. If you read our previous post about carding you’ll have seen how many of the really short fibres fell out of this process as noil.

If the majority of the fibres are long then it can cause issues with fibre breakage during spinning – this can lead to an undesired texture or finish to the final yarn. In fact if you are using wool with mostly long fibres it is often cut in half prior to spinning. We felt confident however that with the bulk of the fibres around the 11cm mark that we could proceed safely to spinning.

Roving and spinning

“Before the newly formed wool top can enter the spinning stage, it has to be made some 40 times thinner by ‘drawing’ it down into a fine sliver, called a roving. The roving is then ‘spun’ to form a worsted yarn.”

“The purpose of spinning is to:

  • Extend the roving into a continuous strand of yarn, which has a specified fineness, indicated by a count number
  • Insert sufficient twist into the yarn to bind the fibres together, so it is strong enough to withstand the strains of subsequent processing.”

[Source: How to Process Wool – Woolmark.com]


You can view some photos below of the various spinning machines used at our spinners, many of which have been designed and redesigned to their own specifications over the years as they make the spinning process ever more efficient and effective. They are also increasingly automating more aspects of the process. This includes one machine that monitors the thickness of the yarn and if it detects a weak spot it will stop the machine, cut the weak spot out and respin the ends together. This process would have been previously done by hand and stopped the machine for a number of minutes.

The humidity in the factory was also carefully monitored. If the humidity was to drop below the optimum level for worsted spinning, pipes will release a jet of spray, increasing the humidity. Wool is a natural fibre and humidity and heat can have quite an impact on it’s properties and the efficiency of spinning it.

Yarn counts

Our 300kg of wool was split into two lots of 150kg with two different specifications.

  1. One lot was destined to become hanks of yarn for hand knitting so required a count and twist that was most suitable for this purpose. This was made to a yarn count of 4/9Nm. This is a ‘DK / Double Knitting’ yarn.
  2. The other half was spun onto cones that will be knitted on commercial knitting machines into jumpers, scarves and hats, so required a slightly different specification. 2/9nm.

The yarn on cones can be thinner than the hand knit yarn as it provides us with more options for machine knitting with it – if we need it thicker like the hand knit yarn, we can double it on the machines. If we needed it thinner however this wouldn’t be possible.

You can read more about the incredibly confusing worlds of yarn count and ply on this very helpful page.

Clapdale Wool hank label back
Our hank label

Hanks

All yarn is spun onto cones, it’s the most practical way to collect the finished yarn post spinning. To make hanks therefore, the yarn is taken off each cone of yarn by a machine that feeds it out into hanks. These are untwisted, so the final process is twisting and labelling to produce the finished hank of hand knit yarn.

Finished yarn

Holding the finished hanks and cones of yarns in our hands was the culmination of what’s been a long project involving many different local suppliers and factories. All through the process we’ve also tried to ensure we’re producing the best yarn we possibly can from our wool.

We’re extremely happy, and relieved, to say that it worked out well! Our Clapdale wool hanks for hand knitting have been tested by a number of knitters who have told us it knits well and they love the smell, texture and feel of it. The wool hanks are now available for sale on our website.

Our cones of yarn meanwhile have also been tested on a knitting machine to produce a few swatches, see video below. We are currently working on potential knitwear designs to make with this yarn – we want something that really makes the most of this local wool. We hope to present those soon and detail the process in Part 4 of our blog series.

Next steps

Follow the journey across our series of blog posts about this unique traceable wool project, from the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.

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