The variety of unspun wool and exotic fibers on the market today offer a wonderland of experiences for the fiber enthusiast. Silk, wool, alpaca, camel and mohair are just a few in the cornucopia of choices. Not only can you find these fibers already spun, plied and labeled for your convenience, but you can also find these fibers available in unspun form. Using unspun wool and other fibers can make it very affordable to crochet and knit with exotic fibers to create hats, scarves, sweaters and more.
Working with unspun wool and other fibers comes with a bit of a learning curve, but it is well worth the experience. It really gives you a great sense of accomplishment because you are involved with the entire process from creating your fiber to making your project.
First, let’s explain what we mean by unspun wool. When you purchase yarn, you are purchasing fibers that have been spun or twisted into strands, which are then usually plied together with other spun strands to form a yarn or thread. Conversely, unspun fibers are those that have not yet gone through the spinning and plying process. Once you know how to handle and work with these fibers, you can use them instead of yarn or thread in a crochet or knit project. You can also use unspun wool and a yarn or thread of a contrasting color. Some combinations of thread and unspun wool or other fibers are simply beautiful.
After the sheep have been sheared, the wool is washed and combed to remove the debris commonly referred to as “VM” or vegetable matter. The remaining fiber is then run through a carding process and then formed into batts, roving or “top.”
Top is a long piece, approximately 2-4 inches in diameter. It requires a complex process that involves extensive combing and drawing of the wool to keep the individual fibers parallel. It is shown in the far right of Photo A.
Roving is also a long piece, approximately 2-4 inches in diameter, with the fibers lying in random directions. It is shown in the center of Photo A.
Batts are large pieces of roving laid out flat. As with roving, the fibers lay in random directions. The initial shape is thinner in depth than roving and can be quite long and wide, like a quilt batt. It is shown in the top left of Photo A.
A batt was used for the instructions in this article, but you would use the same process for roving or top. The fiber used is carded Corridale Cross from DyakCraft (formerly known as Grafton Fibers).
The first step in creating unspun wool and other fiber from a batt is to separate the fiber into a manageable strip. Open the batt and gently pull away a strip about 2 inches wide from one end (see Photo B). If you are using roving, pull off a hank about 3-4 feet in length and separate the hank into 1-inch-wide strips.
Before drafting the unspun wool with which you will crochet or knit, you need to determine staple-fiber length and how far to pull the fibers. The staple fiber is the length of the hair, which is important because the individual hairs hold on to each other by friction. You can only draft or pull the unspun wool or fiber to half the length of the staple fiber; pulling further causes the fiber to pull apart as there is not enough friction between the hairs to hold it together. Some unspun wool or other fibers will hold together if drafted slightly longer; however, a good rule of thumb to remember is to draft only half the length of the staple.
Find the staple length by gently pulling a thin strand from the unspun wool or fiber. Now place that thin fiber strand between the thumb and forefinger of one hand and gently pull the strand with the opposite thumb and forefinger until you have only a few strands in your fingers that are a single length. Holding the length between the thumb and forefinger of each hand, you can see the length of the staple fiber (see Photo C). In this case the staple fiber is approximately 4 inches long, which means that I can only pull the fiber half that length, or 2 inches, before it falls apart.
Drafting the unspun wool or fiber takes a bit of practice, but it will go rather quickly for you after you get the feel of it. Taking the strip you separated from the batt, gently hold the fiber in your nondominant hand with the end you are going to pull from between your thumb and forefinger. Now, using the thumb and forefinger of your dominant hand, pull the tip of the strand out and away from the strip in light, short strokes making sure that you are only drafting the fiber half the length of the staple. In this instance, I can pull about 2 inches of fiber before stopping and repositioning my hands and fingers to pull again.
You will be using a pulling action, but do not yank the fiber and do not hold the fiber with too much pressure. Not only will this result in hanks of fiber coming away from the source, it will also hurt your fingers and hands. Always use gentle pressure and draft using a smooth, easy rhythm.
The thickness of the draft depends on the amount of fiber you hold between your thumb and forefinger to draft out from the strip. As you can see in Photo D, holding only a narrow section of fiber, about 1/4 inch in width, in my right hand, and the fiber coming from the source in my left hand is forming a nice, thin triangle coming out from the strip and drafting into a nice and even strand that I can work with. I like to pull my fiber from about 1/4 inch in width to as fine as slightly less than 1/8 inch in width (see Photo D). Continue to draft the fiber until you come to the end of your strip, allowing it to pool in a loose pile.
Once you have some fiber drafted, you need to wind it so that you can crochet or knit with it. Unspun wool is extremely difficult to wind onto a wool winder, since it can fall apart as you wind it. Instead, try using a smooth, coated mailing tube that is about 6 inches in length and about 2 inches in diameter. Holding the tube, place the end of the fiber onto the tube and hold it there with your thumb. Tightening up very gently, wrap the drafted fiber around the tube in slightly crisscross wraps, allowing the fiber to flow through your fingers and onto the tube (see Photo E).
This gentle tension on the fiber allows it to wrap around the tube without felting or adhering to itself too much. Do not pull hard or tighten up too much or the fiber will pull apart. Wind the fiber in the center of the tube about 3 inches wide. Do not wind up and down the entire length of the tube or the fiber will adhere to itself. Mark your tube with a permanent marker if you need to and stay within the lines.
When you get to the end of the drafted strand that you have wrapped, leave a tail of about 4-6 inches. Draft another strand, and then fuse the end of the new strand to the tail on the tube by laying the strands in the palm of your hand with their lengths overlapping each other about 2-3 inches. Place the palm of your opposite hand over the strands and rub the strands together in one direction only. Do not rub back in the opposite direction or you will untwist the fuse. You can also apply a little bit of moisture to the strands if you choose. Wind this strand onto your tube and continue on with drafting.
Crocheting or knitting with your unspun wool and fiber is, relatively speaking, the same as working with yarn. Crocheting with unspun wool is usually much easier than knitting because you can normally apply tension very loosely over one finger when crocheting
as long as you don’t pull on the fiber (see Photo F).
Remember that the unspun wool or fiber is very delicate. If you are having difficulty, try holding the unspun wool or fiber in your hand and wrapping it around the hook without tensioning the unspun wool or fiber around or over your finger.
CRANBERRY CLOCHE CROCHET PATTERN
SKILL LEVEL: Easy
Instructions given fit woman’s size small/ medium; changes for large/X-large are in [ ].
Circumference: 181/2 inches (small/medium) [201/4 inches (large/X-large)]
- 100 percent wool or wool/blend roving: 4 oz/200 yds/113g burgundy
- Sizes F/5/3.75mm and H/8/5mm crochet hooks or size needed to obtain gauge
- 6-inch coated mailing tube, 2–3 inches in diameter
- Stitch markers
Size H hook: 15 sc = 4 inches; 19 sc rows = 4 inches
Draft wool to 1/8–1/4-inch thickness comparable to light worsted-weight yarn and wind onto center section of coated mailing tube. If unspun wool seems to be too thick, you can thin the wool as you crochet with it. Join with slip stitch as indicated unless otherwise stated.
Rnd 1: With size H hook, ch 3, join (see Pattern Notes) in first ch to form ring, ch 1, 6 sc in ring, do not join rnds, mark first st of each rnd. (6 sc)
Rnd 2: 2 sc in each st around. (12 sc)
Rnd 3: [Sc in next st, 2 sc in next st] around. (18 sc)
Rnd 4: [Sc in each of next 2 sts, 2 sc in next st] around. (24 sc)
Rnd 5: [Sc in each of next 3 sts, 2 sc in next st] around. (30 sc)
Rnd 6: [Sc in each of next 4 sts, 2 sc in next st] around. (36 sc)
Rnd 7: Ch 1, sc in each st around.
Rnd 8: [Sc in each of next 5 sts, 2 sc in next st] around. (42 sc)
Rnd 9: Ch 1, sc in each st around.
Rnd 10: [Sc in each of next 6 sts, 2 sc in next st] around. (48 sc)
Rnd 11: Sc in each st around.
Rnd 12: [Sc in each of next 7 sts, 2 sc in next st] around. (54 sc)
Rnd 13: Sc in each st around.
Rnd 14: [Sc in each of next 8 sts, 2 sc in next st] around. (60 sc)
Rnd 15: Sc in each st around.
Rnd 16: [Sc in each of next 9 sts, 2 sc in next st] around. (66 sc)
Rnd 17: Sc in each st around.
LARGE/X-LARGE SIZE ONLY Rnd : [Sc in each of next  sts, 2 sc in next st] around. ( sc)
BOTH SIZES Rnd 18 : Sc in each st around.
Rnd 1: [(Sc, dc) in next st, sk next st] around.
Rnd 2: [(Sc, dc) in next sc, sk next dc] around.
Next rnds: Rep rnd 2 until Cloche measures 7–71/2 [81/2–9] inches from beg.
Rnd 1: Sc in each st around. (66  sc)
Rnd 2: With size F hook, ch 3, dc in each st around.
Rnd 3: *Fpdc (see Stitch Guide) around next st, bpdc (see Stitch Guide) around next st, rep from * around.
Rnds 4 & 5: Rep rnd 3. At end of last rnd, fasten off.