Descriptions or Meanings Used in my Work with Wool & Yarns. Part 3

The terms and meanings in this part of Alistair’s directory I have found it difficult to find an image to describe some of the terms so I have used some of my images from our life time of travelling throughout our beautiful islands.

Saint Ninians Isle

Lambs wool.Yarn made from the first clip from sheep up to 8 months old, but the term has been used for soft woollen spun yarns from short staple”.

A very rare commodity in Shetland due to the fact that there is little accommodation in order to in winter the lambs, I recall one season collecting about 700 kilos of Shetland lamb’s wool out of approximately 260,000 kilos, not enough fibre to create a unique product, so when there is a product for instance knitting yarn entitled Shetland grade 1 & lamb’s wool the latter is usually Australian.

Shetland Lambs

Lanolin. “The grease which is in the wool when it is on the sheep. In commercial spinning one of the first operations is to remove this wool from the grease so there is none in in spun yarns”. Lanolin is the base for certain ointments and cosmetics to improve skin softness for instance over the last 50 plus years, I have often been asked by visitors of the wool store can I feel your hands a task that I never tire of!

Hands on Wool

Merino.Breed of sheep mostly found in Australia and New Zealand producing one of the finest wools of 24 microns or less, however it cannot compare to the soft handle of Real Shetland wool”. The Merino produces a much heavier fleece, in the 1990s I became involved in a project to produce a Merino Cross Shetland sheep which would carry a heavier fleece with a softer handle unfortunately the confirmation of the animal did not meet the standards required.

Busta Sandness

Metric Count. “A length per unit weight system based logically on kilos and meters”. I found it difficult to make the adjustment traditional Gala count used by Hunters of Brora our spinner since the 1960s. When asked to provide a metric count for the Shetland Museums Heritage collection, I said 2/22.5 Gala which I am pleased to say proved to be correct.

Micron. “Measure of the width of a fibre, 1/1000 mm”. I always quote the average measurement of our finest grade of 24 microns, it is possible to have a finer fibre from the neck and shoulders of a Shetland fleece, and however this is in the minority. I recall in the 1980s an old friend a retired geologist with an interest in sheep and wool told me he had measured on a microscope, the neck wool of a Shetland sheep to be 18 microns. Our main wool buyer at that time a company from Bradford sent 4 of his Japanese textile customers to visit us unaccompanied it was my duty to take them around and explain about sheep and wool. When asked the finest micron count of Shetland wool I unwisely told them my friend’s findings however it was impossible for us to source that, who would take the rest of the fleece. My boss called me to the office a week later and said our main buyer was furious with me and suggested I be sacked. I asked why, when the Japanese visitors arrived back in Bradford they had asked for 5,000 kilos of neck wool! My reply was in future I suggested you accompany your customers or at least send a translator that understands the Shetland dialect!

Supreme 1 Ply Lace

Milling. “A washing process which brings up the handle on garments usually knitted from woollen spun yarns, such as cashmere, lamb’s wool, and Shetland”. In times long gone Shetland weavers used to take their woven cloth down to the sea fasten it to a flat rocky shore and let the incoming waves and tide work the cloth.


Mixture. The most common definition is a yarn made up of fibres of different colours such as black and white fibres to produce a grey yarn, or, blues greens for lovat mixtures. The term is also used for a yarn with mixed fibres in the blend. Woollen spun yarns, Shetland in particular, lend themselves to the production of mixtures”.

Heather Hills from Burra

Natural Yarns. Yarns made from animal, or vegetable or mineral fibres. In recent years the term Natural has also been used to describe undyed yarns or yarns dyed with natural as opposed to chemical dyes”. In 1997 we along with Yarns International and Hunters of Brora produced the undyed natural yarn Shetland 2000, now Shetland Superior. To the best of my knowledge we were the first to produce an undyed Shetland in larger quantities.

Supreme Natural Yarns
Flock of Many Colours

Oil. Spinning oil is added to woollen fibres in both the woollen and worsted manufacturing systems to assist in the spinning process; this has to be removed at some stage in the production process. Worsted yarns are often scoured on the cone after spinning and the oil in woollen spun yarn is normally removed from the finished garments or the cloth. Oiled wool sweaters are usually knitted from an undyed worsted yarn”. The range of cones at J & S is all supplied in oil to make it easier to knit on the hand frame knitting machine.

Sullum Voe Major Oil Port

Packages.” The most usual package for machine knitting is the cone. Yarns on balls or hanks have to be rewound into a suitable package and the small hand winder is the only implement available to the knitter. In spinning yarn the final process is usually coning if the yarn has to be used for machine knitting. If the same yarn is to be sold for hand-knitting then it has to be made into balls or hanks. These are very expensive operations and the cost is added to the yarn. Buying hand knitting yarn for your machine is therefore both costly and time consuming”. At first in 1968 we at J & S started with 5 shades of woollen spun yarn made from our own Shetland wool and processed at Hunters of Brora.

Hand Knitters at the Guild
Stacks Hillswick

Ply or Fold. At its first stage a spun yarn is only one ply. Thereafter this one ply or end is twisted or plied with one another to produce a two ply or two fold yarns and so on to three-fold and four-fold. Plied yarns with different coloured ends produce marl yarns. Our first sample spin of our worsted spun Shetland 1 ply was 20s worsted one of our local highly experienced lace hand knitters test knitting for us said “It is an excellent yarn however it is as fine as the hair on my head it would be to fine for the average knitter “, so we took her advice the count was increase to 16s.


Wirsit Stole Mary Eunson
Dale Walls

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