Glossary of Dyeing, Spinning, & Fiber Preparation Terminology

Dyeing Terminology

Acid: Having a low pH.

Adjective Dye: A dye that requires a mordant to be fast.  Most natural dyes are adjective.  See natural dyes.

Alkaline: Having a high pH.  Sometimes referred to as basic.

Alum: Common name for Aluminum Sulfate.

Aluminum Acetate: A mordant for cellulose fibers.  It is commonly used as in antiseptic to treat inflammation and itching and infected skin due to athlete’s foot, eczema, acne, and insect bites.

Aluminum Sulfate: A metal salt used as a mordant.  It is the safest mordant there is.  Other uses for Alum include water purification, leather tanning, and the manufacturing of paper, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics.  It is also a component of baking powder.

Bleeding: Color rinsing out of a finished garment, yarn, or fiber.  Bleeding can be excess dye that was not fully rinsed out or dye that was not properly set on the fiber.  Indigo is an exception, see crocking.

Chrome: Common name for potassium dichromate, a metal salt used as a mordant.  It is highly toxic and must be treated as hazardous waste for disposal.  Tactile never uses chrome as a mordant.

Citric Acid: An acid found in many vegetables and fruits, but most notably in citrus fruits.  It is used to neutralize the high pH of indigo dyed fibers and also as a conditioner for protein fibers.  Tactile uses food grade citric acid.

Copper: Common name for the mordant Copper Sulphate.  Also known as Blue Vitriol.  Copper is not a safe mordant and can harshen wool.  Tactile does not use it in any of our dyeing.

Cream of Tartar: Common name for potassium bitartrate.  Cream of tartar is used as a color modifier.  It is sometimes used with alum while mordanting, but it is not a mordant itself.  It is commonly used by the food industry and is a major component of baking powder.  It is a by-product of wine making.

Crocking: Crocking refers to blue indigo dye that comes off during spinning or knitting.  Indigo in this state cannot stain anything washable like skin or clothing.  It may stain wood or bamboo needles, as they are porous and not usually washable.  Crocking will cease after a few washings.

Fast or Fastness: A fast color will not fade due to exposure to light or washing.

Fugitive Color: A color that is not fast.  Fugitive colors will fade quickly, sometimes in a matter of hours.  Tactile will not sell any products dyed with fugitive dyes.

Iron: Common name for Ferrous Sulphate, a safe mordant that shifts color to darker and more muted tones.  Natural dyers refer to this as saddening the color.  Tactile uses very small amounts of iron as a color modifier, about the same amount as using a cast iron pot.

Lye: Common name for Sodium Hydroxide, a caustic soda.  Lye is very alkaline.  Tactile uses small amounts of lye to shift the pH of the indigo bath.

Mordant: Mordant comes from mordre, the French word meaning to bite.  It is the bond between the fiber and the dye.  All dyes require a mordant, some naturally contain their own mordant such as tannin in bark.  Most dyes require the use of a mordant to make the color fast.  Mordants can also affect the color achieved from the dye.  Mordants used in natural dyeing include: Aluminum Acetate, Aluminum Potassium Sulfate, Chrome, Copper, Iron, and Tin.

Natural Dyes: Dyes made from natural substances, usually from the bark, leaves, roots, flowers, or wood of a plant.  There are also insects, notably cochineal and lac, that make dyes.  Click here for information on specific natural dye materials.

Over Dye: When one dye is dyed over another.  Indigo is often used as an over dye.  This term is sometimes used for dyeing over naturally colored fibers.

pH: A scale for measuring the alkalinity or acidity of a substance.  A pH of 7 is neutral.  Low pH is acidic; high pH is alkaline.

Tannin or Tannic Acid: A mordant for cellulose fibers.  We use tannin that is a by-product of winemaking.  It can also be used to shift colors to a browner tone.

Thiourea Dioxide: A reducing agent used to remove the oxygen from an indigo vat.

Tin: Common name for stannous chloride, a metal salt used as a mordant.  It is highly toxic and must be treated as hazardous waste for disposal.  Tactile never uses tin as a mordant.

Spinning and Fiber Preparation Terminology

Andean Plying: A form of plying where the singles are wound onto the hand and made into a bracelet and plied from both ends toward the middle.

Attenuate: Pre-drafting fiber in preparation for spinning.

Balanced Yarn: A balanced yarn is one where the twist in the singles is matched by the twist in the plying. It will not twist upon itself if you hold two ends of a short length together.

Barber Pole Yarn: A yarn made from plies of two different colors.  Also known as a marled or ragg yarn.

Batt: A fiber preparation usually made on a drum carder.  Batts are rectangular, usually a woollen or semi-woollen preparation and may be used for spinning, felting, quilting, or for stuffing.

Black Wool: Wool which is not white.  Also known as colored wool.

Blend: A blend can be more than one fleece of a specific breed, a combination of different breeds, or a combination of different fiber types.

Bobbin: A spinning wheel spool on which the newly spun yarn is wound during the spinning process.  Bobbins may also be used for storage.

Bobbin Lead: When the driveband of the spinning wheel directly turns the bobbin.  The ratio is fixed.

Bottom Whorl Spindle: A spindle that has the whorl below the copp.  Most spindle spinning traditions are based on a bottom whorl spindle.  Some bottom whorl spindles are designed to hang in the air while spinning and some are meant as support spindles, meaning they rest on the floor or in a dish while spinning.

Bradford Count or Bradford Spinning Count System: A system designed in the 19th century for classifying wool fineness.  It is based on how many 560 yard worsted spun skeins can be made from a pound of cleaned wool.  A larger number indicates a finer wool.  Fine wools fall in the range of 80s to 64s, mid-grade wools are 62s to 50s, and coarse wools fall between 48s and 44s.

Break: A weakness in wool, generally uniform throughout the fleece.  The cause is usually stress such as illness, lambing, or a lack of food or water.  To test a fleece for breaks, take a lock and hold each end and tug quickly.  If it breaks the fleece is damaged.

Britch Wool: Wool from the upper leg.  Britch wool is the coarsest wool on the sheep.  It is considered inferior and may contain kemp.  Britch wool is usually removed during the skirting process.

Cable(d) Yarn: A cabled yarn is plied and then plied again against another plied yarn or singles yarn.  Cabled yarns give wonderful stitch definition to knit fabric.

Canary Stain: A yellow stain on fleece that cannot be washed out.  It can be caused by a systemic bacterial infection in the sheep.  The bacteria that causes canary staining can weaken or degrade the wool significantly and it won’t dye as easily.  Be sure to check a canary stained fleece for soundness before using it.

Carded: Fiber that has been prepared on hand cards or a drum carder.  Usually this means the fiber has not been combed to remove the shorter fibers.

Cards: see hand cards.

Carding Cloth: The covering containing teeth that goes over the drum of a drum carder.

Castle Wheel: A type of spinning wheel where the orifice and wheel are directly over the treadles.  The orifice is in the center making it suitable for left or right-handed spinning.

Chained Singles: A process for creating a 3-ply yarn from one bobbin.  The singles are formed into chains similar to a crochet chain with very large loops and then plied in the opposite direction to which the singles were spun.  Also known as Navajo plying.

Charka: A spinning wheel design for spinning short staple fibers that require a lot of twist such as cotton.  Drafting is done with one hand while the other turns the wheel.  Charkas typically have very high drive ratios and the yarn is wound onto a spindle instead of a bobbin.

Combed: Fiber that has been combed to remove short fibers and to align the fibers into a worsted preparation.

Copp: The yarn (singles or plied) on the shaft of a spindle.  A copp can be triangular or conical in shape.

Core-Spun Yarn: A yarn where fiber is spun onto a yarn (core) making a highly textured yarn.

Crimp: Crimp is the wave in wool fiber.  Generally finer wool will have tighter crimp.

Curl: The wave in fibers that have no crimp.  Fibers with curl are general medium grade wools like cotswald or non-sheep fibers like mohair.

Degumming: Refers to the process of removing the gummy coating (sericin) on silk fiber.

Dehair: Removing the coarse long hair from a dual-coated fiber to get just the soft down coat.

Direction of Twist: Yarn can be spun or plied clockwise or counterclockwise.  The direction refers to the direction the wheel or whorl is turning.  Clockwise yarn has a Z-Twist.  Counterclockwise yarn has an S-Twist.

Diz: A small and light tool used to make top from fiber that has been combed.  The fiber is pulled off of the comb through a hole.  A button can be used as a diz.

Down: The soft short fiber under the guard hair in a dual-coated animal.  Yak, camel, quivit, and Icelandic wools are examples of down fibers.

Double Drive: A spinning wheel that has a driveband that turns the drive wheel plus the whorl and the bobbin.

Drafting: The process of allowing the fibers to slip past each other as they are about to have twist added to them.

Drafting Triangle: A triangular shape created by the spinner’s hand to make drafting easier and more controlled.

Drafting Zone. The area between the fibers held in the spinners hand and the newly spun yarn where the fibers can still draft apart.  There will be some twist in the drafting zone if spinning woolen.  There will be no twisting in the drafting zone if spinning worsted.

Drive Ratio: The ratio between the drive wheel and the whorl on a spinning wheel.  A larger ratio will turn the bobbin faster.  Use a higher ratio for thinner yarns and a lower ratio for thicker yarns.

Drive Wheel: The large wheel on the spinning wheel.  Treadling turns the drive wheel, which in turn drives the whorl (in double drive mode), the bobbin (in bobbin lead mode), or the flyer (in Scotch tension mode).

Drop Spindle: A small and simple tool used for spinning yarn.  Most are a whorl on a shaft.  The whorl may be on the top (top whorl spindle) or on the bottom (bottom whorl spindle).  It is the most common tool used for spinning.

Drum Carder: A tool which cards fiber by feeding it onto a drum covered in teeth.  It is the same process as hand carding only a drum carder has more capacity and can be quicker.  Creates a woolen preparation.

Dual-Coated: An animal that has two coats of fiber.  Guard hair sheds water off of the animal protecting the soft fine down coat underneath.  Primitive sheep breeds are dual-coated as well as yak, bison, camel, cashmere, and llama.

Felt: The process of locking wool fibers together.  The scales on the individual wool fibers will interlock creating a bond that will not come undone.  Wool can be wet felted, usually with heat, soap, and agitation or needle felted.

Fiber: Any number of animal or plant fibers that can be spun: wool, mohair, alpaca, silk, hemp, bamboo, etc.  For more information on selected fibers click here.

Fiber Diameter: The diameter of an individual fiber, usually measured in microns.

Flick: The act of opening up a lock of fiber by using a flicker.

Flicker: A tool that looks similar to a small hand card or a dog brush.  It is used to open a lock of wool to prepare it for carding, combing, or spinning.

Flyer: The flyer is a U-shaped piece on the spinning wheel that holds the bobbin.  The flyer turns thereby adding twist to the fiber as it is spun.

Flyer Lead: When the driveband of a spinning wheel is connected directly to the flyer. The ratio is fixed.

Fulling: Similar to felting only the process isn’t taken as far.  Sometimes yarns are fulled to make them a little more stable, less likely to shed, or to achieve a desired look.  Knit fabric may be fulled for the same reasons.

Garnet: A process for recycling yarn or fabric that shreds the original fibers.  Garnetted fiber adds texture and sometimes color.  It needs to be blended with another fiber in order to have enough staple length to be a stable yarn.

Grade: There are three systems used in the United States for grading wool.  The Blood System defines the fleece by the amount of merino blood in the sheep.  Since there isn’t a direct correlation between the amount of merino blood and the fineness of the fleece, it is an inexact measure.

The second is the Bradford Count.  It is an estimate of the number of hanks that can be spun from a pound of wool.  The idea is that a finer wool can spin a finer yarn.

The third is the Micron Count system.  The wool fibers are measured under a microscope.  The unit of measure used is microns, which are about 1/25,400th of an inch.  This system is the most exact system.

Grease Wool: Wool that has not been washed to remove the lanolin.

Great Wheel: A spinning wheel that has a very large drive wheel and a spindle instead of a bobbin.  It is similar to a charka in how it works.  The drive ratio is fixed.  Drafting is done with one hand while the other turns the wheel.  The spinner is usually standing while spinning.  Also known as a walking wheel.

Guard Hair: Coarse and long hair on a dual-coated animal.  Guard hair helps water to shed off of the animal thereby protecting the down coat from getting wet.  It is the down coat that keeps the animal warm.

Hand Cards: Also know as cards, are multi-teeth tools that allow one to blend fibers creating a carded or woolen preparation.

Handspun: Yarn that has been spun by an individual on a spindle, wheel, or charka.

Hank: A loop of continuous yarn that is usually twisted.  Yarn in a hank form must be wound into a ball before using.

Heather: Fiber that is a blend of different colors.  The colors are well blended to give a heathered appearance.

Hogget: A young sheep or the first fleece shorn from a young sheep.  Hogget fleeces will be the softest fleece the animal will ever give.

In the Grease: Wool that has not been washed and still contains lanolin.

Inch-Worm: Common name for Short Forward Draw.

Kemp: Brittle, coarse fiber that does not take dye.  It is usually found in belly and leg wool.

Lanolin: A fatty wax created by sheep.  The is commonly called grease, as in grease fleece.

Lazy Kate: A device that holds bobbins for plying.

Leader: A string tied to a bobbin or spindle to start spinning on.

Lock: A tuft of fiber that is still in the same formation as when it was on the animal.

Long Draw: A spinning method where twist is allowed into the drafting zone as the drafting hands pulls backwards.  The drafting is done primarily with one hand.  If the other hand is helping to control the drafting, it is called supported long draw.

Maiden: The uprights that hold the flyer assembly on a spinning wheel.  The will be one in the back where the whorl sits and one at the front at the orifice.

Marl Yarn: A yarn made from plies of two different colors.  Also known as a ragg or barber pole yarn.

Mawata: A silk hankie made by stretching silk cocoons over a frame.  A mawata or hankie is a stack of silk squares, each square is made from an individual silk cocoon.

Mercerization: The process of treating cotton, linen, and hemp yarns in a sodium hydroxide bath and then neutralized in an acidic bath.  The result is a stronger, more lustrous yarn that takes dyes more readily.

Micron Count: The average fiber diameter measured in microns (1/25,400th of an inch). Superfine fiber is below 18 microns, fine fiber is between 18 and 21 microns, medium grade fiber is between 22 and 30 microns, and coarse fiber is above 30 microns.

Mother of All: The horizontal bar that holds the maidens on a spinning wheel.  Often the tension knob is attached to the Mother of All.

Navajo Ply: see Chain Plying

Nep: Short or knotted fibers that create textured yarns.  Neps may be naturally occurring short fibers or weak tips that have broken off.  Neps are removed when combing fiber to make a worsted preparation.  Sometimes neps are added (or retained) to make a textured yarn.

Niddy-Noddy: A tool for winding yarn into hanks.  Usually it makes a hank of a specific circumference like 2 yards so it can also be used for counting yardage.

Noil: see silk noil.

Nostpinde: A dowel for winding a center-pull ball of yarn.

Orifice: A hole at the front of the flyer assembly on a spinning wheel through which newly formed yarn passes on the way to the bobbin.

Orifice Hook: A hook for pulling the single through the orifice of a spinning wheel.

Over the Fold: A spinning method where a staple length of fiber is folded over and spun from the center of the staple.

Overspun: Singles with too much twist.

Park and Draft: A form of spindle spinning where twist is built up in the existing yarn, the spindle is then parked (usually between the knees), and the excess twist is used up by drafting.  Often used by new spinners so they can practice drafting without the fear of their spindle dropping.

Pencil Roving: Roving about the size of a pencil.

Picker: A tool used for opening up locks of fleece.  The lock structure will not be retained.

Pin Drafted: Fiber that has been drafted into a fairly thin roving (not as thin as pencil roving).

Pre-drafting: Drafting apart the fibers to make them more open and easier to spin.  Some people pre-draft to the point where little to no drafting is required while spinning.  Some pre-draft just to get the fibers to start slipping past each other.  Pre-drafting is optional and cannot be used for true worsted spinning.

Puni: A rolag of tightly rolled fiber, most often refers to cotton.  It is a fiber preparation commonly used for short staple fibers.

Ragg Yarn: A yarn made from plies of two different colors.  Also known as a marled or barber pole yarn.

Ratio: see drive ratio.

Rolag: Fibers from hand cards rolled off for spinning.  This is a woolen preparation.

Roving: Carded fibers prepared in a long strip.  This is a woolen preparation.

S-Twist: Counterclockwise spun yarn.  The direction of the twist is the same dirction as the middle stoke of the letter S.

Saxony Wheel: A spinning wheel where the flyer and drive wheel are horizontally aligned.  The orifice will be either to the left or the right of the drive wheel.

Scour: Washing fleece to remove the lanolin.

Second Cuts: Short lengths of wool caused when the shearer makes a second pass with the clippers.  Second cuts are not desirable in a handspinner’s fleece.  Second cuts not removed will become neps in the spun wool.

Sericin: A gummy, gelatinous protein that binds strands of silk together.

Setting the Twist: A soak or wash of handspun yarn.  As the fibers get wet they settle into the twist of the yarn.  It is always best to set the twist before using the yarn.

Short Forward Draw: A worsted spinning method where twist is not allowed to enter into the drafting zone. The fiber is slicked down as the twist enters the fiber.  The resulting yarn is dense and durable.  Maximize the shine

Silk Cap: Degummed silk cocoons stretched out over a bell shaped form.  The same as silk hankies except in shape.

Silk Hankies: Degummed silk cocoons stretched out over a square form.  The same as silk caps except in shape.

Silk Noil: Short bits of silk waste from combing or reeling silk.  Silk noil can be spun by itself or blended with other fibers to add texture.

Singles: A single strand of fiber twisted together.  Singles are always pural, even when there is only one.

Skein: Yarn wound into a ready to use put up.  Sometimes hanks are called skeins.

Skein Winder: A tool for winding hanks of yarn.

Skirt: To remove the wool around the edges of a fleece.  This removes the belly wool and any tags or urine stained wool.  A heavy skirting will also remove the britch wool.

Slub Yarn: A yarn with sections that are thicker and have less twist.

Sound or Soundness: Fiber that is free of breaks or anything that will diminish its strength such as canary staining.  The usual test for soundness is to snap a lock of fiber and listen to the sound it makes.  A healthy fleece will make a high-pitched sound without any crackle that may indicate tearing fibers.

Spin In the Grease: Spinning wool before it has been scoured while it still contains lanolin.

Spindle: A high or low whorl spindle.  Charkas and great wheels also have spindles (instead of bobbins).  It is the sharp metal rod the the yarn is spun with and onto.

Spindle Spun: Yarn spun on a drop spindle.

Staple or Staple length: The length of the individual fibers.

Storage Bobbin: A bobbin used for storing yarn, typically singles, for later use.  Storage bobbins are usually of cheaper construction and not used on spinning wheels.

Sproing: A fiber or yarn that has a lot of bounce to it.  Fibers with a lot of sproing are high crimp.  Yarns with sproing are woolen spun from fibers or preparations with a lot of sproing.

Swift: A tool that holds a hank of yarn so it can be wound into a ball.

Superwash: Wool that has been treated so it will not felt or full.

Tags: Dirt or dung attached to a fleece.

Top: Combed fiber pull into a long continuous strand.

Treadle: The foot peddle(s) on a spinning wheel.

Twist per Inch or TPI: The number of twists in a yarn in an inch.

Umbrella Swift: A swift that opens and closes similar to an umbrella.

Vegetable Matter or VM: Straw, hay, seeds, or burrs in a fleece or prepared fiber.  Most VM (not burrs) will fall out during spinning.

Walking Wheel: see great wheel.

Wheel: see spinning wheel and drive wheel.

Wether: A castrated male sheep.

Wool: The fiber from a sheep.

Woolen Preparation:  Fiber prepared in a woolen preparation such as carding.  In woolen preparations the fibers are not aligned.

Woolen Spun: Yarn spun in a woolen method such as long draw.  Woolen spun yarns have more loft and warmth due to air pockets caught inside the spun yarn.

Worsted Preparation:  Fiber prepared so that the fibers are aligned and straight.

Worsted Spun: Yarn spun in a worsted method such as Short Forward Draw.  Worsted spun yarns are dense and durable.

Worsted Yarn: Yarn spun in a worsted method such as Short Forward Draw from fiber prepared in a worsted method such as combing.

Wraps per Inch or WPI: The number of times yarn can wrap about a ruler or pencil.  This is a way for spinners and knitters to estimate the grist or weight (as in fingering, sport, bulky) of their yarn.

Z-Twist: Clockwise spun yarn.  The direction of the twist is the same direction as the middle stoke of the letter Z.

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