Wool’s wool, right? So why is there a special entry for worsted wool? Because all wool is not the same.
Worsted refers to a process whereby sheep’s wool is carefully combed to ensure that the fibers spun into yarn are only the longer fibers (long staple) and that they lie parallel to each other before spinning. This results in a stronger yarn than it would otherwise. The technique also removes the natural crimp from the fibers, which means the resultant fabric has a smoother hand than regular wool.
So, worsted is a yarn created with a specific fiber and process, not the fabric itself. You can find worsted serge, worsted twill, worsted flannel, etc.
If you were to look at a worsted yarn under a microscrope side by side with a regular woolen yarn, the regular wool will look much “fuzzier” and generally more chaotic than the worsted. No, chaotic is not an industry term, but it fits.
Worsted wool is popular for men’s suits, especially lighter worsteds for suits in warmer climates. You wouldn’t catch James Bond wearing anything else in Jamaica. But if you want to stay warm, stick to regular woolens – that fine hand and tight weave means that worsted is less insulating than it’s short-staple counterparts – another reason why it’s a good choice for summer suits.
If you want to learn about the nitty-gritty of worsted’s history and production, and how it differs from regular wool, check out this excellent essay by The Dreamstress.
Why is it called worsted? Because of the region in which the technique is believed to have originated in Norfolk, England: Worstead.
It’s a quality fabric, so it’s not cheap. Typically it starts at around $25/yd and can go into the hundreds for Saville Row-quality material. Worsted-polyester blends can be had as cheap as $7/yd to around $20/yd. Double-check the wool content when purchasing. Higher proportions of polyester will make it cheaper, but it will effect how the garment drapes, too.
If you are looking for the Saville-Row-Quality wool* you’re going to run into something called a “Super” number. To keep things very simple, the higher the number, the finer the wool fiber (in terms of diameter – not quality). A higher number does not automatically mean that a fabric is better quality than one of a lower number. It only refers to the diameter of the wool fiber used to make the yarns of the fabric.
As with any wool, worsted fabric is best sent to the dry cleaners for care. If that’s not feasible, hand wash it in cold – gently – and lay it flat to dry. Never, ever put worsted wool in your washer at any temperature and never in the dryer, either – unless you want to be the owner of some very expensive felt.
*why are you visiting a site written for beginning seamsters?