Threads at - Glossary

Thread vs. Yarn

I used to card, spin, and dye my own wool yarn plus have two degrees in chemistry and an interest in composition of materials. The terms have ceased to be just words for me from years of working with a number of materials. Below is a glossary:

The natural fiber from the seed pod of a plant. It's chemical composition is cellulose (like paper) consisting of the elements carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Traditional material for shirts, sheets, handerchiefs, lace doilies.
The natural fiber from the stem of a plant. Its chemical composition, similar to cotton, is cellulose but it tends to wear better. Traditional material for heirloom articles such as lace, towels, sheets, clothing. Linen is traditionally spun wet.
Describes cotton that has been treated with alkalai and stretched to produce a shiny, stronger fiber. The man who invented the process was a Scot, so some thread will be described by words that mean Scottish in languages other than English.
When a single strand of spun yarn is wound in the opposite direction with other strands, the process is referred to plying. The number of plies in a yarn doesn't indicate the thickness of yarn unless the singles from which it is made are the same, so a 2-ply yarn isn't necessarily finer than a 4-ply yarn. By twisting the plies in the opposite direction from the singles, the yarn tends to open up and compensate for the twist in the singles. Plying makes a yarn stronger. Applying the same process to yarn that is already plied is called cabling.
Typically smooth unlike yarn which tends to be fuzzy, and often smaller thickness. Used for sewing, and knitting, crocheting, and weaving lace.
The natural fiber that grows from the skin of sheep. It's chemical composition is protein consisting of the elements carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur. Long wearing and warm. It has an affinity for oils (often added to aid in spinning) and retains most of it's insulating ability even when wet. The traditional material for sweaters, socks, mittens, scarves, afghans, blankets, etc. Sometimes "wool" is used as a synonym for yarn, resulting in such paradoxical statements as "For sale - 100% acrylic wool" on eBay.
A way of preparing wool fibers for spinning. The fleece is carded then rolled (like a jelly roll) along an axis perpendicular to the length of the fibers. When spun, this produces yarn with a light, airy texture.
A way of preparing wool fibers for spinning. The fleece is carded then, drawn along the length of the fibers keeping them parallel. Worsted yarn tends to be more shiny and dense than woolen yarn, but wears well.
Fibers spun into a cord that may be knit, crocheted, or woven. May be single or multiple ply, woolen or worsted.