First, you need to consider how you will use your wool. Rachel Brown, author of Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing, considers a coarse wool to be perfect for handspinning. She says “what is considered the best (or finest) wool in the industry is the worst for your purposes... the only ones that will interest you (for most purposes, anyway) will be those classified as long-wool”. And the coarser the wool, the longer each fibre, which is also desirable for handspinning. A fine, soft wool is of course also suitable but it may be more difficult to spin.
In general, therefore, if you are a beginning hand-spinner, a coarse long-wool from the bottom of Table 1 may be more suitable. And if you are an expert and familiar with particular types of wool that work well for you, you can use the tables to choose other sheep breeds of a similar size or those which are a little larger or smaller than those you are familiar with.
There are 4 tables below; Firstly, a table of wool fibre sizes sorted in order of size with the finest fibres at the top and the coarsest at the bottom, so as to be able to locate either similar fibres or the finest and coarsest fibres quickly.
Secondly, the same table sorted on sheep breed so that you can find a particular sheep wool.
Thirdly, a short table of the fibre size for other fibre animals – alpaca, goats, rabbits, etc. Bradford Count is not used for these and therefore only micron sizes are quoted.
And fourthly, a comparison of the metric micron measurement of fibre size and the imperial Bradford Count (also called the numerical count system or the ASTM standard grade etc) (much simplified from the tables presented by Melanie Barkley on the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences website and on similar standard tables). Micron and Bradford Count are defined in the Glossary.
There are, of course, many other factors in making the right choice but many handspinners prefer coloured sheep and long coarse wool, not short, fine, white wool. These tables provide the sizes and the British Coloured Sheep Breeders Association (BCSBA) website provides a guide to the availability of coloured wools, whichever your preference.
Top of page Table 1. Fibre sizes for common sheep breeds sorted on size