If you are new to spinning, you may find yourself asking what the heck is staple length, and why do I care? This information is important for many reasons when it comes to spinning yarn, which we will discuss today.
What is Staple Length?
Staple length refers to the length of individual fibers – or an average length in a blend of fibers. Lengths can vary from less than one inch to 7″ or more. It is important to know because generally speaking, the shorter the staple length, the more difficult it can be to spin. This is because with short fibers, more twist is needed in order for the yarn to take, which can be difficult for new spinners to consistently achieve. This is why a staple length of 3 – 5″ is recommended for beginners. (See more on recommended fibers for new spinners here)
Knowing the staple length of the fiber you’re spinning is essential when it comes to spinning an even, consistent yarn. A main factor in spinning is how well (read: how consistent) you draft your fibers. Drafting is when you gently pull the fibers away from the fiber source, allowing the twist you are producing (either with your drop spindle or wheel) to travel into said fiber. If you always have the same amount of fiber in the drafting zone, your yarn will be much more even than if you draft thick and thin.
So what does this have to do with staple length, you ask? Drafting half the length.
The thing that clicked for me as a beginner is when I learned that by drafting half of the staple length of a particular fiber, you are never getting just the ends of the fibers (which creates a very thin spot in the yarn and can cause it to break or snap) and you never get just the middle portion of the fiber (which creates what is called a slub – a fat, underspun section of yarn).
For example, if I know that my staple length of a particular fiber is 4″, that tells me that I should try to keep my drafting zone to about 2″. I still struggle with some fibers, particularly slippery fibers, or fibers with a low micron count.