What Is A Micron and Why Does It Matter?

Uncategorized Feb 12, 2022

Does spinning jargon make you cringe?

Has anyone ever asked you what micron count you like to spin? This just happened recently to one of my freshest members and she came to me saying 'help! I had no clue what they were talking about so I just stared blankly at them'. And can I just say I have SO been there! 

When you learn to spin yarn I find you get into these odd conversations where

A- you're talking to another spinner and you feel like such a newb and get all embarrassed because you don't know what ply angle you like best for sock yarn,

or B- you're talking to a non-spinner and you feel like a total dork/oddball who may as well have 2 heads because they so don't understand a word you're saying.

Cue social anxiety!

So today I thought we'd learn about micron count, what is it, why does it matter, and how it can be affected by various factors, so that next time you're at a dinner party (do people actually still have those anymore? ) you can waffle with the best of them and hold your head high with new scientific and fiber related conversation. 



What is a micron?

A micron is a unit of measurement. It is a metric measurement equivalent to one-thousandth of a millimeter. I'm rubbish with maths and numbers but essentially it's super duper small. Micron is short for micrometer and you will see it represented by this symbol µm.

When we talk about 'micron count' in the spinning or fibre world we are talking about the width of one single strand of fiber as measured in microns. This width is measured with a microscope, so it's not something you can determine yourself at home (unless you're a scientist I guess then maybe you can.)

You can think of it a bit like hair types in humans. Some of us have fine hair (lower micron count) and some of us have coarse hair (higher micron count). The same can be said for animals of all kinds.

Did you know the human eye can see anything over about 10 microns, in ideal conditions with 20/20 vision? You'll know this is a fair dinkum fact because how often have you ever walked into a spider web?

Those superfine strands of silk can be super hard to see because they have a super low micron count. For us here in Australia these near-invisible fibers often lead to late night or early morning 'moments' shall we say of very active arm flailing panic. 



 Why Does Micron Count Matter 

Now we know what a micron is, or what micron count is all about in the fiber world, let's talk about why you should care. 

Essentially the micron count of a fibre will tell you a lot about the fibre before you ever even touch it. The higher the micron count, the more coarse the fiber will feel. The smaller the micron count number, the more soft and fine the fibre will feel. 

For the majority of fibres hand spinners use we see micron counts vary from around 5-10 microns (silk) to 40 microns (Ccara Llama). All the wonderful fibre producing animals like sheep and goats and camels and rabbits fall typically somewhere within this range.

A great place for many beginners to start is around 30 microns as often the super low micron fibres can feel slippery and are more challenging to spin. 

Understanding what a micron count is is super important because so often as spinners we are buying fibres online where everything looks soft and fluffy, but looks can be deceiving.

If you see a listing for white 'wool' on Etsy, and it's a great price and they ship super fast and you think 'this is so awesome I'm gonna spin this super fine and make that woven scarf I've been dreaming of' you're taking a big risk. 

If you don't know the micron count of that fiber, it may turn up and be super coarse and not at all suited to a next-to-skin garment. 

Knowing the micron count of a fibre allows you to fairly accurately predict how it will feel and what projects it might be suited for, leading to less fibre purchase regret in the long run. 

It is worth noting however that micron count alone is not the sole determining factor in how 'soft' a fibre will feel. The fibres we love to spin come in many different shapes and forms, so things like actual cell structure, the surface structure of the fibre as well as how a fibre is processed all contribute to a fibre feeling soft or not so soft. 



What Factors Affect Micron Count

In broad terms some animals produce 'fine' fibres, ie fibres with low micron count, and some animals produce more coarse fibres, ie fibres with a high micron count.

Aside from breed, which is one of the most dominant factors affecting micron count, things like age, diet, environment, and animal health can also influence the micron count. 

Think about your beloved four-legged friend. Odds are when your dog was a puppy, their hair was silky smooth and soft. As they age many dogs can get more coarse and even wiry coats. The same goes for many types of fibre producing animals.

It's not enough to say that alpaca fibre is softer than sheep fibre, because there's so much room for variation there.

Take for example a very old, poorly alpaca. That animal's fleece will not be as fine (low in micron count) as a spring Merino lambs fibre. You need to take more into account than simply the breed. 

There are however definitely breed averages that help guide our fibre decisions as spinners.

We know that typically speaking cashmere fibers, which come from Angora goats, are going to be softer than fibres from Corriedale sheep, and this is because within each breed there is a range of microns animals will fall within. 

Of course, if you're just starting out on your spinning journey you may not know this, but over time you will start to build a bank of knowledge around which animals typically produce the finest fibres and which animals produce the least fine fibres. And the way you'll be able to learn is largely by looking up the micron count of the fibre you're considering purchasing. 

If the seller doesn't have it listed, some small breeders will not have fleeces tested, simply look online for breed average micron counts, and this will help guide your decisions.



The bottom line...

If you remember nothing else remember that the smaller the micron number, the finer the fibres. This will be a great little tool to help you navigate the wonderful, huge world that is spinning fibres! 

So here's to holding our own at the next social gathering, and to understanding just a little bit more about why spider webs are so darn hard to see! 

















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