Auld acquaintance

A few years ago started spinning and two-end knitting a pair of jacket sleeves. I have been working on them more off than on through the years and almost forgot about them. Recently my auld acquaintance was brought back to mind.

Back in early 2019 I had recently finished a pattern for a pair of two-end knitted mittens in Spin-Off magazine. Tvåändsstickning, or two-end knitting, is a time-consuming but very rewarding knitting technique, resulting in a sturdy and wind-proof material. The structure is dense and inelastic and in that sense more like woven than knitted fabric. When I finish a two-end knitted project there are lots of hours invested in it, but somehow it’s hard to let go of. The technique may be slow, but such a joy to dance my hands and mind in.

Jacket sleeves in tradition

A century or so ago two-end knitted jacket sleeves were common in county Dalarna in Sweden. I have been itching to knit myself a pair of jacket sleeves, but as I realized they would take a very long time to knit due to a slow knitting method and two millimeter needles, I hesitated.

However, back in 2018, when a shepherdess asked me if I wanted to buy some singled out very long locks of her flock of dalapäls sheep, I thought of my imagined jacket sleeves and I couldn’t resist the offer. Dalapäls wool is very fine and has a remarkable sheen. Since both the tradition of two-end knitted jacket sleeves and the breed Dalapäls sheep originate from county Dalarna there is a possibility that Dalapäls wool has been the traditional wool for the sleeves. When I got the locks they were the spark for my jacket sleeve project.

Long, white and wavy wool locks.
Long and silky locks of Dalapäls sheep. The locks come from different sheep.

I mean, who could resist knitting jacket sleeves with yarn from locks like these, despite the overwhelm a project like that could bring?

Two-end knitting

Tvåändsstickning, or two-end knitting is an old technique mostly found in Scandinavia. The oldest finding of a twined knitting textile dates back to around the mid 16th century to the early 17th century in county Dalarna in Sweden. There are many garments and accessories left in County Dalarna – mittens, socks and jackets. Usually the sleeves only were knit in two-end knitting while the torso was sewn of broadcloth.

As the name of the technique suggests you use two strands of yarn in two-end knitting. The passive strand is carried at the back of the project. You knit with the strand furthest from the active stitch. This means that after one stitch is made the two yarns are twisted around each other at the back of the work. This also means that even though two-end knitting is done with fine needles, the twisting of the yarn ends makes the fabric strong, sturdy and windproof. It will last for generations. You can read more about two-end knitting in this blog post.

A common English translation for tvåändsstickning is twined knitting. Read in Knit (Spin) Sweden! (second edition) about why two-end knitting is a more fitting translation.

From the cut end

For my jacket sleeves I spun the Dalapäls yarn – S spun and Z plied as is the tradition for two-end knitting – on a supported spindle. I chose to lightly open up staple by staple with a flicker and spin from the cut ends. You can see a glimpse of it in my video Catch the light, where I dwell in the sweet midsummer light, right at the opposite end of the year from when I am writing this.

After having teased with the flicker I tease it more with my hands, draft it out sideways like an accordion and roll it into a burrito and spin from the cut end. I used to only open up the staple with the flicker, but lately I have added the hand teasing, sideways opening and burrito roll. I think it paves the way for a more thorough preparation while still keeping some of the integrity of the original staple. You can read more about this technique here.

Spinning from such a light preparation can be a challenge, but it is also deeply satisfying to be able to create a yarn from such light a preparation. The staple is still nearly recognizable and the opened up fibers fall into the twist next to each other pretty much in the same order they were in the staple.

Cast on and on

Back to the spinning of my z-plied two-end knitting yarn. Eight skeins and a few months later I cast on for my jacket sleeves. Since the technique is very slow the sleeves have accompanied me on many occasions – in the shadow at the allotment, on trains and on a trip to Gotland. And, of course, in a video that I made in Visby, Gotland back in 2019.

A woman knitting in a ruin. There is no roof in the ruin.
Jacket sleeve two-end knitting in St Clemens’ ruin in Visby, Gotland, 2019.

As I reached above the elbow I realized I needed to rip a substantial part up to alter the size, which was moderately fun. For some reason I forgot about the sleeves for quite a while. When I reconnected with them again I needed to alter them back. Just recently I caught up to the clean and un-frogged yarn and I realized that I needed to spin some more yarn.

During this recent autumn the sleeves have been a solid friend on office meetings and conferences. Several colleagues have whispered to me how calm they have felt by just watching me knit.

A cup of kindness

As I paid my dalapäls sheepheredess friend Lena a visit a while ago I bought a bag of newly shorn wool from her ewe Nehne, who had the right length of staples for my two-end knitting yarn.

Raw locks from Lena’s dalapäls sheep Nehne.

Lena is a strong and kind woman, doing all she can for her sheep and for others. She knows all of her sheep by name and by fleece. Dalapäls sheep is a heritage breed. As such usually has a wide spectrum of wool types and wool qualities over the breed, within a flock and even over the body of a single sheep. As I asked Lena for the kind of staples I was looking for, she immediately replied “Well, that would be Nehne or Ninni”. And she was right. Nehne’s fleece had long staples with very soft undercoat fibers and strong outercoat fibers, and with that very special Dalapäls shine. A perfect candidate for my jacket sleeves. Lena wouldn’t even charge for the fleece.

The fleece of the Dalapäls sheep Nehne is drying in front of the fireplace after washing.

That evening Lena and I talked for hours over a sweet dinner she had prepared for us while the fire mumbled quietly in the background. I picked up my jacket sleeves and started knitting. The paper bag with Nehne’s fleece stood on the floor by the fireplace.

Bringing back to mind

I washed the fleece as I got home and started spinning. I used the same technique I had used back in 2018. Within seconds it all came back to me – the joy of spinning on a supported spindle. It’s funny, supported spindle spinning may be the technique that others most associate me with, and yet I haven’t spun on a supported spindle for anything but teaching for the past few years. As I started spinning Nehne’s wool I immediately fell back in love with the technique.

Auld and new acquaintance

I have a long fleece queue and I try my best to spin the oldest first. This means that the bag I pick up to prepare has been compressed in the bag in my storage for a while. Even if I have picked all staples prior to the storage, they can be a little flat and the fibers catching on to their neighbours.

With this project, however, I wanted to finish my sleeves, so Nehne’s fleece very rudely cut in line in the fleece queue. Spinning this very fresh wool was (is) such a joy. The wool had just been lightly placed in a paper bag, never put in the storage. The staples were bold and bouncy and with such a sweet shine. Since I make the preparation directly before I start spinning I had the joy of spinning my accordion burritos very freshly prepared. The fibers are so light, so smooth to draft, softly singing their way into the twist like fairies in the early morning mist.

Spinning the freshly prepared wool from the newly shorn fleece on a supported spindle reminded me of breathing – the constant changing back and forth between the inner and outer worlds, light as a feather. The rhythm of spinning is not far from the rhythm of life.

New horizons

Even if the spinning of this yarn instantly came back to my spinning muscles and mind, it was still with a new perspective. I have learned so much in the five years that have passed since last I spun this yarn. It was a true joy to bring these new horizons into the familiar spinning landscape. I’m so glad I revisited my auld acquaintance.

Staple to sleeve via teasing, spinning and plying. Supported spindles by Björn Peck.

During the holidays I have been spinning a lot on this project – I have already finished two skeins. Even though spindle spinning is a sweetly slow process it doesn’t take that long to fill a spindle and then a second. Alternating between spinning and teasing keeps a sweet rhythm and change in perspectives.

Two finished skeins of Z-plied Dalapäls wool, spun from lightly teased locks of Dalapäls wool on a supported spindle by Björn Peck.

Have you revisited an old project lately?

On my Instagram page you can watch a series of videos where I work from opening up the lock to knitting the sleeves. At the top of my profile are some highlights. The series is called stapletosleeve (I omitted the spaces between the words because the thing wouldn’t accept too many letters in the title).

Happy new spinning year!

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3 Replies to “Auld acquaintance”

  1. I have two pairs of socks that have been started since 2015. One his very highly patterned and the other is colorwork. Both have extensive charts so they do not travel or get worked on when there is a lot of excitement around me. But they will be finished this year!

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