Stash

A white fleece with very long and silky staples.

I have a lot of fleece at home. I try to cut down on my fleece purchases, but it is difficult. Exploring the Swedish sheep breeds and writing about them are things I love. I do try to keep a strict queue where I spin the oldest first. But sometimes the newer fleeces have stronger voices. Today I invite you to a dive into my fiber stash.

My imaginations is often faster than I am. When I get a new fleece I get lots of ideas of what to do with it. Other fleeces that have waited their turn in the stash somehow get less desirable. The grass is greener on the new fleece, so to speak. But at several occasions I have had to throw whole fleeces on the compost heap since they have become brittle with age. Land races and heritage breeds usually stay fresh longer than crossbreds but still get brittle after a while. I try to keep a strict fleece queue. I also try not to have a fleece wait more than a year. Obviously I fail at this.

Below are some of the fleeces that are waiting in line in our sofabed, and have done for quite a while now.

Miriam Miranda, a dalapäls lamb

Two years ago I had the opportunity to spend a shearing day with my friend Lena. She has a flock of dalapäls sheep that she just brought home from their summer pastures in county Dalarna. One of the sheep she sheared that day was the lamb Miriam Miranda. I got to take some of it home.

Miriam Miranda, a dalapäls lamb.
Miriam Miranda, a dalapäls lamb.

Usually I know the sheep owner, which is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the sheep and how it lives. Sometimes the sheep even has a name, which makes the connection extra special. In this case I got the opportunity to watch Lena shear her sheep and ask her about her flock.

I have kept this fleece in my stash for a long time. I have had difficulties deciding what to do with it. But now I have a project for it. A while back I spun a yarn from a rya/finull cross. My plan is to pair a yarn from Miriam Miranda’s fleece with that fleece and knit a lace shawl.

If you registered for the dalapäls wool webinar I streamed a couple of years ago you got a glimpse of Miriam Miranda’s soft and shiny fleece. There is also a fifteen minute film clip from the shearing in the course Know your fleece.

Norsk pelssau

This was a gift from my friend and wool oracle Kia. Norsk pelssau is a Norwegian equivalent to the Swedish Gotland sheep – a sheep bred mainly for its pretty skins. The wool is strong, curly and has a unique shine. Quite a challenge to process (although less so than Swedish Gotland in my experience), but I think it will make an excellent sock yarn.

A Norwegian Pelssau fleece, picked out for me from my friend Kia.
A Norwegian Pelssau fleece, picked out for me from my friend Kia.

Kia has so much knowledge about wool. When Kia picks out a fleece I know without looking at it that it is top quality. This will be a great sock yarn.

Rya

I have a few bags of rya fleece in the sofabed stash. Long, strong and shiny outercoat and light and warm undercoat. Two smaller bags with white and variegated grey rya from Kari Lewin who has won several medals for her fleeces. A third bag is a white silver medalist rya fleece from Annie Hallberg. My plans for the Rya fleeces include rya rug yarn and perhaps also sock yarn.

Silver medalist rya fleece from the 2020 Swedish championships.

Elin Gestrike

Elin, oh Elin. Such a lovely and gentle Gestrike fleece. My friend Claudia Dillman said she had Elin’s fleece that she thought I should have. And she was right. I have wanted to sink my teeth in it for so long, but kept to my fleece queue. But soon it will be Elin’s turn at last. My plans so far is to divide this fleece and make a worsted spun warp yarn from the outercoat and a woolen spun weft yarn from the undercoat. You can see Elin’s fleece as I demonstrate it in the free webinar The Hand spinner’s advantage.

Nypon Finull

The soft and silky fleece from the finull sheep Nypon (rosehip) is a silver medalist from the 2020 Swedish fleece championships, from the shepherdess Titti Strömne. Finull wool was the very first fleece I worked with, the first time I ever held a spinning tool in my hand. My plans for Nypon is a soft weft yarn.

A white fleece with fine, crimpy staples.
Nypon (Rose hip), a silver medal winning finull fleece.

A seduction

Every year at the Swedish fleece championships one of the judges, Alan Waller, selects a fleece for the special award the wool guru’s seduction. In the 2020 championships this award was given to a finull/Gotland/Swedish Leicester fleece from Kari Lewin. This is a fleece that looks like nothing else. Freakishly long, incredibly shiny and at the same time very soft. I felt it needed me. I must say I’m a bit intimidated by it, but I think I will be able to make something with it. My plans is a warp yarn together with the finull weft above.

A white fleece with very long and silky staples.
The 2020 seduction of the wool guru, a Swedish Gotland/Leicester/finull fleece.

Gunvor 1, 2 and 3

Gunvor is another sheep from Claudia Dillman’s flock of Gestrike sheep. I asked Claudia if I could adopt the shearing from one individual for a longitudinal fleece study. I could and Claudia chose Gunvor for me. A white lamb with large black spots. At least on Gunvor’s first fleece (shorn in the fall of 2020). The second fleece (spring 2021) has less black in it.

In a couple of weeks I will visit Claudia on her farm for the fall shearing and collect the third fleece. The Black and white Sirwal pants from Irene Waggener’s book Keepers of the sheep may become reality with Gunvor’s lamb’s fleece. The second fleece may become rya rug yarn. Gotta make some room in the sofabed!

Coming up 1: Icelandic

In the spring issue of PLY magazine (the double coated issue) I was smitten by Maja Siska. She wrote about spinning a lopi style yarn straight off the staple of an Icelandic lamb’s fleece. I felt an urgent need to spin a bulky singles yarn from the lock. So I contacted Uppspuni mini mill in Iceland and asked the owner to pick a fleece for me on shearing day. I have never worked with Icelandic, although both rya and Old Norwegian Spælsau that I have worked with have similar characteristics. I’m really excited about this.

Coming up 2: Swedish fleece championships

I love the Swedish fleece championships and they are coming up in October. Still digital, though. But I’m sure I won’t be able to resist some of the medalists this year either. So my plan is to spin up at leas a couple of the oldest fleeces until then to allow myself to get another one or two.

See? I’m doing it again. Hoarding fleeces.

Happy destashing!


You can follow me in several social media:

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  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

A pattern process

Join me in a pattern process – an adventurous and emotional journey from the sparkling idea for a new design through all the bumps and challenges in the process to a finished pattern and beyond.

1 Sparkling

You know when a baby idea gently but convincingly softly whispers in your mind: Feed me. Feeed me! The whisper gets louder, more vivid, and more impossible to reject. The idea is there to stay, to poke you in the eye until you do feed it.

A baby idea comes knocking on my door, demanding my attention.
A baby idea comes knocking on my door, demanding my attention.

This happened to me a couple of years ago. Well, several times, but this post is about a particular baby idea. I saw something that ignited the baby idea. Something I had seen before, but obviously and flatly ignored.

2 Inspiring

Once I have adopted the baby idea inspiration is everywhere. What about this structure, shape, can we please include these features, pretty please? And tassels, let’s have tassels! Says the baby idea, a bit more confident and, frankly, bossy now.

The ideas bounce around in my head 24/7 like a pinball game on the border between inspirational and overwhelming. When I come to my senses I manage to place a filter of structure and reason over the pinball ideas and sort out my favourites to knead some more.

3 Creating

So, now I have the basic building blocks of my pattern idea. In this phase I get to play with details, whole, structure and technique until I come closer to a yarn and garment design that are feasible as a knitting project. I really enjoy this part of the pattern process since it is unpretentious. It doesn’t demand or criticize. It simply allows me to refine and boil down my ideas into something unique, yet manageable.

I get to play with details, whole, techniques and structure.
I get to play with details, whole, techniques and structure.

This is the pure and innocent phases at which I have no idea of the agonizing, doubting and sweating phases that are to come.

4 Spinning

The pattern process for projects with handspun yarn is a bit different than projects using commercial yarn. First of all, I need to create the yarn I need for my project, which makes the process a bit longer and more adventurous. Second of all, I can’t expect a group of test knitters to go through a whole wool process to spin for and finally knit a garment I have chosen for them. And finding and testing a commercial yarn that looks and works kind of like my handspun just to have a commercial yarn reference doesn’t serve me.

I still want to design, though, so I have decided to set my own rules for designing for handspun. Without commercial yarn and without test knitters.

The final yarn design for a knitting pattern that was published a year ago, the Selma Margau sweater.
The final yarn design for a knitting pattern that was published a year ago, the Selma Margau sweater.

I spin to show the most prominent characteristics of the fiber. At the same time, I have a project idea that lies in the other end of the pattern process journey. For the project to happen I need to create a yarn that does make the fiber justice and that works in the project.

5 Swatching

In the swatching phase of my pattern process I do my best to match the yarn with the needles and the fabric structure. With the fiber as my most important foundation I need to find a way to create a yarn that mirrors the characteristics of the fiber while at the same time working with the structure I have in mind for the fabric.

Don't skip the swatching. Don't skip the swatching. Don't skip the swatching.
Don’t skip the swatching. Really. Don’t skip the swatching.

To this comes the delicate balance between swatching enough for a desired result and not using up too much of the fiber I have before I have even started the sharp version. Usually the fiber for my idea comes from one unique fleece. When it is gone I have no more.

6 Agonizing

Ok, so the yarn is too thick/thin/loose/tight, the fabric too dense/loose/completely off, the idea totally unrealistic and my mood too cranky. This is when I need to be kind to myself and take myself back to the power of that first sparkle. Working through challenges will make my idea stronger and better. I need to go through a number of wrong doors to make sure I know which are the right doors. Agony is part of the pattern process and will take me further along the journey. Embrace the wrong doors.

7 Knitting

Once I feel some sort of harmony in yarn, technique and details I put them all together and start knitting. Hopefully I have swatched enough to avoid having to frog too much of my precious handspun yarn.

The joy of just knitting away.
The joy of just knitting away.

For this particular project I actually completed a full-scale prototype with yarn spun from a different fleece before I dived into the sharp version of the project.

8 Thinking (I’ll remember)

Ooh, this was a good solution! I’ll keep knitting for a while to see what it looks like. I don’t have to take notes, I’ll remember how I did it. The naiveté of a budding designer is endearing.

9 Wishing (I had been more thorough)

Ok, what was I thinking? It was ages ago, there is no way I can remember what I did!

10 Doubting (If this was such a good idea after all)

Why did I suggest writing a pattern for this? I’m clearly not mature enough to understand the scope of a pattern process. Who am I to make a pattern?

The symptoms of Imposter syndrome can be very cruel at this stage. Even if I have taken notes of all the stitches there is so much more than that to a pattern. You know all those practical how-to tips that make a pattern intelligible and smooth to follow. I feel an extra responsibility here since the people who do decide to knit my project will have spent time spinning for this particular design. The pattern and the description need to allow them to work confidently through the pattern.

11 Procrastinating

Oh, a new fleece, let’s explore!

Look, a kitten, let’s play!

Come on couch, lets nap!

And all of the above. Procrastinating is a skill I have exercised to near perfection. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a project hoarder. Mid-project I get an idea for another design and my mind drifts away in the luring and glittering mist of a new baby idea.

12 Dragging (my feet)

I need to get this pattern organized. Now. The longer I wait the more I will have forgotten. Perhaps if I sneak up on myself I won’t even notice I have started organizing? Yeah, let’s do that!

(feel free to loop 8–12 any desired amount of times)

13 Sweating

Designing is one thing. It will provide me with a garment that fits me. A pattern on the other hand needs all the numbers and information for others to be able to understand and create the garment. Every letter I write in that pattern description needs to be enough and necessary for the knitter to recreate my project.

WPI, wraps per inch. A very important number to remember and add in a pattern description.
WPI, wraps per inch. A very important number to remember and add in a pattern description.

Ok. Let’s do this. These are the things I need to produce, structure, calculate, proof-read and re-proof-read.

  • An introduction, where I present the background to my project, its features, the wool, yarn and inspiration. This is where I do my best to sell my project.
  • Numbers – spinning angle, grist, yarn weight, twist, wool weight, yarn length, gauge, sizes, size alterations, needles, notions, measurements, most of which I don’t consider early in the process when it would have been very becoming to have taken some simple but utterly useful notes.
  • Illustrations, simple graphics to show the shape, size and numbers of the project. Basic skills in anatomy sketching would have been charming here.
  • Charts. Just simple graphics with rows and columns filled with pretty symbols and colours. And, of course, the same information in written text. How hard can that be?
  • Terminology and abbreviations. A pattern needs to be condensed in order to allow the recipient to make sense of the content and not get lost in the forest of words. To condense a pattern you need to use established abbreviations. You need to provide the key to the abbreviations and also an explanation of the key. It’s like transporting balloons – you can either transport them all blown up. This will take up a lot of space. Or, you can transport the empty balloons together with a pump that will provide the air needed for all the balloons. Or something like that, you get the gist.
  • Photos that show the design of the garment, the knitting structure, fit, length, details and whole. Preferably in a pretty setting and on a reasonably good hair day. I’m so grateful for my husband Dan’s photo skills and artistic eye.
  • And oh, the actual pattern. A series of very condensed abbreviations in row upon row, unraveling the secrets of the design to those who have the key. The pattern is focused on the details. At this stage I need to have convinced the knitter of the whole picture to stay with me and that it will be all worth it (see the introduction point above). To proof read the pattern part is a nightmare. A comma in the wrong place can be disastrous. Thank the goddesses for tech editors.

14 Breathing (in a square)

Gathering all the parts for the pattern can be very energy consuming. Do I have all the parts the editor needs? Am I using the right software? Did I follow the templates? Did I do that umpteenth proof reading?

A perfect square to breathe in when necessary.
A perfect square to breathe in when necessary.

I’m not on top of this. I am very thankful for Kate Atherley’s book The beginner’s guide to writing knitting patterns (she also has an online course for this). It covers a lot ad keeps me a little more at ease in this part of the pattern process. But still. I’m definitely not on top of this.

Oh, let’s throw in some more procrastinating (11) here while we’re at it.

15 Submitting (slightly panicked)

I’m doing this. Now. I’m sending the 3 MB email (photos, blood, sweat and tears excluded) with the seven attachments.

In a second.

In just another second.

Now…

…-ish.

Swoosh.

(feel free to go back to 14 Breathing in a square here)

16 Obsessing (about a millisecond after submitting)

Did they get it? Can they read it? Do they like it? Will they be able to publish it? Will I be able to publish a pattern ever again?

An email lands in my inbox a couple of days later. “I was able to download and open all of the attachments. Your piece is absolutely fabulous!”

Did you hear that noise? It was my deep sigh of relief.

The obsessing phase can be active even in later phases. This blog post and the mindmap below for example may very likely be part of the obsessing phase.

Next stop on the obsessing train: The tech editor’s verdict. Choo choo!

(make your own loop cocktail of one or more of the points above. My recommendations are 9, 10, 13 and 14)

17 Missing

After having submitted the pattern it feels a bit empty. I miss my project. It has been a part of me for so long. Suddenly the work is done and I don’t know what to do with myself. The finished project is there, looking at me with big eyes. But I can’t show it off until the publication is out, which will be in another six months or so.

Just after submitting a pattern for publication I really miss my project.
Just after submitting a pattern for publication I really miss my project.

18 Resetting

Coming into and out of emotional stages always takes time for me. It is like my body and my mind aren’t in sync. But after a while, when my body has settled my mind will be able to rest in a more balanced state. Slowly, I get more susceptible to new inspiration.

A new baby idea cries for my attention.
A new baby idea cries for my attention.

One morning, when enough time has passed for me to have completely forgotten all the blood, sweat and tears I have shed through the previous pattern process, I wake up with a faint but very vivid baby idea. It whispers softly in my ear: Feed me. Feeeed mee! And so I begin a new pattern process journey (see 1 sparkling above). How hard can it be? Well, it’ll be a bumpy ride. But always worth it.

Thank you K and the gang for believing in me.

Feel free to use the mindmap chart below for your own pattern process. Perhaps you have titles or doodles of your own to add.

To make the pattern process clearer I have made a mindmap for you to follow.
To make the pattern process clearer I have made a mindmap for you to follow.

Have a look at my previous patterns:

And if you haven’t already, do listen to the latest episode of the Fiber Nation podcast, “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t knit that” about AI knitwear design. It’s hilarious.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Book review: Keepers of the sheep

Keepers of the sheep – knitting Morocco's High Atlas and beyond, by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n'Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddylymy. Photo published with permission from the author.

Today I give you a book review. I have read the lovely and important book Keepers of the sheep – knitting in Morocco’s High Atlas and beyond by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n’Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddelymy.

I have been wanting to read this book ever since I learned that it had been published (in December 2020), and a couple of weeks ago I finally got around to actually ordering it, from Retrosaria Rosa Pomar in Portugal (you can also buy the book from Irene’s U.S. Etsy store). I had it in my mailbox only a week after I ordered it.

Keepers of the sheep is a beautiful book, both in its appearance and its content. In the book we get to follow Irene’s journey and exploration in knitting, story and history in Morocco’s High Atlas. We also get to peak at sheep, shepherding, spinning and wool. The book is built up of stories and portraits of the landscape and the people, knitting patterns and a historical journey back in time to possible origins of knitting.

Story

We begin the book in Irene’s own first encounter with the landscape and the people of Morocco’s High Atlas. We get to see the vast landscape through her eyes. For a moment I am there with her, getting a first taste of the soft, still vibrant colours. Page by page we get to follow Irene as she comes closer to the people in the village. She finds men who show her their knitting traditions and teach her to knit some of the garments that we can enjoy in the book.

Irene’s story

To prepare for this review I asked Irene a bit about her own background and how she ended up in Morocco and writing a book about knitting traditions. She tells me that she came to the country as a language student and later to teach at the university. On yet another visit she began working with artisans and shepherds in the village of Timloukine.

Keepers of the sheep – knitting Morocco's High Atlas and beyond, by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n'Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddelymy. Photo published with permission from the author.
Keepers of the sheep – knitting Morocco’s High Atlas and beyond, by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n’Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddelymy. Photo published with permission from the author.

During this work they realized the importance of the knitting skills of the shepherds and artisans. Irene says that the branch of the knitting family tree the book covers doesn’t get much mention in the knitting books. The knowledge has traditionally been passed down orally and through observations which would be another reason why this book is so important. A book like Keepers of the sheep would also be a means to help the community promote traditional crafts like sock knitting that is usually practiced by women. She also says that the book indeed has inspired many of the women to learn to knit from their fathers and grandfathers.

At the moment Irene is researching for an upcoming project that she hopefully will be able to share soon. I can’t wait!

History

In the past part of the book we get to follow Irene on a trail back in time to possible origins of knitting traditions in North Africa. Decade by decade we get clues to the knitting riddle of North Africa, starting with World War II, going back through the colonial period, and to medieval Egypt. Through various periods of migration, linguistic clues, cross cultural pattern similarities, designs and styles Irene describes a possible scenario of the origins of knitting in the area and perhaps even of the origins of knitting in the western world. An interesting aspect here is that Sara Wolf makes a similar journey through knitting history in the book Knit (spin) Sweden, and ends up in an Egyptian sock as a clue to a possible knitting origin in North Africa.

In this section Irene dives into the archives to look at textile fragments and images and creates designs inspired by historical patterns, techniques and period garments.

Oral tradition

Knitting in Morocco’s High Atlas starts with the yarn, the need and the needles you have. There is a framework of knitting and detail techniques, but as a knitter you need to make the decisions of yarn weight, needle size, gauge and size while you knit. You try as you go. Again and again.

I realize that it must have been a challenge for Irene to explain the orally transfered try-as-you-go description in a written form for a chart and detailed oriented audience. I think she does this in a lovely and balanced way, maintaining the respect of the oral traditions while being at the same time very pedagogical toward her audience.

An advantage of a perspective that starts with the material you have is how perfect it is for handspun yarn. A framework of techniques instead of step by step instructions seems to open the doors to experimentation and a sense of freedom.

Wool and spinning

In the High Atlas the tradition is that men knit while keeping the sheep and women spin. The spindles are long floor supported spindles that the spinner spins while sitting on the floor. The yarn seems to be mainly for weft and pile in rugs, but some older women also spin for knitting.

Spinners in the village of Timloukine. Photo published with permission from the author.
Spinners in the village of Timloukine. Photo published with permission from the author.

If you look at Irene’s Instagram you can see a few videos with very talented spinners dancing the wool into soft and airy woolen yarn from cloud-like carded batts. It looks as though they are effortlessly breathing out the yarn through their relaxed fingers. It is truly mesmerizing to watch. When they ply the yarn they roll the shaft outward along the underarm, a technique I haven’t seen before.

 When I ask Irene about the wool from the local sheep she says she thinks it is similar to a Cheviot she has spun when it comes to softness, texture, drafting length, and behaviour on the spindle. High Atlas sheep are as fare as she knows not dual coated but do have a bit of kemp. She describes the wool as having a dry, airy quality and is not overly strong or weak.

If you want to dive deeper into the spinning in Morocco’s High and Middle Atlas you can read Irene’s lovely article in the Supported spindle issue of PLY magazine. She does a very good job of describing the spinning techniques used in the area.

Irene has an Etsy shop where she sometimes is able to sell both wool, yarn and spindles. I am hoping to be able to buy a spindle if they become available.

Knitting patterns

Scattered through the book are lovely knitting patterns, all written in a try-as-you-go fashion using the material and tools you have at hand. The patterns come both from the techniques Irene learned from the knitters she met and from garments and fragments she has found when researching the knitting history in the area.

Tqasher Jadeed socks

The first pattern in the book is a pair of socks. I don’t see myself as a sock knitter, but I can see that the engineering of these is different than the models I have seen. As with all the other patterns in the book the pattern is built up as a try-as-you-go process where you need to be confident enough to trust your instincts when it comes to the fit. All of the parameters – needles, yarn thickness and numbers – are sort of fluid in a very compelling way. It looks very liberating to just go! The technique for toes and heels are there of course, but the rest is up to you to balance.

Tqasher Jadeed, new socks. A lovely pattern in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.
Tqasher Jadeed, new socks. A lovely pattern in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.

I would really like to knit the Tqasher Jadeed socks. Perhaps in a rya wool yarn.

Sirwal pants

We need to talk about the Sirwal pants. Suspender pants in broad stripes of natural black and white handspun yarn. A zig-zag stripe follows the sides of the legs to elegantly travel the passive colour along the active without floats or joins. They remind me of the first bathing suits for men – striped, covering and knit in wool.

Sirwal pants in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.
I’m fascinated by the Sirwal pants and their dazzling lightning bolt up the sides of the legs. Photo published with permission from the author.

Now, as some of you may know, I take daily baths in my nearby lake all year round. In the winter I need to dress practically – I need to stay warm in clothes that are loose and easy to put on a very cold body after the bath. Wouldn’t the Sirwal pants be just heavenly ideal for this purpose? I long to spin this yarn, on a spindle from the High Atlas if possible, and knit straight off the spindle. Raw, improvised and simple. I have the perfect candidate for the job. Gunvor the Gestrike sheep, my longitudinal fleece study sheep, was born white with lots of black spots. Her first fleece will be perfect for the Sirwal pants. I can’t wait to knit those vertical zig-zag side stripes.

Historically inspired patterns

In the historic section of the book Irene creates designs inspired by textile fragments, traditional garments and art in the area. Hats, socks, belts, a bath mitt and complex but ingenious multi-colour intarsia details.

Lovely belts in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.
Lovely belts in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.

After the historical journey Irene takes us on towards the end of the book she writes (p. 118):

“Rather than solely focusing the narrative on Muslim Arab expansion across the continent, the evidence available to us raises the importance of investigating the role indigenous Amazigh people may have played the dissemination and possibly even development of knitting. It challenges us to consider North Africa not as a passive recipient to cultural influences from abroad but an active player in the evolution and transmission of knitting between continents and peoples.”

There is so much we can learn from this book and from the, in my western perspective, very fresh framework that comes from the oral tradition and try-as-you-go technique. The techniques and perspective constitute an key foundation of knitting history. Keepers of the sheep plays an important part in spreading this perspective. Thank you Irene and the artisans and shepherds in the book for sharing this knowledge with us.

Part of the earnings from the sale of the book is donated to the women’s cooperative Cooperative Ibilou. The cooperative works with community development projects benefitting citizens of the village Timloukine. When you buy the book you will be part of spreading the knowledge of an oral tradition while at the same time contributing to keeping the tradition alive and sustainable for textile artists in the High Atlas area.

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Wool combs

Every now and then people ask me for advice on spinning and wool processing tools. In this post I try to break down the properties of wool combs and what they do for the combing, the comber and the combed.

There are many aspects to consider when it comes to wool combs. For me, the most important thing is that they

  • do their job while being
  • gentle to the wool and
  • gentle to the comber.

The job of wool combs

I use my comb for three things mainly:

  • arranging fibers parallel and draw them off in a top
  • separating undercoat from outercoat (and in the next stage draw the outercoat off in a top)
  • teasing wool before carding.

For smooth combing the tines need to be properly aligned in the tine insertion. I have seen home made combs where this is not the case. With the tines haphazardly arranged the tines will get tangled in each other and the combing motion interrupted. The tines also need to be secured in the tine insertion.

The length of the tines need to be equal to or slightly higher than the width of the tine setup on the handle. This way the comber will be able to use all the tines on the combs. If the setup is wider than the length of the combs some tines will be unused and take up unnecessary space and weight.

Being gentle to the wool

The tips of the tines need to be sharp enough to cut through the mass of the wool. If they are too blunt the comber needs to put more force into the combing. This may lead to broken fibers and/or strain for the comber. The tines need to be sturdy to be able to withstand the resistance of the wool mass. If they are too thick, though, the comber again needs to put more force into the combing which may put strain on the comber and break fibers.

Three different sized two pitched combs. The mini combs have 17 tines/10 cm in one row, the minimidi combs 21 tines/10cm in one row and the maxi combs 13 tines/10 cm in one row.

The distance between the tines should be adapted to the kind of wool you comb. Smaller distance for fine wools and larger distance for coarse wools.

Being gentle to the comber

The weight of the combs is important. The combs need to be sturdy enough to, again, be able to withstand the resistance of the wool mass. Still, light enough for the comber to be able to comb comfortably.

As discussed above the tines need a certain sharpness for a smooth motion, but without the risk of breaking skin.

I prefer combs made of wood. The natural material feels comfortable in my hands and it is a renewable source. With an ergonomically designed handle the comber will be able to comb for longer periods of time without strain.

For larger combs I like the tines to be a bit tilted toward the handle side. This makes the combing motion a bit smoother – the shape of the tines sort of follow the circular motion of the combing action.

My wool combs

When people ask me about wool combs I always give them the same answer: Hand made combs by the Swedish maker Gammeldags (with an online web shop in Swedish and English). All the Gammeldags wool combs are unique and made in local Swedish woods. They are balanced in the appearance as well as in the hand.

My five pairs of wool combs, all by Gammeldags.
My five pairs of wool combs, all by Gammeldags.

For the record, I don’t get paid for this post. I just like these combs so much and want to share them with the world and why I like them so much. If this post leads to more sales for the maker I will be happy for the maker for the sale and for the buyer for the joy it will bring them to work with high quality wool combs.

Before I introduce you to my Gammeldags combs I would like you to meet the person behind them.

The Gammeldags story

In preparing to write this post I contacted Birgith Lundgren, the designer of Gammeldags (which translates to Old fashioned). I asked her to share the story of the combs she and her husband Pelle design, make and sell. Pelle is a blacksmith by trade, and he makes the combs and the other tools they sell.

Way back when

Birgith started her career as a physiotherapist and ergonomist, both in private and public health care organizations. In 1998, when she had worked for a few years as a manager in a public health care organization with lots expectations and little resources, she resigned and started her own company, Gammeldags. In her business she sold her hand woven textiles and taught weaving. She also started to explore spinning. At one occasion she came across wool combs from Eastern Europe. These were large and heavy and cumbersome to work with. As the problem solver she is she knew there must be some way to make wool combs that had a more user friendly design.

A wool comb embryo

Back then she was a beginner spinner and developed her skills while at the same time working on understanding what the wool combs should do and how they could be designed to meet these expectations and still be user friendly. Over the years Birgith and Pelle have developed wool combs that are designed for the wool combing as well as for the wool comber. Every suggestion for improvement has been meticulously tested with the wellbeing of the wool comber as a first priority. In 2011 they started selling the wool combs online.

Quality and inspiration

To keep the high quality and their own health they work slowly and methodically. For Birgith the inspiration is the most important thing in working with the tools she sells. If the web shop is empty the customer needs to kindly wait. Birgith and Pelle don’t work by the demand from customers, they work by inspiration for making high quality tools. And it’s all worth the wait – my combs are wonderful tools that I treasure. I use them in my own work as well as on my spinning courses.

Two pitched mini combs

  • Weight: 112 g (one comb)
  • Setup width for tines: 6 cm
  • Tine height: 6 cm
  • Tines per 10 centimeters (of one row): 18
  • Handle length: 14 cm
  • Bought: 2014
The first set of combs I ever bought was a pair of two pitched mini combs, in 2014.
The first set of combs I ever bought was a pair of two pitched mini combs, in 2014.

The first pair of combs I bought was a pair of two pitched mini combs, back in 2014, perhaps earlier. You can see that they have been used a lot. By me as well as by my students. Still, they work just as smoothly as the day I bought them.

The mini combs are lightweight and small enough to work with in your lap. The handles are comfortable to hold and I can work for a long time. I don’t get tired or strained when I use any of my mini combs..

The two pitched mini combs weigh a little more than the single pitched for obvious reasons, but this is not an issue. I use the two pitched combs when I want to separate undercoat from outercoat. If you only have one pair of combs you can still perform both tasks with both kinds of combs.

When you buy mini combs, or combs meant to use one in each hand, be sure to check the weight of the combs. This is what you will work with, plus the resistance of the wool. The heavier the combs the more you need to work and, consequently, the shorter time you will be able to work without strain or fatigue.

Single pitched mini combs

  • Weight 93 g (dark wood), 106 g (light wood). The weight refers to one comb.
  • Setup width for tines: 6.5 cm
  • Tine height: 7.5 cm
  • Tines per 10 centimeters: 17
  • Handle length: 14 cm (dark wood), 14.5 cm (light wood)
  • Bought: March 2018 (dark wood), July 2020 (light wood)

I have two pairs of single pitched combs, one in light wood and one in dark wood. The dark wood is actually not local at all – the dark combs are made of mahogany that Birgith got from a retiring woodworker in the neighbourhood. For myself I only need one pair of single pitched mini combs, but on my courses these are very popular so I bought a second pair last year. As you can see from the fact lists the single pitched combs (bought 2018 and 2020) have slightly different measurements compared to the two pitched combs above (bought 2014). This is a sign of Birgith’s constant work with design improvement. I use the single pitched combs if I want to keep undercoat and outercoat together in a top.

I use mini combs when I want to feel the flow of the crafting process.

If I would have to choose one type of combs it would be the mini combs. Using the lightweight combs in my lap can give me the same feeling of flow as spinning. The circular motion with the hands and the feeling of the fibers agains my skin as I draw the wool off the comb become a familiar choreography. I can bring my mini combs wherever I like and comb on a rock in the forest. With the mini combs I feel closer to the wool than with combs with a combing station (described below). For obvious reasons the mini combs don’t take as much wool in one load as the larger combs.

Maxi combs with combing station

  • Weight: 262 g (one comb)
  • Setup width for tines: 10 cm
  • Tine height: 11.5 cm, bended tips.
  • Tines per 10 centimeters: 13 (of one row)
  • Handle length: 15 cm
  • Bought: July 2018

The second pair of combs I bought was the maxi combs with a combing station. The sets with combing stations are work horses that will give you larger quantities of wool combed than with the mini combs. Another advantage of the station sets is that I can hold the free comb with both hands. That way my hands can share the strain. However, they also need a surface to fasten the station onto (and a pair of clamps).

The combing station on a rainy day and a period drama is the loveliest combo.
The combing station on a rainy day and a period drama is the loveliest combo.

I use the maxi combs with medium to coarse wools. I don’t get the same flowing feeling with the station sets. But they do get the job done quicker. I tend to watch a series while I use these. With an adjustable table I can choose to sit or stand.

Minimidi combs with combing station

  • Weight: 241 g (one comb)
  • Setup width for tines: 8 cm
  • Tine height: 10 cm, bended tips.
  • Tines per 10 centimeters: 21 (of one row)
  • Handle length: 13.5 cm
  • Bought: 2019

A year after I bought the maxi combs with station I got the minimidi combs with station. As you can see the station has changed a bit through Birgith’s work with design improvement. The new design is sleeker and require less wood, but the function is the same.

The distance between the tines is actually smaller on the minimidi combs 21 tines/10 cm) than on the mini combs (17 tines/10 cm). Due to the smaller distance between the tines the minimidi combs are heavier than the maxi combs, despite the smaller size. The minimidi combs work well with fine to very fine wools.

Video resources:

Happy combing!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

3D printed charkha

In a previous post I reviewed a pair of 3D printed combs from Joseph Bjork at Good and Basic. Today I review a 3D printed charkha from the same maker.

For more background to this review, read the first sections of the post about the 3D printed combs.

3D printed charkha

The designs are free for anyone with access to a 3D printer, but Joseph also sells his products in his Etsy shop. Joseph wrote that he was shocked at the price of spinning tools. He deeply enjoys fiber arts and wants everyone who is interested to be able to spin. The idea with the 3D printed tools is to offer a cheap alternative to more expensive spinning tools for a new spinner who wants to have a go at the craft.

The 3D printed charkha ready for spinning.
The 3D printed charkha ready for spinning.

I have never used a charkha before and have nothing to compare with when it comes to the tool. However, I am an intermediate to experienced spinner, I have spun cotton and know the spinning technique required. I have been wanting to try a charkha for a while now, though, and this is the perfect opportunity for me to see if I like it. In this sense I’m a good candidate for Joseph’s 3D printed charkha – a charkha beginner who wants to try but not spend too much money. The 3D printed charkha costs $30.

So, here is my review, beginning with a short version:

  • Can I produce yarn with it? Yes.
  • Is it safe to use? Yes.
  • Does it give me a feeling of flow as I use it? Not really.
  • Does it inspire to learn more about charkha spinning? Yes.
  • Would I recommend it to a new spinner? Yes and no.

Assembly

When I opened the bag with the 3D printed parts for the charkha there was no assembly instruction. On a little note in the package there was a link to the Good and Basic YouTube channel where there is an assembly video named I designed 3D printed book charkha. There is also another video where Joseph shows how he uses the Charkha.

The parts for the charkha (including three spindles) look much like the parts of a conventional charkha, only in a different material. Contrary to the wool combs, the metal parts are made of welding rod and give the charkha a balanced look. By assembling the parts on a wooden surface the 3D printed material makes less of a visual disturbance than the 3D printed combs.

Joseph had included some flat rubber bands for the smaller whorl, but the spindle wobbled too much with this solution, making the rubber bands fold and slide off quite often. Instead I used cotton string for both the large and small wheel, which worked better for me. When looking at videos of traditional charkhas, cotton string seems to be used for both the larger and smaller whorls. I think a less elastic rubber (and rounded) band may work too for the larger whorl, but I didn’t have that. After having read this review Joseph is considering changing the included rubber bands.

To keep the charkha steady I clamped it to a table with C-clamps.

Fiber and preparation

To try this charkha I use cotton that has been grown in a botanical garden here in Sweden. I have ginned it myself and carded into rolags with fine (108 tpi) hand cards. For a demonstration of this, watch this video where I prepare cotton for spinning.

Cotton grown in Sweden, ginned and carded by me.

Weight

The 3D printed parts in the charkha are very lightweight. Without resistance the spindle spins very fast. However, with the slightest resistance there are issues.

The knot on the drive band tends to stop the spinning or just glide around the whorl. This happens particularly often where the string goes around the mini whorl on the spindle shaft. When I make the draft the drive band also tends to slide instead of drive the whorls. The more I fill the spindle with yarn the more resistance the cop brings, which makes the rolling onto the spindle tougher. The whorls in a traditional charkha are typically made of wood, which give them a bit more counter-resistance to talk back to the resistance of the drafting.

Communication

In all spinning there needs to be a communication between the hands and the fiber. With this 3D printed charkha this is vital. Since the lightweight charkha is so sensitive to resistance the spinner needs to listen very carefully to the fiber to be able to spin the yarn. I find I need to slack the yarn slightly when the whorl get stuck to get it unstuck. When I see a slub I need to stop to open up the twist before I can go on. With a (wooden) charkha that can take the resistance I wouldn’t need to stop – I could simply add length to the yarn and allow the twist to distribute itself more evenly.

When the thread is to my liking I can add twist with no problem – this part of the spinning process doesn’t involve resistance that will stop the flow. But as I roll the yarn onto the spindle there is resistance again and I need to find solutions to get the yarn onto the spindle without too much extra work. Driving the smaller whorl works better for me than the larger whorl, especially when the spindle has more yarn on it.

This starting and stopping stops the flow of the spinning. And, as I argued in the review of the 3D printed combs, the flow is such an important part of the spinning process. When I don’t get that feeling of flow my inspiration to continue fades. Spinning to me is most of all a process, not just the resulting yarn.

Even if I’m a beginner at charkha spinning I need my overall spinning experience to understand what I need to do when the whorls stop or the drive band glides in the whorls. I need to understand spinning, fiber preparation and how the longdraw works.

Conclusion

A lot of the issues with the 3D printed charkha seem to have to do with the weight of the components. It influences the flow and experience of the spinning, something I talked about in the review of the wool combs as well. Again, I have no previous experience with charkha spinning or with other charkhas so I can definitely be doing things wrong.

So, to the question if I can produce yarn with the charkha the answer is yes. The process isn’t chafe free, though, mainly because of the lightweight parts. Therefore I wouldn’t recommend it to a new spinner. There are so many things that stop the process along the way. For someone like me, with enough spinning experience to trouble shoot and to understand what is happening I would recommend it as a way to try charkha spinning before deciding to buy a charkha that costs considerably more money but also works considerably smoother.

The 3D printed charkha has given me an appetite for a wooden charkha. I have seen a lovely Japanese foldable bamboo charkha, but I haven’t yet figured out how to purchase it. If you know anything about it, please let me know. The principle seems to be the same as Joseph’s charkha – spinning possibilities for everyone at a low cost. The key, for me at least and just as in the case of the 3D printed combs, is how low the cost can sink before the product looses vital functions functions.

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

3D printed combs

3D printed comb handles with nails as tines.

In May I got an email from Joseph Bjork at Good and Basic. He has developed a 3D printed charkha and 3D printed combs. He wanted to send these to me in exchange for a review in a blog post. This first review is about the combs.

The designs are free for anyone with access to a 3D printer, but Joseph also sells his products in his Etsy shop. Joseph wrote that he was shocked at the price of spinning tools. Furthermore he says he deeply enjoys fiber arts and wants everyone who is interested to be able to spin. The idea with the 3D printed tools is to offer a cheap alternative to more expensive spinning tools for a new spinner who wants to have a go at the craft. The 3D printed combs cost $31.25.

Hesitation

I read Joseph’s email several times. I honestly didn’t know how to reply. To me, the experience of the tools are as important for the process as the experience of the process. I want to feel the wood in my hands as I prepare my wool, something I won’t get with 3D printed tools. I have seen lots of 3D printed cross-arm spindles with perfect balance and great reviews. However, I have never been interested in these for that particular reason – the sensation of the material in my hand.

At the same time I’m intrigued by Joseph’s view that anyone who wants to should be able to learn how to spin and prepare their wool without having to pay a fortune. To me, hand crafted spinning tools are not expensive. They cost a lot of money, but they are hand made by professionals and cost accordingly. A lot of money, yes, but not expensive. Still, not everyone has enough money to spend on spinning equipment.

Experience

When I looked at the images of Joseph’s 3D prints I could see aspects of them that I knew would be potential problems. I have a lot of experience combing wool – I have combed my way through at least 30 whole fleeces plus another 30 parts of fleeces and lots of teasing with combs. Also, I teach wool processing and know what I want in a pair of combs.

Brutal honesty

I still didn’t know how to reply. Therefore I decided to let Joseph make the decision for me. I listed all my concerns in a bullet list – about the material, the issues I saw with the combs, how expensive it would be to send me the combs and that I would be brutally honest and transparent in a blog post. I also offered to send my review to him without a post in case I didn’t like them.

He appreciated my feedback and still wanted me to try the combs and post a review on my blog. He has received this review of the combs before I published it. So here it is, beginning with a short version:

  • Can the combs produce a top? Yes.
  • Are they safe to use? Not necessarily.
  • Do they give me a feeling of flow as I use them? No.
  • Do they inspire to learn more about combing? No.
  • Would I recommend them to a new spinner? No.

3D printed combs

3D printed wool combs in action
My friend Cecilia is combing some rya wool with the 3D printed wool combs. A pair of my regular combs in the background.

I had my friend Cecilia over for a spinning date and we decided to try the combs together. That way both of us could review them. We could also discuss the combs and further refine our thoughts.

Assembly

The combs came as two 3D printed handles and a bag of nails. There wasn’t much of a description in the package, but there is a video link in the Good and Basic Etsy shop where Joseph shows how he assembles the combs and how he uses them. As I got the combs directly from Joseph without going via the Etsy page, I didn’t see the video until after we had assembled the combs.

3D printed comb handles with nails as tines.
3D printed comb handles with nails as tines.

Since we hadn’t retrieved the instructions we tried different ways. At first we just hammered the nails into the handles. Some were a bit loose and some firm. We decided to add some glue, just underneath the nail heads. It didn’t work optimally. For the second row we glued in the holes before we put the nails in. This resulted in glue all over the nails as they pushed through the gluey holes. We realized that we hadn’t thought very carefully before we tried this. But we also realized that this could happen to anyone. So a clear written description together with the components would have helped here.

Weight and weight distribution

With two rows of nails the combs weigh 240 grams each. This is the same as my midi and maxi combs that I use with a combing station (and that leaves both hands free to hold the active comb). The 3D printed combs are designed to be used without a combing station, though, which makes 240 grams in each hand. For comparison, the mini combs I use privately and in my classes weigh around 100 grams each. 240 grams is manageable. However, each nail weighs over 9 grams, so of the 240 grams the nails weigh 200 grams. Add to this that the nails are outside the hand as you comb. Since a large part – 200 grams – of the 240 grams is outside the hand the 3D printed combs feel even heavier.

Because of the uneven weight distribution the movement of the combs in the combing process gets uneven. As I watched Cecilia comb with a vertical circular motion the active comb almost fell on the way down and struggled on the way up. I have done a lot of combing and consider myself a reasonably experienced comber, but I am not tempted to comb a whole fleece with combs of this weight and weight distribution. I don’t think a beginner would either.

Nails

The nails are quite thick, around 3.5 mm, hence the weight. When Joseph first contacted me I looked at the pictures of the combs and suggested that he made them with thinner tines. He had considered this, but the material and work it required would make the combs cost more, which was against his vision of combs at a low cost. But apart from the weight and weight distribution discussed above, the width of the nails make the combs cumbersome to use. When Cecilia and I assembled the combs we started with a single row of nails. As we combed there were lots of lumps and we needed to comb a lot more passes than we usually do. There were still a lot of lumps left in the resulting top, plus a lot of waste. When we added the second row the result was more satisfying and with an acceptable amount of waste.

I comb to organize the fibers parallel. I also comb to remove vegetable matter, nepps and second cuts and to open up the fibers. The width of the nails in combination with the distance between them isn’t optimal for a satisfactory result in these aspects.

To avoid tear on the fibers I want to comb with large movements in the periphery of the wool, especially when the staples are long. With these combs it feels awkward and heavy. The nails don’t allow the wool to slide smoothly between them. Therefore I need to comb closer to the nails, which leads more tear on the fibers.

Cecilia pointed out that the tapering of the nails felt too abrupt. She would have preferred a softer tapering. From Joseph’s perspective I think a custom made tapering would make the combs cost too much.

Handles

As I wrote in the beginning I am very reluctant to plastic, which I told Joseph when he first wrote to me. He assured me that the material is biodegradable and made of fermented starches, which of course is a good thing. Still, I personally prefer working with wood. The sensation of holding the tools is as important to me as the spinning process. These handles don’t give me that feeling.

Cecilia and I were also concerned about static electricity. The air in Sweden is dry, especially in the winter and more dry the further north you get. The material in the handles may increase this static electricity, making the wool tentacle out in all directions and thus leading to more tear on the fibers.

The handles are square in the shape and not very comfortable to hold, at least not for a long time. Cecilia adds that she wants to be able to flip the handle of the active comb to achieve a more even fiber distribution. The edges of the handles in combination with the weight in the periphery of the combs makes this action difficult and awkward.

Setup

When I saw the pictures of the combs I saw that the setup of the tines/nails was off. For an effective combing the length of the tines need to be sightly longer than the width of the tine setup. In this case the with is about 3 nails too wide. When I pointed this out to Joseph he said it was possible to change the design to accommodate this request, so this may already have been changed.

The combs are quite easy to assemble with just a hammer and some glue. However, there is a risk that the row of nails becomes uneven. Even if the person assembling the combs is super careful, the little ridge underneath the nail head will prevent the nails from coming all the way to the handles. Cecilia, even had a fancy name for this – Smidesskägg, forging beard. The consequences of the ridge will influence the smoothness of the combing.

Risk of injuries

These combs are heavy. More than that, the weight is unevenly distributed. The combing motion becomes arrhythmic. Because of the weight and the uneven weight distribution there is a risk that the user either misdirects the motion of the combing or drops the comb. Either way there is a higher risk of breaking skin than with combs with a more even weight distribution, perhaps even more so for a beginner.

Flow and inspiration

I have the opportunity to buy high quality spinning tools that I like and not think too much about the price. I realize that not everybody has this luxury. There are tools available at mid-range prices too. I consider the 3D printed combs to be in a low-range price category. But the low price comes with a price too.

Let me tell you a story from when I first started spinning: I went to an evening class in hand spinning. We got the opportunity to buy the hand cards and the suspended spindles that the organizer provided. The shaft of the spindle available was 15 mm in diameter and the spindle weighed 93 grams. This is unnecessarily large and bulky for a suspended spindle. I think I payed around 10 or 12 Euros for it, which I consider a low-range price for a spindle. It worked to spin on, but the process wasn’t very enjoyable. I wasn’t eager to learn more about spindle spinning at the time. Instead I tried a (modern) spinning wheel and eventually bought one of my own. It wasn’t until a few years later that I went back to spindle spinning, with lighter and more easy-to-use spindles.

So, what I mean by telling this story is that the 3D printed combs do their job, just like the 93 gram spindle did. But the process is not enjoyable. There are too many adjustments I need to make as a spinner to get the combs (or the 93 gram spindle) to do their job. I want to work with tools that are constructed to suit my body and the technique they are designed for, not accommodating my technique to the construction of the tools. I fear that a beginning spinner who buys combs like these will soon tire of them and buy commercially prepared top rather than discover the beautiful world of processing wool with hand tools. A new spinner usually doesn’t know that combing can be as enjoyable a process as spinning. My guess is that they would buy the combs that were available at their price range. The experience with these first combs would probably form the new spinner’s experience with and attitude to combing.

Conclusion

So if the question is whether it is possible to produce a top with the 3D printed combs the answer is yes. If you ask me if I enjoy the process the answer is no. The combs don’t feel gentle to either hands or wool. To me spinning is a mindful and oftentimes meditative process through all the steps – sorting, washing, teasing, combing/carding, spinning and plying. I want the tools I use and teach with to assist me in the process. I want to enjoy the tools in my hands and using the tools. With the 3D printed combs this is not the case. The material, even if it biodegradable and made of starches, doesn’t feel alive and gentle in my hands. The motion doesn’t make my hands and arms dance as they do with my other tools.

Consequently, I would not recommend these combs to a new spinner. Coming back to the price range I discussed above there is a mid-range that I would recommend a new spinner with a limited tool budget. I don’t think the low price on these combs is worth the effort in the combing process and the lack of flow and inspiration when using them. Just as there is an alternative to the 93 gram spindle at a mid-range price, there is an alternative to the 3D printed low-range priced combs. I would rather recommend the new spinner to practice with dog combs before investing in tools that are more user friendly, more adapted to the process and potentially result in a high quality combed top and a smooth combing experience.

Thank you Cecilia for helping me reviewing the combs. And thank you Joseph for giving me an opportunity to articulate for myself what I want from a pair of combs.

Coming up: Review of a 3D printed charkha.

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Old blog post: A fleece meditation

I’m still enjoying my summer holidays. New blog posts are therefore scarce. Today I give you an old blog post: A fleece meditation. Join me in this tribute to the soft and airy fleece of the Gestrike sheep Elin.

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Old blog post: Twist model

One of the most foundational techniques I use and teach in spinning is opening up the twist. To understand this myself I gave birth to what I call the Twist model a couple of years ago. This is one of the first things I teach students on my courses and I believe it helps them understand what it does for the spinning quality as well as for the comfort of the spinner. In this old post of the Twist model I give you lots of examples of how and when I use it.

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Old sheets

My parents still have monogrammed sheets, table cloths and towels from when they got married in 1965. When I moved to my own apartment as a 20-year-old I got some of them with me. They have started to look a bit worn now, but they have served us well during all these years. Today I celebrate old sheets.

We spent last week in a rented cabin in Tiveden, between the two largest lakes in Sweden. As a city woman I obsess over flea markets and second hand stores whenever I get to the countryside or smaller cities. Stockholm doesn’t have what I’m after: Old textiles, especially bed linen.

Flea markets

There is a large flea market a 45 minute drive from the cabin. Last year it was closed due to the covid restrictions, so I was extra jazzed about going this year. During the past years there has been a giant table with textiles at the flea market. A woman traveling the countryside collecting old textiles from forgotten linen cabinets runs the table and has a trained eye for the good stuff. Previous summers I have bought sheets and pillowcases of remarkable quality, some hand woven. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were over 100 years old.

The textile table at the flea market the first time I saw it a few years ago.

A dream of the future

The material of the old sheets is thick and dense and filled with the promise of a good night’s sleep. Most of the sheets have monograms and some lace edgings and embellishments. Some are hand sewn, some even hand woven. You can barely see the mid seam that joins the left and right side of the weaves of a narrow hand loom.

A hand woven monogrammed and laced sheet. Can you see the vertical center seam?

Who made those monograms and laces? What was going through her mind as she stitched them? How late at night did she work with the needle? What were her dreams of the future? Did she sleep happily on her sheets? Did it occur to her that some of her sheets would be forgotten and some cherished by new generations?

Hand woven cotton/linen towels. Since there are pieces of cellulose in the linen threads my guess is that the linen yarn was hand spun from someone’s hand processed flax.

The sheets my parents got back in 1965 were store bought. My father designed the monogram and they had them machine sewn at a monogram service before the wedding. It took me many years to realize that the mysterious stitch formation was actually my parents initial letters. As a child they were just there on all sheets, as natural as the sheets themselves.

When I asked my mother about her and my father’s monogram I also asked of she could look for older family monograms in their linen cabinet. She found some from the late 19th and early 20th century from all sorts of great-great aunts.

Berta’s flax

Many of you may have heard of Berta’s flax. This is a project started by Christiane Seufferlein who got an old dowry chest from a relative to Berta, a woman who got married in Austria in the 1940’s. The chest was filled with processed flax, which worked as a security for a woman. Christiane decided to share the flax with the world and spends her free time shipping flax all over the world. Berta’s flax is long gone, but after came Maria’s, Rosa’s and other women’s flax chests.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s many of these chests were burnt since nobody was interested in their contents. Much like the old sheets I find on flea markets. But these are true treasures. Made with love, hopes and dreams and remarkable skills.

Top and bottom

Through the years on the flea market visits we have bought mainly bottom sheets – machine woven, hand woven, with or without monograms or lace. The important thing is that they are old. A lot of top sheets have been displayed on the textile table too. A top sheet is a longer sheet placed on top of the sleeper, directly under a blanket or patchwork quilt. The top of the top sheet – traditionally embellished with some sort of lace and, of course, a monogram – is folded over the top edge of the blanket.

We haven’t bothered with the top sheets for sale since we use duvets and duvet covers (I don’t even think top sheets are made anymore). But after thinking just a tiny step outside the box I realized that we could use the top sheets as bottom sheets too. Even if the pretty lace would be tucked underneath the mattress they would still be high quality old sheets.

Bad and good fortune

When we got to the flea market this year I went straight to the textile table. Only to find it empty. Empty as in she was not there at all. Not even a thread in sight. We really didn’t need more sheets, but I still love going through her textiles, imagining the lives behind all the monogrammed treasures. And she was such a textile heroine, collecting treasures and saluting women’s skills.

This year's textile harvest included four top sheets and two pillowcases, all monogrammed and laced.
This year’s textile harvest included four top sheets and two pillowcases, all monogrammed and laced.

As we came back to the cabin we went for another ride. This time to a hembygdsgård, sort of a homestead or folk museum. At the gate was a tiny table with old monogrammed sheets. Another textile heroine had saved treasures from the past. I fondled them and saw in my mind our cramped linen cabinet. The sheet section is abundant. However, the duvet covers are not enough and those we have are thinning out.

Old new duvet covers

The oldest duvet covers I have seen are from the 1960’s. Not with the bad quality of today, but still not near the quality of the older textiles. Therefore I don’t bother looking for them on flea markets. So my problem was how to get hold of high quality duvet covers without buying new ones. With another step outside the box I realized that I could make duvet covers with the top sheets! I found two reasonably matching pairs of top sheets (these were made long before standardized sheet measurements) and sewed them together into two smashing duvet covers. A little too narrow for our duvets, and with the four different monograms upside down, but still, heavenly to sleep under.

Our new old duvet covers made of old top sheets of remarkable quality.

Fast fashion

So why is the quality in old sheets so much higher than in modern sheets? Well, this is connected to the fashion industry. The pressure to buy more and new clothes every turn of the season has led to a pressure on the cotton industry. The cotton fibers are shorter to make way for more harvests. The yarn is more loosely spun and the fabrics are woven at a wider sett to save fiber.

Pillowcases

For the past 20 years or so I have slept on an Austrian giant pillow of 80×90 cm. For this reason none of the Swedish pillowcases, old or new, match my pillow. But now, as we have these dreamy pillowcases I have decided to retire my Austrian pillow and buy two Swedish size pillows instead. Filled with wool from Swedish sheep, of course. Soon I will dream sweet dreams on pillowcases thick as cardboard, tied together with sweet bowed ribbons.

A new generation

When Dan and I got married in 1998 we didn’t have monogrammed sheets. We did however get new linen sheets as a wedding present. They thinned out many years ago. We still use one of them, though, as a back curtain to a wool/linen curtain I wove a few years ago for our front door.

Our children won’t have the same memories I did of parents’ monogrammed sheet. For the past years, though they have got used to sleeping on high quality old flea market sheets. They are 16 and 18 now and will move out sooner or later. When they do I won’t get them new sheets for their new homes. I will get them old sheets.

So if you haven’t already, next time you go to a flea market, look for old sheets and bed linen. Get all you can and save these sweet treasures from oblivion.

Sleep tight!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Old blog post: The power of slowness

In the summer time I spend a lot of my spinning time with spindles. They are easy to pack, easy to bring and just a joy to use. The slowness of spindle spinning is a superpower in itself as it offers a unique opportunity to deepen your understanding of spinning mechanics and techniques. Today I invite you to an old blog post where I dive into the power of slowness and offer you some of my favourite superpowers of different kinds of spindles.

Happy spinning!

You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.