Willowing wool

Josefin Waltin sitting with a pile of wool. Locks are flying in the air around her.

Willowing wool is an ancient technique where you use two willow sticks (or some other bendy wood) to whip the wool. This helps to open up the locks, get air in to the wool and vegetable matter out.

An ancient technique

There are illustrations from the European middle ages of people willowing wool, but I can imagine the technique has been used ever since wool has been used for spinning. In my book Ull – hemligheter, möjligheter, färdigheter by Kerstin Gustafsson and Alan Waller, it says that wool beating used to be an occupation. The wool beaters usually also traded in wool, whipped it and blended to get an even quality. The finished blends would then be sold to mitten producers. Also, people would of course beat the wool in rural homes as a first step of processing their own wool.

The cover of a book. The cover has two hands with unspun wool between them. The back of a sheep in the background
Ull – hemligheter, möjligheter, färdigheter by Kerstin Gustafsson and Alan Waller. A Swedish wool rarity from 1987.

Five years ago I went to the west coast of Sweden together with my wool traveling friend Anna for a one-week spinning course. The teacher was Lena Köster, a Swedish master spinner. She taught us to whip the wool, and it was great fun.

The origin of a word

Since the technique has been performed with soft sticks, usually willow, it has been called willowing. This word root (!) has remained even after the start of the industrialism. A machine that was designated to open up the locks, remove vegetable matter and blend the wool was called a willowing machine, willy or willower. As a linguistic geek, I just love the substantial origin of the word.

The definition of the word willow, willy:
The origin of the word willow has ancient roots. From the Cassell Concise English dictionary.

Angels and devils

I was told that the flying locks used to be called angels. The higher the angels flew the more air had been let in to the wool and the better the wool was whipped. And they do look like angels – white, fuzzy  and endlessly beautiful. And, oh, another word for the willowing machine was devil. If you have ever seen a willowing machine (or a wool picker for that matter) you will understand. It looks like your average Tudor era torture tool.

The origin of a video

As it happened, I had a bunch of willow sticks lying around the house. I had made a low hurdle for a flower bed and bought willow sticks for this purpose. Yes, I shouldn’t need to buy sticks when there are lots of them in the woods, but I have made this hurdle several times with maple saplings, and it just won’t last. But I digress.

A willow hurdle around a flower bed
My sweet willow hurdle

It also happened that I had a fleece in the fleece storage (aka our sofa bed) that had a little too much vegetable matter in it. Recently, there has been lots of discussions on a facebook spinning forum about vegetable matter and the best way to get rid of it. I had suggested whipping the wool. so I had recently picked the thought up from deep within my memory storage.

Willowing wool – shooting

So, I picked a spot on our terrace to shoot a video of willowing wool, sat myself down on the floor and started willowing. It was a lot of fun. My daughter came by and helped me whip for a while. She said: ‘You look really happy, Mum, like a five-year-old who just got an ice-cream cone.’ Indeed. An ice-cream cone made of wool.

Josefin Waltin sitting on the ground, willowing wool
Willowing wool can be an adventurous affair with obtrusive angels attacking.

I shot the video from one angle unpaused. The whole uncut clip was about 50 minutes (I edited it down to four minutes). I spent a lot of that time gathering lost wool angels. There was a breeze, and I can vouch for that the time spent chasing wool increases proportionally to the increase of wind speed. This particular wind was a whimsical one, it had a hard time deciding where to blow.

Josefin Waltin sitting on the ground with wool in front of her.
Gathering lost angels

I got the music from the free music archive. Using the search words ‘fly’ and ‘high’, I found this beautiful harp piece by Anne van Schotorst. It’s called Birds came flying. I think it suited my flying angels quite well.

I hope you like the video.

Happy willowing!

 

 

Nalbinding socks

A pair of striped socks in backlight

One of my favourite textile techniques is nalbinding. I have made lots of mittens in nalbinding and showed you glimpses of the technique. In this post, though, I go a bit deeper into the world of nalbinding. This is my first pair of nalbinding socks.

An ancient technique

Nalbinding  is a simple technique where you seam with a blunt wooden or bone needle with your thumb as your gauge. It is an ancient technique, dating back at least to the Viking age, but probably further back in pre-history. It is basically a sewing technique, since the thread goes in loops through each other. There is no way to rip the seam, you have to pick it up stitch by stitch. When you are out of yarn, you simply join in a new yarn and felt it together by rolling the ends together between your palms with the addition of a little saliva. Perfect for handspun yarns! It might be a good idea to practice joins in a subtle way if you are amongst people. I am a master of subtle joins. The resulting fabric is dense and sturdy and lasts for a long time. If you waulk your project, it will basically last forever.

Stitches for all tastes

While the basic technique stays the same, there are lots of different stitches to choose from. In the beginning, I chose between the few stitches I could get access to in a leftie description. After the initial learning period, I advanced to the whole spectrum of stitches and learned how to make them from the right-handed descriptions. Lately, I have made most projects in the Dalby stitch.

Close up of nalbinding
Nalbinding close-up using the Dalby stitch. The technique leaves a sturdy fabric, perfect for socks and mittens.

I love the rhythm of the Dalby stitch – pick, pick, over, under, back in a cross and under again, hold the threads with your thumb and pull the yarn to a new thumb loop. It is like a choreographed dance. It also makes a quite dense and firm fabric, great for mittens and socks.

Here is a quick tutorial of the Dalby stitch from a leftie’s perspective.

Mittens for everyone

I have nalbound (?) several pairs of mittens for me and my family. It is quite easy, beginning with a small spiral worm, increasing until you have a suitable circumference and keep spiraling until you have reached the proper length. A hole and gusset (with decreases) for the thumb of course and then you just add the thumb. Increasing, decreasing, hole and plain stitches. The challenging part is the waulking. I’ll get to that later.

Nalbinding socks

This time I wanted to try to make a pair of nalbinding socks. The technique is the same, a spiral worm to start with, increasing until a proper circumference, plain stitch and a big hole for the heel. Continue the spiral in plain stitch until you have the desired length. The new part for me this time was the heel. I started the heel at the hole and decreased until I only had a small hole left, and then I just closed it with a few stitches.

Stripes!

I had seen lots of beautiful striped nalbound mittens and socks and decided that it was time for me to investigate that level. Also, I wasn’t sure there would be enough yarn for single colour socks. After I had made my first spiral worm, I just added another colour. With this technique, I could only bind one round at a time, until the end of the round of the previous colour. This helped me keep track of the rounds and make sure both socks looked the same (I always make both mittens/socks at the same time to keep track of my increases and decreases).

The material

I used two needles, one in bone, bought at the museum at Birka, and one in elm, which I have carved myself. It is a bit too short, but I still love it.

The white yarn is a 3-ply yarn I originally spun (woolen) for a blanket. It is a rya/finewool cross. I also used the yarn for a pair of nalbound mittens for my brother-in-law as a thank you for arranging and playing the music for my video Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl. And as it turned out, I had some yarn left. Rya wool is long and silky and finewool soft and crimpy, a good combination in a cross. The dark grey yarn is 2-ply (worsted) from a crimpy and long-stapled Shetland Eskit fleece.

Pieces of scrap yarn
The nalbinding part is over and all the ends have been woven in.

Waulking

As I wrote earlier, I have made lots of pairs of nalbound mittens. And they have all ended up too long after waulking. Only recently, it occurred to me that nalbinding material shrinks more widthwise than lengthwise. This means that I need to make the mittens proportionally wider to be able to waulk them to a proper size both lengthwise and widthwise. I can tolerate some margin of error in a pair of mittens, but socks need to fit. So, waulking the socks was a challenge.

 

A person waulking a garment on a waulking board.
Waulking away with my waulking board.

Waulking takes time at the beginning.

Close-up of a hand waulking a garment on a waulking board
Still waulking.

Lots of time.

A person waulking socks on the feet.
And waulking some more.

Suddenly, magic happens and you can see the waulked character of the fabric. I am thankful that the different yarns waulked relatively in the same manner.

A pair of waulked nalbinding socks on a waulking board.
The waulking is finished!

Final touches

I had made a slit in the top of the sock shaft to make it easier to put them on. After the socks had dried from the waulking, I added a simple blanket stitch.

A pair of striped socks hanging on a wash line
Waulked socks with a simple blanket stitch edging.

Now, my feet are ready for my hiking boots!

Featured photo by Dan Waltin

New video: Spinning around the world

Josefin Waltin spinning on a supported spindle

I made a new video: Spinning around the world. Often, you see me sitting on a stone somewhere in a Swedish fairytale forest. In this video I will visit your forests.

The conservatory

The video was shot in the Edvard Anderson conservatory at the Bergius botanical garden in Stockholm, Sweden. Edvard Anderson (b. 1865) donated his fortune to the Bergius Gardens for a conservatory of Mediterranean plants that the people of Stockholm could enjoy all year round. He also wanted a café in the conservatory, selling coffee, soft drinks, chocolates and pastries. The conservatory opened in 1995 and we have had season tickets since then.

Our son was born in 2003 and he was baptized in the entrance pond which is seen at the beginning of the video.

Spinning around the world

The conservatory is built up of seven different climate regions with the main hall dedicated to Mediterranean plants. Six smaller halls contain plants from tropical and sub tropical rain forests, tropical ferns, deserts and the area in south western Australia. I shot short clips in all of the halls, except for the Australia hall – there was nowhere to sit or place my tripod.

In the tropical hall there was also a fiber section with fiber and dye plants – ramie, New Zealand flax, different kinds of cotton, Indigo, Chinese Indigo and paper mulberry.

Chinese Indigo
Chinese Indigo in the fiber section

Lots of cotton wads were hanging from the cotton plants, enticing me with their squishiness. I asked one of the gardeners what they were doing with the cotton. I figured that if they harvested it and didn’t know what to do with it, I could adopt some of it and spin it. The answer was that they didn’t do anything with it – everything was supposed to have its natural cycle. Hence, they let everything fall to the forest floor and contribute to the natural cycle of the forest. Which of course was reasonable and logic – no cotton for me.

A cotton plant with extra-long staple cotton
Extra-long staple cotton

Longwool for embroidery

The wool I chose for this video is a beautiful shiny white lamb rya. Last August I participated in a live spinning competition. The contestants prepared and spun singles from the same wool in front of an audience for 30 minutes on spindles or wheels. The wool was this rya and we all got about 50 grams each of it. Quite generous, since I only combed three bird’s nests and spun two of them in the competition. I had nearly forgot that I had brought the rest of it home.

Two hand-combed tops and some locks of white Rya wool
Pretty bird’s nests of lamb Rya

I am planning to do some embroidery and I figured this Rya would be a perfect candidate for my embroidery yarn. I combed the fiber and made beautiful bird’s nests, almost too pretty to spin.

Long rya is not the easiest fiber to spin on a supported spindle. The fibers are very long and sleek. This means that you have to keep a good distance between the hands to be able to draft. This is not always easy. But, as with all spinning, you have to get to know the fiber before you can spin it to its full potential.

Thank you for all your kind words about my blog and videos. You are my biggest source of inspiration!

Happy spinning!

A skein of white yarn
A finished skein of Rya yarn, spun and 2-plied on a supported spindle. 101 m and 46 g, 2207 m/kg.

Överjärva farm

A red farm building.

The farm

One of my favourite sheep hang-outs is Överjärva farm just outside Stockholm. There has been a farm at Överjärva for centuries. In the beginning of the 20th century it was the biggest farm in the parish. Today it’s a city farm with sheep, horses, chickens and organic farming.

A red wooden house with black doors. A sign post in the front.
Businesses around Överjärva farm

Kulturlandskaparna is the organization that looks after the sheep and works to maintain the farm and the biodiversity in the area. This is where I first learned how to spin, where I bought my first fleece (and a few more after that) and I took a course in small-scale sheep farming.

The shepherdess

The Patron and head sheeprdess of Överjärva is Ulla. She knows all the sheep by name. If you present a fleece to her she can name the sheep just by smelling it. She is passionate about the sheep and the landscape management. She passes on the knowledge about the importance of sheep by teaching young and old as much as she can about sheep and why we need them.

Ewes and lambs
Ewes and new lambs hanging out at the farm. Photo by Anna Herting.

At the farm, Ulla teaches kids to be helper shepherds and shepherdesses. For the moment there are only helper shepherdesses, and around 10–15 years old. They learn how to take care of the sheep and are a big help at the farm. It is also evident that the helper shepherdesses grow when they learn about how to take responsibility for the sheep.

With the sheep in the pasture

People come to the farm all year round to see the sheep. They are very used to humans and most of them love to be cuddled. During the lambing period in the spring they get privacy, though, but in the end of April it was the first day visitors were allowed to go in to the pasture and cuddle with ewes and lambs. Of course I was there.

Lambs and sheep
The lambs are curious about the two-legged sheep with funny-looking fleeces.

The big sheep walk

Moving the sheep

When the lambs are big enough and the grass has grown a bit after the winter, it is time to move the sheep and their lambs to their summer pastures. This is done on the great sheep walk in late May. Visitors are invited to take part in the move and walk all the sheep families through the neighbourhood to the fresh grass in the new pasture. Of course I was there to take part in the big sheep move.

Organizing the walk

The sheep walk is a whole machinery. The sheep families are moved from the farm pasture one at a time and assigned to a human family, and they all stay around the farm until every sheep is out. Anna, her family and I were in charge of the Swedish finewool sheep Anemone (you have seen her before, in this video) and her lambs Tim, Linus and Vilda.

Josefin Waltin walking with a black and white sheep in a leash.
Walking with Anemone and her lambs. Anemone is a Swedish finewool sheep and very friendly. Photo by Anna Herting

The sheep are a bit wild and difficult to handle at the beginning of the walk, but after a while they settle down. Since the walk goes through traffic, the sheep need to be led in in leashes. One human family family taking the responsibility for one sheep family. The sheep family must be held together with the ewe just in front of her lambs and you are not allowed to pass another sheep family. There can’t be a gap in the long row of sheep families. The herd strives to be together, and if there is a gap they will start to run to cover the gap. This can have chaotic consequences in a traffic environment.

One of the most difficult tasks on the sheep walk is to keep the sheep in the middle of the lane. If they go too far to either side, they will get close to the grass and all the work with keeping the sheep orderly is wasted.

Ulla, the head shepherdess, doesn’t walk with the sheep. She goes ahead in the car and organizes things at the pasture. Instead, the helper shepherdesses are in charge of the walk. And the y do it with great skill and pride. They watch all the families along the lines and make sure everything is in order, that the ewes is just in front of her lambs, that there is no gap in the lane and are always ready to give a hand when needed. The smaller children are in charge of stopping the traffic. When a car comes on the same road or when the caravan crosses a street, the kids stand broad-legged with their arms out to the sides to stop the cars and protect the caravan. They take their task very seriously.

Dancing in the streets

It is almost like a choreographed dance to keep all the sheep in the right place in relation to their families, other families and the road. But it is a dance I am happy to entertain the audience with. And there is an audience – all along the walk are happy citizens watching with their cameras ready. For some people watching the event is something they are looking forward to all spring. It certainly is for me as a participant.

Snack time

Half-way through the walk the whole caravan stops at a big castle park for a mid-walk snack. This is vital if the sheep are going to arrive to the new pasture without sheep chaos. The walk is about 5 km, mostly on asphalt and straining for them. With a grazing break they will get enough energy to walk the last bit without trying to escape to the grass every chance they get.

Summer pastures

After about 5 km and perhaps an hour’s walk, we are finally at the summer pastures. From this moment, everything goes very fast. When all the sheep are in the pasture, they go wild. At the same time, they have to be freed from their leash collars. When that is done, the whole event is over. But for the sheep, a whole summer of grazing awaits.

Video

I made a video of the visitors in the pasture and the great sheep walk. In the photo above you can see how I have attached my phone camera with a gorilla pod wrung around my bag strap.

I published the video and blog post yesterday, but I had to unpost it due to copyright violations. I had chosen an old folk tune for the video, Hårgalåten, performed by a well known Swedish key harpist Åsa Jinder. Due to the copyright violation the video wouldn’t be able to be viewed in some countries, one of them being the U.S. So I removed the video and replaced the tune with a song by Josh Woodward, from the free music archive.

Enjoy!

2018 wool journey

Josefin Waltin spinning on a medieval spindle and distaff

In previous posts I have written about the wool traveling club. Each year we make a wool journey together. On the 2017 wool journey we visited a sheep farm and hired a professional wool classifier to teach classes for us. This weekend it was time for the 2018 wool journey.

I didn’t shoot a lot, but I managed to put together a short and silly video.

The View by the river Indal

The 2018 wool journey took place at a spin and knit retreat at a place called Utsikten (“the View”) right by the river Indal in the middle of Sweden. And my, is that a view! The way the river carves its way across the landscape is just breathtaking.

Rive rIndal
The breathtakingly beautiful view of the river Indal on the 2018 wool journey

The members of the club live in different parts of Sweden, but for me this meant a five hour journey to the north by train and bus.

Close-up of a nalbinding project, train window in the background
The wool part of the wool journey starts on the train. I’m nalbinding a pair of socks.

The site is owned by a Swedish-Tibetan family. They found it by accident last September when looking for a summer cottage and bought it without much hesitation. And one of the first events they did was a spin event in February and now this spin and knit retreat.

We lived in a tiny cottage in bunk beds. When we got there I really had to go to the loo after the long journey, but I quickly realized that I couldn’t close the bathroom door. Somehow, the wood had expanded and the door got dead stuck in the threshold, with a 20 cm wide peek hole! I was not amused. It took the owner about three hours to plane the threshold down and finally prying it off completely.

Meeting new and old friends

The annual wool journey is, of course, a chance for us to dive into a wool topic head first and get an inspiration shot for future projects. But it is also about seeing each other and being able to investigate, explore and experiment and play with wool at our own pace and level. It is really rewarding to be able to have a conversation about wool and spinning without having to explain to people basic things like where the wool comes from. I think you all know what I am talking about. We can get right into it and look at a topic from our different perspectives. It is a powerful feeling and I learn so much from these cherished moments together.

I also met new friends. One of those was E. Or, maybe she is and old friend. It sure feels like it. E was the first person I sent the traveling spindle library to three years ago. And we met for the first time now at the View. She is a talented and very humble spinner with lots of love for both wheel spinning and a wide variety of spindles.

We sat in outdoors in the afternoon sun and exchanged ideas about spinning and wool. I gave her some advice on how to spin on a Portuguese spindle and she pointed me in the right direction with my current embroidery yarn project (which may become a later post). I also got a chance to try her Balkan spindle. Spinning on a Balkan spindle is the same principle as other in-hand spindles like the French or Portuguese. It doesn’t have a spiral notch, though, but spinning semi-suspended is easy with the aid of a half-hitch. I found the spindle far too light, though, especially in the beginning when the shaft is all naked. My French and Portuguese spindles weigh around 32 g and this must have weighed half fo that. Do you have any experience with Balkan spindles? Is there trick to it?

Classes

I took two classes, in basic and advanced double knitting. The basic was no problem, after all I had done some double knitting about 8 years ago when I knit a double knitting hat for my daughter. But when it got to the advanced part (with different motifs on both sides) my brain got a little overheated.

I also taught a private class for the members of the wool traveling club in medieval style spinning with a distaff.

A person spinning on a medieval style spindle and distaff
Boel looks very cool and relaxed in the medieval spinning and distaff class. She used our thrashed bathroom threshold for a belt distaff. And that’s a beautiful drafting triangle!

It was a lot of fun and also very educational for me. I haven’t taught distaff spinning before and I got an excellent chance to learn what it is that is difficult and how I need to organize my class to give the most value to the students. There are lots of simultaneous elements in distaff spinning that somehow need to be taught linearly, which can be a challenge.

More view

Ostrich-plume feathermoss
Ostrich-plume feathermoss

We didn’t spend all the time spinning, we also got a sip of nature. The View is situated halfway up the river canyon and one morning we went for a hike uphill. It was a very steep hike through a beautiful forest.

Fishbone beard lichen
Fishbone beard lichen

I had the best guides – Ellinor has a background in forestry, Anna in herbology and Boel is a keen bird watcher. All along the path we found traces of animal life. Lots of moose tracks, droppings and bite marks.

Moose track
Fresh moose tracks
Moose bite marks on tree trunk
A hungry moose has chewed the bark off a tree.

Sadly, we didn’t get to walk all the way up to the top, since we had a class to go to and we had to turn back. But it was a beautiful morning hike.

An angel on the train

The train ride home was crowded. I sat beside an eight-year-old girl. At first, she was playing games on her iPad, I was nalbinding a pair of socks. About an hour into the train ride she said: “Your knitting is pretty!”. And we started talking. I asked her about her favourite things at school. She said that she was going to think for a while and get back to me. After a while, she said that her favourite thing at school was meeting new friends.

After another while, she added: “I also love crafting” but sadly she didn’t bring any crafting material for the train ride. I asked her if she knew how to do finger knitting. She did, and I gave her a ball of my handspun to help her fulfill her crafting needs. She started immediately. With a little help from me in Swedish and her father in Farsi, she knit away, happy as a clam. After a while and a couple of decimeters of finger knitting, she smiled and said “I also love how quiet and peaceful crafting is!”. There was a true crafting soul in her. It warms my heart that I was able to give her some crafting joy on the train.

I don’t remember her name, but she said it meant Most beautiful angel in Farsi. A good name for a girl with crafting super powers.


All in all, the 2018 wool journey was very successful. We are already planning for 2019.

A blue door

Portuguese spindle: Comments

A Portuguese spindle

In an earlier post on Portuguese spindles, I left many questions unanswered. I have looked for facts about the Portuguese spindle and spinning technique but haven’t found much. Until I got an e-mail.

Along came Alice

Alice is the owner of Saber Fazer, where I bought my Portuguese spindle. She also sells tools for flax processing, dye plant seeds, wool from local Portuguese sheep breeds, and she hosts workshops (I am not getting paid to write this). Alice was kind enough to answer many of my questions regarding Portuguese spindles and spinning. She cares deeply about the spindles and manual fiber processing. A kindred spirit.

Spindle design and function

While the spindles are made by a local drumstick maker, Alice hand carves all the spiral grooves herself. She says it is important to get the groove deep enough that the yarn stays in it. She has lots of antique spindles that she has based her design on.

Models, materials and techniques

A deep and well made groove makes it possible to spin with a short suspension. Many antique Portuguese spindles have a metal tip. Because it is made out of metal, it can be very thin. With a thin tip, the spindle will spin more rounds with one roll with the spinning hand. A metal tip rarely allows for short suspension, since the groove isn’t deep enough for the yarn to stay. However, the low friction of the metal makes it possible for the spindle to spin freely against the fingers for short moments.

spindles

In the image you can see some of Alice’s antique spindles, some of them with a metal tip. But only one of these is really good to spin with (third from the right) – it has a very neatly carved tip and a perfect weight. She says you can tell that the original owner used the spindle well.

The metal tipped spindles are very difficult to come by, though. There are antique spindles left with this design, but few of them are still spinnable. There are also modern ones, but Alice writes that they usually are made for decoration and not spinning. She has tried to make spindles with metal tips, but she hasn’t been able to make them with a groove. Yet.

To distaff or not to distaff

In Portugal, Alice writes that spinners spin both with and without a distaff. Mostly spinners who spin in-hand style without letting go of the spindle spin without a distaff. Spinning with short suspension is oftentimes done with a belt distaff. For flax spinning, you will need a distaff to keep the fiber organized.

Fiar com a D.Benta from Saber Fazer on Vimeo.

This spinner, Benta, is using a belt distaff. I am not quite sure about the spinning technique, but it seems like there are short sequences of short suspension.

Cop and belly

When I started spinning on my Portugues spindle, I was used from my medieval style spindles to start the cop quite high on the shaft. Alice writes that I will get a better momentum with the cop lower and with a more prominent belly.  In this video with Adelaide you can see the positioning and the shape of the cop.

Fiar o Linho com a Adelaide / Adelaide spinning flax from Saber Fazer on Vimeo.

You can also see that she is using a metal tipped spindle and how easily and beautifully the spindle rolls in her hand. It is such a beautiful video. I may need to get back to this video in another post on flax spinning, it is such a wonderful document of traditional flax spinning. And I do love the Portuguese language.

Spinning with a Portuguese spindle – Ilídia Oliveira from Saber Fazer on Vimeo.

In this third video with Ilidia you can see the shape of the cop with a prominent belly (in oh-so-pretty backlight). This is also an example with both long and short suspension.

In this post on Alice’s blog you can read more about the spinners and watch a few more clips of beautiful spinning and spindles.

Muito obrigada, Alice!

Two balls of yarn in backlight
Yarn in backlight. Hard to beat. Spun on a Portuguese spindle with distaff.

One year blog anniversary

A Navajo spindle. Photo by Dan Waltin

Time goes so fast – today is my one year blog anniversary. My first post was about how I started spinning. And so much has happened since then. At this moment there have been over 16600 views of the blog, which is truly mind-blowing. People from over 80 countries in all continents have visited my site and I have somehow managed to write over 90 posts.

The power of words

I started the blog to be able to write more. I have always loved shaping language with my hands and my mind. But it turned out to be so much more.

When I write, I mold new ideas, follow new paths and get the opportunity to follow my curiosity. Right now I have 15 drafts of ideas I would like to develop and blog about. Just thinking about something might get me somewhere, but writing forces me to finish a thought and develop it. When you read my posts and ask questions, comment or share your ideas it gives me the chance to investigate, develop and play with an idea even further. You help me shape new ideas and spark my curiosity.  Many times your questions or comments have resulted in a whole new post or spinning study.

Beautiful support

Since I have lots of readers I feel a responsibility to make thorough research before I write something. This teaches me so much and I am constantly trying to dig deeper and analyze more in a topic. I also get more and more comfortable to try new concepts without having a given answer. I feel that I can safely investigate a topic without knowing the outcome and still know that you are with me.

The beginning of a journey

Every time I write a blog post I am amazed at all the possibilities that lie in front of me, like a big bowl of candy in bright and shiny colours. I think of new ways I can explore, investigate, play and – above all – learn from all these little seeds of wooly wonders.

I feel that my blogging journey has just begun. So far it has been a wonderful ride and I look forward to what’s next.

I hope you have enjoyed it too.

From the bottom of my wooly heart:

Thank you.

A heart of wool in the grass
My wooly heart.

Featured image by Dan Waltin

Flicking tips

A ball of wool

After a discussion in a Facebook spinning group about solidified grease in the tips of a fleece, I decided to do a mini study of different ways to prepare a fleece for spinning. I have a fleece of my own that is wonderfully clean but has tips with solidified grease.

The fleece

On the last wool journey with my wool traveling club, I bought a beautiful NKS fleece. NKS stands for Norsk kvit sau: Norwegian white sheep. This is basically what crossbreds are called in Norway. The fleece I chose had a full year’s growth.

In Sweden most sheep are shorn twice a year, which naturally makes the fleece shorter. This means that the fleece shorn in the early spring is of worse quality (since all the nutrients go straight to the lamb) and usually has more vegetable matter (because the sheep have spent much of the winter indoors). The fleece shorn in the autumn has better quality (since the sheep has no lamb to nourish) and less vegetable matter (since the sheep are out grazing). So: Twice a year gives a better but shorter autumn fleece. Once a year gives a longer fleece but can be more mixed in quality.

Lanoliny tips

The fleece was wonderfully clean and shiny with staples of around 12 cm. The tips, though, were greasy. I think that the Norwegian rain had pushed all the lanolin out into the tips. I washed the fleece straight away by soaking it in rain water. It wasn’t until recently (one year after I bought the fleece) that I started processing, and by then the greasy tips had solidified.

Experiment: Flicked vs unflicked tips

I wanted to make an experiment and compare different preparation methods. First, I prepared the way I usually do with a fleece I want to comb: Loading the combs with the cut ends on the tines and combing three passes, then pulling the wool off the comb in one long top.

Combing this way was a struggle. It took a lot of muscle power to get the combs through the wool. And after three passes it was not nearly in a condition I could approve (I always do an uneven number of passes so that I pull the wool off the combs from the cut ends). So, I did five passes. Pulling the wool off the comb was also difficult, the wool was still uneven with bits of solidified gunk left. I picked as much of it out, but there was still stuff left when I spun the top, which of course interrupted my spinning flow.

When you play the videos, a captions symbol appears to the left of the settings symbol. Click or unclick the captions, depending on your preferences.

This was not a pleasant combing experience. So, I tried a different way. I flicked the solidified grease ends before combing. Combing the staples with the tip ends flick carded was a whole different experience.

A lot of gunk was left in the flicker and the floor was sprayed with gunk powder.

A floor dirty with wool waste.
Powdered gunk and gunky flicker waste.

The combing was easy and pleasant after flick carding the tips and I was perfectly happy after my usual three passes. Pulling the wool off the combs was also nice and smooth and the spinning was uninterrupted and yummy.

A skein of white handspun yarn.
A finished skein of fingering weight 2-ply NKS wool, spun with short draw from hand combed tops on a spinning wheel. 194 m, 70 g, 2766 m/kg.

I spun the skein above with both of the preparation techniques. Mostly the flicked version, though, since I only combed a couple of bird’s nests with the tips unflicked. I also knitted a swatch with the finished yarn.

A knitted swatch
A knitted swatch, 25 stitches and 39 rows in 10×10 cm

Other ways to use a flick card

This was one example where flick carding the tips made a big difference for the preparation and spinning experience. I also use my flick card for several other purposes:

  • To remove brittle tips. If I have a fleece with fine fibers and brittle tips I can use the flick card on the tip ends. The brittle tips will end up in the card instead of the yarn (as nepps).
  • To flick both ends of a staple. Sometimes I want to spin from the lock. A flick card is a good tool to separate the fibers in individual staples and spin staple by staple.
  • To tease staples before carding. This might take time, but will give a good result. Fibers that are too short, brittle or dirty will stay in the flick card and the good stuff will go to carding.

Do you use your flick card for other purposes?

Tech stuff

In these videos I have played with both narration and captions. As you may know, I want to shoot my videos outside if possible. But the area around our house is quite noisy. In the background on the other side of the lake you can see the most intense motorway in Sweden, and it makes a lot of noise. Also, we live close to a city airport and the planes fly just above our house, it’s almost like we can tickle the planes on the bellies if we stretch enough. This is why I wanted to try to narrate the clips. And I think it worked out.

In a previous video where I tested my makeshift studio, I added equally makeshift captions. Since then, my editing software has upgraded with a function for closed captioning. Yay! I think they work too.

Please let me know if there is anything of the technical stuff I can improve.

Medieval style spinning

Josefin Waltin spinning with a spindle and distaff, dressed in medieval costume

Since I started spinning with in-hand spindles and distaff in the beginning of the year, I have wanted to make a medieval style spinning video. I did actually make a short video in the cold winter, but it was a great challenge to work with cold lanolin and stiff hands. I realized that I had to wait for spring to make a proper video.

Medieval assistance

While waiting for spring to happen, I talked to my friend Maria. She is a medieval enthusiast and reenactor of epic proportions. She is also one half of Historical textiles and a mean plant dyer and weaver. I asked her if she was willing to help me with the videography and contemporary costume and she was happy to do it.

We synced our calendars and decided on a date to shoot the medieval video. Lucky for us, the agreed occasion turned out to be a beautiful spring day. It was also quite windy, which made our dresses and wimples ripple flatteringly in the wind.

Two women dressed in medieval clothes, spinning and combing wool
Maria and I on the set, crafting away

The costume

Maria came with a huge backpack filled with medieval clothing, all hand sewn by her. Everything else was also hand made – wool combs, belt, hair pins, wimple pins and shoes. It was such an honour to wear all these hand made treasures. I got a sturdy hand woven linen robe (which doesn’t show) and on top of that an indigo dyed woolen dress. An intricately arranged linen headdress, a hand woven belt and hand made shoes. I added the string with spindle whorls. Despite the warm weather, the clothing felt quite airy and comfortable and I never got too hot (or a sun burn). That’s natural materials for ya! Maria says the costume dates to the high fashion of the 1360’s in today’s Northern Germany or Scandinavia.

Josefin Waltin in medieval clothing
Woolen dress (with a linen robe underneath) and linen wimple. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Shooting

We shot the whole video in a nearby forest. The thinly leather soled shoes were very smooth and it was a challenge to get around in the slopes of the forest without slipping. It was not that kind of video I was looking for. I also got a severe thigh rash. Medieval women must have had very thick inner thigh skin. Or perhaps they didn’t have hearty biker thighs.

As we walked to and from the set, we met lots of Saturday strollers. In the typical Stockholm way (never, never, ever stare at or comment on anything out of the ordinary, just roll your eyes when you are sure no one can see you), many people passed us without any comment, but a few people did stop to ask us about what we were up to. They were curious about our costumes, how they were made, when they were from etc. Some people asked if we were nuns. Maria explained that we were regular people from the time around 1360. Nuns dressed in the latest fashion, so this is how they dressed back then. They have just stuck with that fashion ever since, at least the Bridgettines.

The tools

In the video, I spin on spindles from Hershey fiber arts and NiddyNoddyUK. They both have spiral notched tips. The whorls on the spindles are from Pallia. On the leather string in my belt you can see additional whorls from Pallia, John Rizzi and Hershey fiber arts. Both distaffs are my own hand carved. On the belt distaff I have arranged hand carded wool from a prize winning Värmland fleece (just like in this video) and on the hand distaff there is hand carded comb leftovers from Shetland sheep.

Spinning and drafting

When I spin on a medieval style in-hand spindle, I tend to start by using a proper in-hand style and not let go of the spindle. When I feel I have enough twist, I let go of the spindle and use a very short suspension and let the tip of the spindle rest against my thumb. This way I can grab the spindle quickly whenever I need to.

If I use a hand distaff I usually keep the yarn straight by moving my distaff hand away from the spindle. If I use a belt distaff I tend to wrap the yarn onto my distaff hand to keep the yarn from slacking and still hold the spindle in a comfortable position. You can see both these techniques in the video.

Josefin Waltin spinning with a spindle and distaff, dressed in medieval clothing
In-hand spinning with a hand distaff.

In my latest in-hand spinning video, someone asked me if I’m drafting with my left (fiber) hand or if I’m just pulling with my right (spinning) hand. When I spin with a hand distaff, there isn’t much room for the fingers to draft. But even with a belt distaff, I’m not drafting very much. I just let the fibers settle themselves in the twist with the draft of my spindle hand. That usually works just fine when I have prepared the fleece myself (which I usually do) and left just the right amount of lanolin in it to assist my drafting. Perhaps I would use my fiber hand for drafting if I were to use a short draw. I haven’t tried that yet, though.

A 3-ply yarn and two medieval style spindles
3-ply yarn spun on a medieval style spindle and distaff from hand carded batts. 49 g, 97 m, 1981 m/kg. Soft and fluffy as a cloud. Spindle shafts and whorls from Hershey fiber arts and John Rizzi.

I hope you enjoy the video. I (we) certainly enjoyed making it.

Happy spinning!

 

French spindle

A spindle with yarn and a distaff with wool

I have a new spindle! I didn’t mean for it to happen so fast, though. Today I present to you my French spindle.

Spindle of the month

I have allowed myself to buy one spindle or spinning tool and one book per month. This month it was the Portuguese spindle. I started planning to buy next month’s spindle. I wanted to buy a French spindle and realized that there weren’t any in Europe. So I contacted Neil at NiddyNoddyUK in Wales and asked him if he could make me one, I had noticed in his Etsy store that he had sold some in the past. He was happy to do it. I also asked for a matching ring distaff, because why not? I figured that it would take him a while and I would get it in time for next month. But he had them ready for me the next day, and now I suddenly have them here in my hand. And since I do, I allow myself to use them, even though I’m not supposed to have them yet.

Unboxing pleasure

I love opening spindle parcels. There is so much anticipation – how will the spindle be protected, has the sender thought of reducing plastic in their shipping, will there be a card etc. I love it when the sender combines an environmentally smart package material with the receiver’s eagerness to start spinning straight away. This was a good package. The spindles were protected with sweet Lleyn wool and packed in tissue paper with fancy tape. No plastic as far as the eye could see. Now, that’s a beautiful spindle unwrapping experience.

 

A spindle and distaff on a bed of wool.
French spindle and ring distaff in pear, by NiddyNoddyUK.

French vs Portuguese spindles

The French spindle has lots of similarities with the Portuguese spindle. They are both made out of one piece of wood and they have no whorl. As far as I know the Portuguese spindles always have spiral notches while the French usually do, but they can also have a hook. They can both be made completely out of wood or with a metal tip. While the Portuguese spindle has its belly quite low, the French spindle has a belly just below the middle of the spindle length. The French spindles can be slightly more ornamented than the usually plain, pear-shaped Portuguese.

A French spindle and a ring distaff
Spindle, distaff and wool.

French spindles can have an interchangeable metal cap with a spiral notch. This way a spinner needs only one cap for several spindles. Lots of models of French spindles can be seen at the spindle typology index at the university of Innsbruck. I’m not sure I totally agree with their use of the terms drop spindle and support spindle, though. But the pictures are very valuable and they give us a unique insight in the spinning history of France.

Spinning on a French spindle

There is very little information on how the French spindles were used. Sylvie Dame has been a collector of antique French spindles and documentation for many years and she has quite a large collection. She says that collecting these spindles helps her understand how they were used. She argues that the reason why there is so little information about the usage of these spindles is that spinning used to be such a common daily activity for women and girls and therefore there was no need to write anything down.

From the few clips that I have seen, it seems reasonable to spin the French spindle similarly as the Portuguese or other in-hand spindles. That also makes sense when you look at images of French spindle spinning.

New video

Of course I needed to make a video about it. It was the first warm day of spring. Turn on the volume and listen to the sound of nature. Listen closer, and hear the quiet patter of the yarn against the tip of the spindle.

In the video I’m using the ring distaff I ordered with the spindle. As far as I know, these two are not historically or regionally connected, I just wanted/needed a ring distaff and it’s just what I used for this video. My using the ring distaff together with the French spindle is thus totally unorthodox. I can live with that, though.

Do you have a French spindle, antique or modern? Do you know anything about French spindles or spinning on French spindles? Is there a historical connection between the French and Portuguese spindles?Please let me know in the comments!

Happy spinning!