A coloured fleece

Sport weight single yarn of four shades of brown from Pax's fleece. Spun from hand carded rolags on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 100 meters, 44 grams. 2270 m/kg. Can I keep this for cuddling?

A year ago I bought a coloured fleece at a fleece market. Or two, actually. One brown and one grey. I didn’t mean to, but they called my name and there was nothing I could do. Today I sort the brown Värmland fleece and dive into its depths.

I have a soft spot for coloured fleeces. In online courses and webinars I usually work with white wool since it shows better on camera (at least with my limited photo skills). But a coloured fleece has a whole new dimension to dive in to.

Pax, a coloured fleece

The diversity of the coloured fleece is what lures me to dive deep and lose myself in the shades. Not only are there spots of different colours, but the tip and the cut ends can be different in colour, as can the undercoat and outercoat. There is so much to discover.

A brown Värmland fleece of many shades.
A brown Värmland fleece of many shades.

Walnut, hazel, driftwood and umber

I decide to sort the locks of the Värmland sheep Pax’s fleece into piles of different colours. I start roughly by picking out all the darker walnut staples I can find. They are disappearingly soft and quite short, some seemingly too short to spin. They seem to consist of mostly undercoat. Perhaps they have grown around Pax’s neck.

Four shades of Pax's fleece – walnut, driftwood, hazel and umber.
Four shades of Pax’s fleece – umber, driftwood, hazel and walnut.

I also find two shades of grayish brown – light hazel and slightly darker driftwood. Both colour staples are silky soft and have bleached tips. The fibers are not as fine as the walnut fibers, but for some reason these lighter coloured staples feel silkier. Perhaps because I don’t expect it. The different feel of the piles give me a hint that the colours will feel different to draft. I need to keep that in mind when I spin.

The different coloured staples of Pax's fleece are different in texture.
The different coloured staples of Pax’s fleece are also different in texture.

The driftwood pile grows larger and larger and I sort it again to look for more shades. I find something of a mix between the driftwood and the walnut. Umber, perhaps. I could probably go on and find more fractions of colours. However, for the project I have in mind I want some distinction between the shades and I am happy with my colour quartet.

New dimensions

When I look at the staples I see that there are still more colours than the four I have sorted out. There are different colour fibers in each staple. Most of the walnut staples are solid walnut, but the others sparkle of different shades. This brings even more depth in the wool and in the yarn I have planned.

The outercoat of the different colours look darker in all four cases.
The outercoat of the different colours look darker than the undercoat in all four cases. The hazel undercoat (bottom right) seem to still have at least two colours even after the separation.

Even though the staples feel a bit different from pile to pile, the distribution of undercoat and outercoat seem fairly similar – a lot of airy undercoat and a few strands of strong outercoat. For this reason I would say that most of the staples are of vadmal type according to the Swedish tradition of classifying staple types.

Vadmal type staples like these with mostly airy undercoat and a few strands of outercoat make perfect carding candidates – the crimpy and unruly undercoat fibers will help building air pockets in the rolags and the longer and stronger outercoat fibers will marry them together, creating a reliable reinforcement in the midst of the cuddly soft.

Colour scheme

I separate the colours because I want to show them one by one. To do that I need to find a combination that doesn’t blur them all together. I play and move around until I land in harmony. Walnut, hazel, umber, driftwood and back to walnut.

I use my combing station to tease one pile at a time. In this process I get a first idea of how each colour drafts. A lot of the walnut staples are very short and there is a lot of waste in this pile (which is also the smallest pile). I suspected that when I sorted the staples. The difference between the hazel and the driftwood is very small, but they are still somewhat distinct between the walnut and the umber.

Yarn of a coloured fleece

I want to make the colours the stars of the yarn I spin from Pax’s fleece. No fuss, no fancy, just a single strand of yarn, moving from shade to shade.

Walnut, driftwood, umber and hazel.
Walnut, driftwood, umber and hazel.

My favourite tool for spinning singles is the floor supported Navajo style spindle. With this tool I have a good overview and control of the spinning right in front of me. I see every potential lump and have the opportunity to open up the twist to smooth it out. I never want to stop. This tool is the perfect companion to the colour quartet. Every rolag amazes me – the depth of the colours is truly mesmerizing.

Long draws

The floor supported spindle also gives me the opportunity to make long, smooth longdraws that just melt in my hand like butter. Again, I never want to stop. Rolling the shaft against my thigh charges the rolag with twist. I make the draw. Long, smooth, slow. Like syrup. I watch the draft closely, to find when the thickness is exactly right. I slack the strand to control the twist and roll the yarn onto the shaft.

Sport weight single yarn of four shades of brown from Pax's fleece. Spun from hand carded rolags on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 100 meters, 44 grams. 2270 m/kg. Can I keep this for cuddling?
Sport weight single yarn of four shades of brown from Pax’s fleece. Spun from hand carded rolags on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 100 meters, 44 grams. 2270 m/kg. Can I keep this for cuddling?

The colours pass by my eyes rolag by rolag. I get to spend time with each section of browns, one at a time. When I have finished one rolag I butterfly it onto my spinning hand and transfer it to the lower cop. Again, the colours wind onto the cop in an ever changing spiral.

My heart sings as I see the cop build up of a thousand strands of brown. No spinning mill can separate the colours of a fleece like this – they would spin a solid oatmeal. I sort and spin for colours because it is possible for me as a hand spinner. Because I can.

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.
  • 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.

Changing hands

Two skeins, one spun clockwise with my right hand as spindle hand, one spun counter-clockwise with my left hand as spindle hand. By changing hands I have learned about what the hands do and what they know.

When I teach spinning on different types of spindles I always urge my students to learn to spin with both hands. Mainly this is for ergonomic reasons, but there are other valuable benefits in changing hands as well.

Pushing and pulling

A few years ago I learned how to spin on an in-hand style, or grasped, spindle. I experienced pain in the ball of my thumb and asked a physiotherapist why. As a leftie, I was spinning with my left hand as a spindle hand. I wanted to spin a clockwise (Z) single and thus spun clockwise with my left hand. The fingers then push the spindle shaft outward. The physiotherapist told me that we have twice as many muscle governing muscles pulling things toward the body compared to muscles pushing things away. One example of this is rowing. When the oars are in the heavy water you pull them against you and when they are in the light air you push them away.

When I was spinning clockwise with my left hand I was pushing the spindle shaft away from my hand and straining the base of my thumb.

You can read more about these ideas in this post and watch and listen to this webinar. With a focus on supported spindle spinning I have written an article about flicking with direction and ergonomics in mind in the Supported spindle issue of PLY magazine.

A magazine cover with a person spinning on a supported spindle. She is holding the yarn in the left hand and the fiber in the right. A title across the image says The flick.
In this picture I spin counter-clockwise with my left hand as spinning hand on a supported spindle. Spindle by Björn Peck.

Spinning ergonomically with different spindle types

  • I usually set a suspended spindle in motion by rolling the shaft up my thigh. To spin clockwise I pull the shaft up my right thigh with my right hand. To spin counter-clockwise I I pull the shaft up my left thigh with my left hand.
  • On an in-hand spindle the pushing and pulling has the most impact. This is where I originally strained the base of my thumb. I pull the shaft into my right hand for clockwise spinning and I pull the shaft into my left hand for counter-clockwise spinning.
  • For a supported spindle I do the same as with the in-hand spindle – I pull the shaft into my right hand for clockwise spinning and I pull the shaft into my left hand for counter-clockwise spinning.
  • When I spin on a floor supported Navajo style spindle I roll the shaft up my right thigh for clockwise spinning and I roll the shaft up my left thigh for counter-clockwise spinning.

Relearning

When I understood the concept of pushing and pulling I decided to relearn – to spin clockwise only with my right hand and counter-clockwise with my left hand. It took me a while to learn to spin with my right hand, but with daily practice it worked. Relearning like this gave me a huge aha moment – in my wobbly attempts at ballet dancing the supported spindle in what had thus far been my “wrong” hand I recognized the struggle my students went through in learning the fine motor skills needed for supported spindle spinning. It was a valuable lesson that I don’t want to be without. Learning through your mistakes is a very powerful and valuable gift.

Teaching

I also decided to teach my students to learn to spin with both hands as spindle hands and, more importantly, why. As a teacher I think it is my responsibility to teach my students to listen to their bodies and make adjustments to spin as comfortably as possible. Changing hands when changing spinning direction is an important part of this.

Most of my students have muttered initially, but most of them have welcomed the idea of changing hands and seen the benefits of it.

Sooner or later they will want to ply their yarn or spin in the other direction for a special purpose. Then they will have no trouble changing hands and directions and spin the yarn they desire. Without strain.

A quick survey

I asked four of my former students if they still practice what I taught them about spinning direction. All of them practice my ideas of pushing and pulling and thus spin clockwise with their right hand and counter-clockwise with their left hand. Two of them fully on all spindle types and two of them mainly on supported spindles. “That way I can spin for a longer time”, one of them said. And that is what we all want, isn’t it?

Practice what I preach

I have practiced the idea of changing hands for supported, suspended and in-hand style spinning since I learned about the concept of muscles for pushing and pulling. When it comes to floor supported Navajo style spinning I haven’t taken the opportunity to relearn, though. All the yarns I have spun with my floor supported spindle have been clockwise, with my right hand (as it is the way I learned originally). I have spun them as single weft yarns in weaving and haven’t had a project where I needed a counter-clockwise spun yarn. Until now.

I am spinning for a project where I want to knit with two contrasting colour singles – one clockwise spun and one counter-clockwise spun. And I realized that it was time for me to practice what I preach in this spinning technique too.

A wobbly start

It is fascinating how odd it feels to change hands. Even though both hands have important tasks – of managing yarn and of managing fiber – it feels peculiarly odd to change. At the same time, rolling the shaft outwards on my thigh would feel even more odd.

So I started the adventure of learning to spin counter-clockwise with my left hand as spinning hand. Setting the shaft in motion on a floor supported spindle is easy. Just a flat hand held lightly against the shaft that is leaning against your thigh, and pull the hand inwards. It was the wobbliest flat hand I have ever seen! And with my dominant hand! I couldn’t pull my flat hand properly against my thigh. In the other end, my right hand didn’t know what to do with the rolag.

A new understanding

When I sat there with these seemingly easy tasks I started wondering what was really happening. I am an intermediate to advanced spinner and I know what the hands do. I believe in the concept of pushing and pulling and teach the concept of changing hands for a reason.

The hands listen to the wool and cooperate in opening up the twist to get the thickness of the yarn I want.

What I realized was that my hands know what to do, but without necessarily telling each other what was going on and without telling my brain what they were doing. Since I wanted to spin two identical yarns, however in different directions, I needed to understand the steps I was taking in the clockwise yarn and translate that into the counter-clockwise yarn. The right hand had to tell the left hand how to roll the shaft. The left hand had to tell the right hand how to make the draft and handle the fiber. I had never done that before. I needed to translate and transfer the knowledge of my hands to each other and to my brain.

Things I noticed:

  • When building up the twist in the fiber, I wasn’t giving the shaft the same thigh-rolling force with my left hand. This resulted in less twist and a thinner and/or weaker yarn.
  • I didn’t trust the fibers to do their thing with the counter-clockwise yarn. Instead I made the draw shorter than with my clockwise spun yarn and fiddled a lot with thick and thin spots.
  • My fiber hand in the counter-clockwise yarn didn’t understand what to do with the semi-spun yarn that I usually store in the fiber hand until I have finished the whole stretch of yarn.

Studying and comparing what my hands were doing in the clockwise spun yarn and what they did in the counter-clockwise spun yarn taught me a lot about the spinning process. The hands need to listen to the wool, but also to each other. When the hands were new to a task they didn’t have the capacity to listen. They were far too busy to learn the basic technique.

After a lot of practice, trial and error I can produce yarns that are quite similar when changing hands.
After a lot of practice, trial and error I can produce yarns that are quite similar when changing hands. Spindles by Roosterick.

With the knowledge of what the hands know, but not necessarily tell each other or the brain, I believe even more in teaching both hands to work as both spinning hand and fiber hand. That way I give the brain a chance to understand a task with the sensory input from both hands. If I add to that an analysis of what it is the hands are actually doing I believe I can understand the spinning process more fully. By learning I will understand better how to teach.

Two skeins, one spun clockwise with my right hand as spindle hand, one spun counter-clockwise with my left hand as spindle hand. By changing hands I have learned about what the hands do and what they know.
Two skeins, one spun clockwise with my right hand as spindle hand, one spun counter-clockwise with my left hand as spindle hand. By changing hands I have learned about what the hands do and what they know.

Conclusions

Changing hands when spinning is a valuable gift you can give yourself. Not only to spin with ergonomics in mind, but also to better understand what it is that the spinning hand and fiber hand are actually doing. I am a firm believer that the knowledge of both tasks in both hands will lead to a deeper understanding of the spinning process on a higher level. With the knowledge of both tasks in both hands I trust that 1+1=3.

Challenge yourself

Does this sound reasonable to you? Do you want to start practicing changing hands? Here are a few challenges you can treat yourself to as a start:

  • Change hands and spinning direction. Practice a little every day.
  • Try to find out what it is you actually do with your usual hand, as spinning hand and as fiber hand. Teach your other hand to do the same.
  • Spin two yarns, one with each hand (and in each direction). Try to spin them as similar to each other as you can.
  • Create a project where you need yarns spun in both directions. Either spinning and plying or with two singles in different directions.

You can do this with a spinning wheel too. Just practice changing your front (orifice) hand and your back (fiber) hand. It can be quite tricky too.

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.
  • 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.

Little ball of yarn

I wanted to spin a yarn that would tell its own story. Raw. Naked. With nothing to hide. Just present itself in its own splendour, on its own merits. This yarn of mine, this little ball of yarn, is a tribute to the wool it was made of.

You know when you happen to go to a fleece market with no intention of buying and you find yourself leaving the place with five bags of fleece? I’m sure you do know. This happened a year ago on the Kil sheep festival, Fårfest i Kil, just weeks before Covid hit Sweden on a larger scale.

Pax

Little ball of yarn. Once soft staples of wooly locks, with gentle swirls in their tips. Peaceful, just like the ewe from which they were shorn: Pax. Peace. Such a suitable name for such sweet curls. My hands can’t resist, can’t help touching – sparkling, giggling, electrified by the joy of soft sheepness. In a paper bag filled with peace and love.

In a corner of the fleece market at the festival I found a sheep farmer who had wool from her Värmland sheep. Large paper bags with sheep’s names and fleece weights written across the brown, coarse structure of the bags. I had all the wool I needed, but what’s the harm in just peeking at the fleeces? Perhaps cuddling with some staples?

Sweet staples of Pax's Värmland locks in shades of brown.
Sweet staples of Pax’s Värmland locks in shades of brown.

I peeked with one eye, then the other. One hand into the bag and, without warning, the other. Peeking into the bag labeled Pax. Just a little. And a little more. A billowing mass of brown staples emerged from the depths of the containers, flooding my hands. Singing, luring, calling my name. Come, come, feel how soft, look at my colour range and curly swirly tips!

Colours and textures

Little ball of yarn. From staples in every possible shape, wave and manner. Strike a pose, do your thing. And the colours. Oh, the colours. I dive into the spectrum of a fleece in all shades of brown. Rosy hazel, misty driftwood and solid walnut. On a closer look, all the colour segments in their own shape and manner. Matte, yet shiny. Subtle, yet vivid. Shy, yet bold.

I have a soft spot for coloured fleeces. Most coloured wool from the Swedish heritage breeds display a wide array of shades from light to dark. And with that, often different textures to different colours over the body of the sheep. Another dimension to explore and loose myself in.

Hazel, driftwood and walnut. All part of Pax's fleece.
Hazel, driftwood and walnut. All part of Pax’s fleece.

I decide to explore the colours of Pax’s fleece. Brown is just a collective name here, there are several nuances to dive in to. From the lightest latte to the darkest walnut. Some solid and some built up of a range of shades. All bringing depth and a longing to see more. The different coloured staples have different texture and appearance. All soft, but differently so. Soft is just so insufficient a word here. How do you describe staples that are soft in different ways? I want a range of descriptives here, a candy store of epithets of softness to choose from! I don’t drink wine, I do wool. So give me the range of ways to articulate wool the way a wine taster does wine.

Round and round

Little ball of yarn. I call your name. But what is your name? How do I make you justice? How do I mirror your soul in a yarn? I want you to shine in all your sheephood. Raw. Simple. Naked. Still elegant. Honest. Safe. The colours displayed, yet the fibers blended into one United Roundedness. Yes, now I know your name.

I choose to card rolags from the sorted colours. Such lovely acquaintances, all of them. Through the cards I get to know the characteristics of each colour. The whispering, almost escaping walnut. Perhaps better matched with finer cards. The hazel somewhat unruly. Driftwood staples mature and kind. Still, all comform into round rolag cylinders, built by a tight collaboration between the fibers and the air between them.

I'm spinning singles on a floor supported Navajo style spindle.
I’m spinning singles on a floor supported Navajo style spindle.

I see before me a singles yarn. Round. Simple. Consistent. A yarn that says it just how it is, with no ulterior motive, nothing to hide.

My favourite tool for a singles yarn is the floor supported Navajo style spindle. With this spindle I get to stretch and allow space to the draft. The long draw from my lap to the tip of my outstretched fiber hand. I love the way the technique allows me to use my whole body while spinning.

The dance

Little ball of yarn. How sweet a spin, a dance to make you shine. In one end flat hand, mindfully rolling the shaft, allowing it to twirl from tip to tip. In the other a closed hand, holding the wooly treasure, like a baby bird. Gently, gently. The strand between, conveying the message between the hands, like a tin can phone between the closest of friends. Hands following to the wool through the yarn, leaning in, listening to the whisper of the wool.

Spinning on a floor supported Navajo style spindle is like performing a choreographed dance. Photo by Dan Waltin
Spinning on a floor supported Navajo style spindle is like performing a choreographed dance. Photo by Dan Waltin

Spinning on a floor supported Navajo style spindle is a joy. I love how fast the yarn spins up, how I get to use my whole body in the process and how my hands need to really listen to the yarn and cooperate to perform the dance choreographed by the strand between them. Through spinning with this tool I get to more fully understand how the draft goes into the twist and how I can open up the twist to manipulate the semi-spun yarn in the direction I want it.

This particular wool is light and cooperative. Listening to it is easy and joyful. While the different colour rolags don’t work exactly the same I can still adapt the spinning so that they come out in the same manner in the yarn.

A skein aswirl

Little ball of yarn. So full of energy. spiraling here, swirling there. Charged with spinning spirit, never still, ever moving. A hot and cold dip will relax, ease and slacken. Allow stillness and peace in the whirl. The twist from the dance is forever trapped in the strand. Where did it go? What else has changed?

Knitting with energized yarns like singles presents some interesting challenges – unless you knit a balanced pattern (like garter stitch or rib) there is a good chance the knitted fabric will end up biased.

A fulled skein of Värmland wool singles.
A fulled skein of Värmland wool singles.

I decide to full the yarn by shocking it. In the fulling process, which can be seen as a light felting, the scales in the fibers catch on to each other, tightening up the yarn slightly and calming the energy down. I dipped the skein in hot and cold water until I saw that the strands in the skein had started to grab on to each other. Värmland wool does tend to felt. Instead of seeing this characteristic as a threat I allowed it to become a superpower to help me calm the energy down.

Little ball of yarn

Little ball of yarn. The strand light as a feather, sweetly wrapped around my thumb, keeping it safe. Layer by layer wound onto the ball, becoming the ball. The clarity of the single strand, the combination of colours, invite me to follow a sole fiber. Round and round individually, yet holding on in a wooly togetherness, streams of air in between.

A finished little ball of yarn. Värmland wool hand carded into rolags and spun with long draw on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 12-ish wpi. 11 grams, 36 meters, 3234 m/kg before fulling.
A finished little ball of yarn. Värmland wool hand carded into rolags and spun with long draw on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 12-ish wpi. 11 grams, 36 meters, 3234 m/kg before fulling.

And so it is here. My little ball of yarn. Only a simple sample of 11 little grams, still filled with hopes and dreams of a fabric, a design, a garment. A soft promise of a continued crafting adventure. My hands tingle to knit with it. At the same time I am reluctant to pull the inner ends braid to ruin the perfectly imperfect little ball of yarn. I want to look at it, follow the strand, follow the fibers, imagine its future.

I twirl the little ball of yarn and loose myself in the sections of hazel, driftwood and walnut.
I twirl the little ball of yarn and loose myself in the sections of hazel, driftwood and walnut.

Eventually I do dare. I dare to pull. Out it comes, the light single, new to the world. Not too skinny, not too floofy, just perfectly airy and pert, my little strand of yarn. Ready to meet its future.

A precious promise

Little ball of yarn. A precious promise of a transformation in shape, texture and vision. I close my eyes and see the shades of brown change in the fabric, walnut, driftwood and hazel float like water colour rivers in a painting, moving fluidly across the surface, inviting the curious to follow its paths.

I spun this yarn to pair it with a white yarn spun the same way from the same breed, only spun in the other direction. The combination of clockwise and counter-clockwise will further balance the structure, together with the fulling. Also it will offer balance to me when I spin – I spin with my left hand counter-clockwise and my right hand clockwise to work as ergonomically as I can. Alternating the two spindles also helps me avoid overworking one arm.

A triple tuck stitch pattern with the shades of Pax's fleece between rows of sheepy white.
A triple tuck stitch pattern with the shades of Pax’s fleece between rows of sheepy white.

This past summer I bought Nancy Marchant’s book Tuck stitches and lost myself (again) in the beautiful spectrum of this fascinating technique with endless possibilities. I picked one. To me, the yarns and the pattern make the perfect match. Soft, squishy, like freshly made waffles.

I do have a design in mind, another companion to the yarns and the structure. I’m just not telling you about it yet. But I will. I just need to spin the rest of the fleeces first.

I think I’ll get the waffle iron out today.

Little ball of yarn. Thank you for allowing me to discover your soul, for fueling my creativity and for giving me peace.

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.
  • 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.

Mending apparatus

For some years now I have been longing to get hold of a 1940’s mending machine, “Stoppapparaten Perfekt” (the mending apparatus Perfect), also known in English as Speedweve. This week I won a bid for the mending apparatus at Swedish eBay (Tradera). As soon as I had got it out of the box I searched the house for holes to mend. I found plenty.

The Stoppapparaten Perfekt is such a great little tool. Small, portable, lightweight and with everything you need to mend holes, except for the hole itself and the mending yarn. But it is so much more than that. It is a piece of history in a little cardboard box.

The mending apparatus

The mending apparatus was produced in the thousands in the 1940’s. The Swedish version was made in a welding workshop in Stockholm. The daughter of the owner writes in an article that she and her brother used to put them together in the workshop for 5 Swedish öre a piece. Street vendors stood in every other street corner of Stockholm, demonstrating the mending process in the speed of light and sold box after box.

Stoppapparaten Perfekt, a perfect little mending apparatus. From the manual: “A practical novelty for mending any kind of finer or coarser woven or knitted goods. […] The mending becomes a pleasant pastime.”

A tantalizing textile tool treasure

Most people have no clue about this apparatus when they see it. But among textile people this is a highly sought after item. When it happens to turn up at an auction lots of people bid lots of money. The box says it cost 3 Swedish kronor in 1940. In today’s money it would be around 80 kronor/$8.5/7.5€. My winning bid at the auction was 800 kronor, a normal winning bid for the mending apparatus. I am aware that it is a crazy sum for a small piece of metal. At the same time it is a cultural heritage. Even if they were sold by the thousands in the 1940’s the supply isn’t endless, especially considering that most people who find it in their attics or dusty old boxes have no clue what it is. So I’m happy I got mine.

Awkward syntax

Another piece of history in this cardboard box treasure chest is the instruction sheet. Or, to be more precise, the language in the instruction sheet. As a linguist (and ex interpreter) I am truly fascinated by the way every sentence is made in a most fascinatingly complicated and heavy fashion. Loads of passive phrases, obsolete expressions and unnecessary words. It takes a long time to read and even longer to comprehend.

The lovely, yet horrific manual to the mending apparatus.

Quick, artful and no previous knowledge required

The funny thing is that the manufacturer advertises the use of the apparatus with the exclamations “Quick! Artful! No previous knowledge required!” Well, once you manage to get through the instructions it may be sort of quick if you have basic weaving skills (that were most probably considered common knowledge among housewives in the 1940’s). But instead of getting you stuck already at the instructions, I invite you to watch this beautiful video where Kajsa Larsdotter methodically explains how to use the mending apparatus. After that you will be all set to mend.

Cultivated, simple and comprehensible

In my day job I work as an administrative officer at a Swedish authority. Every day I make and write decisions. One of my most important jobs is to make the decisions understandable to the receiver. They have the right to know what we grant, what we reject and why. As a government official I need to follow the Swedish language act that states that the language in the public sector should be cultivated, simple and comprehensible (vårdat, enkelt och begripligt). In the beginning we wrote horrific texts that weren’t even comprehensible to our law department. However, since then we have made quite a journey in writing the decisions in a cultivated, simple and comprehensible way.

Reading a text like the instructions to the mending apparatus makes me gasp for air at the first sentence (or the first quarter of the first sentence since they are a mile long). Here is a translation of one of the sections in the instruction sheet:

“7. Insert the pin in the loops and remove the darning mushroom, when enough transverse threads have been threaded that the hole is covered, and turn the frame so that the longitudinal threads fall out of the hooks, and weave in the ends in a regular manner and the work is finished.”

I could go on. But I won’t. Instead I will mend.

Mending

I chose a cashmere sweater I have worn to pieces. I actually bought it for my husband a few years ago. It was quite cheap for cashmere (and I do understand why now). Unfortunately he accidentally felted it in the washing machine. Fortunately it shrank to a perfect size me.

Quite quickly though, seams unraveled and the yarn thinned at the elbows. Note to self: Don’t buy cheap cashmere sweaters. They will 1 cost more for someone else who don’t get paid and work 8 days a week, 2 break and 3 need mending (which is kind of fun but not the point of buying the sweater in the first place).

Preparing

I had already mended the elbow and now it was time to take care of the hole at the underarm. Securing the hole on the darning mushroom with the elastic band was a bit fiddly since the hole was rather large. But after a few trials I got it reasonably centered.

I used handspun yarns for the patch – a pink and orange wool/silk blend that I had got as a gift at some point. It is one of the first yarns I ever spun on a supported spindle and a dear memory.

Warping and weaving

After having sewn a security seam at the bottom of the hole, I sew the bottom end of the warp threads below the security thread and placed the top ends around the hooks. The width of the hooks make the shed possible. By sliding your finger across the loops the shed will change. One of the ingenious parts of this invention. I made a stitch in the sweater after each shuttling.

Finishing

When I got to the top of the warp the weaving got a bit fiddly, but with a little patience and good glasses it worked out. After having removed the warp loops from the hooks I stitched each loop individually in the fabric and wove in the ends on the wrong side.

Using the mending apparatus was a lot of fun. I have lots of holes to practice with. Dan is also keen to use it. I will definitely mend by hand too, but options are always welcome. And as all cultural heritages, tools techniques need to be used and handed down to future generations.

Mend with love and your clothes will keep you warm.

Mend your clothes with love and pride. I do. I see thin spots under the other arm. Perhaps I will take the mending machine for a second dance later today. I do have the same yarn in yellow and green too.

Happy mending!

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.
  • 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.

Socks

During the fall and winter I have been spinning a rya/mohair cabled sock yarn. It has taken a long time but I finally reached the bottom of the wool basket a few weeks ago. For Christmas I had promised Dan a pair of socks in a colour and style of his choice and I have now finished knitting them.

A blend of lamb's rya (dual coat) and adult mohair makes a strong foundation for a plastic free sock yarn.
A blend of lamb’s rya (dual coat) and adult mohair makes a strong foundation for a plastic free sock yarn.

Dye

The colour of Dan’s choice was blue, which was kind of vague. Lucky for him, since my dyeing experiments can be quite adventurous. First I mixed equal proportions of yellow, red and blue for a brown base. Then I added more blue and just a pinch of yellow to lean the blue a bit toward petrol. While I do love the colour it ended up a lot darker and murkier than I had planned. It is quite liberating, though, to just accept that I get the colour I get, enjoying the ride.

I dye with my little eye and it never turns out the way I had imagined. Still, I am happy for the colour I get.
I dye with my little eye and it never turns out the way I had imagined. Still, I am happy for the colour I get.

Design

The yarn has absolutely no elasticity, so I knew I needed to make the fabric elastic. A k2p2 rib was an easy choice. Dan wanted stripes, so he got stripes of the dyed and the natural white skeins. A simple short row toe (which I am ever amazed at and never seem to understand how it actually works) that I am particularly delighted by.

A sidetrack here: Provisional cast-on with a crochet chain. How is it that I always manage to fail utterly and completely with this method? I imagine just pulling the end of the crochet chain and magically unravel a perfect row of loops. Instead I end up having to untie it loop by loop. I had to check a YouTube tutorial for the second sock to get it right (which I actually did).

I had planned to knit the heel in the project, but changed my mind mid-sock and made sort of a semi- afterthought heel. The whole point of making this hopefully very strong and durable sock yarn was so that the socks would last, and without plastic. So, with an afterthought heel I will be able to knit a new heel when necessary.

Knitting and bingeing

My first test in spinning this yarn was a combed and worsted spun yarn that resulted in string. The carded and woolen spun version I tried next was so much better. Still, the yarn is quite dense and left a clear mark across my index finger as I knit the socks. The positive side of this, though, was that the density and strength of the yarn made out sort of a self regulating anti-strain button – I couldn’t binge knit these socks without strained shoulders and yarn cuts. So I took it in small portions, leaving space for taking a step back and planning the design. Slow is a superpower.

A basket full of yarn is like a bowl of candy!
A basket full of yarn is like a bowl of candy!

I watched several episodes of Gentleman Jack and Scott and Bailey for these socks. Suranne Jones with her several aspects of superheroness will be forever entangled in these socks. Like sort of a gentle sock body guard for Dan.

Numbers

The yarn is of light fingering weight and the gauge 25 stitches and 38 rows of stockinette stitch with 2.5 millimeter needles for a 10×10 cm square. This gauge leaves a tight material that I think is suitable for socks. For Dan’s socks I cast on 60 stitches to fit his feet with a comfortable negative ease. The yarn is quite heavy – four singles in the yarn (1819 meters per kilo) with quite some twist – and the finished socks weigh 161 grams in total (293 meters of yarn). The code word for these socks is chunky.

Toe-up

I knit the socks toe-up. I think it is the only way I have ever knit socks. My calves are quite generous above the ankles and I think it is easier to increase the circumference as I go than to decrease it. So I stayed in my comfort zone with Dan’s socks.

After the toes were finished I knit the socks parallell. Not on the same cable needles though, since I had too many balls of yarn to babysit. About 10 centimeters above the heel I changed to 3 millimeter needles to fit the calves. I used Jeny’s surprisingly stretchy bind-off for the leg opening.

Sock future

Knitting socks wasn’t as bad as I remembered it. However, this was with my own sock yarn and as a gift for my husband, so I really needed to get a good result. The socks fit Dan perfectly and look very nice. After the first wear he said they were a bit scratchy. I hope they will soften up after a few dates with his feet. Also, I’m looking forward to follow the durability of the yarn. I actually saved the leftover 2-plies for mending when that time comes.

At last, in early March, Dan got his Christmas socks.
At last, in early March, Dan got his Christmas socks.

There is yarn left for another two pairs of socks in a smaller size. I am also considering using the yarn for heels and toes only. Then I would have to spin another yarn for the foot and ankle, though.

Dan, my love, may your feet always be warm and happy. Merry Christmas!

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.
  • 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.

Embrace your mistakes

At the moment I’m teaching a digital course in wool knowledge to a spinning group in Sweden. At last week’s lecture I talked about analyzing the wool characteristics of a fleece. One student , E, said she was a beginner and didn’t know what can be expected by a characteristic. Her question gave me a lot to think about. I want to turn her concern around and highlight the superpowers of working in a new field. Today I want you to embrace your mistakes.

Sometimes it can be frustrating to be a beginner. For me just as for anyone else. The feeling of shortcomings in a group where you feel everybody else knows way more than you do can be discouraging. In moments like these I choose to flip the whole thing around and see the superpowers in being a beginner.

My very first skein of handspun yarn. Fine finull lamb's wool, hand carded on rusty cards and plied with some fawn alpaca since I didn't have enough fleece.
My very first skein of handspun yarn. Fine finull lamb’s wool, hand carded on rusty cards and plied with some fawn alpaca since I didn’t have enough fleece.

Embrace your mistakes

To understand something craft related I need to feel it. If there is a rule, like “don’t use a woolen spun yarn for warp” or “a two-end knitting yarn needs to be firm” I need to experience the consequences. When I have lived it and learned it I can make progress with that lesson in the back of my head and, most importantly, in the memory of my hands. I can also experiment with the boundaries of that rule. Can I use a woolen spun yarn for a very loose sett? What is too soft in a two-end knitting yarn?

Soft and thin yarn from very fine finull lamb's wool. Way too soft for two-end knitting.
Soft and thin yarn from very fine finull lamb’s wool, spun in 2012. Way too soft for two-end knitting.

Deriving the rules

One of the superpowers of being a beginner is that I don’t know the rules. Or, perhaps I have heard of the rules, but mostly in the terms of “Don’t do this, or that will happen”. I need to see and feel for myself to understand why it is wise to go one way instead of the other. I need to learn the mistakes through my hands. Sort of like deriving pythagoras’ theorem to understand why it works. When I don’t know the rules I am most likely to break them and learn something along the way.

Too soft two-end knitting yarn

When I held a spindle in my hand for the first time, on my first spinning lesson, I wanted to spin a Z-plied yarn for two-end knitting. There’s an optimistic attitude for ya! Two-end knitting didn’t happen with that first yarn, but a while later I did make a Z-plied yarn. From the softest finull lamb’s fleece (first beginner’s mistake). Way underspun (second beginner’s mistake). But I didn’t realize that until I had started my two-end knitting project. The yarn broke over and over, but I kept knitting. I did end up with a pair of mittens (fulled, I might add) that I used daily for many winters. When the thumbs needed mending I mended. I am still proud of the mittens and I embrace the mistakes I made.

The Swedish finewool sheep Pia-Lotta. The mittens are two-end knitted from yarn I spun from Pia-Lotta's fleece. Photo by Dan Waltin
The Swedish finewool sheep Pia-Lotta. The mittens are two-end knitted from yarn I spun from Pia-Lotta’s lamb’s fleece. Photo by Dan Waltin

Sock string

The opposite happened with my recent sock yarn. I wanted to make the yarn durable but ended up with string in my first try. But I learned from that, tried again, and succeeded with a softer, but still strong sock yarn. I don’t want to unlearn that lesson.

I am knitting a pair of socks for Dan in this yarn as we speak. They should be strong enough, but I don’t know yet. The yarn makes a clear dent across my left index finger as I knit. I hope they aren’t too scratchy to wear. This proves that my sock project still has lots of potential mistakes to embrace!

Freedom of creation

Sometimes I don’t even know rules exist. That way I can be free in my expression and create from my core. I can follow an idea straight from my heart all the way to a finished project. I will definitely meet challenges and make lots of mistakes. However, when it comes to my handspun I know how much time and love I have invested in it and I just have to make it work. I owe it to the sheep, the sheep farmer and the craft. Making something work despite a big blob of a challenge forces me to use more creativity to work around it. And that is definitely a superpower.

A few years ago I got a beautiful fleece with a lot of lanolin in the tips. I stored it for about a year and decided to start working with it. By then the grease had solidified and was very difficult to work through. Combing it was tough and left my shoulders and arms strained and the wool lumpy. After having experimented for a while I decided to tease the locks with a flicker before loading them to the comb (check out this post about the fleece and watch the two videos in it, showing the difference between combing with unflicked and flicked tips). The combing was easier on my back and resulted in less lumps and less waste.

A map of what I have learned

When I learn something the hard way I will remember what I have learned. My hands will remember. Especially when I look at what I have created. I say this all the time to my students and I mean it from the bottom of my heart: My mistakes are a map of what I have learned. I can look at a finished fabric and see the mistakes. At that instant I know what went wrong, why, what I did to fix it and how I can put that new knowledge to use in following projects.

Warp wisdom

One of my first weaving projects was the Blanka pillowcase. I spun the warp on a supported spindle from the cut ends of flicked locks and the weft on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. I wove the pillowcase as a tube, with two layers of warp on top of each other. The warp ends were very sticky and I had to separate them manually. I think over 30 warp threads broke, on the top layer as well as the bottom layer. I had spent so many hours spinning this yarn, from a prize winning fleece, and I just had to finish it. Eventually I did. I mended the weave by threading a needle with the warp yarn and sewing up and down in the space where the warp thread had broken. I am not afraid of broken warp threads anymore and I know how to fix them.

I must admit I have had to use this knowledge a few times after the disastrous pillow warp too, in the Frida Chanel bag and the stick wrap.

Another lesson in the Blanka pillowcase project was that spinning from individual staples creates lots of joins that are sensitive to abrasion and easily break. I avoid that in weaving nowadays and find other ways to spin the yarn without moving too far away from my creative needs. The pillow lives in our sofa, I wear the bag and I use the stick wrap when I weave. I see the mistakes every day. And I embrace them.

Exploring the boundaries

Some of the times that I have revisited a mistake it has been as an experiment to find out where the limits are. By exploring the boundaries I can find out how much I can bend the rules. If a warp yarn is sticky but still strong enough it will take a lot more time and disrupt the flow. But nothing bad will happen. If the warp threads are strong they will just cling, not break. The worst case scenario is that I will spend more time with the weaving. I don’t see that as a problem.

The joy of the heterogenous fleece

I work with handspun yarn in general and Swedish breeds in particular. More often than not they are unique and heterogenous. I need to compromise with the rules to make the textile work with the unique yarn that I spin. By learning – the hard way – how different yarns work in different kinds of weaves I can explore the boundaries.

A woolen spun Gute warp yarn in a loose sett.
A woolen spun Gute warp yarn in a loose sett.

During the fall I have spun a Gute warp yarn. The Gute wool is very prone to felting, very variegated in staple length, staple type and fiber type. Fibers are sticking out of the yarn and are just waiting for a neighbouring fiber to hold on to. But I still want to fulfill my goal of a light, fulled textile made of my handspun Gute wool. So despite all the rules and recommendations I made a woolen spun Gute warp yarn. The yarn has quite a high twist and the sett is very loose (so that I can full it). And it works. If it doesn’t, I will mend broken warp threads. I know how to do that now.

There will be more wool

Working with your mistakes instead of dreading them is a valuable way to learn more about how your fiber works. Without the mistakes I have made – from the very first blobby skein, through he recent sock string and to all future projects – I wouldn’t have been able to understand the wool I am working with.

The saddest mistakes I have made have been with fleeces that have grown too old and brittle and I have had to use them as mulching in the garden. But even then they come into use. And there will always be more wool. If you lose one unique fleece there will be another equally unique fleece just around the corner of the pasture.

So thank you, E, for your important question. Play, explore and learn. Embrace your mistakes. They will make out a beautiful map of what you have learned.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  1. 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.
  2. My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  3. I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  4. I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  5. 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.
  6. Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

The bottom of the basket

The bottom of the basket.

A basket full of wool can feel like an endless supply of woolly goodness. After having prepared what may seem like three bags full of wool the content still looks untouched. But the supply is not endless. Sooner or later you will get to the bottom of the basket. I did this week.

By spending time with the wool my hands learn how the wool behaves and how it wants to be spun.
By spending time with the wool my hands learn how the wool behaves and how it wants to be spun.

I love digging my hands in a new spinning project. Fiber by fiber I get to know the fleece – fiber length, elasticity, crimp, colour, shine, fiber type, staple type. These characteristics are there for me to discover. If I only invest my time and focus in the fleece they will present themselves to me. My hands will investigate and learn how the fibers behave on their way from staples to yarn:

  • How do the fibers blend in the preparation?
  • What is the draft like? Is it smooth, fudgy, resistant, slippery, light?
  • How do my hands adapt to the length of the fibers?
  • How does the lanolin work with me in the draft?

Fiber by fiber, meter by meter, my hands are programmed with the knowledge they gain from handling the wool. Always alert, always ready to reevaluate.

The bottom of the basket

But sooner or later, believe it or not, I do reach the bottom of the basket. I look down and there is not a single staple left. The wool that my hands have become so used to, so familiar with, is no more. Just like when I finish a good book – the characters and context I have come to know and love are suddenly just gone. And I miss them. I miss the wool that have become a safe space. My hands and mind have been in this particular wool for so long and now that it is gone I truly miss it.

The bottom of the basket.
The bottom of the basket.

Time spent is knowledge gained

The wool has taught me so much. Even if I can’t always put words on what I have learned – although I try to – my hands will have adapted to the characteristics of the wool. Through all the times the fibers have gone through my hands they will know how to work with the wool. Crafting is the knowledge of the hands. The knowledge from spending hours and hours with the material, the idea, the design and the tools. That knowledge is priceless.

Through handling the fibers again and again my hands have learned how the wool behaves and wants to be spun. The result this time is 12 skeins of cable-plied rya/mohair sock yarn, 454 grams and 826 meters.
Through handling the fibers again and again my hands have learned how the wool behaves and wants to be spun. The result this time is 13 skeins of cable-plied rya/mohair sock yarn, 454 grams and 826 meters.

The knowledge in numbers

I just amused myself with calculating the time spent on my latest spin, that got me to the bottom of the basket. Each of the skeins of my rya/mohair cable-plied sock yarn took:

  • 40 minutes for teasing
  • 40 minutes for carding
  • 2.5 hours for spinning
  • 30 minutes for the first S-ply
  • 20 minutes for the second S-ply
  • 20 minutes for the Z cable ply.

That sums up to 5 hours per skein. I spun 13. That is 65 hours of fibers going through my hands. Plus another few hours of washing fleece, sorting, blending, washing the finished yarn and dyeing. Let’s say 75 hours (mohair takes a lot of time to wash). That is 75 hours of being in the fleece. 75 hours of the fleece telling me what it is and how it wants to be treated (for a further discussion on time and cost of handspun, have a look at this post about calculations).

The bottom of the basket is full of knowledge.
The bottom of the basket is full of knowledge.

When I get to the bottom of the basket I realize it is not empty. I have gained not only a pile of handspun skeins yarn, but also a basketful of knowledge and experience.

I will miss handling this wool for a while. But I will also smile and walk a little prouder. I have a basketful of sparkling new knowledge. Knowledge that I will be able to put into my forthcoming baskets.

Happy spinning!


Gotta go now, I have birthday cake to eat. Our eldest turns 18 today (the age of majority in Sweden) and I am suddenly the mother of an adult.


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.
  • 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.

Knit (spin) Sweden!

Knit (spin) Sweden is in your online bookstore now!

Sara Wolf has written the lovely book Knit (spin) Sweden and I’m a co-author. The book has been out for a while, but due to Brexit and lockdowns I got my hands on it only last week. Today I give you a sneak peak of the book.

The more I read this book the more I’m fascinated by Sara’s thoroughness and knowledge. She leaves no stone unturned in finding answers to her questions. And even when she has no answer she does her very best to present as complete a picture as she possibly can. I am so glad to know her and proud be part of this book.

Sara Wolf

Sara Wolf has had a long career in museums as a textile conservator. She has a great passion for textiles in general and knitting in particular. Through her many travels, Sara has developed a deep interest in different knitting techniques and traditions around the world. While she teaches knitting she is always open to learning new techniques herself. I may be partly responsible for dragging her into the deep, deep spinning rabbit hole.

Sara has a long experience as a textile conservator, knitter and knitting traveller.
Sara has a long experience as a textile conservator, knitter and knitting traveller.

Knitting history in Sweden

While knitting is a relatively new textile technique it is still old enough to have a blurry origin. There are pieces of the puzzle, but we don’t have the whole picture. As the structured and organized reasearcher Sara is, she provides us with a lot of pieces that lead us not to a clear picture bot a lot closer to one. One example is an Egyptian sock, dated between the 12th and 14th century. The sock is knit with intricate stranded colourwork and has complex toe and heal constructions. This leads Sara to the conviction that knitting started a lot earlier than the dating of the sock. And together with findings of coins from over 20 different nations in the island of Gotland in the 9th century it makes the idea of an early arrival of knitting in Sweden very appealing.

Swedish knitting designers

Sara has chosen to portray five Swedish knitting designers and their work – the two-end knitting patterns of master knitter Karin Kahnlund, Viking inspired cable design by Elsebeth Lavold, floral stranded colourwork by Katarina Segerbrand, everyday cable garments by Ivar Asplund and the work of experimenting designer Kristin Blom.

Swedish fleece and fibers

In the fall of 2018 Sara contacted me via my blog and asked if I could spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds for a book (this book) she was writing. I was a bit reluctant at first, but we really connected and soon I sent handspun yarns from Swedish sheep breeds across the pond to her. She in turn knit swatches of my yarns.

The section in the book about Swedish fleece and fibers is almost entirely focused on Swedish sheep breeds and the wool they produce. This is the part of the book where I come in. While Sara describes the Swedish sheep breeds, I write about my process and what I think of the wool I work with. She has then written about her experience with the yarn in knitting.

I finally have the book Knit (spin) Sweden in my hands!
I finally have the book Knit (spin) Sweden in my hands! My contribution to the book is handspun yarn and some of the sections in the chapter of Swedish fleece and fibers.

My handspun in Sara’s hands

Having someone else knit with my handspun yarns is a new experience to me. Sara has some really interesting points as a knitter that differ from mine as a spinner. Some of the yarns are too scratchy as a knitting yarn, which I was fully aware of when I sent them to her. No matter how much I want a yarn to work as a knitting yarn, Sara with her long experience and skill as a knitter can pinpoint what it is that makes a particular yarn less suitable for next to skin garments. This understanding confirms my decision a few years ago to learn how to weave to be able to use yarns from the whole spectrum of spinning possibilities– from the softest of soft next to skin knitting yarn to the coarsest rug weaving yarn.

Yarn shops, mills and fairs

In three of the chapters in Knit (spin) Sweden Sara goes through places to visit in Sweden – yarn shops, craft shops, museums, spinning mills, sheep farms, fiber artists, wool and knitting fairs and much more. She writes about how to get there, what to expect and where the real treasures are.

Three chapters of the book Knit (spin) Sweden are dedicated to yarn shops, spinning mills, sheep farms, fiber artists and fairs all over Sweden.
Three chapters of the book Knit (spin) Sweden are dedicated to yarn shops, spinning mills, sheep farms, fiber artists and fairs all over Sweden.

Sara has visited many of these places during her travels to Sweden and bought their yarns. Just as with my handspun yarns she has test knitted all the yarns and tells us how they feel when knitting and as a fabric and in what kind of technique and use she thinks they will be best suited.

Knitting patterns

Are you curious about trying some Swedish knitting patterns? In the book Sara offers 11 patterns, featuring traditional patterns from different regions in Sweden and from some of the featured designers in the book. Sara has also adapted some of the historically interesting findings into patterns. I have contributed with a pair of two-end knitted wrist-warmers using traditional crook-stitch patterns.

Glossary

In the back of the book Sara provides a Swedish to English and English to Swedish glossary of knitting and spinning terms.

Find Knit (spin) Sweden here

You can find Knit (spin) Sweden in several online bookstores in North America, Europe and Sweden. Check the publisher Cooperative press in the U.S., Amazon in the U.S., Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Book depository in the E.U., and Adlibris, Akademibokhandeln and Bokus in Sweden. On all the Amazon options you can look inside the book and read the first few pages, including Sara’s and my introductions.

Knit (spin) Sweden is in your online bookstore now!
Knit (spin) Sweden is in your online bookstore now!

Thank you Sara for all the hard work you have put in to this book and for inviting me on your journey.

Have you read the book? Let me know what you think!

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. Contributions from those who can afford it will also help keeping the content free for those who can’t. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • 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.

Dear Blanket

As a knitter of 35 years and a spinner of 8,5 years I have produced a lot of textiles. Some of them have wandered off to new adventures, some are used every now and then. Others are used and loved every day. One of these is a Shetland hap I spun and knit from Shetland fleece three years ago. This is a love letter to a dear blanket.

Dear Blanket,

we have been through a lot you and I. From a bundle of Shetland fleeces through washing, sorting, carding, spinning, plying and knitting to a finished Shetland hap. You had traveled a bit before you came to us. From the soft, green hills of Shetland to me in Stockholm. All four fleeces – white, eskit, shaela and mooskit – and pressed together. In plastic bags! I realize the humiliation of that, dear Blanket, but you did come to a good home in the end, didn’t you?

Once I had liberated you from that horrid plastic prison I gave you a lovely soak. You provided the lather from your soapy suint supply. Thank you for that! I did what I could to make you shine like the star you are. Softly spun with smooth long draw, rolag by rolag into a squishy 3-ply yarn and fashioned through an intricate but subtle lace pattern. The result: A perfectly lovely blanket. I think you rather enjoyed that! A traditional Shetland hap construction in all your Shetlandiness, but here with me in Sweden.

50 of the around 1000 grams of 3-ply handspun Shetland yarn that was made into a dear blanket.

We took the tram together to the craft leadership course, remember? Well, just the edges of you of course, way back when you were little and easy to handle. The tram ride took me 40 minutes. Very handy, I must say, since that is the time it took to knit two reports. As I worked my way in to the border and the middle you got increasingly harder to handle. The size of you! Towards the end of the knitting you covered most of my lap and half the sofa.

When you were finished

I made a hap stretcher for you, dear Blanket, to flaunt all your soft natural colours and lacey exquisiteness. It must have felt good getting de-wrinkled like that and straightened into your true shape, size and manner. Exposed to sun and daylight, just as you had been once on the hoof.

Nowadays

we hang out almost every day during the cold season. You just have that perfect nap size. Did you know that, dear Blanket? Your weight is light enough not to weigh down and heavy enough to feel safe and at ease under. I feel very privileged wrapped in you like a dumpling. You even have the wavy edges to match! Your natural colours and comforting wooly touch make me feel totally safe and at peace as your human-sized filling.

A person standing behind a stretched Shetland Hap
The Moder Dy hap. A dear blanket in a perfect nap size. Photo by Dan Waltin

In the evenings you are the perfect lap warmer for two people to snuggle under. Sometimes a teenager comes and worms themselves underneath your warmth with us. We don’t mind, quite the contrary. We are happy for whatever teenage snuggle we can get these days.

A dear blanket for two.
A dear blanket for two.

You have also joined me for Shavasana in my yoga practice. I bet you like that. No fidgeting, no fussing. Just a flat, relaxed, breathing body to cover.

Do you remember all the indoor huts you have been the floor, walls or roof of? With giggling children, soft toys and cushions making up a whole world for a precious moment. The giggling children are older now, sometimes more grumpy than giggly, and still use you for a hut. But they would never call it that these days.

The past few weeks

have been really cold, around -14°C at night. When I go to bed I steal you from the sofa, dear Blanket, and smuggle you up to the bedroom and drape you on top of my duvet. On occasions like these it’s like you undergo a transformation – from that everyday blanket in muted colours you suddenly stretch yourself into a majestic creation, like the train of an exquisite gown. Shining, suddenly. Beaming. Nights like that I imagine I sleep extra well underneath your wooly warmth.

The comfort of sleeping under a dear blanket in the cold winter.
The comfort of sleeping under a dear blanket in the cold winter.

Even though we enjoy your warmth and safety every day you don’t look a day older than when I unpinned you from the hap stretcher three years ago. I thank you for all the warmth and support you have provided us, dear Blanket. I hope you will continue to keep us safe and at peace.

A dear blanket to give warmth and comfort on cold winter days.
A dear blanket to give warmth and comfort on cold winter days.

All my love,

Josefin

P.S. I do wonder what will become of you when we are no longer with you. Who will treasure you? Who will know where you came from? Perhaps your heritage will be a secret to your future companion. Either way I’m sure you will warm someone else’s heart and become someone else’s dear blanket. And that’s the important thing.

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.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • 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.

Spinning a song

With the information I have about the wool I work with I'm spinning a song. The cues I get as I spin give me the opportunity to also sing my spin.

In previous posts I have compared spinning with dancing – how the hands need to work together to find what the wool needs to become its best yarn. In this post I reflect over the similarities between spinning and singing. Today I feel like spinning a song.

Lead and backup

The other night I was watching an episode of a Netflix series. A talented singer was performing a song on stage. She also had a gutarrist with her. As she came to the chorus he acted as her backup singer. They had a focused eye contact and it looked like he watched her every movement to be able to follow her lead and back her up with every tone, duration and intensity to help bringing harmony to the song.

He had singing skills, experience and the knowledge of where she had been and where she was now. Together with both of their awareness of the present he was able to figure out where she was going and, through that, where he would go. It was a very intense moment where they totally trusted each other’s skills, knowledge and presence in the moment. It reminded me of the relationship between the wool and the spinner.

My hands learn about the wool through handling it and listens mindfully for cues to respond to during spinning.

On stage

When I spin, the wool is my lead singer, I’m the backup and the yarn is the song. I guess, in this analogy, the tools I use are the band. I have spinning skills and experience in general. Each fleece has its own characteristics that I need to keep in mind during the process. Through handling the fleece in all the steps I get a deeper understanding of this particular wool:

  • Through working with the fleece I get a sense of the length of the fibers. I adapt the twist and distance between my hands for a smooth spin and a twist to match the length of the fibers.
  • The quality of the lanolin left in the wool gives the wool a certain viscosity and decides how the fibers move in the spinning. Is it fast or slow? Light or tough? Or is there little to no lanolin left and the yarn slippery and unpredictable? My hands get an understanding of the role the lanolin plays in the way the fibers joins in in the twist.
  • Do the fibers work together as one or are they fighting each other? With stubborn fibers my hands need to make more of an effort whilst an agreeing preparation will allow my hands to work lighter.
  • Is the preparation fresh and airy or a bit old and stubborn? This will decide how much my hands need to work for the fibers to join the twist.
Working with the fleece gives me important information about how the wool is built up and how it behaves.
Working with the fleece gives me important information about how the wool is built up and how it behaves.

These are all cues I use when I spin. My hands remember how the wool behaves and they can adapt to my understanding of it. That is, if you will, the general knowledge of the wool. The wool is the lead singer here and I’m the backup singer. I need to get to know my lead singer but also be open to listening in the moment to be able to follow.

Mindful listening

Through mindful listening during spinning I get cues that tell me what is going on in this very moment. Is there a lump in the preparation that I need to take account for? Are there shorter or longer fibers in a section where I need to change the distance between my hands? I can close my eyes and try to get a sense of the consistency in the yarn. When I draft, my hands will listen for the point of twist engagement, where the yarn is open for adjustments in twist and thickness. My hands remember the quality of the yarn. If I listen mindfully I can follow the wool’s lead and contribute to making the yarn shine.

Focusing on how the fiber behaves gives med cues to respond to when I spin.
Focusing on how the fiber behaves gives med cues to respond to when I spin.

Spinning a song

The wool I’m working with now is a rya/mohair blend for a sock yarn. The mohair is quite dense and the fibers like to stick together. The rya is more airy, so in this combination there are parts that are airy and parts that are denser. I try to tease and card the blend to the best of my ability, but there are still critical spots here and there when I spin. Through the preparation of the wool my hands have gained a basic understanding of how the blend works. It’s not the walk in the park kind of wool, but I am getting to know how it sings. With this knowledge I have a better starting point when I spin. I listen for cues that have become clear to me during processing and I have a pre-understanding of what may turn up.

My hands listen carefully to the information they can get from the fibers in the yarn I'm spinning.
My hands listen carefully to the information they can get from the fibers in the yarn I’m spinning.

Just the other week I realized the difference between freshly carded rolags and rolags that were a week old. The older rolags were stubborn and fighted me while the fresh ones were a lot more cooperative. A freshly made rolag made spinning my song so much easier.

Singing a spin

In this sock yarn song the notes are difficult and the lead singer way ahead of my game. But I do my best to listen mindfully and learn as much as I can from my lead singer. I try hard to learn where my wool has been, where it is in this moment and where I can expect it to be further on and be ready for new cues. By working with what I know about the wool I’m spinning a song. With the knowledge I gain from listening mindfully to the wool while I spin I am also able to think one step ahead and sing my spin.

My hands learn about the wool through handling it and listens mindfully for cues to respond to during spinning.
With the information I have about the wool I work with, I’m spinning a song. The cues I get as I spin give me the opportunity to also sing my spin.

Happy spinning!

Knit (spin) Sweden book is out!

The book Knit (spin) Sweden, written by Sara Wolf with me as a co-author, is out! Some of you have bought it already. I hope you enjoy it! The book is available in online stores. The link is to Amazon U.S. Check it out to read about the book and also look inside it. I’m sure you can find it in other web shops in North America too. I haven’t read it yet, because I haven’t got the book. The European printer is in the U.K. and the books are sadly stuck there in a Brexit innuendo and covid shut down.

Sara has written a history of knitting in Sweden and Swedish knitting traditions. There are also knitting patterns in the book. She visits yarn shops and sheep farms, museums and spinning mills in different parts of Sweden. My contribution to the book is the (spin) part. I have spun yarn from many of the Swedish sheep breeds and sent them to Sara in the U.S. for her to knit swatches with. I have written about my experience with the wool as well as preparing and spinning it. Sara has in turn written about her experience knitting with my yarns.

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.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • 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.