Shearing day

Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep

Last week I presented the wool from the Swedish conservation breed Gestrike sheep. All the Gestrike fleeces I have come from Claudia Dillmann’s flock. I was invited to Claudia a couple of weeks ago on shearing day.

There is still time to register for today’s breed study webinar on Gestrike wool!

Rules and practice

Before I take you to the shearing day I want to give you a very basic overview of shearing in Sweden. This is my understanding and I may be wrong and off on several points.

The animal welfare law in Sweden states that sheep should be shorn when needed but with no more than one year in between shearings. However, most sheep in Sweden are shorn twice every year, usually in the early spring and in the fall.

Many ewes are pregnant during the winter, with estimated lambing in the spring. Much of the nutrition goes to the fetus and the wool isn’t in it’s best shape (for those of you who have ever been pregnant, you may know what I’m talking about). There is no access to fresh greens and the cold weather increases the lanolin production. A lot of sheep are stabled during the winter. Depending on the design of feeding tables among other things the fleece can have quite a bit of straw in their fleeces. The spring shearing is therefore usually of lesser quality, with more vegetable matter, more dirt and a higher lanolin content than the fall shearing.

In the late spring the sheep get access to fresh grass in the pastures. Some energy goes to milk, but only for a limited time. The fleece grows healthily over the summer and has a more balanced lanolin production. For spinners the fall shearing is more attractive than the spring shearing. This is of course generally speaking – I have spun a couple of spring shorn fleeces that have been of excellent quality.

Meet the flock

Claudia has 12 sheep in her flock at the moment – nine Gestrike ewes, one Gestrike wether and two Värmland ewes. A ram serves the sheep every second year and this year there were no lambs. The youngest sheep are around 18 months old. The wether Sylverster’s task is to keep order among any young rams. Claudia hoped he would also be a good lookout for predators, but he isn’t a very good guard dog. He is very nice, though, and goes with the ewes in the pastures. When there are young rams he does a very good job keeping them out of trouble.

The sheep are in the pen, reluctantly ready for shearing day.
The sheep are in the pen, reluctantly ready for shearing day.

Shearing day chain of action

When I got to Claudia’s place on shearing day the sheep were already in the pen, ready for shearing. Elin Esperi, professional shearer, had already arrived and was getting her equipment in order when I came. Claudia was there, of course, and her partner Roger. We all had important tasks to make the whole operation as smooth as possible.

  • Roger made sure Elin had a sheep to shear. He took them out of the pen one by one as soon as Elin was ready.
  • Elin’s task is obvious, she shore the sheep. Belly, crotch and legs first. After having removed this wool she shore the rest.
  • When Elin had finished with a sheep, Claudia carefully gathered the precious wool and came out to me, told me the name of the sheep and put the fleece on a grid for me to sort.
  • I wrote the name of the sheep on a paper bag and started to remove dirt, vegetable matter and second cuts from the fleece until I got the next fleece. Then I put the just sorted fleece in its paper bag and went on with the next one.

Shearing station

Since I was outside the shed and the others inside it I didn’t see much of the shearing. I did watch as Elin shore the first sheep, though, Sylvester the wether. She was very quick (she has come in fourth place in the Swedish shearing championships) and did an excellent job.

Although reluctant to leave the pen to be shorn, the sheep seemed happy and content and skipped out into the pasture after shearing. No butting, no grudging. They did seem a bit confused, but surprisingly calm.

The shearing corner is clean and free from straw. A wooden board has been placed on the ground between the pen and the shearing corner to make sure as little straw as possible enters Elin’s work station. Full daylight comes in from behind the photographer (me) and Elin has lots of space to work in.

At the sorting grid

At my outdoor station I got to go through all the fleeces, which of course was a lovely job. But since Elin was so fast I didn’t have much time with each fleece. From start to finish Elin shore 11 sheep in 30 minutes. So I got less than 3 minutes with each fleece. Each time I heard the shearing machine turn off I knew I would be getting a new fleece on my table and I needed to quickly gather the current fleece and put it in the paper bag.

I only had a couple of minutes with each fleece at my sorting station, but I did go through all the 11 lovely Gestrike and Värmland fleeces.
I only had a couple of minutes with each fleece at my sorting station, but I did go through all the 11 lovely Gestrike and Värmland fleeces. The fleece on the table, the last one for this shearing day, is Greta’s.

Eventhough I only got to spend a few minutes with every sheep I got the opportunity to see and feel the difference between nine fleeces of the same breed (plus the two Värmland fleeces). And the differences was truly intriguing.

The diversity of the fleeces is fascinating. Some white, some solid grey or brown, some spotted. A few of the fleeces are quite consistent in their fiber type – mostly cone shaped, airy staples with around 50 % of undercoat and outercoat, or more dense staples with clearly defined waves. Some have a little white or black kemp. All of the fleeces are remarkably clean.

A longitudinal study

A while back I introduced an idea I had of a longitudinal study of the fleece from one sheep during its lifetime. I contacted Claudia and got the opportunity to subscribe to the fleece of her Gestrike ewe Gunvor. I got her first fleece (shorn in October 2020 when she was around six months old) and her spring shearing from April 2021. On the shearing day the plan was to get access to her third shearing.

Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep
Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep

Claudia did however discover two hereditary diseases in Gunvor. Diseases that would be painful for both Gunvor and her future lambs. They would also be detrimental for the development of the breed in general. So the sad but only possible choice was to let Gunvor go to greener pastures. So, as there are 12 sheep in the flock only 11 were shorn this shearing day.

The longitudinal study has ended. I did get the fleeces from her lifetime. It will only have been very short. Thank you Gunvor for allowing me to discover your lovely wool. It has been a joy and pleasure.

Fleece chat

When the shearing was over Claudia invited Elin and me to lunch in her greenhouse. She served the best tomato soup I have ever had, together with a delicious bread. We talked about shearing, sheep and breeds. I asked Elin if there was a particular breed she preferred to shear or disliked. While admitted that the Dorpers and the Swedish Leicester had a tendency to butt her, she said that there were no breeds in general that she liked or disliked. The condition of the fleece was more crucial.

A tight fleece, felted parts or lots of lanolin are not enjoyable for her. Airiness makes the shears dance through the fleece. The spring shearing at Claudia’s place happened unusually late this year, in late April or early May. At this time the lanolin production was at its peak and the fleece was tough to shear. As I got Gunvor’s spring shearing I could see clotted lanolin between the fibers. So it seems like the shearer and the spinner typically like and dislike the same things in a fleece.

Fleece for sale!

Claudia has fleeces for sale! Eight Four Gestrike fleeces and two Värmland fleeces. They are remarkably clean and of high quality. Crotch and belly wool has been removed and also any poopy bits and visible vegetable matter that can be found in under three minutes.

The fleeces come as they are, raw. The lanolin content in the Swedish landrace and heritage breed is quite low and they can be washed in water only.

Again, all the four Gestrike fleeces I have come from Claudia’s flock and I have seen all the shorn fleeces she is selling now. I would buy them all if I had the time and the space.

If you want to buy a fleece from Claudia’s flock you can email her: claudia (at) saxensorter dot se

The sale of the fleeces brings in money to keep the sheep happy and fed during the winter.


As a thank you for helping out with the spring Claudia offered me a fleece. I chose one that was the same age as Gunvor: The grey beauty Elsa.

Thank you Claudia for your generosity with your flock, your knowledge and your heavenly soup.

There is still time to register for today’s breed study webinar on Gestrike wool!

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

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

Gestrike wool

One of the ten Swedish conservation sheep breeds is Gestrike sheep. Today’s blog post and an upcoming breed study webinar are all about Gestrike wool. This is my tenth breed study. Previous breed studies have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool, Dalapäls wool, Värmland wool, Jämtland wool, finull wool, rya wool, Klövsjö wool (blog post only) and Åsen wool.

This Saturday, October 23rd at 5 pm CET I will host a free live breed study webinar on Swedish Gestrike wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

Register for the webinar here!

Gestrike sheep

Like all the other Swedish conservation/heritage breeds, the Gestrike sheep is named after the region where it was (re-)found and established as a unique breed. So, Gestrike sheep were found in just a few flocks in villages in County Gästrikland in the 1990’s. The flocks had been grazing in the area for many generations.

According to the statistics from the Swedish sheep breeders’ association there were 173 breeding ewes in 25 flocks in 2020. The ewes way around 45 kg and the rams 60–70 kg. They can be white, grey, black, brown or spotted. Some lighten with age. The wool is predominantly of rya type – about 50/50 of outercoat and undercoat.

Gestrike sheep on shearing day. The sheep with the blackest face just left of the center is Elsa, described below.

Gestrike sheep are very good at grazing in tight vegetation and therefore perfect for forest grazing. They can get very affectionate and cuddly.

Gestrike wool characteristics

As a heritage/conservation breed, the breeding standards don’t allow crossing with other breeds or breeding for specific characteristics, including the fleece. So, as with the rest of the conservation breeds the fleece from Gestrike sheep is quite heterogenous.

My experience of Gestrike wool is mainly from three individuals – Elin, Elsa and Gunvor from Claudia Dillmann’s flock. Claudia has been a member of the board of the Swedish sheep breeders’ association for some years, with a responsibility for wool and skin.

Gestrike wool can have very soft and airy undercoat and long, strong and shiny outercoat. Some have a little kemp. Some can have. rougher mane fibers. Lamb’s wool is finer than wool from older individuals. This together with the many colours and the possibility of wool lightening with age gives a spinner an enormous spectrum of spinning possibilities – soft knitting yarn, strong warp yarn, fine, bulky and a broad palette of colours.

The characteristics I choose to focus on when I spin Gestrike wool are:

  • Rusticity. Gestrike wool is rustic. Still, not necessarily coarse. I would consider it a medium wool with no fuss. What you see is what you get with Gestrike wool. Triangular or conical shaped staples with outercoat and undercoat fibers. Rustic, straight and straightforward.
  • Lightness. Despite staples of up to 25 centimeters the Gestrike fleeces I have encountered have never felt heavy. On the contrary, they have a lightness to them that is very appealing. The undercoat is very airily distributed around the outercoat fibers and keep the sheep warm and cozy.
  • Versatility. With the different fiber types, a wide spectrum of colour possibilities and different wool qualities in sheep of different ages there are few things you can’t do with Gestrike wool.

Elin

The first time I met Gestrike wool was in the shape of Elin. My friend Claudia Dillmann who has a small flock of Gestrike sheep wanted me to get to know the breed she loved. So on a rainy day I hopped on my bike and collected Elin’s fleece.

Elin’s fleece is of mainly rya type wool (50/50 or 40/60 of outerocat to undercoat) but leaning towards vadmal wool (mostly undercoat and a little outercoat). Her undercoat is very fine and outercoat strong and with an overall light feeling. I can see some but not many kemp fibers in this fleece.

Fine undercoat fibers, coarser outercoat fibers and quirky kemp fibers in Gestrike wool.
Fine undercoat fibers, coarser outercoat fibers and quirky kemp fibers in Gestrike wool.

I have demonstrated Elin’s fleece in the free webinar The hand spinner’s advantage and also on the 2021 Kil sheep fest.

Gunvor

One night about six months ago a baby idea woke me up, pinching me to get my attention. The baby idea said to me, with great conviction: “Make a longitudinal study of the fleeces of one single sheep!”. What’s a spinner to do? I contacted Claudia and asked her if I could adopt the shearings of one of her sheep. Claudia thought it was a great idea and offered me Gunvor, a lamb born in May 2020. I happily accepted Gunvor and got her first (October 2020) and later second fleece (April 2021).

The undercoat of Gunvor’s lamb’s fleece is almost as soft as on Elin’s fleece. It has some white kemp that falls out quite easily. The wool is very easy to work with. Some of the black staples are very long, around 25 centimeters, and the black wool seems slightly finer than the white wool. The black wool also has less kemp.

The second shearing is a bit coarser than the lamb’s fleece and a bit lighter – it seems like Gunvor’s spots are fading with age, which will be interesting to observe.

Elsa

Elsa is my newest Gestrike fleece, shorn in early October this year. She is also a member of Claudia’s flock of Gestrike sheep. She also happens to be Elin’s daughter. Grey in different nuances and all the staple types represented, from mainly outercoat staples to mainly undercoat staples. The main wool type is rya type wool, though, with a 50/50 undercoat to outercoat ratio. The fleece has no kemp.

To learn about the four wool types in Swedish sheep breeds, read this blog post.

Gestrike wool for sale!

Claudia had her sheep shorn only last week (more about the shearing day in an upcoming post) and she has fleeces for sale! Eight Gestrike fleeces and two Värmland fleeces. They are remarkably clean and of high quality. Crotch and belly wool has been removed and also poopy bits and visible vegetable matter.

The fleeces come as they are, raw. The lanolin content in the Swedish landrace and heritage breed is quite low and they can be washed in water only.

Again, all the four Gestrike fleeces I have come from Claudia’s flock and I have seen all the shorn fleeces she is selling now. I would buy them all if I had the time and the space.

If you want to buy a fleece from Claudia’s flock you can email her: claudia (at) saxensorter dot se

The sale of the fleeces brings in money to keep the sheep happy and fed during the winter.

Preparing in general

With a wool in so many different colours, staple types and hands it is easy to see how Gestrike wool can have a very wide variety of preparation, and spinning techniques. Add to this the age spectrum where fleece from an older individual can be coarser (and stronger) and lighter in colour than a the one from a younger individual. Considering all these aspects there are numerous ways to dissect a Gestrike fleece:

  • fiber type (undercoat or outercoat)
  • staple type (ratio of undercoat to outercoat in the staples)
  • staple length
  • fiber fineness
  • different colours and shades of the same colour.

This makes wool from a breed like Gestrike sheep very versatile. With a flock of Gestrike sheep the sheep farmer has material from coarse rugs to the finest lace shawls in all the natural colours.

The Gestrike wool I have experienced is quite light and open. Preparing it is a true joy. It melts like butter in both combs and cards. My heart sings through processing. The fleeces from Claudia’s sheep has very little vegetable matter.

Preparing in particular

I have plans for all of the Gestrike fleeces in my stash.

  • I have started to card rolags from Gunvor’s lamb’s fleece (after teasing with combs). To take advantage of her spots I have sorted the colours in heaps of white, black and mixed.
  • The second shearing from Gunvor’s fleece will probably also be carded and sorted by colour.
  • I am planning to separate undercoat from outercoat on Elin’s fleece. I will then card the undercoat and comb the outercoat.
  • My plan for Elsa’s fleece is to divide it by staple type. I think I can get enough of each staple type to get four very different qualities. If there is enough I may also sub-sort by fiber fineness and/or staple length. I will probably card the heaps with more undercoat and comb the ones with more outercoat.

So, between the four fleeces I have I have plans to sort them in up to five different ways.

Spinning

As you can imagine, with fleece from a breed with so many options for dissecting and preparing, there are equally many ways to spin. Here are my plans for the fleeces I have.

  • I’m spinning a super bulky 2-ply yarn from Gunvor’s lamb’s fleece in black and white. I have spun bulky woolen singles from hand carded rolags on a floor supported spindle and plied it on a spinning wheel. You can read more about the spinning process for this yarn here.
  • Gunvor’s second shearing will be part of a rya rug project as pile yarn (you can read about a previous rya chair pad project here). A low twist, high ply and lightly fulled 2-ply yarn that will stand the abrasion in a rya rug.
  • With Elin’s fleece I’m planning to spin a worsted spun singles warp yarn and a woolen spun singles weft yarn for weaving and fulling.
  • Elsa’s fleece has so many options and I’m planning to spin lots of different yarns from the preparations of the heaps of different staple types.

Using

With the wide variety of staple types available in Gestrike wool it is easy to understand that you can use the yarn for a wide variety of projects – warp and weft for woven fabric, rugs, socks, mittens, sweaters, shawls and more. The undercoat fibers from a soft lamb’s fleece would definitely be a candidate for next to skin garments.

I am slowly knitting up the legs of my Moroccan snow shoveling pants. I run out of yarn quite quickly since it’s so bulky and the 5.5 mm needles aren’t really silky smooth knitting, but the fabric is just wonderful in my hands. Bulky, warm and safe with a soft smell of lanolin.

Live webinar!

This Saturday, October 23rd at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Swedish Gestrike wool from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I prepare, spin and use Gestrike wool. I will use Gestrike wool during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I prepare and spin the wool.

Register for the webinar here!

Even if you think you will never come across Gestrike wool in particular this is still an opportunity to learn more about wool and wool processing in general. The breed study webinar will give you tools to understand different wool types and apply your knowledge to breeds and wool types closer to you.

This is a wonderful chance for me to meet you (in the chat window at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The previous live breed study webinars I have done have been great successes. I really look forward to seeing you again in this webinar.

You can register even if you can’t make it to the live event. I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar. Remember, the only way to get access to the webinar (live or replay) is to register.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

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

Bulky

The Gestrike sheep Gunvor's lamb's fleece is slowly turning into chunky skeins of super bulky yarn.

What is your default yarn? Mine would be a 2-ply fingering, on rare occasions sport weight yarn. Today I spin way out of my comfort zone. With the slowness of a floor supported Navajo style spindle I do my best to approach a bulky yarn.

Snow shoveling pants

A while ago I wrote a review of the book Keepers of the sheep – knitting in Morocco’s High Atlas and beyond by Irene Waggener. I was intrigued by many of the the stories and patterns in the book.

One of the patterns that stuck to me was the Sirwal pants. A pair of knitted pants that shepherds used to knit and wear for shoveling snow among other things. As all of the patterns in the book the pattern is based on working with what you have in the form of wool, yarn, needles and body size rather than a detailed knitting instruction. I really liked the idea and think it would be a good challenge for me.

A bulky endeavour

Another challenge would be the bulky yarn that was suggested for the pants. My default yarn is fine, usually a fingering or sportweight yarn. I have started exploring spinning thicker singles on my floor supported spindles and enjoyed it very much. Spinning fat singles is very satisfying for some reason. I think it’s the letting go of perfect that is really appealing.

While I have never actually tried spinning a bulky yarn on a spinning wheel, I believe it would be too quick a tool for me. Or perhaps I just can’t let go of perfect that much. I think the spinning wheel would give the yarn too much twist and/or too uneven thickness. With the floor supported spindle I have the time to control thickness and twist and still spin up the yarn very quickly.

Floor supported spindle

So, my choice for the bulky yarn required for the Sirwal pants was my floor supported spindle. My wool choice was easy – Gunvor the black and white Gestrike sheep was the perfect candidate. A medium wool with airy undercoat and long and strong outercoat, ranging from around 10 to 20 centimeters in fiber length.

The lamb’s fleece of Gunvor the Gestrike sheep is the perfect candidate for my bulky pant yarn.

I wanted to keep the whole process as simple as possible and not use more tools than I needed, just as the knitting shepherds had done for generations. Therefore I tried to card the wool without teasing it first. After all, the locks were very airy and easy to open up. However, there were more short fibers and kemp in the wool than I wished, and I soon realized that these bothered me too much. By teasing the wool first with combs I got rid of a lot of the unwanted fibers. So I decided to keep the teasing.

This wool is so lovely to work with. It’s open and airy, making the carding a joy. no fuss, no tangles, just a sweet carding flow. A lot of the remaining short kemp fibers, especially in the white parts of the fleece, come out in the carding and spinning (and sticks to all my clothes).

Letting go of perfect

One of the challenges (for me at least) with spinning thick yarn is to let go of perfect. It is so easy to draft a little extra just to get that fuzz out. And another little extra. This is where I need to close the door to perfectionism, open my mind and my heart to the fuzz and go on to the next section. Once I have accepted this very provoking challenge and incorporated it into my spinning it is truly liberating. I see the fuzz, acknowledge it and embrace it. It’s there and that is ok. And it will fade out in 1 the plying and 2 the knitting.

A twisted rolag

When I spin a yarn of this thickness on a floor supported spindle I make three to four serious rolls of the shaft up my thigh so that the twist travels up the whole undrafted rolag.

A light hand on the shaft allows me to roll the shaft all the way up my outer thigh to insert twist into the wool.
A light hand on the shaft allows me to roll the shaft all the way up my outer thigh to insert twist into the wool.

After having inserted twist into the whole length of the rolag I make the first arm’s length draft, letting in some of the twist that has built up in the yarn spun previously.

Then I draft and add the final twist in 3–4 sections. This way the spinning of one rolag takes less than two minutes. A quick yarn in a slow technique. Now, that’s satisfying!

Opening up the twist

I work a lot with opening up the twist here. It is a technique that I use in all my spinning but is especially useful in spinning on a floor supported spindle. The hands need to communicate through the yarn between them. For that to happen the twist must be alive in the yarn – I need to work at what I call the point of twist engagement.

With my spindle hand thumb I roll the yarn against the twist to open it up. This way the fibers get more room to move and I can draft it to the thickness and evenness I want.
With my spindle hand thumb I roll the yarn against the twist to open it up. This way the fibers get more room to move and I can draft it to the thickness and evenness I want.

The point of twist engagement is a point where there is enough twist to prevent the yarn from coming apart but not so much that the yarn can’t move. At the point of twist engagement the fibers can slide past each other. By opening up the twist – rolling the yarn against the twist – the fibers can move in the yarn and pass this information on to my hands.

For a guided tour in the point of twist engagement check out the spinning meditation video I released last week.

2-ply super bulky

I usually don’t ply on my floor supported spindles, so I plied this yarn on my spinning wheel. The resulting 2-ply yarn is just lovely – bulky, round and kind. Perfect for snow shoveling pants.

I wrap the yarn around my wpi nostepinne and can’t really believe what I see. I’m so new to this yarn weight – both in spinning and knitting – that I didn’t think I would be able to achieve it. But I did. And it works.

My Sirwal pants are coming along just fine. I add stripe after stripe as I finish a new skein, just as described in the book. The yarn knits up very quickly and I need to spin more after just 1–2 stripes. But I do like the balance of knitting and spinning parallel.

Sirwal pants knit in my bulky Gestrike wool yarn.
Sirwal pants knit in my bulky Gestrike wool yarn and 5.5 mm needles.

I hope we get snow this year so that I can try the shoveling potential in the pants (if my daughter doesn’t get to the shovel first). I also have plans to proudly walk down to the lake with my Sirwal pants in the winter months for my daily bath.

Happy spinning!


Next weekend I will be teaching and there may not be a post.


You can find me in several social media:

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

A spinning meditation

I have a new video for you today! I recorded it this summer in Abisko national park, 200 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. A magical place, perfect for a spinning meditation.

Abisko is such a beautiful spot in the world. I never get tired of it. The stillness, the vast landscape and the vegetation in the mountain birch forests and above the tree line are breathtakingly beautiful. I have had some blurry plans for a spinning meditation for a couple of years now, and just a few weeks before we boarded the train to Abisko I knew that was the place where I would shoot the spinning meditation video.

About the spinning meditation

The spinning meditation is a 12 minute spin-along meditation. I use a suspended spindle in the video, but feel free to use any spinning tool you like. In the video I sit, stand and walk. If there is a section you want to stay longer in you can pause the video. Or, if you want to skip a section, just jump to the next. With a little imagination you can adapt the meditation to fit your personal needs. The video is available in spoken English and spoken Swedish. Both versions have the option for subtitles in English and Swedish.

So here it is, or rather, here they are, A spinning meditation in English and Swedish.

A spinning meditation in spoken English with English and Swedish subtitles.
En spinnmeditation in spoken Swedish with English and Swedish subtitles.

An idea is born

When I have taught five day spinning courses at Sätergläntan craft education center I have offered a spinning meditation as the very last thing we do together before everyone returns home. I have no training in how to put together a meditation and I basically made things up as I went along. But all the students seem to have enjoyed it. Towards the end of the meditation I have invited the students to spin with their eyes closed and feel their way in the spinning. They have all managed to spin with a lot more ease with their eyes closed than they had imagined.

Spinning with eyes closed isn't as hard as you may think. Focus on the sensation of the wool in your hands rather than the visual input and you are on your way.
Spinning with eyes closed isn’t as hard as you may think. Focus on the sensation of the wool in your hands rather than the visual input and you are on your way.

Returning students have requested the spinning meditation after the first year I tried it and I have offered it on other courses where the students have had a few days to get to know each other and feel safe enough to take part in a group meditation. After the meditation they have shared their experiences, especially regarding the section where I invite them to close their eyes. I have learned so much from their stories.

Location scouting

So, a spinning meditation video started to take up space in my head. When we finally got to Abisko after a 17 hour train ride I took several location scouting walks around the mountain birch forest where the Abiskojåkka stream ends in Lake Torneträsk. I found a cliff overlooking the stream, a higher cliff overlooking the whole stream delta and the lake, and a pebble beach with Lapporten, the Lapponian gate, majestically resting on the other shore.

These are places I returned to several times, not only for the sake of the video but also for the incredible beauty, serenity and vast landscape. Most of the photos in this blog post are actually print screens from the video. As usual I didn’t think about taking photos too. But below is a real photo and a sweet memory from one of the hikes we did.

A late glacier buttercup (isranunkel) just below the peak of mount Slåttatjåkka, overlooking the Gohpasvággi canyon and Lake Torneträsk.
A late glacier buttercup (isranunkel) just below the peak of mount Slåttatjåkka, overlooking the Gohpasvággi canyon and Lake Torneträsk.

The hike, from the top of the Mount Njulla chair lift station between the peaks and down along the Kårsavagge canyon turned out to be 8 hours long. I was quite exhausted after having walked downhill for so long, but very happy for the experience.

Weather issues I

When I had decided on my video locations I gathered wool, tools and tripod and went out to shoot the video. In the rain as it turned out. I am a very stubborn person and actually went through with the whole wool preparation part of the video in the rain, wind blowing my hat off my head. After a while, when my hands were fuzzy of all the fibers sticking to the palms of my wet hands I realized that I needed to come to my senses and reshoot the video another day.

Weather issues II

That another day was the last day of our visit, so I needed to shoot the video no matter what. The what of the situation was the temperature this time. It was around 10°C/50°F, which isn’t optimal for spinning wool with lanolin left in it.

I was on a mission, though, and realized that I needed to solve my problem since the weather wouldn’t do it for me. I filled a metal water bottle with boiling water, wrapped the wool around the bottle and a woven seat pad around the wool to keep it as warm as possible. And it worked! I managed to shoot the video at my three chosen locations with only minor… let’s say… interventions.

Visitors

As I sat at the very steep cliff over the roaring stream, combing away, I heard rustling noises in the mountain birch forest. Suddenly, literally out of nowhere, and with no owner to be found, two spitz-like dogs (jämthund/Swedish elkhound?) came towards me. I’m not the biggest dog fan, especially when I’m at steep cliffs over roaring streams with no one else in sight. I had nothing else to do than to stay calm and comb my little heart out. The intruders sniffed at me and my wool and lurked away behind me.

Stray and rude dogs at the set.

After a while they came back, still without owner. Perhaps I should add that in all Sweden dogs are bound to be on a leash or under strict supervision from March to August and on a leash at all times all year round in a national park. I still have no idea where they came from and to whom they belonged.

The dogs actually peed and pooped behind me. On camera! That’s just rude, don’t you think? I could show you clips of their crimes, but I won’t sink to their level.

A spinning meditation

When I shot the video I had no idea how to put together the actual meditation. I just made sure I had shots of all the steps of the spinning process and some pretty angles. During September I have explored the construction of the meditation and the narration. I wanted it to be accessible to as many spinners as possible, both beginners and experienced and with different preferences regarding spinning tools. And I wanted to offer the beauty of spinning with closed eyes. It is quite a special experience. Beauty, inspiration and exploration have been key words as I have crafted the narration of the meditation. I hope you find these aspects if you take part of the meditation.

Oh, and did I bathe in the lake? Of course I did. Every day in either the stream (6°C/43°F) or the lake (8°C/46°F). Also quite meditative.

I hope you enjoy the spinning meditation. Let me know if you meditated along with me in the video and how you experienced it. I also hope you can do the meditation outdoors, possibly with a bit higher temperatures than the 10°C/50°F I shot the video in.

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

Stash

A white fleece with very long and silky staples.

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

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

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

Miriam Miranda, a dalapäls lamb

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

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

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

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

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

Norsk pelssau

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

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

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

Rya

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

Silver medalist rya fleece from the 2020 Swedish championships.

Elin Gestrike

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

Nypon Finull

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

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

A seduction

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

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

Gunvor 1, 2 and 3

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

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

Coming up 1: Icelandic

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

Coming up 2: Swedish fleece championships

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

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

Happy destashing!


You can follow me in several social media:

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

A pattern process

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

1 Sparkling

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

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

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

2 Inspiring

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

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

3 Creating

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

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

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

4 Spinning

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

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

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

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

5 Swatching

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

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

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

6 Agonizing

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

7 Knitting

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

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

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

8 Thinking (I’ll remember)

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

9 Wishing (I had been more thorough)

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

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

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

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

11 Procrastinating

Oh, a new fleece, let’s explore!

Look, a kitten, let’s play!

Come on couch, lets nap!

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

12 Dragging (my feet)

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

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

13 Sweating

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

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

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

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

14 Breathing (in a square)

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

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

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

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

15 Submitting (slightly panicked)

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

In a second.

In just another second.

Now…

…-ish.

Swoosh.

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

16 Obsessing (about a millisecond after submitting)

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 Missing

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

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

18 Resetting

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

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

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

Thank you K and the gang for believing in me.

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

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

Have a look at my previous patterns:

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

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

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

Book review: Keepers of the sheep

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

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

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

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

Story

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

Irene’s story

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

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

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

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

History

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

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

Oral tradition

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

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

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

Wool and spinning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knitting patterns

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

Tqasher Jadeed socks

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

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

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

Sirwal pants

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

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

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

Historically inspired patterns

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

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

Wool combs

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

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

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

The job of wool combs

I use my comb for three things mainly:

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

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

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

Being gentle to the wool

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

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

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

Being gentle to the comber

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

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

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

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

My wool combs

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

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

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

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

The Gammeldags story

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

Way back when

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

A wool comb embryo

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

Quality and inspiration

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

Two pitched mini combs

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

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

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

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

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

Single pitched mini combs

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

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

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

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

Maxi combs with combing station

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

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

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

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

Minimidi combs with combing station

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

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

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

Video resources:

Happy combing!

You can find me in several social media:

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

3D printed charkha

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

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

3D printed charkha

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly

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

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

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

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

Fiber and preparation

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

Cotton grown in Sweden, ginned and carded by me.

Weight

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

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

Communication

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

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

3D printed combs

3D printed comb handles with nails as tines.

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

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

Hesitation

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

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

Experience

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

Brutal honesty

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

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

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

3D printed combs

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

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

Assembly

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

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

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

Weight and weight distribution

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

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

Nails

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

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

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

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

Handles

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

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

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

Setup

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

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

Risk of injuries

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

Flow and inspiration

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Coming up: Review of a 3D printed charkha.

Happy spinning!

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  • 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.