Finished

A few weeks ago I took you on a tour of some of my unfinished projects. I have actually finished a few things lately. One of them is a sweater in my own design from my handspun yarn. I call it Bianka.

A woman wearing a knitted sweater in shades of grey, from natural white at the neck to dark grey by the hips.
The finished Bianka sweater. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Bianka

Staples of wool in shades of grey.
Bianka’s fleece in shades of grey.

A while ago I bought a fleece in shades of grey. The wool was from the Swedish finewool and East Frisean cross Bianka. She was old and is on other pastures now. The Shepherdess was happy that I gave some love and care to the last of her fleece. This was a day I had decided not to buy any fleece. I failed.

Colour sorting

Five skeins of handspun yarn from natural white through medium greys to dark grey. Three of the shades have specks of colour in them.
Shades of grey. From the left: Selma, three shades of Bianka in the middle and on the far right the nameless sheep number 12004. Selma, the lightest shade of Bianka and the dark grey has sari silk carded into it.

I decided to divide the fleece into three shades to show their beauty and spin them separately. I carded rolags and spun a 3-ply yarn with English long draw. The skeins turned out beautifully, but they weren’t enough for a sweater. I did have two other spinning projects going on that would suit my three greys perfectly – one natural white from the finewool/rya cross Selma (coming up in a later post) and one dark grey from the Margau Beta sweater. Luckily there was yarn left from the knitting project they had been involved in.

A plain design

I wanted to design a sweater that would let the colour gradient be the star. I also wanted it to be an everyday sweater. Since I wasn’t sure I had enough yarn I wanted it to be as plain as possible with a fitted design.

Top-down

A knitted sweater in shades of grey.
The sweater is knit top-down in the round to take advantage of the colour gradient. Please note the snowflakes. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I am new to designing and I have found bottom-up designs much easier to calculate than top-down. However, for this design I needed to start at the top. I wanted the shades to go from light to dark and I had much more of the darker shades than the lighter ones. I figured the distribution of the colours would be more in balance if the smaller amounts were at the yoke where the circumference was smaller. Hence, I needed to pull myself together and design a top-down sweater. After the third frogging it worked!

Subtle details

I wanted some small and subtle design element, though, and I wanted it to be present in different parts of the sweater. I found a very simple cable ribbing that I used for the collar, cuffs and bottom hem. The yoke shaping got the same kind of cable. I also added a faux seam in the sides and sleeves. The whole sweater is knit in the round, though.

Close-up of a knitted yoke in shades of grey. The neckband and raglan shaping is cabled.
Cabled neck ribbing that continues in the raglan shaping. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I decided not to make any short rows to for the neck. It would disturb the raglan cables and I wanted the design to be as simple as possible. I could have placed short rows below the raglan cables, but then the colour segments would look wrong.

Colour challenge

Since I was determined to keep the colour changes in the same place for sleeves and body and I didn’t have endless amounts of yarn I needed to knit the body and sleeves at the same time. There were lots of needles and cables to get tangled in, I can tell you! But I think there is a beauty in the limitation – if I have a finite amount of material I need to be more creative than if I had all the material I could wish for. I see the limitation as a positive thing that I need to account for in my design and that gives it an extra dimension.

Two hands touching a tree. You can see the cuffs of a knitted sweater. The ribbing of the cuffs is cabled.
The cuffs have the same cabled ribbing as the neck and raglan shaping. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I was a bit worried that I would run out of yarn before I was finished and I was aware that I may have had to keep the sleeves shorter than I wished them to be. In the end I did end up with one skein left of the darkest shade and part of a skein of the second darkest. I didn’t have to make the sleeves shorter. I love that the uncabled part of the cuff spreads out like a little skirt over my hands.

Close-up of the bottom hem of a knitted sweater. The hem has cabled ribbing.
A faux side seam and cabled ribbing at the bottom hem. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The hem ribbing has the same pattern as the cuffs. I like the fairly high ribbing, especially in combination with the few centimeters of dark grey above the ribbing, before the lighter grey takes over.


All in all I’m very happy with the result. I am learning more and more about garment design and what I can do with the yarn I have. All the way from feeling a fleece for the first time and through the steps of the process to a finished yarn a design takes shape in my mind. I feel so empowered by the realization that I can mold my fleece into a finished garment that celebrates the wool that made it possible.

Perhaps I will knit myself a matching hat with the leftover yarn.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • 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.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Oldies

A woman spinning on a supported spindle.

I have nothing new for you today due to a heavy workload (most of which is still unfinished). Instead I bring you some oldies that I cherish and that inspire me. Perhaps you have seen them before and can see them again in a new light. Perhaps you are a new follower and see them for the first time. In any case: Welcome to a November binge watch!

Willowing wool

Warning: Willowing wool can be hugely entertaining. Do try this at home.

Let’s start with something light – willowing wool. This is how people opened up wool in European medieval times. The technique was also used to blend different qualities of wool and/or colours. It was an actual and important occupation – Wollschläger in German (wool beater).

I didn’t plan to make this video. The idea just came to me one morning and I quickly set the stage on our terrace and started playing. As it turned out, many people watched the video and were inspired by the technique. Many people say it’s my best video. Perhaps because I’m clearly having a lot of fun!

Do try this at home! It is hugely entertaining, especially if you can find a willowing partner.

Spinning in the 14th century

Spinning in the 14th century. Imagine the force and creativity of the collective thoughts of spinning women at the time!

Let’s stay in the historical context for a moment and look at spinning in the 14th century with a simple spindle stick and whorl and a distaff.

The best videos I make are the ones where I interact with someone. There is a connection and a true exchange of ideas, emotions and solutions that move the process forward. In this video where I spin on a medieval style spindle and distaff I got to interact on camera, which gave the video credibility. Not to mention the fun we had making it! My partner in craft is Maria Neijman, weaver, reenactor and authority on historical textiles. She made all the costumes we are wearing in the video and – perhaps most importantly – helped me get dressed for the occasion!

Sitting on that tree trunk, crafting and talking with Maria was a precious moment. Spinning helps me gather my thoughts and think more clearly. Trying my thoughts and reflections out on a friend makes them sharper. Imagine the force and creativity of the collective thoughts of spinning women at the time!

Watch this video to remind yourself – or anyone else for that matter – about the importance spinning, and thereby women’s unpaid work, has had through history. What would have become of us if someone hadn’t realized they could roll plant fibers between their hands to make it stronger? What would the industrial revolution have looked like if it weren’t for Spinning Jenny?

Ply on the fly on a Turkish spindle

Let’s move on – in time and space. We are now in Austria, a couple of summers ago. I went out one morning in July and placed my tripod (well, a garden chair, really) and myself in the middle of a meadow. I dedicated my spinning to the morning air, the mountains and my Austrian heritage.

One evening when there was a concert in the town I brought my Turkish spindle and plied it on the fly by the lake where all the people had gathered. One lady approached me, smiling, and told me how her mother used to spin. She thanked me for bringing out this sweet memory. Crafting in public can generate lots of smiles, memories or just peace of mind.

Plying on the fly is a fun and effective technique. Since it takes up a minimum of space it is a perfect method for spinning on the go – commuting or traveling. It can also be a way to reduce the risk of strain on your body since you alter between spinning and plying.

If you haven’t tried plying on the fly before, why not try now! You can do it on other suspended spindles as well as on a supported spindle. If not, just enjoy the scenery and think of bringing your spindle to see the world. How do you craft in public?

Spinning cotton on an Akha spindle

How do you dance your spindle?

For this video we change location, technique and fiber. Spinning cotton is for me a true art of trust and patience. I need to trust the short fibers enough to cling on to each other and be patient enough to wait for them to do so before I make the draft. Spinning on an Akha spindle also gives the spinning sort of a choreographic dimension – the changing of techniques and direction of the spinning turns the process into a dance between spindle, hands and gaze. The fibers act as the artistic director and the spindle is the choreographer. I’m just the dancer, following the instructions the fiber and spindle give me.

I shot this video at Sätergläntan craft education center when I taught a five-day course in supported spindle spinning. The place bursts with creativity, craft and true inspiration.

Watch this video to find a flow of the movements in your spinning. Just spin for the dance of it without concerning about the resulting yarn. How do you dance your spindle?

For the love of spinning

Watch this video to find your spinning spirit.

The last two videos I want to show you are more about mindset and process than specific spinning tools or techniques.

The first of these is about the essence of my love for spinning. There are so many emotions connected to this simple and foundational craft that give me such joy and peace. In the video I also bring out my inner spinning poet to capture these emotions to the best of my ability. The places we filmed are places that are very dear to me – at home, in a log cabin in Tiveden and in Salzkammergut, Austria.

Watch this video and reflect over why you spin. What is it that makes you want to spin for more than the resulting yarn?

A meditation

Meditate along or just find your spinning mindset.

A video that is sprung out of the previous video is A meditation. I wanted to capture the mental state that spinning gives me and portray how spinning can be – and is for me – similar to meditation. How my thoughts come and go along with the fibers that pass through my fingers. Touching, representing the moment but not lingering.

The video was shot by a 17th century industrial estate with a few gristmills and a working fulling mill.

You can use this video to think about what part spinning plays in your mind. Or, you can meditate to the video. Go to your meditation space – literally or mentally – and spin along with me. How do you meditate your spinning?


These are some of my favourite oldies among my spinning videos. I hope you enjoyed them and my reflections about them. Which one is yours? And why?

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • 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.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Unfinished

I have a lot of things going on at the moment and I can’t seem to finish any of them. I get inspired by so many things. Even if I am a very structured person I sometimes find it hard to focus on finishing one idea.

Last week I took you along on a rescue operation of a capsized spinning project. Today I will give you a glimpse of my pile of unfinisheds. Perhaps it will give me some perspective and actually finish some of them.

A creative wave

I’m in the middle of a creative wave. I want to craft and design, but when I need to structure my thoughts in numbers and charts that I don´t master yet the wave dies off. I start another project. It’s like the wave flushes over me and then leaves me with the mess it has caused.

Creativity works exponentially for me at the moment. Ideas pop up in my head like little stars, poking me and winking for my attention. I feel bad when I don’t listen to them, they are all my babies. But when there are many ideas my head gets blurry and nothing comes out of it.

But all the while I have lots of unfinished projects I am convinced that good will come out of it. For me and for you. I like to see it as a step in a learning process that I need to take. It is a large and demanding step, but I need to take it in order to be able to move forward.

Here are some of my unfinished projects and ideas.

The sleeve pile

Miscellaneous unfinished sleeves. Well, two of them are actually finished by now, but still. Why is it so hard to finish sleeves? All the yarn in the picture is my handspun with the exception of the turquoise.

Can we talk about sleeves? What’s their problem? Really, I mean they are practical and all that, but they are so uninteresting to both knit and design. It’s like they place themselves on top of a creative wave like a damp cloth and smothers it.

To prevent the project from collapsing completely I usually knit both sleeves at the same time. But since I have so many projects going on I don’t have enough knitting needles! How’s that for an irony?

The never-ending chair pads

A loom with a Gordian knots weaving project
My rya chair pads are coming along slowly. Perhaps we can sit on them for the holidays?

A few weeks ago I showed you the rya chair pads I’m making from handspun stashed yarns and thrums. I was thrilled in the beginning, seeing my stashed-away thrums get new life between the warp threads. The process of making the knots is meditative. But there are a lot of knots. I’m on my third pad (I warped for eight) and I’m so looking forward to sitting on them. But they are still very much unfinished.

Yoke ripping

A new yoke is sprouting. Started three four times, still unfinished.

I started a new sweater design (after actually having finished one). Once I have a project envisioned in my head my hands itch to start. It’s like I can’t wait to shape my new idea between my hands. But when creativity moves faster than reason things can go awry. I’m not sure I have enough yarn to start with. The sleeves may have to suffer. The design is still unfinished. I started it three four times, though!

All the numbers

A woman sitting by a computer. A knitting pattern book on a book stand is on the table. An autumn tree is reflecting in the computer screen.
Pattern making is a long, but rewarding process. Frustrating at times, but I learn a lot.

I’m learning pattern making. It is so exciting and I’m getting to know the process a little more every day. For every new piece of the puzzle I get acquainted with my understanding of knitting design deepens. But it is so difficult! So many things to think about, so many calculations to make and so frustrating when I miss one tiny step and I have to go back two. Still, somehow it is moving forward. Slowly but steadily.

Unfinished online business

I am also working on course material, videos and webinars for you. These things do take their time, especially since my boss (me) is very demanding. They will be finished one day, and they will be good. Just not yet.


I’m not sure this post is properly finished

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • 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.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Rescue operation

Two hands wearing mittens, and holding some wild flowers by the sea.

Last week I released a video where I tried to learn Andean spinning. Towards the end of the video I showed some clips of how the yarn got all tangled and we needed to shoot the scene again. Several followers commented on this and said that they especially liked this part. So, for this week’s post I will take you along on a rescue operation of a spinning project gone south. I did manage to take pictures during the operation. They are of poor quality, but they do their job in showing you what happened.

A pattern request

In February I was asked to write an article and pattern description for Spin-Off magazine. The deadline was short and I needed to spin a yarn, knit a pair of mittens, analyze and write the article and the pattern description. The pattern was in twined knitting, which is quite time consuming.

An open magazine showing an article with pictures of a Pinner and a pair of mittens.
Article and pattern in Spin-Off magazine.

Spinning gone south

I was quite stressed out by this and started spinning immediately. I asked a spinning friend who has made several twined knitting project how she prefered her Z-plied yarn. She said that she liked it with a high twist so that the yarn would be nice and round. A higher twist makes the patterns in twined knitting stand out more, she added. So I started spinning with a lot more twist than I usually do.

But for some reason, my fiber didn’t want to be spun with high twist. Perhaps the fibers were too long, combined with the low (or non-existing) crimp. Perhaps I didn’t understand how to adjust tension and intake. The yarn turned into phone cord with curls all over.

I was a bit bothered by this, but hoped that my problem would solve itself when I plied the yarn.

It didn’t.

Yarn with uneven and curly parts.
This is not publication worthy yarn. The twist is too high and has started to build up phone cord curls all over. It needs a rescue operation.

My assignment for the magazine hovered in my head and I realized that I needed to take some serious action. I decided to implement a rescue operation and respin the yarn.

Rescue operation

The problem was in the singles, but I had already plied the yarn. Therefore I needed to unply the yarn, ease the twist in the singles and reply.

Unply, ease and reply.

This is how I did it:

Unply

I put the bobbin with the plied yarn on the flyer and treadled the same amount of treadles as in the plying process, only against the plying direction. After having unplied a section of yarn I rolled each singles section onto a separate bobbin. If there was still ply left, I shifted the bobbins to undo the rest of the plies.

Close-up of a person spinning on a spinning wheel. She is holding two bobbins of singles in her lap. The singles are attached to a plied yarn on the flyer.
To unply the yarn I turn the wheel against the plying direction and store the singles on separate bobbins in my lap.

This process took around an hour and a half for each skein. I had two. It also took some blood, sweat and tears. I had lots. When the yarn was fully unplied I wound the singles onto my niddy-noddy to make skeins.

Overtwisted singles.
Back to the over twisted singles.

I then soaked the skeins of singles overnight.

A soaking skein of singles yarn. The yarn is heavily over twisted and plies back on itself.
Poor little over twisted single needs a bath.

Ease

To ease some of the twist I rolled the singles onto bobbins again and ran them through the spinning wheel against the spinning direction until the curls had let go.

A bobbin of singles yarn. The yarn looks mangled.
Singles with eased twist.

The singles looked a bit tousled and shocked, but who can blame them? They had been through a gruesome ordeal.

Reply

The final step of the rescue operation was to reply the singles into a balanced 2-ply yarn. This went quite smoothly. I made a skein and soaked overnight. The operation was successful and the patient recovered.

There were a few curls left after the operation. I see them as a reminder not to spin under pressure. The yarn had less twist than I had wished for in the beginning, but it was free of phone cord curls and well behaved, which was more important.

Patient released, lesson learned

I got it all done on schedule. I made my analysis, knit the mittens, wrote the pattern and article and submitted the night before deadline.

The name of the article was Twist analysis.

The irony.

Lesson learned:

  • Listen to your friends.
  • Listen to the wool.
  • If friends and wool contradict each other: Think. And listen to your gut feeling.
  • Don’t spin under pressure.
  • If spinning under pressure, you are less likely to think or pay attention to any gut feeling.
  • Don’t spin under pressure. Really.
Two hands wearing mittens, and holding some wild flowers by the sea.
Finished Heartwarming mitts knit with mended handspun yarn. Photo by Dan Waltin

You can buy the Spin-off issue with the article and pattern here. You can also check out the pattern on Ravelry.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • 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.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Learning Andean spinning

A woman walking on a country road while spinning

I have a new video for you today where I’m learning Andean spinning. While I do spin on an Andean Pushka in the video I wouldn’t say the video is about Andean spinning. Rather, it is about coming closer to understand the many dimensions of spinning. If you want to learn more about Andean spinning I have linked to lots of resources at the end of this blog post.

Spinning as a way of living

For many people of the Andes, spinning is a way of life. For me it is a hobby. But it is also more than that. I need to spin. My hands need to feel the structure of the wool and the motion of the spindle. My mind needs the moments of peace and tranquility spinning brings me.

The textile tradition of the Andes is long and strong. Techniques and tools have been handed down in an outdoor life for centuries and are still practiced in the open and on the move. Hands are never idle, spindles are always in motion in caring and experienced hands. I am very humbled by a community where textile arts is such a big part of people’s history, traditions and everyday life. In my part of the world textiles are pretty much seen seen as disposable products, often made far away in poor quality by people who work for less than minimun wages in lousy conditions. But in a textile community the textiles and textile crafts are respected and cherished.

Abby Franquemont has spent a lot of her childhood in the Andes, living in a textile community. She has recently moved there and runs a retreat in the area. Right now, this very second, it dawned on me what the title of her bestselling book Respect the spindle is really about.

I am new to Andean spinning. I have practiced for only a few months. During that time I have learned a bit about the technique. More importantly, I have learned a lot about spinning as a craft and art form. I feel the presence of the talented people who have spun before me. I am grateful for their gifts and that there is still so much to learn.

Crafting needs

Many crafts have been lost or forgotten after the industrial revolution. Why make when you can buy, right? The need to craft decreased. But I think in today’s society we need to craft more than ever, but for different reasons. To me, crafting gives me a deeper sense of presence, a feeling that is much needed in a world where we are flooded by information. I need to spin to find balance and to sort out what’s important to me. I think most of you understand what I mean when I speak of the crafting bubble – when you craft and forget time and space and are just in the moment.

Learning Andean spinning

A skein of white handspun yarn
A finished skein of light fingering weight yarn, hand teased and spun on a Pushka spindle 47 g, 124 m, 2629 m/kg

I have written down some basics of how I understand Andean spinning. I am very new to this I’m still learning Andean spinning. There are so many people who are living this technique and who know this so much better than me. Go to them if you want to learn more about Andean spinning.

Preparation

A woman standing by a field, teasing wool.
Teasing the wool by hand gives me a deeper understanding of the wool.

Spinners of the Andes don’t use any tools to prepare the wool. Instead they tease the wool by hand, usually alpaca or sheep’s wool. I use a Norwegian crossbred. Different fiber types will naturally be different to tease.

The chunk of fleece I teased for the teasing clip took around 35 minutes to prepare. This may seem like a very time consuming activity. And yes, you could argue that. But to me it is also an opportunity to get to know the fiber. When it goes through my hands again and again I get to know its structure, how it drafts and how it behaves. My hands store the information and use it in upcoming steps of the process. No time spent with the fiber or spindle is time wasted.

The spindle and the spinning

A woman spinning on a bottom-whorl spindle
The Pushka is a simple tool consisting of a carved stick and a turned balsa whorl

To go from shorn fleece to a finished skein the Andean way you only need one tool: A Pushka. The Pushka is a simple and lightweight spindle with a straight hand-carved stick and a turned balsa whorl. This tool is easy to bring when you are out and about.

The Pushka has no hook, groove or notch. Two to three half-hitches secure the yarn onto the shaft. You can use the spindle suspended, supported or grasped, depending on the context.

Transferring and skeining

Close-up of a person winding a yarn ball on the beach.
Transferring the singles to pebbles is a slow technique. It gives me time to reflect over the yarn I have spun.

In a life on the move there is no place for unnecessary tools. Usually the finished singles are wound around a pebble with the ground soil as a spindle stand. It is simple – not necessarily easy, though – and it works. I found out – the hard way – that it is a good idea to store the singles on the pebbles for a while before skeining. A newly spun single will tangle and make a big mess in the skeining step.

A woman making a skein between her hands.
Making a figure 8 skein is a good exercise!

Spinners of the Andes usually make a figure 8 skein of the two strands of yarn between the arms. Again: It’s simple and it works.

Plying

A person standing by a lake, plying on a spindle.
I ply the yarn by rolling the spindle between the palms of my hands. Sometimes I succeed.

With a figure 8 skein the spinner can easily ply the yarn straight from the skein hanging from the arm. You can either roll the spindle against your thigh or set it in motion between the palms of your hand. The latter technique takes a bit of practice. I’m lucky if I succeed one time out of ten.

Location

A phone camera on a tripod. A woman walking on a country road in the background
Dan always finds the right light, angle and composition. Photo by Dan Waltin

We shot the video during a week this summer when we rented a cottage at a sheep farm. Dan did most of the camera work. He has an eye for the right light, compositions and angles and I’m always happy when he takes the time to help me with my videos. Even if I’m the only one on camera, the interplay between us makes the video so much better and gives it a feeling of a deeper presence.

Learn from the professionals

Indigenous people have been spinning in the Andes for thousands of years. The textile tradition is long and strong, tracing back to the Incas and earlier. But it wasn’t always like that. During the colonial era the Spanish did their best to stop the making and wearing of traditional textiles. The industrialization made hand-made textiles less popular and new fibers were invented. You can read more about the textile traditions in the Andes here.

In the seventies more modern methods and tools spread and the younger generation didn’t learn the craft from their older relatives. A group of weavers did take matters in their own hands, though. Together with Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez they started a group whose mission was to save the old traditions and techniques and sell their textiles. The goal was also to empower indigenous weavers, especially women.

Resources

If you want to know more about Andean spinning there are several things you can do. There are Youtube videos where talented Andean spinners show the technique. Here is one that I like. There is also an online course you can download, where Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez goes through the technique in more detail. You can watch the YouTube trailer and then buy the course at Long thread media.

I recently bought a beautiful book about Andean spinning and weaving – Secrets of Spinning, Weaving, and Knitting in the Peruvian Highlands by Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez. It takes you through all the steps from fleece to embellished textile in beautiful photos and hands-on instructions.

A book on a tree trunk. Secrets of Spinning, Weaving, and Knitting in the Peruvian Highlands by Nilda Callañaupa Alvare
Secrets of Spinning, Weaving, and Knitting in the Peruvian Highlands by Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez. A good resource for learning Andean spinning.

Support Andean textile artists

I just donated $25 to the Center for traditional textiles of Cusco. If you want to support the textile traditions of the Andes you can donateeither to the center as a whole or to a specific program or project. The center also has an online shop where you can buy beautiful hand made bags, purses, hats, ponchos etc. If you donate, please let me know in the comments how much. It would be nice to see how much we have donated in total.

Happy spinning!

A woman walking on a country road while spinning
Walking and spinning deepens the senses of both the walking and the spinning. Photo by Dan Waltin

Swedish fleece championships 2019

Last week I wrote about the Swedish spinning championships 2019. In this blog post I will take you with me to the Swedish fleece championships.

Fleece highlight of the year

The Swedish fleece championships is one of my favourite events of the year. This is when I meet talented shepherdesses who know what spinners want. It is also the time when I buy my best fleeces. I take notes of the winners and put them in my list of shepherdesses to contact when I need a specific breed or quality.

A long table full of wool.
Over 50 fleeces competed in the 2019 fleece championships!

Eight categories

There were 54 competing fleeces, which, as I understand it, was a record. The fleeces are sorted into categories depending on the breeds that are competing. This year there were eight categories:

Gotland

Heaps of silvery grey and wavy fleeces
Some of the silvery Gotland fleeces in the championships. The leftmost got a bronze medal.

Seven fleeces competed from the most common breed in Sweden, the Gotland sheep. Strong, silky and drapey are words that I think best describe this breed. Not a next to skin material, but prefect for socks and sturdier garments.

Rya

Fleeces with white wool at the bottom and colored at the tips.
Spectacular Rya fleeces with unusual color changes in the staples. The rightmost got a silver medal.

Six stunning fleeces competed in this category and I could have eaten all of them. From pitch black, through caramel ripple to beaming white. Rya wool can be described as long, strong and shiny with strong outercoat and soft undercoat and very little crimp. The fleece has traditionally been used in Rya rugs. It works wonderfully as a sock yarn or for embroidery.

Swedish Finewool

Heaps of white wool. The staples are short with lots of crimp.
Sweet Swedish fine wool locks with lots of crimp. The middle fleece got a gold medal.

My first fleece was a finewool fleece and since then it has been the wool I feel most familiar with. Soft, crimpy and and warm are words that come to mind. A very good candidate for next to skin garments such as mittens, sweaters and shawls. This is my go-to wool for woolen spun yarn from hand-carded rolags. Six fleeces competed in this category.

Swedish Leicester

Heaps of white wool with long, curly and shiny staples.
Swedish Leicester. Long, curly and shiny.

The Swedish Leicester come from Leicester longwool sheep that were brought to Sweden in the 16th to 18th centuries. Just like Gotland wool the fibers are long, strong and drapey. The two breeds have been co-bred in Sweden to make pretty skins. Not next to skin material, but it makes an excellent warp or as a strong component in a blend with something softer. Seven fleeces competed in this category.

Värmland

Heaps of brown, grey and white wool.
The Värmlands. So many variations in colour and character. The white fleece to the right got a bronze medal.

Six fleeces competed in our biggest conservation breed, the Värmland sheep. They were all lovely and represented the colour variation very well. The fleece is a dual cote with lots of fine undercoat and long outercoat. The breed is quite versatile and you can get anything from strong and rustic warp yarn to silky soft locks I have made mittens and half-mitts from a Värmland fleece and medalist in the fleece championships of 2017.

Crossbred Jämtland

Heaps of wool with a very fine crimp.
Crimp, anyone? There were lots of Jämtland fleeces in the championships.

Jämtland sheep are our newest breed. Officially it has been a breed for less than ten years. It is a crossbred between a meet crossbred Svea sheep and merino. Seven fleeces competed in this category.

General domestic breeds

Fleeces of different colors
Two Helsinge fleeces competing in the general domestic breeds category. The darkest one got a bronze medal.

This was a category for domestic breeds that were to few to make their own category. Nine domestic breeds and domestic breed crosses competed – Helsinge, Klövsjö, Jämtland/Härjedal/Åsen, Gotland/finewool, Gotland/Rya and Gotland/finewool/Rya.

Crossbreds

Fleeces of different colours
General crossbreds. From the left: Finewool/Dorset, Finewool/Leicester and Gotland/Texel. The dark to the left got a silver medal and the white to the right got a gold medal.

Six exciting crossbreds competed in this category – Finewool/Leicester, East Frisean, Finewool/Dorset, Finewool/Leicester, Gotland/Texel and Jämtland/Leicester.

Championship harvest

I had a allowed myself to buy three fleeces from the auction of the competing fleeces following the prize ceremony. That is about the amount of wool I can manage to bring home on the train. I also wanted to buy some smaller quantities of wool for, say, upcoming breed study webinars.

Long and silky Rya

A fleece with long and shiny locks with almost no crimp
Long and silky Rya lamb’s locks. The fleece got a gold medal in the fleece championships.

On this year’s wool journey I experimented with making a sock yarn blend with Rya and mohair. On the championship auction I managed to get the gold medalist – a shiny white lamb’s fleece from the Shepherdess Kari Lewin. She won an obscene amount of medals for her fleeces of several breeds – Swedish Leicester, Rya, Gotland and Swedish finull.

Versatile Värmland

A white fleece with wavy staples
A yummy white Värmland fleece with many possibilities.

The second fleece I bought was also a medalist – a bronze winning white Värmland lamb’s fleece. It was unusually shiny and with lots of variations in fiber length and fiber type. I have spun some Värmland of very different character and colour and this was my first white Värmland fleece.

Shiny Klövsjö

A white fleece with long and shiny staples.
The most shiny fleece was a Klövsjö fleece. No medal, but it wanted to come home with me.

The last fleece I bought was not a medalist, but still such a beauty. It was a shiny white Klövsjö fleece with long and Rya-like locks. Klövsjö sheep is another conservation breed. I wasn’t alone in having fallen in love with this fleece. I bid against another spinner (and, as it turned out, a follower) for a while until I won. Then I offered her to share it with me and she happily accepted my offer.

Miscellaneous yum

There was also a raw fleece market where shepherdesses sold their fleece. There wasn’t very much space and therefore not many vendors. Still, I got what I wanted.

First of all, I got some mohair for my sock yarn project (see Rya paragraph above). I haven’t really worked with mohair before so this will be exciting.

Shiny locks of mohair.
Mohair for my socks!

Next up was a small bag of Swedish finewool. This is my favourite breed and the one I started out with eight years ago, but since I don’t have a project planned at the moment I didn’t get a whole fleece. Instead I will use the wool for teaching purposes.

A fleece with short and crimpy staples
I always come back to Swedish finewool.

Another smaller batch for teaching purposes was some Jämtland wool. My favourite Jämtland wool supplier covers her sheep and shears them once a year, so her fleeces are remarkably clean and has very long staples.

Long locks of very fine wool and lots of crimp.
Jämtland wool has the crimpiest crimp.

I’m always keeping my eyes open for conservation breeds, and I found one that I hadn’t planned to buy. I stumbled upon a stall full of Åsen wool as if it was meant to be.

A heap of white wool.
Åsen wool, another conservation breed.

Going back home

We had a couple of days to ourselves and then we had to go back home. I had bought seven batches of wool (two whole fleeces and five smaller batches). I had also received a bag of Norwegian pelssau from a friend, so there was a lot of wool to take home.

Seven bags of wool.
There is always room for more wool!

Luckily I had brought vacuum bags for the transport. I could press my eight bags of wool into three practical bags and fit them in our luggage and get home on the train.

Wool in vacuum bags.
Always come prepared for the fleece market! My 4 kg of fleece fit nicely into three vacuum bags.

If you are looking for me in the next couple of weeks, I’ll be washing fleece.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • 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.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Swedish spinning championships 2019

Four wool balls in white with brown and dark grey stripes.

This past weekend I went to Öströö sheep farm outside of Varberg on the Swedish west coast for the 2019 fleece and spinning championships. It was a wonderful day. I met lots of people, cuddled with heaps and heaps of fleece and got the people’s choice medal around my neck. In this post I will show you how I made my competing yarns for the championships. In an upcoming post I will share my experience of the fleece championships.

A woman standing by the sea. She is wearing a knitted sweater and a medal around her neck.
I got the people’s choice medal for my competing yarns in the spinning championships!

Swedish spinning championships 2019

August kept me busy with spinning for the spinning championships. It has been a lot of fun and a real challenge. There were two categories in the championships – one intermediate and one advanced. I competed in both.

This year we got fleece to start with. Most of the previous years we have got machine carded batts, which I don’t really like. I want to get to know the fleece from the beginning, I want to dig my hands into a dirty fleece and work all the steps in the process myself.

All participants got the same fleece sent to us on the same day. We got about one month to finish and ship the finished yarns.

Intermediate Gute sock yarn

For the intermediate level of the championships the assignment was to spin a sock yarn. We got raw wool from a gute lamb.

Gute sheep is a primitive breed with both outercoat, undercoat and kemp. You can read more about gute wool in a previous post. This lamb’s fleece has probably both under coat and outer coat, but it is hard to distinguish since the fibers are so very fine, probably in the cashmere range.

Raw fleece in different shades of grey. The fibers are very fine but there is also lots of black, coarse fibers.
Gute (lamb) fleece. Extremely fine fibers but also lots of black kemp.

My original thought was to spin a 3-ply, but then I decided to make it a cable yarn. It is quite difficult, but it makes a really pretty structure and a strong and sturdy yarn, perfect for socks. In the Swedish spinning championships of 2017 I got a medal in a spinning championship for a cable yarn.

Preparation

I started by flick carding the locks. A lot of the kemp stayed in the flick card. After combing the wool even more kemp disappeared. I was left with soft and silky bird’s nests. I can hardly believe it is Gute wool.

Balls of combed light grey wool. Some coarse fibers are in the balls.
Soft and silky bird’s nests of Gute wool. Some kemp is left, but a lot less than when I started.

Spinning a cable yarn

I spun the top worsted, with short forward draw. As I spun I pulled more kemp out.

This is how I made my cable yarn:

  • I spun four singles with Z-twist.
  • Then I plied the singles S into two balanced 2-ply yarns.
  • After that I put more S-twist on the singles.
  • Finally, I plied the two 2-ply yarns together, Z.
A skein of light grey yarn.
A finished fingering weight cable yarn from Gute wool, ready to send to the championships.

I ended up with a fingering weight skein, 55 m, 32 g, 1708 m/kg. Some of the kemp is still in the yarn, but it will push itself out eventually.

Advanced Värmland cape

The advanced level of the championships was really interesting. The assignment was to spin a yarn for a woven cape. Not just any cape, but the cape of the Bocksten man. The Bocksten man was found – murdered with a stick through his chest – in a bog just outside of Varberg (where the spinning and fleece championships took place). A piece of cloth was analyzed and dated to around 1290–1430. His clothes had been very well preserved in the bog. As I understand it, the Bocksten man’s clothing is the only complete men’s outfit in Europe from this time period.

A postcard depicting medieval man's clothing
The medieval clothing of the Bocksten man. Photo by Charlotta Sandelin/Länsmuseet Varberg

The task was to make our own interpretation of the Bocksten man’s woven cape. Either in two different yarns for warp and weft or the same yarn for both. We got raw wool from Värmland sheep, mostly in white, but also some locks of brown and grey. Värmland wool has both undercoat and outercoat, and may be similar to the wool that the cape was originally woven from.

Locks of wool in white, brown and grey.
Silky locks of Värmland wool in white, brown and grey.

I decided to make two different yarns for warp and weft. I also wanted to separate the wool types and spin with different techniques. In addition to that I wanted to play with the colours.

Warp

Preparation

I sorted the staples according to colour and combed each colour separately using my double pitched mini combs. I also separated the outercoat from the under coat and saved the undercoat for the weft.

A palette of Värmland wool. Combed outer coat tops in white, brown and grey plus the undercoat comb leftovers.
A palette of Värmland wool. Combed outercoat tops in white, brown and grey plus the undercoat comb leftovers.

When I had combed through everything I combed it again. I took two bird’s nests and combed together. This way I got bigger nests and could separat the wool types even more.

A wool comb full of silky white long fibers.
Second combing. Just long and silky outercoat fibers.

Before I pulled the combed white wool off the comb I added some of the coloured wool to make a lengthwise stripe in the top.

Four wool balls in white with brown and dark grey stripes.
After this stage in the process it was difficult to continue. I wanted to keep my rippled chocolate merengues!

2-ply yarn

I am not a big fan of big colour variations in the same yarn, I prefer more subtle blending. Still, I wanted both the grey and the brown to shine next to all the white. To achieve a soft colour change I spun one of the singles all-white and the other with the striped tops.

Two bobbins of singles. One pure white and one with a mix of brown, white and grey.
Worsted outer coat singles ready to be plied.

I spun them both with short forward draw and 2-plied.

A skein of white, brown and grey yarn.
A finished lace weight (I have no idea what the translation to weaving is) warp yarn. 94 m, 35 g, 2655 m/kg.

It was such a joy to spin this yarn! The white fibers were so shiny and silky, just like a merengue batter. The grey and brown fibers were different in the structure compared to the white. The grey fibers were coarser and less conforming and the brown fibers were a bit closer to the white. The lengthwise stripe turned the singles to a beautiful chocolate rippled merengue batter.

Weft

Preparation

I wanted a coloured effect in the weft yarn too. I carded rolags of the white wool and in some of them I made stripes of the coloured staples.

Prepared fiber in a mushroom tray. Above and below: Outer coat hand-combed bird's nests. Middle: Under coat hand-carded rolags.
All the fiber prep in a mushroom tray. Above and below: Outercoat hand-combed bird’s nests. Middle: Undercoat hand-carded rolags.

Singles yarn

I wanted warp and weft spun in different directions. Therefore I chose to make the weft a singles yarn. My best tool for an even single is always the Navajo spindle. I started by spinning all the rolags into a roving.

A spindle full of yarn. A wood shed in the background.
Woolen yarn spun with long draw on a Navajo spindle from hand-carded rolags, first pass.

Well, it didn’t really end up as a roving as I had planned. It was more of a loosely spun single. I then spun it all again to give the yarn its final thickness and twist. This is when I realized that there was a bit too much twist for me to be able to make it finer. It was quite a bit of hard work.

A spindle full of yarn. A wood shed in the background.
The second pass on the Navajo spindle. The yarn is finer and more even.

The fact that there was no crimp in this silky soft undercoat made drafting a challenge. I had to pay close attention to the drafting zone to avoid breakage. Even if I spun it too much the first time I think it was a good choice to spin the yarn twice.

Another problem was the fact that the different colours had different characteristics as I wrote earlier. Especially the grey fibers were coarser and more difficult to draft in such a fine yarn. Many colour joins broke and many expletives were uttered.

A skein of singles yarn.
A finished weft yarn for the Bocksten man. 184 m, 42 g, 4335 m/kg. This yarn is so yummy!

After getting used to the behavior of the fibers I learned how to pay extra close attention to the colour changes and joins and ended up with a beautiful skein of singles.

A woven swatch.
Pin loom swatch of my Bocksten man yarns.

A joyful day

A row of yarns on a stick
The competing sock yarns in the intermediate category.

All in all, spinning for the Swedish spinning championships 2019 was a joyful process. The raw material was wonderful and I got to play with it on so many levels. I liked that we were free to make our own interpretations and add our own artistic touch in our contributions to the championships.

A row of yarns on a stick
The competing weaving yarns in the advanced category.

Meeting new and old friends

I met a lot of old friends at the championships – spinners, shepherdesses and suppliers. So many friendly faces to share a happy day with. And at least ten people came up to me, introduced themselves and said they were followers. This really made my day! I also got interviewed by a woman from a weaving podcast (I think she used the word star struck when she approached me). Meeting followers is such a joy for me. I am an introvert, but meeting you in person really warms my heart.

Coming up: The 2019 fleece championships.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • 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.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Flax timeline

A small flax field in bloom

A follower asked me to make a flax timeline she could follow for her own flax. This is a lovely idea. I am so grateful for suggestions on blog topics. I write for you and if you have requests it’s even better. So thank you Kathy!

Making a timeline with dates for flax is a challenge, though, depending on different climate zones and on which side of the equator you are living. Any approximate dates would be a challenge even within Sweden. The official arrival of spring is around February 20th in the southernmost part of Sweden and May 5th in the far north. In this flax timeline I have tried to use signs as a starting point. You need to translate these signs to your own context.

Five stricks of flax. Smallest to the left and chunkiest to the right.
My flax harvests through the years. From the left: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

In short

Instead of a timeline with dates I have tried to make a guide with practical indicators to help you know what to look for. In short, this is what I came up with:

  • Sowing: When the soil is manageable
  • Harvesting: When the stalks are yellow up to 2/3 of their height.
  • Drying: Outdoors in dry weather.
  • Rippling: Outdoors in dry weather.
  • Winnowing: On a dry and windy day.
  • Retting: Dew retting can be done in the fall or in the spring.
  • Processing and spinning: When you are able to do it outdoors.

In the paragraphs below I have tried to elaborate these indicators.

Cultivating

Sowing

This is the easy one. Sow your flax on Karolina Day, may 20th. This will result in high flax plants. The women sowing should wear no underwear (to show the seeds that they need new underwear). In addition to that, they should sow barefoot, wear at least three white garments (this would result in a white and shiny flax), walk with high strides (to guarantee a high flax) and let their hair down.

A small flax field in bloom
The experimental flax patch in July.

I sow when the soil is ready. This means that any ground frost should be gone and that the soil is manageable. In my part of Sweden this means sometime in April or early May.

This is also the time when the weeds start sprouting. Especially chickweed, a kind of weed that in its initial stage looks very much like flax and gives me lots of trouble when weeding. So I have waited for the weed to sprout, remove it and then sow the flax. This made my life easier and resulted in less chickweed.

When I did some research for this post I learned that sowing early would provide for a more even nourishment for the flax. Sowing later would result in uneven lengths of the flax straw. This explains a lot. My 2019 harvest is very uneven in length (albeit chickweed free). For the 2020 flax season I will start when the soil is manageable, as recommended. I’ll just have to deal with the chickweed.

Harvesting

The time for harvest will again depend on your climate zone. In some countries it may even be possible to have several harvests in one year. It will also depend on what fineness you want your flax fibers – fine medium or coarse. A fine flax is of coarse appealing to many, but it will also result in a seed capsule that isn’t ready. An early harvest for fine fibers will thus not give you any seeds for next year’s cultivation. Medium harvest will give you medium fibers and more developed seeds. A late harvest results in coarser fibers and fully developed seeds, something you may be interested in if you are harvesting the seeds for oil purposes.

I harvest my flax at the medium stage, when the stalks are yellow up to the lower two thirds of their height. According to my flax book that is around 25–30 days after blossoming, but this too would be depending on climate zone and weather.

Bundles of flax on the ground. The top 1/3 of the bundles are green and the bottom 2/3 are yellowed.
I harvest my flax when the stalks are yellow up to 2/3 of their height.

Prepare for process

Drying

When I have harvested the flax I dry it. How long that takes will depend on the weather and the moisture in the air. The air in my part of Sweden is quite dry and if the sun is shining the flax will dry quite quickly, in just a few days. This year I wasn’t that lucky. The sun was out, and when I planned to keep it out for just a couple of days more, it started to rain. Several times.

In the southern parts of Sweden you can find old flax saunas, especially from the 19th century. These were simple buildings used to dry the flax over an oven when the sun wasn’t enough to dry it.

Rippling and winnowing

When the flax is completely dried I ripple it. I take care of the seed pods and make sure to dry them some more. When the seeds are completely dry I wait for a windy days to winnow them.

Hands holding two bowls. The top bowl is pouring seeds into the bottom bowl. Dried plant material is blowing in the wind.
I winnow the flax seeds in dry and windy weather.

Retting

Retting flax is an art form in itself and I have just started to understand what to look for. There are several methods – dew retting, water retting and snow retting. I have experience from dew retting only. In all three methods the flax goes through the same stages, but with different duration. Water retting can be done in a fortnight while snow retting can take over 100 days.

A hand holding a flax straw. The fibers have been separated from the core.
The retting is finished when you can easily pull the fibers from the core in all its length.

I usually dew ret the flax directly when it has dried. Dried flax can still be interesting to pests, whereas retted flax is not. I make sure the lawn is newly mowed so that the stalks come as close to the dew as possible. My general retting period is around 20 days. I turn it over after ten. After around 15 days I check more regularly. The fibers should be easily removable from the core and in its entire length. This year it took exactly 20 days, last year 21.

After the flax has retted I dry it in standing bundles in a windy place.

A bundle of retted flax standing on the ground.
I dry the retted flax in standing bundles in a windy place.

Processing and spinning

Theoretically you can process and spin the flax any time of the year. In practice, though, you need to process your flax at a time when you can do it outdoors. Flax processing and spinning is very dusty and you really don’t want that to go into your lungs. I usually do it in mid-August, since that is when I take it to the Flax Day at Skansen outdoor museum for processing, but I could just as well do it in the spring or summer.

A woman hackling flax on a table outdoors. There are many flax samples on the table. Another woman in period dress behind her.
I process the flax outdoors. to get as little of the flax dust as possible in my lungs.

I hope this gives you an orientation of when to do what. What would be the flax timeline where you live?


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • 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.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Reuse

A while ago I finished a weave. That moment when you cut the warp is a scary one, especially when the warp is handspun. I have saved all my handspun thrums simply because I can’t bear to throw them away. In my current weaving project I reuse my saved thrums.

A hand cutting down a warp from a loom.
Cutting down a warp is scary, especially if the yarn is your own handspun.

Thrums

I have always felt bad for the thrums left behind. Up until now I haven’t figured out what to do with them, but I haven’t been able to throw them away. I have just sighed and put them in a cupboard.

A couple of years ago I saw the prettiest chair pads made just like a rya rug – a woven square with gordian knots covering the whole surface. This was the perfect project for my thrums!

Rya chair pads

After having cut down my latest weaving project from the loom – and carefully saving the thrums – I started warping for my chair pads. We have eight kitchen chairs with the ugliest cotton pads with foam rubber filling. I am ashamed to say that they are at least fifteen years old and leaking out all their innards. So I warped for eight pads, that’s four meters of warp. I haven’t warped four meters before and I hope I am not in over my head.

A loom with a long warp. A warping peg holding the warp is attached to a balcony fence.
September is the perfect month for outdoor warping!

I am a beginner at weaving and I only have a rigid heddle loom. But it does what I want it to do and on a level that I understand. The sweet thing about being a beginner is that I don’t know what rules I’m breaking. Trial and error are my guides.

The warp yarns are also my handspun that have been lying in my stash for quite a while without a designated project.

Setup

The warp is a Shetland 2-ply from a fleece I bought a couple of years ago. The weft is, well, whatever I have really. And I have a lot of yarn just waiting to be useful. I do spin more than I use my handspun. The weft for the first chair pad is hand-combed and worsted spun Värmland wool.

I have left a 2 cm border on each side edge without knots and 4 cm between each pad. This way I can make a folded hem around the pad for sturdiness.

The knots are made mostly with my saved thrums. The first thrums are from another warp yarn – a hand-dyed jeans blue Swedish Leicester yarn spun worsted from hand-combed tops. I will also use old skeins of handspun that I haven’t found a use for. Probably lots of white and natural colour yarn. And I have the freedom to make stripes, patterns or whatever my heart desires.

Gordian knots

A knot of blue yarn around three brown warp threads
A sweet little gordian thrum knot.

This is how I make my Gordian knots for this project:

  • I make my knots over three warp threads, leaving one warp thread between each bundle of three.
  • I use a doubled piece of yarn (resulting a loop in one end of the knot).
  • After having lifted the three warp threads slightly I put the middle of the doubled yarn over the three threads, then under the outer warp threads and up in the middle.
  • I slide the knot down to the weave and pull it snug.
A hand pulling a knot in a warp.
Pulling the Gordian knot snug.

After the knot “shuttling” I make three regular shuttlings and repeat these four shuttlings. The knots in the second repeat are moved one warp thread to make a more harmonious pattern.

Rpws of blue Gordian knots in a brown weave
One row of knots and three regular shuttlings.

Helpful tools and techniques

To get the yarn ends for the Rya knots in equal lengths I use a wooden board around which I wrap the thrums in bundles. I cut the bundles at the edges of the board and get equal lengths.

To make it easier to pick each individual piece of yarn I bundle them together and tie the bundle on the middle. That way I can place the bundle on the weave and easily pick out individual yarn ends as I make the knots. I use a tapestry beater to beat the knots and the weft yarn tight.

A Rya weave in a loom. A wooden tool with sawed out teeth and a bundle of 12 cm yarn ends lie on top of the warp.
I’m out of the blue Leicester and continue with natural white Rya/Finull crossbred. A tapestry beater helps me keep the weft tight. Bundled yarn ends make it easier to pick out individual strands.

The weaving of a muppet

As I happily knot away I realize how much yarn I will need for my eight chair pads. I ran out of blue Leicester thrums after two thirds of the first pad and continued with white finewool/rya thrums. This will be a very effective stash buster project!

I also realize how much time this will take. Each four row repeat take around ten minutes to finish. I’ll be lucky if we can place our new year’s bottoms on these. But when we do, I expect I will want to sit on them all the time.

A table loom  with a rya weave on it. Sunrise over a lake in the background.
A loom with a view

I’m still very much of a beginner at weaving. But that doesn’t stop me from treasuring the moments I bring out my loom. The repetitions of the knotting and the shuttlings help me unwind and allow my thoughts to come and go. Feeling the very muppetness of the knots gives me such joy. I smile at the prospect of sitting on these pads. They actually look like real things! I think I’ll name this first one Groover.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • 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.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Dalapäls wool

A board with white yarn samples and wool locks.

The breed study is moving on and today I will dive in to the beautiful world of Dalapäls wool. This is the third post in my breed study series of Swedish sheep breeds. Previous posts have been about Gotland wool and Gute wool. Coming up is also my third live webinar in the breed study webinar series!

Next Saturday, September 21st at 5 pm CET I will host a live breed study webinar on Dalapäls wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

The webinar has already taken place

Whether you are celebrating World wide spin in public day outdoors or indoors, I hope you take the time to warm up/wind down (depending on your location in the world) with a wooly breed study webinar! A worldwide live stream is definitely a spin in public event.

About Dalapäls sheep

Dalapäls sheep is a rare and endangered Swedish conservation breed. A conservation breed means that the breed is protected. If you have a gene bank you are also committed to preserving the breed. This means that you are not allowed to cross the breed with other breeds. You also commit to strive for genetic diversity – breeding for specific characteristics (like wool or hornedness) is not allowed. In 2018 there were about 160 lambing ewes in 25 flocks of the Dalapäls sheep in Sweden according to the Swedish sheep breeders’ association.

White sheep eating straw
Dalapäls sheep

The name Dalapäls reveals both origin and use. Dala in this case means from the County of Dalarna. Päls means fur and indicates that the skins have been used for fur. The traditional jacket Kasung was used in areas of Dalarna as a traditional jacket. It was made of leather and had edgings of white wool locks. The locks look very much like Dalapäls wool.

An old leather jacket with fur edgings in bottom and front hem and cuffs.
A traditional Kasung with wool edgings. Image provided by Creative commons

The wool is usually white. Grey spots can occur. Some lambs are born black but usually turn grey or white as they grow.

The Dalapäls sheep are quite small, around 30 kg for ewes and 50 kg for rams. They have a strong sense for the flock and are very suspicious of strangers. This may come from the fact that they have been grazing in the woods or in a chalet historically and have developed a strong consciousness of enemies like wolf and bear. Because they are so watchful they are not cuddly sheep.

Wool characteristics

Dalapäls wool is a double-coated wool with strong and shiny outer coat and fine, soft and warm under coat. The most common fiber type is the long and wavy staple. This wool type has little or no crimp.

Long, white and wavy wool locks.
Extra long and silky locks of different Dalapäls sheep.

Shorter, wavy and even crimpy staples do occur and the fleece is not even across the body of the sheep. This gives a spinner many choices in spinning the wool. A shepherd or shepherdess can have a small flock of sheep and still get lots of different wool types.

Wool locks of different lengths and character.
One single sheep can have very different wool types. These staples come from the ewe Saga.

Some shepherdesses sort the wool according to fiber type and/or staple length at the shearing stage.

The top three: Shine, fineness and versatility

If I were to pick out three main characteristics of the Dalapäls wool it would be shine, fineness and versatility. I asked my friend Lena who is a Dalapäls shepherdess and these were her choices too. Another Dalapäls shepherdess, Carina, added that Dalapäls wool is easy to spin and I agree to that too.

  • The most obvious characteristic of Dalapäls is the shine – the very special Dalapäls shine. This characteristic alone is enough for me to fall for this breed.
  • My second choice would be the fineness. Eventhough the outercoat is long and strong it is still very fine and can be spun into a next to skin yarn. The undercoat is of course even finer than the outer coat. The locks are very lofty at the base and the undercoat is soft and silky.
  • Because of the variation of the wool between individuals and over the body of one individual sheep, Dalapäls wool is very versatile. I have seen everything from 25 cm long silky and wavy locks to 5 cm curly or even crimpy staples. If you sort the fleece according to wool characteristics and also separate the fiber types you could get a wide variety of yarns.

Preparing and spinning

A Dalapäls shepherdess was going to send her wool to a mill and asked me what kind of yarn she should ask them to spin. I didn’t really know what to answer. You can get so many different kinds of yarn with Dalapäls wool. Especially if you are a handspinner.

Separating the fiber types comes to mind – combing the outer coat for a worsted yarn and carding the under coat for a woolen yarn are good choices. You can just as well card or comb the fiber types together.

Four white yarn samples on a piece of card board.
Dalapäls wool can be spun in many different ways. From the left: Carded undercoat, woolen spun on a spinning wheel. Combed outercoat, worsted spun on a spinning wheel. Undercoat and outercoat teased and carded together, woolen spun on a spinning wheel. Flick-carded locks, spun worsted on a supported spindle from the cut end.

Separating the fiber types

Picking out the longest locks and separating the undercoat from the outercoat can give you two beautiful yarns – a strong and shiny worsted yarn and a soft and warm woolen yarn. I would use double row combs to separate the fiber types and pull the outercoat off. Perhaps I would even comb a second time to separate more and spin worsted from the lovely tops. The leftovers in the combs is the soft and airy undercoat that I would card into rolags and and spin woolen (after having cuddled them).

This way you will get two very different yarns with different superpowers. You can see the difference in the image above, the first from the left is the carded undercoat and the second is the combed outercoat.

Combing or carding together

Another way to create a beautiful Dalapäls yarn is to card or comb the locks as they are, without separating the fiber types. I would do this with the medium and shorter length staples. Carding and spinning woolen would give you a soft yarn that still has some strength and shine. If I were to comb the locks I would use single row combs that won’t separate the fiber types as much as the double row combs. Spinning the combed top worsted would result in a strong and shiny yarn that would still have some softness.

Spinning from the lock

In the Dalapäls yarn I’m currently spinning I have wanted to keep the fiber types together. The locks in this yarn are the very longest locks (see featured image) that the shepherdess has picked out from several fleeces. I have flick carded each lock individually and spun from the cut end. This way I will get both outer coat and under coat in the yarn. You can see my technique in my video Catch the light.

Close-up of a person spinning on a supported spindle.
I’m spinning counter-clockwise to get a Z-plied yarn for twined knitting. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I have spun the yarn on a supported spindle. When I spin from flick carded locks I prefer spinning on a supported spindle. The slowness of the technique allows me to watch the process and focus on quality. Spinning from the lock can be a challenge since the fibers don’t get as much of a separation compared to a hand-combed top.

A white skein of yarn.
Dalapäls yarn, spun from the cut end of flick carded locks on a supported spindle.

But the yarn I get from spinning from the cut end of flick carded locks is strong, shiny and still soft. When I spin it on a supported spindle I also get the quality and the evenness I want.

Blanka

My first acquaintance with Dalapäls wool was at the Swedish fleece championships a few years ago. I saw the fleece and knew I needed it. It turned out a silver medalist in the championships! The sheep’s name was Blanka, a lamb. I talked to the shepherdess and she suggested I spin from the cut end. I did, and used a supported spindle to do it. It became my bedside spinning. I spent many evenings spinning the Dalapäls locks just before bedtime. I had put away some shorter staples and spun a woolen singles yarn from hand-carded rolags on a Navajo spindle. When I was finished I wove myself a pillowcase!

Felting

Even if I don’t plan to felt or full I like to do a fulling test. This gives me information about the fibers in the yarn. In my current project I am planning to weave and full, so the information is truly valuable to me.

I make 10 x 10 cm woven samples on a pin loom and felt them.

Woolen yarn, outercoat and undercoat together

The first sample was from the yarn I had spun woolen from hand-carded rolags with both undercoat and outercoat. The swatch felted nicely, but there were some loops in the structure. This made me suspect that it is mainly the undercoat that felts.

A white felted swatch. Little loops of scattered over the swatch.
Woven felting sample from woolen yarn spun from carded rolags (undercoat and outercoat).

Worsted warp and woolen weft

To test my theory of the felting undercoat I made another swatch where I separated outercoat and undercoat. I used the worsted outercoat yarn as warp and the woolen undercoat yarn as weft. The result was a rectangular swatch from my square woven sample. I had proven my theory – mainly the undercoat felted. The structure of the material is the same, though – a nicely fulled swatch with little loops. They seem to go mainly in the warp direction and I guess I hadn’t separated the fibers properly in the combing process.

A rectangular felted swatch with some loops.
In this sample I have used the outercoat as warp and undercoat as weft. The undercoat has felted, leaving a rectangular shaped swatch.

Lockspun

Just for fun I made a third felting test, this time with my lockspun yarn. It resulted in a loopier swatch. My theory is that this is because the fibers are less separated than the carded sample. This yarn was also spun with longer locks.

A felted swatch with lots of loops in it.
The felted swatch with the lockspun yarn had more loops in it than the other swatches.

Use

Since the Dalapäls wool is so versatile I see a wide variety of uses for Dalapäls yarn. With different preparation, spinning and use of the different fiber types you can use Dalapäls yarn for basically anything except perhaps things that require rough handling like rugs and workwear. From a sheer lamb’s wool lace shawl, through both soft and everyday sweaters to sturdy mittens. As to techniques I don’t see any limits – knitting, weaving, nalbinding would all work well.

A knitting project on a rock by the sea.
My current Dalapäls knitting project – a pair of sleeves in twined knitting.

I’m twine knitting a pair of jacket sleeves. When they are finished I will spin a weaving yarn and full into a vadmal fabric from which I will sew a bodice. Perhaps I will even use locks as a hem decoration, flirting with the Kasung jackets.

Live webinar!

This Saturday, September 21st at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Dalapäls wool from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Dalapäls wool. I will use Dalapäls during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I process the wool.

Even if you think you will never come across Dalapäls wool this is an opportunity to learn more about a rare and endangered breed. The breed study will also 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 did were 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’m sorry Australia and New Zealand, I know it is in the middle of the night for you). I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar.

The webinar has already taken place


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • 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.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!