Nalbinding Åsen mittens

The waulked and embroidered nalbinding mittens are finished!

For the past few months I have been on an Åsen wool journey. It started with my wanting to make a breed study on Åsen wool. I contacted an Åsen shepherdess who provided me with lovely fleeces. When I started to investigate the fleeces in preparation for the study I sank deep into one of them in the search for its soul. I may have found it in a pair of nalbinding Åsen mittens.

I like to investigate a fleece to find out how it wants to be treated to become its best yarn. In fact, that is my aim in all the fleeces I meet. Every fleece has a purpose and I think I owe it to the sheep who gave me the fleece to find its soul.

A nalbinding friendly fleece

This particular Åsen fleece had mostly vadmal type staples – mostly warm and airy undercoat fibers and just a few strands of long and strong outercoat fibers. It was not particularly soft and I saw a big nalbinding yarn potential. The airy undercoat fibers would provide lightness and warmth while the few outercoat fibers would bind the fibers together and add strength and integrity to the yarn.

Nalbinding straight off the spindle, breaking the rules of soaking and finishing.
Nalbinding straight off the spindle, breaking the rules of soaking and finishing.

To keep as much of the softness in the yarn I carded rolags and spun with a long draw on a suspended spindle. To make the yarn strong I chose the suspended spindle. The tension from the weight of the spindle brings integrity to the yarn. This was the first time I have spun this way. It was truly a lovely treat to explore this technique.

I gave the yarn lots of twist to make sure it would stand the abrasion of going up and down in the nalbinding. The resulting yarn was round, strong and kind. A few strands of black kemp here and there added to the rusticity of the yarn, which went well together with the ancient nalbinding technique.

Nalbinding Åsen mittens

I loved nalbinding these Åsen mittens. Well, I love nalbinding full stop. The technique is slow and I get to hold warm and kind yarn in one hand and a hand carved wooden needle in the other. The slow path of the needle up and down between the strands in my work and the working yarn gently hugging my thumb. Nalbinding doesn’t take up much space and I can do it anywhere. What’s not to love?

The comfort of nalbinding.
The comfort of nalbinding.

Waulking

I was almost sad when I had finished. Now what? Well, a nalbinding project is seldom finished just because the nalbinding itself is over. A nalbinding structure is strong and warm. The sewing of the yarn in all directions of the project makes it impossible to unravel. But my nalbinding projects aren’t finished until it has been properly waulked. The waulking makes the fabric even stronger and warmer. It also makes it windproof.

Nalbinding spirals

Nalbinding is done in a spiral. So for a pair of mittens I make the spiral from the tip of the fingers, round and round and finish at the wrist. I have learned – the hard way – that a nalbinding project made like this shrinks horizontally. Therefore I design the shape a bit off the end proportions – I make them a lot wider than my hands but not necessarily longer.

Nalbinding is generally done in a spiral, which makes the shrinkage happen horizontally. I designed the mittens to be a lot wider than my hands but not much longer.
Nalbinding is generally done in a spiral, which makes the shrinkage happen horizontally. I designed the mittens to be a lot wider than my hands but not much longer.

A few years ago I got a waulking board from Swedish eBay which I used with these mittens to waulk them to a size that would fit my hands. With soap and hot water I started working the mittens against the waulking board. The felting process didn’t take long to start. When I first got to know this fleece I noticed its excellent felting properties.

Woven square, 2-ply yarn and fulled square (from a woven square same as to the left) from Åsen sheep 16010. The fulled square took me less than five minutes to full to size.
Woven square, 2-ply yarn and fulled square (from a woven square same as to the left) from Åsen sheep 16010. The fulled square took me less than five minutes to full to size.

The spiral of the seasons

I was very happy with the end result of the waulking process. The mittens fit perfectly and the shape is very appealing. They are warm, snug and ready for the cold and the wind in the winter. I look forward to wearing them in an authentic setting (and not just for photo purposes in the middle of the summer).

The waulking is finished! The main shrinkage has happened sideways and the mittens have better proportions than pre-waulking.
The waulking is finished! The main shrinkage has happened sideways and the mittens have better proportions than pre-waulking.

I have been making these mittens during a few weeks in June, thinking of winter as the needle has been pushing through the fabric. When I wear them this coming winter I will think of early summer when I made them. It is a lovely cycle, kind of like the nalbound spiral in the fabric.

Finishing

When the mittens had dried after the waulking I brushed the surface lightly to give them a bit of a halo. But they didn’t feel finished, there was something missing. A spinning friend, Elaine, makes the loveliest embroidered mittens, often with just a simple heart on the back of the hand. They look somehow even more inviting with that embroidery.

A tone-in-tone embroidered heart on my waulked nalbinidng mittens.
A tone-in-tone embroidered heart on my waulked nalbinidng mittens.

I felt my mittens needed an embroidery too. Just a simple shape in the natural white nalbinding yarn. I decided on a heart, the kind of careless heart of a phone scribble. Unorganized but still clearly and undoubtedly a heart.

The waulked and embroidered nalbinding mittens are finished!
The waulked and embroidered nalbinding mittens are finished!

I love how the embroidery turned out. Tone-in-tone, but very clearly an embroidery. The round and free shape of the unwaulked yarn against the subtle but structured stripes of the waulked nalbinding. A bit of shine in the embroidery against the matte waulked background. A little shadow from the height of the stem stitch. I can’t wait to wear my nalbinding Åsen mittens this winter!

Nalbinding resources:

  • Excellent written (Finnish, Swedish and English) and video tutorials to a range of nalbinding stitches at Neulakintaat.
  • A new book on Nalbinding by Mervi Pasanen, With one needle. Available in Finnish and English.
  • My own tutorial of the Dalby stitch with the left hand.
  • You can also search for nalbinding on my blog for some more posts with nalbinding projects.

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.

Wild basketry

Rabbit holes. Round, inviting, enticing. What’s down there really? I’ll just have a peak. Ooh, this looks interesting, I’ll go just a tiny bit longer. Ooh, this looks even more interesting, i’ll just… Well, I guess you know how this continues. I have found myself a new rabbit hole in wild basketry. Spoiler alert: This post contains no spinning whatsoever.

Lately I have been slightly obsessed with baskets. There are so many and they are so beautiful. I don’t see them much here in Stockholm, so I become the child in a candy store when I see them on Swedish eBay.

One of my recent basket purchases, an antique root basket filled with willow birch, cordage and future basket and cordage material.
One of my recent basket purchases, an antique birch root basket filled with willow birch, cordage and future basket and cordage material.

I have also found a very special niche of basket making, using foraged materials. Instagram profiles like Jeanette Gray and Suzie Grieve are truly inspiring, as is Sally Pointer with her excellent YouTube videos where she goes “hedge bothering”, looking for suitable fiber plants. They all make the most exquisite baskets of materials I have never heard of before in a basketry context – cattail/reed mace, dandelion stalks, daffodil leaves, ivy, hops and honeysuckle just to name a few. Just the thought of using weeds and garden plants for weaving makes my heart sing (again).

Cordage

Since I have no basket making skills whatsoever I have been foraging some of these plants and practiced making cordage. It is a good start for getting to know the fibers and how they behave. So far I have played with dandelion stalks, rhubarb skin, spider plant and crocus leaves. Making the cordage is magical. They spiral down from my hands in all shades of brown and green, changing as they dry. All the materials feel and behave differently and it is such a joy to be a beginner in this beautiful world.

Making cordage is fun, easy and doesn’t take up much space. It is also a lovely way to get to know a fiber and its characteristics as basket and cordage material. I loved making the rhubarb cordage. It was so flexible when rehydrated, but as it dried again it got all loose. I learned that I need to give it more twist or thickness, or mix it with another fiber. Note the colour timeline of the rhubarb – the leftmost was from our very first rhubarb harvest, the middle from the second and the freshly peeled skin from the fourth.

Basket dreams

I wanted to learn more, though. About what plants to look for, when to harvest and techniques for basket weaving. I found a Swedish basket weaving forum on Facebook. I presented the talented wild weavers I link to above and asked if anybody in Sweden did the same kind of weaving and if there were any courses available. A lot of people replied, but only to admire the work of the wild basket weavers I referred to. One person, Susanna Jacobson, said she used similar techniques and plants. As it turned out, she lives five kilometers from my home. She is a gardener by trade and grows 32 different kinds of willow at her summer house.

I asked if she would teach me and my friend Cecilia about the plants, their superpowers, when to harvest them and basket weaving techniques. She was happy to. When I asked her about the price of the course she suggested a trade: “I I really want to learn how to spin, will you teach me?”. Well, twist my arm!

Wild basketry

So, last weekend Cecilia and I skipped to Susanna’s house full of anticipation. And we got plenty. Susanna was so generous with her garden, plants and skills. We learned how to strip willow and bramble bark and how to dissect and find the fibers in stinging nettle. She showed us her favorite fiber plants for basket weaving and how to find and identify them.

After some theory we got to work with out baskets. We chose cattail/reed mace for the base and an array of plants for the weavers – Siberian iris, yellow flag iris, dandelion , cattail and juncus (sibirisk iris, gul svärdslilja, maskros, kaveldun och veketåg).

The chunkiness

We worked with cattail/reed mace for both frame and weavers. It was such an interesting plant! It looked slim and nothing special. but it turned out to have channels on the inside, carrying the gooiest of goo. Eventhough the plants had been dried we needed to press out a lot of goo to be able to weave somewhat comfortably. Through the channels the material still stayed chunky like… well, like muppet skin, cardboard or styrofoam. I still go to my basket every now and then just to make sure it hasn’t lost its muppet chunkiness.

The superpowers of crafting

As in all crafting classes I have attended and taught, silence fell a few minutes after we had started weaving. The crafting silence, or, if you will, crafting devotion. The focus on the material and the making. And, after a while, a warm and soulful conversation about what really matters in the world. A precious moment of peace of mind, the knowledge of the hand and the natural materials.

After eight hours of fiber and wild basketry joy Cecilia and I had finished our baskets. Row by row of wild plants to build up our unique first wild baskets. As always, the mistakes of the basket form a map of what I have learned – make slimmer joins, push the weavers down to prevent holes once they dry and don’t rush. With mistakes and all, though, they are beautiful and unique. And they make me want to weave a lot more wild baskets.

Foraging

I have new glasses now, fiber plant glasses. Whenever I walk in nature I look out for interesting plants and take mental notes of species, location and development. It is a lovely way to follow the seasons. Lately I have been looking for dandelions. They need to have seeded and be as tall as possible. They don’t really smell like raspberry pie when I dry and later rehydrate them, but they make fantastic cordage and basket material.

There is a spot right next to our house all covered in long ivy stems, some of which have made their way to one of our curtain rods for drying (we don’t use many curtains anyway). I have got permission from the local authorities to harvest willow sticks nearby. I strip the bark and plan to use it for baskets. Next in line will be stinging nettles, perhaps a week or two after midsummer.

At the allotment we have plenty of honeysuckle and hops which I look forward to harvesting. We also bought some carex and day lilies to add to our basket plant collection. This new rabbit hole has lots of passages that I will discover headfirst and wholeheartedly.

Come autumn

As the days go by I will continue collecting basket and cordage material. Just as when I go to the lake for my swim every day it will give me a new appreciation of nature and the turn of the seasons.

Wool and baskets, a beautiful combination.
Wool and wild basket in beautiful harmony.

Towards the autumn I will teach Susanna the basics of spinning. I hope I can give as generously in a private spinning class as she gave Cecilia and me in the wild basketry class. There are a lot of rabbit holes in the spinning world I can lure her in to, wouldn’t you agree? Welcome to class, Susanna, I can’t wait!

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

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

The comfort of wool

It has been a turbulent year. So much has happened that few of us could imagine before it was on our doorstep. This spring has been crazy on a personal level, with loved ones receiving life changing diagnoses, needing support. Wool allows me to find pause and perspective. Through the comfort of wool – Åsen wool this time – I discover creativity, adventure and new perspectives.

The comfort of wool – through warmth, security and process.

The comfort of wool in the storm

When the world storms around me I find my comfort in wool. When loved ones worry I worry about their worry (how crazy is that?). I find my comfort in wool. Clouds of fluttery thoughts swarm in my mind – I need to remember… What if… How do I prioritize… – I find my comfort in wool.

The safe smell of sheep. The warm feeling against my skin. The fibers working side by side for strength, warmth and structure. Ever tolerant, patient and kind.

From structure to chaos and back to structure again.

Project and process

The process gives me comfort – the rhythm of preparing and spinning the wool. The transformation from structured staples, through chaotic clouds, back to increasingly structured shapes again only to start another adventure in the process of becoming a fabric.

Project and process, both give me comfort in the storm.

Project and process. All wool and all giving me the gift of comfort. Of course the finished object too, but there is so much more to a pair of cozy mittens than just the pair of cozy mittens. Not only do I find warmth and comfort in the mittens on a cold winter’s day – the physical warmth they give me also bring me a spiritual warmth through the memory of the making. The reminiscence of impressions through the making. A place, a scent, a thought, a mood.

I find creativity, adventure and new perspectives through the comfort of wool.

The fiber of many gifts

Wool is my comfort zone, while at the same time being a place for expansion, discovery and art.

  • I find my creativity in wool. With all the shapes this remarkable fiber can take, why couldn’t I?
  • I find adventure in wool. What happens if I take a new approach, try a new technique or just plain and simple break the rules?
  • I find new perspectives in wool. There is always a new way to look at wool that I haven’t experienced yet. What will I learn today?

With the comfort of wool I turn my what ifs from worry to curiosity, from dragons to flee to dragons to tame, from close mindedness to an open heart. Through the material and through the making of the material. Come join me!

I gain new perspectives through all the parts of the process.

Today I will work with plant based materials. Still creating, still discovering and still learning from my mistakes. I might tell you about it in another post.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

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

Break the rules

Nalbinding straight off the spindle, breaking the rules of soaking and finishing.

This week I have been rehearsing for tonight ‘s breed study webinar on Åsen wool. I felt a need to spin a nalbinding yarn from one of my Åsen fleeces. To be able to nalbind something to show you and on time I broke the rules, and I liked it.

It’s happening tonight, dear readers, we’re having a breed study webinar on Åsen wool. If you haven’t already, do register for the webinar.

To prepare, I have been rehearsing a few times, with notes, light, sound, tech and tools in order. As a bonus I have given myself the opportunity to get to know the fleeces I will be demonstrating for you.

Break the rules

I got a little carried away with one of the fleeces, though. I wanted to talk about the fleece as a perfect candidate for nalbinding. In this, I realized I needed to have some nalbinding to show you. So I quickly teased, carded and spun some more and plied together with the yarn I had spun on my rehearsals. I wound the yarn into a thumb ball and started nalbinding straight away. No singles resting, no soaking, no finishing. Just straight off the plying spindle.

Nalbinding with love

Nalbinding is for me quite an intimate textile technique. You hold the project in your hand and work very slowly, hands literally entangled in the nalbinding process. The hands get all soft and smooth from the lanolin in the yarn. Since this yarn came straight off the spindle it had more lanolin than usual. It also had the loveliest smell of sheep.

Nalbinding straight off the spindle, breaking the rules of soaking and finishing.
Nalbinding straight off the spindle, breaking the rules of soaking and finishing. I carved the needle from and elm tree just outside the window.

This made me feel even closer to the wool and the slow nalbinding process. The nalbinding technique is very old. With the yarn in such a raw state I felt even closer to the history of nalbinding and a sense of gratitude towards the technique. I enjoyed every over and under of the wooden needle and every loop around my thumb. I imagined the mittens wrapping my hands in wooly love, fulled to fit my hands in a warm embrace. With a simple spindle spun yarn I made a sleeping bag for my hands to snuggle up in, with my hands. Breaking the rules gave me an experience that stretched so much further than the nalbinding project itself. I am so grateful for this.

Spinning for nalbinding in the magical light of May.
Spinning for nalbinding in the magical light of May.

Go ahead and break a rule today, and see what you learn from it.

A short post today. Still, longer than the no post at all that I had planned for.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

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

Åsen wool

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

This Saturday, May 29th at 5 pm CET I will host a free live breed study webinar on Swedish Åsen wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

Åsen sheep

Åsen sheep is one of the ten Swedish heritage breeds. This means that it is protected in gene banks and that the sheep farmers in the gene banks are not allowed to breed for specific characteristics, like the fleece. Therefore the fleece can vary a lot in a flock and in an individual.

The Åsen sheep were found in the 1990’s on three farms in the village of Åsen in county Dalarna. The flocks had been kept on the farms for many years with no interference from other breeds.

Åsen sheep. Photo by Ylva Örtengren.

Åsen sheep are one of the forest sheep breeds and quite small. Ewes weigh 40–50 kg and rams 50–55 kg. The rams usually have beautiful horns. In 2020 there were 465 breeding ewes registered with the Swedish sheep breeder’s association, in 55 flocks.

Wool characteristics

As most of the other Swedish heritage breeds, the wool of Åsen sheep can vary greatly between individuals and within one single individual. Some individuals have kemp in their fleece. Kemp is a hollow fiber that is designed to keep the staples upright to protect the sheep from rain running in to the skin. Usually the wool from Åsen sheep is easy to work with.

A wide variety of wool types are represented in this breed – pälsull type (mostly outercoat with a little undercoat), rya type (about 50/50 of outercoat and undercoat), vadmal type (mostly undercoat with a few strands of outercoat) and finull type (almost only undercoat).

Locks of different wool types from different individuals of åsen sheep.
Locks of different wool types from different individuals of Åsen sheep in one flock – from mostly outercoat wool to mostly undercoat wool.

The colours

The colour can vary from white to black with all the greys in between. Many sheep are born dark and lighten with age. So within a flock of sheep of different age there can be a wide variety of colours and shades. It is easy to see that you can spin a wide variety of yarn qualities and colours from a flock of Åsen sheep.

This ewe has three wool types in her fleece – rya wool type (left), finull wool type (middle) and vadmal wool type (right).
This ewe has three wool types in her fleece – rya wool type (left), finull wool type (middle) and vadmal wool type (right). You can see some kemp in the staples to the right.

Vadmal type wool

One of my favourite wool types is the vadmal wool type, with mostly undercoat fibers and just a few strands of outercoat fibers. Usually the staple is triangular in its shape, with a wide and airy undercoat base and a thin outercoat tip.

Mostly vadmal type wool in the staples from this Åsen ewe.

I contacted a shepherdess, Ylva, who has a flock of Åsen sheep. I asked her to get me samples of the different varieties of wool found on her sheep. And she delivered. She had fastened staples on cards with information about the sheep and some thoughts about the wool. You can see some of the samples in the images above.

The main characteristics

When I explore a fleece I want to get to the core of it. I look for the characteristics that I think represent the soul of the fleece. Every fleece is unique, but for the sake of these breed study webinars I choose characteristics that I think can work for the breed as a whole. The characteristics I chose for the Åsen wool fleeces I have worked with are

  • The versatility – there can be a wide variety of staple types in one single fleece. Across a flock there can also be a wide colour range from white to black.
  • The kindness – Åsen wool has a kind air to it. The soft but still a little rustic wool, the open staples and the gentle sheen.
  • The vadmal type staples. I do have a weak spot for this staple type. There is so much you can do with it!

Sample batches

From Ylva’s sample cards I found two favourites, the fleeces from sheep 16010 and 12002. The first two digits in the numbers tell the year the sheep were born. I specifically looked for the vadmal wool type, with most undercoat fibers and just a few strands of outercoat fibers. I asked Ylva if she could send me larger batches of them, which she could.

12002 – a little kemp, a little curl

I found all staple types in this Åsen fleece – from mostly outercoat to the left to mostly undercoat to the right.
I found all staple types in this Åsen fleece – from mostly outercoat to the left to mostly undercoat to the right.

In this fleece I found all the staple types, from mostly outercoat fibers to mostly undercoat fibers. However, the vast majority of the staples lean toward the more undercoaty edge of the range with finull type and vadmal type wool in the forefront. The staples aren’t very long, around 10 centimeters. It is mainly white but does have some light grey spots. Chances are that this sheep was born black.

The staples have a lovely shine and are somewhat silky to the touch. They are soft to touch while at the same time having just a brush of rusticity to them. I see that kindness I talked about earlier – this fleece is easy to work with and doesn’t make a lot of demands. It is kind and gentle. The staples are open and easy to draft.

When I see and feel this fleece I imagine woolen spun yarn for warm sweaters and an occasional hat.

16010 – a dream of vadmal wool

This fleece is a little bit rougher than 12002 above. The staples are considerably longer, around 18 centimeters with undercoat fibers 10 centimeter long. It is a lot more consistent with almost entirely rya type and vadmal type wool and a mix between the types. The fleece is creamy white and I see only a few black kemp fibers. The fibers are almost straight. This wool is a bit clingy to draft.

This fleece was shorn in the spring. Usually the spring shearing is of lesser quality than the fall shearing. This has a number of reasons, like lots of vegetable matter due to the sheep being indoors, pregnancy, cold and less fresh food. Ylva keeps her sheep outdoors all year round and they only seek shelter when they need to. This means that they don’t stand and lie in straw all winter. This fleece is clean and with a lovely quality.

Staples of Åsen wool. Most of them are of rya or vadmal type or in between.
The staples from this Åsen fleece were more consistent. Most of them were of rya or vadmal type or in between.

One technique that comes to mind when I feel this fleece is nalbinding. The soft and airy undercoat fibers will give the yarn warmth while the long and strong fibers will add strength. This wool felts easily, which is another excellent characteristic since I like to full my nalbinding projects for extra strength and windproofing.

Preparation

I chose the fleeces with the vadmal type wool because it is such a lovely type of wool to work with. Mostly soft, but with a little outercoat fibers to keep the fluff in order and add some strength. This wool type is quite rare and my heart sings whenever I dig my hands into a fleece with lots of vadmal type staples. The name vadmal type refers to the fact that a wool with this kind of undercoat to outercoat ratio is particularly suitable to weave for wadmal cloth, a thick broadcloth to keep you warm through the winter.

Åsen wool carded into fluffy rolags.
Åsen wool carded into fluffy rolags. This is from the first Åsen fleece I ever bought. It was a couple of years ago and my first fleece from Ylva’s flock.

While it is fully possible to separate the undercoat and outercoat fibers I choose to work with the fiber types held together. I want to card and spin a woolen yarn. With the majority of the fibers being soft and airy I get the warmth I want, and the few outercoat fibers will elegantly marry these together and add strength and stability to the yarn. So I tease the wool with combs and card rolags.

Spin

Carded rolags like these are just itching to be spun with an English longdraw. The short and airy undercoat fibers will make the draw light while the longer outercoat fibers will add just a little resistance to prevent the rolag or the yarn to fall apart.

A 2-ply tarn with low twist from åsen wool.
The resulting yarn from the rolags above. The skein has long since crossed the Atlantic and is in Sara Wolf’s safe knitting hands. Read more about her knitting samples in Knit (spin) Sweden!

I choose to keep quite a low twist here. I want to show off the wool and all its superpowers and keep the spinning simple. Doesn’t this skein portray a perfectly kind wool?

Use

The whole range

With the wide variety of staple types available in Åsen wool it is easy to understand that you can use the yarn for a wide variety of projects – knitted mittens, sweaters, hats as well as weft yarn for weaving. If you find a fleece with enough outercoat fibers warp yarn is definitely possible too. I know an Åsen shepherdess who spins both weft and warp and sews beautiful garments with the wool from her flock. The undercoat fibers from a soft lamb’s fleece would definitely be a candidate for next to skin garments.

Fulling

Coming back to the wool type vadmal wool – a fulled sample is a very good idea with a fleece like this. Such a lovely way to explore a fleece.

Woven square, 2-ply yarn and fulled square (from a woven square same as to the left) from Åsen sheep 16010. The fulled square took me less than five minutes to full to size.
Woven square, 2-ply yarn (that I didn’t have time to finish) and fulled square (from a woven square same as to the left) from Åsen sheep 16010. The fulled square took me less than five minutes to full to size.

As the fleece of sheep 16010 felt a bit clingy to draft I suspected that it would felt easily, so this was my wool of choice for a fulled sample. I wove a 10 x 10 cm square on my pin loom and started to full with hot water and some dish soap. It took me less than five minutes to full my woven sample to the size above. So I was right, the fleece was a very good candidate for fulling. In this I need to remind myself that wool preparation is a fresh produce, especially with a fleece that is this prone to felting – I will only card as much wool as I need for the day. Carded wool saved for the next day may well felt just by breathing too close to it.

It was a long time since I made something in nalbinding and I think a yarn like this would be a very good candidate. The airiness in the outercoat fibers brings warmth to the garment while the outercoat fibers will give the yarn strength. Just as with the previous nalbinding projects I have made I would full a pair of Åsen mittens. I know the felting properties of the wool and I can’t wait for winter.

A kind wool for teaching

Once I brought Åsen wool to a spinning course. I had several other breeds for the students to choose from, but the Åsen wool was by far the most popular choice, especially for the carding classes. Again, this is a kind and gentle wool. I also believe that some of the students contacted Åsen sheep farmers to buy Åsen wool after they had finished the course.

Live webinar!

This Saturday, May 29th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Swedish Åsen 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 Åsen wool. I will use Åsen wool during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I prepare and spin the wool.

Even if you think you will never come across Swedish finull 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.
  • 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.

Flax plan

Since 2014 I have had an experimental flax patch of around 1 square meter. The sole purpose of the patch has been to learn about flax husbandry and preparation. The results have varied in quality. I have said to myself that I will spin my flax when I think the quality is good enough or when I think I deserve to. This year I will stop procrastinating and start spinning. I have a flax plan!

The experimental flax patch

My first year wasn’t really part of the experiment, at least not when I started. I bought some flax seeds to grow as a companion plant for carrots and potatoes. As the season turned I decided to harvest the flax and go through all the processing steps. My tools were less than ideal – a rock for brake and a spatula for scutching. I did get a hackle, though! I used a pillowcase and a rolling pin to ripple the seeds (a method I have used until last season when I build a ripple myself).

Through the years I have sometimes processed my tiny flax harvest at Skansen open air museum. I have also got hold of all the tools – brake, scutching board and scutching knives, a fine hackle and a flax brush, plus the ripple I built.

The resulting bundles of processed flax through the years have been of very varying quality. But I have learned something new every year, just as I intended.

One square meter of flax

Last year, Västra Götaland region in Sweden started the project 1kvmlin, one square meter of flax. Anyone in the region could, to no charge, get a bag of flax seeds enough for one square meter. In a Facebook group the participants could learn from each other. I think there were also flax processing workshops. The project was a success. This year all regions in Sweden participated. I planted my patch this week and I might plant another square meter in our allotment.

I love the community feeling of a project like this. Individuals, schools, organizations and others get involved in an activity that once was an industry that thrived and, sadly, died.

A flax plan

Through the years I have saved my processed flax and put it away. I have told myself that I would spin it when the quality was good enough. But how would I know that unless I tried? So many people all over Sweden are trying this, with far less experience than I have. So I’m jumping in now, extending my experimental flax patch to experimental flax spinning. My flax plan this summer is to spin.

Other flax sources

I have spun flax before, just not my own. I bought one kilo of processed flax from Växbo lin, a linen weaving mill situated in an area with a very long flax and linen tradition. The flax they use, though comes from France and Belgium. The Swedish flax industry died in the late 19th century due to import of cotton.

Spinning flax at the balcony in 2017. Note the distaff – a real flax distaff placed in the tube my blocking wires came in. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I do have flax that was processed in Sweden, though. My brother’s mother-in-law Birgitta was brought up in the heart of one of the the traditional flax regions in Sweden. Her parents grew flax and sent it for processing. She has saved it and recently asked if I wanted it. When she first asked me I didn’t know the story of her flax. I remembered all the unspun flax I had an declined her kind offer. When she told me the story and that it was old flax from her childhood home I immediately changed my mind. This was a true treasure.

The processing mill Birgitta mentioned was active between 1943 and 1953, so The flax from her parents’ home must have been processed at this time. Birgitta doesn’t spin herself, but she has woven from the flax from her childhood home. She remembers her grandmother spinning.

Summer plans

So, my plan is to spin flax this summer. As many of you know there is a lot of dust involved when spinning flax and I don’t want to subject myself to that. Therefore I will only spin it outdoors, which leaves summer to spin. Our terrace is the place I flee to in the afternoon when it gets too hot for me in the sun in the front of the house.

If I get the courage I will also spin the tow. I have no experience with this, so my plan is to create my own experience. You’ve got to start somewhere. These are sentences I tell my students and it’s time I listen to the teacher.

Flax videos

In the video Spinning flax on a spindle I show you how I prepare the processed flax for the distaff and how I spin it on an in-hand spindle. For some odd reason this is by far my most watched video. There is also a lovely video where I process my flax at Skansen open air museum.

Flax blog posts

The easiest way to find earlier blog posts about flax is to use the search field and type flax. Below are some of my favourite flax posts.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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

Longitudinal study

A couple of months ago I started playing with the idea of a longitudinal study of the fleece of one individual sheep through its lifetime. The idea grew on me and I contacted Claudia Dillmann, a shepherdess with a small flock of Swedish Gestrike sheep. This is the first post in a what I hope will be a long row of posts from different perspectives of the fleeces of one sheep.

A width of perspectives

A longitudinal study allows me to look at the changes in an individual sheep’s fleece during its lifetime, over the seasons, in different weather conditions and other environmental factors like pregnancy, food and choices a sheep farmer needs to make. It will give me an opportunity to look in depth at a fleece and how it develops during the sheep’s lifetime. It will also give me a deeper understanding of what factors influence the quality of the fleece and all the work a sheep farmer invests in their flock to keep it healthy.

Fleece subscription

Claudia has a small flock of the Swedish conservation breed Gestrike sheep (yes, there will be a webinar eventually) at her farm about two hours from my house. She is also a board member of the Swedish sheep breeders’ association (Svenska Fåravelsförbundet) and responsible for skin and fleece. She is very knowledgeable about fleece and Swedish sheep breeds.

I asked Claudia if I could “subscribe” to the fleece of one of her sheep. Preferably a lamb to get hold of the first shearing. She loved the idea and a couple of weeks later she presented the sheep Gunvor as my subscription sheep.

About shearing in Sweden

Before I move on with Gunvor’s story I want to cover the shearing a bit. Sheep must be shorn at least once a year according to the law, but most sheep in Sweden are shorn twice a year. A whole year’s fleece may get felted and become very difficult to both shear and process. Usually the sheep are shorn in late fall and early spring. This follows the natural rhythm of the fleece growth and is usually adapted to the lambing periods.

Many sheep farmers have the ram serve the ewes in late fall. It is a good idea to have the sheep shorn before that so the fleece isn’t in the way of the mating. It is also a good idea to shear the sheep a few weeks before they lamb. Shearing a sheep with littluns crying their little hearts out for their mum can be a challenge. And they may not even recognize her afterwards without her coat.

The fall shearing usually has a higher quality than the spring shearing. The sheep have been grazing during the summer and the fleece has grown a lot from the nutrients in the fresh food. During the winter the sheep are usually pregnant. Some of you may know what can happen to your hair during pregnancy when most of the energy goes straight to the fetus. It is the same for sheep. The sheep also produce more lanolin during the winter to keep warm. Hey and straw can easily find their way into the fleece. Still, for the purpose of a longitudinal study I want to experience the difference between fall and spring shearings.

Gunvor the Gestrike sheep

Gunvor was born in May 2020. She is the lamb of Gosprick (“cuddle spots”) which came to Claudia from Vallby open air museum in 2014. Gunvor was Gosprick’s last lamb and Gosprick has now moved on to greener pastures.

Gunvor the Gestrike sheep in April 2021, a few weeks before the second shearing. Photo by Claudia Dillmann.

Gunvor had her first shearing in October 2020. As Gunvor was so young Claudia decided not to let the ram serve her the first year, so the outgrowing second fleece wasn’t affected by pregnancy. Lucky for me, Claudia had saved Gunvor’s first fleece and was a good choice when I asked Claudia for a sheep to subscribe to.

A bike ride through town

A couple of weeks ago Gunvor was freed from her second fleece. Claudia and I live a couple of hours away from each other. I don’t drive and I didn’t want to sit for two hours in public transportation during the pandemic. Instead Claudia sent Gunvor’s first and second fleece with a friend of hers who was going to Stockholm (thank you Kristina!). This week I took the bike through town to collect them. Next time I hope I can get to Claudia’s farm and meet her and Gunvor.

Two bags full! Gunvor's first and second fleeces ride safely home with me.
Two bags full! Gunvor’s first and second longitudinal study fleeces ride safely home with me. The saddle cover was once part of a Gotland sheep that belonged to my husband’s late aunt.

Whenever I ride my bike with the bags full of wool I giggle on the bike path. No one would even think that I had raw fleece in those bike bags. I secretly imagine the fleeces enjoying the rush of the wind through a beautiful Stockholm along the shore of Lake Mälaren.

First and second fleeces: A first look

I haven’t come very far with the fleeces yet, but I did notice a few things as I unpacked them. I soaked both fleeces in warm water and rinsed in three waters. Nothing added, just water and love.

First shearing

The first shearing (Claudia always hires professional shearers for her sheep) was very loose and the staples didn’t hold together. Therefore I don’t know where the staples were shorn off Gunvor’s body. They are black and white, a little more white wool than black. Most of the staples are of rya type – around 50 percent undercoat and 50 percent outercoat, long, quite straight and cone shaped. You can read about the Swedish wool types here. The lamb’s lock ends each staple with a sweet curl.

The fleece feels light and airy. Most of the staples feel like medium in their fineness, but some feel very fine and soft while others are coarser.

The staples are quite long, some around 20 centimeters. I can see some white kemp but not very much. The black fibers feel softer than the white.

Second shearing

When I emptied the bag with the second shearing the staples kept together. I could just about map out the fleece to see what went where. I could define the tight mid back staples, the coarser leg staples and the soft neck curls.

I also noticed a lighter colour. Claudia tells me that many Gestrike lambs are born black or spotted but that the fleece usually turns lighter during their first year or so. The staples are also generally shorter than the first fleece. This seems fully logical since the main growth period is during the summer. The second shearing is a bit coarser than the first, but not significantly. At the same time the staples seem airier, puffier. Perhaps this is a winter thing to keep the sheep warmer.

This fleece also has some vegetable matter in it. Claudia tells me that her sheep can choose to be outdoors or indoors during the winter. That way they don’t stand or lie in straw all the time. Usually they shake off straw, but some of it will of course stay in the fleece. By being outdoors snow and rain will clean the fleeces. The vegetable matter is quite easy to remove and I don’t worry about it. I find some Timothy grass here and there. Even if I know they are a nuisance I still smile. They are a reminder that the fleece in my hands comes from a grazing sheep with all that it brings with it.

Shearing timing

When it comes to the Swedish heritage breeds the spring shearing is best done in February or May. Through the energy from the grass (that starts growing in May in many parts of Sweden) the lanolin production will decrease and the wool will be easier to shear. Gunvor was shorn in April, though. The shearer told Claudia that the sheep took hard work to shear because of the high amount of lanolin and the stubborn staples. Therefore there are more second cuts than the shearer had wished for. The second cuts are easy to remove, though. A lot of them also came out with the soaking water.

If you look at the staple picture from the spring shearing you will notice little yellow spots towards the cut end. That is accumulated lanolin. Claudia tells me that this shearing was unusually greasy and the shearer needed to clean the shears several times during the shearing. It will be interesting to see how much difference this high amount of lanolin will make in preparing and spinning the wool.


These were my first observations of the first and second fleeces of Gunvor. There will be more! My longitudinal study of Gunvor’s fleece has officially started and it will continue during Gunvor’s lifetime. I hope I can go see Gunvor and Claudia soon.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

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

The wool is my teacher

I can read a thousand books about wool, spinning and sheep breeds, but it is the wool in my hands and in my process that will teach me how it wants to be spun. Today I reflect about how the wool is my teacher.

Don’t get me wrong – I love spinning books and they are a wonderful resource for deeper knowledge about wool, wool preparation and spinning. I also need guidance to understand how to work the tools for wool preparation and spinning. But to really understand the wool I need to dig my hands into it and spend quantity time with the fibers.

Trust my hands

Handling fleece may seem daunting, but there are so many rewards in exploring a new fleece. Every time. Regardless of whether it is my first or my twentieth fleece, I need to trust my hands in the fleece. I need to trust that my hands investigate the wool and learn how the wool behaves.

The wool is my teacher. Through trusting my hands to investigate the wool I will learn how it behaves and wants to be spun.
The wool is my teacher. Through trusting my hands to investigate the wool I will learn how it behaves and wants to be spun.
  • What does the wool look and feel like in the grease? What happens when I pull out a lock? The information I get from the raw fleece is a good start to getting to know the fleece.
  • How is the different after washing? I recently soaked a fleece where the locks were very loosely attached to each other. When I lifted the fleece out of the soak a number of stray staples swirled around in the tub, like memories in Professor Dumbledore’s pensieve.
  • How are the locks built up? Are they dense, puffy, crimpy, oblong, triangular or downy? By investigating this I can get an idea of how the yarn may bloom when finished.
  • What is the outercoat to undercoat ratio? The information about the dominant fiber type will give me a clue to what I can expect regarding characteristics like softness, warmth, shine and strength in the finished yarn.
  • How does the wool draft? Is it slinky, tough, smooth or jerky? By drafting from the cut end of a staple I can get an idea of how spinnable the wool is.

Trust the information you receive in your hands. Store it, analyze it and experiment with what you learn.

The wool is my teacher

My hands ask the wool questions like the ones in the bullet list above. I need to trust the wool to reply to me with the information I need to proceed. If I allow my hands to listen to the wool and to trust the wool they will learn about how the wool behaves and what I can do to make it justice. I need to trust the wool to be my teacher. I need to trust my hands to trust the wool. When I give myself the time to slow down and listen I will learn.

Two yarns in ten shades from one fleece. At first I spun outercoat and undercoat together, but that resulted in string. The wool taught me that I would benefit more from separating the coats.
Two yarns in ten shades from one fleece. At first I spun outercoat and undercoat together, but that resulted in string. The wool taught me that I would benefit more from separating the coats.

In the book Momo by Michael Ende the girl Momo lives in an amphitheater. By simply being with people and listening to them, she can help them find answers to their problems, make up with each other, and think of fun games. The story is about the concept of time and how it is used by humans in modern societies. The Men in Grey, eventually revealed as a species of paranormal parasites stealing the time of humans, spoil this pleasant atmosphere. One of the most important steps Momo takes in winning the stolen time back is to walk backwards. Only then can she get forward. So to come to the end of your yarn, go back to the raw fleece. Get to know it, trust it and let it lead the way.

The wool is my teacher every day. Every time I spin I learn and realize something new. I may call myself a spinning teacher, but I am just as much a spinning student. I am so grateful for this.

A learning process

To me, spending time with the wool in all its stages is the most important part of understanding wool and spinning. You can only learn about the fleece you have by being with the fleece you have. Investigate the wool and experiment. What did you see in the investigation? How is that realized in your experimentation? Analyze your findings. What do you see? What do you think that will imply? How does it realize in experimentation? What do you learn from that? The information and knowledge you get from one fleece will stay with you. With every new fleece you get to know you will have more previous fleeces to lean on. Walk backwards to move forwards.

You are your own best teacher

I trust the wool to guide me. In this guiding I trust my hands to listen to the wool. I allow my hands to ask the wool questions. And I listen to the answer. I trust what I learn from the knowledge of my hands. In this process I allow myself to be my own best teacher.

My students at Sätergläntan craft education center are their own best teachers.
My students at Sätergläntan craft education center are their own best teachers.

Together with books and talented teachers I am also my own best teacher. So are you. Trust the wool. Trust yourself to trust the wool.

Tools

I offer coursers where I guide you in understanding your fleece and making your conclusions. Through investigating, being curious and experimenting I encourage you to getting to know your fleece. Here are some tools that may inspire you to investigate your fleece:

  • Fleece through the senses challenge. Free challenge with one assignment every day for five days. This challenge has become very popular! 550 people have already accepted the challenge. Many students have shared their experiences with their fleeces in the comments. This is a huge asset to the course!
  • Know your fleece. An online course where we go a bit deeper into a fleece. I show lots of examples and inspiring videos and you get lots of tools to investigate and explore your fleece.
  • Spinn ullens bästa garn, a five-day course at Sätergläntan. We bring a fleece and investigate it to get to know how it behaves and how it wants to be spun.
  • You are welcome to contact me for a zoom workshop for your spinning group or guild.
  • I also offer personal coaching sessions.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

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

Happy hands

Crafting hands are happy hands.

Lately I have thought a lot about crafting and what it does to people, and for people. A long time ago people crafted out of necessity, to clothe their families and keep them safe. I craft because I want to, but also because my hands and my brain need to. Crafting gives me happy hands, heart and brain. In that sense I craft out of necessity too, but perhaps for different reasons. What would happen if we didn’t craft or didn’t even learn how tho craft?

Last weekend I taught a class in floor supported Navajo style spinning. I am always very excited about teaching live. The anticipation is high – what will I learn from my students this time? My heart sings when I get to take part of a student’s learning process. It sings just as much when I learn about how my students learn, only in a different key.

My spindles take the bus to the spinning class. Floor supported spindles by Björn Peck.
My spindles take the bus to the spinning class. Floor supported spindles by Björn Peck (and one from Roosterick).

A crafting classroom is a beautiful place to be in, both physically and mentally. It is filled with makers and creators. People who learn about a craft and who learn through the craft.

The crafting bubble

A few years ago I attended a crafting leadership course. We met once a month with a new theme and a new craft. Once the theme, the technique and the materials had been presented, total silence spread through the room. Every student was in their craft and in their crafting. I call it the crafting bubble. I am sure you all have been there. When time and space disappears and all focus is on the material in your hands and the process of making.

One of the students is transferring her yarn from the upper to the lower cop.
One of this weekend’s students is transferring the spun yarn from the upper to the lower cop.

The course I taught this weekend was no exception. After every introduction to a new topic or technique all you could hear was the buzz of the spindle tips against the bowls on the floor. It is a comforting silence. The silence of creativity and peace.

A second bubble

While there is a crafting bubble around the person crafting I often experience a second crafting bubble when I teach or otherwise craft with other people. Sooner or later there will be a conversation in the room. I find these conversations gentle and loving. I believe crafting does that to people. Crafting to me is peaceful. It’s like there is a mutual understanding of the good of crafting. The air and the thoughts are safe to breathe. I usually hold the conversations of this second crafting bubble close to my heart. I get to take part in other people’s lives and loves. It is a beautiful place.

One of my students was a total beginner. This was the very first yarn he carded and spun.
One of my students was a total beginner. I don’t think he had never held a spinning tool in his hands before. This was the very first yarn he carded and spun.

Empowerment through crafting

I feel rich when I spin. I can make something useful with my hands. There are so many things we take for granted. Things we can easily buy. But in making things I feel a sense of empowerment – I can make things that are useful. In case of disaster I can clothe my family and keep my loved ones warm. I believe this feeling of empowerment through crafting is a feeling everybody should be able to feel at least once in their life. The feeling of some sort of self sufficiency through their hands, some simple tools and natural materials.

Crafting in school

Crafting, or slöjd, (sloyd, one of the few Swedish loanwords in English) is a subject that was was established in the Swedish school system in 1878 and is still a mandatory subject. Until 1962 girls learned textile crafts and boys wooden crafts, but since then all children learn both soft and hard crafts. The word slöjd actually comes from the word slug, which means sly, skilled or handy. Sloyd is smart. Can someone please print a T-shirt with that sentence?

Every now and then debates about the existence of this school subject emerge. Why spend time sewing and carving when you can focus on more important subjects like history or maths? This iss a common argument. But what would happen if we didn’t learn how to make things, how to mend, create or see the potential in a piece of cloth or wood? How would our brains look if we didn’t nurture what I believe is an inherent need to create with our hands? In 2018 a doctor concluded that the medical students’ dexterity in stitching up patients had decreased significantly during the past few years. He believed the reason to be too much swiping and too little fine motor crafting skills. Again, sloyd is smart.

From fluff to stuff

There is something special about following the process from a natural material, through a transformation and all the way to a useful item. The craft in progress, from the roots in the ground underneath a spruce or birch to a finished basket, from the newly shorn wool to a knitted garment (perhaps to put in the basket). To see the change in shape and fashion through your own hands. Watch the pile of shavings below the carving knife grow and a loom bar take shape. To know that I can make that transformation happen right there, in and with my hands. This helps me understand and respect the material and the knowledge of the maker of a hand crafted item.

I find this process especially magical when I use the most simple tools. A spindle to create yarn, a backstrap loom made of hand carved sticks to weave. There is a special kind of closeness to the craft and the crafting when my body is part of the process. The way I control speed and tension of the spindle with my hands and how my body is part of the backstrap loom. It reminds me that the craft and the crafting is within me.

Happy hands

My hands are happy when they craft. My hands are in the craft just as much as the crafting is in my hands. I am in my happy hands. The making in my hands nurture my brain while the brain processes what is happening in the making. From hands to brain and back again. Crafting feels right. I can make things with my hands and I use the knowledge of making for good things.

Crafting hands are happy hands.
Crafting hands are happy hands.

I can see and feel the trace of the hand in the crafted material, the whisper of the natural material in my hand. A human touch of love in the item made. Crafting hands are happy hands.

Happy spinning!


[Course in Sweden]

Det finns fortfarande platser kvar på min femdagarskurs Spinn ullens bästa garn på Sätergläntan i midsommarveckan.

Kom och dyk ner i ullen med mig!


You can find me in several social media:

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

Fulling singles

For the past couple of months I have been spinning singles on a floor supported Navajo style spindle for knitting. When knitting with singles yarns the fabric may bias. Sometimes you want the bias for artistic reasons, but in my project I don’t. Instead I play with fulling singles.

I love spinning singles on my floor supported spindles. Typically I have used my singles as weft yarns in weaving project, and the energy in the yarn hasn’t made any difference in the woven textile.

Unbiased

This summer I bought Nancy Marchant’s Tuck stitches where all the samples were knit in singles. I totally fell for the structure and the stitch definition in the fabric and knew I wanted to challenge myself and experiment with a singles yarn in a knitted fabric. There are basically three solutions if you don’t want the yarn to bias:

  • You can use a balanced knitting pattern that prevents the bias, like ribbing, basketweave, garter stitch or moss stitch.
  • You can full the yarn
  • Also, you can knit alternately with yarns spun in different directions.

Fulling solutions

Come to think of it, I actually did all three, but for the purpose of this post I will focus on the fulling part. In Sarah Anderson’s book The spinner’s book of yarn designs I read that fulling is a light form of felting. The fibers in the yarn stick together and are prevented from living their energized selves. The singles will thereby calm down. Bonuses are that they will also be stronger and less prone to pilling than their unfulled equivalent.

Unfulled singles.
Unfulled singles.

There are few ways you can full your yarn. The three methods I have heard of are

  • steaming in a steamer. You put the yarn in a steamer and watch closely.
  • steaming with an iron. With this method you can hold a steaming iron above the skein still on the niddy noddy. This is perfect for warp yarn that you may want to stay reasonably straight.
  • shocking in hot and cold water.

What wools to full?

Before I write about my fulling process I will mention a few words about what wools to full. Not every type of woo fulls. Usually, what is generally called meat breeds and meat breed crosses don’t do a very good job of fulling. Others full when you glance sideways at them. Like the Värmland wool I used for this project. It has felted in the cut ends just by having been placed in a paper bag in my sofa bed together with other bags of wool. In this project I salute the fulling characteristics (after having cursed for a bit).

Noisy wool and pine cones

My favorite wool oracle Kia recently told me that you can listen to the wool to determine its felting possibilities before you actually try felting it. “Come on”, you may say, “you talk about listening to the wool all the time!” That is very true, but Kia means really listen. Orally.

Pine cones help explaining the scales on different kinds of wools. The old and rustling wools have scales that point outward. They catch on to each other for drafting but not enough for felting. The young and silent wools have scales that are snug to the fiber. These wools are champion welters.
Pine cones help explaining the scales on different kinds of wools. The old and rustling wools have scales that point outward. They catch on to each other for drafting but not enough for felting. The young and silent wools have scales that are snug to the fiber. These wools are champion welters.

Typically (and surely with exceptions) meat breeds and meet breed crosses rustle if you hold them by the ear and squeeze a bit. Other wools, like Swedish landrace and heritage breeds, are totally silent. Kia explains that on the noisy fibers the scales are pointing outwards, like ripe pine cones. That makes the wool easy to spin, but the felting abilities are not top notch since the scales don’t catch onto each other deep enough. The silent wools on the other hands, are like young pine cones with the scales close to the fiber. When agitated or shocked they close down, catching on to each other for dear life. Again, with exceptions from these examples.

Fulling singles

Until now I haven’t fulled yarn on purpose, so I just picked a method and fulled until I liked the result. I didn’t make any tests really, but followed my gut and dived headfirst into the full (pun very much intended) experience.

Shocking

I decided to shock my yarn in hot and cold water. Mainly because it seemed like the easiest way. After washing the yarn I filled two bowls with water – one with the hottest tap water (55 °C in this case) and the other with the coldest tap water (12°C). I read that some people filled the cold water bowl with ice cubes. Both methods seem to work well. The abrupt change in temperature shocks the wool and starts the felting process.

I am sure there are ways to microscopically determine a certain degree of fulling before you can actually see it. To make things easy for myself I just decided to go slow and trust my eyes and my hands in touching the yarn.

The strands in the right skein are still free to move while the strands in the left skein have started to catch on to each other.
The strands in the right skein are still free to move while the strands in the left skein have started to catch on to each other.

I simply put the skeins in one bowl, lifted, gently squeezed out the water and lowered it down in the other bowl. Back and forth until I noticed a difference. What I went for was what I had seen when I had previously accidentally felted skeins while dyeing. If this has never ever happened to you I will explain: The thing I look for is when the strands are no longer completely free to move around.

As soon as one skein was fulled to the degree I describe above I lifted it out of the water. The smallest skeins were faster to felt while the larger ones took a bit longer.

In the microscope

Writing about this actually inspires me to look at the yarn in my loupe. On the pictures below you can see that the fibers in the unfulled yarn (left) are looser in the spin. The fibers in the fulled yarn (right) are more compact in the yarn.

So what happened?

Looking at all my fulled skeins hanging to dry made me a bit nervous. It’s not like you can change your mind about fulling. It sort of sticks. What if I had felted all of them?

To find out I reskeined the fulled skeins after they had dried. The strands did stick together a bit, but no yarn was broken or damaged during the process. The reskeining also gave me the opportunity to calculate the new length after fulling. Out of the 15 skeins I fulled most shrunk only one meter (about 1 % of the total length), one shrunk around 3 meters.

I am very happy with my fulled yarn. The skeins look and feel equally fulled and work well in my knitting project. They yarn feels like it has a body – well rounded and strong. I trust that it will not break, despite its singleness. It is a pleasure to knit and doesn’t split.

Fulled singles with lovely stitch definition in a tuck stitch pattern.
Fulled singles with lovely stitch definition in a tuck stitch pattern.

Going back to that book with the single yarn samples I admired so much I think this yarn has potential to become something really lovely.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

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