Spinning with the sheep in the pasture

In October 2016 I made a video in the pasture at Överjärva gård. Anna helped me with filming and we both had trouble moving our fingers due to the cold. Sheepwise, we didn’t know quite what to expect. But two very friendly and curious ewes kept us company all through the filming. Anemone the multicoloured finewool lamb and Susanne the Gotland sheep. It was so comforting to have them there. Their calmness, the warm breaths and their constant nose poking on the spindle. Later, Anna was lucky enough to get her hands on Anemone’s lamb fleece.

The fiber I was spinning was from a prize winner, the Dalapäls ewe lamb Blanka. She (well, her owner actually) won a silver medal in the Swedish fleece championships of 2016 and I bought the fleece at the auction that followed. Spindle and cup from Malcolm Fielding.

A person spinning on a support spindle. Two sheep are investigating the spindle
Two very curious and friendly sheep

Combing and carding

I usually buy fleece and do my own preparation. For that I use my mini combs and my carders. I try to use as much of the fiber as possible and make as little waste as possible.

I do love combing. The way the wool transforms from separated staples to a fluffy bundle is like magic. And drawing the fiber off the comb in a long, continuous piece is very satisfying.

A basket full of combed wool. Lake in the background.
Shetland wool combed into bird’s’ nests

The longer fibers align themselves into that long combed piece. But usually there is an amount of shorter fibers left in the combs. I pull these out, one pinch at  time, and card. The nepps and noils stay in the combs and I use this waste in the garden.

Two baskets of prepared wool
Combed wool in the back basket shorter comb leftovers pulled off the comb in the front basket. In the front carded rolags and mini combs with leftover shorter fibers. All from the same Shetland fleece.

I follow the same routine when I card, but without making the combed bird’s nests. I lightly comb the fleece I want to card, pull it off the combs one pinch at a time and then card. This way, I use the combs for teasing the wool. It is much faster and nicer than teasing each staple with a flicker, which I used to do. And now I love carding too!

Wool journey 2017

A flock of sheep in the pasture. The sun is shining on them.
Happy sheep at Åsebol sheep farm

I just came home from the Wool traveling club‘s 2017 Wool journey. We have had such a wonderful time – Anna, Ellinor, Boel and I. Kristin couldn’t make it this time.

We went to Åsebol sheep farm, one of my favourite places on earth. During our stay we mostly sat by the creek, spinning and knitting. We also sat on the back porch, knitting and spinning. Sometimes we sat in the front porch. Spinning and knitting. Every now and then we went for a walk to see the sheep. Sometimes spinning.

Five toilet rolls filled with white yarn.
Rule number one on Wool journeys: Do not throw away empty toilet paper rolls! They are needed as bobbins.

We also had three classes. On the first day I taught a class in supported spinning. My students were fast learners and I think they enjoyed the class. We also hired Kia Gabrielsson from Ullsörvis to teach two classes. Kia is Sweden’s only wool classifier and works at a wool station in Gol, Norway.

Wool knowledge

Wool knowledge is essential to a spinner. With knowledge of wool characteristics the spinner will know what to look for in a fleece to match the quality and the purpose of the yarn. Kia unloaded tons of fleeces from her van and provided us with a wool protocol on which to note characteristics of the wool – strength, shine, elasticity, crimp etc.

A person filling out a form above a white fleece.
Protocol for wool assessment

We looked at several fleeces and filled in a wool protocol for each fleece. They were all wonderful fleeces and very different from each other. As a spinner I have endless opportunities to choose a fleece – or parts of a fleece – to suit my preferences, whether I want to make a sheer shawl, a warm sweater, a sturdy rug or something else. As a final exam, we each got to fill in a protocol of a fleece from the sheep farm.

Hands in a white fleece. The sun is shining.
So many wonderful fleeces

Uruahipi or Māori knitting

Kia’s second class was in Māori knitting, or Uruahipi. It is a very basic kind of knitting with minimal processing, which makes a very soft and airy fabric with a life of its own. You start by drafting straight off the staples to get kind of a rough sliver. The next step is to roll the sliver on your lap to make an even roll. After that you knit. This is usually an activity you do together – with the fleece in the middle you draft and roll for each other. Kia told us stories of how the Māori used to knit like this in the 60’s. She worked in New Zealand in the 80’s and saw lots of Uruahipi knitwear and asked around to find out more about the technique.  She fell in love with it and, lucky for us, she brought it back to Sweden. It also turned out that the technique has been used in other parts of the world.

Kia Gabrielsson holding hand teased wool
Kia drafting for Māori knitting

With the fleece warming our toes and the drafted sliver criss-crossing between us I felt very connected to it all – the wool, the stories and, above all, to Kia and my wool traveling friends.

People sitting in a ring with hand teased lengths of wool going across them. A fleece on the floor in the middle.
Entangled in Uruahipi and Kia’s stories

If you know anything more about Māori knitting or Uruahipi (I think it’s also sometimes called Kiwicraft), please let me know! There is also a Swedish Facebook group for Uruahipi.

Close-up of a project knit with unspun yarn
Uruahipi swatch

After four days of wooly adventures the 2017 wool journey came to an end. We went home and I think we all cherish the memories and long for our next wool journey in 2018.

Josefin Waltin cuddling with a sheep. Dandelions and farm houses in the background.
Lots of sheep cuddling. Photo by Anna Herting

The bedtime shawl

An arm holding up a sheer woven shawl in natural colours.
The bedtime shawl

When I started practising supported spinning, I was using what was left of three fleeces of beautiful alpaca I had bought from  Österlen alpacka a few years ago. I was spinning in bed just before I went to sleep. It was calming, like meditation and I cherished those bedtime spinning moments. I was spinning to learn, so I didn’t have a project planned for the yarn, but after a while I envisioned a sheer woven shawl. A bit like those fancy wide cashmere shawls. My mother-in-law was going through chemo at the time and she is always cold so I wanted to make it for her.

A support spindle full of yarn.
Singles from the baby alpaca Miracle

After about six months of bedtime spinning I started weaving on my rigid heddle loom. And it was hell. I am a new weaver and I am advising all weavers, regardless of experience, never to weave in alpaca. It’s a very slippery fiber. And especially prone to breaking with a super thin singles weft. Or perhaps the advise is not to weave with a super thin singles weft.

A rigid heddle loom warped with thin yarn
At the beginning of the alpaca hell

But I did learn a lot along the way. And that’s the beauty of creating, isn’t it? For every mistake you make you learn something new to add to your experience bank and bring into future projects. And at the end of the warp it turned out beautifully, smooth as silk.

A sheer woven shawl folded over a park bench
The finished alpaca shawl

Plying on a Navajo spindle

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I generally don’t ply on a spindle. It takes too much time and effort. I usually ply on my wheel. But I need to try it. Today, I had three singles spun on supported spindles and I wanted to try to ply them on my Navajo spindle. And I wanted to film something while the cherry trees were still in blossom.

When spinning on a Navajo spindle I roll the shaft towards me on my right leg. So, naturally, when plying I roll the shaft away from me on my right leg. It would work just as well rolling towards me on my left leg.

In the video I keep my spindles in a shoe box. Usually I wind the singles together on a bobble before plying. Or toilet rolls or tennis balls, do it in any fashion you prefer. When plying directly from the spindles I keep my fingers between the singles to keep them in order. When drawing out the singles I smooth them out with my thumb, feeling after bumps and places where a single has plied back on itself. I roll the shaft until I see that the yarn is balanced, and roll it on to the temporary cop. Every now and then I transfer the yarn from the temporary cop down to the permanent cop. It was very convenient to use the oak stump for that.

Well, plying yarn this thin on a Navajo spindle was tedious, I have to say, and there was no time difference from plying on a supported spindle. The positive thing was, as it usually is when it comes to spindles, that I can get a close look on my work and avoid the singles plying back on themselves. There is rarely time for that when plying on the wheel. I may ply on a Navajo spindle again, but with less yarn.

A skein of handspun white yarn in backlight
Result: 203 m, 58 g of fingering weight 3-ply yarn, 3581 m/kg.

Fiber is hand-carded rollags from the finewool sheep Engla from Överjärva gård. Supported spindles from Malcolm Fielding (outer) and Neal Brand (middle) and Navajo spindle from Roosterick. Shawl pattern is Beth Kling‘s Henslowe, Tussah tweed yarn from BC garn.

Happy spinning!

Subway spinning

Usually I take the bike to work. But occasionally I have to leave the bike at home and take the subway. I don’t like it at all, but I always bring some wooly friend to ease the pain. Today I went to work un-biked and my sweet Jenkins Lark kept me company. Fluff is from Vinterverkstan.

A Turkish spindle in motion on the subway
Happy spinning!

Spinning on a supported spindle – step by step

I thought I’d write something about how I spin on a supported spindle. I learned a lot from Fleegle’s book about supported spinning, I highly recommend it.

Starting on an empty spindle

An empty spindle shaft is quite slippery and it’s not always easy to start spinning. I take my fiber, unspun, and wrap it a few times round the shaft quite high, perhaps 3–5 cm from the upper tip. Then I flick the spindle in motion, stop, draft and roll on to the shaft. I repeat these steps a few times, until I have a bit of a length. I transfer the spun yarn onto my fiber hand and then, without removing the fiber from the shaft completely, push the starting fiber down to the placement of the permanent cop. I wind on most of the spun thread on the permanent cop, saving a length to spiral up the shaft. And I’m ready to spin!

Spinning continuously with a short draw

When I spin on a supported spindle I spin continuously. This took me a lot of time to learn and I took it step by step.

There are two major parts of this process (well, three actually, but I will get to the third part later on):

  1. Spinning
  2. Rolling the spun yarn onto the temporary cop

For these two steps I need to keep the yarn in different angles in relation to the shaft. When spinning, the yarn is kept in a low angle, 5–45°. This way, the yarn is sliding off the tip every turn and the yarn gets spun. When rolling the yarn onto the shaft, the yarn is kept at a 90° angle from the shaft. So in the spinning process I alternate these two tasks and angles.

Apart from the flicking, I don’t touch the spindle. All the support it needs comes from the spinning surface. The spinning hand is controlling the yarn and the fiber hand is controlling the fiber. I make sure I get a good flick to keep the spinning going long and strong.

Let’s get back to the spinning. For a continuous spin I flick the tip with my spinning hand, preferably with three fingers and my thumb.

I do this in a series of movements, not stopping in between: 5–45° Flick, draft, 90° flick, roll on. If I want to do this with park and draft I stop between: 5–45° Flick. Stop. I draft until I reach my desired amount of twist. Stop. 90° flick, roll on.

There are a few tricks to the spinning that you hardly see in regular motion, but in slow motion they are visible: When I draft I turn my fiber hand against the spinning direction, i.e. anti-clockwise for a clockwise spinning. Just briefly to make the drafting easier and to even out bumps. And just at the beginning of the flicking to roll the yarn onto the temporary cop I take charge by rolling less than a quarter of a round in the wrong direction (anti-clockwise).

Spinning continuously with a long draw

The method is basically the same as for a short draw, but with one difference. When I have flicked the spindle for spinning and put my fingers back on the yarn, I repeatedly open and close my spinning hand fingers on the yarn to let the twist go further into the fiber. This gets you a longer draft before the yarn breaks and a more fluffy yarn.

Moving yarn to permanent cop

So, on to step 3. Using the temporary cop is for convenience. I want to be as economical in my movements as possible and enjoy the continuous motion. But sooner or later I have to move the cop town to its permanent place. So I make a butterfly. With my fiber hand I lift the yarn interchangeably with my thumb and pinkie and thus transfer the yarn from the temporary cop to my fiber hand. When all the yarn from the temporary cop is wound on to my hand I transfer it down to the permanent cop. I help the rolling on with the spinning hand by flicking the shaft. I also make sure I make a neat cop. With a sloppy cop there is a risk the end will never be found again if I lose it.

Plying

Usually I don’t ply on my spindles. It takes too much time and is quite boring. But I do it occasionally when I have just a small amount of yarn to ply. So, I made a short video on plying. There’s nothing special about plying on a supported spindle really. I skip the temporary cop in this part of the process, instead I tilt the spindle a little away from the fiber hand and wind the yarn directly on to the permanent cop. In this video I ply from both ends of a center-pull ball. I keep a fiber hand finger between the singles to keep them in order. Then I just ply away.

Fiber is from Swedish finewool sheep. Spindles are from Maine fiber tools and Malcolm Fielding. Spinning bowl also from Malcolm Fielding. Hoody pattern is Kate Davies’ Northmavine Hoody, yarn from Jamieson & Smith.

Happy spinning!

Spinning on a Navajo spindle – drafting

In a previous post I talked about drafting on a Navajo spindle. I made a new video on Navajo spinning today, focusing on drafting.

So, as I described in the earlier post, I roll the shaft, keeping my fiber hand still until the fiber catches the twist. Then I draw in sections, hopefully ending up with a semi-thread of even thickness. Then I draw some more until I reach my target thickness, roll on to the shaft and repeat for the next section. I added a slow motion closeup to show the details.

Filming Navajo spindling is not easy, there are details I want to focus on, but the spinning has lots of parts at quite long distances from each other. I hope the video still makes sense. It was quite cold out when I filmed and the wool was fussy. I could literally hear the wool fat stiffen as I drafted and I had to be very careful not to snap the yarn. Also, the colour of the fiber makes it a little hard to see, but I hope you can see enough. The next fiber I Navajo spin will be white, I promise.

Spindle is from Roosterick. The fiber is hand-carded from a Shetland sheep fleece, purchased at Jameson & Smith Shetland Woolbrokers. Shawl pattern is  the Daisy crescent by Kieran Foley. MC yarn is my handspun and the daisies are various scraps, both storebought and handspun.

Happy spinning!

The Navajo spindle

In september I bought an Interweave video showing different kinds of supported spindles. Among these was a Navajo spindle. I hadn’t paid Navajo spindles much attention before, but after seeing the video I suddenly felt I needed one. And in late november I finally received a beautiful Navajo spindle from Roosterick.

A full Navajo spindle leaning against a rock
My sweet Navajo spindle

The beauty of the Navajo spindle

Spinning on a Navajo spindle is really lovely. The long draw can get amazingly long and is very satisfying. As any other spinning, it’s very soothing. The sound of the point spinning against the bowl, the rhythmic motion of the hands and the feeling of warm wool. Also, it is a spindle technique that involves the whole body. I do like the small movements when flicking a supported spindle, but it is a nice contrast with the long rolling movements and the extension of the other arm away from the body. I decided to learn with the right hand as my spinning hand, the opposite of my preferences regarding other spindles and the wheel. That way I will hopefully avoid muscular strain and give my brain an extra challenge.

How to spin on a Navajo spindle

When spinning on an Navajo spindle you use a long draw. The spinning hand rolls the shaft and the fiber hand controls the fiber, but none of the hands is on the thread (unless for evening out a bump). I roll the shaft several times without moving the fiber hand. When I see that the fiber (still fluffy and unspun) is beginning to catch the twist, I move the fiber hand outwards, letting the fiber catch the twist as my hand moves further out from the body. That gives me a semi-thread (or proto-yarn using Fleegle’s terms in her book about supported spinning) of even thickness. From this stage I can decide what thickness I want. If I want a thick thread I put in some more twist (double drafting) without moving my fiber hand. If I want a thinner thread I move my fiber hand outwards and roll some more. When my arm doesn’t get any longer, I butterfly the thread onto my fiber hand and double draft it in sections. I’ll try to make a video that shows this part more clearly, however, you can see it a bit in the video, starting at 38 seconds.

So, while you can play with any thickness you like,  the Navajo spindle is a perfect tool for practicing spinning thick yarns. Especially thick singles, since you can get quite a low twist yarn with the Navajo spindle. This is a challenge for me, since my go-to thickness is quite thin, but suddenly I really enjoy making fat singles!

The importance of fiber preparation

The fact that you  use a long draw also makes fiber preparation very important. The fiber needs to be carded, preferably by hand. Any nepps or noils will impair the result. Hence, I have practiced – and improved – hand carding in the last few months and the difference between good and not-so-good carding is really evident in the spinning and the finished yarn.

While making my first video on Navajo spindle spinning in December, it became very clear to me that wool grease, just like any other fat, stiffens in the cold. Hence, the yarn broke time and time again. And the beautiful process of learning goes on and on.

Spindle from Roosterick. Fiber is hand combed from Shetland sheep. Hat is Ella Gordon‘s Crofthoose hat, shawl is Kate DaviesNorthmavine hap.

Happy spinning!

The wool traveling club

Since I started spinning, I have taken different spinning classes. But most of them have been on a beginner’s level and there weren’t much to choose from on a more advanced level. And so, the idea of the wool traveling club was born. The idea was to form a club of intermediate to advanced spinners and take courses adapted to the club members’ needs. I invited my spinning friends Anna and Kristin and they in turn invited one spinning friend each. And so, the wool traveling club, Ullreseklubben, was born. The five of us save money individually each month. Once a year we go on a wool journey together.

After having saved the first sum for 18 month, the premiere wool journey went to Shetland wool week. It was an amazing week. While the wool week arrangement with classes, events and wooly mingling was wonderful in every way, the thing that caught me the most was the ever present textile heritage. Every Shetlander knows the textile history of the island, and, especially, the women’s part in providing for the families with spinning, knitting and sheep husbandry.

The Bressay light house, sheep in foreground
Bressay lighthouse, Shetland

The second year we were all a little short on clink, so we went to Anna’s country house and paid a visit to Solkustens spinnverkstad, a local spinning mill.

This year we’re going to Åsebol sheep farm and we’re all very very eager to go.