The non-Blanka pillowcase

The non-Blanka pillowcase

A while ago I finished my first pillowcase, Blanka. It was a real struggle with felting warp and broken threads. I managed to finish it though, and now it has its place in our couch. When I dyed the yarn, I also dyed some Shetland that I had spun in basically the same way – 2-ply worsted spun from hand-combed tops and singles woolen spun on a Navajo spindle from carded rolags.

I was curious to see if this weave would be less of a struggle than the first one. The difference was remarkable. It was a joy to weave. First of all, I had a couple of projects with double weaving in my experience bank and second of all, it was a much more cooperative yarn.

Non-Blanka and Blanka pillowcases together

Every project has its own story, so has this one. In July, my family and I were preparing for a trip to Austria. I had packed all my necessary knitting and spinning projects. On the morning of our departure, I got a text saying that the flight had been cancelled due to a tornado at Vienna airport. We managed to book a flight 36 hours later. So, suddenly we had lots of time to kill. I chose to spend that time warping my loom for the non-Blanka pillowcase! I started, but towards the end I realized that there wasn’t enough green warp yarn. Well, there was some more, but in another project, that was packed in my suitcase. So I decided to use a light warp thread for the last 5 cm. It looked nice and it was also a reminder of the extra day we had at home before we left for Austria.

When we got home from Austria I had finished the project that had the missing green warp yarn and I decided to use it in the pillowcase as a weft yarn to match the first odd stripe. And I like the result!

Non-Blanka and Blanka pillowcases, like two peas in a pod.

Three pillows left in the couch to transform. I’m thinking twill!

The sheep, the chicken, the pig and the lion

There was a spinning competition at the wool fair I visited today.

A row of art yarns in different colours and styles
Competing yarns. Winner 4th from the right, third prize to 5th or 7th from the right, I can’t really tell them apart in this picture
A row of art yarns of different colours and styles.
Another set of competing yarns, mine 4th from the right

I love spinning competitions. The competition today was about spinning a yarn (beforehand and send it in), any kind of yarn, from Swedish sheep and adding a recycled material. Also, you needed to describe what the yarn was intended for. A really nice idea!

One of the reasons why I love spinning contest is that it gives me a chance to widen my horizons. I am forced to think outside my go-to yarn box. And this contest in particular. In the crafts section of my book shelf I have The spinner’s book of yarn designs by Sarah Anderson. I have learned so much by reading it and there is one yarn in particular that I always have wanted to try to spin, but I have never thought of a proper use for it. And now I had my chance. It was the pigtail yarn. You Z-spin two singles, one with more twist that the other. As you ply, you let the overspun single ply back on itself at suitable intervals to make intentional pigtails. You can also add pre-strung beads to the ends of the pigtails.

So, I spun thick singles from hand-carded rolags on my Navajo spindle. The wool was from the finewool sheep Engla from Överjärva gård.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Navajo spindle. Dandelion field in background.
Spinning singles on a Navajo spindle

At first I was playing with the idea to pre-string the overspun single with washers and add them to the top of each pigtail, but I realized that this would be too difficult. After all, I have never spun an art yarn before. My wool traveling friend Ellinor suggested chicken feathers instead. And I loved the idea.

I had planned to ply the singles on the Navajo spindle, but after a while I came to my senses and used the wheel instead. Plying was a really mad task. The yarn was too heavy and too voluminous and the bobbin wouldn’t pull up the yarn properly (probably because I had the wrong tension). And the pigtails were quite difficult to get right.

Close-up of spinning on a spinning wheel.
Plying intentional pigtails

When the singles were finished, I was left with a bobbin with disastrously stiff phone wire. So, I let the yarn go through the wheel again in the opposite direction to unwind the overply a little. And it worked!

Ellinor sent me a packet of beautiful feathers from her chickens.

Chicken feathers on an orange envelope with chicken stamps.
Chicken feathers with chicken postage stamps

After experimenting with different ways to attach the feathers to the pigtails, I ended up sewing them through the core of the feather and onto the ends of each pigtail and it worked out perfectly. But it took me three weeks to sew them on. At least they won’t fall off!

Close-up of hands attaching feathers to a yarn.
Attaching feathers onto pigtails, one by one

I imagine the yarn being used as knitted-on edge on a collar on a cardigan knit in a bulky white yarn. The feathers will make it look almost like a lion’s mane. Hence the name – The sheep, the chicken, the pig and the lion.

Josefin Waltin with a skein around her neck. The yarn has feathers attached to it.
The sheep, the chicken, the pig, the lion and the spinner

The sheep is the Swedish finewool sheep Engla who provided me with the fiber, the chicken is the previous owner of the feathers, the pig is the model for the pigtails and the lion is the look of the wearer with the yarn in the collar.

So, there were about 27 yarns in the competition.

The contestants had been very creative in their yarns. They had attached fibers from clothes, cassette tape, buttons, silk flowers etc. The winner was a beautiful core spun mohair yarn with hand dyed silk fibers and hand crocheted silk flower buttons. The third prize was wool spun together with human hair, also beautifully done.

And how did I do? Well, I came in second!

The yarns were auctioned for charity. At this moment I don’t know if anyone bought my yarn. But I’d love to see it in a project!

Wool fair and fair wool

I went to a wool fair today, Ullmarknad i Österbybruk. Lots of vendors, exhibitions and activities and lots of visitors, despite rain and 14 degrees.

Close-up of a nalbinding project by a train window.
Nalbinding on the train to the wool fair

Lots of vendors were selling raw fleece, which I think is a positive development. In earlier fairs, I have seen mostly sheep skins and sheep skin products and perhaps small amounts of washed and dyed fleece for felting.

Lots of bags of wool.
Raw fleece for sale

Sheep of different shapes, sizes and models were for sale in every stall.

Lots of carved sheep.
Focus of sheep
An embroidered needle case and a drawstring bag with buttons.
Needle case and buttons

I bought a proper needle case and some enamelled coconut buttons.

Close-up of white wool locks
Leicester fleece

And a Leicester fleece that I couldn’t resist. I am thinking warp yarn.

And oh, I got recognized! A spinner from the Swedish Facebook spinning forum asked if I was Josefin and told me that she had watched my videos on supported spindle spinning lots and lots of times. She was a little disappointed that I only had brought a Turkish spindle to the fair. I’ll remember to bring a supported spindle next time!

All in all it was a good day!

The experimental flax patch

I grow my own flax in a miniature experimental patch. Miniature means about 2 square meters and experimental means that I try to improve every year by experimenting and learning from my previous mistakes. I started in 2014, it was all coincidental. I was seed shopping for our allotment and found a pack of flax seeds for spinning flax. When I planted them I had no intention of processing the fiber, but come August I thought I might give it a try. I had no knowledge and no tools, but my plan was to keep it experimental and grow flax just because I could, and I was sure to learn a lot in the process.

The first year’s result was meager, but I was still  very proud of it. I had grown it and gone through all the steps required to produce fiber. With no tools, I had to be very inventive. After drying and retting, I separated the seeds by putting the bundles in a pillowcase and hammering on it with a mallet. I broke and scutched the stems with a rolling pin on the tiled kitchen floor. I think I used a comb to hackle the fibers. And I was left with a line the thickness of a rat’s tail. But it was my rat’s tail.

A very thin stick of homegrown flax.
Flax harvest of 2014

The following year I had a small experience bank to build on. I planted tighter and more, which gave result. One problem was weeds that sprouted at the same time as the flax, and it was difficult to deweed without deflaxing as well. I had found two hackles which helped me a lot and the result was much improved, the thickness being of approximately 3 rat’s tails, and a lot longer and finer fibers than the first year.

A thin stick of homegrown flax. Hackles and tow in the background.
Flax harvest 2015

In 2016 I waited for the weeds to sprout before I started the flax planting. That way I could deweed before I put the flax seeds in the ground, which was a success. The flax grew nicely and the patch looked very promising. Until the next problem arrived. The problem spelled C-A-T. Frasse, the neighbour’s cat had found a new bed. In my flax bed. He lay there every day and didn’t care about my golden fiber at all. So a lot of the harvest was ruined by cat.

Also, the fall was very dry. I dew retted the flax longer than I had before, but when I processed it, it was really hard to separate the fibers from the core. The consequences of which led to both more waste (=less usable fiber) and more core cellulose in the finished fiber. And I think it has less shine than the previous harvest.

A thin stick of homegrown flax. Hackles and tow in the background.
Flax harvest 2016

But this is why I do it – I learn every year and use my experience to improve the next year. And I did end up with 4 rat’s tails!

This year’s flax has had its ups and downs. To start with, I put a compost grid 5 cm above the soil to prevent the cat from hi-jacking my flax patch. He came, he sulked and he left. I increased the patch with two pallet collars below our big oak. Also, I got some new seeds (Ilona) from a retired flax gardener. But the oak sucked out all the water from the soil and all that is left are some sad yellow stems, about 20 cm high. So we are left with the original patch. Which is full of weeds between the flax stems. However, I planted the new seeds on the original patch and this flax is a lot higher than it ever was before, so I’ll make sure to use the new seeds next year.

Flax flowers.
Flax in blossom

Swedish finewool (finull)

Close-up of crimpy wool.
Yummy Swedish finewool (scoured) from Solkustens spinnverkstad

The first ever fleece I bought was from the Swedish finewool sheep Pia-Lotta at Överjärva gård. She was a lamb back then and it was the wool I learned to spin with. I have managed to get hold of her fleece twice more (the last time I shore her myself). Finewool has become my house fiber. It is the fiber I feel most comfortable spinning and my hearts jumps a beat whenever I get my hands on finewool fluff.

At the wool traveling club‘s wool journey 2016 I bought some really yummy finewool at Solkustens spinnverkstad and a couple of days ago I started preparing it for spinning. I know it is a year later, but that’s my fleece queue at the moment – one year from purchase to process if I keep the queue order.

A good finewool fleece is really crimpy with superfine fibers. It is moderate in lanolin and usually only needs scouring in cold water before processing. It is wonderfully soft, silky to the touch and a very good candidate for carding for a warm and airy woolen yarn. The ends can be a bit brittle and break in the preparation. Therefore it’s a good idea to make sure that doesn’t happen, to avoid nepps and noils in your yarn. I flick card the tip ends of every staple. Any brittle tips stay in the flick card instead of in the yarn.

A hand with crimpy wool in it. Wool in the background.
Crimly staples of finewool

I have spun my first yarn in this fiber from hand-carded rolags on my spinning wheel and I love the result.

Close-up of a skein of white handspun yarn.
Fingering weight finewool yarn spun with long draw from hand-carded rolags, 3-ply, 48 g, 113 m

I also plan to make a 3-ply yarn spun on a Navajo spindle. When I spun this yarn on the wheel, I realized that I have learned so much about long draw from spinning on a Navajo spindle. I wouldn’t have been able to spin singles this consistent if I hadn’t practiced long draw as much as I have on the Navajo spindle. At that insight, my heart skips a beat again.

Happy spinning!

First flax

I have spun my first flax!

I bought a kilo of heckled flax from Växbo lin a year ago, but I have been a bit intimidated by it. I have read a lot about flax spinning but I haven’t had the courage to start spinning.

Two books about flax processing.
Reading up on flax spinning and husbandry

Also, I didn’t have a distaff, so I asked around and finally got a comb distaff. It was hand-carved in the -80’s after an old original. But I had no holder for it and I started playing with ideas how and where to arrange it. We have a floor lamp in the living room and I thought it might be a good idea to tie the distaff onto the lamp shaft.

I wanted to get some sort of container for water to be able to wet-spin the flax. My idea was to hang the container on my spinning wheel, so I needed something with a handle. Last week we went to a flea market and I found a pretty copper cauldron that would be a perfect candidate for the job.

A small copper cauldron hanging on a spinning wheel.
A cauldron for wet spinning

Today I decided it was the day to face my flax fears and start spinning. When I looked at the lamp to figure out how to attach the distaff to it, I saw my blocking wires behind the lamp, neatly stored in their one meter tube. And it was the perfect distaff stand!

So I started spinning with the distaff tube tucked under my arm. It was a little awkward, trying to spin, hold on to the tube and wisp away flying flax fibers at the same time. I realized that I had to spin outdoors and organize myself. So, I moved my equipment out to the terrace and folded up the parasol against the sun and the showers in the ambivalent weather. And I found the perfect floor stand to the distaff tube in the lounge furniture!

Josefin Waltin spinning flax on a spinning wheel on the balcony.
Spinning flax with inventive distaff holder and stand. Photo by Dan Waltin

Finally, I was able to spin. I was happy as a clam, spinning away in my perfect little arrangement. The rain was pattering cozily against my parasol canopy and the bobbin slowly turned into a treasure in pale gold.

Close-up of a bobbin full of flax yarn in motion
A golden thread. Photo by Dan Waltin

And I’m really happy with my first flax yarn. And now there is only 974 g flax left of my 1 kg!

A skein of handspun flax yarn.
First flax skein, 209 m, 26 g
A hand wound ball of flax yarn.
First flax ball

Shetland wool

I got wool today! Three bags full, actually. Two beautiful Shetland fleeces, one Moorit (brown) and one Eskit (dark grey).

Close-up of a brown Shetland fleece
Shetland Moorit.

Previous Shetland fleeces

I have bought a few Shetland fleeces and I love all of them dearly. I bought the first ones when my wool traveling club attended Shetland wool week 2015. I got to enter the wonderful treasure room for hand spinners at Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers. A room in the basement filled with dreamy fleeces, handpicked for handspinners. I ended up buying one white and one Flecket (patches of black, grey and white). This Christmas I bought another two – one Shaela (light grey) and one Yuglet (dark grey). More about them in a later post.

About the Shetland sheep

The Shetland sheep is an old sheep breed and they are traditionally rooing their wool. The sheep sheds its wool at a certain time of year when the fibers thin and the new wool starts to grow underneath. This has advantages and disadvantages. An advantage is that the fiber closes at the weak spot, which makes a garment more resistant to cold and wet weather. Another advantage is that the yarn is smoother, since the ends are thinned out instead of cut off.

A disadvantage is that there is a lot of waste, and sometimes a risk of nepps and noils in the finished yarn. If the fibers don’t break or isn’t pulled off and if the sheep isn’t sheared at the rooing moment, there will be a weak spot where the rooing occurs while the new fiber starts to grow. So, on the fleeces I bought at Christmas (about six months after the rooing) the part between cut end and rooing spot was quite long, about 4–6 cm. These parts were either wasted or used for carding.

When to get the best fleece

I wanted to get my next fleeces with as little outgrowth as possible. The rooing usually occurs in June as far as I know. I read in a post in the Shetland woolbrokers’ blog that Jan is busy with incoming wool from July, so I gathered that the shearing starts about then. So I e-mailed them in July and asked them to get me the best fleeces they could find. I wanted two solid-colour fleeces and the colour really didn’t matter (not black and not white, though), the important thing was the quality. And today I picked them up from the post office. The woman at the post office looked rather suspiciously at my three bursting bags, smelling faintly of sheep. I must have looked rather funny on my bike with one bag in my bike bag, one strapped on to the bike rack and one dangling from the handlebar.

Just yum

The fleeces are really wonderful. Soft like butter, superfine fibers, strong and resilient. They are also amazingly clean. I’m used to Swedish fleeces, where even the cleanest ones have some vegetable matter in them, either from silage, weeds or needles. Once I actually found a whole chestnut in a fleece!

The Moorit fleece (picture above) is super soft (lamb, I think) with staples about 12 cm. The ends are bleached, which is common on brown fleeces. This means that the finished  yarn also might be bleached, which I will put under consideration when choosing projects for it.

Close-up of a dark grey Shetland fleece
Shetland Eskit.

The Eskit fleece (lamb) is just as soft and clean. The staples are longer, up to 15 cm. There might be an outgrowth though, you can see the change of quality in the bottom 3 cm of the staple. Hopefully the fibers break at the rooing point when I comb it and the cut end parts stay in the combs.

I have divided both the fleeces in two parts, one part with the finest, softest fibers from the neck and the sides and one with the still very soft but not softest fibers. This way I can adapt my yarns to different projects.

My spinning plans

I will comb the fleeces and spin with short forward draw. My go-to yarn is 2-ply fingering weight, But I think I will also stash up on some 3-ply sport with these fleeces, I have lots of queueing knitting projects requiring sport weight yarn. The shorter lengths left in the combs will be carded and spun with long draw. I do love to spin these carded rolags into singles on my Navajo spindle and use as weft. More on how I prepare fleeces in an earlier post on combing and carding.

Gotta go now. I have fleeces to cuddle.

Please correct me if I’m wrong about the properties or terminology of Shetland wool.

Back in town

I just came home from vacations out of town. First we had a wonderful week in Austria, hiking and seeing my relatives. We flew to Vienna and then took the train to Salzburg. So, when it came to craft planning I didn’t want anything in my hand luggage that any security staff could take away from me. My standard in-flight craft is nalbinding. A blunt wooden needle (or, in this case, bone) and yarn. It doesn’t take much space either. And my loved ones are always in need of warm and wind-proof mittens. These particular mittens will be for my brother-in-law. They were also a perfect companion for hiking.

Close-up of a nalbinding project. Mountains in the background.
Nalbinding at Postalm, Austria. Bone needle from Birka. Yarn is my handspun 3-ply from finewool/rya crossed sheep from Åsebol sheep farm.

We had to stay overnight in Vienna, so I could rearrange my luggage and have access to both spindles and knitting projects for the train ride. And I do love spinning on the train.

Hands spinning on a support spindle on the train.
Spinning on the train between Vienna and Salzburg. Spindle from Neal Brand, spinning disk from John Rizzi. Fluff is merino/tussah silk from Vinterverkstan.

Lots of knitting was done also at the B&B we stayed at. I couldn’t not knit the 2017 Shetland wool week pattern, even though I’m not coming this year either.

Close-up of stranded knitting. Mountains in the background.
Knitting the Bousta beanie by Gudrun Johnston, the 2017 Shetland wool week pattern. Yarn is my handspun from Shetland fleece from Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers (greens) and Jämtland sheep (grey).

And, oh, I also found the house spinning wheel at the B&B! A little beauty that had been used for both flax and wool spinning by the owner’s mother in the early 1900’s.

An old spinning wheel.
A pretty spinning wheel, next to a flax distaff.

The second vacation was in a log cabin in Tiveden in Sweden at the Åsebol sheep farm. They have finewool, Texel and Rya sheep.

Two Rya sheep, one dark grey and one white.
Beautiful Rya sheep.

We came by car and I brought a lot more crafting stuff on this trip. The car was quite full. I had a basket of carders and combs between my feet on the floor. But it was worth it, this farm is one of my favourite places on earth.

A person nalbinding by a creek.
Nalbinding away by the creek.

We did some hiking there as well, and I brought the nalbinding.

Close-up of a nalbinding project by a lake.
Nalbinding again.

We spent a lot of time at the farm, just enjoying the silence and the occasional Baah. And i did a lot of spinning. I brought five spindles plus carders and wool combs and enjoyed them all.

A Turkish spindle with a country road in the background.
Spinning Finewool on a Jenkins Finch.

At the end of the week, I had spun quite a lot.

Several skeins and full spindles.
Wool production at Åsebol sheep farm: Dark grey singles (on Roosterick Navajo spindle and leftmost toilet roll), five skeins of thick singles finewool yarn spun on Navajo spindle (and all of the fluff for it combed and carded on the log cabin  porch), Shetland singles on drop spindle from Bosworth (I am planning to Navajo-ply it), Finewool on Jenkins Turkish spindle, merino/tussah silk on supported spindle from Malcolm Fielding, nalbinding mittens and some secret stuff on the rest of the toilet rolls. Photo by Dan Waltin

Two more weeks of vacation at home. And there will be spinning!

Woven blanket

 

A woven wool blanket draped over a park bench.
A finished blanket

Another project is finally finished. I started spinning this yarn over a year ago, but spinning for a blanket takes time!

The fleece is from a Swedish finull/Rya crossbred from Åsebol sheep farm (white, light blue and blue stripes). The yarn was spun on a spinning wheel from hand-carded rolags with long draw and then 3-plied. The dark stripe is from a Shetland flecket fleece from Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers, spun woolen from the fold and 3-plied.

Handspun yarn in backlight

Since I only have a 60 cm rigid heddle loom, I can’t weave one-piece blanket, but my friend Kristin came up with the brilliant idea to weave strips and sew together and then tumble-dry. She has made several blankets this way on her 40 cm rigid heddle loom. So I wanted to make one too. Wrapping myself in a cozy blanket from sheep I meet every summer will bring up sweet summer memories in the cold winter.

The strips have been stowed away for several months now, but today I unwrapped them and started sewing on the living room floor.

Four strips make a blanket.

Tumble-drying was a real bore.

Round and round it goes

And finally I decided it was done and I took out a warm and fuzzy blanket!

A blanket is born!

The Blanka pillowcase

Close-up of a weave on a rigid heddle loom.
Weaving the Blanka pillowcase

On the Swedish wool championships of 2016 I managed to win the auction of one of the silver medal fleeces, a Dalapäls fleece from Solaengel’s lamb Blanka. I asked a bit about how to best prepare it and I ended up dividing the fleece into two categories – one for the longer staples with undercoat softness and overcoat lengths and one for a bit shorter staples. I spun the first category straight from the staple on a supported spindle into a strong 2-ply yarn. The second category I carded and spun as a soft, thick singles yarn on my Navajo spindle. I envisioned a woven pillowcase with the strong 2-ply as warp and the soft and thick singles as the weft.

I dyed the warp into a blueish green and the weft a bit lighter. After dying, I warped my rigid heddle loom double with closed selvedges. When I warped, I noticed that the yarn had started to felt in the dyeing process and was very clingy. And that clinginess continued all through the weaving. Beating was a struggle, for every change of sheds and rolling back of the weave I had to manually separate each warp thread. Lots of warp threads snapped (as did I) and  as I got closer to the end of the warp, the twin thread of the broken threads also got loose.

I did finish the pillowcase and I spent over 2 hours weaving in broken warp threads. I added a zipper and was unreasonably proud of my very own Blanka pillowcase.

A hand woven pillowcase

All of these problems might make a person give up and throw the whole project away. Had it been a knitting project I might have frogged it. But I had felt every fiber of this yarn in my hands and I knew the yarn by heart and I never thought of giving up. I just needed to find solutions to the bigger problems and have patience with the smaller ones. And I have learned so much from this project. I am a new weaver and learning by doing has been the headlines all through my new weaving career. And for every fault I see I know how that fault came about and what I learned from it. And I bring this knowledge into the next project.

A hand woven pillowcase. Lake in the background.

When I dyed for this project I had some Shetland in the dye as well and I will make another pillowcase (a non-Blanka pillowcase). The yarn is sleeker and hopefully the weaving will be easier.

Close-up of a hand woven pillow case

Until then, I will cuddle with my pretty pillow.

A hand woven pillowcase in the fern