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

About weaving

A rigid heddle loom warp
Warping for the Bedtime shawl

I have spun lots of different kinds of yarns in various techniques of preparing, spinning and finishing. I have realized that there are some yarns I don’t really know what to do with since they are not really suited for knitting. Also it’s the other way around – there are some spinning techniques I haven’t bothered practicing since they aren’t very knittable. And so, I have played with the thought of learning how to weave.

I have never known how to weave. And looking at it, I didn’t think it looked that interesting. Lots of calculating and just a flat surface. And I have never been a fan of home textiles.

But I love crafting challenges and two years ago I decided to join the local weaver’s guild and learn the basics of weaving. The guild, or vävstuga (“weaving cabin”, where locals come and weave) is a fantastic place with six floor looms, of which five were purchased by the apartment association. The rent is also paid by the apartment association and all you pay as a member is an annual fee of 5€ plus the material cost for items you weave and keep. All of the members in the guild are women and most of them way beyond 70. Which means that they weave in the daytime and have lots of time to weave. I participated in warping for place mats and started weaving a towel and loved it, but i got really stressed when I knew there was a line of weavers behind me and I had a two week weaving window before it was the next weaver’s turn.

I wanted to weave my own stuff. These ladies are really skilled and glad to share their knowledge, but the system didn’t suit me. So I bought my  own loom, a rigid heddle loom. And it was a very good decision. I get to weave what I like, I do the patterns and designs myself and I can use my own handspun yarns. I warp on the balcony when the weather allows it, otherwise I head down to the guild and warp there, always meeting the lovely and helpful weaving guild members.

The rigid heddle loom suits me very well. I can only weave in tabby, but it still gets me far and it allows me to learn more at my own beginner’s level before I take any further steps. I know there is a way to weave twill too and I will explore that further on. I’m thinking a birthday scarf for x.

Now, after almost two years of weaving I just love it, even the calculating and warping parts. I can’t stop feeling the weave. The structure of my own handspun, my warp and weft looking so professional in the loom.

There is a satisfaction in making my own design, counting and recounting until the yarn required matches the amount of yarn I have spun. Someone said that having a limitation of some kind helps creativity. If I have only a certain amount of yarn spun from one fleece, there is no more yarn. I have to adapt my pattern to the circumstances and I learn so much from that. I can play with different textures and techniques in warp and weft and I get to expand my spinning repertoire and play with new ideas. Just as I wanted to.

Cutting the warp

I always feel a little sad and empty when finishing a weave. We have been together for so long. It feels like yesterday I struggled with warping. I have learnt the best way to weave this particular weave. I have felt the structure in my hands, I know all the mistakes and alterations. I have loved the process, I have ground my teeth, held my breath and floated away in meditation. I have imagined the finished item. But when I finally get there the feeling is mixed. With one simple cut it’s all gone. The stretched warp with its geometrical lines is no more, just a limp cloth. The loom is all naked and empty. All that is left are the cut-down warp ends, too short to use.

But a new phase has started. The finishing of a brand new piece of fabric, dying to look its best. And in my mind I have already started warping for my next weave.

A hand cutting the warp of a rigid heddle loom with sheep shearers
Cutting the warp. Yarn is my handspun Shetland wool.

Navajo plying on a Navajo spindle

I made a new video today! I wanted to explore plying on a Navajo spindle, and I thought Navajo plying would be very fitting. This is my first attempt at Navajo plying on a Navajo spindle and I’m sure it could be done more efficiently. But I found a nice location and the weather was nice, so…

Navajo plying, or chain plying, is when you make a 3-ply yarn out of a singles thread. The technique is the same as in chain crochet. This is a convenient way to ply if you only have one thread or if you want to make colour variations without ending up with a speckled yarn. More on Navajo plying here.

Navajo spindle is from Roosterick, Fluff is hand carded rolags from Engla the Finewool sheep from Överjärva gård. T-shirt is the Walk along from Ankestrick and yarn is from Växbo lin.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video. Happy spinning!

A Navajo spindle leaning against a mossy stone. Purple flowers in the foreground.

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!