Up close in the microscope

Wool fibers seen through a microscope

The other day I had a spinning date with my friend Anna and her cousin Helena. We had a great time spinning and chatting away. Anna also brought her microscope. I had brought staples from all my current fleeces and I went bananas with the microscope. Here are some examples.

First up is the Swedish finewool, one of my favourite breeds. I think the staple is from the neck, it is very short and fine. You can see the crimp in the microscope and how fine the fiber is. There is a lot of air trapped between the winding fibers. I want to keep this air when I spin it, to make a warm and soft yarn. Therefore I spin it with long draw from hand-carded rolags.

Three staples of white, crimpy wool
Swedish finewool
White wool seen through a microscope
Swedish finewool in the microscope

Next up is white superfine Shetland wool, long staples of fine and crimpy fibers. In this comparison, though, the finewool looks finer than the Shetland wool, and slightly crimpier. And I can see some peat between the Shetland fibers! It is appealing to spin it with long draw to keep the air in. However, these fibers are very long and they work better with the combs to make a strong and shiny yarn with short draw. Any shorter fibers or comb leftovers will be carded and spun with long draw, though.

Two staples of white crimpy wool
White Shetland
White wool seen through a microscope. There are pieces of peat in the wool.
White Shetland in the microscope

For comparison, here is a Leicester staple, with completely different characteristics. The fibers are long and shiny and with waves more than crimp. In the microscope you can see only straight fibers and they seem a bit coarser than the Shetland and finewool samples. It is easy to imagine these fibers organized parallel in a strong yarn. I have spun this yarn with short forward draw from hand- combed tops into a strong and shiny warp yarn.

A staple of wavy wool
Leicester wool
white wool seen through a microscope
Leicester wool in the microscope

This is so much fun!

Planning next video season

A dark picture of two hands knitting in front of a fireplace
Indoor fiber work in November

It’s mid-november and it’s getting cold outside, about 0°C in the mornings. And dark, at the moment the sun is above the horizon between 7:45 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. and getting darker for another month. This makes it hard to make spinning videos. It is too cold for the lanolin (and the camera battery) and too few hours of pale sunlight for the camera. And I only shoot my videos outside. This means that my production of spinning videos will hibernate until about March. I do have a few cards up my sleeve that I may release during the winter, but other than that, I will blog, spin and do fiber stuff indoors and unfilmed.

Also, I will be planning what and how to film next season. And you are welcome to come up with ideas and requests of themes, techniques or other aspects you would like me to make videos about. Or blog about, for that matter. It could include most fiber related stuff such as spinning in different techniques and with different tools, knitting, rigid heddle loom weaving, wool preparation, nalbinding etc. Make your requests in the comments section here or at my Facebook page (in English or Swedish, it could also work in German) and I will see what I can do for the coming outdoor video season.

Happy spinning!

I have a new toy – the pin loom

a small loom and lots of finished woven squares

Spinning and fiber work are material sports, there is no point in denying it.

A couple of days ago, I came across an Interweave post on pin loom weaving for hand spinners. At the same time I had a stash cleaning since my handspun storage was bursting. And I realized that the pin loom would solve my problem.

How to weave on a pin loom

A pin loom is a small 10×10 cm loom that only needs a short piece of yarn for one square. The first three passes are just threaded between the pins – vertical, horizontal and vertical again – and on the fourth you weave horizontally with a long needle. You weave in the ends and the square is finished in under 20 minutes. Since all the squares are made in the same way it is easy to sew them together in the selvedges.

Weaving with my handspans

I bought a Zoom loom from Schacht. The technique is really addictive. I like how different yarns behave in different ways on the loom (and off). I spin a lot of yarn, and there is often a small ball of yarn left when I have finished a project. And I can’t throw away these odd balls, no matter how small they are. I have a hard time throwing away even short lengths that I cut off from weaving in ends. I even save the last piece that is left of the warp after cutting it (effsingar is the Swedish word, is there a name for it in English?). There is so much time and love put into these short peaces of yarn and I can’t just ignore that.

An odyssey of my spinning history

When I weave these scraps of yarn it is like an odyssey of all my previous handspun yarns – I get to see and feel them all over again and they bring back memories of projects past. I can also see the development in my own spinning from the uneven, loosely spun yarns in the beginning six years ago to the more consistent ones I make today.

Planned project

My plan is to do what the author Deborah Held suggests in the Interweave post: I will make squares of all my small balls of leftover handspun yarns, sew them together, felt and make a blanket of perhaps 15 x 20 squares. I have got a lot of handspun leftovers in my stash so I think it is a realistic idea. And so far it looks like the colours will go well together.

A small loom and lots of woven squares
Pin looming my little heart out. The yarn on the loom is a z-spun yarn I made in 2012, way too loosely spun, used for a pair of twined knitted mittens I use almost daily

The diversity of a fleece

In a previous post I wrote about fleece sorting and my fascination of the diversity within a breed and within a single fleece. I chose a few staples from my recent purchase to show you.

Staples from one single Shetland fleece, washed in warm water with a little organic shampoo and three rinses. Bought at Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers

The first fleece is a Shetland fleece in the colour Mooskit. As you can see, there is a variation in colour, staple length, crimp, fiber fineness and staple definition. The shortest fibers on the left are from the neck area, very short, crimpy and fine, they remind me more of Swedish finewool than Shetland wool. I would card this and spin with long draw on either a Navajo spindle or a supported spindle. I would probably treat the short fibers on the far right the same way. The two staples closest to the ruler are longer, darker and a bit coarser, perhaps from the rump area. I could either comb and spin these separately for a more sturdy yarn, or together with finer parts of the fleece to give the yarn strength and colour. The long light staples on the mid left (from the sides) look like they are dying to be combed and spun with short draw on a spinning wheel. On these staples you can also see the break in the fibers about 1 cm from the cut end, where the old fibers are thinned and new have started to grow out. This fleece had such breaks on some parts and they were easy enough to pull off. Combing would also remove these bits.

Another Shetland fleece, washed in warm water and three rinses. Bought at Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers

The second fleece is a white Shetland fleece. The variation is not as big as in the Mooskit fleece, but there are still differences. From very fine, crimpy and clean back and side wool to coarser and more wavy belly and rump wool. I could choose to comb it all together for several skeins of consistent yarn. I could also divide the fleece into different qualities for different purposes. I would love to use some of the finest parts to practice spinning extremely thin yarn.

Both of these fleeces are Shetland fleeces and graded as super fine, but they look quite different. I have another six Shetland fleeces and they have all varied quite a lot. Shetland sheep is a primitive breed, which I have written about in an earlier post. Among other things, they shed their wool as I showed in the Mooskit fleece above. All my other coloured Shetland fleeces have had breaks in the staples where new and old fibers meet. But much less the white fleeces. My theory is that there has been more pressure on the breeding of the white sheep than on the coloured ones and thus this feature has disappeared in some of the white sheep.

The advantage I have as a hand spinner is that I can dive into a fleece like this and plan how I want to use it. I can sort it in an endless amount of ways to fit my purposes or I could combine different parts of the fleece to get the most out of the different qualities of different parts of the fleece. I can play, experiment and above all, learn from what I see in one single fleece if I just look close enough.

Wool sorting

Two hands pulling a staple of white wool

I love wool sorting. Standing outside feeling through each staple of a beautiful fleece. The sensation in my hands when I touch the fiber – warm, rich and airy. The smell of the sheep. A few clues to where the sheep has been – lots of peat in Shetland fleeces and leaves, pines or moss in Swedish fleeces, or a bit of nylon string from fences or silage.

When I sort wool, I try to read the fleece. My mind goes to where the sheep might have been and done. It also goes to how the fleece is different on different parts of the body and how I can prepare and spin these sections differently to make the most out of the versatility of the wool. In some places long and sleek staples that part easily, in some places short, crimpy and fluffy. In yet other places a bit coarser but still promising. I am quite fascinated by the difference between fleeces of the same breed and within one individual.

Every time I sort a fleece I learn something new, about the breed, about how I can try new methods or combinations to make a yarn the way the fiber wants to be handled. I can make more subtle observations each time I stick my hands into a new fleece. At that moment I feel empowered by the wool and all that it gives me.

A crimpy fleece
A Mooskit Shetland fleece from Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers

Epiphany

close-up of a person spinning on a spinning wheel

I just had a moment, a realisation. A moment to cherish and save in my treasure bank like a piece of beautifully wrapped candy.

You know when you make something and it doesn’t feel right, and then you make a subtle change and suddenly everything falls into place. In spinning it can be about the length of the draft, the rhythm of the treadling or the amount of fiber drafted.

This just happened. I’m spinning a Shetland fleece I bought this summer. It is very soft and crimpy and has a very long staple. I have realized that there is a bit too much lanolin left in it, it doesn’t flow right. I have made adaptations so that the combing flows easier, but the spinning wasn’t the way I wanted it to be and it bothered me. The flow wasn’t really there and the fiber told me so: “It isn’t wrong, but it definitely isn’t right either”. Until I made that liberating change that made such a difference. It wasn’t much, just a lighter hold with my spinning hand. And suddenly there was flow. It was as though the fiber said to me “yeah, you’ve got it now!”. I had found the key to how the fiber wanted to be spun.

The beauty of this is, that the process of spinning itself allows you to really contemplate and reflect over this while you are spinning, which makes the experience even more powerful. I feel like I have had a shot of vitamin Spin.

Namaste.

Engla – a fleece of many uses

Last autumn, when I made a video at Överjärva gård, I happened to buy another fleece. I didn’t mean to, but I saw it in the wool shop and I immediately realized that it needed me. It was half a fleece from the Swedish finewool sheep Engla.

A raw fleece of crimpy finewool
Engla, a newly shorn fleece

When I sorted the fleece, I decided to divide it into different piles according to the quality of the wool. I ended up with three piles – the very short and fine (neck) staples, the medium length staples and the longer staples.

White crimpy wool on the left, carded rolags on the right
The shortest staples were carded

The fleece was a joy to work with – it was clean, easy to sort, wonderful to comb and card and dreamy to spin. I do love Swedish finewool. I can honestly say it has been one of my very favourite fleeces.

Hand holding up a staple of crimpy wool. Boxes of wool to the left.
Medium staples with lots of crimp

I bought 800 g of fleece and ended up with a total of about 440 g of yarn.

Hands holding up long and crimpy wool. Boxes of wool in the background.
The longest staples were combed

So, I carded the fine neck staples and spun them with long draw on a supported spindle and made a 3-ply yarn out of the singles and I was very happy with the result. A light, airy and even yarn with lots of bounce. I also made a video about the plying.

A skein of handspun white yarn in backlight.
3-ply yarn carded and spun with long draw on a supported spindle. 57 g, 203 m, 3581 m/kg

I carded the medium staples as well and spun them with long draw on a Navajo spindle. One of the yarns I made was a prize winner – The sheep, the chicken, the pig and the lion. I also spun several skeins of singles on a Navajo spindle.

Closeup of skeins of yarn in backlight
Thick singles spun with long draw on a Navajo spindle, and will probably be used as weft yarn. 434 m, 212 g with an average of 2000 m/kg.

I combed the longest staples and spun them with short draw on a supported spindle. I experimented with chain-plying “on the fly” and made two videos about it, a detailed video about how to ply-on-the-fly on a supported spindle and another one where I show how I start from an empty spindle with the ply-on-the-fly method.

A skein of handspun white yarn in a clog
Medium length staples combed and plied on the fly on a supported spindle.

I feel very fortunate as a hand spinner to be able to sort my fleeces to make different kinds of yarns, whether it is according to colour, structure or length. It can result in really unique yarns. And I learn so much from it.

Composer’s mittens

A pair of hands in white nalbinding mittens, holding autumn leaves
Nalbinding mittens for Jens.

I finished another pair of nalbinding mittens.  The yarn is my handspun 3-ply from hand carded rolags of a finewool/Rya mixed breed from Åsebol sheep farm, a leftover yarn from the woven blanket I finished this summer.

Nalbinding is usually a summer project for me. On the rare occasions when I fly, I always bring a nalbinding project, since it is the only craft I know for sure there is no danger of confiscation in the security check. Who could do anything violent with a blunt wooden or bone needle? I have made several pairs of mittens for my family and they have all been very loved through the winters.

This time the recipient was my brother-in-law Jens, as a thank you for arranging and playing the music so beautifully on my second Slow fashion video (he also arranged the music for my first Slow fashion video, and for that I knit him a hat in my handspun yarn). I finished the mittens almost two months ago and I invited Jens to a release party at our house where we watched the video together. Afterwards I waulked the mittens in our kitchen sink for a perfect fit. This morning he texted me and asked if he could pick them up today. It is a cold day and wearing handmade mittens on a day like this would make anyone’s wooly heart beat.

A pair of hands in nalbinding mittens in autumn leaves
Handmade mittens will make anybody’s heart beat.

Happy spinning!

Grey matters

I love grey wool. There are so many possible shades from just a combination of black and white fibers. And the combinations within combinations gives me a whole universe of sparkling silver. I can look at a grey yarn for ages and get mesmerized by the spiraling promise of everlasting variation.

Also, I have discovered the wonderful world of dyeing on grey. The colours turn out so deep and rich and gives the yarn a beautiful heathered effect from all the shades in the grey. Which, of course, puts me in a dilemma – I want to keep the beautiful grey and at the same time dye it for the wonderful  colour result.

A grey Trønder fleece

At Christmas, I bought a beautiful fleece from talented wool classifier Kia Gabrielsson of Ullsörvis. It was a grey Trønder fleece with lots of different shades in it. I separated the fleece and ended up with four piles of grey, from anthracite to very light grey. I carded the fiber and spun the colours separately and 3-plied them. The result was four squishy skeins of yummy greys.

Four skeins of grey handspun yarn
3-ply grey Trønder yarn spun woolen from hand-carded rolags

I also found the perfect knitting project for the skeins, where I could use all the shades and show the beautiful variation. It was the Slouchy shrug by 伊凡 陳, Yarn door on Ravelry.

Josefin Waltin wearing a grey slouchy shrug made of handspun yarn
The slouchy shrug in four shades of Trønder grey. Photo by Dan Waltin
Josefin Waltin wearing a grey slouchy shrug made of handspun yarn
A square knit in Brioche stitch, folded in half, sleeves knit on in the fold and a brim round the edges. Voilá, a slouchy shrug! Photo by Dan Waltin