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.
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.
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.
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 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.
My biggest film project – so far – is Slow fashion.
The slow video project Slow fashion
It began as an idea of showing the whole process from sheep to sweater. As it happened, I did have a clip from when I was shearing a sheep at a course in small-scale sheep husbandry at Överjärva gård, so I was able to start the project even earlier in the process than I had originally planned. And when I saw Valérie Miller’s Fileuse pattern I just knew it was the right pattern for the project.
The white fleece is from the finewool sheep Pia-Lotta at Överjärva. Hers was actually the very first fleece I bought when I started learning how to spin and I was so happy to learn that I was going to shear her. Pia-Lotta was so calm when I shore her. The sheep just stood there while I was leaning my legs against her. She did pee a lot, and she was actually standing on my foot once while peeing, but it was still definitely worth it.
Slow getting slower
There was a minor setback in the production in the spring when I was waiting to get my hands on the second fleece, a grey fleece from a Jämtland sheep from Vemdalsfjällens alpackor. The sheep Gråan was their only grey sheep and I was very thankful to be able to buy so much of it. But the weather was really wet up there in shearing season, so the owner couldn’t shear the sheep for weeks. That is slow fashion, literally.
The leading fleeces
The two fleeces are quite different. The finewool fleece is springy and fluffy and perfect for carding and long draw spinning. The Jämtland fleece has a really long staple of very fine fibers and ideal for combing and short forward draft. The Jämtland sheep is a quite new Swedish breed, bred to be a domestic alternative to merino wool shipped from the other end of the world.
The shearing part was shot in a simple sheep shed, but the all the rest of the clips were filmed outdoors. There are so many possibilities when filming outside, and there’s no clutter to consider. Most of the shots were filmed around our home in Stockholm and at Åsebol sheep farm. Some shots are from Austria and the very last piece is from Bressay, Shetland at Shetland wool week. I shot the sheep parts and my family and a few friends patiently filmed all the parts with me in front of the camera, which were quite many. My brother-in-law arranged and played the beautiful piano piece.
One of the hardest parts of filming was the sheep shots at Åsebol. I wanted some closeups and preferably some cuddling shots. But the sheep were not interested at all, as soon as we, very gently, got into the pasture, they went in the other direction. On our last day we cheated and brought the owner with some sheep goodies and they came running and I could eventually leave happy.
Not just another video
I wrote in the beginning of this post that the project began as an idea of showing the whole process. But it ended up being so much more than that. It is a celebration of sustainability, serenity, the slow fashion movement, and, perhaps most of all, the love of spinning.
I have told you in previous post about how it all began. This is how it continued.
The last few summers, my family and I have spent a week in the countryside in Austria, hiking and visiting family. Up until then, we had been going by air, but for climate reasons we decided to take the train. My first thought – and I know those of you who are as profoundly nerdy as I am will recognise this – was what craft I would bring on the journey. When flying, I had only brought a nalbinding project. No security check can see any harm in a blunt wooden needle. But 24 hours on trains and stations! The crafting opportunities are almost endless! I had seen Fleegle’s beautiful video where she spins supported, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do. This was in the fall, so there was plenty of time to learn. I bought a spindle from Maine fiber tools and started practising. I usually sat in bed at night just before going to sleep. I badly wanted to learn to master the continuous supported spinning I had seen on the video. And voilá, in February I got it. And I had entered the magical world of supported spinning.
But I wouldn’t settle for just knowing how to. I wanted to explore supported spindles, see what was out there and what I liked. So I posted a question on Ravelry. I wrote about my upcoming journey and that I was looking for spindles that would suit my needs. I got some answers, but none that I really could do anything with. Someone told me to go to a fiber festival and try some of the spindle makers there. Well, there may be fiber festivals and supported spindle makers in every bush in the U.S. but there aren’t in Sweden. Then I got a personal message. It was from S in the U.S. She said she was willing to send me a few spindles of different kinds. Truth be told, I was a little suspicious at first. I mean, who would just send expensive spindles across the pond to a stranger? But she did. She told me to look upon it as a random act of kindness, and pay it forward.
The package arrived, and when I opened the beautifully wrapped content, I found no less than eight (8) supported spindles, and over 100 g of BFL/silk fiber. That is a true act of kindness.
I started thinking about how to pay it forward. I wanted other people to be able to try out different kinds of supported spindles and find one that suited them, just as I had wanted. So, I started the travelling spindle library. I kept some of the spindles for myself and added some of my own and some fiber and sent the package to a spinner I didn’t know but who was active on the Swedish spinning Facebook page. The instructions for the travelling spindle library were simple: Try the spindles for as long as you like. Keep the ones you like, add some if you want to and send the parcel to another spinner. And as far as I know, the travelling spindle library is still travelling around in Sweden, looking for new spindle librarians.
What about the train ride? Well, we did go to Austria by train. And I did spin. It was almost a spiritual feeling when I took out the spindle from my backpack and started spinning in my seat. This was the moment I had been preparing for since november! My son filmed the moment, somewhere between Copenhagen and Hamburg. A Neal Brand spindle from the package (see picture above), and a lap bowl from Kerryspindles. BFL/silk fiber from Vinterverkstan.
This was my first supported spinning video, and there have been many since. These, in turn, have led to inquiries about teaching support spinning classes, and so, I am apparently a support spinning teacher. And on the classes, I start by telling the students this story.
I have been knitting since forever. There is actually a picture of me knitting a sweater in my aunt’s summerhouse garden in Austria. I was twelve. After that, I have been knitting in periods. The latest period has lasted over 15 years so far.
In 2011 I was talking about knitting with my friend Anna. She told me that most of the wool in Sweden is wasted because no one wants it or knows how to take care of it. And I couldn’t have that. I found a weekly class at Överjärva gård in Stockholm and Anna and I started to learn how to spin on a drop spindle. A “beginner” spindle, weighing about 90 g and with a shaft not very unlike a broom handle. I wasn’t very good at it, Anna quickly got a nice and even thread but mine was mostly involuntarily thick-and-thin. But I practised.
After a few weeks I asked if I could try a spinning wheel. I could, and I really enjoyed it. After another few weeks, I dived into heaps of bunched-up Polish weekly magazine pages on the living room floor and delivered my very first spinning wheel, a Kromski Symphony. And we’ve the best of friends ever since.
A few years later, I started visioning a film featuring all the steps from fleece to sweater. While planning the film project, I started thinking about drop spindling again. It would look so good on camera. So I bought a few drop spindles and started practising again, and this time I really enjoyed it. And a video was eventually published, Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater (Swedish title Slow Fashion – från får till tröja).