Carding rolags

I do love a well-made rolag. But making even hand-carded rolags takes practice. I have carded rolags for at least four sweaters. For one sweater I actually calculated the amount of rolags: I used 576 rolags for one single sweater. That’s a lot of practice. Many followers have asked me lately about hand-carding rolags. In this post I describe how I do and why.

A basket full of hand-carded rolags. The rising sun and a lake in the background.
Hand-carded rolags in backlight. Hard to beat.

A wise spinner once said: The spinning is in the preparation. I find this to be very true. So much of the quality of the spinning is born in the preparation. Not only is a thorough prep essential to the quality of the yarn, but the preparation stage also gives you a chance to get to know the fiber.

Even and consistent

I want my rolags to be even and consistent: Even as even distribution of the fibers throughout the rolag. Consistent as in the size and shape of the rolags. This is my goal. There are several ways to get there and I will show you my way.

Even through teasing

The first thing I do is tease the wool – I open up the staples to make a pre-prep before the actual carding. I do this to avoid the risk of over-carding. If I card wool too much fibers will break and leave nepps. One could argue that teasing takes longer and leaves more waste. But I’m not in it for the speed. The faster, unteased, alternative will result in lower quality yarn with the waste in the yarn instead of outside it.

How I tease

I tease in three different ways: With combs, with a flick carder or with my hands. I can also tease with my hand-cards. The important thing is that I open up the staples so that the carding is really just arranging the fibers in an even and consistent manner.

  • My go-to teasing tool is the combs. I load the combs with wool, not considering the direction of the staples. I comb the wool, usually in two passes. This opens up the staples and in a fairly quick way. You can see how I tease with combs in this video, with a discussion in this blog post. I can also blend different fibers together by teasing with combs. In the above mentioned video I blend wool with recycled sari silk.
  • If I am dealing with very fine fibers with brittle tips, like Swedish finewool I use a flick carder and flick each staple separately. This way any fibers that are bound to break are left in the flick carder. I can also use a flick carder for dirty or otherwise damaged tips. I use my flick carder to sort out solidified tips in this video. There is a discussion about the video in this post. If I don’t have a flick carder I can use regular hand-cards to achieve the same result.
  • Sometimes I just want to work with as little tools as possible and tease with my hands. I do it in this video, with a discussion in this blog post. For the purpose of the video I spin straight from the teasing, but it is a great way to tease for carding too.
My favorite way to tease wool is with combs.

Even through carding

When my wool is teased it is time to card it. The teasing has evened out the spacing between the fibers a bit. but I want to do it more and in more manageable chunks: Rolags. The teeth grab hold of the fibers throughout the area of the carding pad and evens out the spacing between the fibers over several staples of wool.

Consistency

Consistent rolags are consistent in shape and size. If I use the same amount of wool in the same distribution over the carding pad I get a good chance at consistent rolags. By making sure all the fiber on the carding pad is carded equally I can control the final shape and size. With consistent rolags I can achieve a yarn that is high in quality, easy to spin and consistent over all the 500+ or so rolags required for one sweater.

A basket full of carded rolags. Fern in the background.
well-defined and consistent rolags are a joy to spin.

How I card

There are probably as many ways to card as there are carding spinners. I will show you my way. For me it gets me to my goal – even and consistent rolags. And who can’t resist high quality rolags? I want to be able to card rolags that I can’t resist spinning.

A basket full of hand-carded rolags, arranged like a bouquet of flowers.
Learn how to card rolags that you can’t resist spinning.

In the second half of this video you can see how I card rolags and shape them.

Loading

I pull my teased wool onto the cards. When the wool doesn’t stick anymore I stop. That way I know I haven’t overloaded the cards. I remove any excess from the handle side of the card, especially if I am dealing with long fibers.

Frame

I leave an empty frame around the wool. The wool will fluff up when I start carding and it will spread outwards in the next stroke. If I load the wool on the whole carding pad area it will fluff out outside of the carding pad and be left uncarded. This would result in an uneven rolag.

I pull the wool onto the card and leave a frame around the wool empty.

Carding

When the card is loaded I start carding. I stroke the wool gently between the cards. This pushes the wool just a bit into the teeth – not all the way down. Just to get a rhythm and avoid over carding I count my strokes and passes – three passes with six strokes for each pass.

When I start carding the wool spreads over the cards, but not outside the teeth if I have left a frame around the wool empty.

To strip the card between passes I place the cards with the handles in the same direction and transfer the wool in two strokes. I make another six strokes. By the third pass the wool is spread evenly across the card area and there are no uneven parts left.

Making Swiss rolls

After the third pass I use the active card and my free hand to lift the wool off the stationary card and make a rolag: I lift the end of the batt with the card and push the lifted bit down with my hand. Lift some more and push it down until I have rolled the whole batt to the handle side of the stationery card. This way I make a Swiss roll of the carded batt. To keep the stationery card steady I push the handle against the inside of my thigh.

I make a rolag with the help of the active card and my hand. I keep the stationery card in place with my inner thigh.

You know when you can’t resist some frosting on your Swiss roll? This can be applied to carding rolags as well. Just to give my rolag that extra roundness and firmness I roll it once more between the cards: When I have reached the handle side of the stationery card and there actually is a rolag, I lift the rolag between my open hand and my active card, move it back to the beginning of the card again and roll the rolag gently between the cards. You need to find the right amount of pressure to actually make a difference to the rolag without squishing it.

I usually card enough rolags for one batch – be it one bobbin or one spindle-full, but usually around 20 or 25 grams. This way I make enough rolags to be able to control the consistency and enough to keep them fresh – old rolags tend to go bad after a while. Just like Swiss rolls.

Happy carding!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Värmland wool

Staples of wool

One of my favourite breeds to spin is Värmland wool – a versatile and lightweight wool in many colours. This is the fourth part of my breed study of Swedish sheep breeds from the spinner’s perspective. Previous posts have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool and Dalapäls wool.

Next Saturday, December 14th at 5 pm CET I will host a free live breed study webinar on Värmland wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

Register for the webinar here!

About Värmland sheep

Värmland sheep is a Swedish conservation breed. Many of the Swedish domestic breeds were extinguished in the 18th and 19th centuries due to import of foreign breeds that were more meaty and had other wool qualities. When the domestic breeds were rediscovered around 30 years ago, Värmland sheep (or forest sheep) was the first breed to be rediscovered. They all came from the same flock in the county of Värmland, close to the Norwegian border. Due to an extensive conservation effort the 100 rediscovered sheep are now around 4000. In 2018 there were 1544 breeding Värmland ewes in 170 flocks in Sweden, making Värmland sheep our largest conservation breed regarding both individuals and flocks.

A conservation breed means that the breed is protected. If the sheep farmer has a gene bank they are also committed to preserving the breed. This means that they are not allowed to cross the breed with other breeds. They also commit to strive for genetic diversity – breeding for specific characteristics (like wool or hornedness) is not allowed.

Värmland sheep are quite small – a ewe weighs around 40–60 kg. They are good at keeping the landscape open and eat both shrubberies, flowers and herbs.

Wool characteristics

Staples of wool
Staples of Värmland wool from the left: Two white staples from the same lamb of more of a traditional line. Silky and soft. The brown in the middle is open and airy and just a little coarser. The white silver grey with the honey-dipped tips is divinely silky. To the far right a brown staple with long outercoat and also lots of soft undercoat. All but the middle are from lambs.

Värmland wool is very versatile. A lot of different wool types can occur in one individual, from long dual coated staples to both predominantly outercoat or predominantly undercoat. The fiber is quite fine and sometimes even silky. The staples can be crimpy, wavy or straight. Colours vary between white, grey, brown, beige and black. The staples are usually open and very easy to spin.

Three piles of wool: Brown, grey and white.
Three different Värmland fleeces on the Swedish fleece championships of 2019

There are two main lines of Värmland sheep – the traditional line and the modern line.

Traditional Värmland

A white fleece with wavy staples
A yummy white Värmland fleece with many possibilities. This is more of a traditional Värmland fleece.

The traditional line of Värmland sheep has a lot of undercoat and a few strands of outercoat. The staples are triangular in their shape and the staples are open and airy. These are lovely to spin and make a soft, silky and strong yarn.

Modern Värmland

A lock of Värmland wool
A prize winning Värmland lamb fleece of the modern line – lots of undercoat, long outercoat and some kemp.

When the Värmland sheep was rediscovered some of them were crossed with Old Norwegian spæl rams and possibly also Swedish Rya sheep. This gave the breed more outercoat and in some cases also more kemp.

Versatile and lightweight wool of many colours

If I were to pick out three main characteristics of Värmland wool it would be versatility, lightweight and the large spectrum of colours:

  • Since the staples come in many different forms the Värmland wool is very versatile. I can use different preparation methods and spin a wide variety of yarns from silky soft lace yarn to robust sock yarn and even rug yarn.
  • In my experience Värmland wool is very lightweight. When you look at the staples you see a broad base with lots of air. This also makes Värmland wool very easy to spin.
  • The array of colours make me want to spin them all. The shades of grey are just beautiful and the browns, beige, whites and blacks make the colour possibilities endless.

Preparing and spinning

With a big variety of staple and fiber types I can process and spin Värmland wool in many different ways – fiber types separated, together and with different tools and spinning techniques.

Prepared fiber in a mushroom tray. Above and below: Outer coat hand-combed bird's nests. Middle: Under coat hand-carded rolags.
All the fiber prep in a mushroom tray. Above and below: Outer coat hand-combed bird’s nests. Middle: Under coat hand-carded rolags.

Combing

Longer staples of Värmland wool are lovely to comb, either with both fiber types together or by separating undercoat from outercoat. I would spin a combed top with short draw into a strong and shiny yarn.

A skein of white, brown and grey yarn.
This yarn is spun with short draw from hand-combed top where I have used the outercoat only.

Carding

A Värmland wool with lots of undercoat is lovely to card and spin with long draw. The skein above is spun with the long outercoat only. I carded the separated undercoat and spun with a long draw on a Navajo spindle into a lightweight and airy singles yarn (see image below).

A skein of singles yarn.
A light and airy singles yarn, spun with long draw from hand-carded rolags on a Navajo spindle.

In another fleece I had different staple types. I separated the fleece into two piles – one for long and wavy staples and another for the shorter and crimpier staples. I carded the latter – outercoat and undercoat together – and spun with a medieval spindle and distaff into a very airy and light yarn.

Crimpy staples of a Värmland fleece spun into a light and airy 2-ply yarn on a mediaval spindle and distaff.

Flick carding

The other pile of the grey fleece was in a lovely colour of light silvery grey in the cut end and honey-dipped tips. To save as much of the colour variation as possible I flick carded the staples and spun them individually from the cut end.

A ball of yarn in shades of grey.
Värmland wool spun from the cut end of flicked locks to preserve the natural colour variation over the length of the staple.

Use

Since the variation in fiber and staple type Värmland wool can be spun and used in a wide variety of textiles. My first Värmland fleece has become two pairs of twined/two-end knitted mittens – one whole and one half-mitt.

A grey mitten with a venus symbol
A venus symbol. The perfect mitten chart. Värmland wool in spun from the cut end of flicked staples. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The yarn used in the whole mitts was spun on a supported spindle from the cut-end of flicked locks. You can read more about these mittens here.

The half-mitts are available as a pattern from the Spin-off Fall 2019 issue. The mitts will also be part of a mitt-along! I spun the yarn for these on a spinning wheel, from flick-carded staples. You can also read about how I rescued this yarn from disaster here.

Two hands wearing mittens, and holding some wild flowers by the sea.
Finished Heartwarming mitts knit with mended handspun Värmland yarn. Photo by Dan Waltin

At the moment I am using a sturdier dark brown Värmland yarn as weft in a weaving project.

Rpws of blue Gordian knots in a brown weave
One row of knots and three regular shuttlings. Warp in Shetland wool, weft in Värmland wool and knots in Swedish Leicester wool.

Värmland is also very well suited for fulling. I can also see lace knitting, socks and outerwear in Värmland yarn.

Live webinar!

This Saturday, December 14th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Värmland wool from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Värmland wool. I will use Värmland wool during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I process the wool.

Even if you think you will never come across Värmland wool this is still an opportunity to learn more about wool in general. The breed study will give you tools to understand different wool types and apply your knowledge to breeds and wool types closer to you.

This is a wonderful chance for me to meet you (in the chat window at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The previous live breed study webinars I have dome have been great successes. I really look forward to seeing you again in this webinar.

You can register even if you can’t make it to the live event (I’m sorry Australia and New Zealand, I know it is in the middle of the night for you). I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar.

Register for the webinar here

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Dalapäls wool

A board with white yarn samples and wool locks.

The breed study is moving on and today I will dive in to the beautiful world of Dalapäls wool. This is the third post in my breed study series of Swedish sheep breeds. Previous posts have been about Gotland wool and Gute wool. Coming up is also my third live webinar in the breed study webinar series!

Next Saturday, September 21st at 5 pm CET I will host a live breed study webinar on Dalapäls wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

The webinar has already taken place

Whether you are celebrating World wide spin in public day outdoors or indoors, I hope you take the time to warm up/wind down (depending on your location in the world) with a wooly breed study webinar! A worldwide live stream is definitely a spin in public event.

About Dalapäls sheep

Dalapäls sheep is a rare and endangered Swedish conservation breed. A conservation breed means that the breed is protected. If you have a gene bank you are also committed to preserving the breed. This means that you are not allowed to cross the breed with other breeds. You also commit to strive for genetic diversity – breeding for specific characteristics (like wool or hornedness) is not allowed. In 2018 there were about 160 lambing ewes in 25 flocks of the Dalapäls sheep in Sweden according to the Swedish sheep breeders’ association.

White sheep eating straw
Dalapäls sheep

The name Dalapäls reveals both origin and use. Dala in this case means from the County of Dalarna. Päls means fur and indicates that the skins have been used for fur. The traditional jacket Kasung was used in areas of Dalarna as a traditional jacket. It was made of leather and had edgings of white wool locks. The locks look very much like Dalapäls wool.

An old leather jacket with fur edgings in bottom and front hem and cuffs.
A traditional Kasung with wool edgings. Image provided by Creative commons

The wool is usually white. Grey spots can occur. Some lambs are born black but usually turn grey or white as they grow.

The Dalapäls sheep are quite small, around 30 kg for ewes and 50 kg for rams. They have a strong sense for the flock and are very suspicious of strangers. This may come from the fact that they have been grazing in the woods or in a chalet historically and have developed a strong consciousness of enemies like wolf and bear. Because they are so watchful they are not cuddly sheep.

Wool characteristics

Dalapäls wool is a double-coated wool with strong and shiny outer coat and fine, soft and warm under coat. The most common fiber type is the long and wavy staple. This wool type has little or no crimp.

Long, white and wavy wool locks.
Extra long and silky locks of different Dalapäls sheep.

Shorter, wavy and even crimpy staples do occur and the fleece is not even across the body of the sheep. This gives a spinner many choices in spinning the wool. A shepherd or shepherdess can have a small flock of sheep and still get lots of different wool types.

Wool locks of different lengths and character.
One single sheep can have very different wool types. These staples come from the ewe Saga.

Some shepherdesses sort the wool according to fiber type and/or staple length at the shearing stage.

The top three: Shine, fineness and versatility

If I were to pick out three main characteristics of the Dalapäls wool it would be shine, fineness and versatility. I asked my friend Lena who is a Dalapäls shepherdess and these were her choices too. Another Dalapäls shepherdess, Carina, added that Dalapäls wool is easy to spin and I agree to that too.

  • The most obvious characteristic of Dalapäls is the shine – the very special Dalapäls shine. This characteristic alone is enough for me to fall for this breed.
  • My second choice would be the fineness. Eventhough the outercoat is long and strong it is still very fine and can be spun into a next to skin yarn. The undercoat is of course even finer than the outer coat. The locks are very lofty at the base and the undercoat is soft and silky.
  • Because of the variation of the wool between individuals and over the body of one individual sheep, Dalapäls wool is very versatile. I have seen everything from 25 cm long silky and wavy locks to 5 cm curly or even crimpy staples. If you sort the fleece according to wool characteristics and also separate the fiber types you could get a wide variety of yarns.

Preparing and spinning

A Dalapäls shepherdess was going to send her wool to a mill and asked me what kind of yarn she should ask them to spin. I didn’t really know what to answer. You can get so many different kinds of yarn with Dalapäls wool. Especially if you are a handspinner.

Separating the fiber types comes to mind – combing the outer coat for a worsted yarn and carding the under coat for a woolen yarn are good choices. You can just as well card or comb the fiber types together.

Four white yarn samples on a piece of card board.
Dalapäls wool can be spun in many different ways. From the left: Carded undercoat, woolen spun on a spinning wheel. Combed outercoat, worsted spun on a spinning wheel. Undercoat and outercoat teased and carded together, woolen spun on a spinning wheel. Flick-carded locks, spun worsted on a supported spindle from the cut end.

Separating the fiber types

Picking out the longest locks and separating the undercoat from the outercoat can give you two beautiful yarns – a strong and shiny worsted yarn and a soft and warm woolen yarn. I would use double row combs to separate the fiber types and pull the outercoat off. Perhaps I would even comb a second time to separate more and spin worsted from the lovely tops. The leftovers in the combs is the soft and airy undercoat that I would card into rolags and and spin woolen (after having cuddled them).

This way you will get two very different yarns with different superpowers. You can see the difference in the image above, the first from the left is the carded undercoat and the second is the combed outercoat.

Combing or carding together

Another way to create a beautiful Dalapäls yarn is to card or comb the locks as they are, without separating the fiber types. I would do this with the medium and shorter length staples. Carding and spinning woolen would give you a soft yarn that still has some strength and shine. If I were to comb the locks I would use single row combs that won’t separate the fiber types as much as the double row combs. Spinning the combed top worsted would result in a strong and shiny yarn that would still have some softness.

Spinning from the lock

In the Dalapäls yarn I’m currently spinning I have wanted to keep the fiber types together. The locks in this yarn are the very longest locks (see featured image) that the shepherdess has picked out from several fleeces. I have flick carded each lock individually and spun from the cut end. This way I will get both outer coat and under coat in the yarn. You can see my technique in my video Catch the light.

Close-up of a person spinning on a supported spindle.
I’m spinning counter-clockwise to get a Z-plied yarn for twined knitting. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I have spun the yarn on a supported spindle. When I spin from flick carded locks I prefer spinning on a supported spindle. The slowness of the technique allows me to watch the process and focus on quality. Spinning from the lock can be a challenge since the fibers don’t get as much of a separation compared to a hand-combed top.

A white skein of yarn.
Dalapäls yarn, spun from the cut end of flick carded locks on a supported spindle.

But the yarn I get from spinning from the cut end of flick carded locks is strong, shiny and still soft. When I spin it on a supported spindle I also get the quality and the evenness I want.

Blanka

My first acquaintance with Dalapäls wool was at the Swedish fleece championships a few years ago. I saw the fleece and knew I needed it. It turned out a silver medalist in the championships! The sheep’s name was Blanka, a lamb. I talked to the shepherdess and she suggested I spin from the cut end. I did, and used a supported spindle to do it. It became my bedside spinning. I spent many evenings spinning the Dalapäls locks just before bedtime. I had put away some shorter staples and spun a woolen singles yarn from hand-carded rolags on a Navajo spindle. When I was finished I wove myself a pillowcase!

Felting

Even if I don’t plan to felt or full I like to do a fulling test. This gives me information about the fibers in the yarn. In my current project I am planning to weave and full, so the information is truly valuable to me.

I make 10 x 10 cm woven samples on a pin loom and felt them.

Woolen yarn, outercoat and undercoat together

The first sample was from the yarn I had spun woolen from hand-carded rolags with both undercoat and outercoat. The swatch felted nicely, but there were some loops in the structure. This made me suspect that it is mainly the undercoat that felts.

A white felted swatch. Little loops of scattered over the swatch.
Woven felting sample from woolen yarn spun from carded rolags (undercoat and outercoat).

Worsted warp and woolen weft

To test my theory of the felting undercoat I made another swatch where I separated outercoat and undercoat. I used the worsted outercoat yarn as warp and the woolen undercoat yarn as weft. The result was a rectangular swatch from my square woven sample. I had proven my theory – mainly the undercoat felted. The structure of the material is the same, though – a nicely fulled swatch with little loops. They seem to go mainly in the warp direction and I guess I hadn’t separated the fibers properly in the combing process.

A rectangular felted swatch with some loops.
In this sample I have used the outercoat as warp and undercoat as weft. The undercoat has felted, leaving a rectangular shaped swatch.

Lockspun

Just for fun I made a third felting test, this time with my lockspun yarn. It resulted in a loopier swatch. My theory is that this is because the fibers are less separated than the carded sample. This yarn was also spun with longer locks.

A felted swatch with lots of loops in it.
The felted swatch with the lockspun yarn had more loops in it than the other swatches.

Use

Since the Dalapäls wool is so versatile I see a wide variety of uses for Dalapäls yarn. With different preparation, spinning and use of the different fiber types you can use Dalapäls yarn for basically anything except perhaps things that require rough handling like rugs and workwear. From a sheer lamb’s wool lace shawl, through both soft and everyday sweaters to sturdy mittens. As to techniques I don’t see any limits – knitting, weaving, nalbinding would all work well.

A knitting project on a rock by the sea.
My current Dalapäls knitting project – a pair of sleeves in twined knitting.

I’m twine knitting a pair of jacket sleeves. When they are finished I will spin a weaving yarn and full into a vadmal fabric from which I will sew a bodice. Perhaps I will even use locks as a hem decoration, flirting with the Kasung jackets.

Live webinar!

This Saturday, September 21st at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Dalapäls wool from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Dalapäls wool. I will use Dalapäls during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I process the wool.

Even if you think you will never come across Dalapäls wool this is an opportunity to learn more about a rare and endangered breed. The breed study will also give you tools to understand different wool types and apply your knowledge to breeds and wool types closer to you.

This is a wonderful chance for me to meet you (in the chat window at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The previous live breed study webinars I did were great successes. I really look forward to seeing you again in this webinar.

You can register even if you can’t make it to the live event (I’m sorry Australia and New Zealand, I know it is in the middle of the night for you). I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar.

The webinar has already taken place


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Flax Day

Six stages of processed flax. The fibers get increasingly finer and cleaner.

This past weekend was the Flax and wool days at Skansen outdoor museum in Stockholm. I went with a friend and brought last year’s retted flax. My focus for the theme weekend this year was Flax Day.

The experimental flax patch

I have a small experimental flax patch in the flower bed in our tiny townhouse garden. The patch is about one square meter and big enough for me to experiment and learn about growing and processing flax.

A small flax field in bloom
The experimental flax patch in July.

Creative solutions

I have grown flax since 2014 and I have improved and learn every year. I have no tools for processing except a rough hackle and a fine hackle. For the other steps in the process I have had to improvise. I rippled the seeds by putting the flax in a pillowcase and roll a rolling pin over it. For breaking the flax I beat the flax with a fist-sized rock against a stone. I used a spatula to scutch. None of these methods work very well. Last year I took my 2017 harvest to Skansen outdoor museum for processing. I also made a video from the processing. The result was wonderful. For the first time I felt I could actually spin my flax.

Flax processing video, released in August 2018.

Flax Day processing

So, this year I went back to Skansen. I put the retted flax from 2018 in my backpack and hopped onto my bike. My harvest was bigger than previous years and I had really watched over the retting process and got a very good result.

The flax biker

Last time I rode my back with a big load I crashed. I had a chili plant for a friend in my bike bag. When looking back to make sure the plant was ok I turned the handlebar too much and the pedal got stuck in a rock by the side of the road. The plant didn’t break, but I did. My left arm broke in two places at the shoulder. The doctor said I wasn’t allowed to move the arm backwards or sideways, but “small movements in front of the body are encouraged!”. I could still spin and knit and that was the important thing.

A woman in a bike helmet. She is wearing a backpack with retted flax in it. Sunflowers in the background.
A small flax harvest fits nicely in a backpack!

So I was a bit conscious of my load this time. Every few minutes of my 8 km ride I tilted my head back so that the helmet touched the flax. When I heard the scraping sound I knew the flax was safe and sound in my backpack.

I did get both me and the flax to Skansen safe and sound. I went straight to the farmyard where the tools were out for demonstration. The museum educators recognized me from last year and were happy to help.

Breaking

The retted and dried flax is stiff and uncooperative. I want to separate the flax fibers from the cellulose core. This happens in a break. By jamming the break onto the flax I crush the core. When I’m finished the flax hangs sloppily instead of being stiff like a broom.

A woman breaking flax. Ladies in period costumes in the background.
I break the flax to break the cellulose core that is surrounded by the flax fibers. Breaking flax is an excellent workout! Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

I had the museum educators at my side during the whole process. They were happy I was there and happy to help.

The hardest part of breaking is the upper tips. If the straws in the bundle aren’t even in length there will be a thin end of just a few straws. It is difficult to get the ends properly broken since they are too thin for the break to come far down enough to crush them. I knew this, at least in theory, but I didn’t realize the implications of uneven bundles. Always bundle the flax in even lengths, that’s what all the books say. But it is not until I see what happens in practice that I realize why. My mistakes are a map of what I learn.

Pulling

The flax pull is a step between breaking and scutching. By pulling the flax through the puller (I have no idea what this tool is called in English) more of the broken cellulose is removed from the flax fibers.

A woman pulling flax through a flax puller
Pulling the flax to get rid of some of the cellulose bits. Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

Most of it ended up in my shoes.

I have never heard of this tool or read about it in my flax books. Perhaps it is a regional tool. Nevertheless, it is a great tool that will help you get a better result.

Scutching

The goal of the scutching step is to remove as much as possible of the remaining cellulose bits. This is done with a scutching knife – a sword-like wooden tool – against a board. An ornamented scutching knife used to be a gift from the groom to the bride of a couple. These knives were seldom used for flax processing, though. Instead they were hung on the wall for decoration and keepsake from the wedding.

A woman scutching flax.
In the scutching station you remove most of the cellulose bits from the flax fibers. Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

At Skansen there is also a scutching mill. This was open for demonstration on Flax Day. If you have ever seen a crime series in the English countryside, this would be the perfect murder scene! A big water-driven wheel with scutching knives doing the laborious work for the flax farmer.

A woman scutching in a scutching mill.
In the scutching mill the water drives a wheel with scutching knives. A person puts the flax over a beam and lets the scutching wheel scutch the flax.

Hackling

The hackles are also potential murder weapons. A gazillion pointy needles on a board through which you comb the scutched flax. Usually you go through both a rough and a fine hackle, or even a third in between. Luckily I didn’t break any skin this time.

A woman hackling flax
I hackle the flax in two hackles – one rough and one fine. Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

After two hours my friend Cecilia and I had finished all the flax from my tiny patch and ended up with this pretty strick. Imagine the time needed to process a whole flax field! I guess the whole village would take part in this work.

A strick of flax lying on top of flax tow.
Finished! Line and tow in sweet harmony.

I was really happy with the result. The strick was more than double the size of the 2017 strick. I had really paid attention to the retting process and it gave a great result. Almost all of the cellulose is gone.

Six stages of processed flax. The fibers get increasingly finer and cleaner.
All the steps side by side. From the left: Retted and unprocessed, broken, pulled, scutched, rough hackled and fine hackled.

In the image above you can see the results of all the steps of the process. From left to right:

  • Retted and unprocessed. The glue has been retted away and the fibers is ready to be separated from the cellulose core.
  • After being thoroughly broken in the break the cellulose core have been chopped to pieces. The bundle of fibers is no longer straight.
  • The in-between step of pulling gives a good result – some of the cellulose bits have been removed.
  • After a waltz with the scutching knife most of the cellulose bits are gone (most of them in my shoes, actually).
  • In the rough and fine hackling the fibers have been aligned and shorter bits removed.
  • A final step in the process can be a flax brush that is used to brush the line to remove the very last bits of shorter fibers, just before spinning. They didn’t have one here, though.
A small brush
Brushing the flax can be a final step after fine hackling.

Flax analysis 2014–2018

Five stricks of flax. Smallest to the left and chunkiest to the right.
My flax harvests through the years. From the left: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Even if my first rat’s tail of flax from 2014 is truly sad and despicable, I have saved it and all my stricks of flax from the following years. Looking at them I can learn from my results and experiences.

2014 – an unplanned harvest

Well, what can you say. It is just a rat’s tail really, but it is my rat’s tail. I processed it at Skansen this first year. I had only cultivated the flax for fun as a companion plant in the allotment, and without any sort of plan. Not until August did I come up with the idea to actually process it.

2015 – First fiber intention

This was the first year I had a fiber intention with my flax patch. The result is actually quite good, even if the fibers are rather short. I processed this harvest at home. The only tools I had (and still have) were two hackles. The other steps were creative inventions (see above).

2016 – under retted

This was the year of poor retting. The glue hasn’t been solved properly and a lot of the cellulose bits are still in the strick. Because of the under retting I got lots of waste and poor quality tow.

2017 – new crop!

I got new seed from a retired flax farmer. In the image below you can see the difference in length compared to previous years. I processed the flax at Skansen. This was the first harvest with actual spinning quality. The retting seems to be good too, even if I didn’t have a structure for it.

2018 – my best flax day yet

The result I got from the 2018 harvest is by far the best. This is actually a real strick of flax! This was a really good Flax Day!

I realized already in the summer that this would be a good harvest. Long and straight stems of even length grew in my tiny patch. Come harvest day I had very pretty bundles to dry and ret. I was very structured in the retting process and kept records. All of his gave a good result.

Five stricks of flax in a row. The three leftmost are shorter than the two to the right.
My flax harvests 2014–2018. 2017 and 2018 with new crop.

When processing a relatively large harvest I learned a lot and could improve during processing. I knew where to hold the strick, when I needed to work more in a step of the process and what to look for. I can actually spin with this flax, and not just a meter or two! Perhaps I can weave myself a small project bag together with the tow.

A strick of flax.
One more picture, just because it is so pretty.

2019 prognosis

I don’t think this year’s flax will be as good as the 2018 result. I had sowed the seeds unevenly which resulted in plants with uneven length and thickness. Towards the end of the summer the flax bended and looked rather sad. I’ll let you know next year how it turned out!

Gotta get my rolling pin and a pillow case ready, today is rippling day for the 2019 harvest.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

A multicoloured fleece

A multicoloured fleece, ranging from white to dark brown.

At the 2018 Swedish fleece championships I bought a bronze medal winning multicoloured fleece. The shepherdess didn’t really want to part with it, but she also knew that no spinning mill would be able to show the beautiful colours as a hand spinner would. In the end she was kind enough to sell me the fleece and now I have the honour and responsibility of making something beautiful of her baby.

A multicoloured fleece, ranging from white to dark brown.
A yummy multicoloured fleece.

Meet Chanel, a multicoloured sheep

The sheep’s name is Chanel (how’s that for a superstar!). She is a 75 % Härjedal and 25 % Åsen sheep. This is her lamb’s fleece. Chanel lives with her flock and shepherdess Birgitta Lindh Andersson.

A sheep with a multicoloured fleece
A multicoloured sheep, Härjedal/Åsen mixbreed Chanel as a lamb. Photo by Birgitta Lindh Andersson.

The fleece has soft undercoat and long, strong outercoat. Do I have to mention the shine? It has it. A deep and golden shine.

The depth of the colours and variations is spectacular. In the picture above she looks mostly brown, but her main colour is actually some sort of latte swirl with dark brown to light golden tips. The colour varies over the fleece. Since the short undercoat and long outercoat have different colours there is also a colour variation over the staples.

Staples of multicoloured wool, from white to dark brown.
The variation in Chanel’s multicoloured fleece is spectacular.

And look at those sweet lamb’s curls! The corkscrew curled tips are a sure sign that you are dealing with a lamb’s fleece.

Curly tips of wool staples.
Lamb’s curls to die for.

Capturing the colours

While the fleece is truly mesmerizing, trying to capture the colours in a yarn is a challenge. Processing them together would just lead to a porridge-coloured result. Even dividing the staples by colour may give a bland result if you card or comb each colour separately. Not only is the fleece in different colours over the body of the sheep, they are also in different shades over the length of the staple. I can use my superpowers as a hand spinner, though, and create a yarn that no spinning mill would be able to achieve.

Shades of coffee

I decided to try and divide the staples according to colour. It was a challenge, since the colour varied over the staples. But I started to make a rough estimation of the different colour themes and finished with some fine-tuning.

Five piles of wool of different colours.
Finding the different colours in the fleece.

I ended up with five different piles of fluff, that after some consideration turned into four.

  • The chocolate. These staples were basically solid in their chocolatey colour and also the softest pile.
  • The dark coffee swirl. Dark rose grey staples with dark brown tips. This was the biggest pile and will be the main colour yarn.
  • The light coffee swirl. Medium rose grey staples with medium to dark tips. The second biggest pile and very close in colour to the dark coffee swirl. I will need to make a design that separates these variations to make each colour shine.
  • The latte swirl. Light rose grey staples with soft honey tips.
  • The white chocolate. This pile looked a bit sad and lonely, so I decided to let the latte swirl pile adopt it.

I don’t even drink coffee.

Letting the colours shine

So, how can I make the most of the colour variations? If I card or comb the colours separately I still won’t be able to show the variation over the staple. My solution is to flick card each staple separately with a dog comb and spin from the cut end.

Technique

By spinning each staple separately I will get as much colour variation as I can. By spinning from the cut end, undercoat and outercoat will enter the twist at the same time, making the yarn both soft and strong. I spun a fleece with a similar colour variation for a pair of twined knitted mittens a while ago. It resulted in a beautifully variegated yarn. To see the processing and spinning technique, you can have a look at my recent video Catch the light or an oldie but goldie With the sheep in the pasture.

Design plans

I’m thinking of some sort of striped design. There is a risk that the colours blend into each other too much and still create a porridge-coloured result. Therefore I’m considering spinning a light yarn to use as a separator between the coloured stripes to make them all shine. Perhaps with a slipped stitch pattern to subtly play with the colours.

Oh, by the way, if I run out of fluff I can’t get any more. Chanel is still very much alive, but she has changed her mind and become more grey. Still beautiful, though, but different.

The back of a sheep with grey staples with brown tips.
Chanel today. A lot more grey. Photo by Birgitta Lindh Andersson.

I haven’t started spinning Chanel’s fleece yet. After all, a multicoloured fleece like this comes with great responsibility. I want to give this fleece my full attention and make it shine. I am in no hurry. But I will keep you posted on how the yarn turns out!


Tomorrow I will leave for Sätergläntan, a nordic center for craft education. I’m teaching a five-day course in different spindle techniques. I call the course A spindle a day. My next post will hopefully be a review of the course. Until then, you can read about the course in supported spindle spinning I taught at Sätergläntan in October 2018.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Washing fleece

Several people have asked me about how I scour my fleece. The truth is: I don’t. I do soak it, though. In this post of washing fleece I will dive deep into the washtub in search of clean fleece.

Scouring or soaking?

First of all, let’s get the terminology straight. I wash my fleece by soaking it. Usually in cold water from the tap, but preferably from the rain barrel. Scouring is a word that occurs a lot. In Swedish we only use the word for washing, so I was a bit unsure of what scouring actually means in a wool context. I asked in a spinning forum about people’s definition of scouring and it seems like scouring involves thorough cleaning, with a detergent of some sort. Someone also reminded me that the word also exists in Swedish: Skura, which means to thoroughly clean the floor with soap and water. The Encyclopedia of handspinning defines scouring as:

“The removal from fleece, cotton or other textile material of dirt, grease, suint, pectins etc. by thorough washing, to leave in it a clean and grease-free state ready for dyeing or spinning”.

Encyclopedia of handspinning by Mabel Ross

Similarly, The spinner’s encyclopedia states that scouring

” [r]emoves dirt and grease from a fleece by washing.”

The spinner’s encyclopedia by Enid Anderson

To scour thus means to remove all that isn’t the textile or fiber itself. That is not what I usually do.

Washing fleece by soaking

I wash my fleece to get the dirt out, and some lanolin. I want to keep enough lanolin to make the spinning smoother. Wool with no lanolin left is not a pleasure to spin for me.

I don’t use any detergent when I wash fleece from Swedish breeds. Swedish breeds are usually quite low in lanolin and after a cold water soak there is usually just the right amount of lanolin left for a smooth and pleasurable spin.

Cold water soak

I try to wash my fleece as soon as I can after having brought it home. I don’t want to attract moths or other wool–hostile creatures with the raw fleece.

Raw fleece with greasy and almost solidified tips.
Raw fleece with greasy and almost solidified tips. Norwegian NKS fleece.

When it is warm enough outdoors I just soak the fleece in cold water overnight. It can even stay longer than that, it can take care of itself. After that I rinse the fleece in cold water at least three times. Dirt out, lanolin in, just the way I want it.

I use the soak water and the rinsing waters as fertilization in the garden.

A person sinking a watering pot in a tub full of water.
I use the soaking water as fertilization in the garden. These are locks from a Dalapäls sheep.

Some breeds do require a detergent to get enough lanolin out, even for me. Merino is a breed with a lot of lanolin. The newest breed in Sweden, the Jämtland sheep, has some Merino in it and I usually use a detergent when I wash Jämtland. Sometimes also Shetland.

Warm water soak

If I get a fleece in the winter when it is too cold to soak outdoors I soak it in warm water indoors. I still don’t use any detergent. With a warm water soak, I leave the fleece in the water for just 15–20 minutes, not longer. When the temperature changes, which it will when I leave the fleece in the warm water soak for too long, the dirt can go back to the wool and create a waxy surface.

What is suint?

Raw fleece has a lot of dirt in it, plus suint and lanolin. Suint is the sheep’s sweat. It is composed of potassium salts and soapy organic acids that are soluble in cold water. It thus acts as a cleanser of the wool grease, the lanolin. In trying to understand this, the encyclopedia of handspinning comes to my rescue again:

“While the natural grease assists spinning, the suint attracts dirt and interferes with drafting. When fleece is soaked in cold or tepid water the suint dissolves in the bath and acts as a cleansing agent for the wool.”

Encyclopedia of handspinning by Mabel Ross
A tub of really dirty water and wool fleece.
You can see the suint as the soapy bubbles in the water.

This means that a washing method that dissolves the suint cleans the wool. The lanolin stays while the dirt is dissolved in the water. I get just what I want – a clean fleece with the lanolin still in it to assist the spinning process.

The fermented suint method

If I know I am going to wash several fleeces I make a soaking party of it – I use the fermented suint method.

A person pushing wool into a tub full of dirty water.
I soak my dirty Dalapäls fleece in really dirty water to get it wonderfully clean.

This means that I take advantage of the accumulated suint – the natural soap in the fleece – from several fleeces. I do this outdoors in the warm part of the year – this is not something you want to do indoors.

A fleece soaking in dirty water.
It is hard to imagine that this brew cleans the fleece, but it actually does!

This is how I wash fleece with the fermented suint method:

  • I fill a tub with either rain water or water from the hose. After filling the tub I soak the first fleece in the water. Ideally, the first fleece should be a really dirty one to bring as much suint and gunk as possible. I leave it for a week. I make sure I put a lid on the tub. This brew does not smell like raspberry pie.
  • After a week I fill a new tub with rinsing water, same temperature as the greasy water. I pick up the fleece from the suint water, using rubber gloves. This does still not smell like raspberry pie. I leave the fleece in the rinsing water for a while and rinse with another two waters. The third water should be reasonably transparent. I spin cycle the wool and let it dry outdoors on a grid. I use the rinsing waters as fertilizers in the garden.
  • After I have removed the first fleece from the greasy soak, I soak another fleece in it and leave it for a few days. Same rinsing procedure. I keep doing this until I’m out of fleeces. I now have a suint bath that is on its fifth fleece. The water is really gunky and smelly, but it gets the wool magically clean and my precious lanolin stays in the wool, just where I want it.
  • When I have no more fleeces to clean I use the gunky suint water as a fertilizer in the garden. This is a very potent fertilizer, though. I make sure I dilute the liquid to avoid overfeeding my plants.

When the fleece is dry I have a wonderfully clean wool with just enough lanolin for a smooth spin.

Two wool staples. The left white and clean, the right yellow-ish with a greasy tip.
A comparison between a raw staple and a staple washed with the fermented suint method. The right staple is visibly dirtier and has really greasy tips while the left staple is white and clean. The staples are from the same NKS fleece as the raw fleece above.

The NKS fleece that I started the fermented suint bath with had really greasy and somewhat solidified tips. After the washing process the tips were soft and clean.

After I have spun the yarn I wash it with a detergent, usually an organic perfume-free shampoo. That takes most of the lanolin away and makes it ready for whatever textile technique I want to use it for.

White wool.
Fleece washed with the fermented suint method. The wool is clean, including the once solidified tips. This is the same NKS fleece as the raw fleece above.

A word on vegetable matter

After washing – any kind of washing – the wool is clean. However, any vegetable matter that was in the fleece prior to washing will still be there after. A lot of it can fall out of the wool during the preparation of the wool (expecially combing), and some in spinning and plying. But when we look at a fleece we need to consider the amount of vegetable matter before we buy it. If it looks like a lot: Leave it. The will always be another fleece. No cleaning method will get the vegetable matter out. Removing vegetable matter is a purely mechanical process done by you. And my guess is there are other ways you want to spend your time with a fleece than to dissect it looking for twigs, seeds and pines.

I found a chestnut in my very first fleece.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Record keeping

Record keeping may seem daunting and unappealing. I have always registered my spinning in numbers and tables, but I didn’t see the point of keeping physical record until just a year or two ago. Since I started keeping physical record of my spinning I have learned many things I wouldn’t have learned without sampling and swatching.

Tables, forms and boxes

Actually, I do love record keeping. If there is a form or a table to fill in, I will fill it in, even if I don’t have much to say. On Ravelty I keep track of every fleece I buy and every yarn I spin. All my spindles (lots) and wheels (3) are listed. My organized mind sighs of satisfaction when all the boxes are ticked.

Ravelry is a powerful tool that allows me to register and keep track of pretty much everything about my projects – fiber supplier, fiber content, prep method, spinning method, colour, spinning technique, plies, finishing etc.

Length and weight

Knowing the length and weight of a yarn helps me plan my project. If I am knitting or weaving I can calculate how much yarn I need or how much yarn I have left. With the weight of the fleece and waste I can also make an estimation of how much fiber I will need for a given amount of yarn.

Record keeping on Ravelry.
Record keeping on Ravelry.

Grist

The data I use the most is the grist. Grist is a calculation of length per weight unit – for me that is meters per kilo. I usually spin a whole fleece. Keeping track of the grist of the different skeins helps me achieve an even yarn throughout the whole spinning process. The satisfaction of managing to get the grist even over 10 skeins is unbeatable.

Other tools for consistency

  • The spinning angle is the angle of the spun yarn in relation to the direction of the yarn. Keeping track of the spinning angle helps me make a consistent yarn even if several days pass by between spinning sessions. Usually I also save a spun sample by the wheel to check my spinning against.
  • The ratio of the spinning wheel is a good thing to note. Sometimes it takes a while between spinning sessions and I have forgot which whorl I was using.
  • WPI, wraps per inch is a measurement used in commercial yarns. A given amount of wraps of yarn per inch will lead you to the yarn thickness needed for a specific project. Checking the wpi every now and then will help you keep track of the consistency of the yarn.
Wraps per inch, wpi, is a measurement used in commercial yarn. Knowing the wpi of your yarn will help you decide what pattern fits your yarn.
Wraps per inch, wpi, is a measurement used in commercial yarn. Knowing the wpi of your yarn will help you decide what pattern fits your yarn.

Sampling and swatching

I have kept record on Ravelry since I joined the community back in 2009. The information is useful, but I rarely do anything with the records. It is only recently that I have kept physical records – samples and swatches. This is where the real excitement begins.

Simple stockinette swatch of a handspun yarn from a Norwegian crossbred (NKS) whole-year fleece.
Simple stockinette swatch of a handspun yarn from a Norwegian crossbred (NKS) whole-year fleece.

I wasn’t aware of the superpowers of physical record keeping until just a couple of years ago. Actually, it was when I started writing articles for Spin-off magazine that I realized that I would have to make samples and swatches to be trustworthy as a writer. After my first serious attempt of sampling and swatching (and my first article), a new reality opened before my eyes.

Main characteristics: The superpowers

When I get my hands on a new fleece I feel like I have the world at my feet. I can explore this new acquaintance endlessly, investigating fiber length, strength, consistency, shine, fiber type, loftiness, spring etc. All these characteristics tell me something about the fleece that I can use when I make a yarn. I try to find the essence of the fleece – what are its main characteristics? When I have found these, I envision a yarn with these characteristics as superpowers. I make a plan for the yarn I envision and experiment with preparation and spinning methods.

Gotland wool: Strength, drape and shine

Using my recent Gotland fleece as an example, the main characters were strength, drape and shine. I played with preparation and spinning until I had found the right path to a yarn that signaled these main characteristics. Combing was the method I envisioned to keep the shine in the yarn. After having experimented with a few methods to achieve a smooth combing process that would also give me a sleek and drapey yarn I scaled up the method and prepared and spun the whole fleece that way.

When I keep physical records of a fleece I make samples of a staple, singles, plies, weaving and knitting. Sometimes also a felted woven sample.
When I keep physical records of a fleece I make samples of a staple, singles, plies, weaving and knitting. Sometimes also a felted woven sample.

I needed to try, compare and fail. I needed to see and feel what would work and what wouldn’t. Even if I liked the first or second try I continued to try different methods to be able to tell exactly why it was the winning concept. I carded, combed, flicked and teased. I spun singles, plies, bulky, thin, woolen and worsted. At the swatching stage I wove, knit and felted. By seeing the samples and swatches side by side I was able to distinguish which method that would give me the best of the main characteristics and why.

Gute wool: Strength, lightness and rusticity

With my Gute fleece I saw strength, lightness and rusticity as the main characteristics. I was dealing with a primitive breed and wanted to honour that in the way I presented the finished product. The fleece had three fiber types but I still wanted to keep them together to allow them to boost each other and show the rusticity I was after. I experimented until I had a yarn that gave me the same feeling the fleece had.

Physical record keeping of a Gute fleece.
Physical record keeping of a Gute fleece.

To come to the right path of carding and spinning with long draw I had to take a detour through combing and short forward draw. I needed to see and feel that it wouldn’t give me the yarn I was after and why. By felting a woven swatch – just for fun – I also realized that weaving and felting were the right options for this yarn instead of knitting, which was my original idea.


Trying ideas that I thought would be the right one might prove to be all wrong. Exploring options I wouldn’t think would lead anywhere could be spot on. I need to experiment physically with a fleece, not just theoretically, to find my right way to the superpowers I want to show as the stars of the finished product.

It took me a few swatches to find the right combination for this yarn, but I think this is the one.
It took me a few swatches to find the right cable combination for this yarn, but I think this is the one. It is not blocked, though, it will probably look better after blocking.

Happy spinning!



You can follow me on several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Gute wool

2-ply yarn of Gute wool, spun with longdraw from hand-carded rolags.

In the spring 2019 issue of Spin-off magazine I wrote an article on sorting fleeces of Gute and Gotland wool. A few weeks ago I covered Gotland wool in a blog post and a live webinar. In this post I will look a bit closer at Gute wool.

This is the second part in a breed study series with live webinars. I look at Swedish breeds to start with and from the spinner’s point of view. A bit about the breed, the characteristics of the wool, how I prepare and spin it and what I want to do with the finished yarn.

Next Saturday, May 25th at 5 pm CET I will host a live webinar where I share my thoughts and experiences on Gute wool.

Gute sheep

Gute ewe at the Skansen outdoor museum
Gute ewe at the Skansen outdoor museum in Stockholm. I love how Gute sheep look almost like an oil painting in their faces.

History

The Gute sheep is a rustic breed and the oldest sheep breed in Sweden. It derives from the horn sheep or Gotland outdoor sheep in Gotland. In the 1920’s a breeding program started, aiming for a hornless sheep that was adapted to meat and pretty skins. This resulted in the Gotland sheep. Around 10 horned sheep were saved, though, and were used to restore the old horn sheep. Some of these sheep were moved to Skansen outdoor museum in Stockholm and their descendants are still at the museum today.

The name was changed to Gute sheep. Gute is an abbreviation of the Gotland outdoor sheep (Gotländskt utegångsfår), and it also refers to a person that has lived in Gotland for at least three generations.

Gute sheep today

A major part of the conservation program for Gute sheep was to keep the genetic variation of the breed. This means that the breed has not been improved. Gut sheep have a big genetic variation. The breeding standards emphasize breeding for all the breed specific characteristics and discourage breeding for or against specific characteristics.

There are around 1500 lambing Gute ewes in Sweden today in 107 flocks according to the Swedish sheep breeders’ association (2018).

The Gute sheep is a symbol of the island of Gotland. Gute ram parking barriers are a common sight in the medieval city of Visby in Gotland. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Wool characteristics

Gute wool has a wide variety of qualities, from very fine undercoat to black kemp. There is a wide variation between individuals and also over the body of one individual. This makes Gute sheep ideal for a small household. Go back a hundred years and see yourself as a small farmer with lots of different kinds of wool for lots of purposes from only a small flock of Gute sheep.

Gute wool has a long outer coat of around 40 micron, a very fine undercoat of around 17 micron and kemp. All these fiber types are present all over the fleece, but to varying degrees. The long and strong outer coat protects the sheep from wind and rain and the fine undercoat keeps the sheep warm. Kemp keeps the staple open and perpendicular to the body of the sheep. This protects the sheep even further from wind and rain and lets even more air in to the staple to keep the sheep warm. There is basically no crimp in the wool. The colour can vary over the body and over the staple.

Gute wool from one individual. The sheep has long and strong overcoat, fine undercoat and kemp over the whole body, but to varying degrees.
Gute wool from one individual. The sheep has long and strong overcoat, fine undercoat and kemp over the whole body, but to varying degrees.

Gute sheep have some primitive characteristics left, one of which being rooing. This means that they naturally shed their wool once a year, usually in the spring or early summer. The fiber thins out and eventually breaks to pave the way for a new fiber. The different fiber types are rooed at different times. A shepherd who knows this can choose to shear the sheep at a specific time depending on which fiber type is being rooed.

Processing

I like to find the superpowers of a fleece and take advantage of these when I prepare and spin it. When I wrote the article for Spin-off I played with different preparation and spinning methods to find the best yarn for the Gute fleece I had.

Since the kemp keeps the staples open, Gute wool is light. I wanted to keep this lightness in the yarn that I spun. I could comb the fiber to make a strong yarn, but when I tried that I just enhanced the coarseness of the wool and it felt more like rope. That may have made a wonderfully strong and rustic rug yarn, but that was not what I was after.

Sampling and swatching

Since the three different fiber types are depending on each other for their respective characteristics, I wanted to keep them together. Therefore I wanted to card them and spin a woolen yarn. For extra lightness I wanted to spin with low twist and 2-ply it. This resulted in a very pleasant sample with a rustic feeling. Below are the samples I made for the Spin-off arcticle. The felted swatch comes from a 10×10 cm woven sample. I love how the yarn felted – very evenly and with a nice touch to it.

Samples and swatches of Gute wool.
Samples and swatches of Gute wool.

Flicking tips

To tease the wool before carding I flick carded the tip and cut ends. When I looked at the staples after flick carding I saw something interesting. I found a lot less kemp in the flicked staples, especially at the cut end. A lot of kemp was stuck in the flick card.

After flick carding the staples a lot of the kemp was left in the flick card.
After flick carding the staples a lot of the kemp was left in the flick card.

This means that the kemp alone had been shed. If you look at the picture above with all the staples in length order you can see the shedding point (the rise) at around 2 cm from the cut end.

In a previous blog post I used my combs to tease the locks before carding. I think using combs for teasing would take away too much of the fine undercoat. By using the flick card I only open up the staples and remove some of the kemp.

Rise and yield

So, the cut end of the kemp was now in the flick card. Left in the staple was the rooed end and the tip end, both thinly tapered rather than straight angle cut. This means that my yarn would be less itchy than a Gute yarn with the cut ends in the yarn. How come? Well, a yarn is itchy if it makes the skin yield to the fiber. If instead the fiber yields to the surface of the skin, the yarn doesn’t itch. Since the kemp ends are thinly tapered, the fibers will yield to the skin. By all means, this is still a rustic yarn that is more itchy than, say, a merino yarn, but the yarn I spun is surprisingly comfortable against my skin.

Carding

After having flicked the staples I carded rolags. Gute wool is wonderful to card, It feels light and airy, but still rustic. There is sort of a fudge-like feeling to carding Gute wool – slow but still smooth. I did use the wrong hand cards, though. Since I card mostly fine wools I have a pair of 108 tpi (teeth per square inch) cards. I contacted my supplier, but the 72 tpi cards were out of stock. The 108 tpi cards are not ideal for Gute wool, but they do a decent enough job.

I carded the flicked staples and made rolags. Photo by Isak Waltin.
I carded the flicked staples and made rolags.

There was a lot of kemp waste on the floor after I had carded the flicked staples. The kemp has quite a prominent medulla (the central core of the fiber, consisting of air-filled cells) and therefore breaks easily.

Ok, my 16-year-old just read this post over my shoulder and was convinced I had made half of the words up. He basically rofl-ed.

How I card

To load the stationary card, I just gently pull them onto the teeth of the card. I gently stroke the wool with the active card. I make 6 strokes for each pass, transfer the wool and make another two passes. I roll the carded batt off the stationary card and make a rolag with the help of the back of my hand. One final roll of between the cards and a baby rolag is born.

Newborn Gute rolags.
Newborn Gute rolags.

If you want to dive into carding, here is a video where I card rolags, start at 4:12.

Spinning

Spinning Gute wool in the morning sun. Photo by Isak Waltin.
Spinning Gute wool in the morning sun. Photo by Isak Waltin.

I wanted a yarn that had as much air as possible in it. I also wanted a yarn that would resemble the function of the wool on the sheep as much as possible – strong and durable, yet still light and airy. Therefore I spun the carded rolags with longdraw at a low ratio for a low twist yarn. The longdraw captures a lot of air between the fibers and the low twist makes sure the air isn’t squeezed out in a tight twist.

2-ply yarn of Gute wool, spun with longdraw from hand-carded rolags.
2-ply yarn of Gute wool, spun with longdraw from hand-carded rolags.

I got the result I wanted – a remarkably light and airy yarn that is still strong and has a really rustic feeling.

A quick comparison with Gotland wool

Let’s go back a few steps here. Remember I told you that Gute sheep and Gotland sheep have the same mother, the horn sheep? The breeding of Gotland sheep was aimed at pretty skins with lots of shiny outercoat and very little undercoat. This makes Gotland wool very dense. Aiming to find the superpowers of a wool, I spun the Gotland wool into a shiny, dense and thin yarn and the Gute wool into a light, strong and rustic yarn.

Below are the Gute and Gotland yarns side by side. They are the same length and the same weight. Gute wool has a lot more undercoat than Gotland wool, but still less undercoat than outercoat. The kemp helps keeping the Gute yarn open and airy.

Gute and Gotland yarn. Both are around 100 m and 45 g.
Gute and Gotland yarn. Both are around 100 m and 45 g.

Looking at these two skeins makes me wonder if the breeds have anything to do with each other at all. But they do. And the picture tells me that it is possible to find the superpowers of a fleece and make them truly shine in a yarn.

Use

I used the Gotland wool in a project that would show the shine and the drape of the yarn. With Gute wool I want to enhance the sturdiness, the lightness and the warmth.

Knitted swatch of Gute yarn.
Knitted swatch of Gute yarn.

While the Gute yarn knits up evenly and very appealing, I was really intrigued by its felting abilities.

A woven and felted swatch from Gute wool.
A woven and felted swatch from Gute wool.

The Gute fleece I bought consists of many qualities and lengths. Dividing the fleece to suit different purposes is appealing. But my plan now is to spin it all up like I have with this first skein and weave a simple tabby pattern. I want to take advantage of the splendid felting abilities and full the fabric into a vadmal material, hopefully in a fulling mill. I can’t imagine I will get enough fulled fabric for a jacket, but perhaps a vest! With handsewn buttonholes. Wouldn’t that be something?

Live webinar!

This Saturday, May 25th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Gute wool from a spinner’s perspective. I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Gute wool. I will use my Gute fleece as a case study and show you glimpses of how I process the wool.

This is a chance for me to meet you (in the chat at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The previous live breed study webinar I did was a great success. I can’t wait to see you again in this webinar.

You can register even if you can’t make it to the live event (I’m sorry Australia and New Zealand, I know it is in the middle of the night for you). I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar. So register now!

The event has passed


Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Teasing with combs

Today I share a video where I tease my wool before carding. Teasing with combs is a fast way to tease quantities of wool. In the video I also show you how I blend wool with sari silk at the teasing stage. Towards the end of the video I show you how I card the wool.

The fleece

Earlier this winter I spun a similar yarn and knit a sweater, the Margau beta sweater. Lots of people asked about how I had added the sari silk to the wool. I know from experience how hard it is to show spinning and wool processing on dark fibers, so now I am doing the same process with white wool so you can see better – teasing with combs, adding sari silk and carding rolags.

The wool is the same – a finewool/rya cross. The fleece is from the same shepherdess as the dark fleece, Margau Wohlfart-Leijdström. It is the fourth fleece I buy from her. She does a wonderful job with her sheep’s fleeces and has never let me down.

Teasing with combs

Teasing is an important stage to open up the wool staples before carding. This makes the wool easier to card and reduces the risk of over carding. Over carding is when you break the fibers in the carding process. The broken pieces turn into nepps in your yarn and finished project. Teasing also helps to get any vegetable matter out of the wool instead of having it stuck in the rolags or in the cards.

Setup

When using combs for teasing I don’t need to find the right orientation of the staples. I simply load the combs brutally with a handful of wool. Remember, I am not combing the wool as a final preparation method. Rather, I just use the combs to open up the locks as a preparation for carding.

I try to load the combs as close to the tines as possible – I don’t want a lot of wool sticking out on the handle side of the stationary comb. I load to about a third of the height of the tines. Any more will require more muscle power and may result in more uneven bits than necessary.

When teasing with combs I load the combs to a third of the height of the tines and with as little wool as possible sticking out at the handle side. Combing station from Gammeldags
When teasing with combs I load the combs to a third of the height of the tines and with as little wool as possible sticking out at the handle side. Combs with combing station from Gammeldags.

The combs

In this video I use my table mount to fasten one of the combs. This makes the process easier on my arms as I can use both hands to hold the free comb. I could just as well do this without the table mount and hold one comb in each hand. This is a medium sized pair of combs which are easy to use both with and without the table mount.

Blending with sari silk

When the stationary comb is loaded to about a third of the height of the tines I add the sari silk I want to blend it with. To make sure I end up with an even amount of sari silk I count the staple length tufts I add in each comb load. In this case I add six staple lengths of sari silk for each comb load. Now I’m ready to tease.

A circular movement

I tease just like I would if I were combing the wool: I hold the active comb perpendicular to the stationary comb at all stages. The only thing that changes is the direction of the movement of the active comb. I move my active comb in a horizontal, circular movement, much like if I were to stir a big pot of soup in front of me. The tines of the active combs are horizontally oriented.

With the tines of the combs perpendicular to each other I move the active comb in a circular movement.
With the tines of the combs perpendicular to each other I move the active comb in a circular movement.

When I can’t get out any more wool from the stationary comb and all the wool is on the active comb, I change the movement: I now move the active comb in a vertical, circular movement. The tines of the active comb are still horizontally oriented. I like to change the direction of the active comb between each combing motion to make the transfer of the wool easier, but the tines are still horizontal and the movement is still vertical. I continue this vertical movement until I can’t get any more wool out of the active comb.

Two passes are enough for this wool and for the purpose of teasing. If I were to comb the same wool I would probably make three or five passes.

Removing the teased wool

Before I remove the wool from the stationary comb I spread the wool evenly over the height of the tines. This makes it easier to remove the wool from the stationary comb.

Before removing the teased wool from the stationary comb I spread the wool over the height of the tines.
Before removing the teased wool from the stationary comb I spread the wool over the height of the tines.

When the wool is evenly spread over the tines I pull tufts of teased wool straight out from the stationary comb, perpendicular to the tines. If I were to simply lift the wool off the stationary comb, the nepps and short fibers would come with it. When I instead pull the wool off the stationary comb perpendicular to the tines all the short bits, nepps and tangled fibers stay in the stationary comb.

Pulling the teased wool straight out of the stationary comb, perpendicular to the tines.
Pulling the teased wool straight out of the stationary comb, perpendicular to the tines.

I pull the wool until there are only the nepps and shortest bits left in the stationary comb. The harvested wool is evenly teased and blended with sari silk. Long and short fibers are blended, promising a yarn that can be both soft and strong. The teased wool is ready for carding.

Carding

When I load the cards I pull the teased wool onto the stationary card to make it stick to the stationary card. I load the card with as much wool that will stay on the wires. I remove any excess. I like to leave a frame around the wool empty. This way I make sure that there is room for all the wool on the card and that the wool will be carded evenly. If I were to load the whole carding area with wool, some of it would eventually stick out and be left uncarded.

When I load the cards I make sure a frame around the wool is empty.
When I load the cards I make sure a frame around the wool is empty. 108 tpi hand cards from Kromski.

I card in three passes, six times in each pass, just gently stroking the wool.

To strip the card between passes I place the cards with the handles in the same direction and transfer the wool in two strokes.

When I strip the card from wool I hold the cards with the handles in the same direction and transfer the wool in two strokes.
When I strip the card from wool I hold the cards with the handles in the same direction and transfer the wool in two strokes.

All the wool is lying on top of the wires on one card and I’m ready for the next pass.

By the third pass the wool is spread evenly across the card area and there are no uneven parts left.

I stroke the wool gently with the active card to separate the fibers.
I stroke the wool lightly with the active card to separate the fibers.

After the third pass I use the active card and my hand to pull the wool off the stationary card and make a rolag.

To make the rolag I use the active card to lift the wool off the stationary card and my free hand to shape the role and make it more compact.
To make the rolag I use the active card to lift the wool off the stationary card and my free hand to shape the rolag and make it more compact.

A final roll between the cards makes compact and even rolags. This is a step I have incorporated into my carding routine quite recently. I watched the splendid Interweave download How to Card Wool: Four Spinners, Four Techniques and realized how much this tiny final step does for the shape of the rolag and for the spinning quality.

Finished rolags with sari silk, ready for spinning.
Finished rolags with sari silk, ready for spinning.

The wool is neatly criss-crossed over the rolag in the promise of a soft and warm woolen spun yarn.


I love this way of working with combs and cards to make even rolags. Teasing with combs is effective, yet I don’t compromise with quality.

I am spinning the yarn with English longdraw and 3-plying it. I still have a lot of wool left and lots of opportunities to practice. I am enjoying the process and result so far!

A finished 3-ply yarn spun with English longdraw.
A finished 3-ply yarn spun with English longdraw.

The yarn turned out just the way I hoped it would and it is a perfect cable knitting candidate.

From fleece to cables in a basket.
From fleece to cables in a basket.

Sometimes I need to stop and look at all this loveliness. That such a lovely knitted fabric can come out of a sheep’s weather protection still amazes me.

I'm playing around with cables. This is swatch number 2 and my favorite so far. A stag's horn center edged by mirrored ropes.
I’m playing around with cables. This is swatch number 2 and my favorite so far. A stag’s horn center edged by mirrored ropes.

I have searched lots of books for ideas for a simple cable pattern. I made a swatch like this, only flanked with honeycomb ladders. I asked in a couple of forums if the honeycomb ladders were too busy and I ended up removing them. This looks much better. Thanks for helping me decide!

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course!
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!


Gotland wool

In the spring 2019 issue of Spin-off magazine I wrote an article on sorting fleeces of Gute and Gotland wool. Some of you have asked for a breed study in Scandinavian sheep breeds. I think it’s a great idea and I will start today! I will look at Swedish breeds to start with and from the spinner’s point of view. A bit about the breed, the characteristics of the wool, how I prepare and spin it and what I want to do with the finished yarn. Today I will cover my thoughts on Gotland wool.

Next Saturday, April 13th at 5 pm CET I will host a live webinar where I share my thoughts and experiences on Gotland wool.

The Gotland sheep

The Gotland sheep is not one of the older Swedish sheep breeds. However, it is the most common breeds in Sweden.

The origin of the Gotland sheep is the Gute sheep. Gute sheep is a very old breed with a rustic fleece. I will cover the Gute sheep in more detail in a later post. In the 1920’s a program started to develop a breed that was good for meat and skins. The new breed was originally called Pälsfår (Fur sheep) to emphasize the use of the skins but was later changed to Gotland sheep to accommodate to a more international audience.

Today the Gotland sheep is the most common breed in Sweden. In 2018 there were 520 registered flocks of Gotland sheep with around 18000 lambing ewes according to the Swedish sheep breeders’ association.

The breeding standards Gotland sheep include standards for meat production and skin quality. The goals for wool characteristics are primarily set for skin quality.

Wool characteristics

Newly shorn wool from a Gotland lamb

The first characteristic that comes to mind when looking at a Gotland fleece is the shine. Gotland wool has a beautiful shine in different shades of grey from medium to dark grey and black. The staples are shaped in a 3-dimensional curl. The wool has a uniformity across the fleece with a solid colour, lock characteristic and staple length. The fleece consists of mostly outercoat and very little undercoat.

Freakishly long Gotland wool. The staples are very dense.

These characteristics are very well suited for a beautiful skin. However, Gotland wool is not my favorite wool to spin. It is easy to be fooled by the beautiful silvery locks, but they can be deceptive.

  • Since there is so little undercoat and wave rather than crimp, the staples are very dense. This facilitates felting, especially at the cut end. Anyone who has shorn a Gotland sheep knows that this breed is a challenge to shear because of the dense fleece.
  • The shine in the locks makes a beautiful sheen in the finished yarn, but the fibers are also very slippery. You need to pay close attention to the fibers when you spin or you are running the risk of the fibers pulling apart. Swedish spinning mills have difficulties spinning pure Gotland wool for this reason. They usually blend Gotland wool with around 25% Swedish finewool.
  • The high percentage of outercoat makes the spinning less… cozy I would say. The fibers feel sort of coarse. The average Gotland fiber is around 40 micron.

With that said, this is my experience of Gotland wool in Sweden. As I understand it, Gotland wool in the U.K. and U.S. are usually softer.

Sounnie, a Gotland lamb

At the great sheep walk last year I suddenly saw her: A Gotland lamb with the sweetest curls: Sounnie. You can see a glimpse of her at 2:20 in this video about Överjärva farm where she lives with her flock. There are also purebred Gotland sheep in the video, the grey ones with black faces and legs.

Sounnie, a 75% Gotland, 25% Finewool lamb. Her overall characteristics is Gotland, though. The other three sheep are Swedish fine wool sheep.

She is 75% Gotland and 25% Swedish finewool, but the characteristics of her fleece is very Gotlandy, with unusually long staples (which doesn’t make sense at all since Finewool staples are around 5 cm/2 inches). I knew I needed her fleece when I saw her, even tough I am a bit reluctant towards Gotland wool. In September it was shearing day and I was there to harvest Sounnie’s sweet silver curls.

At the time I was writing the article for Spin-off and I only had time to make samples and swatches. It was wonderful to work with the newly shorn and freakishly long locks.

Samples and swatches from Sounnie’s fleece.

Processing

Just after Christmas I picked up where I had left Sounnie and started processing the locks. And I was shocked. Gone were the sweet curls and instead I found a tangled and very much felted mess. Just by being in a paper bag in my wool storage (aka the sofa bed) a lot of it had felted. But I wouldn’t let that stop me.

Gotland wool post sofa bed storage: More felted than shiny.

The natural way to attack the locks was to comb them. I had envisioned a thin yarn spun worsted from hand-combed tops. But since so much of the fleece had felted, combing was a big challenge. Combing straight off resulted in an uneven top that I had to struggle with. Even after five passes in the combs the top was uneven.

I tried flicking the staples and spin them individually from the cut end but that also resulted in an uneven yarn. So, as a middle step I flicked each individual staple and then combed them. This gave me the result I wanted. Ironically, a lot of the precious undercoat ended up in the flick card.

Since the locks are so dense I loaded the combs with only a few flicked locks. I landed at eight locks for my mini-combs. Anything more than that would require more muscle power than I had.

Flick-carding the staples before combing makes a much nicer combing experience.

The method with pre-flicking and then combing a limited number of flicked staples resulted in beautiful and even bird’s nests.

Flicked and combed Gotland top.

Spinning

Since Gotland wool is so dense, it also has lots of drape. I want to use that. But too much drape can get heavy. Therefore I wanted to spin a thin yarn that would give me drape without weighing a garment down. I spun the top with short forward draw with a low twist on my spinning wheel and 2-plied it. It resulted in a beautiful, shiny light fingering yarn with lots of drape.

A newborn skein of Gotland yarn

With such a long staple length I needed to keep my hands far apart. Also I needed to pay close attention to the fiber to prevent the slippery fibers from pulling apart.

Spinning the Gotland wool was not a smooth feeling, eventhough this was a lamb’s fleece. It felt like the fibers had a triangular shape rather than round. That is the only way I can explain it.

The two-step preparation took a lot of time and resulted in quite a lot of waste (50–55%). But the spinning was lovely and resulted in a beautiful yarn that was remarkably consistent.

A good preparation is the foundation of a consistent yarn.

Use

Because of the strength of the fiber, Gotland wool is a good choice for sturdy garments like socks. To keep the shine I would comb and spin worsted, but Gotland wool is definitely suited for carding and woolen spinning too.

Sounnie’s yarn is too pretty to be used for socks. I’m planning on a drapey top. I did spin a tailspun yarn from her short neck curls, but even if it turned out nicely, it is far too little to do anything with.

Gotland locks are the perfect choice for a tailspun yarn

Live webinar!

This Sunday, April 14th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Gotland wool from a spinner’s perspective. I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Gotland wool. I will use Sounnie’s fleece as a case study and show you glimpses of how I process the wool.

This is a chance for me to meet you (in the chat at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The last live webinar I did was a great success and since then I have been longing to host another webinar. So register now!

The event has passed

Happy spinning!


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