Flax processing at home

I have grown flax in our townhouse flower bed since 2014. It is only one square meter and I call it my experimental flax patch. Every fall I have taken last year’s retted flax to the Flax Days at Skansen Outdoor museum to process. It has become a tradition that I look forward to every year. This year was different. The Flax Days were cancelled due to the pandemic. Luckily I now have a complete set of flax processing tools, so I did my flax processing at home.

Ripple

During the late summer I have presented my flax processing tools, but I was missing a flax ripple. My friend Cecilia made a beautiful ripple and I decided to make one myself. I bought wire nails from Swedish eBay and nailed them into a board I found on the attic. It is not the prettiest ripple I have seen, but I have made it.

I rippled this year’s very sad flax harvest with my new ripple. It works so much better than putting the dried flax in a pillow case and trying to remove the seed capsules with a rolling pin, I can promise you that. I just placed a sheet on the lawn and held the ripple fast on the ground with my feet and rippled away. The seed capsules danced off the stems and rolled together into puddles of beads on the sheet. When I was done I placed the rippled flax on the ground to ret.

Break

The gem of all my flax processing tools is my break, dated 1821. The wood is smoothed where skilled hands have held it. When I broke my flax from the 2019 harvest I imagined all the people who had used it before me. I got goose bumps.

While I was standing there my neighbours came by and wondered what I was doing. It can take a while to explain the process to someone who has never thought of where their flax shirts, skirts or trousers come from. A few hours later they came back and I was still working with my flax ( a very small harvest). Once again I sent a thought to all my predecessors who had processed whole fields of flax.

Breaking flax can be quite straining, especially with a break that has been made in a time when people in general were shorter than I. The break breaks the cellulose core that is surrounded by the long fibers. It takes quite a few beats to break the core of a bundle of flax sufficiently. I understand why flax processing must have been something a whole village or community did together. It is hard labour. I do my flax processing at home just like they did, but with just a teeny, tiny harvest.

An in-between step

When I have processed my flax at Skansen Outdoor museum there has been another step after the breaking and before the scutching. In this extra step the broken pieces of cellulose core are further removed from the fibers. At Skansen I have used a tool for this called draga (“puller”) that looks quite like a break. You can see me use this tool in this video. I have also seen pictures of a hand tool for this purpose, called stångklyfta (“cleft bar”, also used instead of a scutching board and knife). You hold the tool and control the “mouth” with your hand, pulling the scutched fibers through the jaws.

Stångklyfta, cleft bar, from digitaltmuseum.se

Scutch

My scutching board and scutching knife are a bit younger than the break. I have seen so many beautiful antique scutching knives – perfectly shaped to fit the hand, ornamented with flowers and perfectly fitting a right hand. I would sacrifice my flax harvest for an antique scutching knife made for lefties. But I doubt I’ll ever find one. The ones I have works well and is made to fit both lefties and righties and of course I’m grateful for that. But still.

Scutching removes the broken cellulose bits from the flax fibers. This is where the retting will be revealed – if the flax hasn’t been retted enough the cellulose won’t separate enough from the flax fiber. And if it is over retted I imagine the fibers will break in the process (if not sooner).

Rough hackle

My first flax processing tools were two hackles, one for rough hackling and one for fine hackling. They are both quite old and I use them with great respect of their age and their potential to hurt me (I only got one hackling injury this time!). Hackling takes care of the remaining bits of cellulose (if the flax is retted enough), removes the short fibers and aligns the fibers.

Fine hackle

In the final step, the fine hackle, the fibers are aligned even further and short fibers removed. Two hackles has been quite common, but sometimes three have been used, with the addition of one or two flax brushes just before dressing the distaff.

When I was done with the fine hackle I looked around for a second bundle of hackled flax. But I found none. This was it, just a tiny bundle. There is a lot of waste in flax processing! Well, not waste per se, all of the flax is used for something – the short fibers (tow) are used for coarser yarn or insulation and the cellulose bits becomes food for the chickens. But the yield of finer spinnable fibers is quite low.

The remaining flax after the second hackling. It isn’t much, but it is mine and a result of flax processing at home.

When I look at the resulting skein of flax I can evaluate last year’s harvest and retting. When I harvested this flax (2019) I knew it wasn’t top quality, so I was prepared for that. I can also see that it may have been slightly under retted. Some pieces of cellulose remain in the flax.

A flax odyssey

I like to bring out all my flax to see the progress (or not) from year to year. The first year, 2014 (to the far left) I only got a rat’s tail, but I was immensely proud of it. 2016 was the year of under retting. 2017 quite successful, but 2018 was really good, both when it comes to quality and regarding the amount of flax ( I had a second patch that year). And 2019, well very little, but a decent quality.

Flax harvests: 2014 (less than 1 gram), 2015 (4 grams), 2016 (5 grams), 2017 (17 grams, new flax seeds), 2018 (53 grams from two patches) and 2019 (7 grams).

I’m fascinated by the different colours. All my flax has been grown in the same place and retted the same way, but still the colour varies significantly in all shades of dew retting.

This year was a disaster and I’m not sure the result will be more than a rat’s tail. But the goal with my experimental flax patch is to learn and I do learn a lot every year through all the parts of the process, both growing and processing.

The retting of the 2020 flax harvest is finished after 19 days of dew retting.

This week I checked my retting flax and decided it was finished, after 19 days of des retting. When I broke the stems the fibers separated easily and in all its length from the cellulose core. Next year I will learn know if it was right to finish the retting when I did.

Happy spinning!


You can find 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.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Flax harvest 2020

My flax crown will remind me of what I learned from the flax harvest 2020.

I have an experimental flax patch in my townhouse flower bed. It is about one square meter. My goal with the flax patch is to learn. And every year I do learn – what works, what doesn’t work and what is for the weather to decide. The flax harvest 2020 taught me a lot.

Sow

Last year’s harvest was ok. Better than the first years but not the best harvest. This year I sewed my flax quite early. So many sources say so many different dates for sewing flax. The most obvious date is the Karolina Day on May 20th. This is a traditional date for sewing the flax. Preferably by a long-haired young woman without underwear, dressed in at least three white garments and walk with bare feet in high strides.

Karolina Day aside, I try to sew when the soil is manageable. I was a bit late this year, but still a lot earlier than Karolina Day. Previous years I have managed to spread the seeds unevenly and to avoid that I was very focused when I spread the seeds over the soil. In hindsight I realize I may have used too much seed.

Flax harvest 2020

In the end of July when we got back home from a week in a rented log cabin I found plants that had simply withered and yellowed. Others were really low and thin and the overall quality was very uneven. My analysis is that the seeds were too close together, which resulted in some plants dying and some not getting enough room to grow.

Two pairs of flax bundles crossed over a fence
My sad little flax harvest 2020.

When it was time to harvest I was quite reluctant. I knew the quality wouldn’t be good and the thought of pulling the flax made me quite sad. To make some sort of sense of the harvest I started with the highest plants. I was out of those after only four bundles. With pouty lips I paired them up to dry and left the flax patch to its destiny for a couple of days. The remaining flax was far too low and yellowed to make any decent spinning fiber out of.

Not very long and not very even, but the best I could get from this year's harvest.
Not very long and not very even, but the best I could get from this year’s harvest. These bundles have been drying for a couple of weeks.

Processing and retting

For the past few years I have gone to Skansen outdoor museum on their Flax and wool days to process my flax. This year I have all the equipment I need (apart from a seed rippler) to process my flax at home. Also, the Flax and wool days have been cancelled due to the corona pandemic just as many other events. So I will process last year’s harvest one of these days.

Last year a follower asked me to blog about when to do what in flax husbandry and processing, and I thought it was a lovely idea. You can read my flax timeline here.

I haven’t started retting my flax harvest 2020 yet, though. The past week has been very hot and dry and as far as I can see it will continue for a while. I’ll wait until it cools down a bit to give the dew a chance to help me ret my flax.

Crowns

A grass crown is a hanging ornament made of some sort of plants, usually grass, tied around a twig frame. I use a fresh rowan twig for the frame. This year I have made eight grass crowns in different materials – grass, lavender, and onions. The grass crowns were beautifully wild, the lavender sweet and tidy and the onion crowns just goofy.

Some of them hang indoors, others outdoors and four of them have been gifted to friends – a grass crown to my parents for midsummer, another grass crown for the log cabin landlord, a lavender crown to a friend for house sitting and another lavender crown to a neighbour after bad news about her cancer treatments. They have all been very warmly received. There is something special about a hand made gift. I love the perishability of grass crowns. They will change over time and eventually perish. But the material is free to use and new crowns can be made.

A flax crown

As I melancholically watched the remains of my sad flax patch I realized that I could make a grass crown from the medium height plants. I figured they would be flexible to work with and not break in the bend like some of the lavender types did. And I was right. Tying the flax crown was just a lovely activity. Even though I didn’t get to spin gold out of it I got to spend time with the sweet straws while thinking of flax seasons to come.

I made a grass crown of the medium length flax plants.
I made a grass crown of the medium length flax plants.

Every time I look at my sad stricks of flax I think of my beautiful flax crown. It will remind me of what I have learned from this year’s flax harvest.

My flax crown will remind me of what I learned from the flax harvest 2020.
My flax crown will remind me of what I learned from the flax harvest 2020.

The flax crown will also be a symbol of and tribute to the work and experience flax husbandry requires.

Happy spinning!


You can find 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.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Distaff pins

I used to go the Skansen Outdoor museum every August to process my harvest from my experimental flax patch since I didn’t have any tools. The past few years I have managed to get hold of flax processing tools of my own. In this summer series of short blog posts I have presented my flax processing tools. Previous presentations have been about my hackles, flax break and scutching knives, scutching board and a flax brush. This week I present a bonus: Two distaff pins.

Recently I reconnected with my second cousin Cecilia. We hadn’t seen each other for almost 40 years, but now we are close friends and chat almost every day. Family things tend to come her way and every now and then she shows me forgotten treasures.

A wooden family mystery

A few months ago she sent me a letter with two wooden items carefully wrapped in paper. She had found them together with old photos and letters in a family chest of drawers. The wooden items were signed with my grandfather’s name and therefore she had sent them to me. She thought they might be some sort of letter openers or perhaps book marks.

Wooden items, probably distaff pins, made by my grandfather to his mother and aunt. The message says "Greetings to aunt Hildur from Eje".
My grandfather Georg, Eje, made these as gifts to his mother Berta and her sister Hildur. The message says “Greetings to aunt Hildur from Eje”.

One of them had a name on it, Berta. On the other was written “Greetings to aunt Hildur from Eje”. Eje is short for Georg, my grandfather. Berta was his mother and also Cecilia’s and my great-grandmother. Hildur was Berta’s sister, Georg’s aunt. Georg was born in 1901, so my guess is that he made these around 1910–1915.

Distaff pins

I didn’t think they were letter openers or book marks, though. I believe they are distaff pins (Swedish: Rocksticka). A distaff pin is a thin wooden pin tied to the end of a ribbon that goes around a dressed flax distaff to make sure the flax stays on the distaff. A distaff pin was typically made by a young man as gifts to the girl he had his eyes on. A more elaborately carved distaff pin could be given to a girl in a proposal of marriage.

Elaborate distaff pin from Digitalt museum.
Elaborate distaff pin from Digitalt museum.

Eje’s aunt Hildur was a teacher of textile crafts and a distaff pin would make sense. Cecilia has found a spinning wheel in pictures of Berta’s home. Also, since distaff pins were usually made from boys to girls as a token of their affection it makes perfectly sense for younger school boys to make distaff pins for their mothers, perhaps for Mother’s Day.

Berta’s distaff pin sits happily in my dressed distaff. As my spinning patron she watches over me when I spin.

Regardless of what they were meant to be they were a very sweet gift from a little boy to his mother and aunt. And of course I use them as distaff pins. They do their job wonderfully well.

Who wouldn’t want to spin flax from a distaff dressed like this! The ribbon is tablet woven by me with commercial flax yarn.

When I look at my distaff pins I see Berta, my grandfather Georg (who died before I was born) and my dear friend Cecilia. It has been quite a while since I spun flax. Perhaps I will do it today!

Happy spinning!


You can find 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.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Scutching board

The scutching board was made by P P-son (probably Persson or Pettersson) in 1979.

I used to go the Skansen Outdoor museum every August to process my harvest from my experimental flax patch since I didn’t have any tools. The past few years I have managed to get hold of flax processing tools of my own. In this summer series of short blog posts I will present my flax processing tools. Previous presentations have been about my hackles, flax break and scutching knives. Today I present a scutching board.

Scutching

After breaking the cellulose core you need to separate it from the spinnable fibers. You do this with the scutching knife agains a scutching board. I did accidentally get a couple of scutching knives when I visited a yard sale at a weaving guild back in March, and I figured I would use them against the back of a chair or the flax break. I would figure something out. After all, I started out scutching with a spatula against a wooden flower bin, so I was already in a better place scutch wise.

A simple scutching board.
A simple scutching board.

Craft sale

In June I got an ad about a garage sale. Craft Stockholm was moving their storage and needed to get rid of a lot of stuff to fit in the new location. They had lots of crafting tools and materials and the sale was only across the bridge from me, less than three kilometers. This was too good to be true! And indeed it was – I was at Sätergläntan teaching when the sale took place, 250 kilometers away.

I had marked Facebook event out of curiosity. On the day of the sale lots of pictures were posted on the event page. One of the pictures presented a simple scutching board from 1979. I sent a message to one of the organizers, a friend of mine who lived close to the sale venue. I said I was interested but that I wouldn’t be back in Stockholm for a few days and. She replied that she would take care of it and that the board was $10.

The scutching board was made by P P-son (probably Persson or Pettersson) in 1979.
The scutching board was made by P P-son (probably Persson or Pettersson) in 1979.

When I had returned home after the course I took a walk across the bridge, chatted a bit with Maria who had helped me and walked back with the scutching board over my shoulder. It was very petite and perfect for my little collection of flax processing tools.

Older flax posts

You can read earlier flax related posts here:


You can find 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.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Flax break and scutching knives

A flax break from 1821

I used to go the Skansen Outdoor museum every August to process my harvest from my experimental flax patch since I didn’t have any tools. The past few years I have managed to get hold of flax processing tools of my own. In this summer series of short blog posts I will present my flax processing tools. Last week I presented my hackles and today I will show you my flax break and scutching knives.

Breaking the core

The flax fibers grow around a cellulose core. To separate the spinnable flax fibers from the core you use a flax break. You put the bundle of retted flax on the horizontal board and break it with the handle along all the length of the fibers.

The flax break helps you break the cellulose core around which the spinnable fibers grow.
The flax break helps you break the cellulose core around which the spinnable fibers grow.

Flax break and scutching knives

A flax break is quite big and heavy and not just something you find at a yard sale, especially not in Stockholm. But a couple of months ago I got a tip in the Swedish Facebook spinning group that a local weaving guild had a yard sale. I knew we didn’t have room for this tool, but Dan convinced me that we should go and have a look. After all, I had been looking for flax processing tools for years! So we went. This was in the beginning of the pandemic and we were only allowed to enter the cabin with the tools one party at a time. There were two beautiful flax breaks, one of which was spoken for already. But the other one was mine and it was 200 years old.

A flax break from 1821
My flax break is from 1821. Look at the wear on that handle!

There were lots of other lovely tools, but since we didn’t even have room for the break either in the car or at home, I let them be.

Not so shabby chic

The guild weavers were outside of the cabin ready to answer any questions. I told them about my work and they were delighted that the break would have such a dedicated new home. I asked them if they happened to have scutching knives too, and they did. And a pair of hand cards with leather pads.

Two fairly modern scutching knives. The larger one is dated 2000. The smaller one has no date, but it looks older.
Two fairly modern scutching knives. The larger one is dated 2000. The smaller one has no date, but it looks older.

As I reluctantly decided I had finished shopping I asked them how much I owed them. They said they had different price lists for shabby chic byers and real crafters, so they sold it all to me for $25. Wouldn’t that be something for the used tools market!

Perspectives

When we got home with my treasures our 17-year-old came out of the house. As we unloaded the car he said “Mum, you bought a flax break!”. Now, with a raise of hands, how many city teenagers would you say have uttered that sentence this century (or last)?

Oh, just one more picture of the flax break. It's so pretty.
Oh, just one more picture of the flax break. It’s so pretty.

When people ask me if our children have learned how to spin I say no and add that they have lots of passive knowledge. They know the difference between Gotland, rya, Texel and finull sheep, they know my different spindle types and they obviously know the names of the flax processing tools. I’m proud of that.

Older flax posts

You can read earlier flax related posts here:

Happy spinning!


You can find 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.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Finull wool

Two-end knitted mittens from finull yarn. Photo by Dan Waltin

The first wool I ever dug my hands into was the fleece of Pia-Lotta the finull sheep (Swedish finewool). Finull wool is my home wool, the wool I feel I know the the best. Finull sheep is one of only three wool breeds in Sweden. In this sixth part of my breed study of Swedish sheep breeds from the spinner’s perspective I will share my experience with finull wool. Previous posts have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool, Dalapäls wool, Värmland wool and Jämtland wool.

This Sunday, June 7th at 5 pm CET I will host a free live breed study webinar on Swedish finull wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

Wool staples from the finull sheep Karin from Glada fåret sheep farm.
Wool staples from the finull sheep Karin from Glada fåret sheep farm.

About finull sheep

Finull sheep is the first sheep I got to know as a spinner. To me, it is the way a sheep looks, the mother of sheep if you will. I’m sure you have a “home” breed too that you measure all other sheep against.

Finull sheep stem from the Swedish landrace that has grazed Swedish pastures for centuries. It didn’t become it’s own defined breed until the 1980’s. Therefore it shares the common history of the Swedish landraces.

Finull lambs.
Sweet finull lambs in a small-scale shepherding course I took in 2014.

A bit of Swedish sheep history

The landraces

The Swedish landraces were the only sheep in Sweden until the early 16th century. They most probably originate from the North European short-tailed sheep. They had different kinds of wool with both soft undercoat and coarser outercoat and provided Swedish farmers with carpets, vadmal and coarser textiles. Finer textiles couldn’t be produced with wool from the Swedish landraces. King Gustav Vasa ordered import of “bum sheep (rumpefår) which would mean the fat-tailed sheep from Germany, Great Britain and later Spain, with finer wool. For 300 years Sweden imported these breeds to varying degrees of success. The aim was to exterminate the “harmful Swedish sheep”, but the attempts failed. The farmers needed the coarse wool for the necessary textiles they had always produced.

Decrease, more decrease and increase

During the industrial revolution sheep farming decreased – Sweden imported cheap wool and especially cotton to the spinning mills. Many of the imported breeds and their crosses were removed and replaced with cows. During the First World War the demand for wool from the Swedish landraces increased again. The mills in Sweden couldn’t produce the same kind of lustrous textiles that were found in the museum collections. Breeding was then aimed at saving the old landrace and isolated flocks of Swedish landraces were found in remote areas of Sweden.

Some of these refound flocks had fine wool with lots of shine. They may be a result of crossing the landrace sheep with imported Spanish Merino sheep in the 18th century. The finer wool was also found in Finland (which at the time was part of Sweden). Thetra sheep with finer wool were crossed, first and foremost with Finnish landrace sheep, the first time in 1938. During the Second World War the demand for meat breeds increased and the pure-bred landraces decreased again. In the 1970’s the interest in Swedish landraces increased again and the Swedish finull sheep association was founded in the 1980’s.

Finull sheep. Photo by Dan Waltin
Finull sheep. Photo by Dan Waltin

Finull sheep today

Swedish finull sheep are fertile and usually get between 2 and 5 lambs. They are quite friendly and calm. The ewes weigh 50–70 kg and the rams 80–100 kg. The statistics from 2019 say 2115 breeding ewes in 161 flocks, but there are lots of finull flocks outside of the sheep breeder’s association too. A lot of finull sheep are also crossed with other breeds – Gotland sheep, texel sheep, rya sheep, Dorset sheep (Findor) and East Frisean milk sheep are common.

Finull sheep are white (61 %), black (23 %) and brown (17 %). The brown sheep have a higher resemblance to the Finnish landrace with a bigger variety in wool fibers, coarser wool and wool on the top of the head.

Wool characteristics

Finull sheep is one of the three Swedish wool breeds – sheep breeds that are bred for their wool. The other two are Jämtland sheep and Rya sheep (coming up soon). It is also one of the breeds that has a part in the new breed Jämtland sheep.

The shepherd intern and I go through the finull lambs and look for the best fleeces.
A shepherd apprentice and I go through finull lambs and look for the best fleeces. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Finull wool is soft, fine and shiny with a high crimp. The difference between undercoat and outercoat is very small. Swedish finull is popular among both hand spinners and Swedish spinning mills. The mills use finull for soft finull yarn but also to mix with Gotland wool since Gotland wool is too slippery to go through the carding machines unmixed.

Finull wool. Photo by Dan Waltin

Since finull is a wool breed there are standards and statistics for the wool. The staples are around 5–9 cm (when shorn twice a year) with an average crimp count of 8 crimps per 3 cm. The shine is around 4 of a scale of 1–5. The standards for the breed encourage breeding for shine, staple and crimp evenness. The micron count should be 20–30 microns and the wool should be even across the body of the sheep.

Most finull sheep are shorn twice a year. I have seen one or two whole-year finull fleeces, but that is an exception. A whole-year fleece will most probably break or felt.

Me shearing the Swedish finewool (finull) sheep Pia-Lotta.
Me shearing the finull sheep Pia-Lotta, whose lamb’s fleece was my very first wool.

At a course in small-scale shepherding I took back in 2014 I got to shear Pia-Lotta the finull sheep, the sheep whose lamb’s wool was that first wool I spun. You can see more of the wool from this shearing in one of my earliest videos Slow Fashion – from sheep to sweater.

Main characteristics

The main characteristics, the superpowers, of finull wool that I want to enhance in a yarn are the shine, softness and crimp.

  • Finull wool has a clear and soft shine that I find unusual in a wool with such a high crimp. It takes dye beautifully and reflects the light in a lovely way.
  • The fineness and softness of the fibers make finull wool a perfect wool for next-to-skin textiles.
  • The high crimp gives the finished yarn an appealing elasticity.
Sweet staples of finull wool.
Sweet staples of finull wool.

Preparing

Finull wool is a perfect candidate for carding – the short and crimpy finull staples make plush rolags that are screaming to be long-drawn.

Teasing and carding

I never card unteased wool. I could tease by hand, with combs or with a flick card. As much as I love teasing by hand and with combs, my method for teasing finull wool will be with the flick card. The tips of the fine fibers can be brittle and break in the carding process (especially if there is dirt in the tips), and leave unwanted nepps. If I tease the staples with the flick card, any breaks will stay in the flick card.

Brittle and/or dirty finull tips break and stay in the flick card. The teased wool is quality controlled and ready for carding.
Brittle and/or dirty finull tips break and stay in the flick card. The teased wool is quality controlled and ready for carding.

This process may seem tedious (and it is), especially considering the short and very thin staples that can be a bit fiddly. However, the time spent flick carding is definitely worth the effort. I end up with soft, even and consistent rolags.

When I have teased the staples I card the cloud as I usually do.

  • I load the stationary card with the wool, using only the amount of wool that will stick to the carding pad. I remove any excess.
  • To make sure all the wool gets carded I leave a 2 cm frame of the carding pad empty. If I load all the way to the edge there is a risk that the wool “leaks” out on the side and doesn’t get carded at all.
  • I card three passes using very light strokes.
  • When the wool is carded I make a rolag of the batt with the help of the free card and the back of my free hand. I make a last roll of the rolag between the cards.

Spinning

I spin finull with a longdraw. Finull fleeces are consistent throughout the body of the sheep and I can make a larger project from one single fleece. Since the wool is so fine and quite short I try to spin with a higher twist than I usually do.

Finull wool spun with English long draw from hand-carded rolags and 3-plied.
Finull wool spun on a spinning wheel with English long draw from hand-carded rolags and 3-plied.

I spin finull wool with a supported spindle, a Navajo spindle (for singles) or a spinning wheel. The draft is smooth and viscous in the loveliest way. Again, this is the wool I feel the most at home with.

Finull singles spun on a Navajo spindle.

Use

I use finull yarn for lots of things, but most preferably next-to-skin garments. Since the wool is so fine I don’t usually use it for more resilient products. I have tried, though. And failed.

Two-end knitted mittens from finull yarn. Photo by Dan Waltin
Two-end knitted mittens from finull yarn. Photo by Dan Waltin

One of the first “real” yarns I spun was a Z-plied yarn for a pair of two-end knitted mittens. The yarn was way too loosely spun and the yarn broke a number of times during the knitting process. I did felt the finished mittens to make them sturdier. They have worn out on the thumbs now, though, and been carefully mended.

One of my favourite garments is my Sides and stripes sweater (design by Veera Välimäki). The yarn is the blue 3-ply above spun from a truly beautiful finull fleece. I spun the yarn with English longdraw from hand-carded rolags and the yarn turned out amazingly consistent.

Sides and stripes sweater, knitted in 3-ply handspun finull yarn. The orange stripes are handspun from Jämtland wool.

Live webinar!

This Sunday, June 7th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Swedish finull from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I prepare, spin and use finull. I will use finull during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I prepare and spin the wool.

Even if you think you will never come across Swedish finull this is still an opportunity to learn more about wool and wool processing in general. The breed study webinar 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 done 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 will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar. Remember, the only way to get access to the webinar (live or replay) is to register.

The event has already taken place

Stay safe and 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.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Jämtland wool

The newest sheep breed in Sweden is Jämtland sheep. The purpose of the breed is to have a meat sheep with wool that can be a Swedish alternative to the tons of merino wool we import from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. This is the fifth part of my breed study of Swedish sheep breeds from the spinner’s perspective. Previous posts have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool, Dalapäls wool and Värmland wool.

This Sunday, March 22nd at 5 pm CET I will host a free live breed study webinar on Jämtland wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

I am aware that this is very short notice. However, considering the situation in the world, I think we need a live webinar now more than ever.

A framed board with a wool staple and a tuft of carded wool. Letters saying Jämtland wool at the top of the board.
Whole year’ staple of Jämtland wool.

About Jämtland sheep

Stop the waste

A lot of Swedish wool is being wasted. At the same time we import tons of merino wool from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. The owner of a Swedish wool manufacturer in Jämtland in Sweden questioned this system and wondered if there was a way to use Swedish wool for his products. The problem, though, was that Swedish wool was coarser and would be scratchy in the next-to-skin garments that his company made. The idea of a Swedish alternative to wool import was born.

A new breed

As a result of this, a project started in 2004 where merino ewes were imported and crossed with fine fibered Svea ewes. Svea sheep is a Swedish meat breed which is a cross between the meat breed Texel and the Swedish landrace finewool sheep. Swedish finewool does have some merino in them from crossing with the merino sheep that we had in Sweden in the 18th century. In 2010 the Jämtland sheep was presented as a new breed at the world merino conference.

A pile of fine fibered white wool with high crimp.
Unwashed Jämtland wool.

Jämtland sheep has increased in popularity as both a meat bread and a wool breed. Statistics say that there were 382 breeding ewes in 20 flocks in 2019. Rams weigh 90–120 kg and ewes 80–110 kg. This is a lot heavier than the landraces and conservation breeds I have presented in earlier breed studies. The micron count lies between 17 and 23.

Long locks of very fine wool and lots of crimp.
Jämtland wool has the crimpiest crimp.

Fashion industry

Jämtland wool has become very sought after in the fashion industry. Several companies have produced clothes made in Jämtland wool. One problem is that the demand is bigger than the supply. A clothes manufacturer may want larger quantities than the sheep farmers can provide. The garments that have been sold have been produced in small quantities with social, environmental and ethical aspects considered.

Knitters and spinners

Many of the Swedish spinning mills today produce yarn with Jämtland wool and the products are popular among knitters.

Jämtland fleece is also very popular among handspinners in Sweden. In the past few Fleece Championships Jämtland wool has been placed in its own category. The shepherdess I usually buy my Jämtland fleeces from probably has more championship medals than she can count.

Jämtland wool characteristics

Two hands holding a grey long fine fibered staple of wool. Two piles of fleece in the background.
Jämtland wool at the 2019 Swedish fleece championships. Whole year’s fleece to the left, autumn shearing to the right. The white fleece got a silver medal in the Jämtland category.

Jämtland wool is very fine fibered and has high crimp. In contrast to most merino, Jämtland wool also has a beautiful shine. The staples are uniform over the length of the staple and over the body of the sheep.

A microscope picture of wool fibers. Fine and even.
Jämtland fibers enlarged.

Since Jämtland sheep has a lot of merino in them the fleece is generally very high in lanolin, at least compared to the Swedish landraces I’m used to.

I have bought all my Jämtland wool from Birgitta Ericsson, a shepherdess who covers her sheep and shears them once a year. The cover is probably necessary to be able to manage a whole year’s fleece, especially considering the high degree of lanolin.

A dark grey fleece wit fine fibers.
Unwashed staples of grey whole year’s Jämtland wool. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The superpowers

When I see a fleece I want to get to know it and find its superpowers. I look at the different characteristics and choose three that I feel represent the fleece and that I want to let shine in a yarn and garment. The main characteristics I see in Jämtland wool are:

  • The softness of the fibers. They are dying to be worn next to your skin.
  • The crimp. It is hard to take your eyes off the crimp of these staples and I want to make the crimp justice in the yarn I spin.
  • The shine. Jämtland wool generally has a lovely shine that in my experience is unusual in this fine type of wool.

Preparation and spinning Jämtland wool

Washing

Before I go into wool preparation I need to talk a bit about washing. I wash Jämtland wool a lot more brutally than any of the other breeds I spin (I wash other Swedish breeds in water only). Now that I have learned the terminology in English I can safely say that I scour Jämtland wool. I bundle up the long staples and tie them with yarn and put them in a pot. I use lots of detergent and hot water. When the wool is dry I can remove the yarn ties. This method takes away enough lanolin for me to be able to handle the fibers without too much fuss.

Combing and worsted spinning

The first fleeces of Jämtland wool I processed I combed. To avoid breakage I flick carded the ends of the staples first and hand-combed with my mini-combs. This resulted in beautiful, lofty bird’s nests with lots of bounce. I spun these fluffy balls worsted on my spinning wheel.

One issue with fine fibers like these in combination with the dry air in large parts of Sweden is static electricity. When I comb the long fibers they point in every direction possible and make the aligning of the fibers very difficult. I solve this by spraying a mixture of water, coconut oil and a drop of detergent on the staples. This calms them down a bit. The coconut oil is soluble in low temperatures and comes off easily when you wash the yarn.

If there is still a lot of lanolin in the fibers I place the bird’s nests near the fireplace to make it more fluid and cooperative.

2-ply laceweight Jämtland yarn, combed and worsted spun.

From the fold magic

One day I decided to try to spin the long Jämtland staples from the fold. The length was perfect and I thought why not? The second the fibers merged into the drafting triangle from its folded position over my index finger it dawned on me: This is how this Jämtland wool wants to be spun.

A hand holding fibers folded over the index finger. Fibers are going from both sides of the fiber into the spinning twist.
Spinning from the fold. The fibers come into the twist in a wider angle. Since they come into the twist from the middle of the fibers they strive to unfold.

When you spin from the fold you double the staple over your index finger and spin from the middle if the fibers. What happens when you spin from the fold is this:

  • The fibers come into the drafting triangle from a wider angle. In this, more air coms into the yarn.
  • The folded fibers strive to unfold, which also results in more air in the yarn.
Flick carded staples of whole year’s Jämtland wool spun from the fold on a supported spindle and 2-plied.

Spinning from the fold is not a spinning technique, it is just a different way to hold the yarn. Thus, you can spin both woolen and worsted from the fold.

Five pieces of yarn on a board and a staple of wool. The leftmost yarn is sleek and thin. The yarns become more fuzzy and airy towards the right.
Different preparation and spinning of Jämtland wool. From the left: 2-ply combed and spun worsted on a suspended spindle, 2-ply spun worsted from the fold on a suspended spindle, 2-ply spun woolen from the fold on a supported spindle, 3-ply spun woolen from the fold on a supported spindle, 2-ply spun woolen from hand-carded rolag on a supported spindle.

Carding and woolen spinning

I would not recommend carding fibers in this whole year’s length. The fine fibers would most probably break and result in nepps in the yarn. Shorter fibers would be excellent to hand-card with fine cards. The fine fibers and high crimp would be excellent for a soft woolen spun yarn.

Use

I have used Jämtland wool for lots of different purposes – sweaters, half-mitts and shawls. It is perfect for next-to-skin garments and accessories. Due to the fine fibers Jämtland wool is not suitable for projects that will wear a lot.

A woman standing against a tree. She is wearing a grey sweater with white sleeve ends and white hem. The yoke has a stranded knitting spinning wheel pattern.
Grey yarn from the grey Jämtland fleece above. White yarn from Swedish fihewool. Photo by Dan Waltin

The dark grey yarn in the sweater above is worsted spun from hand-combed tops of Jämtland wool. You can see the whole process in this video (available in Swedish too). I knit the sweater in 2015 and I recently had to mend the elbows.

A woman walking on a path. She is wearing a thin asymmetrical turquoise shawl with drape.
Laceweight worsted spun Jämtland yarn in Martina Behm’s Viajante design. Photo by Dan Waltin

In my experience Jämtland wool looks best in fine yarns – lace weight or fingering weight. The shawl above is spun as a lace weight. The shawl below is the leftover yarn from the shawl above.

A girl holding up a turquoise lace shawl. The shawl has a spider at the top.
I got some lace weight yarn left and made a spider shawl for my daughter back in 2015. Photo by Dan Waltin

Live webinar!

This Sunday, March 22nd at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Jämtland 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 Jämtland wool. I will use Jämtland wool during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I process and spin the wool.

Even if you think you will never come across Jämtland wool this is still an opportunity to learn more about wool in general. The breed study webinar 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 done 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 will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar. Remember, the only way to get access to the webinar (live or replay) is to register.

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!

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!

Flax timeline

A small flax field in bloom

A follower asked me to make a flax timeline she could follow for her own flax. This is a lovely idea. I am so grateful for suggestions on blog topics. I write for you and if you have requests it’s even better. So thank you Kathy!

Making a timeline with dates for flax is a challenge, though, depending on different climate zones and on which side of the equator you are living. Any approximate dates would be a challenge even within Sweden. The official arrival of spring is around February 20th in the southernmost part of Sweden and May 5th in the far north. In this flax timeline I have tried to use signs as a starting point. You need to translate these signs to your own context.

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.

In short

Instead of a timeline with dates I have tried to make a guide with practical indicators to help you know what to look for. In short, this is what I came up with:

  • Sowing: When the soil is manageable
  • Harvesting: When the stalks are yellow up to 2/3 of their height.
  • Drying: Outdoors in dry weather.
  • Rippling: Outdoors in dry weather.
  • Winnowing: On a dry and windy day.
  • Retting: Dew retting can be done in the fall or in the spring.
  • Processing and spinning: When you are able to do it outdoors.

In the paragraphs below I have tried to elaborate these indicators.

Cultivating

Sowing

This is the easy one. Sow your flax on Karolina Day, may 20th. This will result in high flax plants. The women sowing should wear no underwear (to show the seeds that they need new underwear). In addition to that, they should sow barefoot, wear at least three white garments (this would result in a white and shiny flax), walk with high strides (to guarantee a high flax) and let their hair down.

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

I sow when the soil is ready. This means that any ground frost should be gone and that the soil is manageable. In my part of Sweden this means sometime in April or early May.

This is also the time when the weeds start sprouting. Especially chickweed, a kind of weed that in its initial stage looks very much like flax and gives me lots of trouble when weeding. So I have waited for the weed to sprout, remove it and then sow the flax. This made my life easier and resulted in less chickweed.

When I did some research for this post I learned that sowing early would provide for a more even nourishment for the flax. Sowing later would result in uneven lengths of the flax straw. This explains a lot. My 2019 harvest is very uneven in length (albeit chickweed free). For the 2020 flax season I will start when the soil is manageable, as recommended. I’ll just have to deal with the chickweed.

Harvesting

The time for harvest will again depend on your climate zone. In some countries it may even be possible to have several harvests in one year. It will also depend on what fineness you want your flax fibers – fine medium or coarse. A fine flax is of coarse appealing to many, but it will also result in a seed capsule that isn’t ready. An early harvest for fine fibers will thus not give you any seeds for next year’s cultivation. Medium harvest will give you medium fibers and more developed seeds. A late harvest results in coarser fibers and fully developed seeds, something you may be interested in if you are harvesting the seeds for oil purposes.

I harvest my flax at the medium stage, when the stalks are yellow up to the lower two thirds of their height. According to my flax book that is around 25–30 days after blossoming, but this too would be depending on climate zone and weather.

Bundles of flax on the ground. The top 1/3 of the bundles are green and the bottom 2/3 are yellowed.
I harvest my flax when the stalks are yellow up to 2/3 of their height.

Prepare for process

Drying

When I have harvested the flax I dry it. How long that takes will depend on the weather and the moisture in the air. The air in my part of Sweden is quite dry and if the sun is shining the flax will dry quite quickly, in just a few days. This year I wasn’t that lucky. The sun was out, and when I planned to keep it out for just a couple of days more, it started to rain. Several times.

In the southern parts of Sweden you can find old flax saunas, especially from the 19th century. These were simple buildings used to dry the flax over an oven when the sun wasn’t enough to dry it.

Rippling and winnowing

When the flax is completely dried I ripple it. I take care of the seed pods and make sure to dry them some more. When the seeds are completely dry I wait for a windy days to winnow them.

Hands holding two bowls. The top bowl is pouring seeds into the bottom bowl. Dried plant material is blowing in the wind.
I winnow the flax seeds in dry and windy weather.

Retting

Retting flax is an art form in itself and I have just started to understand what to look for. There are several methods – dew retting, water retting and snow retting. I have experience from dew retting only. In all three methods the flax goes through the same stages, but with different duration. Water retting can be done in a fortnight while snow retting can take over 100 days.

A hand holding a flax straw. The fibers have been separated from the core.
The retting is finished when you can easily pull the fibers from the core in all its length.

I usually dew ret the flax directly when it has dried. Dried flax can still be interesting to pests, whereas retted flax is not. I make sure the lawn is newly mowed so that the stalks come as close to the dew as possible. My general retting period is around 20 days. I turn it over after ten. After around 15 days I check more regularly. The fibers should be easily removable from the core and in its entire length. This year it took exactly 20 days, last year 21.

After the flax has retted I dry it in standing bundles in a windy place.

A bundle of retted flax standing on the ground.
I dry the retted flax in standing bundles in a windy place.

Processing and spinning

Theoretically you can process and spin the flax any time of the year. In practice, though, you need to process your flax at a time when you can do it outdoors. Flax processing and spinning is very dusty and you really don’t want that to go into your lungs. I usually do it in mid-August, since that is when I take it to the Flax Day at Skansen outdoor museum for processing, but I could just as well do it in the spring or summer.

A woman hackling flax on a table outdoors. There are many flax samples on the table. Another woman in period dress behind her.
I process the flax outdoors. to get as little of the flax dust as possible in my lungs.

I hope this gives you an orientation of when to do what. What would be the flax timeline where you live?


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!