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 Gute ewes in Sweden today in 107 flocks (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!

Register here!


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!
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  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
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  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
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    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 ewes.

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!


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!
  • 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!

The superpowers of a fleece

A sken of dark grey yarn with colored specks in it

For a long time I have wanted to spin a yarn and knit a project where I start from the characteristics of the fleece and make a yarn that highlights the superpowers of that particular fleece. I wanted all the decisions I made from preparing the wool to designing and knitting a garment to be made with consideration to the fleece I had started with.

This post is part of a new blog series. In four posts I will take you through preparing, spinning, designing and knitting a garment, looking at consistency and some calculations. I will use the wool from one sheep as a case study.

A finull/rya gold medalist

In the 2017 Swedish fleece championships I got my hands on a beautiful, dark grey finull/rya crossbred. It is very soft with airy staples and mostly undercoat.

From spring to autumn

The ewe who grew this winner fleece was shorn in the spring, which usually means a little coarser wool and shorter staples than the autumn shearing. This fleece, though, was wonderfully soft.

A finull/rya mix and gold medalist at the 2017 Swedish fleece championships, shorn in the spring. Sheperdess: Margau Wohlfart–Leijdström

The competition had taken place in September, and I realized that the ewe probably was still wearing her summer coat. I contacted the shepherdess, Margau, and I was right, she hadn’t done the autumn shearing yet. A couple of weeks later, I had the autumn shearing in my hands. A little longer staples and even softer than the spring shearing.

Same sheep, shorn in the autumn. The staples are a bit longer and the tips are slightly sun-bleached.

Finding the superpowers

For a long time I was thinking about what I wanted to do with the fleeces. The spring fleece was a gold medalist and I felt a responsibility to make the most out of it. I wanted to let the wool tell me how it wanted to be spun to become its best yarn.

To look for the superpowers in a fleece I need to examine the fleece itself. But I can also get some clues from considering the characteristics of the breed in general, in this case two breeds – Swedish finewool and Rya.

Swedish finewool and Rya

Wool from Swedish finull (closely related to Finn) is typically very fine and soft with a high crimp (2–10 waves per cm). It has well defined staples of up to 8 cm. It is a good choice for spinning a lofty yarn with longdraw from carded rolags.

Rya has very long staples (up to 30 cm) of strong and shiny fibers and about 60% overcoat. A worsted spun yarn from combed top would be a good choice for this kind of wool. Rya is often used in weaving. The combination of the two can make a winner.

A finewool/rya crossbred

The shepherdess Margau has a flock of 25 finewool and rya sheep and has also crossbred these for several years. This has resulted in wool with the best of the superpowers of both breeds – strong, shiny and soft. She has won several medals from the Swedish fleece championships.

The wool I got from Margau is truly magnificent. I am a sucker for grey. This wool has shades of medium to dark grey with a hint of brown. The wool shorn in the spring has the staple length of finewool sheep, up to 8 cm. It is very soft and airy. I would say it looks more like finewool than rya, but the staples are more open than finewool. Finewool can be tedious to prepare since the staples usually are very thin and defined. This wool is a lot easier to prepare.

The autumn shearing has longer staples and a bit lighter. The tips are slightly sun bleached. The overall feeling of the wool is soft, but it is also clear that the wool is strong and shiny.

A row of wool staples
Staples from the spring and autumn shearing of a finewool/rya ewe

This summer I had made a tweed experiment where I blended the autumn shearing with some sari silk. I really got a taste for the mixture between the dark wool and the colourful specks of sari silk. I decided that I wanted to use the spring and autumn fleeces together and blend them with the sari silk for a tweedy yarn.

Fiber preparation

I wanted to be really thorough and sample my way to the best yarn for this wool. I knew from the experiment I had done earlier that carded rolags was the best way to prepare this wool. Before that could happen, though, I needed to go through a few other steps.

Mixing the fleeces

The spring and autumn shearings were a bit different – the spring shearing was shorter because most of the nutrition had gone to the lamb during gestation and lambing period. The autumn shearing had longer staples and were also a bit sun-bleached. I wanted all of these characteristics in the yarn – the short staples for loftiness and the longer for strength – so I mixed the fleeces in a big basket.

Teasing and blending

I used my combing station to tease the wool. This is the way I usually tease before carding, it is a quite efficient method. In this step I could also blend the sari silk with the wool.

A braid of turquoise based sari silk
Sweet sari silk

I loaded the stationary comb with the wool, not considering staple ends or directions, I just loaded ruthlessly to about a third of the height of the tines. At the top I added the sari silk. I combed three passes and then removed the blended fiber from the stationary comb tuft by tuft. This left me with clouds of wool blended with sari silk.

Carding

I am quite used to carding and I have my way of doing it that I think works quite well. Still, after watching the Interweave downloadable video How to Card Wool: Four Spinners, Four Techniques, I made some adjustments. I used to load the whole width of the card with wool, but now I leave a one inch passepartout of the card empty on the sides and top of the carding pad. This way I make sure that all the fibers are actually on the carding pads and not escaping through the sides. I also pay more attention to rolling the rolag between the cards to make neater and more uniform rolags.

Carding is something I love doing, and with these adjustment it became even more satisfying to see the fluffy teased clouds turn into proper and uniform rolags.

Sweet hand-carded rolags with specks of recycled sari silk.

Spinning and plying

I wanted a soft and round yarn, so my idea was to spin a 3-ply yarn with long draw. I made lots of samples with long draw in different thicknesses, but I wasn’t really happy with the results. All the samples felt too dense and not soft enough.

Spinning

For a while, English longdraw had been lurking in the back of my mind, but I was a bit reluctant to try it. If I liked it it would mean that I would have to spin everything with english longdraw and I wasn’t sure I would be able to do that with the consistency I wanted. But I tried it and realized that I had found the best way to spin the rolags. The samples were soft and lofty, and it felt just right. I ended up with a sport weight thickness that seemed perfect for the wool.

yarn samples of different thicknesses
I sampled my way to the best 3-ply yarn for my fleece

Spinning longdraw requires really well carded rolags. With any unevenness in the carding there is a risk that the yarn will be uneven and/or break in the draw. This is even more true for English longdraw where you draw one arm’s length in one motion. Having little specks of short fibers in the rolags feels a bit counter productive here. I didn’t let that stop me, though, I just had to take extra care in examining the roving before setting the twist. I think the yarn broke just a handful of times during the whole spinning.

When I spun the yarn I could feel the amount of blending of the two fleeces. In some rolags the drafting was really easy, almost too easy. This meant that I had mostly shorter staples from the spring shearing in this rolag. In others, the drafting was a bit tougher due to a higher amount of longer staples from the autumn shearing. The longer staples were important to the durability of the yarn, but too much of the longer wool would make a denser yarn than I wanted. Had I done this preparation in the summer I would definitely have mixed the fleeces by willowing them.

A bobbin with dark grey yarn with specks of colour
A bobbin full of yum

Plying

When I ply I like to transfer the singles together to a new bobbin. This way I start plying from the same end as I started spinning. It also allows me to go through the singles one more time before plying. I don’t need to handle three individual singles when plying. Instead I ply them in a bundle straight off one bobbin.

A skein of dark grey wool with colored specks in it.
A finished skein of final/rya tweedy yarn, full of superpowers.

Getting to know a fleece

This wool has gone through my hands numerous times. From sorting, teasing, carding, spinning and plying. I try to read the fleece to find out what I need to do to let it shine. In handling the fiber I get to know know what it feels like, how it sounds, the staple length, the crimp, how well it drafts, how much lanolin is in the wool. Every time the fiber goes through my hands I get new pieces of the puzzle. It is like every step in the process gives me a deeper and broader knowledge and understanding of the wool.

A sken of dark grey yarn with colored specks in it
Some tweedy loveliness

Coming up: In the next part of this blog series I will dive into consistency in all the steps in the process and look at how I take measure – literally – to end up with a yarn that is even.


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!
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. 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 posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Processing cotton

As I wrote in an earlier post, I was given newly harvested cotton from a fellow spinner in Stockholm. I have never handled cotton for spinning before. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to investigate a fiber that is new to me and that I have avoided for environmental reasons.

This is part 2 of my cotton blog series. The first post was about my thoughts of the fashion industry in general and cotton in particular.

Ginning

After the blossom has withered, the seed develops in the cotton capsule (boll). Fibers are attached to the seeds to make it possible for the seeds to be swept away by the wind and start a new plant. Compare it to  dandelion seeds. They wait for a gust of wind to catch them and transport them to a new home where they can start a new plant.

Each cotton boll has from 10 to a gazillion seeds, cozily wrapped in soft cotton fibers. Deseeding, or ginning the cotton is a time consuming process when you do it by hand. On the plus side, ginning by hand yields more clean cotton fiber than ginning mechanically. The fiber (lint) is also less compressed with hand ginning than with mechanical ginning.

When I researched cotton processing I stumbled upon this beautiful and very smart and efficient way of ginning cotton with a flat stone and a metal rod. I tried to do it with what I had at home – a wooden rolling pin and an equally wooden cutting board. I realized quite quickly that it wouldn’t work at all and I was frankly quite embarrassed by my naïveté. Instead I stuck to my original plan and ginned by hand.

The lint is quite strongly attached to the seeds and ginning by hand is a challenge. It took me quite a while to finish the whole 150 grams of cotton. 75 g of it ended up as seeds and the remaining 55 g was spinnable cotton lint.

A bowl of cotton
Cotton!

Willowing

When I read up on willowing wool for a previous video and blog post, I learned that cotton also has a willowing tradition. So naturally I wanted to try willowing cotton as well.

Willowing means to open up the fiber by whipping it with willow sticks. Cotton is prone to compress itself if you handle it manually. There is another way to open up cotton bolls that I haven’t tried yet. You can open up your cotton with a bow-like tool. You place the bow close to a pile of cotton and strike the bow repeatedly. The string snaps the cotton, which opens up. Quite neat if you happen to have a proper bow. I have yet to try this.

I must say I wasn’t as impressed by willowing cotton as I was by willowing wool. Perhaps I did it wrong. I did willow on quite a soft surface. Or perhaps cotton don’t need as much willowing as wool. Either way, the cotton opened up in the beginning, but after a while nothing really happened. I have seen videos where people willow cotton with a lot smaller sticks, more like twigs, and keeping two twigs in one hand for willowing. Another thing to try.

Walter, the neighbor’s cat watched and hung around. After so many videos where I have looked for a cat to make an appearance on my set, I finally got a cat extra! I think he did well and he is welcome back.

The sweet thing about the cat appearance is that spinning and purring is the same word in Swedish: Jag spinner (I spin). Katten spinner (the cat spins).

Josefin Waltin sitting on the ground, looking at a big and furry cat
A dear moment between two spinners.

Carding

I used my regular cards. They are quite fine and work well for cotton. I have read that you need cotton cards for carding cotton, and I am sure the result will bet better with cotton cards. But wool cards are still better than no cards at all.

I use short and very light strokes for the short cotton fibers. Basically, I use the same technique as for wool carding, and finish by rolling the carded fiber into a rolag. I could of course make a pretty cotton puni as well, but I honestly didn’t think about it at the time.

Make sure you don’t make lots of rolags and then store them compressed. Cotton is not elastic and won’t spring back into shape after being compressed. Any kind of fiber preparation is best fresh, and that certainly applies to cotton.

Josefin Waltin carding
Cotton carding in the September sun

The vest I am wearing in the video is the Ivy League vest by Eunny Jang. The yarn is my own handspun (the ones that are not naturally colored are my own hand dyed), mostly of rare and endangered Norwegian sheep breeds.

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.
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. 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 posts and videos. 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 retting

Flax retting on the ground

While I have been processing the retted flax from the 2017 harvest, I continue to handle the the 2018 harvest. In this post I invite you to a very unconventional rippling, windy winnowing and a real retting adventure!

This is part five in a blog series about flax. The previous posts are about flax processing in general, the 2018 harvest in my experimental flax patchspinning flax on a spindle and flax processing. Last year I wrote about the first harvests in my experimental flax patch and my first attempt at spinning flax on a wheel.

Rippling

After the flax has dried completely I need to ripple it before I can ret it. This means that I remove the seed capsules from the stalks. The seeds will make a total tangle of the flax if they remain on the stalks and I need the seeds for next year’s cultivation.

Usually, you would use a ripple for rippling flax. A ripple looks like a giant comb. You pull the strick of dried flax through the tines and the seed capsules fall off the stalks at the other end. Easy peasy. If you happen to have a ripple. Which I don’t. I did see one at a flea market in Austria, though. I have never seen a flax ripple that big! The shop was closed, so I could only see it from the outside.

A rusty flax ripple in a shop window
Giant Austrian flax ripple

So, instead of a flax ripple, I do the MacGyvery thing and use a pillow case and a rolling pin! I put one strick at a time in the pillow case, put the pillow case on a table and start rolling on the pillow case with the rolling pin. The seed capsules break and stay in the pillow case and I can remove the strick of flax seedless.

A person rolling with a rolling pin over two bundles of flax in a pillowcase
Rippling without a ripple. Photo by Isak Waltin

This is where the neighbours walk past asking polite and curious questions.

Retting

When the flax is deseeded it is time to ret it. The retting process separates the flax fibers from the cellulose core with the help of humidity and mould. You can use running water, dew or snow – water retting, dew retting or snow retting. These methods take different amounts of time and result in different colours in the finished flax.

While we do have a creek nearby, I have never tried water retting. The creek is usually dry after the snow has melted and I can’t really count on it for flax purposes. I know some people use an inflatable kiddie pool, but I haven’t tried that yet. Snow can be very unstable too, so my best shot is dew retting.

As many of you may know, the summer here in Sweden has been exceptionally dry, so I was prepared to help the dew along with my watering pot. It rained the first nights after I had laid out the flax, though, and there has been lots of morning dew.

I spread the flax in a thin layer in rows. I make sure the roots are in the same direction in every row.

The neighbours are still curious and polite at this stage.

Turning and checking

Now I need to watch the retting carefully. Dew retting can take anything from 15 to over 30 days, depending on the rain and dew. I turn the flax once a week and check the process.

After one week I can see that the retting process has started, you can see that it has got dark spots. There is no sign of the fibers separating from the core.

A hand holding a flax straw. Flax on the ground in the background
Day 8 of retting. The retting process has started. You can see the dark spots on the straw. The flax fibers have not separated from the cellulose core.

Another week later the flax is darker but there is still no sign of the fiber separating.

A hand holding a flax straw. Flax on the ground in the background
Day 14 of retting. The retting process continues and the flax is still darker. However, the flax fibers have still not separated from the cellulose core.

On day 19 something has started to happen! After wiggling the stalk in different directions, the fibers actually separate from the cellulose core! It is still too early to break the retting, but I have to check every day now.

A hand holding a flax straw. Flax in the background.
Day 19 of retting. The flax is still darker and the fibers are starting to separate from the cellulose core.

Finally, on day 21, the retting is finished. Just as on day 19, the fibers separate from the cellulose core, but with significantly more ease. As soon as I wiggle the straw, the fibers separate fro the cellulose and I can pull the fibers off in their entire length.

A hand holding a flax straw, flax in the background.
On day 21 the retting is finished. The fibers separate easily and in their entire length from the cellulose core.

I roll up the flax in bundles and dry them standing up in a conical shape.

A bundle of flax standing in a conical shape on the ground
The retted flax needs to dry before I store it.

When the flax has dried it will keep for decades. Rodents stay away from it, since it has retted. I will keep mine indoors over the winter and process it outdoors next summer.

Winnowing

While the flax has been retting, the seeds that were saved in the pillowcase have dried in a bowl in the window. There is a mixture of seed, capsules and vegetable fragments from the stalks. I want to keep the seeds. Had I been a chicken owner, the girls would have got the winnowed capsules for breakfast.

I wait for a windy day to winnow them. I pour the seeds between two bowls in the wind.

Hands pouring seeds from one bowl to another.
Winnowing the flax seeds. Photo by Nora Waltin

The light seed capsules blow away in the wind while the seeds fall down into the lower bowl. I pour back and forth until most of the capsule parts are gone. This particular day, the wind had a very hard time deciding which way to blow. I danced around, trying to find the direction of the wind and ending up with most of the stuff in my hair and on my clothes.

I am very disappointed in my neighbours who weren’t even around to be curious and polite.

Hands holding bowls, pouring seeds from one bowl to another.
The wind takes the dried and light capsules to new adventures. The heavy seeds fall securely into the lower bowl. Photo by Nora Waltin

I end up with a promise of a successful flax season 2019.

A bowl of flax seeds.
Winnowed flax seeds

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.
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. 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 posts and videos. 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 processing

A struck of processed flax

Last weekend I attended the Wool and flax days at Skansen open-air museum in Stockholm. Dressed in all wool and linen, I brought my own retted flax from the 2017 harvest. My plan was to process my own flax with their tools and guidance. My friend Anna was kind enough to shoot the whole thing.

This is part four in a blog series about flax. The previous posts are about flax processing in general, the 2018 harvest in my experimental flax patch and spinning flax on a spindle. Last year I wrote about the first harvests in my experimental flax patch and my first attempt at spinning flax on a wheel.

Skansen open-air museum

Skansen is the oldest open-air museum in the world. Old houses and buildings from all over Sweden have been brought to Skansen for display. Skansen employees are dressed in period costumes and tell the visitors all about the buildings, tools and ways of living.

I spent an hour of the beautiful August afternoon at Älvrosgården, a farm from the beginning of the 19th century. For this event flax processing tools had been brought out on the yard to show how a strick of dry and dull flax stems can be turned into gold.

Tools for processing flax were often a bridal gift. A married woman needed to be able to process the family’s flax to make clothing and domestic textiles. You can often see names and wedding dates on old distaffs, hackles and scutching knives.

I showed the staff my modest flax harvest and asked if I could process it with their tools. They were delighted and very kind and showed me the ropes.

Breaking

The flax fiber is placed on the outside of a cellulose core. To separate the flax from the core you need to break the core. This is done in the flax break. In this stage you see how the cellulose cores crumble to bits while the long flax fibers stay intact. The Swedish word for this stage is bråka. Quite similar to the English word.

A person breaking flax
I’m breaking the flax to break the cellulose core that is surrounded by the flax fibers. Photo by Anna Herting

Pulling

This is a tool I have never seen or heard of before. It is called a “draga”, which is an old word for something that pulls. Which makes sense – you pull the broken flax through the “puller” to remove the coarsest bits of cellulose. Quite effective! Has any of you seen this type of tool before?

A person pulling flax through a puller
I’m pulling the flax through the “puller” as a step between breaking and scutching. Photo by Anna Herting

Scutching

The next step is the scutching, Skäktning in Swedish. You use a wooden tool similar to a knife to remove the bits and pieces of broken cellulose from the flax fibers. The more bits you are able to remove, the better prepared the flax will be for the final step.

A person scutching flax
I’m scutching the flax to remove the small pieces of cellulose that were broken in the breaking step. Photo by Anna Herting

Hackling

Hackling the flax is usually done in several steps. In this case, two steps. You pull the scutched flax through vicious tines to remove short and brittle fibers and the last pieces of cellulose. In this step you also arrange the fibers parallel. After having hackled a while I learned how to lift the strick of flax over the hackles instead of swinging it. When swinging, the flax turns in the air and doesn’t lie straight over the tines.

A person hackling flax
First hackling step. Flax samples on the table with different retting methods. Photo by Anna Herting

On the table you can see samples of flax that has been retted with different methods – dew retting, water retting and snow retting.

A person hackling flax
Second hackling step. Photo by Anna Herting

The first step of the hackling process is through a rough hackle and the second step through a finer hackle. This stage is performed at your own risk. I managed to go through it with only one pierced finger. These are the only flax processing tools I actually have at home.

Close-up of a person hackling flax.
I ended up with only one hackling wound! Photo by Anna Herting

The coarser bits that end up in the hackles, the tow, is saved and spun into a coarser yarn or used as insulation in the buildings. The pieces of cellulose core that is scattered on the ground are treats for the chickens. So while this is a time and labour demanding process, nothing goes to waste.

Admiring

The flax turned into such a beautiful bundle of gold. I am still amazed at what I have managed to make, from just a handful of flax seeds. I got new seeds for this season from Ann-Marie, a retired flax farmer and spinner. This flax is actually spinable! And I just found out that Ann-Marie is selling out the last of her seeds and she is sending me some for next season!

My beautiful strick of flax from the 2017 harvest in my experimental flax patch.

The fibers are long, lustrous and plentiful. And I must have done something right with the retting too. I am happy as a clam about my beautiful flax.

Four strikes of processed flax
Results from my experimental flax so far. From the left: 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

You can see the difference to the earlier years. The 2014 harvest was the thickness of a rat’s tail. 2015 was at least three rat’s tails!  In 2016 I failed with the retting, you can still see lots of pieces of cellulose. Finally, the newly processed flax from the 2017 harvest is long, beautiful and silky. And just outside our house, the 2018 harvest is retting on the lawn.

I’ll be back next year

I passed my flax processing exam. The Skansen staff was so kind and helpful and welcomed me back to process my next harvest. A big thank you to the Skansen staff at Älvrosgården for their kindness and guidance, to Anna for shooting and to Ann-Marie for the seeds.

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.
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. 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 posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Harvest day in the experimental flax patch

I never know when it is the perfect day to harvest my flax. When I read up on the subject, it usually says to harvest about 30 days after the first blossom. The stems should be yellow to up to about a third of the length of the stalk. This year, though, has been extreme in the sense that it has been hotter than ever before. Weeks of temperatures close to 30°C  and no rain for over a month. According to a local flax association, the heat can make the flax mature faster than usual. I the end of July I decided it was harvest day in the experimental flax patch.

This is the second post in my flax series.

A quick resume

This is the fifth year with the experimental flax patch. My ambition with it is to learn something new every year and bring that new knowledge into the next season. Someday I hope I have enough knowledge to produce spinnable flax fiber.

I have processed the harvests for the first three years to the best of my ability. The only flax processing tools I own are two hackles. Last year’s harvest has been retted and dried but I haven’t processed it yet. I may be getting some real processing tools later in the fall.

I bought the first seed from a commercial seed brand. The resulting harvest was ok and I used the threshed seeds for the following seasons. Earlier this year, though, I bought the seed Ilona from a retiring flax farmer.

Flax harvest of 2018

I used the Ilona seed for the 2018 flax season. I have never had such long and straight plants! When I sowed the seed I got a little carried away, though. It was too much for my regular flax patch in the flower bed at the house. I decided to expand the experiment with a branch in the allotment. Unfortunately, I hadn’t enough seed for both patches. This resulted in the seed being spread unevenly, which in turn affected the quality of the flax harvest. Flax likes to be planted evenly and quite closely together. The further away the plants are from each other, the thicker the stems and the more seed capsules they will develop. For spinning the flax stems need to be thin and straight with fewer capsules. Perhaps the extreme weather contributed to the quality as well – the plants were uneven in both length and thickness.

Close-up of bundled-up flax stalks
Quite a difference in thickness of the flax plants in this year’s flax harvest.

When I pulled the plants I tried to pull the same length for the same bunch. I’m still concerned that I may have pulled a little too soon, but since this season has been so crazy, I didn’t want to keep it in the ground anymore.

The root of a flax plant
The flax is pulled straight from the ground, root and all. Photo by Dan Waltin

It is perfectly fine to pull the flax early, though. It will result in finer fibers, but also a less amount of mature seed to thresh for next season. So I will have to buy new seed and hopefully I will get some good quality seed from an experienced spinning flax farmer.

Flax seed pods
Sweet seed capsules

Next step: Rippling and retting

The next step in the process is rippling and retting the flax. I usually dew ret on the lawn just outside the house. But since the weather has been so dry, I think it will be a while before there is any dew to talk about, so I think I will wait a couple of weeks before I start the retting process. Meanwhile, the flax hangs safely on the wall of the house and looks pretty and promising. And I still have last year’s retted flax to process and some commercial flax to spin.

Happy spinning!


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New series: Flax

It’s flax season! I don’t want to spin flax indoors because of all the dirt that falls out in the process. This is why I basically only spin flax in the summer. Also, late summer and autumn is the time for flax processing. So, I will write a flax series.

In this series I will write about my own experimental flax patch, processing the fiber and spinning. To begin with, here is a short summary of the different steps in the process from seed to yarn.

Flax processing

Processing flax is quite labour intensive. Since I – so far – have a very small flax patch (about 2 square meters), it is manageable. These are, in short, the steps I go through with my flax in the process from seed to yarn:

Sowing

The seed can be sowed as soon as the soil is defrosted and manageable. I usually wait for the first weed to sprout. After deweeding, I’m ready to sow. This makes it a lot easier to distinguish the sprouting flax from weeds later on. To avoid the flax patch becoming a day bed for the neighbour’s cat, I usually place a grid a few inches over the ground.

Flax seeds
Flax seeds

Harvesting

I try to harvest about 30 days after the first blossom. I grab a bunch of plants and pull them right up, roots and all. Keeping the roots gives me a longer stalk. Also, the root protects the fiber from rotting (compared to a cut plant).

Drying

I make bundles of the flax and hang them over a fence in the sun to dry. I try to hang them high enough to avoid any curious rodents. When the flax is totally dry it is time to ret it.

Bundles of flax hanging to dry
Bundles of flax hanging to dry

Rippling

The seed capsules need to be removed from the stalks before you can process the fiber. This is done with a ripple. It looks like a big comb. You pull a bundle through the ripple, and the seed capsules fall off. The seed capsules are saved and threshed for next season.

I don’t own a ripple. Instead, I put the bundles in a pillow case and beat it with a mallet to remove the seed capsules from the stalks.

Retting

This is a tricky part and I don’t have enough experience to know when the retting is just right. Since we don’t have a stream nearby, my only option is to dew ret my flax. I spread the bundles in a thin layer on the lawn. If it isn’t wet enough, I water the flax with a watering pot. I have to watch the process carefully to avoid under or over retting. I also turn the flax once a week to get an even retting process. When the fibers separate easily from the core when I bend the stalk, the retting is finished.

When the retting is complete, I dry the flax in bundles.

Breaking

The flax stalk has a cellulose core. The flax fibers are placed around the core. To get hold of the fibers, the stalks needs to be broken. This process breaks the core, but not the fibers. Since I don’t own a flax breaker, I do it the stone age way – I try to crush the core with a stone against a rock. Sometimes it works.

Scutching

In the scutching process, the majority of the broken pieces of cellulose are removed from the fibers with a scutching knife. Since I don’t have one, I use a spatula. It doesn’t work very well.

Hackling

To separate the fibers I use two different hackles. A coarser one at first and then I continue to a finer one. This is the final part of the processing of the fiber. I end up with the hackled line flax and the coarser tow.

Spinning

I haven’t spun any of my own flax yet, mainly because I don’t think it has a good enough quality. I also haven’t practiced flax spinning to a point where I think I deserve to spin my own flax.

Coming up

In the next post in this series I will write about this year’s flax harvest.

Happy spinning!

Tweed!

Two balls of dark grey yarn with coloured specks in them

As I have mentioned before, I am taking part in PLY magazine’s spinalong 51 yarns. It is a theme-based spinalong based on the book 51 yarns by Jacey Boggs Faulkner. Each week they choose one participant who wins a year’s subscription to the magazine. I actually won on week 10: Semi worsted. This week’s theme is tweed.

Tweed: First try

I started a couple of weeks ago and planned to use short clips of handspun yarn that I had unplied and fluffed up. It didn’t work out very well. The fibers didn’t join in in the yarn. Instead they fell out and looked like lint that had got stuck to the yarn.

A ball of dark grey yarn on a stone
Tweed, first try: Failed.

A second try

Of course I wasn’t happy with the yarn. I could have settled for a failed yarn, but I didn’t. I really liked the specks of colour in the dark grey yarn and I knew I could do better. So I browsed for Sari silk and found a beautiful colour blend with turquoise as a main colour. I am very much in a turquoise period right now.

I picked it up from the post office just a few days later and it was as yummy in reality as it was on the picture online, perhaps even more so.

A braid of turquoise based sari silk
Sweet sari silk

Since I have no prior experience with tweed, I wanted to spin a couple of samples with different preparation to find the best way to spin the yarn. So I tried both with hand-combed top and hand-carded rolags.

The yarn I used was a beautiful dark grey mixbreed of Swedish finewool and Rya. The fleece got a gold medal at the 2017 Swedish fleece championships and I snatched it at the auction.

Hand-combed top

A ball of dark grey hand-combed wool with specks of colour in it.
Hand-combed top with sari silk

Before I started combing, I realized that there would be a problem with drawing the top off the comb. When you draw, you usually get the longest fibers first. This would mean that I would get all the sari silk bunched up in the end of the top. And this is exactly what happened. The sari silk was also more streaks of colour than tweedy specks. In addition to that, a lot of sari silk had got stuck in the tines of the combs.

I spun the yarn on a supported spindle and plied it on the fly. Just as I had suspected, the sari silk was unevenly spread across the yarn.

A spindle with dark grey yarn and some coloured specks.
Tweed yarn spun from hand-combed top and plied on the fly on a supported spindle. Almost all of the sari silk is hidden closest to the shaft.

Hand-carded rolag

Carding was a lot nicer than combing. I teased the locks by combinb, together with the sari silk. I pulled the wool off the combs tuft by tuft and loaded them on the cards and carded away. The sari silk was evenly spread across the rolag and it looked beautiful.

A rolag of dark grey wool with coloured specks in it.
A beautiful tweed rolag

I spun it the same way as I had spun the combed tops. I had to pay extra attention to the drafting. Usually, I stay away from nepps when I prepare for carding and I remove any nepps when I see them along the spinning. But this time I wanted to keep them in and I had to watch the yarn carefully so that the yarn didn’t break or get lumpy. But it did turn out beautifully.

A spindle with dark grey yarn with coloured specks.
Tweed yarn spun from hand-carded rolags and plied on the fly on a supported spindle. The sari silk is evenly spread throughout the tweed yarn. Spindle from Malcolm Fielding.

Thoughts

There are clear differences between the finished yarns. Structurewise of course, the yarn spun from carded rolags is fluffier and softer and the yarn spun from combed top is stronger and shinier. But also you can see the difference in the tweed structure. The yarn spun with carded rolags has the sari silk more evenly distributed. The yarn spun from combed top has the sari silk unevenly distributed.

Two balls of dark grey yarn with coloured specks in them.
The finished balls of yarn. On the left is yarn from carded rolags and on the right is yarn from combed top.

It is even more obvious in a knitted swatch. I knit it with the same needle gauge and with the same amount of stitches and rows. You can see the sari silk evenly distributed on the left swatch knitted with yarn spun with carded rolags. The fabric is a bit denser than the one to the right. It also feels softer. To the right is the swatch knit from the yarn spun with combed top. You can see that the sari silk is more dense at the bottom and less so at the top. The sari silk is also less obvious in this swatch since it is combed into the top and spun more as streaks of colour than specks. The sari silk to the left ‘pops’ more.

Two dark grey knitted swatches.
Swatching: Yarn from carded rolags on the left and combed top on the right.

Even if I suspected that the results would be different, I needed to feel it and see it. Only when I experience the difference in real time can I really appreciate it and learn something from it: I learn how fiber behaves and how these fibers in particular behave. My hands need to know the fiber to be able to spin the wool into its best yarn. After this experiment, I think I have a clue to how to accomplish that.

What’s next?

My plan now is to spin the whole fleece into yummy skeins of 3-ply tweed yarn. I will spin it with longdraw from carded rolags on my spinning wheel. I will probably make it a bit thicker, perhaps sport weight yarn. Also, I may use slightly less sari silk per rolag, I prefer it to be more subtle than in the swatch.

I also have secret plans to design a garment to fit the structure and feeling of the yarn.

I went from not having given tweed a second thought to planning to spin a whole fleece into tweed yarn and designing a garment to match it. That wouldn’t have happened without the spinalong. Thank you PLY magazine and 51 yarns!

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

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  • 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. You can subscribe or get an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
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