Åsen wool

Åsen sheep is one of the ten Swedish conservation breeds. Today’s blog post and an upcoming breed study webinar are all about Åsen wool. This is my ninth breed study. Previous breed studies have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool, Dalapäls wool, Värmland wool, Jämtland wool, finull wool, rya wool and Klövsjö wool.

This Saturday, May 29th at 5 pm CET I will host a free live breed study webinar on Swedish Åsen wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

Åsen sheep

Åsen sheep is one of the ten Swedish heritage breeds. This means that it is protected in gene banks and that the sheep farmers in the gene banks are not allowed to breed for specific characteristics, like the fleece. Therefore the fleece can vary a lot in a flock and in an individual.

The Åsen sheep were found in the 1990’s on three farms in the village of Åsen in county Dalarna. The flocks had been kept on the farms for many years with no interference from other breeds.

Åsen sheep. Photo by Ylva Örtengren.

Åsen sheep are one of the forest sheep breeds and quite small. Ewes weigh 40–50 kg and rams 50–55 kg. The rams usually have beautiful horns. In 2020 there were 465 breeding ewes registered with the Swedish sheep breeder’s association, in 55 flocks.

Wool characteristics

As most of the other Swedish heritage breeds, the wool of Åsen sheep can vary greatly between individuals and within one single individual. Some individuals have kemp in their fleece. Kemp is a hollow fiber that is designed to keep the staples upright to protect the sheep from rain running in to the skin. Usually the wool from Åsen sheep is easy to work with.

A wide variety of wool types are represented in this breed – pälsull type (mostly outercoat with a little undercoat), rya type (about 50/50 of outercoat and undercoat), vadmal type (mostly undercoat with a few strands of outercoat) and finull type (almost only undercoat).

Locks of different wool types from different individuals of åsen sheep.
Locks of different wool types from different individuals of Åsen sheep in one flock – from mostly outercoat wool to mostly undercoat wool.

The colours

The colour can vary from white to black with all the greys in between. Many sheep are born dark and lighten with age. So within a flock of sheep of different age there can be a wide variety of colours and shades. It is easy to see that you can spin a wide variety of yarn qualities and colours from a flock of Åsen sheep.

This ewe has three wool types in her fleece – rya wool type (left), finull wool type (middle) and vadmal wool type (right).
This ewe has three wool types in her fleece – rya wool type (left), finull wool type (middle) and vadmal wool type (right). You can see some kemp in the staples to the right.

Vadmal type wool

One of my favourite wool types is the vadmal wool type, with mostly undercoat fibers and just a few strands of outercoat fibers. Usually the staple is triangular in its shape, with a wide and airy undercoat base and a thin outercoat tip.

Mostly vadmal type wool in the staples from this Åsen ewe.

I contacted a shepherdess, Ylva, who has a flock of Åsen sheep. I asked her to get me samples of the different varieties of wool found on her sheep. And she delivered. She had fastened staples on cards with information about the sheep and some thoughts about the wool. You can see some of the samples in the images above.

The main characteristics

When I explore a fleece I want to get to the core of it. I look for the characteristics that I think represent the soul of the fleece. Every fleece is unique, but for the sake of these breed study webinars I choose characteristics that I think can work for the breed as a whole. The characteristics I chose for the Åsen wool fleeces I have worked with are

  • The versatility – there can be a wide variety of staple types in one single fleece. Across a flock there can also be a wide colour range from white to black.
  • The kindness – Åsen wool has a kind air to it. The soft but still a little rustic wool, the open staples and the gentle sheen.
  • The vadmal type staples. I do have a weak spot for this staple type. There is so much you can do with it!

Sample batches

From Ylva’s sample cards I found two favourites, the fleeces from sheep 16010 and 12002. The first two digits in the numbers tell the year the sheep were born. I specifically looked for the vadmal wool type, with most undercoat fibers and just a few strands of outercoat fibers. I asked Ylva if she could send me larger batches of them, which she could.

12002 – a little kemp, a little curl

I found all staple types in this Åsen fleece – from mostly outercoat to the left to mostly undercoat to the right.
I found all staple types in this Åsen fleece – from mostly outercoat to the left to mostly undercoat to the right.

In this fleece I found all the staple types, from mostly outercoat fibers to mostly undercoat fibers. However, the vast majority of the staples lean toward the more undercoaty edge of the range with finull type and vadmal type wool in the forefront. The staples aren’t very long, around 10 centimeters. It is mainly white but does have some light grey spots. Chances are that this sheep was born black.

The staples have a lovely shine and are somewhat silky to the touch. They are soft to touch while at the same time having just a brush of rusticity to them. I see that kindness I talked about earlier – this fleece is easy to work with and doesn’t make a lot of demands. It is kind and gentle. The staples are open and easy to draft.

When I see and feel this fleece I imagine woolen spun yarn for warm sweaters and an occasional hat.

16010 – a dream of vadmal wool

This fleece is a little bit rougher than 12002 above. The staples are considerably longer, around 18 centimeters with undercoat fibers 10 centimeter long. It is a lot more consistent with almost entirely rya type and vadmal type wool and a mix between the types. The fleece is creamy white and I see only a few black kemp fibers. The fibers are almost straight. This wool is a bit clingy to draft.

This fleece was shorn in the spring. Usually the spring shearing is of lesser quality than the fall shearing. This has a number of reasons, like lots of vegetable matter due to the sheep being indoors, pregnancy, cold and less fresh food. Ylva keeps her sheep outdoors all year round and they only seek shelter when they need to. This means that they don’t stand and lie in straw all winter. This fleece is clean and with a lovely quality.

Staples of Åsen wool. Most of them are of rya or vadmal type or in between.
The staples from this Åsen fleece were more consistent. Most of them were of rya or vadmal type or in between.

One technique that comes to mind when I feel this fleece is nalbinding. The soft and airy undercoat fibers will give the yarn warmth while the long and strong fibers will add strength. This wool felts easily, which is another excellent characteristic since I like to full my nalbinding projects for extra strength and windproofing.

Preparation

I chose the fleeces with the vadmal type wool because it is such a lovely type of wool to work with. Mostly soft, but with a little outercoat fibers to keep the fluff in order and add some strength. This wool type is quite rare and my heart sings whenever I dig my hands into a fleece with lots of vadmal type staples. The name vadmal type refers to the fact that a wool with this kind of undercoat to outercoat ratio is particularly suitable to weave for wadmal cloth, a thick broadcloth to keep you warm through the winter.

Åsen wool carded into fluffy rolags.
Åsen wool carded into fluffy rolags. This is from the first Åsen fleece I ever bought. It was a couple of years ago and my first fleece from Ylva’s flock.

While it is fully possible to separate the undercoat and outercoat fibers I choose to work with the fiber types held together. I want to card and spin a woolen yarn. With the majority of the fibers being soft and airy I get the warmth I want, and the few outercoat fibers will elegantly marry these together and add strength and stability to the yarn. So I tease the wool with combs and card rolags.

Spin

Carded rolags like these are just itching to be spun with an English longdraw. The short and airy undercoat fibers will make the draw light while the longer outercoat fibers will add just a little resistance to prevent the rolag or the yarn to fall apart.

A 2-ply tarn with low twist from åsen wool.
The resulting yarn from the rolags above. The skein has long since crossed the Atlantic and is in Sara Wolf’s safe knitting hands. Read more about her knitting samples in Knit (spin) Sweden!

I choose to keep quite a low twist here. I want to show off the wool and all its superpowers and keep the spinning simple. Doesn’t this skein portray a perfectly kind wool?

Use

The whole range

With the wide variety of staple types available in Åsen wool it is easy to understand that you can use the yarn for a wide variety of projects – knitted mittens, sweaters, hats as well as weft yarn for weaving. If you find a fleece with enough outercoat fibers warp yarn is definitely possible too. I know an Åsen shepherdess who spins both weft and warp and sews beautiful garments with the wool from her flock. The undercoat fibers from a soft lamb’s fleece would definitely be a candidate for next to skin garments.

Fulling

Coming back to the wool type vadmal wool – a fulled sample is a very good idea with a fleece like this. Such a lovely way to explore a fleece.

Woven square, 2-ply yarn and fulled square (from a woven square same as to the left) from Åsen sheep 16010. The fulled square took me less than five minutes to full to size.
Woven square, 2-ply yarn (that I didn’t have time to finish) and fulled square (from a woven square same as to the left) from Åsen sheep 16010. The fulled square took me less than five minutes to full to size.

As the fleece of sheep 16010 felt a bit clingy to draft I suspected that it would felt easily, so this was my wool of choice for a fulled sample. I wove a 10 x 10 cm square on my pin loom and started to full with hot water and some dish soap. It took me less than five minutes to full my woven sample to the size above. So I was right, the fleece was a very good candidate for fulling. In this I need to remind myself that wool preparation is a fresh produce, especially with a fleece that is this prone to felting – I will only card as much wool as I need for the day. Carded wool saved for the next day may well felt just by breathing too close to it.

It was a long time since I made something in nalbinding and I think a yarn like this would be a very good candidate. The airiness in the outercoat fibers brings warmth to the garment while the outercoat fibers will give the yarn strength. Just as with the previous nalbinding projects I have made I would full a pair of Åsen mittens. I know the felting properties of the wool and I can’t wait for winter.

A kind wool for teaching

Once I brought Åsen wool to a spinning course. I had several other breeds for the students to choose from, but the Åsen wool was by far the most popular choice, especially for the carding classes. Again, this is a kind and gentle wool. I also believe that some of the students contacted Åsen sheep farmers to buy Åsen wool after they had finished the course.

Live webinar!

This Saturday, May 29th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Swedish Åsen wool 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 Åsen wool. I will use Åsen wool 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.

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.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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 plan

Since 2014 I have had an experimental flax patch of around 1 square meter. The sole purpose of the patch has been to learn about flax husbandry and preparation. The results have varied in quality. I have said to myself that I will spin my flax when I think the quality is good enough or when I think I deserve to. This year I will stop procrastinating and start spinning. I have a flax plan!

The experimental flax patch

My first year wasn’t really part of the experiment, at least not when I started. I bought some flax seeds to grow as a companion plant for carrots and potatoes. As the season turned I decided to harvest the flax and go through all the processing steps. My tools were less than ideal – a rock for brake and a spatula for scutching. I did get a hackle, though! I used a pillowcase and a rolling pin to ripple the seeds (a method I have used until last season when I build a ripple myself).

Through the years I have sometimes processed my tiny flax harvest at Skansen open air museum. I have also got hold of all the tools – brake, scutching board and scutching knives, a fine hackle and a flax brush, plus the ripple I built.

The resulting bundles of processed flax through the years have been of very varying quality. But I have learned something new every year, just as I intended.

One square meter of flax

Last year, Västra Götaland region in Sweden started the project 1kvmlin, one square meter of flax. Anyone in the region could, to no charge, get a bag of flax seeds enough for one square meter. In a Facebook group the participants could learn from each other. I think there were also flax processing workshops. The project was a success. This year all regions in Sweden participated. I planted my patch this week and I might plant another square meter in our allotment.

I love the community feeling of a project like this. Individuals, schools, organizations and others get involved in an activity that once was an industry that thrived and, sadly, died.

A flax plan

Through the years I have saved my processed flax and put it away. I have told myself that I would spin it when the quality was good enough. But how would I know that unless I tried? So many people all over Sweden are trying this, with far less experience than I have. So I’m jumping in now, extending my experimental flax patch to experimental flax spinning. My flax plan this summer is to spin.

Other flax sources

I have spun flax before, just not my own. I bought one kilo of processed flax from Växbo lin, a linen weaving mill situated in an area with a very long flax and linen tradition. The flax they use, though comes from France and Belgium. The Swedish flax industry died in the late 19th century due to import of cotton.

Spinning flax at the balcony in 2017. Note the distaff – a real flax distaff placed in the tube my blocking wires came in. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I do have flax that was processed in Sweden, though. My brother’s mother-in-law Birgitta was brought up in the heart of one of the the traditional flax regions in Sweden. Her parents grew flax and sent it for processing. She has saved it and recently asked if I wanted it. When she first asked me I didn’t know the story of her flax. I remembered all the unspun flax I had an declined her kind offer. When she told me the story and that it was old flax from her childhood home I immediately changed my mind. This was a true treasure.

The processing mill Birgitta mentioned was active between 1943 and 1953, so The flax from her parents’ home must have been processed at this time. Birgitta doesn’t spin herself, but she has woven from the flax from her childhood home. She remembers her grandmother spinning.

Summer plans

So, my plan is to spin flax this summer. As many of you know there is a lot of dust involved when spinning flax and I don’t want to subject myself to that. Therefore I will only spin it outdoors, which leaves summer to spin. Our terrace is the place I flee to in the afternoon when it gets too hot for me in the sun in the front of the house.

If I get the courage I will also spin the tow. I have no experience with this, so my plan is to create my own experience. You’ve got to start somewhere. These are sentences I tell my students and it’s time I listen to the teacher.

Flax videos

In the video Spinning flax on a spindle I show you how I prepare the processed flax for the distaff and how I spin it on an in-hand spindle. For some odd reason this is by far my most watched video. There is also a lovely video where I process my flax at Skansen open air museum.

Flax blog posts

The easiest way to find earlier blog posts about flax is to use the search field and type flax. Below are some of my favourite flax posts.

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.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.

Longitudinal study

A couple of months ago I started playing with the idea of a longitudinal study of the fleece of one individual sheep through its lifetime. The idea grew on me and I contacted Claudia Dillmann, a shepherdess with a small flock of Swedish Gestrike sheep. This is the first post in a what I hope will be a long row of posts from different perspectives of the fleeces of one sheep.

A width of perspectives

A longitudinal study allows me to look at the changes in an individual sheep’s fleece during its lifetime, over the seasons, in different weather conditions and other environmental factors like pregnancy, food and choices a sheep farmer needs to make. It will give me an opportunity to look in depth at a fleece and how it develops during the sheep’s lifetime. It will also give me a deeper understanding of what factors influence the quality of the fleece and all the work a sheep farmer invests in their flock to keep it healthy.

Fleece subscription

Claudia has a small flock of the Swedish conservation breed Gestrike sheep (yes, there will be a webinar eventually) at her farm about two hours from my house. She is also a board member of the Swedish sheep breeders’ association (Svenska Fåravelsförbundet) and responsible for skin and fleece. She is very knowledgeable about fleece and Swedish sheep breeds.

I asked Claudia if I could “subscribe” to the fleece of one of her sheep. Preferably a lamb to get hold of the first shearing. She loved the idea and a couple of weeks later she presented the sheep Gunvor as my subscription sheep.

About shearing in Sweden

Before I move on with Gunvor’s story I want to cover the shearing a bit. Sheep must be shorn at least once a year according to the law, but most sheep in Sweden are shorn twice a year. A whole year’s fleece may get felted and become very difficult to both shear and process. Usually the sheep are shorn in late fall and early spring. This follows the natural rhythm of the fleece growth and is usually adapted to the lambing periods.

Many sheep farmers have the ram serve the ewes in late fall. It is a good idea to have the sheep shorn before that so the fleece isn’t in the way of the mating. It is also a good idea to shear the sheep a few weeks before they lamb. Shearing a sheep with littluns crying their little hearts out for their mum can be a challenge. And they may not even recognize her afterwards without her coat.

The fall shearing usually has a higher quality than the spring shearing. The sheep have been grazing during the summer and the fleece has grown a lot from the nutrients in the fresh food. During the winter the sheep are usually pregnant. Some of you may know what can happen to your hair during pregnancy when most of the energy goes straight to the fetus. It is the same for sheep. The sheep also produce more lanolin during the winter to keep warm. Hey and straw can easily find their way into the fleece. Still, for the purpose of a longitudinal study I want to experience the difference between fall and spring shearings.

Gunvor the Gestrike sheep

Gunvor was born in May 2020. She is the lamb of Gosprick (“cuddle spots”) which came to Claudia from Vallby open air museum in 2014. Gunvor was Gosprick’s last lamb and Gosprick has now moved on to greener pastures.

Gunvor the Gestrike sheep in April 2021, a few weeks before the second shearing. Photo by Claudia Dillmann.

Gunvor had her first shearing in October 2020. As Gunvor was so young Claudia decided not to let the ram serve her the first year, so the outgrowing second fleece wasn’t affected by pregnancy. Lucky for me, Claudia had saved Gunvor’s first fleece and was a good choice when I asked Claudia for a sheep to subscribe to.

A bike ride through town

A couple of weeks ago Gunvor was freed from her second fleece. Claudia and I live a couple of hours away from each other. I don’t drive and I didn’t want to sit for two hours in public transportation during the pandemic. Instead Claudia sent Gunvor’s first and second fleece with a friend of hers who was going to Stockholm (thank you Kristina!). This week I took the bike through town to collect them. Next time I hope I can get to Claudia’s farm and meet her and Gunvor.

Two bags full! Gunvor's first and second fleeces ride safely home with me.
Two bags full! Gunvor’s first and second longitudinal study fleeces ride safely home with me. The saddle cover was once part of a Gotland sheep that belonged to my husband’s late aunt.

Whenever I ride my bike with the bags full of wool I giggle on the bike path. No one would even think that I had raw fleece in those bike bags. I secretly imagine the fleeces enjoying the rush of the wind through a beautiful Stockholm along the shore of Lake Mälaren.

First and second fleeces: A first look

I haven’t come very far with the fleeces yet, but I did notice a few things as I unpacked them. I soaked both fleeces in warm water and rinsed in three waters. Nothing added, just water and love.

First shearing

The first shearing (Claudia always hires professional shearers for her sheep) was very loose and the staples didn’t hold together. Therefore I don’t know where the staples were shorn off Gunvor’s body. They are black and white, a little more white wool than black. Most of the staples are of rya type – around 50 percent undercoat and 50 percent outercoat, long, quite straight and cone shaped. You can read about the Swedish wool types here. The lamb’s lock ends each staple with a sweet curl.

The fleece feels light and airy. Most of the staples feel like medium in their fineness, but some feel very fine and soft while others are coarser.

The staples are quite long, some around 20 centimeters. I can see some white kemp but not very much. The black fibers feel softer than the white.

Second shearing

When I emptied the bag with the second shearing the staples kept together. I could just about map out the fleece to see what went where. I could define the tight mid back staples, the coarser leg staples and the soft neck curls.

I also noticed a lighter colour. Claudia tells me that many Gestrike lambs are born black or spotted but that the fleece usually turns lighter during their first year or so. The staples are also generally shorter than the first fleece. This seems fully logical since the main growth period is during the summer. The second shearing is a bit coarser than the first, but not significantly. At the same time the staples seem airier, puffier. Perhaps this is a winter thing to keep the sheep warmer.

This fleece also has some vegetable matter in it. Claudia tells me that her sheep can choose to be outdoors or indoors during the winter. That way they don’t stand or lie in straw all the time. Usually they shake off straw, but some of it will of course stay in the fleece. By being outdoors snow and rain will clean the fleeces. The vegetable matter is quite easy to remove and I don’t worry about it. I find some Timothy grass here and there. Even if I know they are a nuisance I still smile. They are a reminder that the fleece in my hands comes from a grazing sheep with all that it brings with it.

Shearing timing

When it comes to the Swedish heritage breeds the spring shearing is best done in February or May. Through the energy from the grass (that starts growing in May in many parts of Sweden) the lanolin production will decrease and the wool will be easier to shear. Gunvor was shorn in April, though. The shearer told Claudia that the sheep took hard work to shear because of the high amount of lanolin and the stubborn staples. Therefore there are more second cuts than the shearer had wished for. The second cuts are easy to remove, though. A lot of them also came out with the soaking water.

If you look at the staple picture from the spring shearing you will notice little yellow spots towards the cut end. That is accumulated lanolin. Claudia tells me that this shearing was unusually greasy and the shearer needed to clean the shears several times during the shearing. It will be interesting to see how much difference this high amount of lanolin will make in preparing and spinning the wool.


These were my first observations of the first and second fleeces of Gunvor. There will be more! My longitudinal study of Gunvor’s fleece has officially started and it will continue during Gunvor’s lifetime. I hope I can go see Gunvor and Claudia soon.

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.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.

Fulling singles

For the past couple of months I have been spinning singles on a floor supported Navajo style spindle for knitting. When knitting with singles yarns the fabric may bias. Sometimes you want the bias for artistic reasons, but in my project I don’t. Instead I play with fulling singles.

I love spinning singles on my floor supported spindles. Typically I have used my singles as weft yarns in weaving project, and the energy in the yarn hasn’t made any difference in the woven textile.

Unbiased

This summer I bought Nancy Marchant’s Tuck stitches where all the samples were knit in singles. I totally fell for the structure and the stitch definition in the fabric and knew I wanted to challenge myself and experiment with a singles yarn in a knitted fabric. There are basically three solutions if you don’t want the yarn to bias:

  • You can use a balanced knitting pattern that prevents the bias, like ribbing, basketweave, garter stitch or moss stitch.
  • You can full the yarn
  • Also, you can knit alternately with yarns spun in different directions.

Fulling solutions

Come to think of it, I actually did all three, but for the purpose of this post I will focus on the fulling part. In Sarah Anderson’s book The spinner’s book of yarn designs I read that fulling is a light form of felting. The fibers in the yarn stick together and are prevented from living their energized selves. The singles will thereby calm down. Bonuses are that they will also be stronger and less prone to pilling than their unfulled equivalent.

Unfulled singles.
Unfulled singles.

There are few ways you can full your yarn. The three methods I have heard of are

  • steaming in a steamer. You put the yarn in a steamer and watch closely.
  • steaming with an iron. With this method you can hold a steaming iron above the skein still on the niddy noddy. This is perfect for warp yarn that you may want to stay reasonably straight.
  • shocking in hot and cold water.

What wools to full?

Before I write about my fulling process I will mention a few words about what wools to full. Not every type of woo fulls. Usually, what is generally called meat breeds and meat breed crosses don’t do a very good job of fulling. Others full when you glance sideways at them. Like the Värmland wool I used for this project. It has felted in the cut ends just by having been placed in a paper bag in my sofa bed together with other bags of wool. In this project I salute the fulling characteristics (after having cursed for a bit).

Noisy wool and pine cones

My favorite wool oracle Kia recently told me that you can listen to the wool to determine its felting possibilities before you actually try felting it. “Come on”, you may say, “you talk about listening to the wool all the time!” That is very true, but Kia means really listen. Orally.

Pine cones help explaining the scales on different kinds of wools. The old and rustling wools have scales that point outward. They catch on to each other for drafting but not enough for felting. The young and silent wools have scales that are snug to the fiber. These wools are champion welters.
Pine cones help explaining the scales on different kinds of wools. The old and rustling wools have scales that point outward. They catch on to each other for drafting but not enough for felting. The young and silent wools have scales that are snug to the fiber. These wools are champion welters.

Typically (and surely with exceptions) meat breeds and meet breed crosses rustle if you hold them by the ear and squeeze a bit. Other wools, like Swedish landrace and heritage breeds, are totally silent. Kia explains that on the noisy fibers the scales are pointing outwards, like ripe pine cones. That makes the wool easy to spin, but the felting abilities are not top notch since the scales don’t catch onto each other deep enough. The silent wools on the other hands, are like young pine cones with the scales close to the fiber. When agitated or shocked they close down, catching on to each other for dear life. Again, with exceptions from these examples.

Fulling singles

Until now I haven’t fulled yarn on purpose, so I just picked a method and fulled until I liked the result. I didn’t make any tests really, but followed my gut and dived headfirst into the full (pun very much intended) experience.

Shocking

I decided to shock my yarn in hot and cold water. Mainly because it seemed like the easiest way. After washing the yarn I filled two bowls with water – one with the hottest tap water (55 °C in this case) and the other with the coldest tap water (12°C). I read that some people filled the cold water bowl with ice cubes. Both methods seem to work well. The abrupt change in temperature shocks the wool and starts the felting process.

I am sure there are ways to microscopically determine a certain degree of fulling before you can actually see it. To make things easy for myself I just decided to go slow and trust my eyes and my hands in touching the yarn.

The strands in the right skein are still free to move while the strands in the left skein have started to catch on to each other.
The strands in the right skein are still free to move while the strands in the left skein have started to catch on to each other.

I simply put the skeins in one bowl, lifted, gently squeezed out the water and lowered it down in the other bowl. Back and forth until I noticed a difference. What I went for was what I had seen when I had previously accidentally felted skeins while dyeing. If this has never ever happened to you I will explain: The thing I look for is when the strands are no longer completely free to move around.

As soon as one skein was fulled to the degree I describe above I lifted it out of the water. The smallest skeins were faster to felt while the larger ones took a bit longer.

In the microscope

Writing about this actually inspires me to look at the yarn in my loupe. On the pictures below you can see that the fibers in the unfulled yarn (left) are looser in the spin. The fibers in the fulled yarn (right) are more compact in the yarn.

So what happened?

Looking at all my fulled skeins hanging to dry made me a bit nervous. It’s not like you can change your mind about fulling. It sort of sticks. What if I had felted all of them?

To find out I reskeined the fulled skeins after they had dried. The strands did stick together a bit, but no yarn was broken or damaged during the process. The reskeining also gave me the opportunity to calculate the new length after fulling. Out of the 15 skeins I fulled most shrunk only one meter (about 1 % of the total length), one shrunk around 3 meters.

I am very happy with my fulled yarn. The skeins look and feel equally fulled and work well in my knitting project. They yarn feels like it has a body – well rounded and strong. I trust that it will not break, despite its singleness. It is a pleasure to knit and doesn’t split.

Fulled singles with lovely stitch definition in a tuck stitch pattern.
Fulled singles with lovely stitch definition in a tuck stitch pattern.

Going back to that book with the single yarn samples I admired so much I think this yarn has potential to become something really lovely.

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.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.

A coloured fleece

Sport weight single yarn of four shades of brown from Pax's fleece. Spun from hand carded rolags on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 100 meters, 44 grams. 2270 m/kg. Can I keep this for cuddling?

A year ago I bought a coloured fleece at a fleece market. Or two, actually. One brown and one grey. I didn’t mean to, but they called my name and there was nothing I could do. Today I sort the brown Värmland fleece and dive into its depths.

I have a soft spot for coloured fleeces. In online courses and webinars I usually work with white wool since it shows better on camera (at least with my limited photo skills). But a coloured fleece has a whole new dimension to dive in to.

Pax, a coloured fleece

The diversity of the coloured fleece is what lures me to dive deep and lose myself in the shades. Not only are there spots of different colours, but the tip and the cut ends can be different in colour, as can the undercoat and outercoat. There is so much to discover.

A brown Värmland fleece of many shades.
A brown Värmland fleece of many shades.

Walnut, hazel, driftwood and umber

I decide to sort the locks of the Värmland sheep Pax’s fleece into piles of different colours. I start roughly by picking out all the darker walnut staples I can find. They are disappearingly soft and quite short, some seemingly too short to spin. They seem to consist of mostly undercoat. Perhaps they have grown around Pax’s neck.

Four shades of Pax's fleece – walnut, driftwood, hazel and umber.
Four shades of Pax’s fleece – umber, driftwood, hazel and walnut.

I also find two shades of grayish brown – light hazel and slightly darker driftwood. Both colour staples are silky soft and have bleached tips. The fibers are not as fine as the walnut fibers, but for some reason these lighter coloured staples feel silkier. Perhaps because I don’t expect it. The different feel of the piles give me a hint that the colours will feel different to draft. I need to keep that in mind when I spin.

The different coloured staples of Pax's fleece are different in texture.
The different coloured staples of Pax’s fleece are also different in texture.

The driftwood pile grows larger and larger and I sort it again to look for more shades. I find something of a mix between the driftwood and the walnut. Umber, perhaps. I could probably go on and find more fractions of colours. However, for the project I have in mind I want some distinction between the shades and I am happy with my colour quartet.

New dimensions

When I look at the staples I see that there are still more colours than the four I have sorted out. There are different colour fibers in each staple. Most of the walnut staples are solid walnut, but the others sparkle of different shades. This brings even more depth in the wool and in the yarn I have planned.

The outercoat of the different colours look darker in all four cases.
The outercoat of the different colours look darker than the undercoat in all four cases. The hazel undercoat (bottom right) seem to still have at least two colours even after the separation.

Even though the staples feel a bit different from pile to pile, the distribution of undercoat and outercoat seem fairly similar – a lot of airy undercoat and a few strands of strong outercoat. For this reason I would say that most of the staples are of vadmal type according to the Swedish tradition of classifying staple types.

Vadmal type staples like these with mostly airy undercoat and a few strands of outercoat make perfect carding candidates – the crimpy and unruly undercoat fibers will help building air pockets in the rolags and the longer and stronger outercoat fibers will marry them together, creating a reliable reinforcement in the midst of the cuddly soft.

Colour scheme

I separate the colours because I want to show them one by one. To do that I need to find a combination that doesn’t blur them all together. I play and move around until I land in harmony. Walnut, hazel, umber, driftwood and back to walnut.

I use my combing station to tease one pile at a time. In this process I get a first idea of how each colour drafts. A lot of the walnut staples are very short and there is a lot of waste in this pile (which is also the smallest pile). I suspected that when I sorted the staples. The difference between the hazel and the driftwood is very small, but they are still somewhat distinct between the walnut and the umber.

Yarn of a coloured fleece

I want to make the colours the stars of the yarn I spin from Pax’s fleece. No fuss, no fancy, just a single strand of yarn, moving from shade to shade.

Walnut, driftwood, umber and hazel.
Walnut, driftwood, umber and hazel.

My favourite tool for spinning singles is the floor supported Navajo style spindle. With this tool I have a good overview and control of the spinning right in front of me. I see every potential lump and have the opportunity to open up the twist to smooth it out. I never want to stop. This tool is the perfect companion to the colour quartet. Every rolag amazes me – the depth of the colours is truly mesmerizing.

Long draws

The floor supported spindle also gives me the opportunity to make long, smooth longdraws that just melt in my hand like butter. Again, I never want to stop. Rolling the shaft against my thigh charges the rolag with twist. I make the draw. Long, smooth, slow. Like syrup. I watch the draft closely, to find when the thickness is exactly right. I slack the strand to control the twist and roll the yarn onto the shaft.

Sport weight single yarn of four shades of brown from Pax's fleece. Spun from hand carded rolags on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 100 meters, 44 grams. 2270 m/kg. Can I keep this for cuddling?
Sport weight single yarn of four shades of brown from Pax’s fleece. Spun from hand carded rolags on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 100 meters, 44 grams. 2270 m/kg. Can I keep this for cuddling?

The colours pass by my eyes rolag by rolag. I get to spend time with each section of browns, one at a time. When I have finished one rolag I butterfly it onto my spinning hand and transfer it to the lower cop. Again, the colours wind onto the cop in an ever changing spiral.

My heart sings as I see the cop build up of a thousand strands of brown. No spinning mill can separate the colours of a fleece like this – they would spin a solid oatmeal. I sort and spin for colours because it is possible for me as a hand spinner. Because I can.

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.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.

Embrace your mistakes

At the moment I’m teaching a digital course in wool knowledge to a spinning group in Sweden. At last week’s lecture I talked about analyzing the wool characteristics of a fleece. One student , E, said she was a beginner and didn’t know what can be expected by a characteristic. Her question gave me a lot to think about. I want to turn her concern around and highlight the superpowers of working in a new field. Today I want you to embrace your mistakes.

Sometimes it can be frustrating to be a beginner. For me just as for anyone else. The feeling of shortcomings in a group where you feel everybody else knows way more than you do can be discouraging. In moments like these I choose to flip the whole thing around and see the superpowers in being a beginner.

My very first skein of handspun yarn. Fine finull lamb's wool, hand carded on rusty cards and plied with some fawn alpaca since I didn't have enough fleece.
My very first skein of handspun yarn. Fine finull lamb’s wool, hand carded on rusty cards and plied with some fawn alpaca since I didn’t have enough fleece.

Embrace your mistakes

To understand something craft related I need to feel it. If there is a rule, like “don’t use a woolen spun yarn for warp” or “a two-end knitting yarn needs to be firm” I need to experience the consequences. When I have lived it and learned it I can make progress with that lesson in the back of my head and, most importantly, in the memory of my hands. I can also experiment with the boundaries of that rule. Can I use a woolen spun yarn for a very loose sett? What is too soft in a two-end knitting yarn?

Soft and thin yarn from very fine finull lamb's wool. Way too soft for two-end knitting.
Soft and thin yarn from very fine finull lamb’s wool, spun in 2012. Way too soft for two-end knitting.

Deriving the rules

One of the superpowers of being a beginner is that I don’t know the rules. Or, perhaps I have heard of the rules, but mostly in the terms of “Don’t do this, or that will happen”. I need to see and feel for myself to understand why it is wise to go one way instead of the other. I need to learn the mistakes through my hands. Sort of like deriving pythagoras’ theorem to understand why it works. When I don’t know the rules I am most likely to break them and learn something along the way.

Too soft two-end knitting yarn

When I held a spindle in my hand for the first time, on my first spinning lesson, I wanted to spin a Z-plied yarn for two-end knitting. There’s an optimistic attitude for ya! Two-end knitting didn’t happen with that first yarn, but a while later I did make a Z-plied yarn. From the softest finull lamb’s fleece (first beginner’s mistake). Way underspun (second beginner’s mistake). But I didn’t realize that until I had started my two-end knitting project. The yarn broke over and over, but I kept knitting. I did end up with a pair of mittens (fulled, I might add) that I used daily for many winters. When the thumbs needed mending I mended. I am still proud of the mittens and I embrace the mistakes I made.

The Swedish finewool sheep Pia-Lotta. The mittens are two-end knitted from yarn I spun from Pia-Lotta's fleece. Photo by Dan Waltin
The Swedish finewool sheep Pia-Lotta. The mittens are two-end knitted from yarn I spun from Pia-Lotta’s lamb’s fleece. Photo by Dan Waltin

Sock string

The opposite happened with my recent sock yarn. I wanted to make the yarn durable but ended up with string in my first try. But I learned from that, tried again, and succeeded with a softer, but still strong sock yarn. I don’t want to unlearn that lesson.

I am knitting a pair of socks for Dan in this yarn as we speak. They should be strong enough, but I don’t know yet. The yarn makes a clear dent across my left index finger as I knit. I hope they aren’t too scratchy to wear. This proves that my sock project still has lots of potential mistakes to embrace!

Freedom of creation

Sometimes I don’t even know rules exist. That way I can be free in my expression and create from my core. I can follow an idea straight from my heart all the way to a finished project. I will definitely meet challenges and make lots of mistakes. However, when it comes to my handspun I know how much time and love I have invested in it and I just have to make it work. I owe it to the sheep, the sheep farmer and the craft. Making something work despite a big blob of a challenge forces me to use more creativity to work around it. And that is definitely a superpower.

A few years ago I got a beautiful fleece with a lot of lanolin in the tips. I stored it for about a year and decided to start working with it. By then the grease had solidified and was very difficult to work through. Combing it was tough and left my shoulders and arms strained and the wool lumpy. After having experimented for a while I decided to tease the locks with a flicker before loading them to the comb (check out this post about the fleece and watch the two videos in it, showing the difference between combing with unflicked and flicked tips). The combing was easier on my back and resulted in less lumps and less waste.

A map of what I have learned

When I learn something the hard way I will remember what I have learned. My hands will remember. Especially when I look at what I have created. I say this all the time to my students and I mean it from the bottom of my heart: My mistakes are a map of what I have learned. I can look at a finished fabric and see the mistakes. At that instant I know what went wrong, why, what I did to fix it and how I can put that new knowledge to use in following projects.

Warp wisdom

One of my first weaving projects was the Blanka pillowcase. I spun the warp on a supported spindle from the cut ends of flicked locks and the weft on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. I wove the pillowcase as a tube, with two layers of warp on top of each other. The warp ends were very sticky and I had to separate them manually. I think over 30 warp threads broke, on the top layer as well as the bottom layer. I had spent so many hours spinning this yarn, from a prize winning fleece, and I just had to finish it. Eventually I did. I mended the weave by threading a needle with the warp yarn and sewing up and down in the space where the warp thread had broken. I am not afraid of broken warp threads anymore and I know how to fix them.

I must admit I have had to use this knowledge a few times after the disastrous pillow warp too, in the Frida Chanel bag and the stick wrap.

Another lesson in the Blanka pillowcase project was that spinning from individual staples creates lots of joins that are sensitive to abrasion and easily break. I avoid that in weaving nowadays and find other ways to spin the yarn without moving too far away from my creative needs. The pillow lives in our sofa, I wear the bag and I use the stick wrap when I weave. I see the mistakes every day. And I embrace them.

Exploring the boundaries

Some of the times that I have revisited a mistake it has been as an experiment to find out where the limits are. By exploring the boundaries I can find out how much I can bend the rules. If a warp yarn is sticky but still strong enough it will take a lot more time and disrupt the flow. But nothing bad will happen. If the warp threads are strong they will just cling, not break. The worst case scenario is that I will spend more time with the weaving. I don’t see that as a problem.

The joy of the heterogenous fleece

I work with handspun yarn in general and Swedish breeds in particular. More often than not they are unique and heterogenous. I need to compromise with the rules to make the textile work with the unique yarn that I spin. By learning – the hard way – how different yarns work in different kinds of weaves I can explore the boundaries.

A woolen spun Gute warp yarn in a loose sett.
A woolen spun Gute warp yarn in a loose sett.

During the fall I have spun a Gute warp yarn. The Gute wool is very prone to felting, very variegated in staple length, staple type and fiber type. Fibers are sticking out of the yarn and are just waiting for a neighbouring fiber to hold on to. But I still want to fulfill my goal of a light, fulled textile made of my handspun Gute wool. So despite all the rules and recommendations I made a woolen spun Gute warp yarn. The yarn has quite a high twist and the sett is very loose (so that I can full it). And it works. If it doesn’t, I will mend broken warp threads. I know how to do that now.

There will be more wool

Working with your mistakes instead of dreading them is a valuable way to learn more about how your fiber works. Without the mistakes I have made – from the very first blobby skein, through he recent sock string and to all future projects – I wouldn’t have been able to understand the wool I am working with.

The saddest mistakes I have made have been with fleeces that have grown too old and brittle and I have had to use them as mulching in the garden. But even then they come into use. And there will always be more wool. If you lose one unique fleece there will be another equally unique fleece just around the corner of the pasture.

So thank you, E, for your important question. Play, explore and learn. Embrace your mistakes. They will make out a beautiful map of what you have learned.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  1. 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.
  2. My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  3. I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  4. I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  5. 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.
  6. Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  7. Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

The bottom of the basket

The bottom of the basket.

A basket full of wool can feel like an endless supply of woolly goodness. After having prepared what may seem like three bags full of wool the content still looks untouched. But the supply is not endless. Sooner or later you will get to the bottom of the basket. I did this week.

By spending time with the wool my hands learn how the wool behaves and how it wants to be spun.
By spending time with the wool my hands learn how the wool behaves and how it wants to be spun.

I love digging my hands in a new spinning project. Fiber by fiber I get to know the fleece – fiber length, elasticity, crimp, colour, shine, fiber type, staple type. These characteristics are there for me to discover. If I only invest my time and focus in the fleece they will present themselves to me. My hands will investigate and learn how the fibers behave on their way from staples to yarn:

  • How do the fibers blend in the preparation?
  • What is the draft like? Is it smooth, fudgy, resistant, slippery, light?
  • How do my hands adapt to the length of the fibers?
  • How does the lanolin work with me in the draft?

Fiber by fiber, meter by meter, my hands are programmed with the knowledge they gain from handling the wool. Always alert, always ready to reevaluate.

The bottom of the basket

But sooner or later, believe it or not, I do reach the bottom of the basket. I look down and there is not a single staple left. The wool that my hands have become so used to, so familiar with, is no more. Just like when I finish a good book – the characters and context I have come to know and love are suddenly just gone. And I miss them. I miss the wool that have become a safe space. My hands and mind have been in this particular wool for so long and now that it is gone I truly miss it.

The bottom of the basket.
The bottom of the basket.

Time spent is knowledge gained

The wool has taught me so much. Even if I can’t always put words on what I have learned – although I try to – my hands will have adapted to the characteristics of the wool. Through all the times the fibers have gone through my hands they will know how to work with the wool. Crafting is the knowledge of the hands. The knowledge from spending hours and hours with the material, the idea, the design and the tools. That knowledge is priceless.

Through handling the fibers again and again my hands have learned how the wool behaves and wants to be spun. The result this time is 12 skeins of cable-plied rya/mohair sock yarn, 454 grams and 826 meters.
Through handling the fibers again and again my hands have learned how the wool behaves and wants to be spun. The result this time is 13 skeins of cable-plied rya/mohair sock yarn, 454 grams and 826 meters.

The knowledge in numbers

I just amused myself with calculating the time spent on my latest spin, that got me to the bottom of the basket. Each of the skeins of my rya/mohair cable-plied sock yarn took:

  • 40 minutes for teasing
  • 40 minutes for carding
  • 2.5 hours for spinning
  • 30 minutes for the first S-ply
  • 20 minutes for the second S-ply
  • 20 minutes for the Z cable ply.

That sums up to 5 hours per skein. I spun 13. That is 65 hours of fibers going through my hands. Plus another few hours of washing fleece, sorting, blending, washing the finished yarn and dyeing. Let’s say 75 hours (mohair takes a lot of time to wash). That is 75 hours of being in the fleece. 75 hours of the fleece telling me what it is and how it wants to be treated (for a further discussion on time and cost of handspun, have a look at this post about calculations).

The bottom of the basket is full of knowledge.
The bottom of the basket is full of knowledge.

When I get to the bottom of the basket I realize it is not empty. I have gained not only a pile of handspun skeins yarn, but also a basketful of knowledge and experience.

I will miss handling this wool for a while. But I will also smile and walk a little prouder. I have a basketful of sparkling new knowledge. Knowledge that I will be able to put into my forthcoming baskets.

Happy spinning!


Gotta go now, I have birthday cake to eat. Our eldest turns 18 today (the age of majority in Sweden) and I am suddenly the mother of an adult.


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.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.

Klövsjö wool

Klövsjö sheep is one of Sweden’s ten conservation breeds. In this post I present my experience with the long, strong and shiny Klövsjö wool.

Klövsjö sheep

Klövsjö sheep, is one of the ten conservation breeds in Sweden. Much like the other conservation breeds they were found in the early 1990’s and considered a breed of their own. They were found in the town of Klövsjö in Jämtland in mid-Sweden. Just like the other heritage breeds, the goal is to save the breed with the biggest genetic diversity possible. The breeding aims should not be directed towards a specific characteristics, like the wool.

For a heritage breed Klövsjö sheep are rather large. Rams can weigh 60–80 kg and ewes 45–70 kg. They can get very old, 15 years is not unusual. One of the shepherdesses of the found flocks says her grandmother made porridge for the oldest ewes who had no teeth left so they would make it through the winter.

The statistics from the Swedish sheep breeder’s association state that in 2019 there were 600 breeding ewes in 83 flocks.

Most Klövsjö sheep are white, black or black with white spots in face or on the legs. Klövsjö sheep are affectionate and the ram can usually go with the flock all year round.

Many of the heritage breeds, including Klövsjö sheep, are shorn twice a year. If not, there is a risk that the fleece will felt and be difficult to handle for both shearer and crafter.

Wool characteristics

Klövsjö wool is a dual coat with long, shiny outercoat and soft and fine undercoat. The lock is almost straight with defined staples. The outercoat is coarse and not suitable for next to skin garments. As you can see, the Klövsjö looks a lot like Rya wool. The klövsjö wool I got is a good example of a fleece with mostly staples of rya type.

The shine of Klövsjö wool is exceptional. Especially the outercoat, but there is lots of lovely shine in the undercoat as well.

The Klövsjö ewe Frida's beautiful fleece.
The Klövsjö ewe Frida’s beautiful fleece, unwashed.

The Klövsjö fleece I have is an autumn shearing of a grown sheep. The outercoat is around 18 cm and the undercoat 10.

Prepare

In the 2019 Swedish fleece championships I got my hands on the lovely Klövsjö fleece from the lamb Frida. I decided to plan for a warp yarn with Frida’s outercoat. Therefore I chose to separate outercoat from undercoat and spin them into different yarns. The outercoat makes out the warp yarn and the undercoat may become a soft knitting yarn.

Separating with combs

To separate outercoat from undercoat I use my combing station with two-pitched combs. The two-pitched combs grab hold of the shorter undercoat better than combs with only one row of tines, which makes the separation easier.

I load the stationery comb with the locks, putting the outermost edge of the cut end on the tines so that close to no fiber shows on the handle end of the comb. I comb with the tines perpendicularly to each other in a horizontal circular movements. Since the fibers are so long I need to make bold and dramatic movements. If not, there is a risk that the fibers in the combs aren’t separated and there will be loops which will make a mess.

When as much as possible of the wool is on the active comb I make the circular movement vertical, tines still perpendicular to each other.

I use combs with a combing station to separate the outercoat from the undercoat.

When the staples are separated and the fibers even I pull the outercoat off the stationery comb. I pull just under a staple length at a time, rearranging the grip after each pull so that I get a continuous top out of the comb. When I think there is no more outercoat left I pull the top all the way off the comb and put aside. I then pull the undercoat off and put it in a separate pile.

Second combing

After having made a few rovings I comb them again. This will make the rovings more even and I will be able to separate any residual undercoat from the outercoat. I take a number of combed rovings and recharge them on the stationery comb, usually two or three (of course depending on the capacity of the combs). I comb through the fibers twice and make sure they are fully separated and even.

To make the roving extra even I comb a second time and diz.

When the comb load looks good I pull it off the stationery comb. In this case I want a very even roving so I diz it through a button hole. To start I pull the very tip of the tip end and twist it between my fingers, double it and pull it through the button hole. Then I start dizzing – I push the button forward, pull the fiber bundle and repeat until there is no more outercoat left on the stationery comb. I remove the roving and make a bird’s nest of it. I pull the residual undercoat from the stationery comb and put it on the undercoat pile.

Lovely birds’ nests of combed and dizzed outercoat of Klövsjö wool.

Carding the undercoat

I card rolags from the undercoat that has been separated (and teased) from the outercoat in the combing process:

  1. I pull my teased wool onto the cards. When the wool doesn’t stick anymore I stop. To avoid over loading I remove any excess from the handle side of the card.
  2. 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.
  3. I stroke the wool gently between the cards. This pushes the wool just a bit into the teeth – not all the way down. The more silent the carding the better.
  4. 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 with the help of my active card and my free hand. To keep the stationery card steady I push the handle against the inside of my thigh.
  5. 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.
Hand carded rolags of Klövsjö undercoat wool.

In the second part (starting at 4:11) of my video Teasing wool with combs you can see my carding technique and how I make the rolags.

Spin

I separated the undercoat from the outercoat to make the most of the two very different fiber types. To enhance the characteristics of each fiber type I spin them differently.

Outercoat

I spent the spring spinning the combed outercoat worsted on a suspended spindle with the aim of a strong warp yarn. The outercoat was very pleasant to work with and drafted like butter.

The length of the outercoat fibers can be a challenge. These fibers were around 20 centimeters. I think it is easier to work with a suspended spindle with this length compared to a spinning wheel. I need to consider the length of the fibers when I draft – the longer the fibers the longer the distance between my hands. If I spin on a spinning wheel the motion will be back and forth, which may be straining for my back. If I spin on a suspended spindle I can draft to the side and won’t have to work with my back in the same way.

The blue dye that turned out green. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The worsted spun outercoat yarn is fiercely strong and incredibly shiny. I dyed it in two shades of blue, which turned out green. I still love the result.

Undercoat

The lovely undercoat rolags had an adventure of their own. I brought them to Vallby outdoor museum and spun them on the great wheel with a smooth long draw into the loveliest woolen yarn. The rolags worked perfectly with the technique. In some cases there was a bit of outercoat left and the draft was a bit more demanding, but for the most part the draft surprisingly smooth.

Spinning the carded undercoat fibers on a great wheel.

The yarn I spun at Vallby is still in singles and I haven’t decided whether I should ply it or not. It is soft and airy and has a silky shine.

You can watch me spin and card the lovely Klövsjö undercoat on my video Spinning on a great wheel (available in Swedish as Spinna på långrock).

Strong and shiny worsted spun outercoat to the left. Soft and airy woolen spun undercoat to the right.

Use

Klövsjö wool with its dual coat is very versatile. You can choose to separate the fiber types like I have above or keep them together and prepare and spin for a woolen or worsted yarn. Considering the range from soft lamb’s wool to the coarser spectrum of a grown ewe the versatility increases even more. Have a look at the blog post about Rya wool I wrote a couple of weeks ago to compare.

Due to this versatility the yarn from Klövsjö wool can be used for a number of different purposes. Use the finest lamb’s undercoat for a next to skin yarn, the strong outercoat for a warp yarn, a combination of undercoat and undercoat for a sweater or play with anything between a fine embroidery yarn to a rough rug yarn.

All I have done so far with the Klövsjö wool I had is a woven belt bag from the spindle spun outercoat. It is combined with the Chanel warp yarn for a lovely green and brown striped pattern.

In my online course Know your fleece there is a 25 minute video where I present Klövsjö wool and demonstrate how I prepare, spin and use Klövsjö wool.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  1. 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.
  2. My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  3. I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  4. I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  5. 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.
  6. Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Rya wool

Five staples of wool in different colours and textures. Some more wavy and some more sleek and shiny.

There are three wool breeds in Sweden – breeds where wool is an important part of the breed standards. I have covered two of these (finull sheep and Jämtland sheep) in previous posts and today I present the third: Rya sheep. In this seventh part of my breed study of Swedish sheep breeds from the spinner’s perspective I will share my experience with Rya wool. Previous posts have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool, Dalapäls wool, Värmland wool, Jämtland wool and finull wool.

This Saturday, December 12th at 5 pm CET I will host a free live breed study webinar on Swedish rya wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

A background

The word rya refers to three different things – a textile, a wool type and a sheep breed. These are all connected. The word rya is believed to be connected to ragg (coarse hair, compare to raggsocka, a sock with added goat’s hair for extra strength) and related to the English word Rug. The word rya thus refers to a textile with a fur-like side, the pile.

The rya breed as we know it today was bred during the 20th century while the textile has been made since at least the 14th century. To be able to tell you about the rya breed I need to start at the textile.

Rya as a texile

Many of you may have come across rya rugs – woven rugs with looped knots making up a pile. These were very popular to make during the 1970’s. They have a far longer history than that, though, and used mainly for other purposes.

From the oldest sources known today it is evident that the rya has been used in the bed for warmth. Because of its lightness compared to animal skins it has been used as a more lightweight alternative to these. The first mention of a rya is in a regulation from 1420 for bed equipment for nuns in the Vadstena convent: They shall wear a kirtle of white wadmal. In addition to that a rya. And a sheep skin for the winter” (my translation). These regulations may very well have been used already in the 14th century.

Many ryas have been registered in inventories from mansions and castles, the oldest one from 1444. This also speaks for the value of these textiles. Ryas have been used in trading in exchange for important groceries like hop and salt. During the 17th century ryas spread to social clusters outside the nobilities.

Originally the rya was used with the pile side down and the smooth side up. Many of the oldest finds have a plain knot side – perhaps with some decorative elements at the top to fold over – and a more elaborated smooth side. During the late 17th and early 18th centuries many ryas were shifted – the fur side was facing up and was more decorated for a more fancy bed spread.

Searching for the Rya wool type

The earlier ryas had a remarkable shine, whereas the ryas from the time of the industrial revolution had more matte wool with a lower quality. The spinning mills were not adapted to the Scandinavian double coated (short-tailed) land races. Fat-tailed sheep with shorter wool were imported to suit the industry. Thereby the landraces became less common.

During the national romantic era in the late 19th century there was an increased interest in traditional techniques and artifacts. Textile experts were fascinated by the shine in the old ryas, a shine they couldn’t find in contemporary sheep in Sweden. They gathered that there would probably be sheep with this wool type left in Sweden. They searched and found. Dalapäls sheep was one of the breeds that became the starting point of saving the rya wool type.

Five staples of wool in different colours and textures. Some more wavy and some more sleek and shiny.
Staples from five different rya sheep. Second from right from a lamb, the rest from ewes. the three leftmost are whole-year fleeces from the same flock. The two rightmost staples are the most typical rya staple types – long and shiny with almost no crimp.

Economic interests were more important than saving old landraces, though, and focus was again directed towards more undercoat and more meat. Wool was not a part of the breed standards. In 1978 the Rya sheep organization was founded to protect the Swedish landrace the Rya sheep and the wool quality got a prominent position in the breed standard.

So to the wool type rya. Rya as a wool type has long and shiny outercoat and soft undercoat, with almost no crimp. The outercoat to undercoat ratio is between 60/40 and 50/50. Many other sheep breeds in Sweden, especially the heritage breeds, can have rya type wool, partly or over the whole body. The term rya type wool is thus a way to describe the staple type and distribution of undercoat and outercoat within that staple.

Rya sheep

The sheep that had been developed to save the old landrace characteristics with the long, strong and shiny wool was thus called Rya sheep, and had rya type wool to resemble the wool used in the old rya textiles.

A light fawn sheep with long and fluffy wool. One lamb lying in the grass, one nursing.
Rya sheep Beppelina with whole-year fleece, just before she was shorn and the fleece sent to me. Photo by Ann Arvidson

Rya sheep are medium-sized – rams weigh 70–100 kilos and ewes 60–80 kilos. Face and legs are wool free and the wool is uniform over the body of the sheep. The wool can be white, black, brown or grey. Rya sheep are skilled in grazing in rugged terrain. In 2019 there were 570 breeding ewes in 60 flocks in Sweden. According to the breeding goals the wool should be uniform over the body, strong and shiny and no less than 15 cm at 120 days of age and with 0–3 crimps per 5 cm.

Rya wool

As discussed in the paragraphs above, Rya wool was saved and developed to rescue the strong and shiny wool type that had been used in the old rya textiles. Rya wool is thus long, strong and shiny. It also has soft undercoat. Since the breed comes from old landraces there are still rooing tendencies – some individuals shed their fleece in the spring.

The outercoat to undercoat ratio is between 60/40 and 50/50. The outercoat is very strong and shiny and the undercoat soft and also quite shiny. Eventhough rya wool is quite homogenous over the body of the sheep, the dual coat makes the wool very versatile. As a hand spinner you can choose to spin undercoat and outercoat together or separated. If you consider the fineness of lamb’s wool and the strength of wool from ewes you have an even wider spectrum of qualities to play with.

The wool characteristics that I want to focus on when I spin rya wool is the exceptional shine, the amazing strength and the versatility over the fiber types and of wool from both ewes and lambs.

Preparing and spinning

At the moment I have a few rya fleeces in my stash – ewe’s and lamb’s wool in white, grey, brown(s) and black. Some of them are quite traditional rya fleeces with the long, strong and shiny staples. But four of them (one fleece and samples from three other sheep in the same flock) are a bit different. They have some crimp and finer fibers. They have a full year’s growth and have started to shed.

Four piles of fleece in natural colours.
Fleece samples from the rya sheep Alva, Lina, Beppelina and Bertil (ram).

Combing and worsted spinning

This summer I spent many walks together with the outercoat from this quartet and a suspended spindle. I had separated the coats with stationery combs and set the undercoat aside. I combed the outercoat and made bird’s nests.

A spindle and combed wool on a step down to a creek.
The outer coat from the whole-year’s shearing of the rya ewe Beppelina, spun worsted on a suspended spindle.

This whole year’s fiber is longer than any wool I have ever worked with before, around 30 cm. During the summer I generally spin on spindles, but even in the winter I think I would have preferred to spin this length on a suspended spindle. With the spindle I can control the speed and the intake in a way I think would have been difficult on a spinning wheel with fibers this long.

A white and a black ball of shiny yarn.
Combed whole year’s outer coat from the rya ewe Lina and the rya ram Bertil. Spun on a suspended spindle.

These shiny and fiercely strong yarns make excellent warp yarn. One day I will spin singles warp yarn, but I am not there yet. In the mean time I will spin 2-plied warp yarns.

Carding and woolen spun

The undercoat I had set aside from the combing resulted in a lovely knitting yarn. I carded the separated undercoat fibers into rolags and spun with English long draw on a spinning wheel and 2-plied. I am thinking stranded colourwork knitting for this quartet.

Four skeins of yarn in white, light beige, beige and dark brown.
Undercoat woolen spun from hand carded rolags of the rya sheep Alva, Beppelina, Lina and Bertil.

Keeping it all together

On my wool journey of 2019 I experimented with a sock yarn where I mixed 60 per cent rya wool with 40 per cent adult mohair. At the 2019 fleece championships I bought a gold medalist rya fleece and a bag of adult mohair for my sock yarn project. I try to keep a strict queue in my fleece stash and I have just started spinning this yarn. I have blended it with adult mohair and spun it woolen as a cabled yarn.

Perhaps I will play with some dyeing for striped socks. I am not a big sock knitter, but this project might change my opinion on sock knitting.

A rya rya yarn

Another project I have in my mind is a yarn for rya knots in rya yarn. I may not be able to make a whole bed cover, but I could weave something smaller, perhaps a foot rug for the bed. I have woven chair pads with rya knots, but only with stashed handspun and not in rya wool.

A yarn for rya knots is spun in its entirety with both undercoat and outercoat and 2-plied. Some of the findings have a lot of twist – around 11 rounds per centimeter. Saved rya textiles have been both Z-plied and S-plied. I have asked several textile experts about how the wool for the rya textiles in the museum collections were prepared and spun, but there doesn’t seem to be any clear information about this.

Since a textile with rya knots tends to get quite heavy my plan is to card it and spin it woolen. Since I have no plans of making a floor rug out of it there is no need for super strong worsted yarn.

Use

As I wrote earlier rya wool has a wide variety of uses since you can use it together or separated and find different qualities in lamb’s wool and adult wool. I have already shared some ideas of what I want to do with the fleeces I have – socks blended with adult mohair, yarn for rya knots, stranded knitting with undercoat yarn and outercoat warp yarn.

A wooden lucet with some finished cord wrapped around it. An ammonite pendant hanging from the cord.
A lucet cord from Bertil’s outercoat made a lovely pendant cord. Combed and worsted spun on a suspended spindle.

I played with my lucet to make a cord for an ammonite pendant I bought myself a while ago. I made it with the dark brown worsted spun outercoat from Bertil the ram. The cord is very strong and sleek.

Other uses for yarn from rya wool is rugs, tapestries and embroidery. Due to the exceptional shine the wool is very well suited for weaving rugs and is said to get even shinier with wear. Yes, I might spin an embroidery yarn too.

Live webinar!

This This Saturday, December 12th at 5 pm CET I will host a live breed study webinar about Swedish rya wool 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 rya wool. I will use rya wool 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.

The event has already taken place.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  1. 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.
  2. My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  3. I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  4. I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  5. 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.
  6. Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Blending

I’m not very fond of knitting socks. Yet socks are quite essential. I’m definitely not fond of plastic in sock yarn. Yet a strong fiber is quite practical to prevent holes in the socks. Fortunately, there are other strong fibers than plastic. This is the story of a simple blending process that hopefully will result in durable socks in natural materials.

A small scale sample yarn

On my 2019 wool journey I experimented with a sock yarn where I blended rya lamb’s wool and adult mohair. I ended up with a strong 3-ply sock yarn sample. I started out with 6 + 4 grams of fiber, which did help me find a process and a suitable yarn for socks, but in a very small scale.

Scaling up

On the fleece championships that year I bought a gold medal winning rya fleece and a bag of adult mohair to scale up my experiment to real socks. As usual the fleeces went in the back of the fleece queue, but now they’re next in line. This week I started my sock yarn project.

In my small scale experiment I had used 6 grams of rya and 4 grams of mohair. In my upscaled project I have 650 grams of rya and 400 grams of adult mohair which I somehow needed to blend.

Josefin Waltin sitting with a pile of wool. Locks are flying in the air around her
Willowing wool is a good way to blend wool.

Many people have seen a video where I willow my wool to open up the locks. This method is also perfect for blending two wool qualities or colours. However, I am not willowing my sock blend. I’m not very keen on sitting outdoors in the wind and temperature of November in Stockholm. Also, I’m afraid the willowing may ruin the lock structure in the staples. Since I will be combing the wool I need the staples to maintain their structure so that I can tell the cut end from the tip end. Therefore I needed to find another way of blending my wool.

Uncling

The fleeces had been somewhat compressed in the sofa bed storage and the staples were clinging to one another. So the first step was simply to separate them. Willowing would have been perfect for this task too, but still, not in November. Instead I sat down and started to pick and separate the locks by hand in both fleeces. This gave me the opportunity to look and feel through the fleeces and get to know their characteristics better, literally staple by staple.

The rya fleece was open and airy with long, silky and fine staples. They were also easy to separate from each other. The mohair staples on the other hand were compact in themselves and somewhat reluctant to opening up. The fibers in each staple seemed to cling to each other. The staples were quite easy to separate from each other though, since I had managed to wash a lot of the wax away.

I picked the locks by hand to make the blending of the mohair and rya fleeces easier.

The difference in willingness to separate in the different fleeces is something I need to keep in mind for when I process and spin the wool since it can influence how evenly the wool drafts when I spin. But first things first.

Let’s make Lasagne!

When I had gone through both of the fleeces and separated the staples it was time to start blending them. I did it the simplest way I could think of – I divided the fleeces in 6 piles each. I figured the smaller units of wool I could blend the more even the blend would be.

When I had my 6 + 6 rya and mohair piles I started building a lasagne by layering the piles one by one in a basket – one layer of rya and one layer of mohair until I was out of piles. After that I turned the basket upside down on the floor, dug my hands into the blended pile and whisked the whole arrangement around.

Combing

The final part of the blending was the actual combing. From my thorough lasagne blending technique I knew the two kinds of fiber were reasonably evenly distributed. Therefore I simply grabbed a handful of the blend and started combing. Later I decided to weigh each handful to make sure the rovings would be the same weight. This also eliminated my usual habit of over loading the comb.

8 grams of rya and mohair locks ready to be combed into sweet roving.
8 grams of rya and mohair locks on my medium comb, ready to be turned into sweet roving.

From the hand picking I had learned that the rya and mohair staples were very different. The dual coat rya locks were easy to separate and quite airy while the mohair locks were dense and quite reluctant to let go. With this in mind I made sure to make enough passes to thoroughly separate the fibers. The fleeces have in the blend formed a new togetherness with new characteristics that I need to consider when I work with the preparation and spinning.

I landed in five passes, planking, and then another three passes (you can read more about this combing technique in an earlier post about combing different fiber lengths). After the final three passes I dizzed the roving and got myself a lovely bird’s nest.

A 5 gram rya/mohair bird’s nest.

I am very happy with the result. The fibers are evenly distributed both in and between the rovings. Nothing clings anymore and I can draft easily. I have finished a first test skein and a second improved skein. The spinning process and resulting yarn however, is a matter for another blog post.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  1. 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.
  2. My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  3. I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  4. I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  5. 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.
  6. Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.