Old blog post: Fleece happens

Last week I indicated that I might not be able to write a blog post this week. I have been a good girl and not bent over backwards to squeeze a blog post in. But I did pick out an old blog post to give you something to read if you want to.

On November 20th 2021, one year ago, I wrote about what I do when fleece happens. You know, when a fleece just comes to you, without you knowing what really happened. The fall shearing is usually the highlight of the year for many spinners in Sweden, fleece happens a lot this time of year. This autumn, for example, fleece has happened thrice for me.

In the post I write about what I do with a fleece when it comes to me, in terms of washing, how I prepare it for storing and what documentation I do, how and where.

I will spend the weekend on a gym instructor course for the gym chain where I am an instructor. It will be tough, and I’m really excited about it.

P.S. A week ago I was interviewed by Daniel Howell of Folk Craft revival about spinning. Listen to the podcast episode here!

Happy reading!


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 missanything!
  • 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 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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • 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.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.

Picking fleece

The first step I take with a fleece after I have washed it is to pick it. Staple by staple I pull the tip ends out of the fleece until I have picked myself through the whole fleece. Today I discuss the advantages of picking fleece and why I don’t skip this step.

When I first learned to spin and process my wool I was taught to pick it. Somewhere along the way I omitted this step, for some odd reason. Recently, perhaps a year ago or so, I started picking my new fleeces again. There are so many advantages of picking fleece and I don’t want to omit this step.

Here is a short summary of the steps I take when I pick a fleece:

  • When the fleece has dried after washing I lay a newspaper on the floor and prepare a paper bag where I write the breed of the fleece and when it was shorn.
  • I take a bundle of fleece in one hand and search out the tip ends with the other. With the holding hand as resistance I pull the tips straight out.
  • If I see any vegetable matter I remove this. Some will probably fall to the ground as you pick through the fleece.
  • I also remove felted parts, solidified tips, heavily dirty sections and poo.
  • I take notes of characteristics of the fleece and any ideas I get for handling it in preparation and spinning.
  • When I have picked through the whole fleece I put it in the paper bag and either store it or go on with processing the fleece.
  • All that I have removed will be used. I generally put it in the compost or in my Bokashi bucket.

Model: A Tabacktorp fleece

The model I use in this post about picking fleece is a Swedish Tabacktorp fleece. It’s one of the rarest breeds in Sweden. The official statistics say that in 2021 there were a total of 25 breeding ewes in seven flocks in Sweden.

My friend Sandy of Swedish Fibre was kind enough to let me buy 1 kilo of her Tabacktorp treasure. The content of the kilo I bought could be from one individual or from several.

Picked locks of Tabacktorp wool in my ullkränku (wool basket). Two saigkorgar (baskets for carded wool) in the background. Both basket models are traditional from Gotland.

I will make a breed study blog post and webinar about this fleece later on. For the sake of this blog post the Tabacktorp fleece is just modeling for my picking demonstration.

Air in

When I pick a fleece I hold a bundle of the washed fleece gently in one hand and pick out staple by staple from the tip end. The staples are usually slightly interlaced at the cut end and picking the staples will open up the cut ends and invite air in between the fibers.

10 grams each of unpicked (left) and picked (right) tabacktorp wool.

Getting air into the fibers makes the upcoming preparation steps easier – if the cut ends are detangled there will be less strain on my body and on the fibers. Picking the fleece will thus reduce the amount of waste compared to an unpicked fleece.

The staples in the Tabacktorp fleece are quite defined and untangled already. Some fleeces are held together to different degrees at the cut end throughout the whole fleeces, but this one almost falls to pieces when I pick it up.

Stuff out

Picking the fleece also gives me the opportunity to remove any stuff I don’t want in it. This could be vegetable matter, short fibers, seconds cuts, felted parts and poo. A lot of stuff will fall out just by the air coming in when I pick the fleece. Other stuff will be easy to remove manually as I pick my way from staple to staple.

The most obvious vegetable matter is easy to remove in the picking stage if it doesn’t fall out on its own as I pick staple by staple.

When I have finished picking the whole fleece the stuff I don’t want is gone (resting cozily on my garden beds) and I’m left with clean and open full-length staples only. The fleece is ready to be used.

This fleece didn’t have very much vegetable matter in it, some juniper needles. No felted parts and almost no poo or dirty parts. It could be due to a very clean fleece overall or to a thorough skirting and rough sorting by the sheep owner.

Establishing a relationship

As I pick my way through the fleece I establish my relationship to it. To me it is important to learn as much as I can about not only the fleece, but also the sheep. In the newly shorn format that I get the fleece in it’s as close to its on the hoof-version as possible. In the unprocessed fleece I get the chance to explore what the fleece did for the sheep. Picking out leaves, needles and grass gives me an image of where the sheep has grazed, what kind of plants that have been in her living room. I get to tread in the hooves of the sheep.

As I pick my wool I establish a relationship with it.

Years ago when I had a thing for Shetland wool I got beautiful fleeces from Shetland Woolbrokers. The stuff I found in those fleeces made my heart tingle, it felt so special to be able to go back to Shetland in my mind. I didn’t find much vegetable matter in the fleeces, but some peat fell out of them occasionally. Especially on the sheep’s sleeping side.

That kind of information is not necessary for me from a strict spinning perspective, but it gives me an image, a feeling for the sheep’s life and surroundings. And with that important connection to the sheep I feel a closeness to the sheep and a deeper responsibility to make her justice. She has grown a beautiful fleece and made it available to me. It’s my responsibility to treat it with the humility and respect it deserves and spin its most beautiful yarn.

A first glimpse

Looking at the wool off the hoof in its on-the-hoof state as staples I get the chance to get to know its characteristics.

Visual

Visual aspects can be

  • colour
  • staple length
  • staple type. To me the staple type is connected with the outercoat to undercoat ratio. Is there mainly outercoat in the staples, equal amounts of outercoat and undercoat or mainly undercoat?
  • crimp – are the staples straight, wavy, curly or crimpy?
  • openness – are the fibers bundled together in the staples or more open?
  • evenness – are the staples more or less similar over the fleece or variegated?
  • an approximate relationship between outercoat and undercoat, if applicable.

What I find when I look at the list above are not good or bad, just information I get from looking at the fleece. Information that I take into account in further processing.

Tactile

I can see a lot from just looking at the fleece, but it’s with my hands in it that I experience its more subtle characteristics. When I dig my hands into the fleece, I can get more tactile information like

  • How the staples detach from the cut ends. Is it easy or do I need to struggle to pull the staples out of the staple bundle? Sometimes there is a resistance or even sort of a felted carpet right at the cut ends. Whether it is from the shearing itself or from when in the growth period the sheep was shorn or something else I couldn’t tell. But if I do have to struggle it tells me that I need to take measures to ease that struggle as I prepare the fleece. A struggle indicates risk of strain, in both my muscles and the fibers.
  • What is the bounce like in the fleece? If I take a bundle of staples and squeeze them, how do they bounce back? This can be an indication of how the yarn will behave as I spin it and how it blooms after I have finished it.
  • How do the fibers relate to one another? If I draft from the cut end of a staple, how is the give in the draft? Does it come easily or do I need to struggle?

I can get lots of visual, more quantitative information from the fleece, but with the more qualitative feedback in my hands I get to know it on a more subtle level.

Sort?

With the information – quantitative and qualitative – I get from the staples as I pick my way through them I get an overview of how it is composed. With that information I can make decisions on whether to sort it into different categories or not, and which categories.

I can choose to sort by

  • Colour. There can be difference in colour over the body of the sheep or between undercoat and outercoat. Sometimes over the stretch of a fiber. This is an interesting way to sort a fleece. A multicolour fleece can give you lots of ways to play.
  • Staple length. For certain projects I may want evenness in the staple length. I can sort a fleece on that basis.
  • Staple type: In dual coats there can be different undercoat to outercoat ratios which can be a parameter to sort by.
  • Coarseness/fineness: Differences in fineness is not uncommon.
  • Crimp: Some fleeces with lots of variegation can have different degrees of crimp on different parts of the body.
  • Fiber type: Do I want to separate undercoat from outercoat?

My Tabacktorp fleece has lots of different staple types that I could easily sort and use for different purposes. Still, they are quite even in length and my plan at the moment is to card it all together, taking advantage of their collected characteristics in one yarn rather than go for individual characteristics in several smaller sections.

Store

When I have picked my fleece it’s ready for storage. My fleece queue is long, my oldest fleeces are from the autumn 2021 shearing. All the fleeces in my storage are picked. When I invite the oldest one to dance it’s all dressed up and ready – with far less vegetable matter, clean, easy to work with and perhaps even sorted into categories. It may be a bit flatter than the last time I saw it, but it will puff up again.

One bag of picked Tabacktorp wool shorn autumn 2022, ready for my wool storage to wait its turn in my fleece queue.

Before I store the picked fleece I make a few notes on my Ravelry page about the wool. Discoveries I have made through the picking such as how it drafts, if I have struggled with it, Perhaps any thoughts I have of spinning or what to make of the spun yarn.

My Tabacktorp wool now sleeps cozily with equally picked Åland, gute, dalapäls and other fleeces in my sofa bed. And when it’s Tabacktorp’s turn in line I will thank myself for having taken the time – and joy – to pick it, get to know it and make notes about it characteristics.

Your wool has a lot to teach you. Listen to it.

If you are a patron (or want to become one) I have just released my November video postcard where I demonstrate how I pick my Tabacktorp fleece.

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 missanything!
  • 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 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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • 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.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.

Rehackling flax

It’s been a while, but today I release a new video! This time I show you how I rehackle flax that has been stored for a while. In this case flax from the Berta’s flax project that has been stored since the 1940’s, but I would rehackle any flax that doesn’t come fresh off the hackles.

I actually shot a version of this video in the summer of 2021. But as the time went by, I realized that I had changed my methods here and there. The footage wasn’t the best either.

A video project within a process

I procrastinated for a year. Then I tried again this summer, 2022. I updated my methods and my phone, so I got better footage too. The summer went by and I changed some more methods. I procrastinated a little more. Then I realized that the changes were due to my process, and a process is always changing.

I spun flax all summer and learned a lot along the way. I changed techniques, tools and my understanding of the process, while developing and refining my methods. Here are some changes I have made since I shot the video:

  • I divide the stricks into even smaller bundles for more control and better quality in the hackling
  • I have a different way of dressing the distaff with the fanned fibers (see archive video below)
  • Even if I put my hand very gently on the hackle spikes to keep the flax on them, there is a risk of getting hurt if I’m not careful. I now place my index finger on top of the fibers just in front of the spikes to force the fibers to stay in the hackle without risking getting my hand hurt.
  • I now use a different spinning wheel, my Kromski Mazurka Henrietta (see image below)

So what I give you is a still image of my methods as they presented themselves in the process then and there, in the shape of a video. I have learned a lot since then and a video produced now would look different. I hope my learning process is to the benefit of yours.

Rehackling flax

In the video I rehackle flax that is around 80 years old. The flax comes from the Austrian Berta’s flax project and the flax stricks have been stored in a chest until just recently. While the flax was in amazing condition it was compressed and needed a little love. In fact, I would rehackle any flax that I didn’t get straight off the hackles.

You can read more about rehackling flax in this blog post and more about the Berta’s flax project here.

Time and air

Preparing fibers invites air in between the fibers. In some preparations a lot of air with the fibers willy-nilly, but still evenly distributed, like a carded preparation. In other preparations a little less air and the fibers parallel, but still evenly distributed, like a combed preparation. Fiber preparation thus evens out the space between the fibers by of course untangling them, but also by bringing air into the fiber mass.

Regardless of whether 80 years or one summer has passed since the original preparation took place, time has gone by. Time causes the fibers to compress, whether it’s protein or cellulose fibers, carded or combed preparation. The air that the preparation brought into the fibers has escaped, making the fiber mass more compact and possibly retangled, depending on how it has been stored.

Spot the difference

Spinning from an old preparation would thus possibly be more straining on both the spinner and the fibers and leave a yarn of lesser quality. If you compare an old and a new preparation you would probably feel a struggle while spinning the old preparation and a lightness while spinning the new.

Newly rehackled and brushed flax is just dreamy to work with.

The old preparation would probably pull out more fibers from the preparation than a new preparation would, making it more difficult to spin an even and/or fine yarn. The drafted fibers would probably also be bundled. More fibers would break, there would be more waste, shorter fibers and more strain in the body.

Listening to the flax

As I prepare the flax and spin it I get the chance to know it. If I just listen close enough the flax will tell me how it works and what I need to do to spin it into its most beautiful yarn. As I prepare the flax I get the chance to see the length of the fibers, the fineness and the condition of the retting and, when applicable, the quality of the first preparation.

Enormously long flax fibers from 80 year old Swedish flax. It has been industrially prepared, and stored in untwisted stricks, leaving lots of tangles.

The video I shot in 2021 (and never published) was with flax I had got from a friend. It was the same age as Berta’s flax, but grown and harvested in Sweden. The length of the flax was impressive. The flax had been prepared in flax mill the 1940’s and stored in untwisted stricks. The unorganized storing resulted in many tangles, a struggle in the rehackling, a lot of waste and a lower quality in the yarn.

If the flax is underretted (like my 2021 flax sadly was) there will be more boon in it, the little pieces of cellulose that haven’t been properly removed because of the underretting, there will be more breakage and therefore more waste.

All is as it should be

I believe we learn from all experiences, even if they at the moment may seem wasted. From my 2021 underretted flax I learned to pay extra attention to the retting process. From rehackling the Swedish 80 year old flax last summer I learned how important the storing is. And from spinning the flax from the Berta’s flax project this year I learned what high quality flax and preparation feels and spins like and what I need to look out for. All my mistakes are opportunities to explore and learn. All is as it should be.

Flax experience and depth

I don’t have nearly as much experience spinning flax as I have spinning wool. But this and last summer have been flax summers and I have spun commercially prepared modern (Hungarian? Belgian?) flax, commercially prepared 80 year old Swedish flax and hand prepared 80 year old Austrian flax. During this brief time I have encountered several challenges and learned what they do in the yarn. I know now that rehackling is vital for the quality and yield of the yarn and for my physical health. I know I need to spend time on the distaff dressing, pulling out very thin layers in my fan (the only distaff dressing method I have explored so far) to distribute the fibers as evenly as I can.

An evenly prepared fan gives high hopes for a high quality yarn.

When I rehackle the yarn I get a feeling of what I need to do when I get to the distaff dressing and spinning stage. Every time the fibers go through my hands in the process I get information that I can use to create the best yarn I can.

Flower and root ends

One thing I got a little caught up in while editing the video was the flower end and the root end. In the video I tie the flower end to my waist as I create the fan. In a previous video I tied the root end to my waist. Tyeing the root end to the waist is what I had learned from a couple of books on flax preparation and spinning. I thought I was doing it the same way this year as I did in the older video, but apparently I wasn’t.

A freshly dressed distaff with what I believe to be mainly flower ends at the top.

I discussed this with a couple of flax friends, and it turns out that in most cases it doesn’t really matter what end you start with when you spin the yarn. It is important to keep track of the root ends and keep them even as you harvest, dry, rehackle the flax. This is to get as little waste as possible through the different steps of the process. But for the spinning it doesn’t really matter. I like to be consistent through in my yarn, aiming towards keeping all the root ends in the same direction throughout the yarn, but it doesn’t seem necessary at all. And unless I haven’t processed it all myself there is no way of making sure which end is where.

A distaff in a thousand dresses

I dress my distaff with a fan as in the video. This is the only way I have explored. But in Sweden there are several other methods that other flax spinners are way better at than me, and in other parts of Europe still more. This is a very interesting topic that I would love to explore more. Marie Ekstedt Bjersing shows a couple of methods she uses in this video (in Swedish).

Since I shot the video I have started dressing my distaff a little tighter. In my experience this keeps the fibers better organized.

Here is an interesting method that Christiane Seufferlein, the head of the Berta’s flax, showed me. And in this video the spinner prepares a fan in the most beautiful way. She also dresses the distaff with the flax tighter, a method that I have been exploring since after I shot my video.

In the summertime

There is still so much to learn and explore. Next summer my sweet wheel Henrietta and I will be out on the terrace again, diving deeper into flax preparation, rehackling and spinning. I still have lots of flax from the Berta’s flax project, but I also plan to spin my own flax for the very first time. I expect to learn a lot from that too.

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 missanything!
  • 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 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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • 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.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.

Days of flax retting

This week I finished the retting of my 2022 flax. I decided to pay extra attention to the retting process this year. The aim of my experimental flax patch has always been to learn, and I keep learning every year. Walk with me through this year’s days of flax retting.

The 2021 flax harvest was quite large and of high quality. I was very pleased with it when I harvested it, but unfortunately I managed to underret it. The quality of the finished flax was not very impressive, full of boon and bits of bark. There was also a lot of waste and I ended up with two sad little stricks of hackled flax. For that reason I have been quite anxious about retting this year’s harvest.

Retting attention

With the painful experience of preparing my 2021 underretted flax I decided to pay extra attention to the retting this year and make the most of the harvest I got.

As I harvested the flax I divided it into sizes – the coarse outer plants in one bundle, then medium coarse, medium fine and fine. I dried the flax in bundles according to coarseness and kept this system even in the retting process. I figured the fine plants would ret faster than the coarse ones.

We live in a four family townhouse with no private space outdoors other than a patio on the front and a terrace at the back. The lawn outside our house, where I ret my flax, may be closest to us, but is by no means our property. People stroll by and lots of things can happen with unsupervised retting flax.

A kitchen conundrum

Mid-retting one of our neighbours announced that they would be renovating their kitchen. “A huge lorry will come and unload the kitchen furniture. You may want to move your flax”. Well I certainly wanted to move it, but I had no other lawn to move it to. The flax was retting on two patches of lawn and I did manage to move the flax that was in most danger from the unloading lorry, to the other patch. A bike rack had been placed on top of some of the flax when I got home on the first day, but no harm seemed to have been done to the flax. On the following days I peeked outside at the builders, keeping an eye on where they put things. They were very well behaved.

Days of retting

When I (dew) ret my starting point is 20 days, give or take a few depending on the weather. In my calendar I mark 10 days for turning and 17 days for starting the daily control of the retting to end the process at the right time.

Day 20 and the flax has that characteristic spottet pattern from the retting process.

To check the retting status I pick a stem between my pinched thumb and index fingers. I wiggle the stem a bit back and forth to allow the fibers to let go of the boon. I pull the fibers off the boon and make an assessment. The fibers should let go of the boon in its entire length and smoothly. If it is reluctant to let go it will need a few extra days of retting.

Day 17

As I had suspected there was a difference in retting status between the different qualities of flax I had sorted my harvest into. The finest flax were nearly ready while the coarsest seemed to need more time.

I started testing my different categories on day 17. The fibers did let go of the boon on both the fine and medium plants along all the length of the fibers, but quite reluctantly. With the memory of preparing last year’s flax harvest fresh in my mind I figured that this reluctancy would probably result in quite a lot of waste and low quality flax.

Day 19

On day 19 the fibers were still a bit reluctant to let go of the boon on the medium plants. The fine flax seemed ready to be harvested, but I decided to wait just another day. We were expecting some rain and I figured it would do the trick.

Day 20

On day 20 I did end the retting of the fine flax. The fibers let go of the boon very smoothly and it felt like a good decision.

I ended the retting process for the finest flax on day 20 when the fibers let go of the boon along the whole length of the fibers in a smooth way.

Day 22

Since the medium and coarse plants hadn’t been ready on day 20 I didn’t check on day 21. Day 22, though, was the day for the medium flax and I ended the retting process for the largest part of the harvest. I expected the coarse edge flax to need an extra day or two, but it seemed ready enough so I took it up to dry too.

I ended the retting process for the medium flax on day 22 when the fibers let go of the boon along the whole length of the fibers in a smooth way. in the end I decided to take the coarse flax too on the same day.

Drying

Drying retted flax is always an adventure. While I want some rain for the retting I certainly don’t want it for drying. There was some rain which wasn’t ideal, but there was also wind, turning my little flax tents over like dominoes and I retented them several times a day.

The days of retting have ended. My pretty tents of retted flax look out over the neighborhood. One morning I found around 15 small Burgundy snails in the tip of the tents, seeing the sights.

When the retted flax was dry enough to have some sort of integrity I brought it to the terrace to finish the drying there where it could stand openly but still protected from falling.

We are not expecting any rain this weekend, so I will let it dry some more. I’m note sure the weather and my schedule will give me an opportunity to process the flax before the winter, but I will at least hackle it for easier storing indoors.

The number of days of retting is just that, a number. This is what worked for me this year (I hope, the real result will reveal itself in the processing), in my part of the world, in the humidity of my corner of the world and the rainfall that happened to be. Your retting process may be quite different. For some pointers of the flax year, check out this flax timeline post that I wrote by a request. It covers some points based on signs for the different stages of flax husbandry rather than on dates.

Dreams of water retting

Next year I would like to try water retting. We do have a stream nearby, but it only runs (or rather crawls) in early spring with melt water. My hope is that a kiddie pool will do the trick. Not as romantic as sinking bundles of flax into the stream (I see Anne Shirley and Diana Barry before me), but I will have to live with that.

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 missanything!
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 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.
You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
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.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.

Daily flax

Last summer I mustered up the courage to spin flax. I had got some very long 80 year old Swedish flax from a relative of a relative. To manage it more easily I rehackled it, and spun it whenever I could spin outdoors. This year I am rehackling again – with 80 year Austrian flax from the Berta’s flax project.

It was a mixed feeling when I unraveled the Austrian flax from Stephanie Gumpenberger. I was both eager and scared to spin it. It had such a significant history and I wanted to be sure I could do it justice. But then again, just spinning it at all would do it so much more justice than seeing it burnt, as so many flax chests of the time had been.

Rehackling

Stephanie’s flax has been neatly stored in a chest for many years. As with any flax I like to rehackle it right before I dress it on the distaff, just to give myself the best possible spinning conditions.

80 year old Austrian flax, ready for rehackling.

I have one rough hackle and one fine hackle and so that’s what I used. As I opened the strick I was amazed at the quality of the flax and the condition it was in. Long, smooth and shiny. Almost no tangles. Still, it had been compressed for many years and would do good with rehackling.

I divided the opened strick into smaller bundles to be able to work as gently as possible in the rehackling. The rough hackling took some shorter fibers and a just a few tangles. This first rehackling opened the bundles up a bit and aligned them.

The fine hackling took even less fibers but there was still a significant improvement from the rough hackling. The fibers were even smoother and a bit loftier.

Brushing

In Ångermanland, a small part of Sweden, but an important place of flax husbandry in the past, a flax brush was often used after the fine hackling and just before dressing the distaff. Sometimes two or even three brushes of different fineness were used – the finer the fibers the finer the brush.

Last year I managed to get my hands on a flax brush on Swedish eBay – a real hog-hair brush with a tar handle. I don’t know if it’s considered a rough, medium or fine brush. It does its work though, and it feels very special to be able to use it on my flax. After the brushing all the short fibers are gone and the flax shining in all its glory.

Dressing the distaff

By distaff I mean maple stick I have carved and shoved into a parasol stand on the terrace. Despite its origin and makeshift construction it works very nicely as a floor distaff.

To prepare the flax for the distaff I make a fan of it. I place the flax on the table in front of me and draft out one thin layer at a time into a fan, until I have fanned out the whole bundle. The fibers are now criss-crossed across the surface so that each fiber easily can catch on to a nearby fiber. You can watch how I create my fan in this video.

Sittin’ in the morning sun

I have been spinning the Austrian flax daily when I haven’t been away. I spin the flax on our terrace, either in the pale morning sun or in the shade in the afternoon. The wind catches both my hair and the flax on the distaff, giving the spinning an extra dimension.

As I slowly draft the fibers from the distaff into the twist I find a sweet rhythm – draft, treadle, draft, treadle, occasionally mixed with wetting my spinning hand fingers or moving the draft across the flax. I feel every fiber go through my hands as I think about why they were grown, the land they grew on and the connection to Austria and my own Austrian heritage.

Switching hands

It’s really hard to stop spinning flax. As there is quite a lot of fibers dressed on the distaff I can alway spin a little more before I take a break. When I finally do I realize that I have been spinning for over an hour, just treadling and drafting.

I work a lot with switching hands, both for reasons of ergonomics and to teach both my hands to understand the roles of both spinning hand and fiber hand. With the knowledge that I often spin for long periods when I work with flax, I find it extra important to switch hands.

My daily flax session on the terrace is one of focus and joy. Having the flax going through my hands right in front of my eyes makes my heart sing. And my hands with it.

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 missanything!
  • 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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • 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.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.

Nettle processing

Last summer I picked some stinging nettles (urticaria dioica) and dew retted them together with my flax harvest. Just as with my tiny flax patch I wanted to experiment with nettles and see what I could find. Today I share my nettle processing and thoughts.

Everything I have done in this experiment has been just that – an experiment and something to relate to in later nettle experiments. This is my only experience with nettles and I can’t tell the cause of different outcomes, only speculate. I can just observe and learn. And there is a beauty in that.

Dew retted

When the flowers had almost finished flowering I picked my first nettles. This was in the end of July. I picked the tallest ones without side shoots and stripped the leaves off. I dried them in tent-line shapes, just like the flax and dew retted later in the autumn. The nettles required a little longer retting period than the approximately 20 days I aim for with flax.

Dew retted (left) and root retted nettle stems. The dew retted stems have the typical spotted look just like dew retted flax.

With no previous experience with nettle retting I wasn’t sure what level of retting was enough. In hindsight I realize that I should have retted a bit longer for a better result.

Root retted

I also read that I could use root retted nettles. That is, nettles that had retted on their growth place over the winter. Harvest day was a sunny day in February, not long before the new shoots would appear.

I felt so good about walking out to one of the spots I had looked out during the summer and harvest what no one would look twice at, just a bundle of last year’s decay.

I am really fascinated by the root retting option. Nature is brilliant in so many ways! I just picked what nature had left to die in its natural cycle and I rescued 60 or so of the still standing stems. I did pick some that had fallen too but they had overretted and were of no use for fiber.

Breaking

A couple of weeks ago I decided to break my nettle stems. I had read about baking the nettle first to make it easier for the fibers to loosen from the core. Heat was the issue here, and I decided to place my nettle stems in my mini greenhouse for a couple of hours on a sunny day.

As I took the two bundles outside the difference between them struck me. The dew retted looked just like that – dew retted, with the dark spots that are typical for dew retted flax. The root retted nettles on the other hand had an even reddish brown colour. As I peeled off some fibers the dew retted were shiny and strong and the root retted matte and somewhat weaker, at least in the samples I tried.

Dew retted (left) and root retted (right) nettle fibers after a turn in the flax break.

I knew nettle processing would be a lot more labour intensive than the already labour intensive flax processing and I was not wrong. Aside from nettles being fewer and harder to hunt the stems are longer and harder to break. Still there was a moment of magic as I started breaking my dry stems: I could actually see fibers!

Scutching

There was a lot of boon (the woody parts) entangled in the fibers and I wondered if I would have to pick them out one by one.

As I had finished breaking both bundles I scutched them. A lot of boon fell out but there was very much left in the fibers. Then I remembered something I saw in a video with Allan Brown – he rubbed the fibers between his hands. This would create heat and make the boon be easier to remove.

Root retted (top) and dew retted (bottom) after scutching and rubbing.

And that is just what happened – a lot of the boon fell out of the preparation as I rubbed the stricks between my palms. The fibers also got a bit softer.

Hackling

I used my rough and fine hackles in the hackling stage of the process. This part was also quite labour intensive – there was more boon and in bigger parts than in flax. I also got more convinced about my theory about the underretted dew retted nettle stems – there was more waste in the dew retted strick than in the root retted strick.

After the fine hackling the fibers were aligned and detangled. I still wasn’t completely happy with them, though. A lot of the fibers were still bundled together, making them coarse. As I hackled the fibers I saw sweet tufts of super soft but very short fibers. I wanted to incorporate these in the yarn. So I saved what soft tufts I could find and kept thinking how to get more of that softness.

Rubbing and scraping

Since the rubbing had worked after the scutching I kept rubbing the now hackled stricks to soften them. I took a small bundle of fiber and rubbed it for about twenty minutes and went on to the next bundle.

The warmth and the agitation did help a lot with the softness, but there was still bark left. I re-watched a clip with Allan Brown again. He used a blunt knife to scrape off the bark, which I tried too. It worked and some more of it came off.

Broken, scutched, rough hackled, fine hackled, rubbed and scraped nettle fibers, root retted (left and middle) and dew retted (right).

As you can see in all the pictures there is at least double the amount of root retted nettle fiber. There may have been a little more to start with, but not much. I withhold my theory of the underretted dew retted nettles. The boon and bark feel more strongly attached to the fibers than those of the root retted fibers. More of the dew retted fibers thus break and I need to manually remove more cellulose bits.

Carding

I used a pair of fine (108 tip) cards to card the nettle fibers. This separated a lot of the fibers that had been glued together by the bark. Most of the fibers in my carded rolags were now shorter but soft, fine and ready to spin!

A note on spinning

I have spun and plied the dew retted fibers and begun spinning the root retted. The fibers are very fine and short so I need to keep my eye on the drafting and quite a lot of twist. I’m spinning a very fine yarn on a 10 gram cross-armed spindle.

The fibers feel quite dry but still work well to spin. I need to focus, though. I still feel some coarseness but seeing the transformation in the fibers through rubbing and agitating the fibers I am convinced that I can soften them even more with more rubbing after plying.

After having read up on finishing nettle yarn I have decided to treat it the same way I do my flax yarns – hot water, soda ash and soap. And then perhaps some more rubbing.

My plan is to weave a narrow band on a backstrap loom.

An accessible fiber

While nettle processing is very time consuming and labour intensive it is possible to spin it. And the more time and dedication you invest in it the bigger the chance to get a soft yarn and textile. And it works. Even with less work I will get a yarn that is usable for something.

2-plied yarn from dew retted nettles.

The sweet thing about nettles is that it is accessible. With no sheep and no ground to grow flax in you can always go out and look for nettles. And if you don’t want to take the nurseries from the small tortoiseshell or other butterflies or fertilization material from your garden you can even pick them in the winter. So go out and gather your nettles! Either when they are ready to pick fresh for dew retting (check resources below for further reading about what to look for) or when they have root retted in late winter.

Resources:

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 missanything!
  • 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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • 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.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.

Scutching knife

There are so many beautiful antique scutching knives out there. In flea markets, yard sales and museums. Ornamented to fit a specific hand, often as a wedding or engagement gift. Clearly used by a skilled hand. A right hands. As a leftie I realized that I will never find an antique scutching knife for a leftie. But I worked myself around that.

With a simple search for skäktkniv or skäkteträ in the Swedish Digital museum you will find lots if beautiful old scutching knives. Here is one example with a sweet and plain design. And, as usual, made for a right-handed person.

Scutching knife from the Swedish Digital Museum.

While I have seen some neutral scutching knives (I actually have two neutral scutching knives, from the 1980’s), I have never seen one made specifically for a left-handed person. We are only about ten per cent of the population and in many cultures left-handedness has been frowned upon and even forbidden.

A new scutching knife

I follow a very talented wood worker on Instagram, Frej Lonnfors. He makes the most beautiful carving work. Last year he posted pictures of flax processing tools – exquisite hand distaffs, wheel distaffs and distaff pins. One day he posted a picture of a magnificent scutching knife. That’s when I realized that I could get my ornamented scutching knife. Not antique, but made to fit my hand, my left hand.

I contacted Frej and he was happy to do it. This was in late October. He had several orders to complete and I wasn’t in any hurry to process my flax that time of year, so he put my request on hold until he had caught up with his work. Just this week I got my treasure in the mail.

The features

As I talked to Frej about the design my first and foremost wish was for it to be comfortable to work with and fit my hand. I wanted a subtle ornamentation and sent him a few images from the Digital museum to use as inspiration together with his own artistic expression. I also said I would like to feel the traces from the tools in my hand as I used the scutching knife.

I think he captured my requests exquisitely. I love the tool traces inside the handle. The ornamentation is just perfectly subtle and I can see and feel the traces of the band knife and axe on the blade. Frej worked in birch wood, which is one of my favourites.

Test scutching

This week Dan, our daughter and I have been busy planning and organizing the reception for our son’s graduation from upper-secondary school, so there has been no time for anything else, let alone processing flax (I’m so tired I could sleep for a week). But I did carve out (pun very much intended) fifteen minutes to test drive my sweet new scutching knife on my very modest 2020 flax harvest that I broke six months ago.

The scutching knife worked perfectly. It is lovely to hold both when it comes to ergonomics and the sensation of the wood in my hand. I love the notion of a scutching knife made just for me as I work with the flax I have grown right here in the flower bed outside our house.

Processes

As I work in the scutching part of the flax preparation process I think of the process of making the scutching knife. The designing, planning, rough carving, shaping, fine carving and finishing. I have no idea what the parts of the process are called, let alone what they are, but my point is that there is a specific process in the maker’s mind and hands. I have no part in this process, but it is still there when I use the scutching knife. Like a sweet whisper from a craft cousin, holding my hand as I scutch away with a singing heart. I can’t wait to prepare the rest of my 2020 and 2021 flax. Meanwhile, my 2022 flax is growing in the allotment beds.

The 2022 flax is cozily growing in the allotment bed.

Thank you Frej for my wonderful scutching knife. I am sure we will be very happy together for many flax harvests to come.

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 missanything!
  • 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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • 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.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.

dual coat

Many of the Swedish heritage breeds have dual coats, just like Icelandic sheep, Navajo Churro, Karakul, North Ronaldsay and some Shetland sheep. A dual coat has a combination of long and strong outercoat fibers and soft and airy undercoat fibers in the same staple. Today I dive into dual coats and reflect over how I work with these versatile fleeces.

Dual coats are common in primitive breeds, but not with all sheep of that breed and not necessarily consistently over the whole body of the sheep. Swedish heritage breeds like dalapäls, Värmland, Gestrike (featured image above), Klövsjö and Åsen sheep along with rya, gute and Åland sheep are all breeds that can have dual coats on parts or the whole of their fleeces.

Check out the linked breed study posts above to dive deeper into different ways I work with dual coats.

What is a dual coat?

Dual coats consist of long hairs, the outercoat (täckhår) and shorter wool, the undercoat (bottenull). These fiber types look very different and have different purposes. The long outercoat fibers are strong, often shiny and usually packed quite densely in the tips while the shorter undercoat fibers are soft, fine and airily distributed.

The purpose of the coats

The purpose of the outercoat on the sheep is to keep the sheep dry. When rain hits the fleece, the long and dense outercoat tails lead the rain drops away from the body of the sheep. The purpose of the undercoat is to keep the sheep warm. With its lofty distribution air comes in between the fibers and keeps the sheep warm.

In this Icelandic fleece it is easy to imagine the rain drops sliding on the dense outercoat tips out and away from the body of the sheep.

Kemp

In addition to undercoat and outercoat some fleeces have kemp. Kemp is a coarse hair fiber with a medulla, a core with air-filled cells, that takes up at least 60 per cent of the diameter of the fiber. Due to this wide medulla core the kemp fibers are brittle and short (because they break from being so brittle). They are usually white or black and don’t take dye. Kemp fibers are coarse, quirky and stick out of the yarn and usually fall out sooner or later. This is very evident when you prepare a fleece with kemp in it – the floor will be full of kemp that has fallen out of the fleece. Also when you full a garment knit with a yarn with kemp you will find lots of kemp fibers that have crept out of the textile in the agitation.

Fine undercoat fibers, coarser outercoat fibers and quirky kemp fibers in Gestrike wool.
Fine undercoat fibers, coarser outercoat fibers and quirky kemp fibers in Gestrike wool.

In a loupe image it’s possible to see the difference in diameter between undercoat, outercoat and kemp fibers.

Cooperation

The wool types on the sheep cooperate, all in an effort to keep the sheep dry and warm. The outercoat armours the undercoat so that the undercoat can stay airy and the outercoat can stay upright. The undercoat in turn form a fundament for the outercoat. Kemp fibers also help keeping the staple upright and airy so that the rain doesn’t get the sheep wet and cold.

Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep
The staples on Gunvor the Gestrike sheep stand out from her body, keeping rain and cold away.

Let the wool lead the way

When I spin a fleece, any fleece, I like to use the properties of the wool to make a garment that is for me what the fleece was to the sheep that once grew the wool. I let the characteristics of the wool lead the way as I prepare, spin and use it. With a dual coat there are so many ways I can do this and create a wide range of yarns from one single fleece.

Depending on the wool I have and what I have in mind for it I can choose to

  • Separate undercoat from outercoat and prepare the coats separately.
  • Semi-separate the coats. By this I mean that I remove some of one of the coats but not all. Or separate the coats and reintroduce a part of one of the coats to the other.
  • Prepare the coats together.
  • Spin from the lock.

Separating coats

There are different ways to separate the outercoat from the undercoat of a dual coat, depending on what tools you have available.

By hand

The easiest way is to use your hands and separate staple by staple. I hold the staple between my hands with the tip end in one hand and the cut end in the other. I pull gently and wiggle slightly until I feel the coats gliding in different directions. When I have separated the coats I can continue to prepare them separately.

With cards

If you have cards but no combs you can separate the coats with the cards. Place a staple with the cut end on the long edge of the card and push it lightly into the teeth with one hand. With the other hand, pull gently in the tip end until the coats separate. From here you can continue to prepare the coats separately.

With combs

My go-to way to separate coats is with combs. With the combs you can

  • tease both coats
  • separate the coats from each other
  • create a top from the outercoat fibers.

Usually I use my combing station but sometimes also with my mini combs. If possible, I use two-pitched combs. Two or more rows of teeth will hold on to the shorter fibers better than single pitched combs, keeping the undercoat in the combs as I doff off the outercoat.

To separate the coats with combs I then

  • find the cut ends of the staples
  • charge the comb by sliding the cut ends onto the teeth
  • keep as little of the staples as possible on the handle side of the comb
  • charge the comb with up to a third of the height of the tines
  • keep the combs perpendicular to each other and comb with the horizontal comb in a horizontal circular movement
  • change the orientation of the movement to a vertical circle when the first comb is empty
  • Work back and forth until the wool is fully separated.

The wool is now combed and the fibers evenly separated. All cut ends are in one end and the tip ends in the other. I like to stop at an odd number of passes. This way I pull the outercoat from the cut ends, which will generate a smoother drafting of the fibers.

The undercoat fibers stop before the outercoat fibers do. I grab the outercoat fibers outside of the place where the undercoat ends. I pull and wiggle lightly, carefully listening to the wool. When the fibers slide easier past each other I stop and make a new grip, closer to the undercoat fibers but without including them. To create a continuous top I keep pulling out the outercoat, changing my grip until I can’t get more outercoat fibers out of the comb. I even the top out by pre-drafting it lightly and wind it into a bird’s nest. When I pull the last part of the top from the comb I can either comb it together with a couple of more tops or start spinning straight away.

I pull the undercoat out of the comb perpendicular to the teeth. This way any nepps, vegetable matter and too short fibers stay in the combs and I can use this waste for mulching in the garden. The teased undercoat is now ready for further preparation.

You can read more about my favourite combs here.

Carding the undercoat

While the outercoat has been combed during the separation of the coats I have lovely little teased combfuls of undercoat that I usually card. You can read more about carding in this blog post.

I would typically spin the carded undercoat woolen for a soft and warm yarn and the outercoat worsted for a strong and shiny yarn to enhance their respective superpowers.

Semi-separating coats

One lovely thing about dual coats is the endless opportunities I have to customize the fiber type content and the yarn that I spin. Above I describe a complete or close to complete separation of the outercoat from the undercoat. But I can also choose to doff off only part of the outercoat to create a yarn that is soft from the undercoat but still has some strength and shine from the outercoat. I could also make a complete separation between the coats and then reintroduce some of one coat to the other. For example, I can make two sock yarns from one fleece. I the main sock yarn I may use both of the fiber types together, but add more of the outercoat for the heel and toe yarn.

Combing coats together

Combing the coats together will result in a yarn that is still strong but has some softness too. A yarn like this could be a good allround and durable yarn.

For keeping fiber types together I prefer single pitched combs. With only one row of teeth both undercoat and outercoat slide swiftly through the teeth for a nicely blended top. Up until I doff the wool off the comb I take the same steps as described above. When the fibers are separated I grab the wool a bit closer to the teeth to avoid getting only the outercoat. I pull and wiggle gently to make a long top from both undercoat and outercoat.

One challenge with combing the coats together is having one end of the top with mostly outercoat fibers and the other with mostly undercoat. To reduce this risk I can recomb the top. I put the combed wool back onto the comb in sections and recomb it for a couple of passes and then doff or diz it off again. You can read more about this process in my post Combing different fiber lengths.

Carding coats together

Just as I can comb both coats together I can card them together. This will create an airy allround yarn that still has some strength.

I always start by teasing the wool. This is to open up the fibers before carding to prevent strain in the fibers and in my body. You can read more about teasing here.

The different lengths in a dual coat marry well together in a carded rolag. Rya wool left and middle. The staple on the right is mohair that I added in this case for extra sock yarn strength.

But is it possible to card fibers in this length? When I card fibers that are perhaps 20 centimeters I always make sure they are accompanied by shorter fibers. In a combination of short, medium and long fibers the fibers sort of marry each other and create an airy rolag. A dual coat therefore usually works well to card since there are different lengths in the staples. The longest fibers will double around the rolag, but I don’t see that as a problem since there are so many other lengths that won’t.

Spinning from the lock

When I want to work with a very light preparation and as few tools as possible or to preserve a colour variegation I spin from the cut ends of lightly teased locks. I tease with my hands, cards, flicker or combs and spin. Drafting can be a bit of a challenge since the fibers are more densely packed than in a full separation. But the result is usually a beautifully raw yarn with lots of integrity. You can see an example of this and a method I played with in this post about Icelandic wool.

Colours

Many dual coats have different colours in the outercoat and undercoat. This presents a wonderful opportunity to play with the colours. If you for example separate the coats and spin a strong outercoat yarn and a soft undercoat yarn you can combine these in a weaving project. If you weave twill you would end up with one side with the strength of the outercoat warp in one colour and the other side with the softness of the undercoat in another. Just like the wool on the sheep, a soft undercoat layer to keep the body warm and a strong outercoat layer to keep the wet out. Allowing the coats to cooperate still after a long process from fleece to textile just warms my wooly heart endlessly.

A baby sample for a twill weave with separated undercoat and outercoat of the Gestrike sheep Elin.

A wide spinning spectrum

As you see, a dual coat is usually a very versatile fleece that you can prepare in a number of ways depending on the characteristics of the fleece and what projects you have in mind. With this wide spectrum of preparation techniques it is easy to see an equally wide spectrum of spinning opportunities. Add to that the additional possibilities to play with the natural colours of the fleece and different fiber qualities of lamb’s fleeces and adult fleeces. From the finest next to skin woolen lamb’s undercoat yarn to coarse and strong rug yarn. From baby clothes through shawls, mittens, socks, hats and sweaters to woven textiles for clothing, upholstery, tapestries and rugs. For a hand spinner a single dual coat is a treasure box with endless opportunities to make a wide variety of yarn and textile and honour the sheep that once grew the wool.

Read the Spring 2021 Double coated issue of PLY magazine. I’d packed with in-depth articles about dual coats.

I just love writing a blog post where I already have all the necessary photos from previous posts.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

Finnish hand cards

I continue my Eastward theme this week – today I present my Finnish hand cards. Curved, slender and lightweight. With 108 teeth per square inch they are the perfect candidates for fine wools. The most special thing about them is the leather carding pads, carefully nailed onto the cards as back in the 19th century.

A card story

A couple of years ago Barbro, a spinning friend of mine from Finland, asked in a spinning group if anyone would be interested in fine hand cards with leather carding pads. An acquaintance of her had found a woodworker who makes hand cards from recycled wood, similar to those that were common in Finland in the 19th century. They had also found a business that made leather pads. I had been looking for hand cards with leather pads for a while and not found any. I do have a couple of antique card pairs with leather pads, but they have been mistreated by people who don’t know the treasure antique hand cards are and were therefore not very fiber friendly. When Barbro presented this opportunity I was all ears and eager to try the Finnish leather cards.

Five months later the cards were available in the web shop. With Google Translate and lots of patience for interesting translations from Finnish (of which I only understand numbers from 1–5, Do not cover and a swearing word) I managed to order a pair of cards. 108 tpi and nailed leather pads. My heart sang as I received them another ten days later.

The cards can be purchased at Villa Laurila. Laurila is the name of a manor hall and Villa is the Finnish word for wool (adding to my list of Finnish words to recognize).

Finnish hand cards fun facts

There are lots of beautiful and well balanced details and features on the Finnish cards, some of which I haven’t worked with before.

Size

My Finnish cards are quite small, the smallest I have tried. I do like the size, they are lightweight – one card weighs only 205 grams, compared to my Kromski 108 tpi at 345 grams. I do love my Kromskis too, though. But especially considering the fineness of the wools I will be carding with these cards I think a lightweight card is preferable. I’m thinking the lightness will facilitate a lighter stroke and thereby be more gentle on the fine fibers.

The Finnish hand cards are considerably smaller and lighter (11×20 cm/205 g) than my Kromski cards (13×22 cm/345 g).

The handle is a lot smaller than my Kromskis and my hands enjoy the slender shape of the handle and the beeswax/linseed oil surface.

Details

Eventhough I know nothing about woodworking I can easily tell that these cards were made by a professional craftsperson. The way the paddle is inserted into the handle is just exquisite. The technique probably has an equally exquisite name.

When you buy the Finnish hand cards you can choose between nails and staples. To stay as close to the originals that inspired these cards I went with the nails option. Don’t they look just smashing?

Leather pads

The leather pads was the number one reason why I bought these cards. I have wanted a pair for so long but never found any. And these are beautiful. I love the framing strips of leather where the nails fasten the pads, such an elegant little log cabin corner.

Someone told me that leather pads are a bit sensitive to the wiggling of the teeth compared to modern foam pads. Therefore it is a good idea to mark and dedicate one card to one hand. I have written H for höger (right) and V for vänster (left) on mine. Hopefully I remember to check the letters before I start carding too.

Curved

The Finnish cards are curved, something that I’m not used to. Not that I don’t like curved hand cards, I just haven’t tried them before. I think the curve adds to the beauty of the cards as it fits very well with the bellied handle. However, with the curved design of the hand cards I gave myself a new challenge: Learning to card with curved cards.

Curved hand cards, a new challenge for me.

Carding

I have carded a lot through the years and I have found a technique that works for me. But it wasn’t there from the beginning. I have learned along the way and tried new angles, techniques and ergonomic tricks. One of my favourite help in this has been the video How to card wool: Four spinners, four techniques. In the video Rita Buchanan, Maggie Casey, Carol Rhoades and Norman Kennedy show their favourite ways to card. There is so much to learn in this video. It becomes very clear that so much is a matter of personal preference. The aim is the same – to align the fibers parallel and add air in between them, creating an evenly and airily arranged batt or rolag to spin from. But how you get there is your own journey.

After I had watched this video I picked my favourite tricks from all the spinners and composed my own carding repertoire. The most important thing to me is to create an airy rolag, even in shape and fiber distribution and without putting too much strain on me or the fibers.

Rock the wool

Even if I can transfer some of my methods from my flat card technique I can’t transfer all of it. So I had to relearn. As I was considering this I remembered the video. Rita Buchanan showed sort of a carding dance that gave her a lot of joy. This technique appealed to me and I watched the video again and started practicing. If you don’t have access to the video you can read about it and see a couple of illustrations here.

The technique she uses is a rocking motion. This is common for other curved cards techniques too, but in Rita’s technique (that she says she in turn probably learned from someone else) she changes the active hand (but not the positions of the hands) as the wool dances between the cards.

This is how I try to rock my wool in Rita Buchanan’s style:

I’m using Åland wool in the carding pictures. Before I card I always tease the wool. You can read more about teasing here. After that I dress the cards with the wool, leaving a one inch frame of the carding pad around the wool empty. This far I do the same as with flat cards.

  1. Top card active: With the top card (left hand in my case) I card with a rocking motion from above. My bottom card arm is locked by the side of my torso. Starting at the top end of the bottom card I card with 4 or 5 rocks up toward the handle side of the bottom card until I have transfered all the wool to the top card.
  2. Bottom card active: With the bottom card (right hand in my case) I card with a rocking motion from underneath. My top card arm is locked by the side of my torso. Starting at the top end of the top card I card with 4 or 5 rocks up toward the handle side of the top card until I have transfered all the wool to the bottom card.
  3. I repeat step 1 and 2 another turn and then lift the wool gently and roll it into a rolag with the support of my free hand.

At my Instagram highlights you can see a short video where I card Åland wool with this technique with my Finnish cards. Right after that there is another highlight sequence where I card with my flat cards.


Happy carding!


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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • 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
  • 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.

Cutting corners?

I spend a lot of my time with a fleece at the preparation stage. This is where I lay the foundation for the quality of the yarn. But sometimes I cut corners and skip steps. Sometimes I add an extra step or extra time to increase the quality or the experience of the spinning. Today I reflect over when and why I’m cutting corners or create new ones.

The other day I told my husband about a recent project where I had cut corners for the sake of the shorter fluff to stuff cycle and an instant feedback between the steps. He paused and asked me “What makes you decide what corners to cut?”. And Voilá, a blog post idea was born.

Cornerstones of processing

There are several steps I take on the journey from fleece to yarn. All of them important for the quality of the product. Sometimes, though, the quality of the yarn may not be my first priority. I very rarely skip something because I want it done faster, I know it doesn’t serve me. But there may be other dimensions I am interested in for a specific project.

After washing the fleece I go through a number of stages. You can read more thoroughly about some of them in the post Fleece happens.

Fiber

First of all, I always work from raw fleece and wash it in water only. I want to get to know the fleece from the very beginning. That means I don’t buy fleece that someone else has washed. I don’t buy wool that someone else or a machine has processed. There is so much information in the steps I take before I spin the wool that I don’t want to be without. All steps offer a unique chance to explore the wool and find out its innermost secrets. All steps are appealing to me and give me peace. I don’t see any of the wool preparation steps as time consuming. Instead I see them as gifts that can reveal the secrets of the wool if I just listen to it.

Newly shorn autumn fleece from a Swedish Gestrike sheep.
Newly shorn autumn fleece from a Swedish Gestrike sheep.

I don’t cut any corners when it comes to the fiber. To me, too much information is lost in commercially prepared fiber and I don’t feel connected to it as I do with a fleece that has come straight from the hoof.

Picking

Picking is where I pick each staple to separate it from the mass of the fleece. In this the staple may open up slightly, easing felted or tangled parts and allowing vegetable matter to fall out. I also get a unique opportunity to go through the fleece with my hands, literally staple by staple, getting to know its characteristics. During picking I also get rid of second cuts, dirt, felted parts or otherwise lesser quality wool.

I'm listening to my Icelandic wool.
Picking the fleece. No cutting corners here.

At the beginning of my spinning journey I did this with all my fleeces. But somewhere along the way I omitted it, I’m not sure why. Lately, though, I have started picking my fleeces again and realize what a time, muscle and fiber saver it is. A fleece that has been picked is so much easier to handle than an unpicked fleece. When I start working with a fleece that I have picked before storing I know it has gone through a quality control. If I’m lucky I have made some notes during picking that are useful as I continue the processing.

Picking is not a corner I want to cut. It may take time as I do it, but it does save both time, muscles and fiber. Processing will be easier and less straining for both me and the fiber. I believe that a picked fleece will result in a higher quality yarn with a higher fleece to yarn yield.

Teasing

I always tease my wool before carding. One way or another, be it with combs, flicker, cards, hands or by separating undercoat from outercoat. I never skip this step. When I tease the wool I open it up and ease the hold the fibers have on each other. This makes it easier on my arms as well as on the fibers. Should I cut corners on teasing I would be able to work for a shorter time due to strained arms and hands. The yarn would be of a worse quality since unteased locks will protest in the carding, break fibers, create nepps that interrupt my spinning flow and leave a lumpy yarn. A teased wool will therefore generate a higher fleece to yarn yield, have a higher quality and leave my body happier.

Teased wool from rya fleece.

When I comb wool for the sake of combing (as opposed to using combs to tease), the wool will be teased as I comb. Sometimes though, the staples are so dense or felted that I add another corner and tease with a flicker before I comb.

You can read more about teasing here.

Carding and combing

I generally either card or comb my wool. This is the stage where I pre-chew my fiber before spinning. It is definitely possible to spin unprepared (or only teased) wool, but without pre-chewing the spinning will be chunkier and require more effort. During the winter I have spun a low-twist singles Lopi-style yarn from lightly teased locks of Icelandic wool. The purpose was not to cut corners. Rather, it was to preserve the natural colour variegation in the staples. The preparation was chunkier and did require more effort. But all according to my plan.

Any tool that allows me to be a part of the mechanics – be it a spindle, hand cards or a backstrap loom is a tool where I get feedback directly from the fiber. With this as guidance I will be able to to make informed decisions about how to proceed.

If you find combing and carding by hand tedious, try picking and teasing the wool first. I can promise you a difference – the flow in the carding or combing dance will be a lot smoother. You will be able to feel the characteristics of the fibers and their relationship to each other between your hands.

How about drum carding?

I don’t drum card my wool. I don’t own a drum carder. The one time I tried it, it seemed to take as long as hand-carding but with a less balanced body position and lesser quality. Also using the drum carder doesn’t give me the feedback I get from the wool when I hand-card.

Spinning

In my videos and webinars you mainly see me with a spindle of some kind. I do spin on my spinning wheel too, actually more than I spin on spindles. Usually I spin larger projects on my spinning wheel. With that said, I have spun several larger projects with spindles too, like the Cecilia’s bosom friend shawl and the prototype leading up to it, and my Moroccan snow shoveling pants that I knit from 1 kilo of super bulky spindle spun yarn.

I usually pick the spinning tool that I think is the best for the project and the context. Perhaps I want to spin different yarns simultaneously, well, then I may spin one or two on spindles and another on my spinning wheel. I do have two wheels, but only room for one stationary wheel. And there is always room for spindles.

Plying

Plying is not something I have dived into like I have on other parts of the process from fleece to yarn, so I can’t say I know much about it. Perhaps it is therefore I sometimes allow myself to cut corners at the plying stage.

Resting singles

For the singles to compose themselves after I have filled a bobbin it is a good idea to allow them to rest. I usually do this, not always overnight, but at least until the evening. If I just want to test a yarn and spin a sample I tend to skip this step.

Reversing singles

I have learned that it is a good idea to reverse the singles before plying, so that I ply the singles together from the same end I have spun them, especially when it comes to worsted spun yarn. Spinning and plying from the same end will allow for a smoother yarn while spinning and plying from different ends may result in a slightly fuzzier yarn. To reverse the singles for plying I take the two (or more) singles and roll them together on an empty bobbin, so that I ply all singles from one and the same bobbin, from the same end they were spun. I try to follow this recommendation, but sometimes I cut corners here.

Plying from separate bobbins

When I spin on my wheel I spin each single on a separate bobbin. As I ply the yarn from the bobbins all singles come into the plying twist in the same way. But when I spin on spindles I may wind the yarn into a centerpull ball and ply from the inner and outer ends of that single into a 2-ply yarn.

Sometimes I ply from other ends of a centerpull ball. Just because I want to.

I am fully aware that the inner and outer ends of the yarn will come differently into the plying twist. But sometimes I do cut corners here. Most recently with my Moroccan snow shoveling pants and a pair of nalbinding mittens. For the pants I wanted to stay as close as possible to the original procedure from wool to knitting. When it comes to the mittens I was after the short fluff to stuff cycle and instant feedback from one step of the process to the next.

Soaking and setting twist

I do soak most of my yarns and set the twist. But there have been situations when I have cut corners here. Like in the two projects above where I plied from the two ends of a centerpull ball. I wanted to stay close to the traditional making of the pants and I wanted a short fluff to stuff cycle for the mittens and have all the steps fresh in my memory. I know that the yarn is a bit unbalanced, and that is okay. The purpose of the project was to find peace of mind and focus when the world was, and still is, in full storm outside my crafting bubble.

I cut very few corners in the processing steps. High quality rolags come from time spent with the wool.

All in all, I sometimes do cut corners and I always know why I do it. It rarely is about saving time. In fact, I know that spending more time on processing may even save me time in the long run. It will definitely give me a higher quality yarn.

Do you cut corners? Where and why? Where don’t you cut corners? Share in the comments below.

Thank you darling Dan for your clever question about cutting corners. It made me reflect over my process and what is important to me.

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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • 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
  • 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.