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!


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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.

Wool boards

When I explore a fleece I try to document my work in a way that suits me. For the past few years I have made wool boards. Or that’s what I call them. They remind me of mood boards, only with wool.

I’m sure there are other names for ways to display wool, samples and swatches as a form of fleece note taking. Wool board is just a name I have chosen for my purposes.

Slow fashion

The first wool board I made was for one of my earliest videos, Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl. Or, it was more a book than a board. The book worked as a sample and swatch documentation, script, weaving plan and table of contents for the video. In the book I kept staples, yarn samples and several swatches where I experimented my way to the techniques that gave me the structure and drape that I wanted in the shawl.

Explore and progress

As I worked with the samples in the book I realized how much I learned through making and reflecting over real samples and swatches. Since I wanted the book to be a living documentation through the video I needed to present my progress properly and have something intelligent to say. Just like when I write blog posts, knowing that I need to present something interesting and educational makes me reflect more and understand more about my own process.

I keep my wool boards in a box where they don’t get too compact.

After that I have found a wool board format that suits me. I don’t make one for every fleece I work with, but I usually do for special projects, first time explorations, magazine articles or for educational purposes.

When to display

Sometimes I have gone through the fleece and experimented to some extent before I make the wool board. If you haven’t already you can join the Fleece through the senses five-day challenge. In the challenge I invite you to explore your fleece on your level and with the tools you have. It will give you an idea of what your fleece has to offer and how you can make it shine. A wool board is a nice way to finish the challenge to celebrate the wool and what you have learned from it.

Other times I have made a more elaborate investigation of the fleece and in both practical and theoretical ways. In the course Know your fleece I invite you to go deeper into the fleece, explore and experiment on a more elaborate level and plan how to work with the whole fleece. One of the final assignments will result in a wool board.

Regardless of whether I spend more or less time with the fleece leading up to the wool board I do do a lot of investigating of the fleece before landing in my wool board display. I don’t go through this lightly – I spend the time I need for getting to know the fleece, looking for its soul. I need to feel grounded in my approach to the fleece and make it justice as a yarn and project.

What to display

I typically make the wool board after I have experimented my way to a yarn and structure I want to work with. Perhaps I’m not planning on spinning the whole fleece right away. In those cases the wool board is an important map for me once I do dive into the fleece again. Suddenly I have a neatly organized manual to work from.

I display the things I think are important and interesting on my wool board. I write a few words about what I have done and learned, but also thoughts about techniques tools, designs and images of a future project. You can read more about how I keep record of my fleeces in this blog post. Another useful post to read is fleece happens, where I go through the steps I take from getting a raw fleece to my house to storage in the fleece queue in my sofa bed. A wool board can be made. before storing, to keep me updated once I pick the fleece up for processing.

Gute and Gotland

For an article I wrote for Spin-Off magazine I compared fleeces from Gotland and Gute sheep. I wanted to show the differences between two breeds that have a common history, one breed ancient and one relatively new. I remember the Gotland locks being felted at the cut ends and very unruly. By teasing the locks with a flicker before combing I realized I could ease the strain on my wrists and end up with less waste. That wool is now a shiny sweater.

By fulling a woven gute sample for the wool board I saw its potential as a wadmal cloth rather than an untreated knitting structure. I have finished a weave with this wool and I’m hoping to be able to full it in a fulling mill.

Värmland singles

As I worked with a white Värmland fleece I realized that it was very prone to felting. I decided to use this characteristic to my advantage and experimented my way into a singles yarn that I fulled lightly by shocking it in hot and cold water.

A simple wool board after an extensive process of finding the soul of a Värmland fleece.

I was teaching a live online course when I experimented with this fleece. The goal of the course was to make a wool board from the exploration, experimentation and planning with each student’s own fleece. I decided to work along my students, do all the classes myself and end up with a wool board of my own. The wool board may look simple, but there are lots of work and insights behind the visual display that I can relate to and keep in store in my experience bank.

A yarn road map

Before I found the perfect thickness and structure for my Margau Beta sweater I made several samples, some too thin, some too bulky and one just perfect. On the wool board it’s just a few sad little yarn samples, but behind that is a long process of both sense and sensibility.

A wool board for my Margau Beta sweater with a rya/finull cross blended with recycled sari silk.

The fleece was my first experimentation with blending wool with recycled sari silk at the teasing stage. This too was based on extensive experimentation – how much sari silk do I want? How do I balance quality and waste when the silk fibers are so short? What kind of knitting structure do I want?

Later I used this wool board for the design and pattern of the Selma Margau sweater, published as a pattern in Spin-Off magazine.

Silk, kemp and vm

A few months ago I bought another gute fleece that I had just seen on Instagram. The fleece was full of vegetable matter and I experimented my way into removing as much as possible with as little waste as possible. I also played with blending sari silk with the both soft and rustic gute wool. Experimentation with fulling gave me a lovely structure that I hadn’t thought of before.

Opposites do attract and I learned it through working with a wool board.

All this experimentation is carefully noted and displayed on the wool board. When it’s time to work the rest of the fleece I have the wool board as a reminder of the process I went through when I experimented. And a couple of blog posts about it all.

A celebration

I want my wool boards to be both inviting and useful. But also I want it to be a celebration of my teacher and working partner, the fleece. Through exploring, playing and experimenting I have been able to slowly and mindfully find clues to how to best approach this individual fleece, how to show its superpowers and make it shine. Together with sensible numbers and an artistic impression this more spiritual connection to the wool makes the wool board complete, at least for me and my purposes with a wool board.

A learning process

I want to show the working process from staples to a few swatches on my wool boards. But more than that it’s a display of my thought process and my own development together with the fleece. My exploration, experimentation, mind maps and mistakes are all there, manifested through carefully displayed samples, swatches and notes.

The important insights and the real work are all in my mind and my hands. The wool board just a faint reminder of what I have learned through being in the wool and listening to it. Hopefully I can make it justice 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 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.

Teasing

When someone oohs and aahs over a handspun yarn I say “It’s all in the preparation”. When someone oohs and aahs over a mean hand-carded rolag I say “It’s all in the pre-preparation”. Today’s post is all about teasing.

Teasing is a way to open up the wool. Either as a single preparation or as a pre-preparation before the main preparation. Teasing wool before carding is an enormous help in getting even, high quality rolags that are a joy to spin.

Staples of rya wool and mohair, wool teased with combs and hand-carded rolags like peas in a pod.
Staples of rya wool and mohair, wool teased with combs and hand-carded rolags like peas in a pod.

I never put wool on my hand cards unless it is teased first. To me, carding is about arranging the fibers evenly and loftily. To do that – without putting too much strain on me and the fibers – I therefore tease first. Without exception. When I teach spinning I always include fiber preparation and teasing.

Why teasing?

When I tease I

  • open up the wool from its state as a bundle of staples. Air comes in between the fibers and makes the fibers more evenly distributed
  • spend more time with the wool
  • prepare to card high quality rolags.

With teasing I can

  • get more evenly carded rolags with less strain on my body and the wool
  • blend fibers, lengths fleeces or colours
  • remove vegetable matter
  • get rid of the shortest fibers
  • leave the teased wool before I card, while carded and combed wool needs to be treated as fresh produce
  • experience more ease and joy when I card.

Without teasing before carding

  • the wool will be more dense and require more force to separate
  • I may strain my shoulders, wrists and arms
  • fibers may break, leaving nepps in the preparation
  • the rolags will be of lesser quality
  • there may be a lot more waste than with teasing.
I gently add the teased wool to my hand card to create an evenly arranged rolag.
I gently add the teased wool to my hand card to create an evenly arranged rolag.

How I tease

I use different tools for teasing – my hands, combs and flickers. Which tool I use when depends on a variety of circumstances.

Teasing with combs

My go-to tool of teasing is combs, usually my larger combs with a combing station that I clamp onto a table (but of course hand held combs work well too). I can tease larger amounts of wool this way and without putting too much strain on my hands and wrists. When I tease with my combs I also have the opportunity to blend different breeds, fiber lengths or colours. You can see a video here where I tease wool that I blend with recycled sari silk. Teasing with combs also helps getting rid of vegetable matter.

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

Teasing with combs is similar to combing in the middle but different in the beginning and in the end. When I tease with combs I don’t consider the direction of the staples the way I would if I were combing – I just make sure there is as little wool as possible on the handle side of the comb. Other than that I just add the wool as it comes.

Värmland wool teased with combs, ready for carding.
Värmland wool teased with combs, ready for carding.

The middle part, the actual combing, is the same as when I comb for a top. When I pull the wool off the comb I don’t pull it in one long section like I would if I were combing, I just pull it in fiber-length tufts.

All my combs come from Gammeldags in Sweden and I highly recommend them, both the mini combs and the larger ones with a combing station to clamp onto the table. You can read more about combs in general and the Gammeldags combs in particular here.

Teasing with a flicker

In some circumstances I use a flicker to tease my wool. This could be if there are certain things I want to remove with the flicker. One example is Swedish finull. Since the finull fibers are so fine the tips can be brittle. To avoid nepps in my yarn I use the flicker to allow any breaking tips to break in the flicker and stay there instead of ending up as nepps in my yarn.

Another example is if the staples have a lot of kemp (or too short fibers in general) in the bottom. A flicker can do a good job in removing some of the kemp.

To flick a staple I hold the cut end firmly and brush out the tip end with the flicker, using my thigh as support and a piece of leather as protection. I turn the staple and brush the other side of the tip. When the tip is teased I flip the staple to brush out both sides of the cut ends. I need to hold the staple quite close to the cut end to avoid having shorter fibers (but long enough for spinning) to stay in the flicker and go to waste.

Flicking as main preparation

I also use a flicker if I want to spin straight from the staples. Perhaps I want to keep something – a colour variegation or a fiber distribution. The flicker opens up the staple without disturbing the fibers in the staple too much and makes the spinning smoother. I used a flicker for my Icelandic fleece that I spun raw from the lock. I teased the staples with a flicker first and then opened up the teased staples further with my hands.

Another project where I used flicked locks as the main preparation was a pair of two-end knitted mittens. I wanted to keep the colour variegation in the yarn and spun a z-plied yarn from teased locks with a supported spindle. You can read about the finished two-end knitted mittens here. The post includes links to earlier parts of the process like preparation and spinning.

Flicking before combing

On some occasions I also use my flicker before combing a top. One example is a Swedish Gotland fleece that had very dense staples that were felted in the cut ends. Opening up the staples before combing made the combing a lot smoother and there was a lot less waste than without the teasing. Similarly, I have teased locks of a Norwegian NKS fleece that had solidified lanolin in the tips (in the post you can watch videos where I show the results with and without teasing before combing). Teasing the staples with a flicker resulted in less work for me and less wool waste.

Using a card as a flicker

Another option is to tease individual staples with your hand cards and get the same results as with a flicker:

  • Place the tip end on the upper edge of a hand card with a hand on top
  • Pull the staple from the carding pad, resisting with the top hand a few times until the tips are teased
  • Flip the staple and repeat for the cut end.

My flicker comes from Louët, but both Ashford and Clemes & Clemes have flickers. Clemes & Clemes has something called a lock pop that seems interesting. You can use a dog or cat brush as a flicker too (or several, they will definitely break). In this video I tease individual staples with a dog comb.

Teasing by hand

If I don’t want to bring too many tools or if I want to stay really close to the wool I tease with my hands. I hold the staple in my hand and tease perpendicularly to the direction of the staple. It obviously takes longer than teasing with a tool, but the benefit is the time you spend with the fiber, getting to know it and how it behaves.

Teasing by hand: Hold the staple lengthwise between your hands and pull almost fiber by fiber perpendicular to the direction of the staple.
Teasing by hand: Hold the staple lengthwise between your hands and pull almost fiber by fiber perpendicular to the direction of the staple.

In my recent spinning project with raw Icelandic wool I combined flicking and hand teasing and spun from what I ended up calling an accordion burrito.

Accidental teasing

A final and sort of accidental way to tease is when you separate undercoat and outercoat with combs. As you doff the outercoat off the comb in a top the undercoat stays in the comb, nicely teased.

After having doffed the long outercoat fibers off the comb I end up with accidentally teased undercoat fibers neatly arranged in the comb.
After having doffed the long outercoat fibers off the comb I end up with accidentally teased undercoat fibers neatly arranged in the comb.

I hope you experiment with teasing if you haven’t already, and enjoy the difference. I will get back to my teasing and a good period drama. To me, teasing will not only result in higher quality rolags, but also a joy in the carding process.

Teased rya locks in the sun (see as in the featured image).
Teased rya locks in the sun (see as in the featured image).

Do you tease your wool in a way I haven’t described here? What are the benefits?

If you have access to any of the breed study webinars I have released you can see how I tease there. And if you are a patron you can have access to all previous breed study webinars in a patron-only video library.

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.

Opposites attract

It happened again. A baby idea came and made up its mind not to leave me alone until I had listened to it. The baby idea told me to combine rustic gute fleece with recycled sari silk with the motivation that opposites attract. I listened and I’m glad I did.

A while ago I bought a gute fleece. Gute sheep have a very rustic wool that often has a coarse appearance. You can read more about gute wool here. This one was quite unusual, though, with its very soft undercoat and the outercoat playing only a minor part. Still, as with gute in general, the fleece has kemp.

Kemp

Kemp is fibers that have a dominant core with air-filled cells that make the fibers brittle. They are coarse and don’t conform themself with the rest of the fibers, instead they point quirkily in all directions. The upside with kemp, though, is that they fall out of the wool eventually and leave air pockets. And in yarn, air means warmth.

A lovely and in my experience quite rare gute fleece with lots of very fine undercoat, a few strands of outercoat and some kemp. The kemp keeps the staples open and light.

A fulling project

Kemp also gives a rustic look to a fabric. I like a fulled fabric with quirky kemp in it. My original plan for this fleece was to spin a 2-ply yarn to weave and full in a fulling mill. The combination of lots of undercoat with quite small amount of outercoat and kemp makes this a perfect candidate. The undercoat has excellent felting properties, the outercoat binds the fibers together and makes the fabric stronger and the kemp adds an interesting design element while at the same time bringing warmth to the fabric as it falls out and leaves air pockets.

Enter Sari silk

And so the baby idea came to me. What would happen if I blended the rustic gute wool with recycled sari silk? Would the very different fibers complement each other or would they just look odd? If so, would that be a bad thing?

I have blended recycled sari silk with wool before, in my sweater designs Margau beta and Selma Margau (available as a pattern in Spin-Off magazine). The fleeces have been finer and the results scrumptious. I decided to give my baby idea the benefit of the doubt and make a test skein and fulled swatches.

Teasing

So, first of all I teased the wool. I chose to tease with my combing station, where I could at the same time blend the sari silk with the wool. I charge the stationary comb with the (picked) gute staples. For the purpose of teasing I don’t care about the direction of the staples. I also add tufts of sari silk. To keep a reasonably even wool to silk ratio I charge every combload with 8 staple length tufts of sari silk.

As I doff the roving off the stationary comb a lot of the sari silk and the kemp stays in the comb. I try to fiddle the silk out.

I do about four passes in the combing station to get an even roving. There is one tricky thing here, though. As I doff the wool off the combs I get the longer lengths first, then shorter and shorter. Since both the sari silk and the kemp is very short, around one inch, a lot of it stays in the stationary comb. I try to fiddle the sari silk out to the best of my ability. I will try flicking the cut ends of the gute staples before teasing next time to get more kemp out.

You can see how I tease wool, blend it with sari silk and card rolags in this video.

Carding

As I card luscious rolags, the sari silk blends beautifully into the gute wool, like sparkling stars on a foggy night. Unexpected but mesmerizing.

This wool is just dreamy to work with. Very light and airy with a lovely meringue-y resistance to it. The rolags shape themselves like they were born to do just that. If I lean in I hear them singing sweet songs of yummy longdraws. My heart joins in in the chorus.

The longdraws from heaven

Yes, these newborn rolag babies need and deserve a wicked longdraw. As it turns out, the rolags work that out too, I just treadle along and listen to the wool. I allow it to decide how thick it wants to be. It settles for a quite fine thickness that after plying and washing blooms out into a sport weight yarn.

As I look at the newborn yarn I see something unique, a blend that I had never thought of before, but that flirts with me in a new way. I see the differences between the fibers and I tingle at their odd union.

Opposites attract

The kemp and the silk in this blend represent the ends of a number of spectra. While the gute wool is raw (in the sense that it hasn’t been processed) the sari silk has been spun, dyed, woven, ripped and processed again. The colours of the sari silk are vibrant and almost luminescent while the gute wool is softly grey. The kemp doesn’t even take dye. While the sari silk easily blends into the draft the kemp in the gute wool is quirky and goes its own way, often out of the yarn entirely. The kemp leaving air pockets in the yarn, the silk filling them. The silk sari, sheer and draped, the gute wool heavily fulled, dense.

However, as there are numerous ways in which these fibers are different, I can find sweet similarities too. Both sari silk and gute wool have depth in their colours, just on different scales. One on the vibrant side and the other on a subtle grey scale. The fine gute undercoat goes hand in hand with the silk. All the fibers – outercoat, undercoat and silk follow the dance of the twist. Well, not so much the kemp.

Another parameter the sari silk and the kemp have in common is their length. They are both quite short, around an inch long. Due to this similarity in length they stay in the combs when I have pulled the teased fibers out. If I pull out more silk, I get the kemp too. And there they are, side by side, like fiber sisters.

Clown barf?

As I investigate the yarn I wonder if I added too much sari silk. There are quite a lot of colour splashes. Is it too much? I remember a Swedish spinning forum discussion where the word clown barf was mentioned in reference to a very pastelly combed top. Was this approaching a brighter clown barf cousin?

I wrote down the wool to silk ratio and made a mental note about perhaps reducing the amount of sari silk. First I would see what happened in the weaving and fulling.

Sampling and fulling

So, I brought out my pin loom and started making samples to play with. Usually when I experiment with fulling I make two swatches – one that I leave as it is for reference and one that I full. This time I decided to make two fulling samples with different degrees of fulling. This turned out to be an excellent idea.

My theory was that since I believed that silk doesn’t felt the splashes of colour would bulk up and make blobs. This is why I was considering using less sari silk. The clown barfiness calmed down in the woven samples and even more in the fulled swatches. In the heavier fulled swatch the sari silk hardly shows at all. Little enough to leave the sari silk out altogether for that degree of fulling. It turns out that silk does felt.

I do love the lightly fulled swatch, the one I decided to make on a whim. It has a lovely movement that its stiffer cousin doesn’t have. The sari silk glows softly in the comfort of the squishy grey. Side by side with the sari silk is the quirky kemp, eager to see the world.

Under the loupe

Astonished by the fulling results I texted the pictures of the fulled samples to my brilliant friend Cecilia. “What do they look like under the loupe?” she asked in reply. That was the best idea I had heard all week. Of course I need to observe some felting action under a loupe!

So, after some fiddling I managed to get the three swatches under the loupe and some decent photos. As I look at them I see so many interesting things:

  • Silk fibers are really fine! But the gute undercoat is also very fine in this fleece.
  • I can see the light gute fibers, mostly the finer ones but also some with a wider diameter. This seems to confirm my observation of the staples being build up of mostly undercoat fibers and just a few strands of outercoat fibers and that the latter aren’t that coarse.
  • The quirkiness of the kemp (the dark fibers) really shows in the images.
  • There is a thrilling migration going on in the swatches which becomes very clear under the loupe. While the sari silk is superficial and the kemp in the center of the fabric in the original swatch (left), they seem to have traded places in the heavily fulled swatch (right). In both fulled swatches, but especially the heavily fulled, the kemp is on the surface and the sari silk cosily snug in the center. This is visible in the unmagnified photos too – you can see how the sari silk is more diffuse in the fulled samples and the kemp superficial, ready for take-off.

The migration was very fascinating to me and quite the opposite of what I had anticipated before I made the fulled samples. The clown barfiness faded and the marriage between the rough and fine was a success, especially in the lightly fulled sample. The kemp will probably keep migrating out into the world, way outside of the textile.

J’accuse

At the beginning of this week I didn’t know what to write in today’s blog post. I decided to try my gute silk idea to have something to write about. Hadn’t I done that I would never have analyzed it this thoroughly. J’accuse! I totally blame you, my dear readers, for this blog post and its revelations. Thank you! And thank you Cecilia for reminding me to exercise my loupe.

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.

In the grease

In the PLY magazine Double coated issue Maja Siska wrote an article about spinning a lopi style Icelandic yarn from the lock in the grease. I was intrigued by this and knew I needed to try it myself.

In the article Maja describes how she spins a lopi style yarn from a colour variegated fleece. By spinning from the lock those different colours will come to their right on their own instead of being blended into a medium grayish beige. She also spins the yarn in the grease.

I have read the article numerous times. There were so many things in Maja’s technique that were appealing to me, but most of all the combination. A singles yarn spun from the lock of variegated Icelandic fleece in the grease. What’s not to love?

Close

A lopi style yarn is a singles yarn with little or no twist, usually commercially spun to either be further spun into a plied yarn or used as it is. The yarn still holds together through the combination of long outercoat fibers and fine, warm undercoat fibers. Knitting with a lopi style yarn usually results in a very light but still warm garment. At first I thought a lopi yarn was an ancient tradition in Iceland. It turns out that it is not, it is a product of spinning mills producing yarn for the Icelandic sweaters that originated in the mid 20th century. Thus, the technique in Maja’s article isn’t a traditional way to spin a lopi style yarn. Rather, it is an adaptation to hand spinning from the mill produced pencil roving.

A lopi style yarn. Raw, yet elegant.

Adaptation to hand spinning also offers the opportunity to take advantage of the superpowers of hand spinning. I wanted to stay as close to the original structure of the fleece as possible. A yarn with this very gentle processing and handling gives me goosebumps. I often talk about processing with hand tools as a way to get to know the fleece. When just lightly teasing locks I skip a few steps, but I do get to come close to the wool and its original shape. I wrote a poetic style blog post about this closeness a couple of weeks ago.

Icelandic lamb’s fleece

I have wanted to get acquainted with Icelandic wool for a while now. I had even sought out a fleece supplier. When I read Maja’s article I knew I couldn’t wait anymore. I contacted Hulda at Uppspuni mini mill in Iceland to ask her for a lamb’s fleece.

I was in luck, the lambs were about to be shorn just a week or so later and Hulda promised to pick out a nice fleece for me. Another week or so later the fleece landed on my doorstep, full of icelandic sheepiness. I accidentally asked her to get me part of a darker fleece too. I figured I needed some contrasting colour yarn for a stranded yoke.

Teasing

At first I tried to just hand tease the locks, but despite the lovely openness of the staples I wanted a better separation of the fibers. After some experimenting I landed in lightly opening up of the locks in the direction of the fibers with a flicker and then hand teasing perpendicular to the direction of the fibers. That way I could open the cut end, the tip end and the middle and get the dirt out of the tip ends as well.

I love this opportunity to literally dig my hands into the raw fleece. Nothing has been done with this wool since shearing. By working with this fleece in the grease I have every opportunity in the world to experience it in its very essence, as well as the responsibility to make it justice. Now that’s intriguing!

Spinning from the lock

Spinning from the lock gives me the opportunity to be gentle with the wool and keep the yarn as close to the structure of the fleece on the hoof as possible.

Although I have teased the wool and the fibers seem well separated sideways, they are still quite aligned lengthwise. This makes drafting a challenge and I need to really focus on the fibers coming into the draft and the fibers next in line. My fingers need to listen to the wool to find the length of the fibers and thereby the proper distance between my hands.

Since the fibers are less separated than in a carded or combed preparation I need to work more with my hands to get the fibers reasonably evenly into the twist. I need to make sure an even amount of fiber is going into the twist while at the same time keeping the twist live and close to the point of twist engagement – that point where there is enough twist for the fibers to be able to pass each other without coming apart.

Wheel or spindle?

As you can see from some of the picture I started out spinning this yarn with a suspended spindle. In my vision to handle this yarn as gently and with as few tools as possible I figured a spindle would be the perfect spinning tool. I tried several different weights, but I never seemed to get it right. The yarn got too thin and I didn’t feel that flow that tells me everything is just right. I decided to try the spinning wheel and immediately felt at home. I think the wheel allowed me to work better with both my hands in the drafting.

In the grease

As you can see from some of the pictures I’m spinning by the fireplace. Apart from it being lovely with the warmth and the glowing embers, the heat melts the lanolin, resulting in a heavenly draft. The fibers go through my hands like butter and leave them soft and moisturized in the dry Swedish winter.

I very rarely spin wool with no lanolin, usually I have some lanolin left from gentle washing without detergents. The lanolin lubricates the draft and makes it even and steady. Spinning in the grease, though, is a whole different matter. The lanolin feels truly present in the spinning, like one of the main characters in the spinning drama.

Going backwards

Despite the smooth drafting with the lanolin all soft from the heat of the fireplace, spinning from the lock requires a bit more effort than spinning a prepared rolag or top. Drafting takes longer which results in quite a lot of twist. I tread faster and use my largest whorl (with a ratio of 7.5:1), but still there is far too much twist for my purpose with this yarn. My solution for this is to simply back the yarn once. I spin the bobbin again, but against the twist, removing enough twist to end up with a twist angle of around 20°.

The yarn fluffs up and looks truly inviting as a singles yarn, displaying its whole colour palette, lanolin glistening like tiny stars.

Washing and shocking

To wash my lopi style yarn spun in the grease I do what I normally do with a finished skein: I wash with an organic shampoo in the first water (as hot as my tap can muster, around 55°C), white vinegar in the second and rinse with a third.

Finished skeins of singles lopi style yarn in a lopi style. The skeins are unwashed.

Since the yarn is single there is some energy in it, even if the twist is low. Also, a singles yarn may not be as sturdy as a plied one. So, to ease the energy and to bring some strength to the yarn I full it lightly after the third bath: I dip the yarn in cold water. The temperature difference is enough to push the scales into holding on to each other and stabilize the yarn slightly. After fulling I squeeze the skeins in a towel, whack them against the floor and hang to dry.

I’m very happy with the resulting skeins. They are not completely evenly spun, but as a whole they will produce an even knitted structure. I’m looking forward to seeing the colour variations and the texture in the knitted fabric. I just haven’t had the time to swatch yet.

Thank you Maja for an excellent article. Thank you Hulda for the loveliest fleece.

If you are a patron (or decide to become one) there is a digital postcard video I put together for you where I show you how I prepare and spin this wool into a lopi style yarn like I describe in this post.

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 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.

Spinning championships 2021

It’s that time of the year again – the Swedish spinning championships. If I remember correctly I have participated in the championships since 2015. I don’t want to miss this opportunity to spin from wool and instructions that I haven’t chosen myself and learn from the experience.

Last year I won the gold medal for my embroidery yarn. This year I didn’t get any medals, but I would still like to share my yarns and techniques with you.

Championship format

In the spinning championships all spinners get the same fiber and the same rules. The spinners get around one month to spin their yarn and submit it. A jury confers and the medalists are revealed a few weeks later. Usually the prize ceremony takes place on the fleece and spinning championships in different locations every year, but this year and 2020 they were both digital.

There were two competitions this year: Värmland wool and flax.

Värmland wool

The assignment for the Värmland wool was to spin a yarn for knitting, 2-ply or more. We got raw Värmland lamb’s wool in two shades.

Colour separation

Since we got two different colours of the Värmland fleece I figured they would want me to do something with the colours. But two seemed too few, so I decided to make three shades out of the two colours. Using combs I teased each colour separately. I blended a third batch of half dark and half light wool into a shade between the two browns. After that I hand carded each colour separately into rolags.

As I went through the wool I realized that the two colours had different qualities. The darker brown was silky soft and the lighter a bit coarser. I should have listened to this and blended the colours for an even quality. But I was so hung up on the colours so I kept going with the separation.

The wool was a bit difficult to work with. There were lots of very short sections, and the combination with basically no crimp made the fibers quite slippery and reluctant to conform in the twist. This was especially true for the light brown staples with coarser fibers.

Also I realized that I may have used the wrong hand cards ( 72 tpi) but with the very fine fibers I probably should have chosen my finer cards (108 tpi) for a more even fiber distribution in the rolags.

I divided the colours into two piles for two singles with the same amount of the three shades. Somehow I hoped that I would be able to card and spin consistently enough to make the singles equal in length and sections. It didn’t really work out the way I had planned, but still looked good.

Consecutive spinning

I spin a lot on my floor supported Navajo style spindles. I choose them when I want to spin woolen yarn on the bulkier side, but also for finer yarns. You gotta love those arm’s length longdraws.

With this project I wanted to practice in something of a consecutive spinning. I don’t know if this is the correct term, though (please let me know if you have the correct term for this technique). I’m referring to a technique where you spin one spindleful of yarn into a roving or sliver with a very light twist. Then you slide the cop off the shaft and spin the yarn again. A bit more, but still not finished. You keep going until you are happy, 3–4 times is not unusual.

As I understand it, many Navajo spinners often use this technique when they spin yarn for Navajo rugs. The technique facilitates an even yarn and goes a bit faster than a double drafting technique.

First round

For this yarn I chose to spin in three rounds. In the first round I just made a long roving with a very light twist, just enough to keep the fiber together. I made sure I was at a point where the fibers could slide past each other without coming apart. This is the point I call the point of twist engagement. This is where I feel the spinning most alive, where I, with just a very light roll with my thumb, can manipulate the twist so that the fibers work with me towards an effortless draft.

Second round

The second round I drafted some more and added some more twist, but still close enough the point of twist engagement to bring me the freedom to work more with my yarn in a third round.

Third round

For the third and final round I drafted a little more and added the final twist before I 2-plied the two singles on my spinning wheel.

The third round became my final round, where I drafted a little more and added the final twist. As it turned out, I had added too much twist in the second round, making drafting in this third round somewhat of a challenge. But, that’s what I like about these championships – I learn a lot along the way.

A soaked and finished Värmland 2-ply yarn spun in rounds on a floor supported spindle and 2-plied on a spinning wheel.

Final touch

I have no problem plying on spindles, but I know I can achieve a consistent plying twist on the spinning wheel. Since I didn’t want to jeopardize things I plied the spindle spun singles on my spinning wheel.

I was very happy with having tried new techniques and having learned so much from this project. I wasn’t very happy with the yarn, though. But one nice thing with the Spinning championships is that every contestant gets access to the jury’s assessment and learn what they can develop their skills. I’m looking forward to reading it when it comes.

Flax

For the other competition we got industrially prepared line flax. I bought the same brand of line flax a few years ago and I had worked with it all summer, so I knew its challenges. The assignment was to spin a yarn with two or more plies. The purpose with the yarn was knitting. I was very startled by this since all literature on flax preparation and spinning is aimed at weaving yarns. I literally had no clue to how I could adapt my spinning to a knitting yarn.

As I prepared for this post I realized that I hadn’t taken any photos of the flax preparation steps. Therefore most of the photos are from a different flax spinning project. So the fiber is different but the techniques the same.

Rehackling, brushing and dressing

The flax was very dense. Therefore I rehackled it with two different hackles. I knew from before that this flax had lots of different lengths, so I also knew that a lot of shorter fibers would be removed in the rehackling.

After that I brushed it with my lovely flax brush to bring it some extra shine and to remove the last short bits. I lost almost 50 percent of the weight in these steps, but ended up with the longest fibers in my preparation. And I saved the removed fibers for a later tow yarn.

Dressing the distaff

I dressed the distaff the only way I know how to – in a fan shape. This takes a lot of time, but I imagine all ways of distaff dressing take time. The fibers need to be well separated and easily catch on to each other in a consistent way. You can see how I create my fan and dress my distaff in this video.

I used the fan technique to arrange the flax before dressing the distaff (image from a different flax project)

Spinning and skeining

I wet spun the yarn (counter-clockwise) to make it strong and shiny. I tried to give it a little less twist than I would for a weaving yarn. This was the only thing I could think of to adapt the yarn for knitting.

I wet spun the flax counter-clockwise on my spinning wheel (image from a different flax project).

I used my niddy-noddy to wind a skein after having plied my yarn. The yarn went through a bowl of water to avoid fraying, and then through a niks. A niks is an Estonian tool for tensioning the yarn when skeining, but without breaking skin. I made mine from a willow stick. You can see a lovely video about the niks here.

Scouring

This summer has been my summer of flax spinning (more on that in an upcoming post). I think I have spun around 500 grams of flax yarn. But I haven’t dared to scour it. To be able to submit my championships yarn I would have to, though.

I read a couple of flax books, but most of them had scouring methods that involved a whole home chemistry lab or ingredients that aren’t readily available. So I asked around online and finally bought soda ash. It seemed like a chemistry lab on its own, but I managed to use it without any injuries. I boiled the skein in two one hour baths with soda ash and soap and they turned out light and soft.

My finished contribution to the 2021 Swedish spinning championships.

I’m very happy with my flax yarn and especially about all that I have learned from spinning it. I will continue my flax journey next summer. Perhaps I will even dare to spin my homegrown flax 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 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 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.

Vegetable matter

A while ago I bought a fleece online. It was just one of those spur of the moment purchases, when fleece just happens. It was a beautiful gute fleece with silky soft undercoat, long and fine outercoat and quirky kemp. However, as the fleece landed on my doorstep it turned out to be full of vegetable matter.

I had very mixed feelings about this fleece. On the one hand, an unusually soft gute fleece. On the other hand, all the vegetable matter, all over the fleece. My solution was to fall for the fleece, learn from the vegetable matter and share my thoughts and techniques with you.

A villhöver kind of fleece

Gute wool is typically medium to coarse and can be rough (which is not necessarily bad). The undercoat is usually fine or very fine, but in combination with coarser outercoat and the quirky kemp the feeling on the whole is usually rough.

This fleece on the other hand has the softest undercoat in a very airy distribution. The outercoat fibers are long and fine. The kemp, that helps keeping the fleece open, airy and thereby warm, is present over the whole fleece but is also finer than usual in my experience. This very fine undercoat in combination with kemp is very interesting (and rare) and I wonder what she wants to become. The fleece is quite homogenous (also unusual for a gute fleece) with staples of mainly airy undercoat and few strands of outercoat. I would call this vadmal type staples, also quite rare, especially like this over the whole fleece.

The combination of the airy distribution of the undercoat and low amount of outercoat fibers sometimes make the tips hard to find. In parts of the fleece I have to investigate the whole wool mass thoroughly to find the tip ends.

The fleece with all its unusual characteristics presented a severe case of villhöver. This is a fairly new Swedish portmanteau word (like smog, Brexit and Oxbridge) constructed of the stems vill (want) and behöver (need). Something I want so much that I convince myself that I really, really need it. Or, something that I don’t necessarily need but secretly covet. Like, say, a very inviting gute fleece.

Vegetable matter

The fleece presents no poo, very few felted parts and seems to have been professionally shorn – it has very few second cuts. However rare and intriguing this fleece is, it is still full of vegetable matter. Hey, straw, seeds and an occasional piece of moss. Some parts bad, some parts moderate, but still all over the fleece. I do smile at an occasional piece of the environment the sheep has lived in. It gives me a better connection to its daily life. But definitely not in these amounts.

Vegetable matter all over the fleece.

The curiosity of this fleece did however take over and I decided to see this experience as an opportunity to learn and share my insights with you. Also, the openness of the fleece (thank you kemp!) made me believe that the vegetable matter would fall out quite easily after some work and persuasion. A more compact wool like Swedish Gotland wool would probably take a lot more work to clean from vegetable matter.

I did let the seller know about the high amount of vegetable matter. She offered me a refund. I declined, because that was not what I was after, I just wanted her to know that I would have wanted this information in the ad before I bought the fleece. I also wanted her to let the sheep owner know that a crafter doesn’t want vegetable matter in the fleece and why. Rather than getting a refund for my purchase I want the sheep owner to keep providing this quality of fleece but with better knowledge about how to avoid vegetable matter.

Processing

I realized that I could remove a lot of the vegetable matter through several steps of the processing – washing, drying, shaking, picking and one or more of willowing, teasing and carding. Even spinning can spurt out small seeds. The question was if I could remove enough of the vegetable matter, how much more time it would take and how it would interfere with my flow. Most of the steps I present below for removing vegetable matter are steps I take through all my fleeces anyway before I spin them. I just need to dedicate more time and focus in each step.

Sorting

The first thing to do is to go through the fleece before washing. In this stage I can remove visible vegetable matter, felted parts, poo and second cuts. With this fleece I didn’t do any of this, since I poured the fleece right out of the package into the wash tub.

Washing and drying

It was when I pressed the bundle of fleece into my wash tub that I realized it was full of vegetable matter. As I soaked and changed waters I removed what I could see and fiddle out of the wet mass. I dried the fleece on a compost grid on top of egg cartons. As the fleece dried some smaller pieces fell down to the floor underneath the grid.

Letting the fleece dry on a compost grid on top of egg cartons allows it to dry faster and let go of shallow pieces of vegetable matter.
Letting the fleece dry on a compost grid on top of egg cartons allows it to dry faster and let go of shallow pieces of vegetable matter.

Shaking

When a fleece dries I shake it and move it around to allow air in. It also lets vegetable matter fall out of it. As I have gone through the other steps of the processing I have also shaken the fleece in smaller portions to allow it to let go of bits and pieces.

Willowing

I realize that willowing would be a perfect method to remove vegetable matter from a fleece like this. Willowing means whipping the fleece with flexible sticks (willow or hazel for example). It will open up the locks and allow vegetable matter to fall out. Since it is November and not very willowing friendly temperatures outdoors I haven’t done that. Yet, I might do it in the spring, though. You can read more about willowing and watch one of my most popular videos here.

Josefin Waltin sitting with a pile of wool. Locks are flying in the air around her.
Willowing is an efficient way to open up the locks and remove vegetable matter.

Picking

Picking a fleece is a great way to get a first feeling of what the fleece is like and how it behaves. You see how the staples are built up, how the fibers relate to one another and the condition of the fleece. I simply work staple by staple through the whole fleece, picking them by the tip end one by one from the mass of staples. In this process the staples open up and allow for vegetable matter to fall out.

Picking a fleece is a lovely way to get to know a fleece while at the same time letting air in and vegetable matter out.

I used to pick the fleece (usually before washing), but somewhere along the way I have omitted this step of the process. On my latest fleece though, I did pick the fleece to sort it into different staple types and I realized the potential of this step, both to learn more about the fleece and to enjoy it more. Sitting on the floor and methodically and mindfully picking one staple at a time is time well spent with your fleece. I’m definitely picking up picking again!

Teasing

I always tease my wool one way or another before carding it. Carding for me is to arrange the fibers in a certain way. To do this efficiently and gently the staples need to be opened up before I place them on the cards.

I tease by hand if I don’t have any teasing tools available or if I want to stay really close to the wool and get to know it better.

For efficient teasing before carding I use combs. I can load quite large amounts of staples on the combs, especially if I use my larger combs with a combing station. Here is a post and a video where I show you how I tease wool with combs before carding.

I also use a flicker to tease. A flicker is a smaller card, sometimes used to clean drum carders. I open up staple by staple, one end at a time. Sometimes I use the flicker for very fine fleeces where there is a risk of breaking the tip ends. I prefer the tips breaking (and staying) in the flicker rather than having them turn into nepps in the carding. I have also found the flicker to be a good choice if I want to remove some of the kemp at the cut end.

With the gute fleece I tried teasing with both the flicker and the combs. They both do a good job of removing both vegetable matter and kemp. Since the combs are more efficient I think I will use my maxi combs with a combing station to tease the rest of this fleece.

Teasing gute wool with mini combs.

When I comb wool to make a combed top the teasing is integrated in the combing (unless the staples are really reluctant to opening, then I may tease them with a flicker before combing).

Preparing

Carding the wool allows even more air in between the fibers, and thereby more vegetable matter out. As I inspect the rolags I still see some small pieces of vegetable matter, though.

As I card this magnificent gute wool I truly enjoy the airy and bouncy response I get from it between the cards. Again, every step of the processing allows me to learn more about how the wool behaves and how it wants to be spun.

Spinning

So, now to the final step and possibly an answer to my questions: Have I managed to remove enough of the vegetable matter to produce a decent yarn? Have I experienced the flow and relaxation through the process like I usually do? In short: Was it worth it?

As I spin the yarn small pieces of vegetable matter spurt out from between the fibers. The wool has opened up enough to just gently hold on to the debris, in contrast to how they were entangled in the raw fleece. Every now and then I need to stop the wheel to manually remove little bits and pieces. I did this test from one of the worst parts of the fleece and hopefully other parts will flow easier.

A small skein of yarn from the gute fleece I have washed, dried, shaken, picked, teased, carded and spun and thereby removed a lot of the vegetable matter.
A small skein of yarn from the gute fleece I have washed, dried, shaken, picked, teased, carded and spun and thereby removed a lot of the vegetable matter.

So far I have only teased, carded and spun a small sample of this fleece to investigate what I’m up against. I still haven’t finished picking the fleece, I’m doing it little by little. When I have finished picking the whole fleece I will store it and put it in the fleece queue. If it is warm outside when it’s the gute fleece’s turn in the queue I might willow it before I start teasing and going through the rest of the process with the whole fleece.

Even though each step has taken a bit longer than usual and even though I may experience interruptions in my spinning flow to remove debris I think it will be worth it. This is such an incredible fleece.

As they say, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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 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.

Fleece happens

Sometimes fleece happens. Sometimes I buy more than I can handle. Here is how I handle my unhandleable amounts of fleece, through note taking, sorting, washing, drying, picking and storing.

The most important fleece buying period for me is the late autumn. This is usually when the best fleece is shorn in Sweden.

Autumn shearing

The first shearing of the year is usually in late winter when the lanolin content is higher, the sheep are in the stable and the lambs take a lot if the energy from the ewes.

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

Come October the sheep have grazed on fresh pastures all summer and without lambs in their wombs. The wool shorn this time of year has usually grown since just before lambing and the tired, greasy and vm-y fleece is all gone. Read more about shearing in this blog post.

Fleece championships

The autumn is also when the Swedish fleece championships happen. After the medalist have been revealed most of the fleeces are sold on an auction. This is an event that I won’t miss – the best of the best in one place.

A white fleece with fine, crimpy staples.
Fleece happened. Nypon (Rose hip), a silver medal winning finull fleece.

For a few tips on finding a fleece, check out this blog post, Finding a fleece.

Fleece happens

So autumn with the general autumn shearing and the fleece championships is the a time when I buy lots of fleeces. I tell myself that it’s my only chance this year and I tend to buy just a few more than I have time and space for. I still end up buying in the spring. As it turns out, fleece happens in the spring too.

Sometime too much fleece happens. The oldest fleeces get brittle and and the fibers break. They end up as mulching in the garden. A terrible waste spinwise. Therefore I need to think twice when I buy a new fleece, store them wisely and plan the order in which I spin them.

I also need a way to organize them while at the same time sharing the house with the rest of my family. I need to take note of the fleece, weigh, wash, dry and store the fleece. If I have the time I also sort it before storing.

Notes

I use the stash tab in Ravelry to make notes about my fleeces. Parameters I note are:

  • Weight: I weigh the fleece when I get it, so that I know the original raw fleece weight. That way I can see how much dirt and lanolin is in the fleece. I also calculate the yield from raw fleece to finished yarn. Nerdy? Yes. But it’s also a way to estimate how much raw fleece I will need for a project I have in my mind.
  • Shearing date: I want to know what season the sheep was shorn (see above about autumn and spring shearing), but also the year. That way I can keep a fleece queue where I spin the oldest fleece first. Sometimes I keep the queue order. My goal is to not keep fleece for longer than a year. Sometimes it works.
  • Sheep owner: As far as possible I want to know who the sheep owner is. I keep a record of sheep owners I like and have contact with. They are usually very friendly and I can ask them questions about the sheep.
  • Breed: I take notes of the breed or cross.
  • Fun facts: Occasionally I know more about a sheep, especially if I have an ongoing contact with the sheep owner. It can be little things like the name of the sheep, age, what the pastures are like or a picture of the sheep. The more information I get the closer I feel to the sheep. And the closer I feel to the sheep the more I feel gratitude and a responsibility towards it to make the best of its gift to me.
  • Plans: Sometimes I have a plan for a fleece before I buy it and sometimes I get an idea when I work with it. Either way I make notes of ideas for the whole or parts of the fleece.

Sorting

If I have time I spread the fleece on the floor or the ground. If it’s shorn in one piece I try to arrange it in its entirety to see what type of wool has grown where. I make a rough sorting of the fleece. I remove visible bits of vegetable matter, felted parts and second cuts. If I see portions of different colour, quality or staple type I sort these roughly.

Washing

I don’t want raw fleece in the house together with washed fleece longer than necessary, so washing is my first priority when I get a new fleece. For the short time I have a raw fleece in the house I keep it away from my washed fleece.

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

In the summer I soak the fleece outdoors in cold water only. If I have several fleeces to wash I use the fermented suint method. During the winter I soak the fleece indoors in warm water for 15 minutes. You can read more about all these methods in this blog post.

After the soaking (any of the methods I mention above) and usually three rinsing waters I give it a ride in the spin cycle. When spin cycling the drum moves while the goods stay still on the moving walls of the drum, so it doesn’t felt. This works in our washing machine, but do make a test in yours if you want to try it.

Drying

I dry outdoors in the summer, we have lots of space to do that. In the winter it’s a bit trickier (again, I share the house with the rest of the family). I have some mushroom containers from the grocery store that I place underneath the heat pump or close to the fireplace. I only have four of these containers though and it’s not nearly enough for a whole fleece.

My latest solution for drying fleece indoors: A compost grid on top of egg cartons under a sideboard.

For my most recent fleece I spread the fleece on a compost grid on top of egg cartons under a sideboard in the living room. It’s open and airy and doesn’t take up too much space.

Picking

If I have the time I also pick and fine sort the fleece after it has dried or just before I start working with it. I simply pull the tip end staple by staple from the section of wool.

If I have time I pick the fleece before storing it.
If I have time I pick the fleece before storing it.

There are several benefits with picking a fleece:

  • Air comes into the fleece and it gets easier to handle.
  • Vegetable matter comes out of the fleece.
  • I can make a more thorough sorting and methodically remove felted bits, second cuts and portions with too much vegetable matter.
  • By going through the fleece staple by staple I get a better understanding of its condition and possibilities. Perhaps I see different colours, qualities or staple types that I want to sort by to make different preparations. If I sort for different parameters I roll each pile in newspaper, label them and place the rolls in a labeled paper bag.

Storing

There are lots of great tips for storing and I’m sure you have read about many of them. But the best solution is the one that is possible in your home. We don’t have many options. I keep the fleece in labeled paper bags in the storage of our sofa bed. It’s not optimal, but it works. I could say that the limited space I have in the sofa bed prevents me from buying too many fleeces, but that just isn’t true. I keep emergency fleeces in other places in the house too.

The first time fleece happened was with Pia-Lotta the finull sheep. Stored in a paper bag.

Fleece will happen again. The 2021 Swedish fleece championships have taken place and I’m eagerly waiting for the auction. I have allowed myself to buy two fleeces from the championships auction. I also have my tentacles out for a rare breed that might come my way.

Happy spinning!


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  • 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.
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