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!


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.

The memory in the hands

Spinning on a spindle gives me time to understand what is happening.

Last week I streamed a live breed study webinar on Gestrike wool. One of the participants asked me why I carded by hand instead of using a drum carder. My answer was about the memory in the hands. Today I will elaborate on this topic.

I replied that I want to work with my hands in the fleece. Every time the fibers go through my hands I get to know them. Every time I make a stroke with the cards I feel how the wool resist the cards, I feel how the fibers behave. All the information I get from working with my hands with hand tools is information that helps me when I spin it. So I what to work as much as possible with my hands.

Ancient and modern spinning tools

A spindle is a simple tool, usually consisting of a stick and a weight, sometimes the stick alone. And yet it can do basically the same things as more modern and elaborate tools like the spinning wheel and the e-spinner. Why is that?

Before we elaborate on that we will go back in history to the time before the first mechanized spinning tools when yarn for all cloth was spun with spindles alone. This took time. A lot of time. Yet, spinning was essential to clothe and feed families. When the first mechanized spinning tools like the charkha and later great wheels came they freed a lot of time. Still, for a while in the European medieval times only weft yarn was spun on the great wheel. The warp yarn needed to be strong enough and the wheel wasn’t trusted when it came to quality.

So, back to the question: Why can the spindle and the wheel/e-spinner do the same things while looking so different? Well, as we have established, the Spindle takes a lot of time. The spinner needs to do a lot of things that are built in and sometimes even accelerated in a mechanized or electrified spinning tool. This is where the time factor comes in. The wheel is faster than the spindle in itself. Furthermore the wheel can accomplish things like tension and take-up simultaneously.

Where are the mechanics?

So, while the mechanized spinning tools have, well, mechanics. How come we can get the same result (or even better) with a spindle? The Tasks that the spindle spinner needed to do consecutively were removed and placed in the spinning wheel to speed up the process. To me this means that the mechanics of spindle spinning is in the spinner.

Read that again: The mechanics of spindle spinning is in the spinner.

So, while the mechanized spinning tools save time, they also place the spinning a little further from the spinner through those very mechanics. Consequently, the simpler spinning tools place the mechanics in me. I become part of the spindle. The same goes for a backstrap loom versus a floor loom – the backstrap weaver becomes a part of the loom, controlling warp tension, rhythm and the changing of the sheds.

The nifty thing about spinners and weavers is that they have memory. In this case – muscle memory. When the mechanics of the spindle or the loom are in me my muscles remember the motions they need to accomplish in order to get an expected outcome – yarn or fabric.

Carding

Placing the question in the webinar in this context, I as a carder will have the carding mechanics in me and I become part of the carding. When I make the strokes with the hand cards I feel the resistance of the fibers between and through the cards in my hands. Through just simple hand tools my hands get an understanding of the length of the fibers, their capacity to hold on to each other, their elasticity, strength and loftiness.

Hand carding wool gives me an opportunity to understand how the fibers behave. Photo by Dan Waltin

Placing the fibers in a drum carder I save a lot of time. But I don’t get the sensory feedback from the fibers. I also don’t get the same chance to tailor the wool preparation to each batch.

Time: Quality and quantity

Generally speaking, the simpler the tools the longer it takes to use them. A mechanized tool does have time on its side – it’s faster. I can get more done in less time. However, slow is a superpower in my book. Slow is what makes it possible for me to see and understand what is happening in the spinning process. In spindle spinning I can notice the details in a way I can’t in wheel spinning.

A few years ago we were on a hiking trip. Dan’s mother was with us and her balance isn’t always reliable due to MS. It was kind of a rocky path and we needed to stop and help her navigate between rocks and roots on the path. The pace was a lot slower than it usually was on that hike. But suddenly we were able to see the details. The cushiony moss on rocks and tree stumps, the intricate patterns of lichens and the beauty of dew drops in the blueberry bushes. It gave the hike a completely new meaning. It took a lot more time, but we gained so much in experience and depth. So much more made sense.

Spinning on a spindle gives me time to understand what is happening.
I choose simple spinning tools and invest in my quality bank. Mittens in handspun Värmland wool.

When I spin on a spindle I give my mind the time to understand what is happening and on a deeper level. Time isn’t wasted but invested in a quality bank. So much more makes sense.

Simple and complex

Simple hand tools give me a direct connection to the fibers. The more complex the tools and the more of the functions that are built in to the tools, the further away from the fibers I get. Consequently, the closer I am to the fiber the better I will get to know and understand them. I get information from the fibers via the tools or directly in my hands.

At the moment I’m spinning raw Icelandic wool straight from the cut end of lightly flicked staples on a suspended spindle. My hands and my mind are there in every step of the process, in a pace that allows me to lean in and listen to the wool.

With my hands in the fibers in all the steps of the process I get to know the fibers on all possible levels – as staples, in the processing, in the spinning, plying and as a yarn and textile. With the information in all the steps it will be easier to troubleshoot. My hands come closer to the wool and I can walk myself back through the process and find the missing link. I own the process. I know the wool in my hands better than anyone else.

Thank you Marilyn for your important question!

Resources

Here are a few resources where you can read more about my thoughts on the memory in the hands:

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.

Shearing day

Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep

Last week I presented the wool from the Swedish conservation breed Gestrike sheep. All the Gestrike fleeces I have come from Claudia Dillmann’s flock. I was invited to Claudia a couple of weeks ago on shearing day.

There is still time to register for today’s breed study webinar on Gestrike wool!

Rules and practice

Before I take you to the shearing day I want to give you a very basic overview of shearing in Sweden. This is my understanding and I may be wrong and off on several points.

The animal welfare law in Sweden states that sheep should be shorn when needed but with no more than one year in between shearings. However, most sheep in Sweden are shorn twice every year, usually in the early spring and in the fall.

Many ewes are pregnant during the winter, with estimated lambing in the spring. Much of the nutrition goes to the fetus and the wool isn’t in it’s best shape (for those of you who have ever been pregnant, you may know what I’m talking about). There is no access to fresh greens and the cold weather increases the lanolin production. A lot of sheep are stabled during the winter. Depending on the design of feeding tables among other things the fleece can have quite a bit of straw in their fleeces. The spring shearing is therefore usually of lesser quality, with more vegetable matter, more dirt and a higher lanolin content than the fall shearing.

In the late spring the sheep get access to fresh grass in the pastures. Some energy goes to milk, but only for a limited time. The fleece grows healthily over the summer and has a more balanced lanolin production. For spinners the fall shearing is more attractive than the spring shearing. This is of course generally speaking – I have spun a couple of spring shorn fleeces that have been of excellent quality.

Meet the flock

Claudia has 12 sheep in her flock at the moment – nine Gestrike ewes, one Gestrike wether and two Värmland ewes. A ram serves the sheep every second year and this year there were no lambs. The youngest sheep are around 18 months old. The wether Sylverster’s task is to keep order among any young rams. Claudia hoped he would also be a good lookout for predators, but he isn’t a very good guard dog. He is very nice, though, and goes with the ewes in the pastures. When there are young rams he does a very good job keeping them out of trouble.

The sheep are in the pen, reluctantly ready for shearing day.
The sheep are in the pen, reluctantly ready for shearing day.

Shearing day chain of action

When I got to Claudia’s place on shearing day the sheep were already in the pen, ready for shearing. Elin Esperi, professional shearer, had already arrived and was getting her equipment in order when I came. Claudia was there, of course, and her partner Roger. We all had important tasks to make the whole operation as smooth as possible.

  • Roger made sure Elin had a sheep to shear. He took them out of the pen one by one as soon as Elin was ready.
  • Elin’s task is obvious, she shore the sheep. Belly, crotch and legs first. After having removed this wool she shore the rest.
  • When Elin had finished with a sheep, Claudia carefully gathered the precious wool and came out to me, told me the name of the sheep and put the fleece on a grid for me to sort.
  • I wrote the name of the sheep on a paper bag and started to remove dirt, vegetable matter and second cuts from the fleece until I got the next fleece. Then I put the just sorted fleece in its paper bag and went on with the next one.

Shearing station

Since I was outside the shed and the others inside it I didn’t see much of the shearing. I did watch as Elin shore the first sheep, though, Sylvester the wether. She was very quick (she has come in fourth place in the Swedish shearing championships) and did an excellent job.

Although reluctant to leave the pen to be shorn, the sheep seemed happy and content and skipped out into the pasture after shearing. No butting, no grudging. They did seem a bit confused, but surprisingly calm.

The shearing corner is clean and free from straw. A wooden board has been placed on the ground between the pen and the shearing corner to make sure as little straw as possible enters Elin’s work station. Full daylight comes in from behind the photographer (me) and Elin has lots of space to work in.

At the sorting grid

At my outdoor station I got to go through all the fleeces, which of course was a lovely job. But since Elin was so fast I didn’t have much time with each fleece. From start to finish Elin shore 11 sheep in 30 minutes. So I got less than 3 minutes with each fleece. Each time I heard the shearing machine turn off I knew I would be getting a new fleece on my table and I needed to quickly gather the current fleece and put it in the paper bag.

I only had a couple of minutes with each fleece at my sorting station, but I did go through all the 11 lovely Gestrike and Värmland fleeces.
I only had a couple of minutes with each fleece at my sorting station, but I did go through all the 11 lovely Gestrike and Värmland fleeces. The fleece on the table, the last one for this shearing day, is Greta’s.

Eventhough I only got to spend a few minutes with every sheep I got the opportunity to see and feel the difference between nine fleeces of the same breed (plus the two Värmland fleeces). And the differences was truly intriguing.

The diversity of the fleeces is fascinating. Some white, some solid grey or brown, some spotted. A few of the fleeces are quite consistent in their fiber type – mostly cone shaped, airy staples with around 50 % of undercoat and outercoat, or more dense staples with clearly defined waves. Some have a little white or black kemp. All of the fleeces are remarkably clean.

A longitudinal study

A while back I introduced an idea I had of a longitudinal study of the fleece from one sheep during its lifetime. I contacted Claudia and got the opportunity to subscribe to the fleece of her Gestrike ewe Gunvor. I got her first fleece (shorn in October 2020 when she was around six months old) and her spring shearing from April 2021. On the shearing day the plan was to get access to her third shearing.

Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep
Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep

Claudia did however discover two hereditary diseases in Gunvor. Diseases that would be painful for both Gunvor and her future lambs. They would also be detrimental for the development of the breed in general. So the sad but only possible choice was to let Gunvor go to greener pastures. So, as there are 12 sheep in the flock only 11 were shorn this shearing day.

The longitudinal study has ended. I did get the fleeces from her lifetime. It will only have been very short. Thank you Gunvor for allowing me to discover your lovely wool. It has been a joy and pleasure.

Fleece chat

When the shearing was over Claudia invited Elin and me to lunch in her greenhouse. She served the best tomato soup I have ever had, together with a delicious bread. We talked about shearing, sheep and breeds. I asked Elin if there was a particular breed she preferred to shear or disliked. While admitted that the Dorpers and the Swedish Leicester had a tendency to butt her, she said that there were no breeds in general that she liked or disliked. The condition of the fleece was more crucial.

A tight fleece, felted parts or lots of lanolin are not enjoyable for her. Airiness makes the shears dance through the fleece. The spring shearing at Claudia’s place happened unusually late this year, in late April or early May. At this time the lanolin production was at its peak and the fleece was tough to shear. As I got Gunvor’s spring shearing I could see clotted lanolin between the fibers. So it seems like the shearer and the spinner typically like and dislike the same things in a fleece.

Fleece for sale!

Claudia has fleeces for sale! Eight Four Gestrike fleeces and two Värmland fleeces. They are remarkably clean and of high quality. Crotch and belly wool has been removed and also any poopy bits and visible vegetable matter that can be found in under three minutes.

The fleeces come as they are, raw. The lanolin content in the Swedish landrace and heritage breed is quite low and they can be washed in water only.

Again, all the four Gestrike fleeces I have come from Claudia’s flock and I have seen all the shorn fleeces she is selling now. I would buy them all if I had the time and the space.

If you want to buy a fleece from Claudia’s flock you can email her: claudia (at) saxensorter dot se

The sale of the fleeces brings in money to keep the sheep happy and fed during the winter.


As a thank you for helping out with the spring Claudia offered me a fleece. I chose one that was the same age as Gunvor: The grey beauty Elsa.

Thank you Claudia for your generosity with your flock, your knowledge and your heavenly soup.

There is still time to register for today’s breed study webinar on Gestrike wool!

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.

Gestrike wool

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

This Saturday, October 23rd at 5 pm CET I will host a free live breed study webinar on Swedish Gestrike wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

The webinar has already taken place

Gestrike sheep

Like all the other Swedish conservation/heritage breeds, the Gestrike sheep is named after the region where it was (re-)found and established as a unique breed. So, Gestrike sheep were found in just a few flocks in villages in County Gästrikland in the 1990’s. The flocks had been grazing in the area for many generations.

According to the statistics from the Swedish sheep breeders’ association there were 173 breeding ewes in 25 flocks in 2020. The ewes way around 45 kg and the rams 60–70 kg. They can be white, grey, black, brown or spotted. Some lighten with age. The wool is predominantly of rya type – about 50/50 of outercoat and undercoat.

Gestrike sheep on shearing day. The sheep with the blackest face just left of the center is Elsa, described below.

Gestrike sheep are very good at grazing in tight vegetation and therefore perfect for forest grazing. They can get very affectionate and cuddly.

Gestrike wool characteristics

As a heritage/conservation breed, the breeding standards don’t allow crossing with other breeds or breeding for specific characteristics, including the fleece. So, as with the rest of the conservation breeds the fleece from Gestrike sheep is quite heterogenous.

My experience of Gestrike wool is mainly from three individuals – Elin, Elsa and Gunvor from Claudia Dillmann’s flock. Claudia has been a member of the board of the Swedish sheep breeders’ association for some years, with a responsibility for wool and skin.

Gestrike wool can have very soft and airy undercoat and long, strong and shiny outercoat. Some have a little kemp. Some can have. rougher mane fibers. Lamb’s wool is finer than wool from older individuals. This together with the many colours and the possibility of wool lightening with age gives a spinner an enormous spectrum of spinning possibilities – soft knitting yarn, strong warp yarn, fine, bulky and a broad palette of colours.

The characteristics I choose to focus on when I spin Gestrike wool are:

  • Rusticity. Gestrike wool is rustic. Still, not necessarily coarse. I would consider it a medium wool with no fuss. What you see is what you get with Gestrike wool. Triangular or conical shaped staples with outercoat and undercoat fibers. Rustic, straight and straightforward.
  • Lightness. Despite staples of up to 25 centimeters the Gestrike fleeces I have encountered have never felt heavy. On the contrary, they have a lightness to them that is very appealing. The undercoat is very airily distributed around the outercoat fibers and keep the sheep warm and cozy.
  • Versatility. With the different fiber types, a wide spectrum of colour possibilities and different wool qualities in sheep of different ages there are few things you can’t do with Gestrike wool.

Elin

The first time I met Gestrike wool was in the shape of Elin. My friend Claudia Dillmann who has a small flock of Gestrike sheep wanted me to get to know the breed she loved. So on a rainy day I hopped on my bike and collected Elin’s fleece.

Elin’s fleece is of mainly rya type wool (50/50 or 40/60 of outerocat to undercoat) but leaning towards vadmal wool (mostly undercoat and a little outercoat). Her undercoat is very fine and outercoat strong and with an overall light feeling. I can see some but not many kemp fibers in this fleece.

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.

I have demonstrated Elin’s fleece in the free webinar The hand spinner’s advantage and also on the 2021 Kil sheep fest.

Gunvor

One night about six months ago a baby idea woke me up, pinching me to get my attention. The baby idea said to me, with great conviction: “Make a longitudinal study of the fleeces of one single sheep!”. What’s a spinner to do? I contacted Claudia and asked her if I could adopt the shearings of one of her sheep. Claudia thought it was a great idea and offered me Gunvor, a lamb born in May 2020. I happily accepted Gunvor and got her first (October 2020) and later second fleece (April 2021).

The undercoat of Gunvor’s lamb’s fleece is almost as soft as on Elin’s fleece. It has some white kemp that falls out quite easily. The wool is very easy to work with. Some of the black staples are very long, around 25 centimeters, and the black wool seems slightly finer than the white wool. The black wool also has less kemp.

The second shearing is a bit coarser than the lamb’s fleece and a bit lighter – it seems like Gunvor’s spots are fading with age, which will be interesting to observe.

Elsa

Elsa is my newest Gestrike fleece, shorn in early October this year. She is also a member of Claudia’s flock of Gestrike sheep. She also happens to be Elin’s daughter. Grey in different nuances and all the staple types represented, from mainly outercoat staples to mainly undercoat staples. The main wool type is rya type wool, though, with a 50/50 undercoat to outercoat ratio. The fleece has no kemp.

To learn about the four wool types in Swedish sheep breeds, read this blog post.

Gestrike wool for sale!

Claudia had her sheep shorn only last week (more about the shearing day in an upcoming post) and she has fleeces for sale! Eight Gestrike fleeces and two Värmland fleeces. They are remarkably clean and of high quality. Crotch and belly wool has been removed and also poopy bits and visible vegetable matter.

The fleeces come as they are, raw. The lanolin content in the Swedish landrace and heritage breed is quite low and they can be washed in water only.

Again, all the four Gestrike fleeces I have come from Claudia’s flock and I have seen all the shorn fleeces she is selling now. I would buy them all if I had the time and the space.

If you want to buy a fleece from Claudia’s flock you can email her: claudia (at) saxensorter dot se

The sale of the fleeces brings in money to keep the sheep happy and fed during the winter.

Preparing in general

With a wool in so many different colours, staple types and hands it is easy to see how Gestrike wool can have a very wide variety of preparation, and spinning techniques. Add to this the age spectrum where fleece from an older individual can be coarser (and stronger) and lighter in colour than a the one from a younger individual. Considering all these aspects there are numerous ways to dissect a Gestrike fleece:

  • fiber type (undercoat or outercoat)
  • staple type (ratio of undercoat to outercoat in the staples)
  • staple length
  • fiber fineness
  • different colours and shades of the same colour.

This makes wool from a breed like Gestrike sheep very versatile. With a flock of Gestrike sheep the sheep farmer has material from coarse rugs to the finest lace shawls in all the natural colours.

The Gestrike wool I have experienced is quite light and open. Preparing it is a true joy. It melts like butter in both combs and cards. My heart sings through processing. The fleeces from Claudia’s sheep has very little vegetable matter.

Preparing in particular

I have plans for all of the Gestrike fleeces in my stash.

  • I have started to card rolags from Gunvor’s lamb’s fleece (after teasing with combs). To take advantage of her spots I have sorted the colours in heaps of white, black and mixed.
  • The second shearing from Gunvor’s fleece will probably also be carded and sorted by colour.
  • I am planning to separate undercoat from outercoat on Elin’s fleece. I will then card the undercoat and comb the outercoat.
  • My plan for Elsa’s fleece is to divide it by staple type. I think I can get enough of each staple type to get four very different qualities. If there is enough I may also sub-sort by fiber fineness and/or staple length. I will probably card the heaps with more undercoat and comb the ones with more outercoat.

So, between the four fleeces I have I have plans to sort them in up to five different ways.

Spinning

As you can imagine, with fleece from a breed with so many options for dissecting and preparing, there are equally many ways to spin. Here are my plans for the fleeces I have.

  • I’m spinning a super bulky 2-ply yarn from Gunvor’s lamb’s fleece in black and white. I have spun bulky woolen singles from hand carded rolags on a floor supported spindle and plied it on a spinning wheel. You can read more about the spinning process for this yarn here.
  • Gunvor’s second shearing will be part of a rya rug project as pile yarn (you can read about a previous rya chair pad project here). A low twist, high ply and lightly fulled 2-ply yarn that will stand the abrasion in a rya rug.
  • With Elin’s fleece I’m planning to spin a worsted spun singles warp yarn and a woolen spun singles weft yarn for weaving and fulling.
  • Elsa’s fleece has so many options and I’m planning to spin lots of different yarns from the preparations of the heaps of different staple types.

Using

With the wide variety of staple types available in Gestrike wool it is easy to understand that you can use the yarn for a wide variety of projects – warp and weft for woven fabric, rugs, socks, mittens, sweaters, shawls and more. The undercoat fibers from a soft lamb’s fleece would definitely be a candidate for next to skin garments.

I am slowly knitting up the legs of my Moroccan snow shoveling pants. I run out of yarn quite quickly since it’s so bulky and the 5.5 mm needles aren’t really silky smooth knitting, but the fabric is just wonderful in my hands. Bulky, warm and safe with a soft smell of lanolin.

Live webinar!

This Saturday, October 23rd at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Swedish Gestrike wool from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I prepare, spin and use Gestrike wool. I will use Gestrike wool during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I prepare and spin the wool.

The webinar has already taken place.

Even if you think you will never come across Gestrike wool in particular this is still an opportunity to learn more about wool and wool processing in general. The breed study webinar will give you tools to understand different wool types and apply your knowledge to breeds and wool types closer to you.

This is a wonderful chance for me to meet you (in the chat window at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The previous live breed study webinars I have done have been great successes. I really look forward to seeing you again in this webinar.

You can register even if you can’t make it to the live event. I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar. Remember, the only way to get access to the webinar (live or replay) is to register.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • 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.

Bulky

The Gestrike sheep Gunvor's lamb's fleece is slowly turning into chunky skeins of super bulky yarn.

What is your default yarn? Mine would be a 2-ply fingering, on rare occasions sport weight yarn. Today I spin way out of my comfort zone. With the slowness of a floor supported Navajo style spindle I do my best to approach a bulky yarn.

Snow shoveling pants

A while ago I wrote a review of the book Keepers of the sheep – knitting in Morocco’s High Atlas and beyond by Irene Waggener. I was intrigued by many of the the stories and patterns in the book.

One of the patterns that stuck to me was the Sirwal pants. A pair of knitted pants that shepherds used to knit and wear for shoveling snow among other things. As all of the patterns in the book the pattern is based on working with what you have in the form of wool, yarn, needles and body size rather than a detailed knitting instruction. I really liked the idea and think it would be a good challenge for me.

A bulky endeavour

Another challenge would be the bulky yarn that was suggested for the pants. My default yarn is fine, usually a fingering or sportweight yarn. I have started exploring spinning thicker singles on my floor supported spindles and enjoyed it very much. Spinning fat singles is very satisfying for some reason. I think it’s the letting go of perfect that is really appealing.

While I have never actually tried spinning a bulky yarn on a spinning wheel, I believe it would be too quick a tool for me. Or perhaps I just can’t let go of perfect that much. I think the spinning wheel would give the yarn too much twist and/or too uneven thickness. With the floor supported spindle I have the time to control thickness and twist and still spin up the yarn very quickly.

Floor supported spindle

So, my choice for the bulky yarn required for the Sirwal pants was my floor supported spindle. My wool choice was easy – Gunvor the black and white Gestrike sheep was the perfect candidate. A medium wool with airy undercoat and long and strong outercoat, ranging from around 10 to 20 centimeters in fiber length.

The lamb’s fleece of Gunvor the Gestrike sheep is the perfect candidate for my bulky pant yarn.

I wanted to keep the whole process as simple as possible and not use more tools than I needed, just as the knitting shepherds had done for generations. Therefore I tried to card the wool without teasing it first. After all, the locks were very airy and easy to open up. However, there were more short fibers and kemp in the wool than I wished, and I soon realized that these bothered me too much. By teasing the wool first with combs I got rid of a lot of the unwanted fibers. So I decided to keep the teasing.

This wool is so lovely to work with. It’s open and airy, making the carding a joy. no fuss, no tangles, just a sweet carding flow. A lot of the remaining short kemp fibers, especially in the white parts of the fleece, come out in the carding and spinning (and sticks to all my clothes).

Letting go of perfect

One of the challenges (for me at least) with spinning thick yarn is to let go of perfect. It is so easy to draft a little extra just to get that fuzz out. And another little extra. This is where I need to close the door to perfectionism, open my mind and my heart to the fuzz and go on to the next section. Once I have accepted this very provoking challenge and incorporated it into my spinning it is truly liberating. I see the fuzz, acknowledge it and embrace it. It’s there and that is ok. And it will fade out in 1 the plying and 2 the knitting.

A twisted rolag

When I spin a yarn of this thickness on a floor supported spindle I make three to four serious rolls of the shaft up my thigh so that the twist travels up the whole undrafted rolag.

A light hand on the shaft allows me to roll the shaft all the way up my outer thigh to insert twist into the wool.
A light hand on the shaft allows me to roll the shaft all the way up my outer thigh to insert twist into the wool.

After having inserted twist into the whole length of the rolag I make the first arm’s length draft, letting in some of the twist that has built up in the yarn spun previously.

Then I draft and add the final twist in 3–4 sections. This way the spinning of one rolag takes less than two minutes. A quick yarn in a slow technique. Now, that’s satisfying!

Opening up the twist

I work a lot with opening up the twist here. It is a technique that I use in all my spinning but is especially useful in spinning on a floor supported spindle. The hands need to communicate through the yarn between them. For that to happen the twist must be alive in the yarn – I need to work at what I call the point of twist engagement.

With my spindle hand thumb I roll the yarn against the twist to open it up. This way the fibers get more room to move and I can draft it to the thickness and evenness I want.
With my spindle hand thumb I roll the yarn against the twist to open it up. This way the fibers get more room to move and I can draft it to the thickness and evenness I want.

The point of twist engagement is a point where there is enough twist to prevent the yarn from coming apart but not so much that the yarn can’t move. At the point of twist engagement the fibers can slide past each other. By opening up the twist – rolling the yarn against the twist – the fibers can move in the yarn and pass this information on to my hands.

For a guided tour in the point of twist engagement check out the spinning meditation video I released last week.

2-ply super bulky

I usually don’t ply on my floor supported spindles, so I plied this yarn on my spinning wheel. The resulting 2-ply yarn is just lovely – bulky, round and kind. Perfect for snow shoveling pants.

I wrap the yarn around my wpi nostepinne and can’t really believe what I see. I’m so new to this yarn weight – both in spinning and knitting – that I didn’t think I would be able to achieve it. But I did. And it works.

My Sirwal pants are coming along just fine. I add stripe after stripe as I finish a new skein, just as described in the book. The yarn knits up very quickly and I need to spin more after just 1–2 stripes. But I do like the balance of knitting and spinning parallel.

Sirwal pants knit in my bulky Gestrike wool yarn.
Sirwal pants knit in my bulky Gestrike wool yarn and 5.5 mm needles.

I hope we get snow this year so that I can try the shoveling potential in the pants (if my daughter doesn’t get to the shovel first). I also have plans to proudly walk down to the lake with my Sirwal pants in the winter months for my daily bath.

Happy spinning!


Next weekend I will be teaching and there may not be a post.


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.

Wool combs

Every now and then people ask me for advice on spinning and wool processing tools. In this post I try to break down the properties of wool combs and what they do for the combing, the comber and the combed.

There are many aspects to consider when it comes to wool combs. For me, the most important thing is that they

  • do their job while being
  • gentle to the wool and
  • gentle to the comber.

The job of wool combs

I use my comb for three things mainly:

  • arranging fibers parallel and draw them off in a top
  • separating undercoat from outercoat (and in the next stage draw the outercoat off in a top)
  • teasing wool before carding.

For smooth combing the tines need to be properly aligned in the tine insertion. I have seen home made combs where this is not the case. With the tines haphazardly arranged the tines will get tangled in each other and the combing motion interrupted. The tines also need to be secured in the tine insertion.

The length of the tines need to be equal to or slightly higher than the width of the tine setup on the handle. This way the comber will be able to use all the tines on the combs. If the setup is wider than the length of the combs some tines will be unused and take up unnecessary space and weight.

Being gentle to the wool

The tips of the tines need to be sharp enough to cut through the mass of the wool. If they are too blunt the comber needs to put more force into the combing. This may lead to broken fibers and/or strain for the comber. The tines need to be sturdy to be able to withstand the resistance of the wool mass. If they are too thick, though, the comber again needs to put more force into the combing which may put strain on the comber and break fibers.

Three different sized two pitched combs. The mini combs have 17 tines/10 cm in one row, the minimidi combs 21 tines/10cm in one row and the maxi combs 13 tines/10 cm in one row.

The distance between the tines should be adapted to the kind of wool you comb. Smaller distance for fine wools and larger distance for coarse wools.

Being gentle to the comber

The weight of the combs is important. The combs need to be sturdy enough to, again, be able to withstand the resistance of the wool mass. Still, light enough for the comber to be able to comb comfortably.

As discussed above the tines need a certain sharpness for a smooth motion, but without the risk of breaking skin.

I prefer combs made of wood. The natural material feels comfortable in my hands and it is a renewable source. With an ergonomically designed handle the comber will be able to comb for longer periods of time without strain.

For larger combs I like the tines to be a bit tilted toward the handle side. This makes the combing motion a bit smoother – the shape of the tines sort of follow the circular motion of the combing action.

My wool combs

When people ask me about wool combs I always give them the same answer: Hand made combs by the Swedish maker Gammeldags (with an online web shop in Swedish and English). All the Gammeldags wool combs are unique and made in local Swedish woods. They are balanced in the appearance as well as in the hand.

My five pairs of wool combs, all by Gammeldags.
My five pairs of wool combs, all by Gammeldags.

For the record, I don’t get paid for this post. I just like these combs so much and want to share them with the world and why I like them so much. If this post leads to more sales for the maker I will be happy for the maker for the sale and for the buyer for the joy it will bring them to work with high quality wool combs.

Before I introduce you to my Gammeldags combs I would like you to meet the person behind them.

The Gammeldags story

In preparing to write this post I contacted Birgith Lundgren, the designer of Gammeldags (which translates to Old fashioned). I asked her to share the story of the combs she and her husband Pelle design, make and sell. Pelle is a blacksmith by trade, and he makes the combs and the other tools they sell.

Way back when

Birgith started her career as a physiotherapist and ergonomist, both in private and public health care organizations. In 1998, when she had worked for a few years as a manager in a public health care organization with lots expectations and little resources, she resigned and started her own company, Gammeldags. In her business she sold her hand woven textiles and taught weaving. She also started to explore spinning. At one occasion she came across wool combs from Eastern Europe. These were large and heavy and cumbersome to work with. As the problem solver she is she knew there must be some way to make wool combs that had a more user friendly design.

A wool comb embryo

Back then she was a beginner spinner and developed her skills while at the same time working on understanding what the wool combs should do and how they could be designed to meet these expectations and still be user friendly. Over the years Birgith and Pelle have developed wool combs that are designed for the wool combing as well as for the wool comber. Every suggestion for improvement has been meticulously tested with the wellbeing of the wool comber as a first priority. In 2011 they started selling the wool combs online.

Quality and inspiration

To keep the high quality and their own health they work slowly and methodically. For Birgith the inspiration is the most important thing in working with the tools she sells. If the web shop is empty the customer needs to kindly wait. Birgith and Pelle don’t work by the demand from customers, they work by inspiration for making high quality tools. And it’s all worth the wait – my combs are wonderful tools that I treasure. I use them in my own work as well as on my spinning courses.

Two pitched mini combs

  • Weight: 112 g (one comb)
  • Setup width for tines: 6 cm
  • Tine height: 6 cm
  • Tines per 10 centimeters (of one row): 18
  • Handle length: 14 cm
  • Bought: 2014
The first set of combs I ever bought was a pair of two pitched mini combs, in 2014.
The first set of combs I ever bought was a pair of two pitched mini combs, in 2014.

The first pair of combs I bought was a pair of two pitched mini combs, back in 2014, perhaps earlier. You can see that they have been used a lot. By me as well as by my students. Still, they work just as smoothly as the day I bought them.

The mini combs are lightweight and small enough to work with in your lap. The handles are comfortable to hold and I can work for a long time. I don’t get tired or strained when I use any of my mini combs..

The two pitched mini combs weigh a little more than the single pitched for obvious reasons, but this is not an issue. I use the two pitched combs when I want to separate undercoat from outercoat. If you only have one pair of combs you can still perform both tasks with both kinds of combs.

When you buy mini combs, or combs meant to use one in each hand, be sure to check the weight of the combs. This is what you will work with, plus the resistance of the wool. The heavier the combs the more you need to work and, consequently, the shorter time you will be able to work without strain or fatigue.

Single pitched mini combs

  • Weight 93 g (dark wood), 106 g (light wood). The weight refers to one comb.
  • Setup width for tines: 6.5 cm
  • Tine height: 7.5 cm
  • Tines per 10 centimeters: 17
  • Handle length: 14 cm (dark wood), 14.5 cm (light wood)
  • Bought: March 2018 (dark wood), July 2020 (light wood)

I have two pairs of single pitched combs, one in light wood and one in dark wood. The dark wood is actually not local at all – the dark combs are made of mahogany that Birgith got from a retiring woodworker in the neighbourhood. For myself I only need one pair of single pitched mini combs, but on my courses these are very popular so I bought a second pair last year. As you can see from the fact lists the single pitched combs (bought 2018 and 2020) have slightly different measurements compared to the two pitched combs above (bought 2014). This is a sign of Birgith’s constant work with design improvement. I use the single pitched combs if I want to keep undercoat and outercoat together in a top.

I use mini combs when I want to feel the flow of the crafting process.

If I would have to choose one type of combs it would be the mini combs. Using the lightweight combs in my lap can give me the same feeling of flow as spinning. The circular motion with the hands and the feeling of the fibers agains my skin as I draw the wool off the comb become a familiar choreography. I can bring my mini combs wherever I like and comb on a rock in the forest. With the mini combs I feel closer to the wool than with combs with a combing station (described below). For obvious reasons the mini combs don’t take as much wool in one load as the larger combs.

Maxi combs with combing station

  • Weight: 262 g (one comb)
  • Setup width for tines: 10 cm
  • Tine height: 11.5 cm, bended tips.
  • Tines per 10 centimeters: 13 (of one row)
  • Handle length: 15 cm
  • Bought: July 2018

The second pair of combs I bought was the maxi combs with a combing station. The sets with combing stations are work horses that will give you larger quantities of wool combed than with the mini combs. Another advantage of the station sets is that I can hold the free comb with both hands. That way my hands can share the strain. However, they also need a surface to fasten the station onto (and a pair of clamps).

The combing station on a rainy day and a period drama is the loveliest combo.
The combing station on a rainy day and a period drama is the loveliest combo.

I use the maxi combs with medium to coarse wools. I don’t get the same flowing feeling with the station sets. But they do get the job done quicker. I tend to watch a series while I use these. With an adjustable table I can choose to sit or stand.

Minimidi combs with combing station

  • Weight: 241 g (one comb)
  • Setup width for tines: 8 cm
  • Tine height: 10 cm, bended tips.
  • Tines per 10 centimeters: 21 (of one row)
  • Handle length: 13.5 cm
  • Bought: 2019

A year after I bought the maxi combs with station I got the minimidi combs with station. As you can see the station has changed a bit through Birgith’s work with design improvement. The new design is sleeker and requires less wood, but the function is the same.

The distance between the tines is actually smaller on the minimidi combs 21 tines/10 cm) than on the mini combs (17 tines/10 cm). Due to the smaller distance between the tines the minimidi combs are heavier than the maxi combs, despite the smaller size. The minimidi combs work well with fine to very fine wools.

Video resources:

Happy combing!

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.

3D printed combs

3D printed comb handles with nails as tines.

In May I got an email from Joseph Bjork at Good and Basic. He has developed a 3D printed charkha and 3D printed combs. He wanted to send these to me in exchange for a review in a blog post. This first review is about the combs.

The designs are free for anyone with access to a 3D printer, but Joseph also sells his products in his Etsy shop. Joseph wrote that he was shocked at the price of spinning tools. Furthermore he says he deeply enjoys fiber arts and wants everyone who is interested to be able to spin. The idea with the 3D printed tools is to offer a cheap alternative to more expensive spinning tools for a new spinner who wants to have a go at the craft. The 3D printed combs cost $31.25.

Hesitation

I read Joseph’s email several times. I honestly didn’t know how to reply. To me, the experience of the tools are as important for the process as the experience of the process. I want to feel the wood in my hands as I prepare my wool, something I won’t get with 3D printed tools. I have seen lots of 3D printed cross-arm spindles with perfect balance and great reviews. However, I have never been interested in these for that particular reason – the sensation of the material in my hand.

At the same time I’m intrigued by Joseph’s view that anyone who wants to should be able to learn how to spin and prepare their wool without having to pay a fortune. To me, hand crafted spinning tools are not expensive. They cost a lot of money, but they are hand made by professionals and cost accordingly. A lot of money, yes, but not expensive. Still, not everyone has enough money to spend on spinning equipment.

Experience

When I looked at the images of Joseph’s 3D prints I could see aspects of them that I knew would be potential problems. I have a lot of experience combing wool – I have combed my way through at least 30 whole fleeces plus another 30 parts of fleeces and lots of teasing with combs. Also, I teach wool processing and know what I want in a pair of combs.

Brutal honesty

I still didn’t know how to reply. Therefore I decided to let Joseph make the decision for me. I listed all my concerns in a bullet list – about the material, the issues I saw with the combs, how expensive it would be to send me the combs and that I would be brutally honest and transparent in a blog post. I also offered to send my review to him without a post in case I didn’t like them.

He appreciated my feedback and still wanted me to try the combs and post a review on my blog. He has received this review of the combs before I published it. So here it is, beginning with a short version:

  • Can the combs produce a top? Yes.
  • Are they safe to use? Not necessarily.
  • Do they give me a feeling of flow as I use them? No.
  • Do they inspire to learn more about combing? No.
  • Would I recommend them to a new spinner? No.

3D printed combs

3D printed wool combs in action
My friend Cecilia is combing some rya wool with the 3D printed wool combs. A pair of my regular combs in the background.

I had my friend Cecilia over for a spinning date and we decided to try the combs together. That way both of us could review them. We could also discuss the combs and further refine our thoughts.

Assembly

The combs came as two 3D printed handles and a bag of nails. There wasn’t much of a description in the package, but there is a video link in the Good and Basic Etsy shop where Joseph shows how he assembles the combs and how he uses them. As I got the combs directly from Joseph without going via the Etsy page, I didn’t see the video until after we had assembled the combs.

3D printed comb handles with nails as tines.
3D printed comb handles with nails as tines.

Since we hadn’t retrieved the instructions we tried different ways. At first we just hammered the nails into the handles. Some were a bit loose and some firm. We decided to add some glue, just underneath the nail heads. It didn’t work optimally. For the second row we glued in the holes before we put the nails in. This resulted in glue all over the nails as they pushed through the gluey holes. We realized that we hadn’t thought very carefully before we tried this. But we also realized that this could happen to anyone. So a clear written description together with the components would have helped here.

Weight and weight distribution

With two rows of nails the combs weigh 240 grams each. This is the same as my midi and maxi combs that I use with a combing station (and that leaves both hands free to hold the active comb). The 3D printed combs are designed to be used without a combing station, though, which makes 240 grams in each hand. For comparison, the mini combs I use privately and in my classes weigh around 100 grams each. 240 grams is manageable. However, each nail weighs over 9 grams, so of the 240 grams the nails weigh 200 grams. Add to this that the nails are outside the hand as you comb. Since a large part – 200 grams – of the 240 grams is outside the hand the 3D printed combs feel even heavier.

Because of the uneven weight distribution the movement of the combs in the combing process gets uneven. As I watched Cecilia comb with a vertical circular motion the active comb almost fell on the way down and struggled on the way up. I have done a lot of combing and consider myself a reasonably experienced comber, but I am not tempted to comb a whole fleece with combs of this weight and weight distribution. I don’t think a beginner would either.

Nails

The nails are quite thick, around 3.5 mm, hence the weight. When Joseph first contacted me I looked at the pictures of the combs and suggested that he made them with thinner tines. He had considered this, but the material and work it required would make the combs cost more, which was against his vision of combs at a low cost. But apart from the weight and weight distribution discussed above, the width of the nails make the combs cumbersome to use. When Cecilia and I assembled the combs we started with a single row of nails. As we combed there were lots of lumps and we needed to comb a lot more passes than we usually do. There were still a lot of lumps left in the resulting top, plus a lot of waste. When we added the second row the result was more satisfying and with an acceptable amount of waste.

I comb to organize the fibers parallel. I also comb to remove vegetable matter, nepps and second cuts and to open up the fibers. The width of the nails in combination with the distance between them isn’t optimal for a satisfactory result in these aspects.

To avoid tear on the fibers I want to comb with large movements in the periphery of the wool, especially when the staples are long. With these combs it feels awkward and heavy. The nails don’t allow the wool to slide smoothly between them. Therefore I need to comb closer to the nails, which leads more tear on the fibers.

Cecilia pointed out that the tapering of the nails felt too abrupt. She would have preferred a softer tapering. From Joseph’s perspective I think a custom made tapering would make the combs cost too much.

Handles

As I wrote in the beginning I am very reluctant to plastic, which I told Joseph when he first wrote to me. He assured me that the material is biodegradable and made of fermented starches, which of course is a good thing. Still, I personally prefer working with wood. The sensation of holding the tools is as important to me as the spinning process. These handles don’t give me that feeling.

Cecilia and I were also concerned about static electricity. The air in Sweden is dry, especially in the winter and more dry the further north you get. The material in the handles may increase this static electricity, making the wool tentacle out in all directions and thus leading to more tear on the fibers.

The handles are square in the shape and not very comfortable to hold, at least not for a long time. Cecilia adds that she wants to be able to flip the handle of the active comb to achieve a more even fiber distribution. The edges of the handles in combination with the weight in the periphery of the combs makes this action difficult and awkward.

Setup

When I saw the pictures of the combs I saw that the setup of the tines/nails was off. For an effective combing the length of the tines need to be sightly longer than the width of the tine setup. In this case the with is about 3 nails too wide. When I pointed this out to Joseph he said it was possible to change the design to accommodate this request, so this may already have been changed.

The combs are quite easy to assemble with just a hammer and some glue. However, there is a risk that the row of nails becomes uneven. Even if the person assembling the combs is super careful, the little ridge underneath the nail head will prevent the nails from coming all the way to the handles. Cecilia, even had a fancy name for this – Smidesskägg, forging beard. The consequences of the ridge will influence the smoothness of the combing.

Risk of injuries

These combs are heavy. More than that, the weight is unevenly distributed. The combing motion becomes arrhythmic. Because of the weight and the uneven weight distribution there is a risk that the user either misdirects the motion of the combing or drops the comb. Either way there is a higher risk of breaking skin than with combs with a more even weight distribution, perhaps even more so for a beginner.

Flow and inspiration

I have the opportunity to buy high quality spinning tools that I like and not think too much about the price. I realize that not everybody has this luxury. There are tools available at mid-range prices too. I consider the 3D printed combs to be in a low-range price category. But the low price comes with a price too.

Let me tell you a story from when I first started spinning: I went to an evening class in hand spinning. We got the opportunity to buy the hand cards and the suspended spindles that the organizer provided. The shaft of the spindle available was 15 mm in diameter and the spindle weighed 93 grams. This is unnecessarily large and bulky for a suspended spindle. I think I payed around 10 or 12 Euros for it, which I consider a low-range price for a spindle. It worked to spin on, but the process wasn’t very enjoyable. I wasn’t eager to learn more about spindle spinning at the time. Instead I tried a (modern) spinning wheel and eventually bought one of my own. It wasn’t until a few years later that I went back to spindle spinning, with lighter and more easy-to-use spindles.

So, what I mean by telling this story is that the 3D printed combs do their job, just like the 93 gram spindle did. But the process is not enjoyable. There are too many adjustments I need to make as a spinner to get the combs (or the 93 gram spindle) to do their job. I want to work with tools that are constructed to suit my body and the technique they are designed for, not accommodating my technique to the construction of the tools. I fear that a beginning spinner who buys combs like these will soon tire of them and buy commercially prepared top rather than discover the beautiful world of processing wool with hand tools. A new spinner usually doesn’t know that combing can be as enjoyable a process as spinning. My guess is that they would buy the combs that were available at their price range. The experience with these first combs would probably form the new spinner’s experience with and attitude to combing.

Conclusion

So if the question is whether it is possible to produce a top with the 3D printed combs the answer is yes. If you ask me if I enjoy the process the answer is no. The combs don’t feel gentle to either hands or wool. To me spinning is a mindful and oftentimes meditative process through all the steps – sorting, washing, teasing, combing/carding, spinning and plying. I want the tools I use and teach with to assist me in the process. I want to enjoy the tools in my hands and using the tools. With the 3D printed combs this is not the case. The material, even if it biodegradable and made of starches, doesn’t feel alive and gentle in my hands. The motion doesn’t make my hands and arms dance as they do with my other tools.

Consequently, I would not recommend these combs to a new spinner. Coming back to the price range I discussed above there is a mid-range that I would recommend a new spinner with a limited tool budget. I don’t think the low price on these combs is worth the effort in the combing process and the lack of flow and inspiration when using them. Just as there is an alternative to the 93 gram spindle at a mid-range price, there is an alternative to the 3D printed low-range priced combs. I would rather recommend the new spinner to practice with dog combs before investing in tools that are more user friendly, more adapted to the process and potentially result in a high quality combed top and a smooth combing experience.

Thank you Cecilia for helping me reviewing the combs. And thank you Joseph for giving me an opportunity to articulate for myself what I want from a pair of combs.

Coming up: Review of a 3D printed charkha.

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.

Åsen wool

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

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

Åsen sheep

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

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

Åsen sheep. Photo by Ylva Örtengren.

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

Wool characteristics

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

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

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

The colours

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

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

Vadmal type wool

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

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

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

The main characteristics

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

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

Sample batches

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

12002 – a little kemp, a little curl

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

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

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

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

16010 – a dream of vadmal wool

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

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

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

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

Preparation

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

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

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

Spin

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

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

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

Use

The whole range

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

Fulling

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

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

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

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

A kind wool for teaching

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

Live webinar!

This Saturday, May 29th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Swedish Åsen wool from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I prepare, spin and use Åsen wool. I will use Åsen wool during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I prepare and spin the wool.

Even if you think you will never come across Swedish finull this is still an opportunity to learn more about wool and wool processing in general. The breed study webinar will give you tools to understand different wool types and apply your knowledge to breeds and wool types closer to you.

This is a wonderful chance for me to meet you (in the chat window at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The previous live breed study webinars I have done have been great successes. I really look forward to seeing you again in this webinar.

You can register even if you can’t make it to the live event. I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar. Remember, the only way to get access to the webinar (live or replay) is to register.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Flax plan

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

The experimental flax patch

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

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

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

One square meter of flax

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

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

A flax plan

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

Other flax sources

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

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

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

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

Summer plans

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

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

Flax videos

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

Flax blog posts

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

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Longitudinal study

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

A width of perspectives

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

Fleece subscription

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

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

About shearing in Sweden

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

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

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

Gunvor the Gestrike sheep

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

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

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

A bike ride through town

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

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

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

First and second fleeces: A first look

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

First shearing

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

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

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

Second shearing

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

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

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

Shearing timing

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

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


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

Happy spinning!


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