Grey matters

I love grey wool. There are so many possible shades from just a combination of black and white fibers. And the combinations within combinations gives me a whole universe of sparkling silver. I can look at a grey yarn for ages and get mesmerized by the spiraling promise of everlasting variation.

Also, I have discovered the wonderful world of dyeing on grey. The colours turn out so deep and rich and gives the yarn a beautiful heathered effect from all the shades in the grey. Which, of course, puts me in a dilemma – I want to keep the beautiful grey and at the same time dye it for the wonderful  colour result.

A grey Trønder fleece

At Christmas, I bought a beautiful fleece from talented wool classifier Kia Gabrielsson of Ullsörvis. It was a grey Trønder fleece with lots of different shades in it. I separated the fleece and ended up with four piles of grey, from anthracite to very light grey. I carded the fiber and spun the colours separately and 3-plied them. The result was four squishy skeins of yummy greys.

Four skeins of grey handspun yarn
3-ply grey Trønder yarn spun woolen from hand-carded rolags

I also found the perfect knitting project for the skeins, where I could use all the shades and show the beautiful variation. It was the Slouchy shrug by 伊凡 陳, Yarn door on Ravelry.

Josefin Waltin wearing a grey slouchy shrug made of handspun yarn
The slouchy shrug in four shades of Trønder grey. Photo by Dan Waltin
Josefin Waltin wearing a grey slouchy shrug made of handspun yarn
A square knit in Brioche stitch, folded in half, sleeves knit on in the fold and a brim round the edges. Voilá, a slouchy shrug! Photo by Dan Waltin

Sides and stripes

Josefin Waltin walking on a country road, wearing a striped sweater in blue and orange
Sides and stripes sweater by Veera Välimäki. Photo by Dan Waltin

I have finished a sweater! It is the Sides and stripes sweater by Veera Välimäki I mentioned in a previous post about the designer.

The design

The sweater is knit seamlessly in the round. The yoke is quite fitted but the body has lots of positive ease. There are short rows at the bottom of the back body to make the sweater a bit longer at the back. The sides are purled to make a reverse stockinette stitch. The hem of the body and sleeves are in garter stitch.

The back of a striped sweater in blue and orange
Short rows at the back of the neck and at the bottom of the hem. Reverse stockinette stitch side panels. Photo by Dan Waltin

The yarn

The main colour yarn is the 3-ply finewool yarn I have been spinning during august. It’s spun woolen from hand-carded rolags on my spinning wheel. I’m really happy with the result. I spin lots of 2-ply and like the result, but 3-ply is just so round and beautiful!

I dyed it in a jeansy colour. As usual, I’m way too cheap when I dye, so I try to press too much yarn into a pot that is too small, resulting in an uneven dye. But I do love the result, it gives the yarn a variegated finish.

A basket of skeins of blue handspun yarn
Dyed finewool yarn

For the constrast colour I used a 2-ply yarn spun woolen from the fold on a supported spindle. I dyed it in a warm, dark orangy shade.

Two skeins of handspun orange yarn
2-ply Jämtland yarn spun woolen from the fold on a supported spindle.

The orange yarn is thinner than the blue, but since the sweater is striped it doesn’t really matter, the difference just adds texture to the striped section.

The knitting

Knitting was just a pleasure. There is a lot of stockinette, but the stripes and the reverse stockinette sides make the knitting more interesting. When I got to the sleeves I feared that there wouldn’t be enough blue yarn. I decided to knit both sleeves at the same time to avoid ending up with different length sleeves. When the sleeves were not at all finished, I ran out of yarn. I did have one undyed skein left though, and the dye. I figured, that if I managed to dye the last skein in a similar colour, I could get away with it. If I didn’t, I had to solve the problem somehow.

The setback

I dyed the last skein, and it ended up a clear moss green colour. I have had some problems with this dye, I had added some yellow to it earlier to make a turquoise shade, but somehow the yellow didn’t show. But now I found it, in the last skein. There was no way I could use it for the hem of the sleeves. So I knit 9 of the 12 garter stitch rows for the hem in the final meters of the blue yarn. Then I made a turned hem. I knit a purl row of orange and continued in stockinette stitch for 8 rows and cast off while at the same time fastening the bind-off to the wrong side of the sweater. To do this, I used a smaller needle to pick up the purl bumps on the inside of the garment, just at the height of the fold. From that I made a 3-needle bind-off. This way I used as much as possible of the blue yarn (and there were only inches left of it after the garter stitch hem) and still got a nice finish of the sleeves.

A detail of the sleeve of a knitted sweater
My panic solution to running out of blue yarn. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Happy happy!

The experimental flax patch

I grow my own flax in a miniature experimental patch. Miniature means about 2 square meters and experimental means that I try to improve every year by experimenting and learning from my previous mistakes. I started in 2014, it was all coincidental. I was seed shopping for our allotment and found a pack of flax seeds for spinning flax. When I planted them I had no intention of processing the fiber, but come August I thought I might give it a try. I had no knowledge and no tools, but my plan was to keep it experimental and grow flax just because I could, and I was sure to learn a lot in the process.

The first year’s result was meager, but I was still  very proud of it. I had grown it and gone through all the steps required to produce fiber. With no tools, I had to be very inventive. After drying and retting, I separated the seeds by putting the bundles in a pillowcase and hammering on it with a mallet. I broke and scutched the stems with a rolling pin on the tiled kitchen floor. I think I used a comb to hackle the fibers. And I was left with a line the thickness of a rat’s tail. But it was my rat’s tail.

A very thin stick of homegrown flax.
Flax harvest of 2014

The following year I had a small experience bank to build on. I planted tighter and more, which gave result. One problem was weeds that sprouted at the same time as the flax, and it was difficult to deweed without deflaxing as well. I had found two hackles which helped me a lot and the result was much improved, the thickness being of approximately 3 rat’s tails, and a lot longer and finer fibers than the first year.

A thin stick of homegrown flax. Hackles and tow in the background.
Flax harvest 2015

In 2016 I waited for the weeds to sprout before I started the flax planting. That way I could deweed before I put the flax seeds in the ground, which was a success. The flax grew nicely and the patch looked very promising. Until the next problem arrived. The problem spelled C-A-T. Frasse, the neighbour’s cat had found a new bed. In my flax bed. He lay there every day and didn’t care about my golden fiber at all. So a lot of the harvest was ruined by cat.

Also, the fall was very dry. I dew retted the flax longer than I had before, but when I processed it, it was really hard to separate the fibers from the core. The consequences of which led to both more waste (=less usable fiber) and more core cellulose in the finished fiber. And I think it has less shine than the previous harvest.

A thin stick of homegrown flax. Hackles and tow in the background.
Flax harvest 2016

But this is why I do it – I learn every year and use my experience to improve the next year. And I did end up with 4 rat’s tails!

This year’s flax has had its ups and downs. To start with, I put a compost grid 5 cm above the soil to prevent the cat from hi-jacking my flax patch. He came, he sulked and he left. I increased the patch with two pallet collars below our big oak. Also, I got some new seeds (Ilona) from a retired flax gardener. But the oak sucked out all the water from the soil and all that is left are some sad yellow stems, about 20 cm high. So we are left with the original patch. Which is full of weeds between the flax stems. However, I planted the new seeds on the original patch and this flax is a lot higher than it ever was before, so I’ll make sure to use the new seeds next year.

Flax flowers.
Flax in blossom

Swedish finewool (finull)

Close-up of crimpy wool.
Yummy Swedish finewool (scoured) from Solkustens spinnverkstad

The first ever fleece I bought was from the Swedish finewool sheep Pia-Lotta at Överjärva gård. She was a lamb back then and it was the wool I learned to spin with. I have managed to get hold of her fleece twice more (the last time I shore her myself). Finewool has become my house fiber. It is the fiber I feel most comfortable spinning and my hearts jumps a beat whenever I get my hands on finewool fluff.

At the wool traveling club‘s wool journey 2016 I bought some really yummy finewool at Solkustens spinnverkstad and a couple of days ago I started preparing it for spinning. I know it is a year later, but that’s my fleece queue at the moment – one year from purchase to process if I keep the queue order.

A good finewool fleece is really crimpy with superfine fibers. It is moderate in lanolin and usually only needs scouring in cold water before processing. It is wonderfully soft, silky to the touch and a very good candidate for carding for a warm and airy woolen yarn. The ends can be a bit brittle and break in the preparation. Therefore it’s a good idea to make sure that doesn’t happen, to avoid nepps and noils in your yarn. I flick card the tip ends of every staple. Any brittle tips stay in the flick card instead of in the yarn.

A hand with crimpy wool in it. Wool in the background.
Crimly staples of finewool

I have spun my first yarn in this fiber from hand-carded rolags on my spinning wheel and I love the result.

Close-up of a skein of white handspun yarn.
Fingering weight finewool yarn spun with long draw from hand-carded rolags, 3-ply, 48 g, 113 m

I also plan to make a 3-ply yarn spun on a Navajo spindle. When I spun this yarn on the wheel, I realized that I have learned so much about long draw from spinning on a Navajo spindle. I wouldn’t have been able to spin singles this consistent if I hadn’t practiced long draw as much as I have on the Navajo spindle. At that insight, my heart skips a beat again.

Happy spinning!

Shetland wool

I got wool today! Three bags full, actually. Two beautiful Shetland fleeces, one Moorit (brown) and one Eskit (dark grey).

Close-up of a brown Shetland fleece
Shetland Moorit.

Previous Shetland fleeces

I have bought a few Shetland fleeces and I love all of them dearly. I bought the first ones when my wool traveling club attended Shetland wool week 2015. I got to enter the wonderful treasure room for hand spinners at Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers. A room in the basement filled with dreamy fleeces, handpicked for handspinners. I ended up buying one white and one Flecket (patches of black, grey and white). This Christmas I bought another two – one Shaela (light grey) and one Yuglet (dark grey). More about them in a later post.

About the Shetland sheep

The Shetland sheep is an old sheep breed and they are traditionally rooing their wool. The sheep sheds its wool at a certain time of year when the fibers thin and the new wool starts to grow underneath. This has advantages and disadvantages. An advantage is that the fiber closes at the weak spot, which makes a garment more resistant to cold and wet weather. Another advantage is that the yarn is smoother, since the ends are thinned out instead of cut off.

A disadvantage is that there is a lot of waste, and sometimes a risk of nepps and noils in the finished yarn. If the fibers don’t break or isn’t pulled off and if the sheep isn’t sheared at the rooing moment, there will be a weak spot where the rooing occurs while the new fiber starts to grow. So, on the fleeces I bought at Christmas (about six months after the rooing) the part between cut end and rooing spot was quite long, about 4–6 cm. These parts were either wasted or used for carding.

When to get the best fleece

I wanted to get my next fleeces with as little outgrowth as possible. The rooing usually occurs in June as far as I know. I read in a post in the Shetland woolbrokers’ blog that Jan is busy with incoming wool from July, so I gathered that the shearing starts about then. So I e-mailed them in July and asked them to get me the best fleeces they could find. I wanted two solid-colour fleeces and the colour really didn’t matter (not black and not white, though), the important thing was the quality. And today I picked them up from the post office. The woman at the post office looked rather suspiciously at my three bursting bags, smelling faintly of sheep. I must have looked rather funny on my bike with one bag in my bike bag, one strapped on to the bike rack and one dangling from the handlebar.

Just yum

The fleeces are really wonderful. Soft like butter, superfine fibers, strong and resilient. They are also amazingly clean. I’m used to Swedish fleeces, where even the cleanest ones have some vegetable matter in them, either from silage, weeds or needles. Once I actually found a whole chestnut in a fleece!

The Moorit fleece (picture above) is super soft (lamb, I think) with staples about 12 cm. The ends are bleached, which is common on brown fleeces. This means that the finished  yarn also might be bleached, which I will put under consideration when choosing projects for it.

Close-up of a dark grey Shetland fleece
Shetland Eskit.

The Eskit fleece (lamb) is just as soft and clean. The staples are longer, up to 15 cm. There might be an outgrowth though, you can see the change of quality in the bottom 3 cm of the staple. Hopefully the fibers break at the rooing point when I comb it and the cut end parts stay in the combs.

I have divided both the fleeces in two parts, one part with the finest, softest fibers from the neck and the sides and one with the still very soft but not softest fibers. This way I can adapt my yarns to different projects.

My spinning plans

I will comb the fleeces and spin with short forward draw. My go-to yarn is 2-ply fingering weight, But I think I will also stash up on some 3-ply sport with these fleeces, I have lots of queueing knitting projects requiring sport weight yarn. The shorter lengths left in the combs will be carded and spun with long draw. I do love to spin these carded rolags into singles on my Navajo spindle and use as weft. More on how I prepare fleeces in an earlier post on combing and carding.

Gotta go now. I have fleeces to cuddle.

Please correct me if I’m wrong about the properties or terminology of Shetland wool.

Combing and carding

I usually buy fleece and do my own preparation. For that I use my mini combs and my carders. I try to use as much of the fiber as possible and make as little waste as possible.

I do love combing. The way the wool transforms from separated staples to a fluffy bundle is like magic. And drawing the fiber off the comb in a long, continuous piece is very satisfying.

A basket full of combed wool. Lake in the background.
Shetland wool combed into bird’s’ nests

The longer fibers align themselves into that long combed piece. But usually there is an amount of shorter fibers left in the combs. I pull these out, one pinch at  time, and card. The nepps and noils stay in the combs and I use this waste in the garden.

Two baskets of prepared wool
Combed wool in the back basket shorter comb leftovers pulled off the comb in the front basket. In the front carded rolags and mini combs with leftover shorter fibers. All from the same Shetland fleece.

I follow the same routine when I card, but without making the combed bird’s nests. I lightly comb the fleece I want to card, pull it off the combs one pinch at a time and then card. This way, I use the combs for teasing the wool. It is much faster and nicer than teasing each staple with a flicker, which I used to do. And now I love carding too!