Stash

A white fleece with very long and silky staples.

I have a lot of fleece at home. I try to cut down on my fleece purchases, but it is difficult. Exploring the Swedish sheep breeds and writing about them are things I love. I do try to keep a strict queue where I spin the oldest first. But sometimes the newer fleeces have stronger voices. Today I invite you to a dive into my fiber stash.

My imaginations is often faster than I am. When I get a new fleece I get lots of ideas of what to do with it. Other fleeces that have waited their turn in the stash somehow get less desirable. The grass is greener on the new fleece, so to speak. But at several occasions I have had to throw whole fleeces on the compost heap since they have become brittle with age. Land races and heritage breeds usually stay fresh longer than crossbreds but still get brittle after a while. I try to keep a strict fleece queue. I also try not to have a fleece wait more than a year. Obviously I fail at this.

Below are some of the fleeces that are waiting in line in our sofabed, and have done for quite a while now.

Miriam Miranda, a dalapäls lamb

Two years ago I had the opportunity to spend a shearing day with my friend Lena. She has a flock of dalapäls sheep that she just brought home from their summer pastures in county Dalarna. One of the sheep she sheared that day was the lamb Miriam Miranda. I got to take some of it home.

Miriam Miranda, a dalapäls lamb.
Miriam Miranda, a dalapäls lamb.

Usually I know the sheep owner, which is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the sheep and how it lives. Sometimes the sheep even has a name, which makes the connection extra special. In this case I got the opportunity to watch Lena shear her sheep and ask her about her flock.

I have kept this fleece in my stash for a long time. I have had difficulties deciding what to do with it. But now I have a project for it. A while back I spun a yarn from a rya/finull cross. My plan is to pair a yarn from Miriam Miranda’s fleece with that fleece and knit a lace shawl.

If you registered for the dalapäls wool webinar I streamed a couple of years ago you got a glimpse of Miriam Miranda’s soft and shiny fleece. There is also a fifteen minute film clip from the shearing in the course Know your fleece.

Norsk pelssau

This was a gift from my friend and wool oracle Kia. Norsk pelssau is a Norwegian equivalent to the Swedish Gotland sheep – a sheep bred mainly for its pretty skins. The wool is strong, curly and has a unique shine. Quite a challenge to process (although less so than Swedish Gotland in my experience), but I think it will make an excellent sock yarn.

A Norwegian Pelssau fleece, picked out for me from my friend Kia.
A Norwegian Pelssau fleece, picked out for me from my friend Kia.

Kia has so much knowledge about wool. When Kia picks out a fleece I know without looking at it that it is top quality. This will be a great sock yarn.

Rya

I have a few bags of rya fleece in the sofabed stash. Long, strong and shiny outercoat and light and warm undercoat. Two smaller bags with white and variegated grey rya from Kari Lewin who has won several medals for her fleeces. A third bag is a white silver medalist rya fleece from Annie Hallberg. My plans for the Rya fleeces include rya rug yarn and perhaps also sock yarn.

Silver medalist rya fleece from the 2020 Swedish championships.

Elin Gestrike

Elin, oh Elin. Such a lovely and gentle Gestrike fleece. My friend Claudia Dillman said she had Elin’s fleece that she thought I should have. And she was right. I have wanted to sink my teeth in it for so long, but kept to my fleece queue. But soon it will be Elin’s turn at last. My plans so far is to divide this fleece and make a worsted spun warp yarn from the outercoat and a woolen spun weft yarn from the undercoat. You can see Elin’s fleece as I demonstrate it in the free webinar The Hand spinner’s advantage.

Nypon Finull

The soft and silky fleece from the finull sheep Nypon (rosehip) is a silver medalist from the 2020 Swedish fleece championships, from the shepherdess Titti Strömne. Finull wool was the very first fleece I worked with, the first time I ever held a spinning tool in my hand. My plans for Nypon is a soft weft yarn.

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

A seduction

Every year at the Swedish fleece championships one of the judges, Alan Waller, selects a fleece for the special award the wool guru’s seduction. In the 2020 championships this award was given to a finull/Gotland/Swedish Leicester fleece from Kari Lewin. This is a fleece that looks like nothing else. Freakishly long, incredibly shiny and at the same time very soft. I felt it needed me. I must say I’m a bit intimidated by it, but I think I will be able to make something with it. My plans is a warp yarn together with the finull weft above.

A white fleece with very long and silky staples.
The 2020 seduction of the wool guru, a Swedish Gotland/Leicester/finull fleece.

Gunvor 1, 2 and 3

Gunvor is another sheep from Claudia Dillman’s flock of Gestrike sheep. I asked Claudia if I could adopt the shearing from one individual for a longitudinal fleece study. I could and Claudia chose Gunvor for me. A white lamb with large black spots. At least on Gunvor’s first fleece (shorn in the fall of 2020). The second fleece (spring 2021) has less black in it.

In a couple of weeks I will visit Claudia on her farm for the fall shearing and collect the third fleece. The Black and white Sirwal pants from Irene Waggener’s book Keepers of the sheep may become reality with Gunvor’s lamb’s fleece. The second fleece may become rya rug yarn. Gotta make some room in the sofabed!

Coming up 1: Icelandic

In the spring issue of PLY magazine (the double coated issue) I was smitten by Maja Siska. She wrote about spinning a lopi style yarn straight off the staple of an Icelandic lamb’s fleece. I felt an urgent need to spin a bulky singles yarn from the lock. So I contacted Uppspuni mini mill in Iceland and asked the owner to pick a fleece for me on shearing day. I have never worked with Icelandic, although both rya and Old Norwegian Spælsau that I have worked with have similar characteristics. I’m really excited about this.

Coming up 2: Swedish fleece championships

I love the Swedish fleece championships and they are coming up in October. Still digital, though. But I’m sure I won’t be able to resist some of the medalists this year either. So my plan is to spin up at leas a couple of the oldest fleeces until then to allow myself to get another one or two.

See? I’m doing it again. Hoarding fleeces.

Happy destashing!


You can follow me in several social media:

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  • 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.

A pattern process

Join me in a pattern process – an adventurous and emotional journey from the sparkling idea for a new design through all the bumps and challenges in the process to a finished pattern and beyond.

1 Sparkling

You know when a baby idea gently but convincingly softly whispers in your mind: Feed me. Feeed me! The whisper gets louder, more vivid, and more impossible to reject. The idea is there to stay, to poke you in the eye until you do feed it.

A baby idea comes knocking on my door, demanding my attention.
A baby idea comes knocking on my door, demanding my attention.

This happened to me a couple of years ago. Well, several times, but this post is about a particular baby idea. I saw something that ignited the baby idea. Something I had seen before, but obviously and flatly ignored.

2 Inspiring

Once I have adopted the baby idea inspiration is everywhere. What about this structure, shape, can we please include these features, pretty please? And tassels, let’s have tassels! Says the baby idea, a bit more confident and, frankly, bossy now.

The ideas bounce around in my head 24/7 like a pinball game on the border between inspirational and overwhelming. When I come to my senses I manage to place a filter of structure and reason over the pinball ideas and sort out my favourites to knead some more.

3 Creating

So, now I have the basic building blocks of my pattern idea. In this phase I get to play with details, whole, structure and technique until I come closer to a yarn and garment design that are feasible as a knitting project. I really enjoy this part of the pattern process since it is unpretentious. It doesn’t demand or criticize. It simply allows me to refine and boil down my ideas into something unique, yet manageable.

I get to play with details, whole, techniques and structure.
I get to play with details, whole, techniques and structure.

This is the pure and innocent phases at which I have no idea of the agonizing, doubting and sweating phases that are to come.

4 Spinning

The pattern process for projects with handspun yarn is a bit different than projects using commercial yarn. First of all, I need to create the yarn I need for my project, which makes the process a bit longer and more adventurous. Second of all, I can’t expect a group of test knitters to go through a whole wool process to spin for and finally knit a garment I have chosen for them. And finding and testing a commercial yarn that looks and works kind of like my handspun just to have a commercial yarn reference doesn’t serve me.

I still want to design, though, so I have decided to set my own rules for designing for handspun. Without commercial yarn and without test knitters.

The final yarn design for a knitting pattern that was published a year ago, the Selma Margau sweater.
The final yarn design for a knitting pattern that was published a year ago, the Selma Margau sweater.

I spin to show the most prominent characteristics of the fiber. At the same time, I have a project idea that lies in the other end of the pattern process journey. For the project to happen I need to create a yarn that does make the fiber justice and that works in the project.

5 Swatching

In the swatching phase of my pattern process I do my best to match the yarn with the needles and the fabric structure. With the fiber as my most important foundation I need to find a way to create a yarn that mirrors the characteristics of the fiber while at the same time working with the structure I have in mind for the fabric.

Don't skip the swatching. Don't skip the swatching. Don't skip the swatching.
Don’t skip the swatching. Really. Don’t skip the swatching.

To this comes the delicate balance between swatching enough for a desired result and not using up too much of the fiber I have before I have even started the sharp version. Usually the fiber for my idea comes from one unique fleece. When it is gone I have no more.

6 Agonizing

Ok, so the yarn is too thick/thin/loose/tight, the fabric too dense/loose/completely off, the idea totally unrealistic and my mood too cranky. This is when I need to be kind to myself and take myself back to the power of that first sparkle. Working through challenges will make my idea stronger and better. I need to go through a number of wrong doors to make sure I know which are the right doors. Agony is part of the pattern process and will take me further along the journey. Embrace the wrong doors.

7 Knitting

Once I feel some sort of harmony in yarn, technique and details I put them all together and start knitting. Hopefully I have swatched enough to avoid having to frog too much of my precious handspun yarn.

The joy of just knitting away.
The joy of just knitting away.

For this particular project I actually completed a full-scale prototype with yarn spun from a different fleece before I dived into the sharp version of the project.

8 Thinking (I’ll remember)

Ooh, this was a good solution! I’ll keep knitting for a while to see what it looks like. I don’t have to take notes, I’ll remember how I did it. The naiveté of a budding designer is endearing.

9 Wishing (I had been more thorough)

Ok, what was I thinking? It was ages ago, there is no way I can remember what I did!

10 Doubting (If this was such a good idea after all)

Why did I suggest writing a pattern for this? I’m clearly not mature enough to understand the scope of a pattern process. Who am I to make a pattern?

The symptoms of Imposter syndrome can be very cruel at this stage. Even if I have taken notes of all the stitches there is so much more than that to a pattern. You know all those practical how-to tips that make a pattern intelligible and smooth to follow. I feel an extra responsibility here since the people who do decide to knit my project will have spent time spinning for this particular design. The pattern and the description need to allow them to work confidently through the pattern.

11 Procrastinating

Oh, a new fleece, let’s explore!

Look, a kitten, let’s play!

Come on couch, lets nap!

And all of the above. Procrastinating is a skill I have exercised to near perfection. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a project hoarder. Mid-project I get an idea for another design and my mind drifts away in the luring and glittering mist of a new baby idea.

12 Dragging (my feet)

I need to get this pattern organized. Now. The longer I wait the more I will have forgotten. Perhaps if I sneak up on myself I won’t even notice I have started organizing? Yeah, let’s do that!

(feel free to loop 8–12 any desired amount of times)

13 Sweating

Designing is one thing. It will provide me with a garment that fits me. A pattern on the other hand needs all the numbers and information for others to be able to understand and create the garment. Every letter I write in that pattern description needs to be enough and necessary for the knitter to recreate my project.

WPI, wraps per inch. A very important number to remember and add in a pattern description.
WPI, wraps per inch. A very important number to remember and add in a pattern description.

Ok. Let’s do this. These are the things I need to produce, structure, calculate, proof-read and re-proof-read.

  • An introduction, where I present the background to my project, its features, the wool, yarn and inspiration. This is where I do my best to sell my project.
  • Numbers – spinning angle, grist, yarn weight, twist, wool weight, yarn length, gauge, sizes, size alterations, needles, notions, measurements, most of which I don’t consider early in the process when it would have been very becoming to have taken some simple but utterly useful notes.
  • Illustrations, simple graphics to show the shape, size and numbers of the project. Basic skills in anatomy sketching would have been charming here.
  • Charts. Just simple graphics with rows and columns filled with pretty symbols and colours. And, of course, the same information in written text. How hard can that be?
  • Terminology and abbreviations. A pattern needs to be condensed in order to allow the recipient to make sense of the content and not get lost in the forest of words. To condense a pattern you need to use established abbreviations. You need to provide the key to the abbreviations and also an explanation of the key. It’s like transporting balloons – you can either transport them all blown up. This will take up a lot of space. Or, you can transport the empty balloons together with a pump that will provide the air needed for all the balloons. Or something like that, you get the gist.
  • Photos that show the design of the garment, the knitting structure, fit, length, details and whole. Preferably in a pretty setting and on a reasonably good hair day. I’m so grateful for my husband Dan’s photo skills and artistic eye.
  • And oh, the actual pattern. A series of very condensed abbreviations in row upon row, unraveling the secrets of the design to those who have the key. The pattern is focused on the details. At this stage I need to have convinced the knitter of the whole picture to stay with me and that it will be all worth it (see the introduction point above). To proof read the pattern part is a nightmare. A comma in the wrong place can be disastrous. Thank the goddesses for tech editors.

14 Breathing (in a square)

Gathering all the parts for the pattern can be very energy consuming. Do I have all the parts the editor needs? Am I using the right software? Did I follow the templates? Did I do that umpteenth proof reading?

A perfect square to breathe in when necessary.
A perfect square to breathe in when necessary.

I’m not on top of this. I am very thankful for Kate Atherley’s book The beginner’s guide to writing knitting patterns (she also has an online course for this). It covers a lot ad keeps me a little more at ease in this part of the pattern process. But still. I’m definitely not on top of this.

Oh, let’s throw in some more procrastinating (11) here while we’re at it.

15 Submitting (slightly panicked)

I’m doing this. Now. I’m sending the 3 MB email (photos, blood, sweat and tears excluded) with the seven attachments.

In a second.

In just another second.

Now…

…-ish.

Swoosh.

(feel free to go back to 14 Breathing in a square here)

16 Obsessing (about a millisecond after submitting)

Did they get it? Can they read it? Do they like it? Will they be able to publish it? Will I be able to publish a pattern ever again?

An email lands in my inbox a couple of days later. “I was able to download and open all of the attachments. Your piece is absolutely fabulous!”

Did you hear that noise? It was my deep sigh of relief.

The obsessing phase can be active even in later phases. This blog post and the mindmap below for example may very likely be part of the obsessing phase.

Next stop on the obsessing train: The tech editor’s verdict. Choo choo!

(make your own loop cocktail of one or more of the points above. My recommendations are 9, 10, 13 and 14)

17 Missing

After having submitted the pattern it feels a bit empty. I miss my project. It has been a part of me for so long. Suddenly the work is done and I don’t know what to do with myself. The finished project is there, looking at me with big eyes. But I can’t show it off until the publication is out, which will be in another six months or so.

Just after submitting a pattern for publication I really miss my project.
Just after submitting a pattern for publication I really miss my project.

18 Resetting

Coming into and out of emotional stages always takes time for me. It is like my body and my mind aren’t in sync. But after a while, when my body has settled my mind will be able to rest in a more balanced state. Slowly, I get more susceptible to new inspiration.

A new baby idea cries for my attention.
A new baby idea cries for my attention.

One morning, when enough time has passed for me to have completely forgotten all the blood, sweat and tears I have shed through the previous pattern process, I wake up with a faint but very vivid baby idea. It whispers softly in my ear: Feed me. Feeeed mee! And so I begin a new pattern process journey (see 1 sparkling above). How hard can it be? Well, it’ll be a bumpy ride. But always worth it.

Thank you K and the gang for believing in me.

Feel free to use the mindmap chart below for your own pattern process. Perhaps you have titles or doodles of your own to add.

To make the pattern process clearer I have made a mindmap for you to follow.
To make the pattern process clearer I have made a mindmap for you to follow.

Have a look at my previous patterns:

And if you haven’t already, do listen to the latest episode of the Fiber Nation podcast, “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t knit that” about AI knitwear design. It’s hilarious.

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.

Book review: Keepers of the sheep

Keepers of the sheep – knitting Morocco's High Atlas and beyond, by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n'Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddylymy. Photo published with permission from the author.

Today I give you a book review. I have read the lovely and important book Keepers of the sheep – knitting in Morocco’s High Atlas and beyond by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n’Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddelymy.

I have been wanting to read this book ever since I learned that it had been published (in December 2020), and a couple of weeks ago I finally got around to actually ordering it, from Retrosaria Rosa Pomar in Portugal (you can also buy the book from Irene’s U.S. Etsy store). I had it in my mailbox only a week after I ordered it.

Keepers of the sheep is a beautiful book, both in its appearance and its content. In the book we get to follow Irene’s journey and exploration in knitting, story and history in Morocco’s High Atlas. We also get to peak at sheep, shepherding, spinning and wool. The book is built up of stories and portraits of the landscape and the people, knitting patterns and a historical journey back in time to possible origins of knitting.

Story

We begin the book in Irene’s own first encounter with the landscape and the people of Morocco’s High Atlas. We get to see the vast landscape through her eyes. For a moment I am there with her, getting a first taste of the soft, still vibrant colours. Page by page we get to follow Irene as she comes closer to the people in the village. She finds men who show her their knitting traditions and teach her to knit some of the garments that we can enjoy in the book.

Irene’s story

To prepare for this review I asked Irene a bit about her own background and how she ended up in Morocco and writing a book about knitting traditions. She tells me that she came to the country as a language student and later to teach at the university. On yet another visit she began working with artisans and shepherds in the village of Timloukine.

Keepers of the sheep – knitting Morocco's High Atlas and beyond, by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n'Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddelymy. Photo published with permission from the author.
Keepers of the sheep – knitting Morocco’s High Atlas and beyond, by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n’Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddelymy. Photo published with permission from the author.

During this work they realized the importance of the knitting skills of the shepherds and artisans. Irene says that the branch of the knitting family tree the book covers doesn’t get much mention in the knitting books. The knowledge has traditionally been passed down orally and through observations which would be another reason why this book is so important. A book like Keepers of the sheep would also be a means to help the community promote traditional crafts like sock knitting that is usually practiced by women. She also says that the book indeed has inspired many of the women to learn to knit from their fathers and grandfathers.

At the moment Irene is researching for an upcoming project that she hopefully will be able to share soon. I can’t wait!

History

In the past part of the book we get to follow Irene on a trail back in time to possible origins of knitting traditions in North Africa. Decade by decade we get clues to the knitting riddle of North Africa, starting with World War II, going back through the colonial period, and to medieval Egypt. Through various periods of migration, linguistic clues, cross cultural pattern similarities, designs and styles Irene describes a possible scenario of the origins of knitting in the area and perhaps even of the origins of knitting in the western world. An interesting aspect here is that Sara Wolf makes a similar journey through knitting history in the book Knit (spin) Sweden, and ends up in an Egyptian sock as a clue to a possible knitting origin in North Africa.

In this section Irene dives into the archives to look at textile fragments and images and creates designs inspired by historical patterns, techniques and period garments.

Oral tradition

Knitting in Morocco’s High Atlas starts with the yarn, the need and the needles you have. There is a framework of knitting and detail techniques, but as a knitter you need to make the decisions of yarn weight, needle size, gauge and size while you knit. You try as you go. Again and again.

I realize that it must have been a challenge for Irene to explain the orally transfered try-as-you-go description in a written form for a chart and detailed oriented audience. I think she does this in a lovely and balanced way, maintaining the respect of the oral traditions while being at the same time very pedagogical toward her audience.

An advantage of a perspective that starts with the material you have is how perfect it is for handspun yarn. A framework of techniques instead of step by step instructions seems to open the doors to experimentation and a sense of freedom.

Wool and spinning

In the High Atlas the tradition is that men knit while keeping the sheep and women spin. The spindles are long floor supported spindles that the spinner spins while sitting on the floor. The yarn seems to be mainly for weft and pile in rugs, but some older women also spin for knitting.

Spinners in the village of Timloukine. Photo published with permission from the author.
Spinners in the village of Timloukine. Photo published with permission from the author.

If you look at Irene’s Instagram you can see a few videos with very talented spinners dancing the wool into soft and airy woolen yarn from cloud-like carded batts. It looks as though they are effortlessly breathing out the yarn through their relaxed fingers. It is truly mesmerizing to watch. When they ply the yarn they roll the shaft outward along the underarm, a technique I haven’t seen before.

 When I ask Irene about the wool from the local sheep she says she thinks it is similar to a Cheviot she has spun when it comes to softness, texture, drafting length, and behaviour on the spindle. High Atlas sheep are as fare as she knows not dual coated but do have a bit of kemp. She describes the wool as having a dry, airy quality and is not overly strong or weak.

If you want to dive deeper into the spinning in Morocco’s High and Middle Atlas you can read Irene’s lovely article in the Supported spindle issue of PLY magazine. She does a very good job of describing the spinning techniques used in the area.

Irene has an Etsy shop where she sometimes is able to sell both wool, yarn and spindles. I am hoping to be able to buy a spindle if they become available.

Knitting patterns

Scattered through the book are lovely knitting patterns, all written in a try-as-you-go fashion using the material and tools you have at hand. The patterns come both from the techniques Irene learned from the knitters she met and from garments and fragments she has found when researching the knitting history in the area.

Tqasher Jadeed socks

The first pattern in the book is a pair of socks. I don’t see myself as a sock knitter, but I can see that the engineering of these is different than the models I have seen. As with all the other patterns in the book the pattern is built up as a try-as-you-go process where you need to be confident enough to trust your instincts when it comes to the fit. All of the parameters – needles, yarn thickness and numbers – are sort of fluid in a very compelling way. It looks very liberating to just go! The technique for toes and heels are there of course, but the rest is up to you to balance.

Tqasher Jadeed, new socks. A lovely pattern in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.
Tqasher Jadeed, new socks. A lovely pattern in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.

I would really like to knit the Tqasher Jadeed socks. Perhaps in a rya wool yarn.

Sirwal pants

We need to talk about the Sirwal pants. Suspender pants in broad stripes of natural black and white handspun yarn. A zig-zag stripe follows the sides of the legs to elegantly travel the passive colour along the active without floats or joins. They remind me of the first bathing suits for men – striped, covering and knit in wool.

Sirwal pants in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.
I’m fascinated by the Sirwal pants and their dazzling lightning bolt up the sides of the legs. Photo published with permission from the author.

Now, as some of you may know, I take daily baths in my nearby lake all year round. In the winter I need to dress practically – I need to stay warm in clothes that are loose and easy to put on a very cold body after the bath. Wouldn’t the Sirwal pants be just heavenly ideal for this purpose? I long to spin this yarn, on a spindle from the High Atlas if possible, and knit straight off the spindle. Raw, improvised and simple. I have the perfect candidate for the job. Gunvor the Gestrike sheep, my longitudinal fleece study sheep, was born white with lots of black spots. Her first fleece will be perfect for the Sirwal pants. I can’t wait to knit those vertical zig-zag side stripes.

Historically inspired patterns

In the historic section of the book Irene creates designs inspired by textile fragments, traditional garments and art in the area. Hats, socks, belts, a bath mitt and complex but ingenious multi-colour intarsia details.

Lovely belts in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.
Lovely belts in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.

After the historical journey Irene takes us on towards the end of the book she writes (p. 118):

“Rather than solely focusing the narrative on Muslim Arab expansion across the continent, the evidence available to us raises the importance of investigating the role indigenous Amazigh people may have played the dissemination and possibly even development of knitting. It challenges us to consider North Africa not as a passive recipient to cultural influences from abroad but an active player in the evolution and transmission of knitting between continents and peoples.”

There is so much we can learn from this book and from the, in my western perspective, very fresh framework that comes from the oral tradition and try-as-you-go technique. The techniques and perspective constitute an key foundation of knitting history. Keepers of the sheep plays an important part in spreading this perspective. Thank you Irene and the artisans and shepherds in the book for sharing this knowledge with us.

Part of the earnings from the sale of the book is donated to the women’s cooperative Cooperative Ibilou. The cooperative works with community development projects benefitting citizens of the village Timloukine. When you buy the book you will be part of spreading the knowledge of an oral tradition while at the same time contributing to keeping the tradition alive and sustainable for textile artists in the High Atlas area.

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.

Old blog post: A fleece meditation

I’m still enjoying my summer holidays. New blog posts are therefore scarce. Today I give you an old blog post: A fleece meditation. Join me in this tribute to the soft and airy fleece of the Gestrike sheep Elin.

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.

Old sheets

My parents still have monogrammed sheets, table cloths and towels from when they got married in 1965. When I moved to my own apartment as a 20-year-old I got some of them with me. They have started to look a bit worn now, but they have served us well during all these years. Today I celebrate old sheets.

We spent last week in a rented cabin in Tiveden, between the two largest lakes in Sweden. As a city woman I obsess over flea markets and second hand stores whenever I get to the countryside or smaller cities. Stockholm doesn’t have what I’m after: Old textiles, especially bed linen.

Flea markets

There is a large flea market a 45 minute drive from the cabin. Last year it was closed due to the covid restrictions, so I was extra jazzed about going this year. During the past years there has been a giant table with textiles at the flea market. A woman traveling the countryside collecting old textiles from forgotten linen cabinets runs the table and has a trained eye for the good stuff. Previous summers I have bought sheets and pillowcases of remarkable quality, some hand woven. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were over 100 years old.

The textile table at the flea market the first time I saw it a few years ago.

A dream of the future

The material of the old sheets is thick and dense and filled with the promise of a good night’s sleep. Most of the sheets have monograms and some lace edgings and embellishments. Some are hand sewn, some even hand woven. You can barely see the mid seam that joins the left and right side of the weaves of a narrow hand loom.

A hand woven monogrammed and laced sheet. Can you see the vertical center seam?

Who made those monograms and laces? What was going through her mind as she stitched them? How late at night did she work with the needle? What were her dreams of the future? Did she sleep happily on her sheets? Did it occur to her that some of her sheets would be forgotten and some cherished by new generations?

Hand woven cotton/linen towels. Since there are pieces of cellulose in the linen threads my guess is that the linen yarn was hand spun from someone’s hand processed flax.

The sheets my parents got back in 1965 were store bought. My father designed the monogram and they had them machine sewn at a monogram service before the wedding. It took me many years to realize that the mysterious stitch formation was actually my parents initial letters. As a child they were just there on all sheets, as natural as the sheets themselves.

When I asked my mother about her and my father’s monogram I also asked of she could look for older family monograms in their linen cabinet. She found some from the late 19th and early 20th century from all sorts of great-great aunts.

Berta’s flax

Many of you may have heard of Berta’s flax. This is a project started by Christiane Seufferlein who got an old dowry chest from a relative to Berta, a woman who got married in Austria in the 1940’s. The chest was filled with processed flax, which worked as a security for a woman. Christiane decided to share the flax with the world and spends her free time shipping flax all over the world. Berta’s flax is long gone, but after came Maria’s, Rosa’s and other women’s flax chests.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s many of these chests were burnt since nobody was interested in their contents. Much like the old sheets I find on flea markets. But these are true treasures. Made with love, hopes and dreams and remarkable skills.

Top and bottom

Through the years on the flea market visits we have bought mainly bottom sheets – machine woven, hand woven, with or without monograms or lace. The important thing is that they are old. A lot of top sheets have been displayed on the textile table too. A top sheet is a longer sheet placed on top of the sleeper, directly under a blanket or patchwork quilt. The top of the top sheet – traditionally embellished with some sort of lace and, of course, a monogram – is folded over the top edge of the blanket.

We haven’t bothered with the top sheets for sale since we use duvets and duvet covers (I don’t even think top sheets are made anymore). But after thinking just a tiny step outside the box I realized that we could use the top sheets as bottom sheets too. Even if the pretty lace would be tucked underneath the mattress they would still be high quality old sheets.

Bad and good fortune

When we got to the flea market this year I went straight to the textile table. Only to find it empty. Empty as in she was not there at all. Not even a thread in sight. We really didn’t need more sheets, but I still love going through her textiles, imagining the lives behind all the monogrammed treasures. And she was such a textile heroine, collecting treasures and saluting women’s skills.

This year's textile harvest included four top sheets and two pillowcases, all monogrammed and laced.
This year’s textile harvest included four top sheets and two pillowcases, all monogrammed and laced.

As we came back to the cabin we went for another ride. This time to a hembygdsgård, sort of a homestead or folk museum. At the gate was a tiny table with old monogrammed sheets. Another textile heroine had saved treasures from the past. I fondled them and saw in my mind our cramped linen cabinet. The sheet section is abundant. However, the duvet covers are not enough and those we have are thinning out.

Old new duvet covers

The oldest duvet covers I have seen are from the 1960’s. Not with the bad quality of today, but still not near the quality of the older textiles. Therefore I don’t bother looking for them on flea markets. So my problem was how to get hold of high quality duvet covers without buying new ones. With another step outside the box I realized that I could make duvet covers with the top sheets! I found two reasonably matching pairs of top sheets (these were made long before standardized sheet measurements) and sewed them together into two smashing duvet covers. A little too narrow for our duvets, and with the four different monograms upside down, but still, heavenly to sleep under.

Our new old duvet covers made of old top sheets of remarkable quality.

Fast fashion

So why is the quality in old sheets so much higher than in modern sheets? Well, this is connected to the fashion industry. The pressure to buy more and new clothes every turn of the season has led to a pressure on the cotton industry. The cotton fibers are shorter to make way for more harvests. The yarn is more loosely spun and the fabrics are woven at a wider sett to save fiber.

Pillowcases

For the past 20 years or so I have slept on an Austrian giant pillow of 80×90 cm. For this reason none of the Swedish pillowcases, old or new, match my pillow. But now, as we have these dreamy pillowcases I have decided to retire my Austrian pillow and buy two Swedish size pillows instead. Filled with wool from Swedish sheep, of course. Soon I will dream sweet dreams on pillowcases thick as cardboard, tied together with sweet bowed ribbons.

A new generation

When Dan and I got married in 1998 we didn’t have monogrammed sheets. We did however get new linen sheets as a wedding present. They thinned out many years ago. We still use one of them, though, as a back curtain to a wool/linen curtain I wove a few years ago for our front door.

Our children won’t have the same memories I did of parents’ monogrammed sheet. For the past years, though they have got used to sleeping on high quality old flea market sheets. They are 16 and 18 now and will move out sooner or later. When they do I won’t get them new sheets for their new homes. I will get them old sheets.

So if you haven’t already, next time you go to a flea market, look for old sheets and bed linen. Get all you can and save these sweet treasures from oblivion.

Sleep tight!


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.

Old blog post: The power of slowness

In the summer time I spend a lot of my spinning time with spindles. They are easy to pack, easy to bring and just a joy to use. The slowness of spindle spinning is a superpower in itself as it offers a unique opportunity to deepen your understanding of spinning mechanics and techniques. Today I invite you to an old blog post where I dive into the power of slowness and offer you some of my favourite superpowers of different kinds of spindles.

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.
  • 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.

Old blog post: Webinars

I am enjoying my vacation and have no new blog post for you today. Instead I give you a replay of a previous blog post where I take you behind the scenes of my live webinars. You see me for one hour or so on the screen, but there is a lot more going on before and after. In case you haven’t attended any before, a webinar is a seminar or other presentation that takes place on the Internet, allowing participants in different locations to see and hear the presenter, ask questions and comment. They are powerful tools to meet and share information and skills.

Here are two previously live streamed webinars you can watch:

About four times a year I livestream webinars, usually in a breed study series of Swedish sheep breeds from the spinner’s perspective. I have no new webinar coming up at the moment. If you registered for the webinars when they were live-streamed you have them. If not, you are more than welcome to read about the breeds I have covered so far:

Finull sheep. Photo by Dan Waltin
Finull sheep. Photo by Dan Waltin

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.

Explore

Tabacktorp wool, from the rarest breed in Sweden. The fleece was a gift from a friend. The yarn will be a gift to another friend.

A new fleece invites me to open my mind and explore the fleece in all its possibilities, challenges and opportunities. It gives me a chance to learn something new. I treasure these experiences and keep exploring.

Smooth and pleasant

Today I encourage you to see possibilities and opportunities to learn from the fleece you have. I have talked about this several times because it is an important perspective to me. We may have perfectly consistent fleeces and prepare and spin just the yarn we have imagined. That is all fine and we get to practice spinning consistently and effortlessly.

A consistent and heavenly soft Jämtland fleece that will become a beautifully soft yarn. But it may not give me the challenges from which I learn the most.

Unruly and defiant

Sometimes, though, we don’t. I live in a country where most of the sheep breeds are very heterogenous within a breed, a flock and even over the body of an individual sheep. You can read more about some of the Swedish breeds and how I approach them here. These are often my favourite fleeces. The ones that challenge me with their sea of staple lengths, types and colours, the ones that resist my draft, tease me back when I tease and play with my mind as I try to figure them out. These are the fleeces I learn the most from and the ones I look forward to the most to explore. I let the wool be my teacher and enjoy the ride.

Explore and find the path

Every new fleece is an opportunity for me to explore. I can look at a fleece and see it as a lost cause and move on to the next (which I sometimes do). However, I can also embrace it and try to get to know it. I try to find out how it wants to be spun to become its best yarn. It may actually turn out to be the loveliest fleece to work with. Sometimes a fleece may seem easy to work with but it turns out to be unruly and defiant. I try to see every new fleece with new and open eyes, to find its soul and explore from there. The unruliness and defiance are obstacles in the way, but with a humble mind they can also become part of the path I take in this exploration.

Tabacktorp wool, from the rarest breed in Sweden. The fleece was a gift from a friend. The yarn will be a gift to another friend.
Tabacktorp wool, from the rarest breed in Sweden. The fleece was a gift from a friend. The yarn will be a gift to another friend.

So be bold. Explore the fleece you have in front of you. Embrace all its diversity, the challenges it brings you and the mistakes you make. See them as opportunities to practice and learn. Eventually they will become part of the journey to this individual fleece’s best yarn.

Here are some resources:

  • Fleece through the senses challenge. Free challenge with one assignment every day for five days. This challenge has become very popular! 550 people have already accepted the challenge. Many students have shared their experiences with their fleeces in the comments. This is a huge asset to the course!
  • Know your fleece. An online course where we go a bit deeper into a fleece. I show lots of examples and inspiring videos and you get lots of tools to investigate and explore your fleece.
  • The hand spinner’s advantage. Free webinar where I reflect over my opportunity as a hand spinner to get the most out of a fleece.
  • You are welcome to contact me for a zoom workshop for your spinning group or guild.
  • I also offer personal coaching sessions.

Happy exploring!


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.

A week of creativity

This blog post could have been about a five-day course in wool knowledge at Sätergläntan craft education center. However, the course was canceled. I was very sad about this, but I did keep the days off from my day job. Suddenly I found myself in a week of creativity.

A whole week to myself in the brightest and most thriving part of the year. I had some things planned but also lots of time to explore and create unplanned.

A park bench

Dan’s birthday was coming up and I had planned to build him a park bench. Recently Erik Eje Almqvist published a book called Hammare och spik (Hammer and nail) that builds on Enzo Mari’s idea of functional furniture with right angles that anyone can build. The book contains descriptions of stools, chairs, benches, tables, shelves and more that are based on standard Swedish timber measurements. I got the timber sawed up on Monday at the timber store and help from my father bringing the stuff home.

I spent a large part of Tuesday building the bench. It was a very hot day, but nice and cool in the basement where we have our storage room. The construction was simple, functional and very sturdy. It could even endure the wonkiness of a beginner’s mistakes.

Wednesday I created what I call crafting graffiti – an embroidered message of love for Dan. I drew the motif on the bench and drilled holes along the drawn lines and sanded down the roughness from the drilling. I wanted to make a root stitch, but the root (or in this case a split ivy stem) kept breaking so I abandoned that idea. Instead I went closer to home – I embroidered with a chain stitch along the holes with my handspun yarn.

Stools

Along with the timber for the bench I bought timber for two stools. Our teenagers spent Thursday building one stool each and by evening we had a whole set of furniture for Dan’s birthday on Friday. We prepared breakfast in the morning on the balcony. As the rain poured down on the sunshade above us we had the loveliest breakfast together all four of us (which is unusual these days since we get up at very different times).

Summer of flax

As I mentioned in a previous post I ended my very long flax spinning procrastination phase and started spinning some of my flax. I don’t have much practice spinning flax, so I was enjoying experimenting, listening to the flax and learning from my mistakes. To practice for my homegrown flax I used store-bought from Växbo lin.

As I preach with wool, the preparation is key. I learned how to best arrange the flax for dressing the distaff and how to move the distaff as the spinning progressed. You can see more of how I dress my distaff in this blog post and video. I built a MacGyver style distaff stand with the help of a parasol stand and some willow sticks. It works surprisingly well.

I have spent quite a few afternoons on the balcony with my flax. This is the time of day when there is shade on the balcony and I thrive away from the sun as it has been around 30 °C this week.

Spindle and shorter lengths

Before I have dressed my distaff I have brushed the flax with my flax brush. It has removed the shorter bits. Still, as I have reached the end of the flax bundle on the distaff only short bits have been left. Through my spinning I have saved both the brushed away lengths and the inner shorter lengths on the distaff and dressed them on a hand distaff for spindle spinning. I have an in-hand style spindle with a counter-clockwise spiral groove that works wonderfully for this.

Grass crowns

The last craft of this week of creativity is making grass crowns. It is a lovely craft you can do a large part of the year depending on what plants you have nearby. I have used grass of course, but also lavender, onions (!) and field flowers. Eventhough grass crown making is a perishable craft, most of the crowns age with dignity.

I have had a lovely week of creativity. On Monday I get back to work again, but only for a week and a half. After that I have six weeks of vacation with lots of room for more creativity. But first I will make another grass crown as a gift to my parents.

First grass crown of many this summer.

My week of creativity has not ended yet. More grass is waiting to become crowns, more flax is waiting to be explored. How was your week?

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.

Wild basketry

Rabbit holes. Round, inviting, enticing. What’s down there really? I’ll just have a peak. Ooh, this looks interesting, I’ll go just a tiny bit longer. Ooh, this looks even more interesting, i’ll just… Well, I guess you know how this continues. I have found myself a new rabbit hole in wild basketry. Spoiler alert: This post contains no spinning whatsoever.

Lately I have been slightly obsessed with baskets. There are so many and they are so beautiful. I don’t see them much here in Stockholm, so I become the child in a candy store when I see them on Swedish eBay.

One of my recent basket purchases, an antique root basket filled with willow birch, cordage and future basket and cordage material.
One of my recent basket purchases, an antique birch root basket filled with willow birch, cordage and future basket and cordage material.

I have also found a very special niche of basket making, using foraged materials. Instagram profiles like Jeanette Gray and Suzie Grieve are truly inspiring, as is Sally Pointer with her excellent YouTube videos where she goes “hedge bothering”, looking for suitable fiber plants. They all make the most exquisite baskets of materials I have never heard of before in a basketry context – cattail/reed mace, dandelion stalks, daffodil leaves, ivy, hops and honeysuckle just to name a few. Just the thought of using weeds and garden plants for weaving makes my heart sing (again).

Cordage

Since I have no basket making skills whatsoever I have been foraging some of these plants and practiced making cordage. It is a good start for getting to know the fibers and how they behave. So far I have played with dandelion stalks, rhubarb skin, spider plant and crocus leaves. Making the cordage is magical. They spiral down from my hands in all shades of brown and green, changing as they dry. All the materials feel and behave differently and it is such a joy to be a beginner in this beautiful world.

Making cordage is fun, easy and doesn’t take up much space. It is also a lovely way to get to know a fiber and its characteristics as basket and cordage material. I loved making the rhubarb cordage. It was so flexible when rehydrated, but as it dried again it got all loose. I learned that I need to give it more twist or thickness, or mix it with another fiber. Note the colour timeline of the rhubarb – the leftmost was from our very first rhubarb harvest, the middle from the second and the freshly peeled skin from the fourth.

Basket dreams

I wanted to learn more, though. About what plants to look for, when to harvest and techniques for basket weaving. I found a Swedish basket weaving forum on Facebook. I presented the talented wild weavers I link to above and asked if anybody in Sweden did the same kind of weaving and if there were any courses available. A lot of people replied, but only to admire the work of the wild basket weavers I referred to. One person, Susanna Jacobson, said she used similar techniques and plants. As it turned out, she lives five kilometers from my home. She is a gardener by trade and grows 32 different kinds of willow at her summer house.

I asked if she would teach me and my friend Cecilia about the plants, their superpowers, when to harvest them and basket weaving techniques. She was happy to. When I asked her about the price of the course she suggested a trade: “I I really want to learn how to spin, will you teach me?”. Well, twist my arm!

Wild basketry

So, last weekend Cecilia and I skipped to Susanna’s house full of anticipation. And we got plenty. Susanna was so generous with her garden, plants and skills. We learned how to strip willow and bramble bark and how to dissect and find the fibers in stinging nettle. She showed us her favorite fiber plants for basket weaving and how to find and identify them.

After some theory we got to work with out baskets. We chose cattail/reed mace for the base and an array of plants for the weavers – Siberian iris, yellow flag iris, dandelion , cattail and juncus (sibirisk iris, gul svärdslilja, maskros, kaveldun och veketåg).

The chunkiness

We worked with cattail/reed mace for both frame and weavers. It was such an interesting plant! It looked slim and nothing special. but it turned out to have channels on the inside, carrying the gooiest of goo. Eventhough the plants had been dried we needed to press out a lot of goo to be able to weave somewhat comfortably. Through the channels the material still stayed chunky like… well, like muppet skin, cardboard or styrofoam. I still go to my basket every now and then just to make sure it hasn’t lost its muppet chunkiness.

The superpowers of crafting

As in all crafting classes I have attended and taught, silence fell a few minutes after we had started weaving. The crafting silence, or, if you will, crafting devotion. The focus on the material and the making. And, after a while, a warm and soulful conversation about what really matters in the world. A precious moment of peace of mind, the knowledge of the hand and the natural materials.

After eight hours of fiber and wild basketry joy Cecilia and I had finished our baskets. Row by row of wild plants to build up our unique first wild baskets. As always, the mistakes of the basket form a map of what I have learned – make slimmer joins, push the weavers down to prevent holes once they dry and don’t rush. With mistakes and all, though, they are beautiful and unique. And they make me want to weave a lot more wild baskets.

Foraging

I have new glasses now, fiber plant glasses. Whenever I walk in nature I look out for interesting plants and take mental notes of species, location and development. It is a lovely way to follow the seasons. Lately I have been looking for dandelions. They need to have seeded and be as tall as possible. They don’t really smell like raspberry pie when I dry and later rehydrate them, but they make fantastic cordage and basket material.

There is a spot right next to our house all covered in long ivy stems, some of which have made their way to one of our curtain rods for drying (we don’t use many curtains anyway). I have got permission from the local authorities to harvest willow sticks nearby. I strip the bark and plan to use it for baskets. Next in line will be stinging nettles, perhaps a week or two after midsummer.

At the allotment we have plenty of honeysuckle and hops which I look forward to harvesting. We also bought some carex and day lilies to add to our basket plant collection. This new rabbit hole has lots of passages that I will discover headfirst and wholeheartedly.

Come autumn

As the days go by I will continue collecting basket and cordage material. Just as when I go to the lake for my swim every day it will give me a new appreciation of nature and the turn of the seasons.

Wool and baskets, a beautiful combination.
Wool and wild basket in beautiful harmony.

Towards the autumn I will teach Susanna the basics of spinning. I hope I can give as generously in a private spinning class as she gave Cecilia and me in the wild basketry class. There are a lot of rabbit holes in the spinning world I can lure her in to, wouldn’t you agree? Welcome to class, Susanna, I can’t wait!

Happy spinning!


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