About weaving

A rigid heddle loom warp
Warping for the Bedtime shawl

I have spun lots of different kinds of yarns in various techniques of preparing, spinning and finishing. I have realized that there are some yarns I don’t really know what to do with since they are not really suited for knitting. Also it’s the other way around – there are some spinning techniques I haven’t bothered practicing since they aren’t very knittable. And so, I have played with the thought of learning how to weave.

I have never known how to weave. And looking at it, I didn’t think it looked that interesting. Lots of calculating and just a flat surface. And I have never been a fan of home textiles.

But I love crafting challenges and two years ago I decided to join the local weaver’s guild and learn the basics of weaving. The guild, or vävstuga (“weaving cabin”, where locals come and weave) is a fantastic place with six floor looms, of which five were purchased by the apartment association. The rent is also paid by the apartment association and all you pay as a member is an annual fee of 5€ plus the material cost for items you weave and keep. All of the members in the guild are women and most of them way beyond 70. Which means that they weave in the daytime and have lots of time to weave. I participated in warping for place mats and started weaving a towel and loved it, but i got really stressed when I knew there was a line of weavers behind me and I had a two week weaving window before it was the next weaver’s turn.

I wanted to weave my own stuff. These ladies are really skilled and glad to share their knowledge, but the system didn’t suit me. So I bought my  own loom, a rigid heddle loom. And it was a very good decision. I get to weave what I like, I do the patterns and designs myself and I can use my own handspun yarns. I warp on the balcony when the weather allows it, otherwise I head down to the guild and warp there, always meeting the lovely and helpful weaving guild members.

The rigid heddle loom suits me very well. I can only weave in tabby, but it still gets me far and it allows me to learn more at my own beginner’s level before I take any further steps. I know there is a way to weave twill too and I will explore that further on. I’m thinking a birthday scarf for x.

Now, after almost two years of weaving I just love it, even the calculating and warping parts. I can’t stop feeling the weave. The structure of my own handspun, my warp and weft looking so professional in the loom.

There is a satisfaction in making my own design, counting and recounting until the yarn required matches the amount of yarn I have spun. Someone said that having a limitation of some kind helps creativity. If I have only a certain amount of yarn spun from one fleece, there is no more yarn. I have to adapt my pattern to the circumstances and I learn so much from that. I can play with different textures and techniques in warp and weft and I get to expand my spinning repertoire and play with new ideas. Just as I wanted to.

Cutting the warp

I always feel a little sad and empty when finishing a weave. We have been together for so long. It feels like yesterday I struggled with warping. I have learnt the best way to weave this particular weave. I have felt the structure in my hands, I know all the mistakes and alterations. I have loved the process, I have ground my teeth, held my breath and floated away in meditation. I have imagined the finished item. But when I finally get there the feeling is mixed. With one simple cut it’s all gone. The stretched warp with its geometrical lines is no more, just a limp cloth. The loom is all naked and empty. All that is left are the cut-down warp ends, too short to use.

But a new phase has started. The finishing of a brand new piece of fabric, dying to look its best. And in my mind I have already started warping for my next weave.

A hand cutting the warp of a rigid heddle loom with sheep shearers
Cutting the warp. Yarn is my handspun Shetland wool.

Wool journey 2017

A flock of sheep in the pasture. The sun is shining on them.
Happy sheep at Åsebol sheep farm

I just came home from the Wool traveling club‘s 2017 Wool journey. We have had such a wonderful time – Anna, Ellinor, Boel and I. Kristin couldn’t make it this time.

We went to Åsebol sheep farm, one of my favourite places on earth. During our stay we mostly sat by the creek, spinning and knitting. We also sat on the back porch, knitting and spinning. Sometimes we sat in the front porch. Spinning and knitting. Every now and then we went for a walk to see the sheep. Sometimes spinning.

Five toilet rolls filled with white yarn.
Rule number one on Wool journeys: Do not throw away empty toilet paper rolls! They are needed as bobbins.

We also had three classes. On the first day I taught a class in supported spinning. My students were fast learners and I think they enjoyed the class. We also hired Kia Gabrielsson from Ullsörvis to teach two classes. Kia is Sweden’s only wool classifier and works at a wool station in Gol, Norway.

Wool knowledge

Wool knowledge is essential to a spinner. With knowledge of wool characteristics the spinner will know what to look for in a fleece to match the quality and the purpose of the yarn. Kia unloaded tons of fleeces from her van and provided us with a wool protocol on which to note characteristics of the wool – strength, shine, elasticity, crimp etc.

A person filling out a form above a white fleece.
Protocol for wool assessment

We looked at several fleeces and filled in a wool protocol for each fleece. They were all wonderful fleeces and very different from each other. As a spinner I have endless opportunities to choose a fleece – or parts of a fleece – to suit my preferences, whether I want to make a sheer shawl, a warm sweater, a sturdy rug or something else. As a final exam, we each got to fill in a protocol of a fleece from the sheep farm.

Hands in a white fleece. The sun is shining.
So many wonderful fleeces

Uruahipi or Māori knitting

Kia’s second class was in Māori knitting, or Uruahipi. It is a very basic kind of knitting with minimal processing, which makes a very soft and airy fabric with a life of its own. You start by drafting straight off the staples to get kind of a rough sliver. The next step is to roll the sliver on your lap to make an even roll. After that you knit. This is usually an activity you do together – with the fleece in the middle you draft and roll for each other. Kia told us stories of how the Māori used to knit like this in the 60’s. She worked in New Zealand in the 80’s and saw lots of Uruahipi knitwear and asked around to find out more about the technique.  She fell in love with it and, lucky for us, she brought it back to Sweden. It also turned out that the technique has been used in other parts of the world.

Kia Gabrielsson holding hand teased wool
Kia drafting for Māori knitting

With the fleece warming our toes and the drafted sliver criss-crossing between us I felt very connected to it all – the wool, the stories and, above all, to Kia and my wool traveling friends.

People sitting in a ring with hand teased lengths of wool going across them. A fleece on the floor in the middle.
Entangled in Uruahipi and Kia’s stories

If you know anything more about Māori knitting or Uruahipi (I think it’s also sometimes called Kiwicraft), please let me know! There is also a Swedish Facebook group for Uruahipi.

Close-up of a project knit with unspun yarn
Uruahipi swatch

After four days of wooly adventures the 2017 wool journey came to an end. We went home and I think we all cherish the memories and long for our next wool journey in 2018.

Josefin Waltin cuddling with a sheep. Dandelions and farm houses in the background.
Lots of sheep cuddling. Photo by Anna Herting

The bedtime shawl

An arm holding up a sheer woven shawl in natural colours.
The bedtime shawl

When I started practising supported spinning, I was using what was left of three fleeces of beautiful alpaca I had bought from  Österlen alpacka a few years ago. I was spinning in bed just before I went to sleep. It was calming, like meditation and I cherished those bedtime spinning moments. I was spinning to learn, so I didn’t have a project planned for the yarn, but after a while I envisioned a sheer woven shawl. A bit like those fancy wide cashmere shawls. My mother-in-law was going through chemo at the time and she is always cold so I wanted to make it for her.

A support spindle full of yarn.
Singles from the baby alpaca Miracle

After about six months of bedtime spinning I started weaving on my rigid heddle loom. And it was hell. I am a new weaver and I am advising all weavers, regardless of experience, never to weave in alpaca. It’s a very slippery fiber. And especially prone to breaking with a super thin singles weft. Or perhaps the advise is not to weave with a super thin singles weft.

A rigid heddle loom warped with thin yarn
At the beginning of the alpaca hell

But I did learn a lot along the way. And that’s the beauty of creating, isn’t it? For every mistake you make you learn something new to add to your experience bank and bring into future projects. And at the end of the warp it turned out beautifully, smooth as silk.

A sheer woven shawl folded over a park bench
The finished alpaca shawl

Subway spinning

Usually I take the bike to work. But occasionally I have to leave the bike at home and take the subway. I don’t like it at all, but I always bring some wooly friend to ease the pain. Today I went to work un-biked and my sweet Jenkins Lark kept me company. Fluff is from Vinterverkstan.

A Turkish spindle in motion on the subway
Happy spinning!

The wool traveling club

Since I started spinning, I have taken different spinning classes. But most of them have been on a beginner’s level and there weren’t much to choose from on a more advanced level. And so, the idea of the wool traveling club was born. The idea was to form a club of intermediate to advanced spinners and take courses adapted to the club members’ needs. I invited my spinning friends Anna and Kristin and they in turn invited one spinning friend each. And so, the wool traveling club, Ullreseklubben, was born. The five of us save money individually each month. Once a year we go on a wool journey together.

After having saved the first sum for 18 month, the premiere wool journey went to Shetland wool week. It was an amazing week. While the wool week arrangement with classes, events and wooly mingling was wonderful in every way, the thing that caught me the most was the ever present textile heritage. Every Shetlander knows the textile history of the island, and, especially, the women’s part in providing for the families with spinning, knitting and sheep husbandry.

The Bressay light house, sheep in foreground
Bressay lighthouse, Shetland

The second year we were all a little short on clink, so we went to Anna’s country house and paid a visit to Solkustens spinnverkstad, a local spinning mill.

This year we’re going to Åsebol sheep farm and we’re all very very eager to go.

Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater

My biggest film project – so far – is Slow fashion.

The slow video project Slow fashion

It began as an idea of showing the whole process from sheep to sweater. As it happened, I did have a clip from when I was shearing a sheep at a course in small-scale sheep husbandry at Överjärva gård, so I was able to start the project even earlier in the process than I had originally planned. And when I saw Valérie Miller’s Fileuse pattern I just knew it was the right pattern for the project.

Close-up of a knitted sweater with a spinning wheel pattern
The perfect pattern for the project.

The white fleece is from the finewool sheep Pia-Lotta at Överjärva. Hers was actually the very first fleece I bought when I started learning how to spin and I was so happy to learn that I was going to shear her. Pia-Lotta was so calm when I shore her. The sheep just stood there while I was leaning my legs against her. She did pee a lot, and she was actually standing on my foot once while peeing, but it was still definitely worth it.

Josefin Waltin shearing a sheep with hand shearers.
Shearing the finewool sheep Pia-Lotta.

Slow getting slower

There was a minor setback in the production in the spring when I was waiting to get my hands on the second  fleece, a grey fleece from a Jämtland sheep from Vemdalsfjällens alpackor. The sheep Gråan was their only grey sheep and I was very thankful to be able to buy so much of it. But the weather was really wet up there in shearing season, so the owner couldn’t shear the sheep for weeks. That is slow fashion, literally.

The leading fleeces

The two fleeces are quite different. The finewool fleece is springy and fluffy and perfect for carding and long draw spinning. The Jämtland fleece has a really long staple of very fine fibers and ideal for combing and short forward draft. The Jämtland sheep is a quite new Swedish breed, bred to be a domestic alternative to merino wool shipped from the other end of the world.

Video making

The shearing part was shot in a simple sheep shed, but the all the rest of the clips were filmed outdoors. There are so many possibilities when filming outside, and there’s no clutter to consider. Most of the shots were filmed around our home in Stockholm and at Åsebol sheep farm. Some shots are from Austria and the very last piece is from Bressay, Shetland at Shetland wool week. I shot the sheep parts and my family and a few friends patiently filmed all the parts with me in front of the camera, which were quite many. My brother-in-law arranged and played the beautiful piano piece.

One of the hardest parts of filming was the sheep shots at Åsebol. I wanted some closeups and preferably some cuddling shots. But the sheep were not interested at all, as soon as we, very gently, got into the pasture, they went in the other direction. On our last day we cheated and brought the owner with some sheep goodies and they came running and I could eventually leave happy.

Josefin Waltin cuddling with a sheep
Finally some sheep cuddling

Not just another video

I wrote in the beginning of this post that the project began as an idea of showing the whole process. But it ended up being so much more than that. It is a celebration of sustainability, serenity, the slow fashion movement,  and, perhaps most of all, the love of spinning.

How it continued

I have told you in previous post about how it all began. This is how it continued.

The last few summers, my family and I have spent a week in the countryside in Austria, hiking and visiting family. Up until then, we had been going by air, but for climate reasons we decided to take the train. My first thought – and I know those of you who are as profoundly nerdy as I am will recognise this – was what craft I would bring on the journey. When flying, I had only brought a nalbinding project. No security check can see any harm in a blunt wooden needle. But 24 hours on trains and stations! The crafting opportunities are almost endless! I had seen Fleegle’s beautiful video where she spins supported, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do. This was in the fall, so there was plenty of time to learn. I bought a spindle from Maine fiber tools and started practising. I usually sat in bed at night just before going to sleep. I badly wanted to learn to master the continuous supported spinning I had seen on the video. And voilá, in February I got it. And I had entered the magical world of supported spinning.

A drop spindle filled with alpaca singles
My first supported spindle, wrapped in sweet alpaca.

But I wouldn’t settle for just knowing how to. I wanted to explore supported spindles, see what was out there and what I liked. So I posted a question on Ravelry. I wrote about my upcoming journey and that I was looking for spindles that would suit my needs. I got some answers, but none that I really could do anything with. Someone told me to go to a fiber festival and try some of the spindle makers there. Well, there may be fiber festivals and supported spindle makers in every bush in the U.S. but there aren’t in Sweden. Then I got a personal message. It was from S in the U.S. She said she was willing to send me a few spindles of different kinds. Truth be told, I was a little suspicious at first. I mean, who would just send expensive spindles across the pond to a stranger? But she did. She told me to look upon it as a random act of kindness, and pay it forward.

The package arrived, and when I opened the beautifully wrapped content, I found no less than eight (8) supported spindles, and over 100 g of BFL/silk fiber. That is a true act of kindness.

Three support spindles with descriptions attached to them
Some of the spindles in the RAK
Five support spindles with descriptions attached to them.
The rest of the support spindles in the RAK

I started thinking about how to pay it forward. I wanted other people to be able to try out different kinds of supported spindles and find one that suited them, just as I had wanted. So, I started the travelling spindle library. I kept some of the spindles for myself and added some of my own and some fiber and sent the package to a spinner I didn’t know but who was active on the Swedish spinning Facebook page. The instructions for the travelling spindle library were simple: Try the spindles for as long as you like. Keep the ones you like, add some if you want to and send the parcel to another spinner. And as far as I know, the travelling spindle library is still travelling around in Sweden, looking for new spindle librarians.

What about the train ride? Well, we did go to Austria by train. And I did spin. It was almost a spiritual feeling when I took out the spindle from my backpack and started spinning in my seat. This was the moment I had been preparing for since november! My son filmed the moment, somewhere between Copenhagen and Hamburg. A Neal Brand spindle from the package (see picture above), and a lap bowl from Kerryspindles. BFL/silk fiber from Vinterverkstan.

This was my first supported spinning video, and there have been many since. These, in turn, have led to inquiries about teaching support spinning classes, and so, I am apparently a support spinning teacher. And on the classes, I start by telling the students this story.

How it all began

Josefin Waltin knitting a pastel purple sweater in a garden chair 1985.

I have been knitting since forever. There is actually a picture of me knitting a sweater in my aunt’s summerhouse garden in Austria. I was twelve. After that, I have been knitting in periods. The latest period has lasted over 15 years so far.

In 2011 I was talking about knitting with my friend Anna. She told me that most  of the wool in Sweden is wasted because no one wants it or knows how to take care of it. And I couldn’t have that. I found a weekly class at Överjärva gård in Stockholm and Anna and I started to learn how to spin on a drop spindle. A “beginner” spindle, weighing about 90 g and with a shaft not very unlike a broom handle. I wasn’t very good at it, Anna quickly got a nice and even thread but mine was mostly involuntarily thick-and-thin. But I practised.

After a few weeks I asked if I could try a spinning wheel. I could, and I really enjoyed it. After another few weeks, I dived into heaps of bunched-up Polish weekly magazine pages on the living room floor and delivered my very first spinning wheel, a Kromski Symphony. And we’ve the best of friends ever since.

A few years later, I started visioning a film featuring all the steps from fleece to sweater. While planning the film project, I started thinking about drop spindling again. It would look so good on camera. So I bought a few drop spindles and started practising again, and this time I really enjoyed it. And a video was eventually published, Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater (Swedish title Slow Fashion – från får till tröja).