Spinning on a viking spindle

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Viking style spinning with a distaff

The outdoor video recording season hasn’t begun yet, it is still a bit too cold. But I do have some material left from last season. Today I give you a video I shot in the beginning of August: Spinning on a Viking spindle.

Spinning on a Viking spindle

How did the vikings spin?

The tools

We know what tools the vikings used for spinning – the finds of spindle whorls from the viking city of Birka are endless. The soil hasn’t preserved organic material, so there are basically no finds of spindle shafts or distaffs from Birka.

Spindle whorls from Birka and Gotland
Spindle whorls at the museum of History in Stockholm: Finds from Birka (20 and 22) and Gotland (21). Whorl 22 was made of amber, the whorls 20 and 21 of burnt clay. To the right you can see a glimpse of whorls made of stone.

Finds of spindle shafts and distaffs have been made in another viking city, though – Haithabu, where the soil has ben more beneficial to preserving organic material. Similar items were also found in the Oseberg grave. There were also finds of weaving tablets, needles, looms and loom weights.

Textiles and context

From finds of textile tools and textiles we know that the vikings spun yarn for clothing, household textiles and sails. To provide a family with the necessary textiles people had to spin. All the time. Clothes, ribbons, carpets, bedding, blankets and sails. I can’t even imagine the amount of yarn needed to weave a sail for the boats. I imagine the whole village cooperated in preparing, spinning, weaving and sewing the giant woolen sails. They must have weighed a ton.

To be able to spin every second the hands weren’t occupied with children or household work you needed to bring the fiber with you. That was what the distaff was for. That way you could spin whenever time allowed without having to runtime to get new fiber.

The technique

We don’t know how the viking spun their yarn. There are no written sources or illustrations from this time period. We can only see a few pieces of a puzzle. The rest is just more or less qualified guesswork.

While we have information about the tools, the textiles and to some extent the way of living in this time period, we need to look into the future to learn about the spinning techniques.

Back to the future…

If we go to the European medieval times we can see the same models of whorls, shafts and distaffs in both illustrations and archeological finds. The illustrations can also give us a clue to how the spinners used their tools. In fact, the same spinning method has been used later on as well, all the way into the 20th century. Take a look at spinning on French or Portuguese spindles, just to take a few examples.

Several medieval spinning images can be found in the blog 15th century spinning by Cathelina di Alessandri (alter ego). She has also made substantial research about the spinning method in the European medieval times.

The typical medieval image of a spinner is a woman sitting or standing. She is holding a belt/floor/hand distaff in her left hand and a spindle in her right hand. the yarn goes diagonally over her body from the distaff down to the spindle. The spindle shaft has a bulk in the middle and is thinner towards the ends. The whorl is placed just beneath the bulk. The whorl has a cone-shaped hole to fit the shaft.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Viking style spinning with a distaff
The typical spinning position for spinning in the European medieval era. Perhaps also the Viking era.

… and back again to the past

As I wrote earlier, the tools look the same as the tools found in the Viking era. As I also wrote, there are no illustrations of spinning from the Viking era, only the tools and their context. With the finds of shafts, whorls and distaffs looking the same as in the medieval period, I have no reason to doubt that the spinning technique also looked the same: The yarn going diagonally across the torso from the distaff to the spindle and the spindle grasped in the hand.

Because of these pieces of the puzzle, I have chosen to interpret the Viking spinning method the way I have. It is up to you to agree or disagree.

A 21st century Viking spindle

I have a reenactor friend who spends a month each summer at Birka to show the visitors the way of living at Birka. She asked me to come and give a class on period spinning.

Just after she had asked me I saw a Viking style spindle in the NiddyNoddyUK shop , and I quickly bought it. The Viking spindle shaft and whorl I bought are reproductions of finds from the Oseberg grave.

A Viking style spindle and whorl
A Viking style spindle and whorl, reproductions of finds from the Oseberg grave.

I love going to Birka (it is just a boat trip from our home), and I was very excited about the opportunity to teach Birka reenactors spinning. I told the spindle maker Neil of NiddyNoddyUK about my excitement. Neil was as excited as I was and threw a few similar spindle shafts in the parcel. Such a sweet thing to do!

I had plans to make a video of the class, where the students at Birka would wear period costumes.

The day before we were going to Birka I got a message from my reeanctor friend saying that she had fel and got a concussion and we had the cancel the whole thing. Fortunately she is well now, but we both missed out on a longed for event.

The setting

So, the setting of this video is not a very Viking one. Instead it is a bench in a hidden corner of out allotment area. I shot it on a very hot day and I was happy to be quite still in the shadow.

Kent’s bench

The bench has a story, though. One of the founders of the allotment area was Kent. He was once an active gardener in the allotment, growing lots of potatoes and Japanese lanterns. Lately, though, he hasn’t been there for more than the spring and fall cleaning days. His allotment turned into a jungle. He kept very much to himself, but he seemed to love that garden bench. Every fall cleaning he removed the sitting boards to protect them from the winter and every spring cleaning he brought them back.

One year ago he passed away. His allotment was taken over by a new and enthusiastic gardener and someone else made sure the boards were taken care of during the winter. His Japanese lanterns have spread and shed some sweet orange light in the fall. And the bench is now called Kent’s bench. I’m sure he had something to do with the stubborn insect that bothered me in the video shoot: He didn’t want me to be there.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Viking spindle, ducking from an insect
Insect attack at Kent’s bench.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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!
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • 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.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

English longdraw

Josefin Waltin spinning on a spinning wheel

In the last video of 2018 I give you what I promised you back in March – a video about spinning English longdraw. Share it if you like it!

In July I made a video with spinning English longdraw with a quill, but that time I was using brown wool that was a bit difficult to see. This time I use white wool and I hope you can see the fiber better this time.

I’m spinning on my RoadBug spinning wheel from the Merlin tree. The fiber is Shetland wool, hand-carded rolags from combing leftovers.

The English longdraw

With the English longdraw – or double drafting – you gather twist, make an arm’s length draw, add twist and roll back onto the bobbin in one smooth motion. The technique is full of superpowers that I will dissect in this post.

Lofty and warm

Spinning English longdraw will get you a lofty and warm yarn. When sampling for a spinning project recently I tried different kinds of drafting techniques, turns per inch, thicknesses and fiber preparation. I was amazed by the difference between the “regular” (American) longdraw and the English longdraw – the English longdraw was so much softer and loftier!

A skein of white yarn
A sweet little skein spun with English longdraw. 16 g, 36 m, 2297 m/kg

A double drafting technique

When you spin with the English longdraw you use a double drafting technique:

  • After you have gathered the twist you make the draw. This first part of the double draft results in a pencil roving with a soft twist.
  • After the draw has been made, you begin the second part of the double draft by adding twist.

You can compare this to the technique used with different kinds of spindles – the Navajo spindle and the Akha spindle are two examples. A good idea to practice the English longdraw is to begin with a slower tool like a Navajo or Akha spindle. You also spin with an English londgraw on a walking wheel. The English longdraw is an excellent choice for spinning short fibers.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a spinning wheel
An arm’s length’s draw gives consistency.

Consistency

With the English longdraw you have the opportunity to spin a consistent yarn. The draw in itself helps achieve this consistency since it is quite a long draw.  In addition to that, you can make the yarn even more consistent by planning your project.

Consistency as a bonus

When you spin with an English longdraw you can make the draw as long as you like or find comfortable. This is achievable with American long draw as well. The difference is that by gathering the twist in the English longdraw and then make the draw in one motion, the twist will catch the fibers more evenly over the draft.

Consistency by design

As I wrote in the paragraph above, the length of draw in itself helps you achieve a more consistent yarn. However, you can also take advantage of this and plan for even more consistency. By aiming for the same length in every draw, you will add to that consistency. Try to get a feeling for what draw length is comfortable and stick to that length in every draw. Voilá – consistency.

You can also add to the consistency by controlling the amount of twist in every draw. I do this by having a set treadle count – I make samples of different amounts of treading and set my inner meteronome to the count that gives me the best yarn for that particular fiber. In the video I count to eight when I gather twist, make the draw and count to ten when adding twist. By doing this for every draw I will have a more consistent yarn.

It has to be said, though – no yarn will be consistent without a good preparation. I use hand-carded rolags. Hand-carding rolags takes a lot of time, but it also gives me a lot of practice. The yarn I’m spinning at the moment (not pictured)  is a 3-ply yarn. One single is 20 grams and consists of around 16 hand-carded rolags. That makes 48 rolags for one 60 gram 3-ply skein. So far I have spun 10 skeins – 480 rolags. That’s a lot of practice and 480 chances to learn new things. Think about that the next time you sigh over your hand cards.

The technique

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the technique. Spinning English longdraw is done in a four-step sequence:

  • Building up twist
  • Making the draw
  • Adding twist
  • Rolling onto the bobbin

We will look at each of the steps individually. But before you do anything, you need to make sure the wheel is ready: Bring out the oil and lubricate. Spinning English longdraw requires serious spinning wheel pampering.

Building up twist

In this first step I prepare for the draw and decide how much fiber I want in each draw. With quite a low ratio I build up twist just in front of the unspun fiber. That means that I hold the rolag carefully and treadle for a set amount of treadles. I pinch the yarn with my spinning hand just in front of the rolag so that the twist doesn’t enter the fiber. This is the only time in this technique where the spinning hand is on the yarn. The fiber hand takes care of the rest.

Making the draw

In this second step I decide the thickness of the yarn.

A lot of things happen at the same time now. I unpinch the yarn with the spinning hand and make an arm’s length draw in one single motion with my fiber hand. This lets the twist enter the unspun fiber as both fiber and twist distribute over the drawn length. I now have a pencil roving with a soft twist in it. I need to make the draw slow enough so that the yarn doesn’t break and fast enough so that the fibers still have their mobility. This of course also depends on how much twist you have built up – how many treadles you have counted to.

Adding twist

In the third step I decide how much twist I want the yarn to have. I hold the yarn in the arm’s length I have decided and count to my set treadle count.  I watch the yarn and assess it as I treadle. If I need to, I have time to make adjustments in this step.

Rolling onto the bobbin

The last step ends the just made draft and prepares for the new draft. I roll the yarn onto the bobbin in one smooth motion and pinch the yarn just in front of the rolag again, ready for the next draw.

Close-up of a person spinning on a spinning wheel
When gathering twist, I pinch the yarn with my spinning hand just in front of the rolag. The fiber hand holds the rolag loosely.

The setting

The video was shot in August at the cabin we rent at a sheep farm every summer. This was an overcast day and it was difficult to get good colour quality. To compensate for the overexposed pasture in the background, I have focused extra on the sound – the music, the running stream and an occasional baah.

A lofty yarn spun with English longdraw

Happy holiday spinning!


You can follow me on 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!
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Spinning cotton on an Akha spindle

A spindle with fiber

I have a new spinning video for you today! This time I discover the beauty of spinning cotton on an Akha spindle. The Akha spindle is by far my favorite tool for spinning cotton.

This is the fifth and last post in my cotton blog series. Previous posts have been about my opinion of the cotton industrycotton processing, spinning cotton on a Tahkli spindle and spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle.

The Akha spindle

The Akha spindle is used by the Akha people who live in the region between Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Chinese Yunnan. It is a spindle primarily used for spinning cotton. I think it would work for other short fibers as well, but I haven’t tried that. The whorl is placed in the middle of the shaft and you spin it with a two-step technique in two dimensions. The end of the upper part of the shaft has either a hook or a notch. Mine comes from NiddyNoddyUK and has a notch and I make a half-hitch to secure the yarn.

Spinning cotton on an Akha spindle

Cotton drafts very easily but has very short fibers. This means that you can draft the fiber as long as you don’t apply any pressure on the yarn.

It also means that you can’t spin cotton with a suspended spindle. Or, at least it would be very difficult. Yet, you use the Akha spindle suspended in the second step of the spinning technique. How does this work? Well, you need to make sure the drafting is all done in the first step. This is how I do it:

First step: Horizontal and supported

Setup: I hold the spindle horizontally in my spindle hand (my right hand for clockwise spinning). I hold the bottom part of the spindle shaft. The fiber is in my fiber hand, I hold it very lightly. I use hand-carded rolags. You can see how I card cotton here. No hand is on the yarn.

A person spinning horizontally on a spindle
Drafting away on my Akha spindle

  • I draft the fiber by increasing the distance between my hands. My fiber hand just supports the rolag and keeps it from falling down. No holding or pinching.
  • At the same time I roll the bottom of the spindle shaft. It is a very light movement – I use my index finger and thumb for rolling and the other three fingers for support. I pull my index finger toward the palm of my hand – clockwise with my right or counter-clockwise with my left (for a discussion on spinning direction and ergonomics, see this post).
  • I make a loose draft until I reach a length of the yarn that allows for a second draft.
  • When I have enough length between my hands I can allow myself to pinch the yarn in front of the rolag to avoid more fiber to enter the draft.
  • Now I can keep drafting and rolling. I make sure I do very small adjustments – I draft a little, roll a little, always checking that there is enough twist to hold the fibers together and enough draft to give the fibers mobility.
  • I draft until I can’t see or feel any more mobility or uneven parts in the fiber. When there are no more lumps and when there is no more give in the yarn, I stop the drafting.

A spindle hanging in its yarn
The second part of the two-step spinning sequence.

Second step: Vertical and suspended

  • I hold the yarn right in front of the rolag and let the spindle hang in its now-drafted yarn. If the fiber hasn’t been sufficiently drafted, the yarn will break.
  • I roll the bottom part of the shaft along my thigh in the spinning direction to add twist. A lot of twist. The bottom tip of the shaft is a bit tapered, so the spindle spins very fast.
  • When I’m happy with the amount of twist, I roll the yarn onto the cop, make a half-hitch and start the first step again.

The real spinners

I found a YouTube clip of a woman spinning on an Akha spindle. She does It a bit differently. She combines the first and second parts by having an arm’s length of long draw and then another arm’s length where the spindle hangs suspended. Also, she seems to spin counter-clockwise and she manipulates the yarn with her spindle hand to keep the spindle in motion.

Here is another clip of women spinning cotton on Akha spindles. They seem to be using both methods. The person behind the camera doesn’t seem to fully understand how to shoot spinning, though.

The setting

I shot the video when I was teaching spinning at Sätergläntan in early October. Before I came I knew it would be a beautiful place so I had planned to shoot a video there. I just needed to find a suitable spot. And it didn’t take long for me to find the perfect location. There are lots of beautiful old wooden houses where the students live. But the prettiest ones were the storage houses (härbre) that are used as simple lodging in the summer. You can compare it to an Alaskan or Canadian bear cache. I am truly fascinated by the old wood. I just want to hold my hands against the log walls on a sunny day and feel the warmth and the kindness of the wood.

A row of wooden store houses
Old wooden store houses, used for light lodging at Sätergläntan craft institute.

All the store houses had different doors. I just picked the one with the prettiest door. A student in the course I was teaching was kind enough to help me with the shooting of the video.

A favourite tool

In the cotton blog series I have prepared my cotton bolls and spun with three different spindle types – the Tahkli, Navajo and now Akha spindles. They are quite different but they all make the most of the superpowers of the cotton fiber.

  • The Takhli spindle with its speed catches the short fibers in the twist and I can manipulate the yarn while the spindle spins.
  • With the Navajo spindle I can  take my time making a double draft and use the length between my hands to even out the twist.
  • The Akha spindle allows me to separate the different parts of the spinning process and finish one at a time.

I have to say that my favourite of all these cotton spinning tools is the Akha spindle. It fits the characteristics of the cotton so perfectly and really makes the most of the properties of the cotton fiber. I can choose to sit or stand when I spin with it. The supported part does not require me to sit and the length of the yarn is short enough not to dangle in the floor for the suspended part if I sit down.

The Akha spindle I’m spinning on in the video (from NiddyNoddyUK ) is so very light and sweet to work with. It weighs only 14 grams but is not too delicate. It is very comfortable to spin with. I love the light feeling when I roll the shaft in my hand, feeling the structure of the wood and the subtle turning details. It is really fast when I set it in motion against my thigh and spins beautifully centered. She’s a keeper!

A spindle hanging in its own yarn
A favourite cotton spinning tool

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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!
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle

In today’s new video: Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle. It is difficult, but I learned a lot about spinning long draw and how to feel what the fiber wants.

This is the fourth post in my cotton blog series. Previous posts have been about my opinion of the cotton industrycotton processing and spinning cotton on a Tahkli spindle. So, here is my video about spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle.

Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle

I love spinning on my Navajo spindles. I love the whole-body approach to it. Especially when you compare it to the more fine-tuning supported spindle spinning where you mostly use your fingers. When I spin on my Navajo spindles I can use big movements and involve my whole body.

So far, I have only spun wool on my Navajo spindles. But when I read Connie Delaney’s book Spindle spinning from novice to expert I learned that Native Americans spun cotton on ground-resting spindles in pre-columbian times. Of course I needed to try that too!

The Navajo spindle is a perfect tool for spinning cotton. Since it is supported by the ground there is no weight on the yarn or fiber. When spun with a lot of twist cotton is strong, but before that happens you can’t put any weight on it.

Long draw

Spinning cotton is done best with a long draw from hand-carded rolags. And the only way to spin on a Navajo spindle is to spin long draw, preferably from hand-carded rolags. Isn’t that the perfect match! Here is my take on carding cotton.

As I covered in the post on spinning cotton on aTahkli spindle, cotton is very sensitive to compression, so it is vital to hold the rolag very lightly. Hold it as if it were a newly hatched chicken.

How I spin cotton on a Navajo spindle

While some spinners spin the fiber twice or even three times, I prefer to use a double draft. This means that I draft the fiber two times in the same take. The first time is to get the twist evenly into an amount of fiber. The second draft is to even out the twist and to reach the final thickness of the yarn.

Close-up of a person spinning on a Navajo spindle
Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle., the first draft. Like magic, the twist enters the fibers and yarn happens.

This is how I do it

  • With a very light hand I roll the shaft to build up the twist in the yarn. I let the fiber hand follow the motions of the rolling. I let the rolling rest in the angle at the base between my thumb and index finger.
  • After a given amount of rolls, I move my fiber hand outwards, letting the twist enter the fiber. This first draft gives me a roving. After a certain length I can’t stretch my fiber arm any more and I wind the roving onto my fiber hand so that the yarn never slacks.
  • Now I make the second draft in comfortable arm-length sections. I roll and draft, always making sure that there is enough twist to hold the yarn together, and enough mobility to allow the fibers rearrange themselves more evenly. If there are lumps, I open up the twist by untwisting slightly between my hands. For this both of my hands are on the yarn, controlling the piece between them.
  • A final add of extra twist. Cotton needs a lot of twist to hold together and make a strong yarn. I realized that this yarn didn’t have enough twist, so after the video was made I went through the yarn again and added extra twist.
  • When I have spun for a while I transfer the spun yarn down to the permanent cop, using my fiber hand as a middle station.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Navajo spindle.
Transferring the yarn to the permanent cop, using my fiber hand as a middle station.

Doing the Navajo dance

Spinning on a Navajo spindle is almost like dancing. The hands are constantly leading and following each other and working together in a given choreography. The fiber is their master and the hands need to listen to the fiber to be able to make the right moves. When the spindle hand rolls the shaft to gather up the twist the fiber hand follows in a gentle motion. The fiber hand takes over the control in the first draft and the spindle hand allows for a matching resistance. In the second draft both hands work together.

Allow your hands to really listen to the fiber. Cotton is a picky master, but the fiber usually tells you what it wants. I can literally feel when the twist enters the fiber in the second draft. Be sure to pay attention to what the fiber tells you.

The scenery

I shot this video outside our common laundry room. A sweet white building under a big oak. A century ago it used to be a stable for the horses that worked in the factories that were here before our house was built.

It was a really windy day in the end of September and I had a hard time keeping control over fiber, yarn and hair.

The Navajo spindle (and bowl that is outside of the picture) is from Roosterick.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a long-shafted spindle.
It was a windy day!

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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.
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Spinning cotton on a Tahkli spindle

I have a new video for you! In this video I spin cotton on a Tahkli spindle. I shot the video on a windy September day at our allotment. Handling the cotton rolags was really challenging and I had to twist and turn to avoid the rolags getting caught in the twist in the wrong place.

This is the third post in my cotton blog series. Previous posts have been about my opinion of the cotton industry, and about cotton processing. So, here is my video about spinning cotton on a Tahkli spindle.

There are different spellings of the word, both Takhli and Tahkli are common., Tahkli seems to be the most common spelling and I will use this throughout the post. However, I didn’t know this when I made the video, so I refer to it as the Takhli spindle there.

The Tahkli spindle

The Tahkli spindle is a small Indian supported spindle. It spins very fast and is a good choice when you want to spin a short stapled fiber like cotton. The whorl has a smaller circumference than your average Tibetan supported spindle and the shaft (or the whole spindle) is usually made in metal. A metal shaft is easier to make thin than a wooden one.

A spindle with cotton yarn
Tahkli spindle by Malcolm Fielding

The thin shaft and the small whorl circumference are both very helpful in making the spindle very fast. The Tahkli spindle I’m using in the video however, is made of wood, but it has a metal tip.

Cotton behaviour

The properties of cotton

The properties of cotton are very different from the properties of wool. This means that spinning cotton is a very different experience from that of spinning wool.

Since cotton fibers are very short, the ideal preparation for cotton is hand-carding, either as rolags or punis (which are a lot denser than rolags).

Like other plant-based fibers, cotton fibers have no crimp. This means that cotton yarn has no elasticity. This is important to have in mind when you make a project with cotton yarn.

Cotton has no memory. If you compress cotton fiber it will stay compressed. If you wear a heavy cotton sweater, it will eventually sag.

Cotton fibers have a very strong will to catch on to neighboring fibers. This makes cotton very easy to draft. You hardly need any twist at all for cotton to draft.

Spinning cotton

When spinning cotton you need to have these properties in mind. To be able to spin the short cotton fibers you need to get the short fibers into the twist. This means that you need high speed on your spinning tool and you also need a lot of twist for the fibers to stay in the yarn.

Since cotton has no memory and no crimp, it is not nearly as forgiving as wool. Therefore, cotton needs to be spun with a lot of focus. You need to make sure the yarn is strong and durable in every inch. Spinning cotton on a spindle is a good idea, since you have a lot of control of the quality of the yarn. You also have the yarn right in front of you and the chance to check the quality inch by inch.

With no memory in the fibers you need to be very gentle when you handle the rolags. Through trial and error I have learned that prepared fiber is best fresh – an old rolag or hand-combed top will eventually get tangled and slightly compressed. This is especially true for cotton. When you have carded your cotton the best thing is to spin it right away. If you store it, make sure it doesn’t get compressed. The same goes for when you hold the rolag – pretend you have a newly hatched chicken in your hand – don’t compress your rolag.

A person spinning on a small spindle
Hold your rolag very gently.

Spinning cotton on a Tahkli spindle

The technique of spinning cotton on a Tahkli spindle is basically the same as spinning on a Tibetan supported spindle. There are Tahkli spindles with a little hook at the end of the shaft which makes it possible to use the spindle suspended to add extra twist. As with other very short fibers you need to spin cotton with a long draw.

I spin my cotton with a double draft. This means that

  • I flick the spindle and pull the fiber back to make a first draft. This is kind of a preliminary draft to make sure the twist goes all along the drafted part. At this stage the yarn is probably bumpy and uneven.
  • Then I make a second draft to even out the yarn. To do this I untwist the yarn slightly. This allow the fibers to become mobile for a short while and rearrange themselves into a more even yarn.
  • When the yarn is even all along the spun length I add more twist to make sure the yarn is strong. Twist is crucial in yarn with such short fibers and you need to get used to adding a lot more twist than you would on your regular wool yarn.

Close-up of a person spinning cotton.
Bumps in the yarn in the first part of the double draft.

Feeling the spinning

When you spin cotton you need to listen to the yarn and hear what it tells you. Spinning cotton on a spindle helps you to do that. When you spin cotton on a supported style spindle you have both your hands on the yarn and fiber. Your hands are in sole control of the quality and the tension of the yarn. This is a superpower you need to take advantage of.

  • When you work with drafting, untwisting and keeping the tension, you will feel how the fibers work their way into the yarn.
  • On the second part of the double draft you will literally feel which bump that lets go and rearranges itself into the twist. This is truly fascinating.
  • When you see no more bumps to even out, you tug lightly on the yarn. When you feel no give there are also no more uneven parts to even out. All fibers are engaged in the twist and you can say that the twist is balanced.

Learning and improving

Spinning cotton is very good for learning and improving your spinning superpowers. You need to be active all the time and watch, listen and adjust to the whims of your cotton master. By this, I don’t for a second imply that spinning wool is a walk in the park. However, the properties of wool and cotton are so vastly different that you can’t not learn new skills when you spin cotton. Even if you are not a cotton spinner, go ahead and try it! I dare you not to learn from it.

A spindle in a piece of hollow wood
I found the perfect spindle holder in the wood shed!

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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.
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Teaching spinning at Sätergläntan

A wooden sign with the text Sätergläntan

This past week I have been teaching spinning at Sätergläntan – a five-day course in supported spindle spinning. Seven spinners have learned basic and intermediate techniques and developed new skills and perspectives on spinning.

Sätergläntan – a nordic center for craft education

Sätergläntan is a crafting institute that offers courses in different crafting techniques. The center is situated in the beautiful county of Dalarna, which has a very rich cultural and crafting heritage. Students at Sätergläntan can take one, two or three year courses in weaving, sewing, woodwork or forging. Sätergläntan also offers five-day courses in different crafting techniques.

A red house and a green field
Sätergläntan main building

Every corner of Sätergläntan is bursting with craft and creativity. From the creative minds of students and teachers to the littlest things like beautifully carved door knobs or embroidered flowers on armchairs. Inspiration is everywhere.

Teaching supported spindle spinning: Basics

We started the course in supported spindle spinning with getting to know the spindle and used yarn to learn the motions step by step. We also talked about the super powers of supported spindle spinning, spindle anatomy and differences in models and design. On day two we used the park and draft method and finally the students started spinning continuously.

Close-up of a person spinning on a supported spindle.
This student was basically a beginner spinner and the yarn on the spindle is her very first yarn on a supported spindle. A very smooth and well-spun first yarn! Spindle from Malcolm Fielding, spindle in the background from Texas Jeans,

Almost all of the students were experienced spinners, but most of them had never touched a supported spindle before. There was so much experience in the room and we had lots of very rewarding discussions about technique, wool preparation and the anatomy of the spindles.

Swedish spindles from Björn Peck

In earlier courses, I have had spindles for the students to borrow for the duration of the course. When the courses were over, I could only recommend them to buy their own spindles  from spindle makers from the U.S. or Australia or in some cases the U.K. That meant that they would need to wait for at least a couple of weeks before they could practice what they had learned on the course. By that time they would probably have forgotten a lot of what they had learned. And it bothered me a lot.

This time, I brought Swedish spindles for sale! I have a cooperation with wood turner Björn Peck from Stockholm. He has made beautiful and very well functioning supported spindles and bowls in local Swedish woods after my instructions. I am very happy and immensely proud of this cooperation.

When I teach, I am very strict and force my students to try all of the spindles from different makers. I don’t tell them who made what spindle until they have knowledge about what to look for in a spindle. Before I reveal the makers I ask the students which spindle they liked the most. Since I have had Björn’s spindles in my stash, a vast majority of the students have opted for his spindles over all the other brands.

I don’t sell the spindles outside of my spinning courses and Björn doesn’t have them on his web site. Yet.  If you are interested in buying them, he can open up a web shop. Just let me know.

Spindles and spinning bowls.
Eager students comparing spindles and bowls before making a decision on what to buy. Spindles and bowls in maple, apple, walnut, bird cherry and laburnum from Björn Peck Woodworking.

Intermediate

Day three we started the intermediate section with plying on our supported spindles. We looked at different methods of getting the singles off the spindles and arranging them for plying. Also, we made lazy kates from paper bags and shoe boxes, plied from toilet rolls, center-pull balls and tennis balls. We 2-plied, Andean plied and plied on the fly. Several of the students had been looking forward to learning how to ply on the fly on the supported spindle, and they all learned the technique and seemed to enjoy it very much.

Close-up of a person spinning outdoors on a supported spindle.
Students are making progress! Spindle and bowl from Björn Peck woodworking. China bowl is an Asian rice bowl.

We also pretended we were spinning seated on a rock in the forest (just like I like to do in my videos) and made skeins with arms and legs and yarn balls with our thumbs as nostepinnes. There is not much room to bring niddy-noddies or other tools to the rock in the forest, so learning how to use your body to take care of the yarn is very convenient.

Analysis

On day four we started digging deeper in analysis. So far, the students had applied their previous spinning knowledge and skills to this new tool and technique. Now we turned it all around and looked at what supported spindle spinning can do for our spinning with other tools.

Close-up of a person spinning on a supported spindle.
Deep concentration and lots of interesting theories in the analysis section

Spinning on a supported spindle gives us the opportunity to control the yarn in a way I don’t see in other spinning tools. This makes it possible to spin with a very high quality.

When you spin on a supported spindle you have control with your hands on both fiber end and yarn end. You hold the fiber with the thumb and index finger of the fiber hand and the yarn with the same fingers of your spindle hand.

Supported spindle spinning gives you the opportunity to have control of both the fiber end and the yarn end with your hands. Spindle and lap bowl from Forsnäs Hemman (private).

With most other spinning tools you have control of only the fiber end. Even if you can have both your hands on the yarn and fiber on a wheel, your hands never control the tension. In supported spindle spinning your hands have total control of the tension of the yarn in both ends. This is a super power we need to take advantage of! By having this amount of control we can fine tune the yarn and master it in more detail than with other spinning tools. For this reason, I usually experiment and try out fibers and yarn on a supported spindle before I scale the production up on a wheel. Now, that’s a super power! You can see an example of this in my video Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl.

Mindfulness

Another super power of spinning in general, and supported spindle spinning in particular, is the mindfulness it brings to the spinner (and to the people around them). Spinning on a supported spindle gives me the same sense of calm and peace that I get from meditation. I use the creative parts of my brain when I spin, but spinning also opens up my creative thinking. If I feel I’m in a jam, I take a break, spin for a while and  – voilá – my creative thinking is back on track. We talked about this in one of the last sessions of the course. We also did sort of a spinning meditation. I had never tried it before, but I think the students enjoyed it. In fact, one of them solved a problem during the spinning meditation that she had been struggling with all week.

Wool tasting

Finally, on day five we did some wool tasting! I came up with the idea earlier this year. Compare a wool tasting to a wine or chocolate tasting where you get to try different brands or products and compare them. In the wool tasting the students got five different fibers to prepare, spin and compare.

The fiber samples and charts for the wool tasting

They each got a chart where they noted characteristics of the fiber, what they wanted to do with it, how they prepared and spun it and how the result came out.

Close-up of a person spinning on a supported spindle.
Lots of activity in the wool tasting. Spindle and bowl from Björn Peck Woodworking.

They got ten minutes with each fiber. The spinners quickly entered the crafting bubble and the spinning energy was intense in the room. Everybody was deeply concentrated on the making.

Close-up of a person carding brown wool
Carding long Rya lamb locks

They got the opportunity to use all the new skills they had learned during the week and filled in their wool tasting charts with great enthusiasm.

A filled-in chart
A finished wool tasting chart

And the fibers in the wool tasting? Well, it was actually not just wool. We kicked off with Gute wool, turned sharply to heavenly soft alpaca, went straight ahead to mulberry silk, surprised with Leicester longwool with nepps and finished off with long lamb locks of Rya.

Yarn samples
The wool tasting results from one of the wool tasters. From above: Gute wool, alpaca, mulberry silk, Leicester wool with lost nepps and rya wool.

All in all it was a successful course where the students made great progress. I learned at least as much as they did and I got lots of new pedagogical tools for my teaching tool box.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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.
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Swedish spinning championships 2018

Last weekend I attended the 2018 fleece and spinning championships in Dala-Floda. I was there as a visitor, spinning teacher and participant in the Swedish spinning championships 2018. I have entered the championships several times before, and in 2017 I won a bronze medal in the advanced level.

My yarns din’t get to enter the competition, though, since the yarns I spun got lost in the mail and I still don’t know where they are. Still, I am very proud of the yarns I spun and I will share the process with you here.

Spinning championship levels

There were two levels for the spinning championships, intermediate level and advanced level. For both levels the participants got wool and instructions for the construction of the yarns.

Intermediate level

In the intermediate competition the spinner had to spin a 3-ply yarn. We received industrially carded grey batt and the yarn was supposed to fit 2–2,5 mm needles. I am not used to either industrially carded fiber or fiber without lanolin. The spinning was really frustrating! Since the 3-ply yarn was supposed to fit small circumference needles, the singles had to be really thin. I tried to spin in some sort of English long draw, but the yarn kept breaking. It was not the most relaxing spinning I have had.

A skein of grey yarn
Finished 3-ply yarn. 147 m, 43 g, 3410 m/kg. Fingering or light fingering weight.

Spinning this yarn 3-ply and so thin took a long time and a lot of frustration. In fact, I longed for the spinning to be over so that I could go on to the advanced level yarn.

A row of grey handspun yarns
Intermediate level yarns for the spinning championships.

Advanced level

For the advanced competition we received a periwinkle carded batt and dyed locks in dark and light pink of what looked like Swedish finewool. The instructions was to spin any kind of yarn with a combination of the batt and locks.

An obvious choice with a carded batt and untreated locks would be a tailspun yarn. But to me, the dye work in these fibers suggested something else. I wanted to emphasize the contrast between the fluffy batt and the silky locks. I also wanted to show the beautiful two-colour dye work in the locks.

Carded periwinkle wool and pink wool locks
The fiber for the advanced level yarn: Carded periwinkle wool and dyed wool locks in different shades of pink.

I browsed through The spinner’s book of yarn designs and found the perfect yarn to show off the fiber I had received. I only had to manage to spin it…

The yarn I wanted to spin was a cocoon yarn. It is a singles yarn with spool-shaped cocoons every now and then.

This is how I did it:

  1. I spun the batt in a thick single. After an arm’s length or so I broke the yarn so that I had a couple of inches of unspun fluff at the end. I divided up this fluffy end and
  2. inserted a combed lock perpendicular to the single, cut end first. Then I treadled and let the lock roll on to the single in a cocoon shape.
  3. I fixed the cocoon by exhaling warm air and rolling them and thus felting a little.
  4. For extra security, I needle felted the cocoon slightly.
  5. After the cocoon was finished, I let the single untwist a bit before I continued.
  6. I attached the batt to the remaining end on the other side of the cocoon and continued spinning the single.

Here is a short video I made of the cocoon yarn. I did not have the time or the energy to make a pretty video outdoors, so you will have to settle for our ungroomed living room.

After soaking, I still thought there was a bit too much twist in the cocoon yarn, so I ran it through the wheel in a counter-clockwise direction to relax it a bit.A hand holding a periwinkle yarn with pink cocoonsBaby cocoons on their way to the big championships adventure

As a final step, I went through the whole skein and did a quality check of all the cocoons. The first ones were less than perfect in their shape and density. Also, the cocoons closest to the bobbin were collapsed under the pressure of the outermost layers of yarn and not so much cocoon-shaped anymore. I rolled the misshaped ones between my palms to remind them of their original beauty.

A skein of periwinkle yarn with pink cocoons
The competing yarn for the advanced level in the 2018 Swedish spinning championships is finished!

All the parts of the spinning process took a long time. I think I spent a good part of the evenings of almost two weeks to spin the advanced level yarn. But it was worth it. I am not an art yarn spinner by nature and I have learned so much in this process!

I wasn’t the only one who played with coils/cocoons/beehives in the advanced level. It was so inspiring to see all the creativity in the advanced level yarns.

A row of pink and periwinkle art yarns
Advanced level yarns for the championships. The rightmost yarn is actually mine. I had some fluff left and speed spun a mini skein the day before I left for the championships. It was too little to enter, though.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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.
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Spinning flax on a spindle

A spindle and distaff

This is the third post in my series about flax. I wrote the earlier posts about flax processing as a whole, and about this year’s harvest. I don’t have a lot of experience spinning flax, but I’m eager to learn. And I made a video. This time the video is about spinning flax on a spindle. The video also includes how I dress a distaff. Spinning flax on a spindle is a wonderful time to really get to know the fiber and the spinning technique. Also, I’m a bit smitten by Norman Kennedy when he demonstrates spinning flax on an in-hand spindle.

Tools

I use a medieval style in-hand (grasped) spindle with a spiral notch and whorl (in featured image). I bought them from NiddyNoddyUK and I asked Neil to make a spiral notch turning counter-clockwise. The outermost layer of flax fiber is slightly turned counter-clockwise.  Hence, most flax is spun counter-clockwise. This gave me a chance to practice my in-hand spinning with my left hand. If you want to know more about my thoughts on spinning direction I made a blog series about this earlier, check here, here and here.

The distaffs are my own hand carved from our lime tree avenue. I made one belt distaff and one floor distaff. In our terrace lounge furniture there is a very convenient hole in the lid, which fits the floor distaff perfectly.

Dressing the distaff

I have tried to read up on how to dress a distaff. there are many traditions in this, and I picked one that appealed to me. In the video I use a strick of hand processed Belgian flax.

A stick of flax
A beautiful strick of Belgian flax

I tied a ribbon around the root end of the bundle and tied the ends around my waist. I then carefully criss-crossed the bundle several times in very thin layers in an arch on the table in front of me. In this way, the fibers are well separated and always has another fiber to catch on to.

Josefin Waltin preparing to dress a distaff. The flax is spread out in an arch on the table in front of her.
Preparing to dress the distaff. The fibers are criss-crossed in thin layers and they all have fiber friends to hold on to.

When I had finished making the arch, I rolled the flax around the belt distaff and tied with the ends of the ribbon. I should have used a longer ribbon, though.

The flax on the floor distaff in the video is machine processed, also from Belgium I think. Bought at Växbo lin. I dressed the floor distaff the same way as I did the waist distaff.

Spinning flax

I wet spin my flax. The fiber has sort of a gluey substance that is activated in water. This makes a smoother spin. It also helps balancing the yarn. But you have to make sure to add the water at the right place – at the point of twist. Too low and nothing happens, the yarn just looks wet spun but when it dries the fibers go their own way. Too high and you will have trouble with unspun fibers clogged together. I put some flax seeds in my water to get some of that flax seed gel in the spinning.

A person spinning flax on a spindle
Add the water just at the point of twist

Flax fibers are very long and I can keep quite a long spinning triangle. This can be a bit fiddly sometimes, when the drafting triangle gets longer than my arms can reach comfortably.

Because of the length of the fibers, I don’t need very much twist. When I spin wool on an in-hand spindle I usually use a short suspension. I don’t need that when I spin flax. Keeping the spindle in my hand all the time gives me control over the spinning and I can put my focus where I need it the most: On the drafting zone. I need to make sure that there is just the right amount of fiber in the drafting zone.

Josefin Waltin drafting flax fiber from a distaff.
Drafting away, always keeping a close eye on the drafting triangle.

Flax isn’t as forgiving as wool when it comes to lumps, you can’t untwist and redraft. But I still do untwist. Right at the moment where I draft, I untwist slightly to make a smoother draft. This comes in handy especially after I have removed my spinning hand from the yarn to wet my fingers.

A word about climate change

In the shot when I spin leaning against a tree, you can see the yellowed grass behind me. This is not because it is autumn – the video was shot in July, a time when the grass is usually fresh and green. The summer of 2018 was extremely hot and dry. Over 30°C for weeks and almost no rain in large parts of the country. Harvests were ruined and cattle owners had to slaughter their animals because there were no pastures left. We had over 70 forest fires and had to get fire fighters from continental Europe to be able manage them. Talk about climate change.

Josefin Waltin spinning flax with a spindle and distaff. Yellow grass in the background
Spinning in front of the yellowed grass from an extremely hot and dry summer.

Ergonomics

There are a few things you need to think about to be kind to your body. We don’t need to strain our muscles, we want to be able to spin as much and as healthy as possible, don’t we?

Try to keep your spindle close to your body. This way you don’t need to lift your arms more than necessary. Use your body as support! I rest my spinning hand against my belly or hip when I spin.

Aim towards a straight spinning hand wrist. Bending the wrist too much can lead to strained muscles. Adapt your grip to get the most comfortable hand position. In the video you can see me using two different grips on the spindle. Before I started editing the video, I didn’t realize that I was using two different grips. I noticed it when I was adding the captions and figured I had changed grips to get more comfortable.

The first grip is when my hands are close to each other, i.e. when the hand of my spinning  arm is perpendicular to my body or pointing slightly upwards. In this grip I hold the spindle between my thumb, index finger and third finger. The other fingers are supporting the grip. Thumb on the inner side of the spindle and the rest of the fingers on the outer side. I roll the spindle between my thumb, index finger and third finger. I would not use this grip when my hand below a 90 degree angle, since it forces my wrist to bend.

Josefin Waltin spinning flax with a spindle and distaff. Text says "Grip 1: Roll the spindle between index finger and thumb. Support with other fingers."
Grip 1, which I wasn’t even aware of that I was using before I watched the video.

The second grip is one I can use for all my hand positions, but if I have started with the first grip I change to the second when my arm is below a perpendicular angle. I put my fourth finger on the inner side of the spindle to support it. I do the rolling mostly with my index finger in this grip. This is my preferred grip, but it is still nice to be able to change between two different grips during the spinning.

Close-up of a person spinning flax on a spindle. Text says: "Grip 2: Hold the spindle between your third finger and thumb. Supporting with your fourth finger and rolling with your index finger."
Grip 2 is the grip I use most of the time.

Spinning towards  the end of the summer

It takes time to spin flax on a spindle and I’m far from done with the flax I dressed the distaff with. I will keep spinning until the summer is over and it’s not comfortable spin outdoors anymore.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. This is a very welcome contribution to the time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Save the thrums!

A skein of dark grey yarn with knots on it

I have participated in another competition. It is the same as I participated in at a wool fair last year. The competition is called ‘Spin your prettiest yarn’ and the challenge is to spin any kind of yarn from Swedish wool, and ad something recycled. Last year I came in second with my pigtail yarn The sheep, the chicken, the pig and the lion, where the recycled material was chicken feathers. In the 2018 competition, I want to save the thrums. I didn’t win anything, but I had a great time spinning the yarn.

Save the thrums!

In this year’s competition my recycled material is weaving thrums. At least I think that’s what they are called. I’m talking about the last piece of the warp when you cut the weave off the loom. When you cut, there are warp threads left tied to the warp beam that are too short to do anything with. They have a special name in Swedish – effsingar, also meaning something that is cut off (I’ve never heard it being used that way, though). When I have finished a weave on my rigid heddle loom and cut it off, the thrums are about 40 cm long. My heart cries when I cut these handspun pieces of magic off and just leave them (I have never been able to throw them away). But for this project, they will bring some bling to my prettiest yarn.

Making the yarn

I used a beautiful grey fleece of a finewool/rya mix that I had combed. I spun the yarn on a supported spindle and chain plied it in sections, a method called ply on the fly. But before I let the twist into the loop, I inserted  a two inch piece of thrum in the loop. The thrums came from my first and second pillow cases and a blanket.

Plying on the fly on a supported spindle is a focus-demanding business. I actually feel a bit like a spider, handling the spindle, three strands of yarn and the butterflied yarn supply. Ad to that a gazillion 2-inch pieces of thrums to fiddle into the loop of the chain ply and you may agree with me.

Close-up of a person plying on a supported spindle.
Plying on the fly takes focus.

The yarn had to weigh at least 50 grams, so I had to spin 50 grams on one single spindle. It worked, but it was quite tough the last 10 grams.

A spindle full of dark grey yarn.
50 g of yarn on a 23 g spindle (Malcolm Fielding).

After I had finished the spinning, I made a simple knot on each thrum. At this stage, a lot of them wiggled their way out of the loop. I started making knots  at the tie end of the skein and followed the yarn all the way through the skein. I came up with this method after I had shot the clip for the video. Since I had basically the same loop length on every loop, I could easily find where a thrum was missing this way. The knots were a bit slippery since the thrums were naturally warp-straight.

After washing the yarn the knots were a bit more friendly towards their destiny as knots and stayed where I had put them.

A skein of dark grey yarn. It has little coloured knots on it and blue flowers.
A finished yarn with saved thrums

FYI: Strong fibers spun and plied on the fly can generate a mean paper cut.

A knitted swatch of dark grey yarn with coloured knots in it.
Save the thrums swatch.

Happy spinning!

Ply on the fly on a Turkish spindle

A spindle and bowl on a chair on a meadow. Mountains in the background.

When I was in Austria with my family recently I experimented with plying on the fly on a Turkish spindle. I posted a picture on Instagram and asked if anyone wanted me to make a video about it. I got a very nice response from several of you who wanted me to go ahead. So I did. Here is my video where I demonstrate how I ply on the fly on a Turkish spindle.

The Turkish spindle

I spin a lot on suspended spindles in the summer, especially my Turkish models. They are perfect for spinning when walking. They don’t take up much room, neither for transport nor for the actual spinning. But sometimes I find spinning on a suspended spindle a bit tedious, so I wanted to learn how to ply on the fly. I have plied a lot on the fly, but so far only on supported spindles.

Ply on the fly on a Turkish spindle

When you ply on the fly you spin a section first. Then you chain-ply that section before you spin the next section. Plying on the fly is a great technique to get a finished yarn without winding the whole cop off the spindle. Well, you do actually wind it all off, but in smaller and more manageable sections. It gives the spinner variation between spinning and plying and you take advantage of the fact that the single is fresh when you ply it. This means that I always want to finish after a plied section and I don’t leave a spun cop on the shaft.

Spinning

For regular spinning on a Turkish spindle you wind the yarn onto the wings. When you ply on the fly you wind the single onto the shaft instead, just like you would on a regular suspended spindle (or the temporary cop of a supported spindle). Then, after you have plied the single, you wind the plied yarn onto the wings.

 

A person spinning on a spindle with crossed wings
Wind your single around the shaft of the spindle. Turkish spindle  from Jenkins yarn tools (Lark model).

When I started practicing plying on the fly the spindle kept dropping to the ground when I was spinning. I got very frustrated because I couldn’t figure out why. And because I was walking at the time. I couldn’t see any difference from regular Turkish spindle spinning. But then I realized that I wound the yarn on differently. Winding the single around the wings helps securing the yarn. So when I figured this out, I wound the yarn around the shaft for plying on the fly, and then under one of the wings before securing it with a half hitch. And, voilá, no more dropping.

Transferring the single

When you have spun your desired length of single, you transfer it to your fiber hand with the butterflying technique – you pick up the yarn in a figure eight with your thumb and pinkie, until you have no more single. This can be done against your belly. It will be more efficient if you do it against a hard surface (my belly isn’t) like a spinning bowl or a table. If this is your start of the yarn, make a loop. If you have already plied a section, you pick up the loop from its parking place on one of the wings. You now have all the freshly spun single on the thumb and pinkie of your fiber hand.

If you have already plied a section, secure the plied end on the shaft with a half hitch (or through the hook if that is how your spindle is constructed).

Chain plying

  • Pick up the loop with your spindle hand index finger. Do not let go of the loop.
  • Pull your single through the loop with your spindle hand thumb, keeping the index finger in the original loop. Make sure you keep all the strands tense.
  • Pick up the new loop from the spindle hand thumb onto your fiber hand middle finger and pull the loop out. This is done by letting go of one strand of yarn at a time from your butterfly. You now have three strands of yarn. Keep these taut. Keep your index finger in the original loop.
  • When you are happy with the length of the section, you can pull your index finger out of the original loop and let the spindle twist the yarn into balance.
  • Wind the plied yarn onto the wings of the spindle – slow and fancy or fast and efficient, your choice. Make a half hitch on the shaft (or put the yarn in the hook) and start the next chain.

When you are out of singles, secure the loop on one of the wings and start spinning the next section.

A person plying on a Turkish spindle
Keep the strands taut and keep the index finger in the original loop

The location

Since I started plying on the fly in Austria, I decided to make the video there as well. We stayed where we alway stay, at a B&B in the town of Mondsee in Salzkammergut. The B&B is an old convent from the 15th and 16th centuries. The owners also own a big meadow that surrounds the B&B. The town is quite crowded with houses nearly on top of each other, but with the meadow you get a spectacular and clutter free view from the B&B over the basilica and the surrounding mountains. The meadow is the place I chose for this video. I am happy to give you a glimpse of a beautiful spot in Austria.

A person spinning on a spindle on a meadow. Mountains and a town in the background.
Spinning on a meadow in the morning sun, surrounded by mountains and a general Austrian-ness. This place makes my heart sing.

Happy spinning!