Rescue operation

Two hands wearing mittens, and holding some wild flowers by the sea.

Last week I released a video where I tried to learn Andean spinning. Towards the end of the video I showed some clips of how the yarn got all tangled and we needed to shoot the scene again. Several followers commented on this and said that they especially liked this part. So, for this week’s post I will take you along on a rescue operation of a spinning project gone south. I did manage to take pictures during the operation. They are of poor quality, but they do their job in showing you what happened.

A pattern request

In February I was asked to write an article and pattern description for Spin-Off magazine. The deadline was short and I needed to spin a yarn, knit a pair of mittens, analyze and write the article and the pattern description. The pattern was in twined knitting, which is quite time consuming.

An open magazine showing an article with pictures of a Pinner and a pair of mittens.
Article and pattern in Spin-Off magazine.

Spinning gone south

I was quite stressed out by this and started spinning immediately. I asked a spinning friend who has made several twined knitting project how she prefered her Z-plied yarn. She said that she liked it with a high twist so that the yarn would be nice and round. A higher twist makes the patterns in twined knitting stand out more, she added. So I started spinning with a lot more twist than I usually do.

But for some reason, my fiber didn’t want to be spun with high twist. Perhaps the fibers were too long, combined with the low (or non-existing) crimp. Perhaps I didn’t understand how to adjust tension and intake. The yarn turned into phone cord with curls all over.

I was a bit bothered by this, but hoped that my problem would solve itself when I plied the yarn.

It didn’t.

Yarn with uneven and curly parts.
This is not publication worthy yarn. The twist is too high and has started to build up phone cord curls all over. It needs a rescue operation.

My assignment for the magazine hovered in my head and I realized that I needed to take some serious action. I decided to implement a rescue operation and respin the yarn.

Rescue operation

The problem was in the singles, but I had already plied the yarn. Therefore I needed to unply the yarn, ease the twist in the singles and reply.

Unply, ease and reply.

This is how I did it:

Unply

I put the bobbin with the plied yarn on the flyer and treadled the same amount of treadles as in the plying process, only against the plying direction. After having unplied a section of yarn I rolled each singles section onto a separate bobbin. If there was still ply left, I shifted the bobbins to undo the rest of the plies.

Close-up of a person spinning on a spinning wheel. She is holding two bobbins of singles in her lap. The singles are attached to a plied yarn on the flyer.
To unply the yarn I turn the wheel against the plying direction and store the singles on separate bobbins in my lap.

This process took around an hour and a half for each skein. I had two. It also took some blood, sweat and tears. I had lots. When the yarn was fully unplied I wound the singles onto my niddy-noddy to make skeins.

Overtwisted singles.
Back to the over twisted singles.

I then soaked the skeins of singles overnight.

A soaking skein of singles yarn. The yarn is heavily over twisted and plies back on itself.
Poor little over twisted single needs a bath.

Ease

To ease some of the twist I rolled the singles onto bobbins again and ran them through the spinning wheel against the spinning direction until the curls had let go.

A bobbin of singles yarn. The yarn looks mangled.
Singles with eased twist.

The singles looked a bit tousled and shocked, but who can blame them? They had been through a gruesome ordeal.

Reply

The final step of the rescue operation was to reply the singles into a balanced 2-ply yarn. This went quite smoothly. I made a skein and soaked overnight. The operation was successful and the patient recovered.

There were a few curls left after the operation. I see them as a reminder not to spin under pressure. The yarn had less twist than I had wished for in the beginning, but it was free of phone cord curls and well behaved, which was more important.

Patient released, lesson learned

I got it all done on schedule. I made my analysis, knit the mittens, wrote the pattern and article and submitted the night before deadline.

The name of the article was Twist analysis.

The irony.

Lesson learned:

  • Listen to your friends.
  • Listen to the wool.
  • If friends and wool contradict each other: Think. And listen to your gut feeling.
  • Don’t spin under pressure.
  • If spinning under pressure, you are less likely to think or pay attention to any gut feeling.
  • Don’t spin under pressure. Really.
Two hands wearing mittens, and holding some wild flowers by the sea.
Finished Heartwarming mitts knit with mended handspun yarn. Photo by Dan Waltin

You can buy the Spin-off issue with the article and pattern here. You can also check out the pattern on Ravelry.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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

Swedish spinning championships 2019

Four wool balls in white with brown and dark grey stripes.

This past weekend I went to Öströö sheep farm outside of Varberg on the Swedish west coast for the 2019 fleece and spinning championships. It was a wonderful day. I met lots of people, cuddled with heaps and heaps of fleece and got the people’s choice medal around my neck. In this post I will show you how I made my competing yarns for the championships. In an upcoming post I will share my experience of the fleece championships.

A woman standing by the sea. She is wearing a knitted sweater and a medal around her neck.
I got the people’s choice medal for my competing yarns in the spinning championships!

Swedish spinning championships 2019

August kept me busy with spinning for the spinning championships. It has been a lot of fun and a real challenge. There were two categories in the championships – one intermediate and one advanced. I competed in both.

This year we got fleece to start with. Most of the previous years we have got machine carded batts, which I don’t really like. I want to get to know the fleece from the beginning, I want to dig my hands into a dirty fleece and work all the steps in the process myself.

All participants got the same fleece sent to us on the same day. We got about one month to finish and ship the finished yarns.

Intermediate Gute sock yarn

For the intermediate level of the championships the assignment was to spin a sock yarn. We got raw wool from a gute lamb.

Gute sheep is a primitive breed with both outercoat, undercoat and kemp. You can read more about gute wool in a previous post. This lamb’s fleece has probably both under coat and outer coat, but it is hard to distinguish since the fibers are so very fine, probably in the cashmere range.

Raw fleece in different shades of grey. The fibers are very fine but there is also lots of black, coarse fibers.
Gute (lamb) fleece. Extremely fine fibers but also lots of black kemp.

My original thought was to spin a 3-ply, but then I decided to make it a cable yarn. It is quite difficult, but it makes a really pretty structure and a strong and sturdy yarn, perfect for socks. In the Swedish spinning championships of 2017 I got a medal in a spinning championship for a cable yarn.

Preparation

I started by flick carding the locks. A lot of the kemp stayed in the flick card. After combing the wool even more kemp disappeared. I was left with soft and silky bird’s nests. I can hardly believe it is Gute wool.

Balls of combed light grey wool. Some coarse fibers are in the balls.
Soft and silky bird’s nests of Gute wool. Some kemp is left, but a lot less than when I started.

Spinning a cable yarn

I spun the top worsted, with short forward draw. As I spun I pulled more kemp out.

This is how I made my cable yarn:

  • I spun four singles with Z-twist.
  • Then I plied the singles S into two balanced 2-ply yarns.
  • After that I put more S-twist on the singles.
  • Finally, I plied the two 2-ply yarns together, Z.
A skein of light grey yarn.
A finished fingering weight cable yarn from Gute wool, ready to send to the championships.

I ended up with a fingering weight skein, 55 m, 32 g, 1708 m/kg. Some of the kemp is still in the yarn, but it will push itself out eventually.

Advanced Värmland cape

The advanced level of the championships was really interesting. The assignment was to spin a yarn for a woven cape. Not just any cape, but the cape of the Bocksten man. The Bocksten man was found – murdered with a stick through his chest – in a bog just outside of Varberg (where the spinning and fleece championships took place). A piece of cloth was analyzed and dated to around 1290–1430. His clothes had been very well preserved in the bog. As I understand it, the Bocksten man’s clothing is the only complete men’s outfit in Europe from this time period.

A postcard depicting medieval man's clothing
The medieval clothing of the Bocksten man. Photo by Charlotta Sandelin/Länsmuseet Varberg

The task was to make our own interpretation of the Bocksten man’s woven cape. Either in two different yarns for warp and weft or the same yarn for both. We got raw wool from Värmland sheep, mostly in white, but also some locks of brown and grey. Värmland wool has both undercoat and outercoat, and may be similar to the wool that the cape was originally woven from.

Locks of wool in white, brown and grey.
Silky locks of Värmland wool in white, brown and grey.

I decided to make two different yarns for warp and weft. I also wanted to separate the wool types and spin with different techniques. In addition to that I wanted to play with the colours.

Warp

Preparation

I sorted the staples according to colour and combed each colour separately using my double pitched mini combs. I also separated the outercoat from the under coat and saved the undercoat for the weft.

A palette of Värmland wool. Combed outer coat tops in white, brown and grey plus the undercoat comb leftovers.
A palette of Värmland wool. Combed outercoat tops in white, brown and grey plus the undercoat comb leftovers.

When I had combed through everything I combed it again. I took two bird’s nests and combed together. This way I got bigger nests and could separat the wool types even more.

A wool comb full of silky white long fibers.
Second combing. Just long and silky outercoat fibers.

Before I pulled the combed white wool off the comb I added some of the coloured wool to make a lengthwise stripe in the top.

Four wool balls in white with brown and dark grey stripes.
After this stage in the process it was difficult to continue. I wanted to keep my rippled chocolate merengues!

2-ply yarn

I am not a big fan of big colour variations in the same yarn, I prefer more subtle blending. Still, I wanted both the grey and the brown to shine next to all the white. To achieve a soft colour change I spun one of the singles all-white and the other with the striped tops.

Two bobbins of singles. One pure white and one with a mix of brown, white and grey.
Worsted outer coat singles ready to be plied.

I spun them both with short forward draw and 2-plied.

A skein of white, brown and grey yarn.
A finished lace weight (I have no idea what the translation to weaving is) warp yarn. 94 m, 35 g, 2655 m/kg.

It was such a joy to spin this yarn! The white fibers were so shiny and silky, just like a merengue batter. The grey and brown fibers were different in the structure compared to the white. The grey fibers were coarser and less conforming and the brown fibers were a bit closer to the white. The lengthwise stripe turned the singles to a beautiful chocolate rippled merengue batter.

Weft

Preparation

I wanted a coloured effect in the weft yarn too. I carded rolags of the white wool and in some of them I made stripes of the coloured staples.

Prepared fiber in a mushroom tray. Above and below: Outer coat hand-combed bird's nests. Middle: Under coat hand-carded rolags.
All the fiber prep in a mushroom tray. Above and below: Outercoat hand-combed bird’s nests. Middle: Undercoat hand-carded rolags.

Singles yarn

I wanted warp and weft spun in different directions. Therefore I chose to make the weft a singles yarn. My best tool for an even single is always the Navajo spindle. I started by spinning all the rolags into a roving.

A spindle full of yarn. A wood shed in the background.
Woolen yarn spun with long draw on a Navajo spindle from hand-carded rolags, first pass.

Well, it didn’t really end up as a roving as I had planned. It was more of a loosely spun single. I then spun it all again to give the yarn its final thickness and twist. This is when I realized that there was a bit too much twist for me to be able to make it finer. It was quite a bit of hard work.

A spindle full of yarn. A wood shed in the background.
The second pass on the Navajo spindle. The yarn is finer and more even.

The fact that there was no crimp in this silky soft undercoat made drafting a challenge. I had to pay close attention to the drafting zone to avoid breakage. Even if I spun it too much the first time I think it was a good choice to spin the yarn twice.

Another problem was the fact that the different colours had different characteristics as I wrote earlier. Especially the grey fibers were coarser and more difficult to draft in such a fine yarn. Many colour joins broke and many expletives were uttered.

A skein of singles yarn.
A finished weft yarn for the Bocksten man. 184 m, 42 g, 4335 m/kg. This yarn is so yummy!

After getting used to the behavior of the fibers I learned how to pay extra close attention to the colour changes and joins and ended up with a beautiful skein of singles.

A woven swatch.
Pin loom swatch of my Bocksten man yarns.

A joyful day

A row of yarns on a stick
The competing sock yarns in the intermediate category.

All in all, spinning for the Swedish spinning championships 2019 was a joyful process. The raw material was wonderful and I got to play with it on so many levels. I liked that we were free to make our own interpretations and add our own artistic touch in our contributions to the championships.

A row of yarns on a stick
The competing weaving yarns in the advanced category.

Meeting new and old friends

I met a lot of old friends at the championships – spinners, shepherdesses and suppliers. So many friendly faces to share a happy day with. And at least ten people came up to me, introduced themselves and said they were followers. This really made my day! I also got interviewed by a woman from a weaving podcast (I think she used the word star struck when she approached me). Meeting followers is such a joy for me. I am an introvert, but meeting you in person really warms my heart.

Coming up: The 2019 fleece championships.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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

Antique French spindle

Close-up of an antique spindle with yarn wound onto it.

Earlier this summer I got a antique French spindle from a follower. It is the first antique spindle I have and I’m childishly happy about it. Today I share a video where I spin on my antique French spindle.

A French spindle is held in the hand. The shaft stays in the hand or close to it as the spinner twiddles the upper tip. Some call it in-hand spindle, some grasped and some twiddle spindle.

A collector

There is very little information on French spindles and their use. Sylvie Damey is the person who knows the most about French spindles. She has been collecting spindles for many years now and has quite a collection. She collects the spindles to understand more about them. Sylvie says that the reason why there is so little information about the use of these spindles is that spinning used to be such a common daily activity for women and girls and therefore there was no need to document the use of spindles. Sylvie also collects old postcards with spindle spinners. This way she can learn something about who was spinning and how.

The spindle

A French spindle is made in one piece. It has a belly onto which the cop is wound. Embellishments seem to be common.

A French spindle has a belly in the lower part of the shaft to store the yarn on.
A French spindle has a belly in the lower part of the shaft to store the yarn on. This one is 32 centimeters long and weighs 50 grams.

Some French spindles have a detachable metal upper tip. Most of them have a spiral groove. Some of the metal tips have hooks instead of grooves.

The tip of a spindle with a spiral groove.
A spiral groove on the upper tip of a French spindle.

My antique French spindle spindle has a spiral groove carved into the upper tip for clockwise spinning.

Technique

The yarn rests in the groove as long as the spindle spins. The spinning hand is always close to the spindle, ready to grasp it when necessary. You either spin with the spindle in the hand all the time or spin with a short suspension. In the video you can see how I keep the spindle in the hand. However, if you look closely, the spindle spins against my thumb at times, without me holding on to it. In another video I made about French spindle spinning last year I let go of the spindle for longer periods.

The spinning hand

When I spin on a French spindle, or any in-hand spindle really, I use four fingers. I use my thumb and index fingers to twiddle the spindle and my middle and ring fingers to balance the spindle.

I pull the spindle towards the palm of my hand. In this case, since there is a spiral groove for clockwise spinning, my right hand is my spinning hand. You can read more about my thoughts on spinning direction and spindle spinning here or check out my webinar on spindle ergonomics.

I spin by rolling my forefinger against the spindle shaft, supporting it with my thumb. My third and fourth fingers are balancing the spindle between them.
I spin by rolling my forefinger against the spindle shaft, supporting it with my thumb. My middle and ring fingers are balancing the spindle between them.

With the spindle in my hand I am always prepared to make to make fine adjustments when necessary. In this sense, in-hand spinning is a technique where the spinner has a high degree of control. The slow nature of the technique also gives the spinner time to see and understand what is happening in the drafting zone.

The fiber hand

In the video I use a hand distaff. This is for practical reasons – I was on vacation and a hand distaff was easier to bring than a belt distaff. Up until recently, I have only spun with some sort of woolen technique on an in-hand spindle and a hand distaff. But I know that knitting is a relatively new technique and basically all spinning before knitting was developed was focused on weaving yarns. Therefore I wanted to learn how to spin a worsted yarn for a strong warp. I had a video meeting with my friend Anna and she demonstrated how she spins a worsted yarn with a hand distaff.

This is how she showed me and how I do it:

  • I hold the distaff loosely with my thumb against the palm of my hand
  • In my distaff hand I hold the yarn between my thumb and ring finger
  • I draft the fibers with my index and middle finger
  • After I have drafted the fibers I let the twist into the drafting zone by sliding the pinching finger towards the drafting fingers
  • I make a new pinch with my pinching fingers and draft a new section with my drafting fingers
  • I rearrange the wool when I need to to have the best drafting position.
A hand holding a distaff between the thumb and the palm. The index and middle fingers are holding the fiber and the thumb and ring fingers are pinching the yarn.
The distaff hand with two fingers managing drafting and two managing pinching.

Dressing the distaff

I haven’t dressed a distaff for worsted spinning with wool before. I tried different ways, but this is the way that worked best for me: I hand-combed wool and dressed the tops onto the distaff lengthwise in stripes in lengths that were suitable in relation to the length of the hand distaff. The wool I have used is a year’s growth of Norwegian NKS.

A woman holding a spindle in one hand and a distaff in the other. The yarn between the hands is tensioned.
To get an evenly wound on cop I tension the yarn between my pinching fingers and the spindle.

Even tension for a steady cop

Making a steady cop is an art form in itself. The cop needs to be firm so that the cop doesn’t collapse. If the cop collapses the yarn may slide down below the lower end of the cop and ruin the whole cop. A firm cop is achieved by an even tension. I used to support my spindle against my belly for winding the yarn onto the cop, but I discovered that the yarn was too loosely wound onto the cop this way.

I have seen talented traditional spinners wind the yarn onto the cop without support. When I tried it their way I realized why. When I have no support for the spindle I have to tension the yarn between the distaff and spindle to give balance to the spindle. Since the tension depends on the weight of the spindle the tension will be even. My cop remains firm and the shape will stay in shape, so to speak. It also allows me to store more yarn on the spindle.

Location: Tvättstuga

I shot the video this summer when I rented a cabin at a sheep farm with my family. There is a creek by the farm and a wash house – a tvättstuga – by the creek. It is over 100 years old, probably from the turn of the last century or earlier. Perhaps from around the time my antique French spindle was in use! If you peek inside the windows you can see the old boiler they used to heat up the creek water and beautiful wooden wash tubs.

One winter in the early 1900s when the mother of the family was in labour the main house burned to the ground. Everybody survived, but the whole family had to move to the small wash house until a new house was built. I hope they had time to save the spinning wheel.

A woman spinning on a hand-held spindle and distaff in front of an old red building.
Spinning by the old wash house.

A word about the music

I wanted to add music that would reflect the peace in the video. I searched for French music on Free music archive that I usually use for my videos and found this. In the beginning I was concerned that it might be too slow, but the more I listen to it the more perfect I think it is for the video. I hope you enjoy it too.

Bon filage!

Close-up of an antique spindle with yarn wound onto it.
Such a pretty antique French spindle

You can follow me in several social media:

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

Spindle ergonomics

A woman spinning on a supported spindle.

In March this year I launched my online course Spin on a supported spindle. On launch night I hosted a live webinar on spindle ergonomics. I have now edited the webinar and it is available for free in my online school.

Take me to the spindle ergonomics webinar!

As a spinning teacher I want my students to be able to spin comfortably. Sometimes it is difficult to understand why something hurts or feels uncomfortable. In the webinar I take you through some of the most common problems in spindle spinning in general and supported spindle spinning in particular. The webinar is an excellent way to learn more about my course Spin on a supported spindle and to see what my teaching style is like.

  • In the webinar I talk about the difference between pushing and pulling the spindle and what effects it has on your spinning process.
  • I talk about sharing the strain so that you can spin for a long time without pain.
  • I also talk about the online course Spin on a supported spindle – the content, course outline and practical information.
  • The offers and prices in the webinar are no longer valid.
A woman holding up a spindle.She is wearing a knitted sweater with spinning wheels on it.
In the webinar I talk about pushing and pulling the spindle and about sharing the strain.

The video quality is not what you are used to from my videos. It has to do with the fact that the webinar was a live stream and that I did it indoors with less than optimal lighting. This was my live webinar world premiere. However, in the editing I have improved both light and sound to the best of my ability.

Captioning

The whole webinar is captioned (subtitled) so that you can read what I say. My only choice was to burn in the captions, so if you are annoyed by them there is nothing I can do about it. The captions are very important to me because they make my content accessible to a larger audience. Several students have told me that they wouldn’t have been able to take my courses without the captioning.

Patron pledges

Captioning courses is the single most time consuming part of my business. I would say that one video minute takes at least ten minutes to caption, probably more. However, thanks to the pledges from my patrons I have now been able to pay a captioning service to caption my courses and webinars for me. This takes a huge load off my shoulders while at the same time it makes my videos accessible to a wider audience.

I have also been able to buy a proper studio light for the Patreon pledges to give you a better visual experience in my upcoming online courses and webinars. A big thank you to all my patrons! Your contributions are really important for the development of my business.

If you are not already a patron and want to contribute to this, have a look at my Patreon page! You can choose different levels with different patron rewards. I have also added a couple of higher tiers if you want to pledge more, but with no extra rewards.

A bundle of joy

Now you have a whole bundle of resources to dive into regarding supported spindle spinning:

  • The free online course in How to pick a supported spindle and bowl. The course gives you tools to decide which supported spindle that is the best one for you. In the course you will also get a pdf with a list of spindle makers that I can recommend.
  • This webinar. You will learn about spindle ergonomics, particularly in supported spindle spinning. I don’t want my students to be uncomfortable when they spin. You will also learn more about the paid course (see below) and see what my teaching style is like.
  • The course Spin on a supported spindle. It has three different pricing tiers. Find the one that suits you the best.
  • If you are not sure if you want to invest in my paid course you can buy the ebook that is based on the course Spin on a supported spindle. It has no video or audio, but it is a start.
  • Videos and blog posts.

Spindle ergonomics webinar

A woman spinning on a supported spindle.
Enjoying the spindle ergonomics webinar!

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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

Ply on the fly

In the third week of walking down memory lane I take you to Austria, a place that is very close to my heart. I shot this video last summer and I show you how I ply on the fly on a Turkish spindle. Even if the video is simple, the place and the atmosphere are very special to me.

Austria in my heart

As many of you know I have some of my roots in Austria. While having been born and brought up in Sweden I am by blood 75% Austrian. I have spent many childhood summers in the mountain area in Salzkammergut just outside of Salzburg. The past six years I have traveled to the same area with my husband and children.

This year we didn’t get to go to Austria. While the train journey is long and cumbersome and it has been relaxing to stay home and tend to the allotments it still hurts my heart not to have been there this year.

A meadow

The meadow I’m standing in is unique. It lies in the middle of the village of Mondsee (Moon lake). The owners of the B&B we always stay at – a former convent from the 15th and 16th centuries – own the land of the meadow. Had they sold the land it would have been packed with buildings on top of each other in a second. But they won’t sell so the beautiful meadow is staying.

One beautiful summer morning when the village was still asleep I brought my gorilla tripod and a garden chair to fasten it onto. I shot my ply on the fly video in the meadow, enjoying the fresh air and the morning breeze.

You can read more about the video here.

So today I give you my Austria. I shed a tear of joy of seeing the silhouettes of Schafberg (Sheep’s mountain) and Drachenwand (Dragon’s wall) and a tear of sadness for not being there.

A woman spinning on a suspended spindle. She is standing in a meadow with mountains in the background
Plying on the fly in one of my favourite spots in Austria

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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

Spinning from the fold

A hand holding green fiber folded over the index finger. and spinning from the center of the fibers.

The other day I got a fiber sample – a lengthwise striped combed top in different shades of green wool and silk. I decided to spin it from the fold. Spinning from the fold is a great way to get a light and airy yarn. The technique is also perfect for getting crispier colours in a lengthwise striped top.

Spinning from the fold

I mostly spin fiber that I have prepared myself. But sometimes commercially prepared fiber comes my way. This is one of those times – a Granny Smith apple green lengthwise striped top of wool (my guess is BFL or merino) and silk. I saw the perfect opportunity to show you how I spin from the fold.

The superpowers

To spin from the fold you place a staple-length portion of the fiber over your finger. This means that you spin from the middle of the staple length, so that the fibers are folded when they enter the drafting zone. This does two things:

  • Since the fiber comes into the drafting triangle from each side of your finger, the drafting triangle will be wider compared to spinning from the end of the fiber. This will let more air into the yarn.
  • The folded fibers strive towards unfolding. This too will let more air into the yarn.
A hand holding green fiber folded over the index finger., spinning yarn.
The fibers come from both ends of the finger, creating a wider drafting triangle that will result in an airier yarn. The folded fibers want to unfold. This lets even more air in to the yarn.

A yarn spun from the fold will thus be lighter and airier than the same yarn spun with the same grist from the ends of the fibers.

A skein of white yarn.
Jämtland wool, spun with short draw from the fold on a supported spindle.

I spun the yarn above with short draw from flicked staples of Jämtland wool from the fold with a supported spindle. At first I spun from my hand-combed top, but when I tried flicking the staples separately and spinning them from the fold I just knew this was the way this wool wanted to be spun. I love moments like that.

Spinning from the fold is not a drafting technique. Rather, it is simply a different way to hold the fiber. You can spin both woolen and worsted from the fold. You can spin from the fold with any spinning tool.

The how-tos

Spinning from the fold is not difficult. However, there are a few things to think about when you do.

  • Make sure you pull out a staple-length only. If you pull out more than a staple-length some fibers will be spun from the middle and some from the end. This will create a mess.
  • You also need to make sure you tuck the ends into your hand when you spin. If you don’t, there is a risk that they get caught in the yarn. This will create a bigger mess.
  • Still, you need to hold the fiber gently, like a baby bird (still tucking the ends into the hand). If you hold the fibers too tightly they won’t be released into the twist.
  • You can choose to either keep the fiber over your finger or remove your finger and just hold the folded fiber gently in your hand.
  • To join I simply place the spun end over the folded new staple and allow the fiber to get caught in the twist.
A hand holding green fiber folded over the index finger. and spinning from the center of the fibers.
Hold the fiber gently and tuck the ends into your hand.

The context

I spin from the fold when I have a low micron fleece with a long staple length. The fiber needs to be long enough to be folded over your finger and tucked in to your hand. It also needs to be fine enough not to get too bulky in the fold. I flick card each staple separately and spin staple by staple from the fold. A commercially prepped top is also a good candidate for spinning from the fold.

One extra superpower with spinning from the fold is crispier colours in a lengthwise striped top. Spinning from the fold is an excellent way to enhance the colour and/or fiber variations.

Two skeins of blue yarn.
The left skein was spun from the fold and the right from the end. The fiber is the same, a lengthwise striped top. If you look carefully, you can see that the colours in the left skein are a little sharper.

What happens is that one colour stripe at a time enters the drafting zone instead of getting blended should you spin from the end of the fiber. The colour variations stay clear and crisp. This feature is really fun to play with!

A tahkli spindle with light green variegated yarn.
The colours in a lengthwise striped top will get slightly more defined when spun from the fold compared to spinning from the end.

Tools and materials

The little supported spindle in the main video is a rocket speed Tahkli from John Galen. The bowl is actually a singing bowl for meditation (also bought from John Galen), hence the little bell sounds in the video. The fiber is a combed top I got as a sample from Vinterverkstan.

A small turquoise spindle with silver decorations and a small skein of green yarn.
Tahkli spindle from John Galen, fiber from Vinterverkstan.

The spindle in the extra clip is a Portuguese spindle from Saber Fazer. The fiber is a Norwegian NKS (Norsk kvit sau or Norwegian white sheep).

A person spinning outdoors on a spindle.
Spinning NKS (Norsk Kvit Sau, Norwegian white sheep) with a Portuguese spindle from Saber Fazer.

The setting

I shot the clip with the sheep in the background last summer at the cabin we have rented for the past five years.

I shot the main video under the hop arch in our allotment. We assembled the arch this spring to get some shade in the corner. It is a very nice corner for all sorts of fiber related activities! We planted the tansies to attract bees and other pollinators. It worked.

A patch of tansies with bumblebees. A person spinning in the background.
The bees do like their tansies. Here two buff-tailed bumblebees.

The red currant are nearly ripe now.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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

Catch the light

A person spinning on a supported spindle in backlight

It’s summer solstice here in Sweden. Eventhough Stockholm is 1000 km south of the arctic circle the sun seems to only touch the horizon in the night before it rises again. The light gives me energy and I want to save it for the winter. There is a special spot where the light is almost magic. In this video I have tried to catch the light.

Catch the light

Starring: The solstice light

I have wanted to make this video for a very long time. But to make it happen a lot of things need to be in synch. This year, though, we managed to catch the light. We did catch it once. In the very beginning of For the love of spinning there is a short clip with the magic light. Dan managed to catch it beautifully. But it was only a short clip and for a long time I have wanted to make a longer video just for the sake of the light. But catching the light is tricky business. Everything must be just right.

A person spinning on a supported spindle in backlight.
Catch the light, Monday: A-roll.

Early summer

The set is on a path next to our allotment. There is nothing special about the location really, but it is the timing that makes it special. In late spring and early summer the sun reaches enough above the tree tops in the evenings to cast a brilliant light along the path. The window is open for just a few weeks in late May and early to mid June. In May the grass is crispy green, young and untouched. In June the brightest greens have faded slightly, but the grass is in full blossom, casting a misty tint over the slope. If you look close enough you can see the fairies dancing in the haze.

Magic o’clock

The light is at the path for just a short time in the evening, between 7:15 and 7:30. Before that the trees on the southern edge of the path are blocking the sun and after the sun has gone behind the trees on the northern edge. So things need to move fast – we need to set camera and tripod, find the right angle to catch the light and shoot the right clips to show the spindle. I couldn’t possibly do all this myself in such a short time frame, so Dan was behind the camera this time. He is, after all, the best light catcher in the family.

Close-up of a person spinning on a supported spindle in backlight.
Catch the light, Tuesday: B-roll.

We needed three evenings to shoot everything– two for the video and a third for photos. There isn’t enough time to make it in one night since the window is open for such a short time.

Close-up of a person spinning on a supported spindle in backlight.
Catch the light, Thursday: Stills. Photo by Dan Waltin

The sun and the wind

It has to be a sunny day, of course, otherwise there will be no magic light to catch. This was a sunny week, so we were in luck. Wednesday was cloudy, though, and we couldn’t shoot.

For an extra bonus, the wind should come from the right direction not to carry the noise from the surrounding traffic routes. The wind was well behaved on Monday night and I could edit away the low noise and enhance the bird song. To hide the last bit of noise I added the soft piano music.

By the way, can you see the insects swarming in the sunlight? Yeah, most of them bite. But it was all worth it.

Artistic focus

Since the light was the star of the video we chose to shoot the video from angles that would show the light rather than specific spinning angles. To avoid disturbing the scene I decided not to add any titles at all to the video. In that way it is not an instructional video. Luckily, I have other videos that will show the technique better. This video thus has a purely artistic focus.

Supporting role: Supported spinning

Since I chose to omit titles or distractions in the video I will mention a few words here about the tools and technique. How could I not?

Spindle and wool

I am spinning with a spindle and puck from Björn Peck. Björn is a professional wood turner and nowadays my royal supplier of both supported spindles and other spindle models. I got his name from another wood worker and asked if he could make me some supported spindles. It turned out that he could. We have been cooperating for a year now and in that time he has developed his technique to perfectly balanced spindles with an amazingly long spin. They are easy on the eye too.

Close-up of a person spinning on a supported spindle.
Perfectly balanced supported spindle in Swedish woods. The puck has a glass inlay and a magnet underneath. Both by Björn Peck. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The wool is from Dalapäls sheep, an endangered Swedish conservation breed (more on the Dalapäls sheep in an upcoming breed study webinar!). It has soft undercoat and long, strong outercoat. And the shine!

A row of white wool locks.
Sweet locks of Dalapäls sheep.

Wool prep and spinning

I chose to comb each lock separately and spin from the cut end. This way I got both undercoat and outercoat in the yarn and at the same time. It is also a nice way to prepare a little every time.

A person combing a staple of wool.
I gently combed each lock separately not to disturb the structure of the fibers. Photo by Dan Waltin.

As you can see in the video I’m spinning the yarn counter-clockwise with my left hand as a spinning hand. The reason why I’m spinning counter-clockwise is that I am planning to use the yarn for twined knitting, which requires a yarn with a Z- or clockwise ply. I’m spinning with my left hand as spinning hand to pull the spindle when I spin. This is easier on the hands. Read more about spinning direction and ergonomics here.

I didn’t want to disturb the structure of the staples or remove too much of the soft undercoat. Therefore I combed it very lightly. The consequence of this is that the wool isn’t fully separated. This makes the drafting a bit of a challenge. I open up the twist a lot to allow the fibers to slide past each other and find their place in the yarn.

A full spindle with plied yarn.
Plied and ready for the world.

The spinning project is actually my bedside spinning. I spin a little every night in bed. It is a nice way to let my thoughts come and go and get ready for sleep.

Savouring the light

The summer nights will still be bright for a while to come. I want to savour the light forever. In late August and early September, the sun will set just around the evening swims of the season and it will get increasingly darker during the coming months. In December it will be pitch black when I leave for work and when I go home. During these days I will find some light and comfort in watching videos like this.

Happy solstice!


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! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • 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!

The power of slowness

Spinning your own yarn is a slow process, and the slowest tool is the spindle. I’m not in it for the speed, though. My guess is that few of you are. Spindles are wonderful tools that are easy to bring, affordable and simple in their execution. One of the most powerful benefits of spinning on a spindle is its slowness. Yes, you read that right. The slowness of the spindle is a superpower and a characteristic that we should take advantage of. In this post I celebrate the power of slowness and share my thoughts of the benefits of spindle spinning. If you are reluctant to spindles, this post might convince you to give spindles a chance.

A Navajo lap spindle. Supported by the ground, resting against your thigh. Photo by Dan Waltin.
A Navajo lap spindle from Roosterick. Supported by the ground, resting against your thigh. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Spindle spinning characteristics

Compared to buying a sweater or buying yarn for a sweater, spinning in general is a slow process. But spindle spinning is particularly slow. There are many spindle types around the world – supported, suspended, lap spindles, in-hand/grasped spindles and more. The names of the types reveal how you operate them.

Common spindle types

Different kinds of spindles are better suited for some spinning techniques and yarn constructions than others and the spindle types are quite different from each other.

  • Suspended spindles hang in the yarn you are spinning. The whorl or weight can be on the top of the shaft or on the bottom. You can sit, stand or walk while spinning on a suspended spindle.
  • Supported spindles are supported in a tiny bowl. You usually sit and spin with the bowl in your lap.
  • Lap spindles are supported by the ground and rest against your thigh. You sit on a chair or on the ground and roll the shaft up your thigh to set the spindle in motion.
  • In-hand or grasped spindles (different names for the same group of spindles) are held in the hand. Usually you spin from a distaff on which the fiber is organized. You can spin grasped, with short or long suspension or supported.
  • Horizontal spindles (in lack of a better word) are held horizontally.
A supported spindle and spinning bowl. Spindle maker is Björn Peck.
The spindle is a slow tool. Here a supported spindle and spinning bowl by Björn Peck.

Spindle similarities

Spindles are very old tools that have been used all over the world for at least ten thousand years. They have been developed in their cultural context and thus many spinning traditions have developed a spindle type and spinning technique adapted to the fiber available and the needs of its users. Despite these differences, spindles still have many things in common.

  • Spindles have a simple construction, usually consisting of a spindle shaft and sometimes a whorl.
  • The spindle is operated by your hand.
  • Speed is controlled by your muscles alone. Speed can be facilitated by its construction or by a support from underneath, but there is nothing that accelerates the speed other than your body. Compared to a spinning wheel, a spindle is slow.
  • Tension is governed by gravity (if the spindle is hanging in the yarn you are spinning) or your hands (if you are holding the drafting zone between your hands).
  • The yarn you are spinning is manually wound onto the shaft of the spindle.

The power of slowness

One could argue that spindle spinning is too slow to see any progress. I choose to see the slowness as a superpower. By operating the tool and producing the yarn slowly, your hands and your brain have time to understand what is happening. Especially since you are controlling tool, mechanics and process with your hands.

Drafting

Spinning on a spindle gives you lots of time to focus on your drafting. If you are new to spindle spinning you can even draft when the spindle is not moving at all – the park and draft method allows you to stop the spindle completely, make the draft and set the spindle in motion again. As you get more experienced you can easily adjust the speed to your drafting skills. You can also use a double drafting technique which, with a few exceptions, is exclusive to spindle spinning. Double drafting is possible on most spindle types, but is most common with Navajo spindles and spindles adapted to cotton spinning like the tahkli and the akha spindles.

At 1:12 you can see the double draft on an Akha spindle.

Tension

When you spin on a spindle you are to varying degrees in control of the tension of the yarn. On a suspended spindle the tension is governed by the weight of the spindle. The tension on a supported spindle is governed by the tension between your hands alone – by the position and motions of your hands you have sole control of the tension of the yarn. The same goes for a lap spindle like the Navajo spindle. With an in-hand or grasped spindle it can be a mix of both.

The tension on a supported spindle is governed by your hands alone. Look at 0:14.

Speed

You are responsible for the speed of the spindle. With all spindle types you set the spindle in motion with your spindle hand. Well, apart from occasional foot ignition with suspended top whorl spindles. If you set the spindle in motion with force the spindle will spin fast or for a long time. There are features of the spindle that will facilitate speed or duration of the spin, but there is still a one to one relationship between your setting the spindle in motion and the resulting motion in the spindle.

This simple (but definitely not easy) turn of events is fairly easily and quickly intelligible – you operate a tool and it results in a straightforward action.

With an in-hand or grasped spindle you get lots of time to handle the fiber. Look at 2:31. In fact, I got all the way from Stockholm to Austria on spindles. There’s the power of slowness for ya!

Twist

With the slow action in spindle spinning it is easier to see the twist entering the fiber. With spindle spinning you also have time to control and adjust the amount of twist that goes into the yarn. With the slow speed in spindle spinning it is also easy to experiment and make samples to quickly find the right twist for your yarn. With an in-hand or grasped spindle the spinning process can be quite slow and you can achieve a beautifully lofty and low-twist yarn.

With the in-hand or grasped spindle you have a good view of the drafting zone. You spin slowly and can fine-tune the twist at all times. Start at 0:10.

With the Navajo lap spindle you can easily control twist by adding twist to the yarn for a tighter twist or length for less twist.

A Navajo spindle is a great tool for spinning low twist singles. You have a good overview of the twist and can easily add or remove twist in this technique. The video also shows the double drafting technique used in Navajo spindle spinning.

Understanding through body mechanics

When you control so much of the spinning process at a pace that works for you it will be easier to understand the mechanics of spinning and the process of making yarn. Through controlling the spindle and yarn with your body and feeling the movement of the spindle and the fiber it is easier to understand what is happening than through the mechanics of a spinning wheel. After all, the spinning wheel was invented to facilitate what the body does to handle the spindle. The spinning wheel is a tool to facilitate yarn making for you, but it can also take away some of your muscular memory from the spinning process.

What’s in it for the wheel spinner?

Let’s make a quick and overall comparison of spinning mechanics between spindle spinning and wheel spinning.

Tension

  • Spinning wheel: The tensioning screw moves the mother-of-all further away from the wheel, tensioning the brake band, resulting in a faster in-take of the yarn. The tension is set before you start spinning and can be adjusted during spinning if you stop the wheel.
  • Spindle: You control the tension with your hands. It can be adjusted whenever you like.

Speed

  • Spinning wheel: The size of the pulleys control the speed of the wheel which drives the flyer. You can adjust the speed with your feet to some degree. You can also change the speed by changing pulleys (or change the tension on a scotch tension wheel).
  • Spindle: You control the speed with your hands. You can change the speed whenever you like.

Twist

  • Spinning wheel: The twist is controlled by the speed and tension that you have adjusted before you started your spinning project (see above) and also in the pace with which you feed the yarn onto the bobbin.
  • Spindle: You control the twist with your hands. You can change the tension and speed whenever you like.

Don’t get me wrong – I love spinning on a spinning wheel. I also love what the spinning wheel can achieve with its mechanics.However,spinning on spindles can help me understand what I need to do on the wheel to get the yarn the way I want. And vice versa – spinning on a spinning wheel can help me understand how to work the spindle to get the result I want. Thus, the combination of spinning on spindles and on spinning wheels is unbeatable.

Learning by slowness

The simplicity of spindle spinning can help us understand the mechanics of spinning and the yarn making process. This is much due to the fact that you as a spinner are a part of the spinning mechanics. Your fine motor muscles are more involved in the spinning mechanics when you spin on a spindle than when you spin on a spinning wheel. Moreover, you spend more time with the spinning when you spin on a spindle since it takes longer. Due to these circumstances I like to think that your body will incorporate more of the spinning process and learn through the power of slownessof spindle spinning.

Here I spin flax on an in-hand spindle. I spin quite slowly to get time to handle the drafting of the flax fibers. Look at 2:47.

If you haven’t tried spinning on a spindle, go ahead and give it a chance! Perhaps you have tried and decided it’s not for you. Go ahead and give it another chance! If you have tried and decided that you get pains in your hands/arms/shoulders, go ahead and try a different kind of spindle, change hands or try to find a way to avoid the pain. I challenge you to try spinning on a spindle.

Happy spindling!


My course page is down at the moment due to a less successful app update. You can go straight to my Online school for online courses. In Sweden I have a five day summer course at Sätergläntan.


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!

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!