Påsöm embroidery

For a long time I have been fascinated by påsöm. This embroidery technique involves abundant flowery motifs in rich, saturated colours. For my first påsöm embroidery project I decided to make a yoga mat and honour the yoga practice with soft, wooly stitches.

A woolen mat for yummy yoga practise.
A woolen mat for yummy yoga practise.

About påsöm embroidery

Påsöm is a composition of the words På (on top of) and Söm (seam or stitch), so a reasonable translation could with some imagination be surface stitch. The embroidery technique originates from the small village of Dala-Floda in county Dalarna in Sweden. The technique started being used in the mid 1800’s and is especially used in various parts of the traditional folk costume from the village. The yarns were imported and dyed with synthetic dyes. A bride usually made her betrothed mittens or suspenders with the påsöm technique. Many women in the early 20th century earned a living stitching påsöm embroideries on mittens and household textiles to sell.

At the last wool journey I made with my wool traveling club I got to fondle some truly remarkable finds of påsöm embroidered mittens in Karin Kahnlund’s massive collection of knitted items.

Materials

The foundation

Påsöm is embroidered on both two-end knitted items and wadmal or broadcloth. Both two-end knitting and broadcloth are perfect for this embroidery technique. The material is dense and inelastic, which allows for the stitches to be made very close to each other. This creates the rich and abundant, almost 3D texture in the motifs.

The material I had in mind for my embroidery was different, though. The scouring mill Ullkontoret sells a needle punch felt by the meter, made with Swedish wool. I usually make spindle cases from the felt, but someone came up with the idea to use it for a yoga mat, so I wanted to try that. After having cut out the yoga mat shape I needed I made a blanket stitch around the edges for protection. This yarn was my handspun (the only spinning related thing about this post).

The needle punch felt is looser and thicker than two-end knitting and broadcloth. The thickness requires more yarn and the looseness makes it a challenge to get the stitches as close to each other as I want. But I am the boss of my embroidery and I say my way works just fine in this context.

Yarn

The embroidery yarn I used for the motifs is a commercial yarn. To create the rich and billowy texture the yarn needs to be at least 4-ply and loosely plied. I didn’t want to sacrifice the påsöm look so I bought the yarn this time instead of trying to spin it myself. Perhaps I will have a go at spinning my own påsöm yarn one day, who knows. There are few yarns suitable for påsöm embroideries. One of the available yarns is the British Appleton tapestry wool, that worked really well.

Påsöm requires lots of colour and especially lots of green leaves. I went for reds, blues and greens in different shades and some white and yellow for details.

Motifs

Apart from the colours and the soft and airy yarn, the motifs and the composition of the motifs are important in påsöm embroidery. An abundance of flowers, bound together by rich greens is what you will be looking for.

I started with the center rose, added the pink flowers flanking it and then the pansies just below the front corners. After that I simply needed to add as many garlands, leaves and decorative flowers as possible and let them create a mass of flower extravaganza. And I did. For every part I added I took a step back and tried to find what and where my next move would be.

My favourite part to stitch were the little green heart-shaped leaves, especially the double ones just beneath the pansies. And I’m childishly charmed by the pink flowers on both sides of the center rose. And who wouldn’t be?

Templateless

I used the booklet Påsöm by Anna-Karin Jobs Arnberg to learn the stitches and motifs. The book suggests using transparent sheets to copy the shapes and a needle and Gellyroll pen to transfer the motif to the cloth. With a material like broadcloth or two-end knitting transferring templates would have been fairly easy. But the needle punch felt was way too fuzzy and the markings wouldn’t stick at all. Instead I tried to the best of my ability to draw the shapes directly onto the felt and accepted the wobbly shapes with an open heart.

For some of the more precise motifs I managed to draw something that resembled a contour with the gellyroll pen on the fuzzy felt surface.
For some of the more precise motifs I managed to draw something that resembled a contour with the gellyroll pen on the fuzzy felt surface.

Therapy stitches

I have chronic migraines and peaceful that usually last for several days. It is what it is. Crafting helps me stay sane during many of these episodes. I get very sound sensitive, especially to kitchen clatter and rustling paper bags. But wool is blissfully gentle and quiet.

This could actually be what migraine looks like from within.
When I turn the yoga mat upside down I realize that this could actually be what migraine looks like from within.

For the last couple of weeks I have turned to my påsöm embroidery numerous times for some soft and quiet migraine therapy. The repetitive motions, the slow process and, of course, the feeling of chunky wool in my hands give me some peace of mind. I didn’t keep track of the time I spent on this embroidery, but I don’t think I would be totally wrong if I estimated it to 20 hours.

Quiet yoga

The yoga mat is now finished with a lovely påsöm flower garland at the top and I’m very pleased with the result. The mat is slippery, though. It slips on the floor (which can be helped with a sticky mat underneath it) and my hands and feet slip on the surface in asana practice. For this reason I wouldn’t recommend the material for a moving practice. I would say this mat is more suitable for meditation, sitting postures, restorative yoga and yoga nidra. After all, these are the types of yoga I can practice when migraine hits me. What wouldn’t be more suitable then than a yoga mat stitched as migraine therapy.

Slow embroidery for slow and mindful practice.
Slow embroidery for slow and mindful practice.

Neither embroidery nor yoga help in migraine episodes. However, they do give me the peace of mind I need and lots of wooly comfort. And that is worth a lot.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • 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.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Wool type

Pälsull, rya, vadmal and finull type wool frame one Värmland fleece.

There are many ways to describe and categorize wool. Many countries have their own way of describing wool, probably in a way that is suitable for the sheep breeds that are most common in that particular country. The traditional way to describe wool in Sweden is by wool type.

Wool types

The traditional way to describe wool in Sweden is with wool types. These describe the shape and constitution of the staples. Through that it also describes the composition of undercoat and outercoat fibers in the staples.

We use four wool types that cover the most common breeds in Sweden – finull, rya, pälsull and vadmal type wool. The names (which I will explain in the post) are not always logical, but once you know what they mean the types are quite straightforward and easy to use. A wool type can have the same name as a sheep breed. That doesn’t mean that all the fleeces from the breed have that particular wool type. Neither does it mean that only that breed have that wool type. As you will see, there can be several wool types in a breed or indeed in a individual fleece.

The use of wool types is an accessible way to describe wool. Once you have the keys to the types you will understand some of the character of the wool and what you can expect from it. In my experience it is not an exact science, but rather a way to understand and approach the wool with a simple tool.

Soft finull type wool

As I have described in the historical sections of rya wool and finull wool, there was once a Swedish landrace. It had both soft, warm undercoat and strong, shiny outercoat. These different kinds of wool were used for different purposes. The wool type with mostly undercoat fibers was called finull (finewool) type wool. Later the landrace breed finull sheep was established. Not all finull sheep have finull type wool. Sheep of other breeds can also have finull wool type staples in their fleeces.

Balanced Rya type wool

When textile researchers were puzzled about where the long and shiny wool in the old rya textiles came from, they started a search for the rya type wool. The wool that had been used in the pre-industrialization rya textiles had long and shiny outercoat fibers and soft and warm undercoat fibers. They were found in the Dalapäls sheep which was later used to breed rya sheep. Thus, the breed standards for rya sheep aim for rya type wool. Other breeds like Klövsjö sheep can also have rya type wool on all or part of the fleece.

Shiny pälsull type wool

When Gute sheep were saved from extinction about 100 years ago, some sheep were used to start the pälsfår sheep breed, the fur sheep. Sheep skins with locks shining like silver were in high demand. To sell better abroad the breed later changed names to Gotland sheep. The aim for the Gotland fleece is to be strong, shiny and have dense, three dimensional locks to make pretty skins. The term pälsull (fur wool) is still used to describe the wool type.

Another breed that typically has pälsull type wool is Swedish Leicester. The first Leicester longwool sheep were imported in the 18th century so the breed today is indeed a Swedish Leicester sheep adapted to the Swedish climate. During the 1980’s the breed was further bred to be a white pälsull type sister to the Gotland sheep and make pretty skins.

Vadmal type wool

A fourth type is the vadmal (wadmal, or broadcloth) wool. This wool type was thought to be extra fitting for fulling fabric into thick wadmal or broadcloth that would withstand the wind and the cold in the Swedish winters. Many breeds can have vadmal type wool in their fleeces.

The difference between the wool types

So, what distinguishes these wool types? Well, I would say the undercoat to outercoat ratio in the staples, which manifests itself in shape and constitution of the staples. Also to some extent the difference between the undercoat and outercoat fibers. This is not absolute in any way, but it is a way to roughly categorize staples into wool types. In the description below I have pulled the fiber types apart in the staples to find a rough outercoat to undercoat ratio.

Almost only undercoat

Finull type wool consists, as the name suggest, of mostly or only undercoat fibers. The staple is usually short and crimpy with very fine tips. Finull wool usually has finewool type wool, as does Jämtland wool (which is a new Swedish crossbred).

As you can see in the images above the finull type staples are usually quite short and have soft and crimpy staples. They consist of mostly or only undercoat fibers. To the right you see the fluffy undercoat and just a few strands of what I think are outercoat fibers.

Mostly undercoat fibers

Vadmal type wool still has mostly undercoat fibers but also some outercoat fibers. The shape is usually triangular with a very narrow tip of the outercoat fibers. The staple is usually wavy. I would say that the vadmal type wool is quite unusual. I have seen vadmal type wool as one of the wool types in heterogeneous fleeces of several Swedish heritage breeds. So far I have only seen one fleece – of Åsen wool – with predominantly vadmal type wool. I used it in a course I taught and it was by far the most popular wool to work with.

The vadmal type wool has a characteristic look in its triangular shape with the wide undercoat base and the pointy tip of a few strands of outercoat fibers, hugging each other for support. Vadmal wool is soft but will still have some strength due to the outercoat content. It is a very versatile wool and I jump at any opportunity to get my hands on and in a vadmal type fleece. In the right picture above you can see the distribution of fibers in the staple I divided – mostly airy undercoat and some longer outercoat fibers.

50/50

Rya type wool typically has an outercoat to undercoat ratio of 60/40 or 50/50. The staple is long and wavy to straight. The staples are long with a conical shape. Rya sheep typically has rya type wool. Many breeds can have partly or predominantly rya type wool, like Dalapäls sheep, Klövsjö sheep and Värmland sheep.

Rya type wool is quite versatile since you can divide it and use it in so many ways. Use both fiber types together, divide into outercoat and undercoat or make an even larger buffet using lamb’s or ewe’s wool.

Mostly outercoat

Pälsull wool has only outercoat fibers. Or, there can be some undercoat fibers, but all fibers are typically quite coarse. The staple is thin, dense and wavy. A pälsull type staple usually has lots of shine. Gotland sheep is an example of a breed that produces almost only pälsull type wool, as is Swedish Leicester sheep. Sometimes you can find pälsull type wool in finewool sheep.

With a pälsull type wool you are not likely to get a soft yarn. I prefer to use pälsull type wool for project that require strength like socks, warp or embroidery.

All in one

Through this post I have presented examples of the different wool types I have talked about. You have seen that a wool type can exist in different breeds. Now, take another look at the pictures with staples on a waulking board. All the staples on the waulking board come from the same Värmland fleece. Yes. One fleece with all the wool types represented.

A versatile Värmland fleece

The Swedish heritage breeds are rare and some even threatened. The genetic base is too small to breed for specific characteristics and the sheep farmers with gene banks are not allowed to single out characteristics to breed on. Therefore the fleeces can be, and usually are, very heterogenous. Like this Värmland fleece.

A Värmland fleece with all the fiber types represented – pälsull, rya, vadmal and finull type wool in a gradient from strong to soft.

This lamb’s fleece got a bronze medal in the 2019 Swedish fleece championships. I realized its potential when I bought it at the auction that followed the event.

From a quick investigation of the fleece I can tell that the most common wool type in this particular fleece is rya type wool and the least common is the pälsull type wool. With that information I also know that the fleece has lots of soft and warm undercoat and some strong outercoat. I can choose to divide the fleece into wool types, fiber types or keep it all together. The possibilities with a fleece like this are endless.

I am sure a sheep farmer with a fleece like this will know where the wool types will typically be found on the body of the sheep. My guess is that a lot of the finull wool type can be found around the neck and the rya type wool on the sides.

Systems to describe wool

Back to the Swedish landrace. When the textile experts realized that the wool in the pre-industrial rya textiles were different from the wool in the post-industrial rya textiles a search began for the wool type that was used in the earlier rya textiles. Would this have been the first mention of wool types in Sweden? I want to think so. Either case, the use of wool types in Sweden would be based on the wool types that traditionally have been grazing Swedish pastures.

At the time of the industrial revolution lots of breeds were imported to Sweden to provide wool to the spinning mills that the mills could actually work with. Traces of these imported breeds are still in the landrace and heritage breeds in Sweden today. The imported breed that seems to have had the most success is the Swedish Leicester sheep that is used for its own sake and to cross with other breeds.

I am curious of any systems to describe wool in your countries:

  • Are there systems to describe wool where you live?
  • Do you have a system of your own to describe wool?
  • Do you see any pros and cons of using a system to describe wool?

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.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.