In the grease

In the PLY magazine Double coated issue Maja Siska wrote an article about spinning a lopi style Icelandic yarn from the lock in the grease. I was intrigued by this and knew I needed to try it myself.

In the article Maja describes how she spins a lopi style yarn from a colour variegated fleece. By spinning from the lock those different colours will come to their right on their own instead of being blended into a medium grayish beige. She also spins the yarn in the grease.

I have read the article numerous times. There were so many things in Maja’s technique that were appealing to me, but most of all the combination. A singles yarn spun from the lock of variegated Icelandic fleece in the grease. What’s not to love?

Close

A lopi style yarn is a singles yarn with little or no twist, usually commercially spun to either be further spun into a plied yarn or used as it is. The yarn still holds together through the combination of long outercoat fibers and fine, warm undercoat fibers. Knitting with a lopi style yarn usually results in a very light but still warm garment. At first I thought a lopi yarn was an ancient tradition in Iceland. It turns out that it is not, it is a product of spinning mills producing yarn for the Icelandic sweaters that originated in the mid 20th century. Thus, the technique in Maja’s article isn’t a traditional way to spin a lopi style yarn. Rather, it is an adaptation to hand spinning from the mill produced pencil roving.

A lopi style yarn. Raw, yet elegant.

Adaptation to hand spinning also offers the opportunity to take advantage of the superpowers of hand spinning. I wanted to stay as close to the original structure of the fleece as possible. A yarn with this very gentle processing and handling gives me goosebumps. I often talk about processing with hand tools as a way to get to know the fleece. When just lightly teasing locks I skip a few steps, but I do get to come close to the wool and its original shape. I wrote a poetic style blog post about this closeness a couple of weeks ago.

Icelandic lamb’s fleece

I have wanted to get acquainted with Icelandic wool for a while now. I had even sought out a fleece supplier. When I read Maja’s article I knew I couldn’t wait anymore. I contacted Hulda at Uppspuni mini mill in Iceland to ask her for a lamb’s fleece.

I was in luck, the lambs were about to be shorn just a week or so later and Hulda promised to pick out a nice fleece for me. Another week or so later the fleece landed on my doorstep, full of icelandic sheepiness. I accidentally asked her to get me part of a darker fleece too. I figured I needed some contrasting colour yarn for a stranded yoke.

Teasing

At first I tried to just hand tease the locks, but despite the lovely openness of the staples I wanted a better separation of the fibers. After some experimenting I landed in lightly opening up of the locks in the direction of the fibers with a flicker and then hand teasing perpendicular to the direction of the fibers. That way I could open the cut end, the tip end and the middle and get the dirt out of the tip ends as well.

I love this opportunity to literally dig my hands into the raw fleece. Nothing has been done with this wool since shearing. By working with this fleece in the grease I have every opportunity in the world to experience it in its very essence, as well as the responsibility to make it justice. Now that’s intriguing!

Spinning from the lock

Spinning from the lock gives me the opportunity to be gentle with the wool and keep the yarn as close to the structure of the fleece on the hoof as possible.

Although I have teased the wool and the fibers seem well separated sideways, they are still quite aligned lengthwise. This makes drafting a challenge and I need to really focus on the fibers coming into the draft and the fibers next in line. My fingers need to listen to the wool to find the length of the fibers and thereby the proper distance between my hands.

Since the fibers are less separated than in a carded or combed preparation I need to work more with my hands to get the fibers reasonably evenly into the twist. I need to make sure an even amount of fiber is going into the twist while at the same time keeping the twist live and close to the point of twist engagement – that point where there is enough twist for the fibers to be able to pass each other without coming apart.

Wheel or spindle?

As you can see from some of the picture I started out spinning this yarn with a suspended spindle. In my vision to handle this yarn as gently and with as few tools as possible I figured a spindle would be the perfect spinning tool. I tried several different weights, but I never seemed to get it right. The yarn got too thin and I didn’t feel that flow that tells me everything is just right. I decided to try the spinning wheel and immediately felt at home. I think the wheel allowed me to work better with both my hands in the drafting.

In the grease

As you can see from some of the pictures I’m spinning by the fireplace. Apart from it being lovely with the warmth and the glowing embers, the heat melts the lanolin, resulting in a heavenly draft. The fibers go through my hands like butter and leave them soft and moisturized in the dry Swedish winter.

I very rarely spin wool with no lanolin, usually I have some lanolin left from gentle washing without detergents. The lanolin lubricates the draft and makes it even and steady. Spinning in the grease, though, is a whole different matter. The lanolin feels truly present in the spinning, like one of the main characters in the spinning drama.

Going backwards

Despite the smooth drafting with the lanolin all soft from the heat of the fireplace, spinning from the lock requires a bit more effort than spinning a prepared rolag or top. Drafting takes longer which results in quite a lot of twist. I tread faster and use my largest whorl (with a ratio of 7.5:1), but still there is far too much twist for my purpose with this yarn. My solution for this is to simply back the yarn once. I spin the bobbin again, but against the twist, removing enough twist to end up with a twist angle of around 20°.

The yarn fluffs up and looks truly inviting as a singles yarn, displaying its whole colour palette, lanolin glistening like tiny stars.

Washing and shocking

To wash my lopi style yarn spun in the grease I do what I normally do with a finished skein: I wash with an organic shampoo in the first water (as hot as my tap can muster, around 55°C), white vinegar in the second and rinse with a third.

Finished skeins of singles lopi style yarn in a lopi style. The skeins are unwashed.

Since the yarn is single there is some energy in it, even if the twist is low. Also, a singles yarn may not be as sturdy as a plied one. So, to ease the energy and to bring some strength to the yarn I full it lightly after the third bath: I dip the yarn in cold water. The temperature difference is enough to push the scales into holding on to each other and stabilize the yarn slightly. After fulling I squeeze the skeins in a towel, whack them against the floor and hang to dry.

I’m very happy with the resulting skeins. They are not completely evenly spun, but as a whole they will produce an even knitted structure. I’m looking forward to seeing the colour variations and the texture in the knitted fabric. I just haven’t had the time to swatch yet.

Thank you Maja for an excellent article. Thank you Hulda for the loveliest fleece.

If you are a patron (or decide to become one) there is a digital postcard video I put together for you where I show you how I prepare and spin this wool into a lopi style yarn like I describe in this post.

Happy spinning!

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14 Replies to “In the grease”

  1. Wonderful post! I’ve used the commercial Lopi (einband, the thin one) & I enjoy knitting & weaving with it. I’m trying to get my hands on some Icelandic fleece so your link to the mill is just perfect timing for me too. Thank you so much for this! May you have a blessed Holiday Season & a safe & prosperous new year.

  2. Hello Josefin! God Jul!
    What a delightful surprise to find your blog post about Icelandic Lopi style yarn and how to spin it. I am swimming in Icelandic fleeces… (I watch daily, the farm behind our house with its 30+ Icelandic sheep). Plus, I sometime assist with the October sharing day and payment for helping is more fleece. It’s hard to pick out the one you want or think is best while they are bunching up in the shearing shed. I have learned finally, to pick lamb fleeces. The flock is not raised with quality spinning wool in mind, never the less, I have found some nice wool.

    I read the article about the process in PLY as well and now supported by your very thorough description of your experience. Looks like I need to also look at the video you put together on making Lopi singles. I learned to spin with Icelandic fleece. I believe I used Icelandic in your course on getting to know your fleece. Must review my notes. And, I just love the way you take out the extra twist on the Lopi yarn to create a lofty soft single… makes so much sense! And the fulling during the wet finishing. I look forward to an improved Lopi style yarn, and sitting near the warmth of stove to help with the lanolin and drafting. Thank you for this wonderful post.

    1. Hello LaDonn,

      and thank you! I’m glad you found the post useful. What a treasure you have nearby! Helping out at shearing is so rewarding, I learn so much every time. I hope you find your way to spinning a lopi style yarn with the fleece you have.

  3. Your post came at such a good time since I am right now experimenting with leaving more lanolin in my fleeces when washing them. Although I’m not working with Icelandic wool (I’m working with longwools right now), nor spinning “in the grease,” your comments are helpful.

    I have read that if you leave lanolin in the fleece you must spin it sooner rather than later, since the lanolin can harden with time. Do you find this to be true if you only leave some lanolin in? Or if you leave all the lanolin in?

    Do you have a blog post on how you wash your fleeces without detergents?

    Thank you for your lovely post.

    1. Hello Ruth,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post! As I haven’t washed off all of the lanolin from any of my fleeces I can’t really answer your question. However, I do think that lanolin has a best before date. I try to keep a queue in my fleece stash and spin the oldest first. I also try not to keep the waiting time in the queue longer than one year. This Icelandic fleece was allowed to cut in line since all the lanolin was left. Also because I didn’t want to stuff it away and risk causing felting or tangling.

      Here is how I wash my fleece.

  4. Hi!
    An interesting post, as usual!
    I have spun an Icelandic/jacob cross, many years ago, and it was the loveliest wool!
    More often than not I spin in the grease and get a (usually) pleasant surprise when I wash it.
    I have a Jacob fleece fleece I’m spinning at the moment that is 5 or 6 years old and it’s perfectly fine.

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