Swim cap

I made me a swim cap! Perhaps not the kind you would expect when you read the words swim cap. This swim cap is made from my spindle spun yarn, nalbound, waulked and embroidered, all to keep me warm during my daily baths through the winter.

When my wool traveling club and I decided to take a course in the påsöm embroidery technique for our 2022 wool journey I started planning projects on which I could play with påsöm. I wanted to try the embroidery on different wool structures. At the same time I longed for another nalbinding project and knew a nalbinding hat would be the perfect candidate. I decided to make the hat a swim cap for my daily cold baths.

I made me the loveliest swim cap for cold baths. It’s not that cold yet, though, 11°C in both air and water this week when I took the picture.

Back and forth

I used wool from Elsa the Gestrike sheep for this yarn. While I wanted to make the hat I also wanted the process to be sweet and grounding. I decided to card, spin and ply one spindleful at a time and nalbind that little ball of yarn until I had to spin another ball. It became sort of an explorative process where I also got the chance to test the quality of the spun yarn in my nalbinding and get instant feedback that I could loop back into the spinning of the next ball of yarn. The approach thus became a dynamic dance back and forth in the steps of the process, an empirical exploration of a new course of action and an evaluation of the yarn. The method was quite satisfying!

Sweet rolags make the foundation of my woolen spun yarn.

You can read more about this method in a previous post about the making of the hat and a pair of mittens, and also in a blog post about the making of my Moroccan snow shoveling pants that were made with the same approach.

Safety hat

During the spring we slowly went back to working at the office after the pandemic. I thrived when working full time from home and was quite stressed about having to go back, even if I would still be able to work fifty percent from home. When going back to the office I knew I needed a coffee break project to breathe myself through the noise and crowdedness at the office.

Nalbinding was the perfect safety blanket project, or rather safety hat. With nalbinding I always feel very safe – I think it has something to do with the grip of the project. I spun a ball at home and nalbound at work through late winter and spring.

The nalbinding has also been with me on the train to Austria and in the car to my aunt’s funeral. I have bound lots of memories and experiences into this hat.

A hat guide

I tried a new to me stitch for this project, the Oulu stitch. It’s a stitch in the Russian stitch family and quite like the Dalby stitch which I have used for several projects. They both create a structure with yarn in different directions, making the fabric dense and warm.

As I have never nalbound a hat before I used the hat guide Mervi Pasanen’s lovely book With one needle to help me with the shape and size.

From the book I also learned a new way to end a project. Nalbinding is usually done in a spiral. I started at the tip of the hat and increased in a certain pattern until I reached the finished size. Usually I try to make the stitches smaller and smaller, thus creating an even-ish edge. But the suggestion in the book was to continue the spiral on the back of the project, creating the tiniest wrap. I am really pleased with this neat solution.

Waulking

While nalbinding in its criss-cross nature is very hard-wearing and wind proof, these characteristics will get a boost from waulking. The material gets denser, warmer and more protecting against the wind and the cold.

Also, any management of a yarn with kemp in it will little by little push the quirky fibers out, making the resulting yarn or fabric warmer (since the escaped kemp fibers leave air pockets) and softer. I saved the kemp fibers that worked their way out of the hat in the waulking and got quite an impressive little ball of kemp. In the before and after pictures above there is a difference in the shade of the grey, which may partly have to do with the difference in kemp.

Waulking a project is always an adventure. I know by now that nalbinding shrinks mainly widthwise and very little lengthwise. So whenever I nalbind I make the proportions to fit that rule of thumb – a pair of mittens will be a lot wider than my hands but not very much longer. Still, waulking a project takes lots of testing and fine-tuning. I had imagined a steeper tapering of the tip, but I still like the resulting shape of it.

Påsöm embroidery

I planned the flower composition on my påsöm embroidery wool journey earlier this autumn. The most important thing really was to find a way to transfer the flower pattern to the very fuzzy waulked surface. I found a pen that worked okay, but still way better than anything I had tried before.

It was quite interesting to work the pattern in the three dimensional canvas that a hat is. I have always been biased to bias in hats – a biased brim, pattern or shape, just because why not. I decided to go for that with the hat too, in both the placement of the pattern, the direction of the stem and the asymmetry of the hat (or rather the tip hanging to one side).

The flower arrangement starts with a center dahlia (with the center on the right side of my head) from which one stem winds out to either side, ending on the left side with a green leaf. Another stem winds upwards and spirals around the tip of the hat with smaller flowers.

A sweet swim cap

Even if it’s not particularly cold in either air or water yet, I have of course tried using my sweet swim cap in my dips in the lake. The hat is very warm and cozy and the tassel keeps dangling just above the water surface. I am really looking forward to colder days with some ice. I think the hat will do an excellent work even at -18°C like we had a couple of times last winter.

A hat may be finished, but as always it’s so much more than a hat. It’s a part of a sweet dance, a safety blanket, an explo(ra)tion in colour and design and the result of many hours of just hanging out with wool.

Resources

As I posted a sneak preview of today’s post yesterday a couple of people mentioned having started to learn to nalbind bot never got much further. While this post doesn’t give you much of guidance to nalbinding I have put together a list of nalbinding resources for you.

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 missanything!
  • 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 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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.

A day with the great wheel

Last Sunday I revisited Vallby open air museum to spin in public on their great wheel. My friend Cecilia and I got to dress in historical costume and spend a day with the great wheel.

If you want to see me spinning on the great wheel at Vallby open air museum, there is a video I recorded in 2020. It’s available in English and in Swedish.

Normally the great wheel at Vallby open air museum lives in the manor hall. For this occasion though, the 100th anniversary of the museum, we took the wheel outside and spun on the yard outside the museum farmhouse. It was a sunny day and perfect for spinning outdoors. We shared the yard with the flax processing team.

Wool prep prep

First things first, though. For great wheel spinning you need carded rolags. I always tease my wool before carding and I want the preparation to be fresh. To be able to spin for as long as possible on the great wheel I wanted to tease the wool at home before the event at Vallby so that I only had the carding to do once there.

What’s better finull teasing company than a bit of Austen?

I used Swedish finull wool from the silver medalist (at the Swedish wool championships 2020) Nypon (Rosehip), a sheep who lives at the Glada fåret sheep farm not far from the museum. Finull wool is very fine, very crimpy and very shiny. Usually I tease finull wool with a flick carder to get rid of any brittle tips. But this fleece was in exceptional condition and the tips were strong enough to tease with combs. Here is a video where I tease wool with combs.

Costume

My friend Cecilia is a volunteer at Vallby and she invited me to spin on the great wheel. The volunteers at Vallby wear historical costumes and I was thrilled to get the opportunity to dive into their costume chamber and pick something suitable for the task and the time. I’m very fascinated with all the layers and functions of costumes from this time.

I picked out a very comfortable linen shift, wool skirt and a bodice. To that of course an apron, a neckerchief and a cap. And, of course a pocket. They have lots of pockets at the museum, but I chose my own linen pocket.

Cecilia was dressed in basically the same parts. She had prepared the wheel at the museum that morning so when she picked me up at the train station she was already in character. It was such a joy to see her rushing through the busy waiting hall like a whirlwind with her 18th century flowing around her.

Bosom friends

Cecilia is my second cousin on my only Swedish family line. We met just a few years ago for the first time in decades, and instantly became close friends. A year ago I made Ceciliaand myself a bosom friend that Spin-Off later published as a pattern in the spring issue 2022, Cecilia’s bosom friend. The bosom friends were a natural choice to wear with our costumes and perfect for a slightly chilly September morning.

My friend and cousin Cecilia and I as 18th century women. Photo by Ulla Blomqvist.

I think we look absolutely smashing! Although I do have a problem with the cap. I call it the humiliation cap. It is very lovely, but I feel like a baby when I wear it. But, it was the high fashion at the time and probably outrageous to walk around without it.

Cecilia knows her way around at Vallby open air museum, from where the cuddliest cats live to how to carry a great wheel in and out of buildings with low doorways and high thresholds, capacities that are more useful than you may think.

You can read more about my friendship with Cecilia in the fall 2020 issue of Spin-Off magazine.

Carding

Once we had got our gear together and found a spot to set up camp I started to card my teased wool. It was such a precious moment to sit there on the warm steps by the barn wall in the September light, surrounded by wool and spinning tools in baskets and a great wheel that I had been especially invited to use. What a treat!

I’m carding rolags from teased Swedish finull wool before I start spinning on the great wheel. Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

I used my 108 tpi Finnish cards. They are truly lovely to card with. I am still learning the technique and it’s a joy to be able to focus on the technique.

Spinning

Spinning on a great wheel is like a choreographed dance. There are lots of factors to keep track on – holding the rolag, a stepping sequence, the changes of angles, turning the wheel and coordinating it all together with just the right amount of fiber release. It may look breezy, but I can assure you my brain was near boiling from all the concentration and coordination.

There is also an age factor to juggle with. The great wheel is antique and has its own mind. The spindle is wobbly and I need to take that into account when I make the draw. The leather straps that hold the spindle in place are old and dry. Cecilia changed them temporarily to straps in fresh leather for the occasion. The tensioning of the drive band is a little cranky and needs to be tightened often.

I managed to get one cop very symmetrical and even. Shortly after this photo was taken it collapsed, though and barfed out its innards at the tip end. Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

All of these factors come into the equation when I spin. As I am a beginner with a great wheel It took a while before I understood what was my beginner’s hand and what was the charm of an antique tool.

Still, yarn was made and people enjoyed themselves. Especially Cecilia and I, but hopefully also some visitors.

You can read more about the great wheel in an earlier post.

Meet and greet

Lots of visitors stopped and watched us at our 18th century corner of the farm yard. Some asked questions, some told sweet childhood memories of grannies carding and spinning by the fireplace. Some just watched and smiled in the pale September sun.

Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

It was such a joy to talk to the visitors, hear their stories and tell them a bit of spinning history when they asked about the wheel, the technique and the time.

Our day with the great wheel was a sweet joy and a success. Thank you Vallby outdoor museum for having me! I hope to be invited again.

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 missanything!
  • 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 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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.

A spindle a day 3

As I wrote in my previous post I have spent this week at Sätergläntan craft education center, teaching a five-day course where I teach four different spindle types and wool processing by hand. Today I invite you to a sneak peak of the course A spindle a day 3.

Sätergläntan is a place vibrant with crafting hands and crafting hearts. It is such a beautiful environment to be in, where every corner of every room and every mind is sloyd.

80 students were at Sätergläntan this week, learning shrink pots, forging, embroidery on wool, felted images, folk costume dresses, forging and, of course, spindle spinning. All wearing their best visually mended, knit, embroidered and patchworked clothing.

On my way to the train station with four spindle types, wool and tools for twelve students plus my own packing.

There is always some excitement before a course, especially a longer course like this one. What level are the students at? What are their learning styles? How will the group work together? Will I be able to find all the students at their level and their pace?

Beginners

I knew the course was full – twelve students. I haven’t had such a large group before, but with five days together it’s easier to give individual guidance to the students than on a one- or two-day course. Usually my courses are aimed at intermediate to experienced spinners. This one is too, but I open up for beginners too.

As it turned out, most of the students in this course were beginners and some hadn’t ever held a spinning tool in their hands before. This is a big challenge for me since I am used to my students having basic knowledge about wool and some spinning vocabulary. I’m always a little scared to have beginners in my courses because I fear I won’t have the tools to find them at their level. But then again, it’s by practicing I will find and refine my tools. With a class of twelve with lots of beginners and no intermediates I will hopefully get a lot of practice.

I’m demonstrating how I spin on the floor spindle (screen shot from video).

I want to find the students at their level, I want to speak their individual language of learning, catch them there and guide them to their own discoveries. I want them to have their aha-moments, to find the missing link and see, feel and be proud of what they have learned.

Day 1: Wool preparation and suspended spindles

Day 1 was all about wool preparation and suspended spindle spinning. The students have teased, carded and combed and made lots of progress. There has been lots of frustration but also happy cries when the body has understood in practice what the mind has accepted in theory.

As a teacher I try to emphasize what they have actually learned when they are frustrated about a step they have trouble taking. I always encourage my students to place their rolags and yarns on the floor in front of them so they can see their progress over time even if they don’t always see it in the moment. And they do see that there is a vast difference between the first and the latest rolag or the first and the latest ball of yarn.

The twist model

The first thing I talked about before we started spinning on suspended spindles was the twist model. In short, the twist model is about where between no twist at all and very much twist the spinner can find an amount of twist where there is enough twist for the fibers to slide past each other without coming apart. I call this the point of twist engagement.

Finding the point of twist engagement is to me essential to understanding twist and spinning. With the students’ newborn rolags and the twist model in their mind there were some first precious aha-moments in rolag carding, opening up the twist and finding the point of twist engagement.

Switching hands

Another concept I work with already from the beginning with my students is switching hands. I always encourage them to learn to use both hands as spinning hands and both hands as fiber hands. To prevents strained shoulders and to help them understand both hand roles from the perspective of both hands. And they all do it. Not always enthusiastically, but they do it and see the benefits of it.

Check out my free five-day challenge Hands on where I encourage you to switch hands and get acquainted with the roles of the hands.

Day 2: Floor spindle

On day 2 we dived into floor spindles. Here their rolags are really put to the test – spinning on a floor spindle brutally reveals any uneven rolags and the students get an understanding of what in the wool preparation process – teasing, carding or rolag shaping – that needs adjusting.

Floor spindles by Björn Peck.

With the floor spindle we practice longdraws. The long draw a spinner can make on a floor spindle are longer than on a spinning wheel – the yarn can go from the spindle shaft on one side of the body, across the torso and out in the hand of the outstretched arm on the other side of the body.

Students that on the day before have had a hard time finding and working with the point of twist engagement with the suspended spindle have understood it with a lot of joy today with the floor spindle. And who, when, going back to the suspended spindle, suddenly have come past their struggle. This really warms my wooly teaching heart.

Day 3: In-hand spindle

This is the third time I teach the A spindle a day five-day course. I know that the students usually are very tired and sometimes a bit overwhelmed on day 3, which is also the day of the most complicated spindle type: In-hand spindle with a distaff. That in combination with the large proportion of beginners made me a bit nervous. Would I be able to give them the sense of accomplishment?

I didn’t have to worry. They were working very independently by now. They analyzed, experimented and were dedicated to understanding what went wrong and why. And after just an hour or so all of them were spinning with their in-hand spindles and distaffs. I was amazed at all they had learned so far and at how they used their knowledge to understand new tools and techniques. I didn’t even have to tell them to switch hands, they did that automatically.

Day 4: Supported spindle

When I teach supported spindle spinning isolated I usually do it slowly in a step-by-step fashion. In the A spindle a day course though, the students have successively learned all the components of the technique and already know about changing the angle, opening up the twist and working with upper and lower cop. It’s just a matter of getting to know the tool and transfer the technique to a new context.

Björn Peck’s beautiful supported spindles spin like rockets.

This course was no different. Even if they were intimidated by the small motor movement and the speed of the spindles, they quite quickly got the hang of the tool and the technique and spun away happily.

Narrative spinning

At this stage, on day four, they had got to know each other and we did an exercise I call narrative spinning. This is when they sit in pairs and one students spins and tells the other what is happening in the spinning, why it is happening, what they are doing and why they are doing it. The other student listens and asks constructive questions. By narrating their spinning they put words on what may be difficult to grasp. The one listening gets inspiration from a fellow student. I was given this exercise when I was learning to drive and it always works very well in spinning courses when the students have gotten to know each other a bit.

Evenings

The students line up their precious yarn balls by one of the floor looms.

When class is dismissed for the day the students stay in the classroom and practice and/or prepare for tomorrow’s class. So much happens in these evening sessions. Hearty conversation and usually lots of progress without the teacher bothering them with questions and ideas. I’m usually still in the classroom (blogging), but I try not to bother them.

Day 5: Wool tasting and spinning meditation

Day 5 is only half a day so I don’t introduce a new spindle type this day. Instead I offer them a chance to understand how much they have actually learned, by hosting a wool tasting. In the wool tasting they get to try wool from five different breeds that they haven’t worked with before. On this A spindle a day 3 they got a brown silver medal winning Helsinge wool, chocolate brown alpaca, black Klövsjö wool with subtle silver sparkle, white silver medal winning finull wool and light grey and unusually soft gute wool.

Their task is to, for fifteen minutes per breed, prepare and spin the wool and reflect over the wool, technique and choices they make during the process. After the fifteen minutes have passed they get the next wool. We do this in silence so that they can focus on their process.

Apart from working with new wools and using what they have learned in the course, they get the chance to, in a short time, make decisions about preparation and technique without over thinking things. The students usually love this exercise and they get to go back home with the form they fill in, showing all they have learned.

The wool tasting is done in silence for 5 x 15 minutes. I love this part of the course, where I can sit and watch the students work – how they make decisions and work with the wool with the tools and techniques they have got acquainted with during the course.

Spinning meditation

The very last thing we did was a spinning meditation. I guide the students through spinning in mindfulness and without prestige. Towards the end of the meditation I encourage them to close their eyes and feel their way in the spinning. And most of them did, surprised at how much they could actually feel in a situation where they usually relied on their vision.

The wool tasting form was their diploma of what they had learned and the spinning meditation an extra treat for them to reflect over and be proud of how much they had learned.


I’m finishing this blog post on the train back home to Stockholm. I’m going home with a lighter suitcase, many insights, and a warm heart, thrilled over what I have learned and of having been able to guide my students down a new rabbit hole. I hope to come back next summer.

Thank you M, L, S, E-B, E, A, C, L, M-L, H and K for letting me guide you through wool, tools and techniques. Thank you for lots of laughs, many insights and sweet conversations. A special thought goes to M who turned ill and couldn’t make it to the course.

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 missanything!
  • 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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.

Nettle processing

Last summer I picked some stinging nettles (urticaria dioica) and dew retted them together with my flax harvest. Just as with my tiny flax patch I wanted to experiment with nettles and see what I could find. Today I share my nettle processing and thoughts.

Everything I have done in this experiment has been just that – an experiment and something to relate to in later nettle experiments. This is my only experience with nettles and I can’t tell the cause of different outcomes, only speculate. I can just observe and learn. And there is a beauty in that.

Dew retted

When the flowers had almost finished flowering I picked my first nettles. This was in the end of July. I picked the tallest ones without side shoots and stripped the leaves off. I dried them in tent-line shapes, just like the flax and dew retted later in the autumn. The nettles required a little longer retting period than the approximately 20 days I aim for with flax.

Dew retted (left) and root retted nettle stems. The dew retted stems have the typical spotted look just like dew retted flax.

With no previous experience with nettle retting I wasn’t sure what level of retting was enough. In hindsight I realize that I should have retted a bit longer for a better result.

Root retted

I also read that I could use root retted nettles. That is, nettles that had retted on their growth place over the winter. Harvest day was a sunny day in February, not long before the new shoots would appear.

I felt so good about walking out to one of the spots I had looked out during the summer and harvest what no one would look twice at, just a bundle of last year’s decay.

I am really fascinated by the root retting option. Nature is brilliant in so many ways! I just picked what nature had left to die in its natural cycle and I rescued 60 or so of the still standing stems. I did pick some that had fallen too but they had overretted and were of no use for fiber.

Breaking

A couple of weeks ago I decided to break my nettle stems. I had read about baking the nettle first to make it easier for the fibers to loosen from the core. Heat was the issue here, and I decided to place my nettle stems in my mini greenhouse for a couple of hours on a sunny day.

As I took the two bundles outside the difference between them struck me. The dew retted looked just like that – dew retted, with the dark spots that are typical for dew retted flax. The root retted nettles on the other hand had an even reddish brown colour. As I peeled off some fibers the dew retted were shiny and strong and the root retted matte and somewhat weaker, at least in the samples I tried.

Dew retted (left) and root retted (right) nettle fibers after a turn in the flax break.

I knew nettle processing would be a lot more labour intensive than the already labour intensive flax processing and I was not wrong. Aside from nettles being fewer and harder to hunt the stems are longer and harder to break. Still there was a moment of magic as I started breaking my dry stems: I could actually see fibers!

Scutching

There was a lot of boon (the woody parts) entangled in the fibers and I wondered if I would have to pick them out one by one.

As I had finished breaking both bundles I scutched them. A lot of boon fell out but there was very much left in the fibers. Then I remembered something I saw in a video with Allan Brown – he rubbed the fibers between his hands. This would create heat and make the boon be easier to remove.

Root retted (top) and dew retted (bottom) after scutching and rubbing.

And that is just what happened – a lot of the boon fell out of the preparation as I rubbed the stricks between my palms. The fibers also got a bit softer.

Hackling

I used my rough and fine hackles in the hackling stage of the process. This part was also quite labour intensive – there was more boon and in bigger parts than in flax. I also got more convinced about my theory about the underretted dew retted nettle stems – there was more waste in the dew retted strick than in the root retted strick.

After the fine hackling the fibers were aligned and detangled. I still wasn’t completely happy with them, though. A lot of the fibers were still bundled together, making them coarse. As I hackled the fibers I saw sweet tufts of super soft but very short fibers. I wanted to incorporate these in the yarn. So I saved what soft tufts I could find and kept thinking how to get more of that softness.

Rubbing and scraping

Since the rubbing had worked after the scutching I kept rubbing the now hackled stricks to soften them. I took a small bundle of fiber and rubbed it for about twenty minutes and went on to the next bundle.

The warmth and the agitation did help a lot with the softness, but there was still bark left. I re-watched a clip with Allan Brown again. He used a blunt knife to scrape off the bark, which I tried too. It worked and some more of it came off.

Broken, scutched, rough hackled, fine hackled, rubbed and scraped nettle fibers, root retted (left and middle) and dew retted (right).

As you can see in all the pictures there is at least double the amount of root retted nettle fiber. There may have been a little more to start with, but not much. I withhold my theory of the underretted dew retted nettles. The boon and bark feel more strongly attached to the fibers than those of the root retted fibers. More of the dew retted fibers thus break and I need to manually remove more cellulose bits.

Carding

I used a pair of fine (108 tip) cards to card the nettle fibers. This separated a lot of the fibers that had been glued together by the bark. Most of the fibers in my carded rolags were now shorter but soft, fine and ready to spin!

A note on spinning

I have spun and plied the dew retted fibers and begun spinning the root retted. The fibers are very fine and short so I need to keep my eye on the drafting and quite a lot of twist. I’m spinning a very fine yarn on a 10 gram cross-armed spindle.

The fibers feel quite dry but still work well to spin. I need to focus, though. I still feel some coarseness but seeing the transformation in the fibers through rubbing and agitating the fibers I am convinced that I can soften them even more with more rubbing after plying.

After having read up on finishing nettle yarn I have decided to treat it the same way I do my flax yarns – hot water, soda ash and soap. And then perhaps some more rubbing.

My plan is to weave a narrow band on a backstrap loom.

An accessible fiber

While nettle processing is very time consuming and labour intensive it is possible to spin it. And the more time and dedication you invest in it the bigger the chance to get a soft yarn and textile. And it works. Even with less work I will get a yarn that is usable for something.

2-plied yarn from dew retted nettles.

The sweet thing about nettles is that it is accessible. With no sheep and no ground to grow flax in you can always go out and look for nettles. And if you don’t want to take the nurseries from the small tortoiseshell or other butterflies or fertilization material from your garden you can even pick them in the winter. So go out and gather your nettles! Either when they are ready to pick fresh for dew retting (check resources below for further reading about what to look for) or when they have root retted in late winter.

Resources:

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 missanything!
  • 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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.

Rya bench pad

Today is my husband’s 50th birthday. I have planned his birthday present as part two of a stwo-stage process of for over 2 years. This is the story of a rya bench pad.

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon a book that fascinated me, Hammare och spik (Hammer and nail, also available in English) by Erik Eje Almqvist. The book builds on Enzo Mari’s idea of functional furniture with right angles that anyone can build. The book contains descriptions of stools, chairs, benches, tables, shelves and more that are based on standard Swedish timber measurements. You can read more about the bench here.

A rya bench pad is finally finished!

A garden bench

I really wanted to build something from the book, and for Dan’s 49th birthday last midsummer I managed to build him a lovely park bench (he calls her Judi by the way, Judi Bench, a dame).

We have spent many lovely meals sitting on the bench. During the summer we also painted a couple of coats of roslagsmahogny (a mix of pine tar, linseed oil and turpentine) to protect it.

As I secretly planned the making of the bench I jumped one step ahead and came up with an even more secret idea: I was going to weave a bench pad for his 50th birthday. And I wanted to weave it with rya knots.

Rya yarn for rya knots in a rya bench pad

I had the perfect candidate for the yarn. At the Swedish fleece championships 2020 I bought one of the silver medalist, a strong and shiny white rya fleece. My plan for it was just that, to spin a yarn for rya knots for some project. And now I knew what the project would be. I have woven rya chair pads before, but never with a yarn that I had spun for that particular purpose, only with stashed yarn.

I tried to read up on rya knot yarn but I didn’t find very much. There are lots of rya textiles in the digital museums and books about the history of rya yarn, but not very much of the spinning technique or the preparation. Many of the antique ryas seem to have a low spinning twist and a high plying twist in combination with a light fulling, so I incorporated that into my plan. And since I knew that a rya textile weighs a lot I decided to card the wool and spin it woolen. A combed and worsted spun wool is denser and would therefore require more wool and weigh more. Since rya wool usually has an exceptional shine I knew I would still get the shine even if I spun the yarn woolen.

You can read more about the intriguing history of rya rugs and their influence on rya sheep and Swedish landrace breeding in my blog post about rya wool.

Vävstuga

I don’t have a floor loom, nor do I have the skills to use one. Instead I weave on a rigid heddle loom or a backstrap loom. I do this at home, but for this project to remain a secret I needed to weave somewhere else. Luckily I am a member of the local vävstuga. A vävstuga is a weaving room with access to looms and weaving equipment. In my vävstuga, just a few hundred meters from our house, there are six floor looms, lots of equipment and skilled weavers who can lead me in the right direction when I am lost.

Every now and then I brought my loom to the vävstuga and I have been visiting it a few times a week when I officially was “out for a walk” or when Dan was out of the house. These moments were not very many, I have been able to weave only a couple of hours a week between early March and mid-June.

Warp and weft

I spun the yarn especially for the rya knots in this project. The warp and the weft are stashed and/or frogged handspun yarns. Oh, the joy of destashing my handspuns! I feel so much lighter now.

The main colour warp yarn is a 2-ply shetland yarn that was hibernating as a pair of half-knit bloomers that didn’t really sing to me. I frogged the project and soaked the yarn and it was fit to use as warp yarn. The stripes and the weft yarns are miscellaneous white and light grey odd skeins of singles that I have plied.

To knot or not to knot

I spun the rya yarns in February and March. Once the whole 1.5 kg rya fleece was spun I warped in the vävstuga and wove the border. I had brought a bread board to wrap the knot yarn around to be able to pre-cut the knots in equal lengths. I decided to go with 11 cm per knot with the yarn held double. The fold makes a sweet loop at the end and I think it brings extra life and character to the rya structure.

I tied the knot over three warp threads and skipped one warp thread between knots. After one row of knots I made three shuttlings with the weft yarn (Stashed yarn from Norwegian NKS wool). You can read more about how I have knotted my rya knots here.

Play

One of the benefits of working with stashed yarns is the opportunity it presents to play. The warp is my canvas and the knots my watercolours. The sweet bonus is that I can paint the smooth side of the project too.

And that’s one of the beauties of a rya, you can choose which side you want facing. In the beginning (ryas have been used since probably the late 13th century in Sweden) were used as bed covers with the pile down against the person sleeping under it and the smooth side as the “public” side.

Stripes!

I played a lot with stripes in this project. A rya has two sides, one piled and one smooth. None of them is the right or wrong sides.

I decided on white-ish stripes for the warp, just because I wanted to. My stash contained a lot of natural colour handspun yarn and wanted to use them organized despite them all being odd yarns from my handspun stash. I went for white as a main colour weft yarn with light grey stripes. So the smooth side is basically checkered.

The smooth side has an interesting pattern.

I went for stripes in the rya knots too, in light and medium grey. This gave a third dimension on the smooth side, with both the colour and the knotted fashion of the rya yarn. It looks like a fancy binding but it’s just the result of the knots giving the warp thread bundles a bit of a waist. Still, it’s just a tabby weave.

Twist and knot direction

Just for fun I spun the white and gray yarns in different directions. I figured it wouldn’t hurt, and perhaps the light would be reflected differently on the white and grey areas or the piled texture would get more life.

Different spinning and folding directions in the rya yarns.

I also knotted the white and grey pile differently – the white with the fold to the right and the greys with the fold to the left. I’m not sure it makes any difference, but I wanted to explore these aspects.

Watercolour painting

The most fun part was using the individual knots pretty much like water colours on a canvas. With a rya I have the opportunity to pick the colours (and of course textures, materials etc) any way I like to create a pattern or image. I decided to play with the light and dark greys.

In the beginning of the weave, let’s call it the bottom, I used only the dark grey yarn. For every stripe I wove I added some of the lighter grey from the right. At the top there were almost only light grey yarn. If you look at the rya from above you can se the subtle change from darker to the lighter grey. like the sun’s journey across the sky leaving a shadow spectrum over the rya bench pad in the course of the day.

Cutting the warp was really scary, but I did it and the finished weave looked lovely. The edges were reasonably even and there was less bubbles than I had expected (since there was a difference in elasticity in the white and grey warp yarns). No warp threads were broken and the weaving had gone very smoothly after all.

An embroidery to match the rya bench pad with the bench.

The last thing I did with the rya bench pad was to hem the warp edges and make an embroidery on the smooth side.

Time

Making a rya takes a lo-ho-hot of time. Mine is small, only 42×160 centimeters. The older ryas that were used as a bed cover would be close to ten times that size. I am in awe of anyone who has put so much time, love and skill in a project. But it was also necessary for staying warm and alive.

There is nothing I can do to speed the process up. The knots need time and that is what I have to give them. Even if I have been stressed in finding time to come to the weaving room nothing can rush me once I’m there. I’m just in the rya with the knots, once again feeling every fiber through my hands.

And that’s what crafting does to me. It’s there and it won’t be rushed. When I’m stressed crafting is one of the things that grounds me and gives me time to breathe, listen and just be.

Building the bench

The bench may look like a large project, but it didn’t take that much time. Buying the timber, getting it home and into the storage room, building and drilling holes for the graffiti took about 16 hours.

Weaving the bench pad

The bench pad is a whole different story, though.

The spinning of the rya yarn took, roughly calculated, 25 hours. One skein took about 2.5 hours (teasing, carding, spinning, plying) plus approximately 2 hours sorting and washing etc.

One report of weaving 7.5 minutes. That’s 7.5 rows per hour, so approximately 30 hours for weaving. Plus approximate spinning time for stashed yarns, let’s add another 10 hours for that. I would say, roughly calculated, 70 hours in total for spinning, warping, weaving, knotting and finishing. Now I am quite finished.

The bench pad is 160 cm long and 42 cm wide. There are 214 rows of rya knots that’s 4600 knots in total.

I used 506 meters (500 grams) of knot yarn. The total weight of the rya is 750 grams. And there are still 9 skeins of the white rya yarn left. Perhaps I will weave another rya, this time as a pillowcase for the sofa.

Gotta go, I have birthday cake to eat. I will sit on the bench pad with a ridiculously proud smile on my face.

750 grams and 4600 knots in a rya bench pad.

P.S. If you are (or become) a patron you will have access to my monthly digital postcards. The March and June postcards were secretly shot in the vävstuga as I made the rya.

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 missanything!
  • 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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.

Reciprocity

Reciprocity: from the Latin word reciprocus, meaning ‘moving backwards and forwards’. I buy wool, worth so much more and on a completely different scale than the money I paid for it. A gift from the sheep. I give back in the skill and love I invest in working with it from fleece to textile.

When I see a fleece I see a gift. Even if I have bought the wool for money there is something more, something bigger than a monetary value in the material. A sheep farmer tended the sheep and the pastures. The sheep managed the landscape and grew the wool. These are gifts that work in a dimension way above and beyond money.

I reflect today on reciprocity. On the sharing of gifts that go backwards and forwards in a slow, sweet and ongoing dance between the souls who once took a first step to the beat of the sharing of gifts.

The gifts of wool

There are so many gifts in the wool. Gifts that come sweetly packed in curls and waves. And, if you look close enough, layers and layers of gifts as you peel them off humbly, slowly and mindfully.

Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in her beautiful and important book Braiding Sweetgrass:

“Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart.”

I do my best to listen to the wool with open eyes and an open heart while also reflecting over this on the blog and when I teach spinning and wool handling. I’m forever grateful for the wisdom of book, what it has taught me and what it keeps teaching me as long as I pay attention and listen. Read this book. It has helped me understand so much more and on a much deeper level about the relationships we have with each other and with nature.

The gift of wool in itself

The first and perhaps the most obvious gift is the wool in itself – an exquisite material that will keep me and my loved ones warm and safe. A material that has so many superpowers and so many manifestations as finished textiles.

My very first skein of handspun yarn. Fine finull lamb's wool, hand carded on rusty cards and plied with some fawn alpaca since I didn't have enough fleece.
My very first skein of handspun yarn. Fine finull lamb’s wool, hand carded on rusty cards and plied with some fawn alpaca since I didn’t have enough fleece.

I’m grateful for that first spinning lesson almost ten years ago when I got a box of just-shorn finull wool in my lap, a spindle and a pair of handcards. Back then I didn’t understand the greatness of this single moment, but I think about it often, smiling in my heart at what it has given me.

The gift of characteristics

The characteristics of each individual fleece, whether it’s the shine, the softness the strength or the colour, are all a gift. Every characteristic is something I can work with and learn from. From all the gifts I get from the characteristics of the fleece I want to give back by making the most of them, by making them shine in the yarn and allow the soul of the fleece to sparkle.

The gift of learning

By exploring the wool as I work with it through every step from raw fleece to a finished yarn or textile I learn what it is about, what its strengths are and how I can work with it to honur the sheep that gave me its wool.

Carding the wool by hand gives me the opportunity to listen to it. If I pay attention I will hear it whisper to me how it works and how it likes to be treated.

As I tease the wool I learn about the elasticity and viscosity of the wool. As I card or comb I learn about the length of the fibers and how they relate to each other. When I spin I experience the elasticity, viscosity, length and relationships again, confirming my previously gained knowledge, provided I have listen well enough. In knitting, weaving or whatever technique I use, I learn how the yarn behaves as a material in its new shape. The things I learn I pay forward in courses and blog posts to my students and supporters.

The gift of the craft

I have learned so much about spinning and wool handling since that first day when I got the box of finull wool in my lap. Yet I know I have so much more to learn. The aim of my first yarn was to spin a Z-plied yarn for two-end knitting. While I did manage to spin S and ply Z the yarn was not fit to use for anything really. I had the naïve idea that I would be able to spin something that in both quality and quantity would be enough for a textile that I would want to wear.

Eventually I did spin my first yarn for two-end knitting, from that very first fleece. It was way underspun and way too soft. But I didn’t realize that back then, it dawned on me years later when I spun my third or fourth yarn for two-end knitting. Now, at my fifth or sixth two-end knitting yarn I still learn. How to process, spin, ply and sample to create a yarn I can use and enjoy. Regardless of whether I can actually use and enjoy it I know that I will learn from it.

Crafts leading to new crafts

The gift of the craft is also about having the fortune of actually knowing a craft, knowing how to keep me and my loved ones warm and safe.

After having learned to weave I have been able to improve my weaving yarns. For the gift of wool I give back by making the yarns sparkle. Outercoat fibers of Klövsjö and Härjedal wool spun worsted on a suspended spindle. Used in a backstrap woven bag (shown above). Photo by Dan Waltin.

By learning how to spin I have also visited other crafts. As my spinning journey developed I realized that I needed to learn how to weave to be able to spin a wider spectrum of yarns. Gifts of new crafts came. I am definitely still a beginner at weaving, but I still love all the weaving I can do. Learning how to weave has in turn taught me about how I want my weaving yarns.

The gift of the process

Mmm… the process. Not only the process from the newly shorn fleece through preparing, spinning, plying, finishing and making a textile, but the process in the hands and the brain during whatever step of the process I am enjoying right now. The process of mindfully picking lock by lock from the fleece, of dancing the teased wool through cards or combs and of feeding the yarn into the twist.

The gift of process, where I find a sense of balance in a space that is my own.

The process gives me the gift of space, balance, lightness and freedom, such precious gifts. When my hands and my brain are in the process my shoulders relax. I breathe slower and deeper. The wool enters my hands with the gift of touch, rhythm and ease. As a person living with chronic migraines the process gives me a moment of focus on something else than the vize-like pressure on my senses, a moment to breathe easier and be somewhere else than in the migraine.

When I am in the process I am in a room that is my own, where thoughts are welcome to come and go just as the fibers come and go. There is a sense of allowing, lightness and ease in my room. A sacred place where listening and kindness are keys. I like to think that being in my spinning process makes me a more balanced and humble person, gifts that I hope I am able to spread to the people around me.

The gift of mistakes

Sometimes I think I learn more from my mistakes than I do when everything runs smoothly. At least I learn more suddenly. I know by now that mistakes are good – by making a mistake and analyzing it I will hopefully learn – hands-on – why it happened and what I can do to avoid it the next time.

Every time I look at the mistake I will remember the circumstances around it. I embrace my mistakes and am thankful for them. Even if I may growl a bit when they happen I know I will have use for the experience sooner or later.

The gift of time

Time is an essential part of spinning. Not only the time it takes to actually spin enough yarn for a project, but also the time spent with the woo. The simpler the tools and setup the closer I come to the wool. The less of the mechanics that are in the tools the more the mechanics are in me. I become a part of the tool – I am the tool as I spin on spindles, I am the loom when I weave with a backstrap loom and I am the sewing machine when I hand stitch.

Combed Swedish Leicester wool spun on a suspended spindle into an embroidery yarn. The yarn got me a gold medal in the 2020 Swedish spinning championships. The yarn was part of my auction for Ukraine and now lives in Australia.

All these simple tools take time, but it is also time spent with the wool and with the techniques. This goes for the preparation of the wool too – I want to do all the steps myself and with hand tools, from sorting the wool through picking, teasing, processing and spinning. The time I spend with the wool through all the steps of the process is time and opportunity to listen to the wool and learn. Slow is a superpower and time spent with the wool a gift.

The gift beyond time

Spinning is a space for me, a sacred space beyond time. A space where I get to go with the flow of the fibers, listen to them to understand what steps to take next. In my spinning space I allow myself to just be with the wool and receive the reflections that gently glide through my mind, without expectations, without restrictions.

There is a dimension beyond time that is an extra precious gift, a sacred space where I am allowed to listen to the wool and just be. Photo by Dan Waltin

The gift beyond time is one that goes deeper than any of the other gifts I receive from spinning. I can’t pay back for this gift. But I can express my gratitude by gently dressing my reflections in the sweetest words I can think of and share them with the world.

Reciprocating the gifts

I want to reciprocate al these gifts through the time, skill and love I give back to the wool as I work with it from fleece to a finished yarn or textile. As part of a web of reciprocity it is my responsibility to pay back or forward for the gifts I receive. By being ever curious I want to find the superpowers of the wool and make it the star of the project I make. Even if I can’t give much more back to the sheep and the sheep farmer than my gratitude I can always give it forward by my presence in the wool, by listening to what it teaches me and by sharing my creative process with the world.

Backwards and forwards

I know my gifts will be returned to me or paid forward one way or another. Perhaps someone who reads what I do helps another spinner find a new perspective or listen to the wool. I will continue to return or pay the gifts offered to me forward. Reciprocity seems to work that way, like a dance you dance together, giving and receiving.

I write mindfully about the beautiful wool from Elsa the Gestrike sheep. When Elsa a few months later gives birth to two sweet black ewe lambs with white tufts on their foreheads I get the honour of naming them. I pick the names Barbro and Anita, after two of the women who back in the 1980’s and -90’s nurtured a couple of the oldest flocks of what later was established as Gestrike sheep. As a thank you to generations of sheep farmers I give back again to the sheep and the breed by naming the lambs after some of the pioneers.


Today is my 49th birthday. Perhaps writing this blog post is a part of a returning pre-birthday process of contemplating the years gone by and the years to come. I have an old wise woman deep inside and I’m very fond of her. As time goes by I like to think I’m getting closer to her. I do my best to treat her lovingly and respectfully. In return I will hopefully get some of her wisdom.

I receive so many gifts from you, all sweetly wrapped in kindness and experience. This post is a gift back. I’m so grateful for you all, for dancing to the beat of reciprocity and the sharing of gifts.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

dual coat

Many of the Swedish heritage breeds have dual coats, just like Icelandic sheep, Navajo Churro, Karakul, North Ronaldsay and some Shetland sheep. A dual coat has a combination of long and strong outercoat fibers and soft and airy undercoat fibers in the same staple. Today I dive into dual coats and reflect over how I work with these versatile fleeces.

Dual coats are common in primitive breeds, but not with all sheep of that breed and not necessarily consistently over the whole body of the sheep. Swedish heritage breeds like dalapäls, Värmland, Gestrike (featured image above), Klövsjö and Åsen sheep along with rya, gute and Åland sheep are all breeds that can have dual coats on parts or the whole of their fleeces.

Check out the linked breed study posts above to dive deeper into different ways I work with dual coats.

What is a dual coat?

Dual coats consist of long hairs, the outercoat (täckhår) and shorter wool, the undercoat (bottenull). These fiber types look very different and have different purposes. The long outercoat fibers are strong, often shiny and usually packed quite densely in the tips while the shorter undercoat fibers are soft, fine and airily distributed.

The purpose of the coats

The purpose of the outercoat on the sheep is to keep the sheep dry. When rain hits the fleece, the long and dense outercoat tails lead the rain drops away from the body of the sheep. The purpose of the undercoat is to keep the sheep warm. With its lofty distribution air comes in between the fibers and keeps the sheep warm.

In this Icelandic fleece it is easy to imagine the rain drops sliding on the dense outercoat tips out and away from the body of the sheep.

Kemp

In addition to undercoat and outercoat some fleeces have kemp. Kemp is a coarse hair fiber with a medulla, a core with air-filled cells, that takes up at least 60 per cent of the diameter of the fiber. Due to this wide medulla core the kemp fibers are brittle and short (because they break from being so brittle). They are usually white or black and don’t take dye. Kemp fibers are coarse, quirky and stick out of the yarn and usually fall out sooner or later. This is very evident when you prepare a fleece with kemp in it – the floor will be full of kemp that has fallen out of the fleece. Also when you full a garment knit with a yarn with kemp you will find lots of kemp fibers that have crept out of the textile in the agitation.

Fine undercoat fibers, coarser outercoat fibers and quirky kemp fibers in Gestrike wool.
Fine undercoat fibers, coarser outercoat fibers and quirky kemp fibers in Gestrike wool.

In a loupe image it’s possible to see the difference in diameter between undercoat, outercoat and kemp fibers.

Cooperation

The wool types on the sheep cooperate, all in an effort to keep the sheep dry and warm. The outercoat armours the undercoat so that the undercoat can stay airy and the outercoat can stay upright. The undercoat in turn form a fundament for the outercoat. Kemp fibers also help keeping the staple upright and airy so that the rain doesn’t get the sheep wet and cold.

Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep
The staples on Gunvor the Gestrike sheep stand out from her body, keeping rain and cold away.

Let the wool lead the way

When I spin a fleece, any fleece, I like to use the properties of the wool to make a garment that is for me what the fleece was to the sheep that once grew the wool. I let the characteristics of the wool lead the way as I prepare, spin and use it. With a dual coat there are so many ways I can do this and create a wide range of yarns from one single fleece.

Depending on the wool I have and what I have in mind for it I can choose to

  • Separate undercoat from outercoat and prepare the coats separately.
  • Semi-separate the coats. By this I mean that I remove some of one of the coats but not all. Or separate the coats and reintroduce a part of one of the coats to the other.
  • Prepare the coats together.
  • Spin from the lock.

Separating coats

There are different ways to separate the outercoat from the undercoat of a dual coat, depending on what tools you have available.

By hand

The easiest way is to use your hands and separate staple by staple. I hold the staple between my hands with the tip end in one hand and the cut end in the other. I pull gently and wiggle slightly until I feel the coats gliding in different directions. When I have separated the coats I can continue to prepare them separately.

With cards

If you have cards but no combs you can separate the coats with the cards. Place a staple with the cut end on the long edge of the card and push it lightly into the teeth with one hand. With the other hand, pull gently in the tip end until the coats separate. From here you can continue to prepare the coats separately.

With combs

My go-to way to separate coats is with combs. With the combs you can

  • tease both coats
  • separate the coats from each other
  • create a top from the outercoat fibers.

Usually I use my combing station but sometimes also with my mini combs. If possible, I use two-pitched combs. Two or more rows of teeth will hold on to the shorter fibers better than single pitched combs, keeping the undercoat in the combs as I doff off the outercoat.

To separate the coats with combs I then

  • find the cut ends of the staples
  • charge the comb by sliding the cut ends onto the teeth
  • keep as little of the staples as possible on the handle side of the comb
  • charge the comb with up to a third of the height of the tines
  • keep the combs perpendicular to each other and comb with the horizontal comb in a horizontal circular movement
  • change the orientation of the movement to a vertical circle when the first comb is empty
  • Work back and forth until the wool is fully separated.

The wool is now combed and the fibers evenly separated. All cut ends are in one end and the tip ends in the other. I like to stop at an odd number of passes. This way I pull the outercoat from the cut ends, which will generate a smoother drafting of the fibers.

The undercoat fibers stop before the outercoat fibers do. I grab the outercoat fibers outside of the place where the undercoat ends. I pull and wiggle lightly, carefully listening to the wool. When the fibers slide easier past each other I stop and make a new grip, closer to the undercoat fibers but without including them. To create a continuous top I keep pulling out the outercoat, changing my grip until I can’t get more outercoat fibers out of the comb. I even the top out by pre-drafting it lightly and wind it into a bird’s nest. When I pull the last part of the top from the comb I can either comb it together with a couple of more tops or start spinning straight away.

I pull the undercoat out of the comb perpendicular to the teeth. This way any nepps, vegetable matter and too short fibers stay in the combs and I can use this waste for mulching in the garden. The teased undercoat is now ready for further preparation.

You can read more about my favourite combs here.

Carding the undercoat

While the outercoat has been combed during the separation of the coats I have lovely little teased combfuls of undercoat that I usually card. You can read more about carding in this blog post.

I would typically spin the carded undercoat woolen for a soft and warm yarn and the outercoat worsted for a strong and shiny yarn to enhance their respective superpowers.

Semi-separating coats

One lovely thing about dual coats is the endless opportunities I have to customize the fiber type content and the yarn that I spin. Above I describe a complete or close to complete separation of the outercoat from the undercoat. But I can also choose to doff off only part of the outercoat to create a yarn that is soft from the undercoat but still has some strength and shine from the outercoat. I could also make a complete separation between the coats and then reintroduce some of one coat to the other. For example, I can make two sock yarns from one fleece. I the main sock yarn I may use both of the fiber types together, but add more of the outercoat for the heel and toe yarn.

Combing coats together

Combing the coats together will result in a yarn that is still strong but has some softness too. A yarn like this could be a good allround and durable yarn.

For keeping fiber types together I prefer single pitched combs. With only one row of teeth both undercoat and outercoat slide swiftly through the teeth for a nicely blended top. Up until I doff the wool off the comb I take the same steps as described above. When the fibers are separated I grab the wool a bit closer to the teeth to avoid getting only the outercoat. I pull and wiggle gently to make a long top from both undercoat and outercoat.

One challenge with combing the coats together is having one end of the top with mostly outercoat fibers and the other with mostly undercoat. To reduce this risk I can recomb the top. I put the combed wool back onto the comb in sections and recomb it for a couple of passes and then doff or diz it off again. You can read more about this process in my post Combing different fiber lengths.

Carding coats together

Just as I can comb both coats together I can card them together. This will create an airy allround yarn that still has some strength.

I always start by teasing the wool. This is to open up the fibers before carding to prevent strain in the fibers and in my body. You can read more about teasing here.

The different lengths in a dual coat marry well together in a carded rolag. Rya wool left and middle. The staple on the right is mohair that I added in this case for extra sock yarn strength.

But is it possible to card fibers in this length? When I card fibers that are perhaps 20 centimeters I always make sure they are accompanied by shorter fibers. In a combination of short, medium and long fibers the fibers sort of marry each other and create an airy rolag. A dual coat therefore usually works well to card since there are different lengths in the staples. The longest fibers will double around the rolag, but I don’t see that as a problem since there are so many other lengths that won’t.

Spinning from the lock

When I want to work with a very light preparation and as few tools as possible or to preserve a colour variegation I spin from the cut ends of lightly teased locks. I tease with my hands, cards, flicker or combs and spin. Drafting can be a bit of a challenge since the fibers are more densely packed than in a full separation. But the result is usually a beautifully raw yarn with lots of integrity. You can see an example of this and a method I played with in this post about Icelandic wool.

Colours

Many dual coats have different colours in the outercoat and undercoat. This presents a wonderful opportunity to play with the colours. If you for example separate the coats and spin a strong outercoat yarn and a soft undercoat yarn you can combine these in a weaving project. If you weave twill you would end up with one side with the strength of the outercoat warp in one colour and the other side with the softness of the undercoat in another. Just like the wool on the sheep, a soft undercoat layer to keep the body warm and a strong outercoat layer to keep the wet out. Allowing the coats to cooperate still after a long process from fleece to textile just warms my wooly heart endlessly.

A baby sample for a twill weave with separated undercoat and outercoat of the Gestrike sheep Elin.

A wide spinning spectrum

As you see, a dual coat is usually a very versatile fleece that you can prepare in a number of ways depending on the characteristics of the fleece and what projects you have in mind. With this wide spectrum of preparation techniques it is easy to see an equally wide spectrum of spinning opportunities. Add to that the additional possibilities to play with the natural colours of the fleece and different fiber qualities of lamb’s fleeces and adult fleeces. From the finest next to skin woolen lamb’s undercoat yarn to coarse and strong rug yarn. From baby clothes through shawls, mittens, socks, hats and sweaters to woven textiles for clothing, upholstery, tapestries and rugs. For a hand spinner a single dual coat is a treasure box with endless opportunities to make a wide variety of yarn and textile and honour the sheep that once grew the wool.

Read the Spring 2021 Double coated issue of PLY magazine. I’d packed with in-depth articles about dual coats.

I just love writing a blog post where I already have all the necessary photos from previous posts.

Happy spinning!


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Finnish hand cards

I continue my Eastward theme this week – today I present my Finnish hand cards. Curved, slender and lightweight. With 108 teeth per square inch they are the perfect candidates for fine wools. The most special thing about them is the leather carding pads, carefully nailed onto the cards as back in the 19th century.

A card story

A couple of years ago Barbro, a spinning friend of mine from Finland, asked in a spinning group if anyone would be interested in fine hand cards with leather carding pads. An acquaintance of her had found a woodworker who makes hand cards from recycled wood, similar to those that were common in Finland in the 19th century. They had also found a business that made leather pads. I had been looking for hand cards with leather pads for a while and not found any. I do have a couple of antique card pairs with leather pads, but they have been mistreated by people who don’t know the treasure antique hand cards are and were therefore not very fiber friendly. When Barbro presented this opportunity I was all ears and eager to try the Finnish leather cards.

Five months later the cards were available in the web shop. With Google Translate and lots of patience for interesting translations from Finnish (of which I only understand numbers from 1–5, Do not cover and a swearing word) I managed to order a pair of cards. 108 tpi and nailed leather pads. My heart sang as I received them another ten days later.

The cards can be purchased at Villa Laurila. Laurila is the name of a manor hall and Villa is the Finnish word for wool (adding to my list of Finnish words to recognize).

Finnish hand cards fun facts

There are lots of beautiful and well balanced details and features on the Finnish cards, some of which I haven’t worked with before.

Size

My Finnish cards are quite small, the smallest I have tried. I do like the size, they are lightweight – one card weighs only 205 grams, compared to my Kromski 108 tpi at 345 grams. I do love my Kromskis too, though. But especially considering the fineness of the wools I will be carding with these cards I think a lightweight card is preferable. I’m thinking the lightness will facilitate a lighter stroke and thereby be more gentle on the fine fibers.

The Finnish hand cards are considerably smaller and lighter (11×20 cm/205 g) than my Kromski cards (13×22 cm/345 g).

The handle is a lot smaller than my Kromskis and my hands enjoy the slender shape of the handle and the beeswax/linseed oil surface.

Details

Eventhough I know nothing about woodworking I can easily tell that these cards were made by a professional craftsperson. The way the paddle is inserted into the handle is just exquisite. The technique probably has an equally exquisite name.

When you buy the Finnish hand cards you can choose between nails and staples. To stay as close to the originals that inspired these cards I went with the nails option. Don’t they look just smashing?

Leather pads

The leather pads was the number one reason why I bought these cards. I have wanted a pair for so long but never found any. And these are beautiful. I love the framing strips of leather where the nails fasten the pads, such an elegant little log cabin corner.

Someone told me that leather pads are a bit sensitive to the wiggling of the teeth compared to modern foam pads. Therefore it is a good idea to mark and dedicate one card to one hand. I have written H for höger (right) and V for vänster (left) on mine. Hopefully I remember to check the letters before I start carding too.

Curved

The Finnish cards are curved, something that I’m not used to. Not that I don’t like curved hand cards, I just haven’t tried them before. I think the curve adds to the beauty of the cards as it fits very well with the bellied handle. However, with the curved design of the hand cards I gave myself a new challenge: Learning to card with curved cards.

Curved hand cards, a new challenge for me.

Carding

I have carded a lot through the years and I have found a technique that works for me. But it wasn’t there from the beginning. I have learned along the way and tried new angles, techniques and ergonomic tricks. One of my favourite help in this has been the video How to card wool: Four spinners, four techniques. In the video Rita Buchanan, Maggie Casey, Carol Rhoades and Norman Kennedy show their favourite ways to card. There is so much to learn in this video. It becomes very clear that so much is a matter of personal preference. The aim is the same – to align the fibers parallel and add air in between them, creating an evenly and airily arranged batt or rolag to spin from. But how you get there is your own journey.

After I had watched this video I picked my favourite tricks from all the spinners and composed my own carding repertoire. The most important thing to me is to create an airy rolag, even in shape and fiber distribution and without putting too much strain on me or the fibers.

Rock the wool

Even if I can transfer some of my methods from my flat card technique I can’t transfer all of it. So I had to relearn. As I was considering this I remembered the video. Rita Buchanan showed sort of a carding dance that gave her a lot of joy. This technique appealed to me and I watched the video again and started practicing. If you don’t have access to the video you can read about it and see a couple of illustrations here.

The technique she uses is a rocking motion. This is common for other curved cards techniques too, but in Rita’s technique (that she says she in turn probably learned from someone else) she changes the active hand (but not the positions of the hands) as the wool dances between the cards.

This is how I try to rock my wool in Rita Buchanan’s style:

I’m using Åland wool in the carding pictures. Before I card I always tease the wool. You can read more about teasing here. After that I dress the cards with the wool, leaving a one inch frame of the carding pad around the wool empty. This far I do the same as with flat cards.

  1. Top card active: With the top card (left hand in my case) I card with a rocking motion from above. My bottom card arm is locked by the side of my torso. Starting at the top end of the bottom card I card with 4 or 5 rocks up toward the handle side of the bottom card until I have transfered all the wool to the top card.
  2. Bottom card active: With the bottom card (right hand in my case) I card with a rocking motion from underneath. My top card arm is locked by the side of my torso. Starting at the top end of the top card I card with 4 or 5 rocks up toward the handle side of the top card until I have transfered all the wool to the bottom card.
  3. I repeat step 1 and 2 another turn and then lift the wool gently and roll it into a rolag with the support of my free hand.

At my Instagram highlights you can see a short video where I card Åland wool with this technique with my Finnish cards. Right after that there is another highlight sequence where I card with my flat cards.


Happy carding!


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.
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  • 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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
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  • 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.

Åland wool

Today’s blog post and an upcoming breed study webinar are all about Åland wool. This is my eleventh breed study. Previous breed studies have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool, Dalapäls wool, Värmland wool, Jämtland wool, finull wool, rya wool, Klövsjö wool (blog post only), Åsen wool and Gestrike wool.

This Saturday, April 9th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a free live breed study webinar on Åland wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

The webinar has already taken place.

Åland sheep

Åland sheep is a unique breed that has lived and developed in the archipelago of Åland in the Baltic Sea for centuries. Åland is geographically quite close to Sweden, but is an autonomous region of Finland. The belief used to be that Åland sheep were related to the Finnish landrace, but genetic examinations have shown that Åland sheep is its own and unique breed. It is believed to belong to the most primitive breeds of the Northern European short tail sheep.

In the 1980’s Åland sheep were endangered, but through dedicated work the breed was saved. Åland sheep got a status as its own breed 20 years ago. At the time there were around 150 ewes, now there are over 1800, of which around two thirds live in mainland Finland and the rest in Åland.

Åland sheep is a sturdy breed that have developed into excellent landscape managers in the barren skerries of the archipelago through centuries.

The sheep are relatively small, rams weigh around 60 kilos and ewes around 40 kilos. About half of the rams and some of the ewes have horns. The fleece comes in a wide variety of colours and patterns. Many Åland sheep are born black or dark grey but lighten with age.

Gene bank

In the gene bank for Åland sheep all individuals and their characteristics are documented in a database, including information of wool colour and quality. Through this documentation the aim is to preserve the breed and keep its genetic diversity.

When I read the guidelines for the Åland sheep gene bank I get the sense that the rules are similar to those of the gene banks of Swedish heritage breed. With an aim to preserve the genetic diversity of a very small breed there is no room to breed for specific characteristics like the wool, even if the work with the gene bank does include information about wool quality. I asked Maija Hägglund, the chair of the Åland sheep association about this. She confirmed that the genetic variety is the focus of the gene bank. However, they do recommend sheep farmers to consider wool quality and not allow too coarse or too fine wool to take over in the flock.

Tommi’s Åland sheep

To get hold of some Åland wool I contacted Tommi, a sheep owner with around 50 Åland sheep. His landscape managing sheep graze freely in the barren outer skerries of the Åland archipelago between May and October or November. He takes his boat to visit his sheep every now and them so they will recognize him and know that he is still there. Many other breeds would not be able to survive on their own in this kind of environment. But Åland sheep have grazed these islands for centuries and have adapted to their environment.

Åland wool characteristics

Åland sheep have a dual coat with fine undercoat and long, strong outercoat. The wool can differ very much between flocks, individuals and over the body of one individual.

I got parts of two Åland fleeces from Tommi, one grey with extremely long outercoat and very fine undercoat. The other almost white with some black fibers in it, silky soft undercoat and strong outercoat. Shorter and finer than the grey fleece. Both fleeces have some kemp, but it feels quite fine and doesn’t bother me that much. They add to the rusticity of the yarn and makes it more interesting to me. When I asked Maija about the kemp she said that the occurrence of kemp varies between individuals but that her experience is that the kemp in Åland sheep is relatively fine, expecially when the fibers in general are fine.

Main characteristics

I look for the main characteristics of the fleeces I have. When I work with the Åland wool, through picking, teasing, carding and spinning I see and feel a wool that is full of contrasts – silky, yet rustic, fine, yet strong. The outercoat are the longest I have seen and the undercoat remarkably long for its fineness. I smile when I see the vast difference between undercoat and outercoat and how they still work together with the aim to protect the sheep from the harsh weather on the barren islands. If I have to pick three main characteristics of the Åland wool I have experienced it would be

  • The length, particularly of the outercoat fibers. I don’t see this length of fibers very often. Some of the outercoat fibers in the grey fleece are over 30 centimeters. The undercoat fibers are also remarkably long for their fineness.
  • The silkiness of the undercoat. What can I say, it’s like meringue batter.
  • The contrasts. I love a fleece that surprises me. It tickles my heart to find these long and rustic outercoat fibers right next to silky soft undercoat fibers.

Every time the fibers go through my hands I get to know their characteristics. Through the time I spend with the fibers in my hands and in my muscle memory I get a chance to prepare and spin a yarn that makes the wool justice. By focusing on letting the main characteristics shine in the finished yarn I get the opportunity to show the soul of the fleece as I see it, honouring the sheep that once grew the wool.

Working with Åland wool

When I contacted Tommi he was interested in my view of the wool and what I could do with it as a hand spinner. I decided to spin a few samples to show the variety of yarns I can create from a versatile wool like the Åland fleeces I got.

Prepare

One of the most rewarding things about a dual coat fleece is the opportunity to play. There is so much I can do with a fleece with two distinctively different fiber types. I could

  • Separate undercoat from outercoat.
  • card undercoat and outercoat together
  • comb undercoat and outercoat together
  • semi-separate the fiber types.

Separating fiber types

By separating undercoat from outercoat I get to enjoy and take advantage of the unique characteristics of each fiber type. To separate the fiber types I use my two-pitch combs. The two (or more if that’s available) rows of teeth in the combs allow a firmer grip of the undercoat fibers, keeping them in the comb as I doff the outercoat fibers off the comb. The undercoat fibers left in the comb are hereby teased and ready to be carded into sweet rolags.

I may run the separated outercoat fibers through the combs once more, or a couple of separated tops together. This is to make sure I remove any remaining undercoat fibers and to make the birds’ nests a bit fuller.

Carding fiber types together

I love carding outercoat and undercoat together. This preparation really shows the contrast between them – the soft undercoat, flexible in their communication between the cards, the outercoat fibers more sharp in their appearance, keeping a straight line. Then, in the rolag I see the undercoat sponged up in a bundle with the outercoat like an armour around the round shape.

But can you really card fibers this long without disaster? Wouldn’t the long fibers just double around themselves in the rolag and create a tangled mess? Well, they would if they were alone. In a combination of short, medium and long fibers the fibers sort of marry each other and create an airy rolag. A dual coat therefore usually works well carding since there are naturally different fiber lengths in the staples. The longest fibers will double around the rolag, but I don’t see that as a problem since there are so many other lengths that won’t. Spinning may be a bit slower because of that armouring, but it also means that the yarn will be stronger.

Combing fiber types together

By combing fiber types together I will get a preparation that has characteristics from both fiber type – length, strength, softness and warmth. I use my single pitch combs for this. The single row of teeth allows the fibers to slide through them without separating too much.

While the single pitch combs allow for the fibers to glide through the teeth, doffing the combed top off the comb will still result in a separation to some degree. As I grab the bundle the longest will naturally come off first and the shortest will stay in the combs longer. I can make sure I don’t just grab the outermost fibers to prevent this. I can also divide the combed top into sections and re-comb them.

Semi-separating fiber types

With a dual coats like my Åland fleeces I have the opportunity to tailor the preparation to meet my needs. By removing some of one of the fiber types but not all of it I can adapt the fiber content to a specific kind of yarn. I haven’t had the time to do this with my Åland fleeces yet, but it does present a number of additional possibilities from one single fleece.

Spin

Eight yarn samples from the Åland fleeces I bought from Tommi.

With the different fiber preparations I have described above I ended up making eight wheel spun samples that I sent to Tommi:

  • Z-plied 2-ply yarn from the white fleece, intended for two-end knitting, carded and woolen spun. I spun a full skein of this quality.
  • worsted spun 2-ply yarn from combed outercoat only
  • woolen 3-ply yarn from carded undercoat only
  • woolen 2-ply yarn from carded undercoat only
  • woolen 2-ply yarn from undercoat and outercoat carded together
  • worsted 2-ply yarn from undercoat and outercoat combed together
  • woolen and lightly fulled medium singles yarn from undercoat and outercoat carded together
  • woolen and lightly fulled chunky singles yarn from undercoat and outercoat carded together
Separated fibers: 2-ply worsted spun yarn from combed outercoat (top). 3-ply and 2-ply woolen spun yarn from carded undercoat fibers (middle and bottom).

From the list you can see eight different yarns with different fiber preparations, fiber type content, spinning technique and plies. There are numerous other dimensions to play with here, these are just a few. I love fleeces like these where I can play and find an expression I think rhymes with the fleece I got from the beginning.

2-ply woolen spun yarn from outercoat and undercoat carded together (top). 2-ply worsted spun yarn from outercoat and undercoat combed together (bottom).

In my yarns I have taken advantage of the length of the outercoat fibers – on its own and together with undercoat. I have been able to let the billowy silkiness of the undercoat fibers shine through the orderly outercoat fibers. Finally I have enjoyed displaying the contrast between undercoat and outercoat, creating a range of yarns full of lovely surprises.

Singles yarns woolen spun from outercoat and undercoat carded together. The yarns have been lightly fulled.

Use

Traditionally Åland wool has been used for a wide variety of things – knitting yarn for hats, socks, mittens and sweaters. Weaving yarn for everyday clothing for men and women, interiors like pillows, sheets rugs and curtains. Even sails. It has also been waulked.

When I look at the list and yarn samples above, adding the possibility of yarns from semi-separated fiber types it is easy to see the wide variety of uses of a fleece like the Åland fleeces I have described. Anything from the softest next-to-skin garments, through sweaters, mittens and other accessories, outerwear and strong warps. By tailoring the yarn with different fiber type content you can make socks with extra strong yarn for heels and toes. Just like it has been used by Ålanders for centuries.

The woolen and worsted yarns with both outercoat and undercoat are allround yarns suitable for sweaters and outerwear with their combination of strength and warmth. They could also work well in weaving as warp (worsted) and weft (woolen).

The singles samples are despite their singleness and low twist strong through the long outercoat fibers and could work for any accessory that doesn’t involve too much abrasion, and of course as a weft yarn in weaving.

I haven’t come so far as to plan a project, but I do have plans to continue with a Z-plied yarn for two-end knitting with the white fleece. With the grey fleece I am leaning towards separating the fiber types. Outercoat fibers of this length is quite unusual in my experience and I would love to take advantage of that. A warp yarn from the outercoat and soft knitting yarn from the undercoat is my plan at the moment.

Live webinar!

his Saturday, April 9th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Åland wool from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I prepare, spin and use Åland wool. I will use Åland wool during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I prepare and spin the wool.

The webinar has already taken place

Even if you think you will never come across Åland wool this is still an opportunity to learn more about wool and wool processing in general. The breed study webinar will give you tools to understand different wool types and apply your knowledge to breeds and wool types closer to you.

This is a wonderful chance for me to meet you (in the chat window at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The previous live breed study webinars I have done have been great successes. I really look forward to seeing you again in this webinar.

You can register even if you can’t make it to the live event. I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar. Remember, the only way to get access to the webinar (live or replay) is to register.

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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how
  • 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.

Cutting corners?

I spend a lot of my time with a fleece at the preparation stage. This is where I lay the foundation for the quality of the yarn. But sometimes I cut corners and skip steps. Sometimes I add an extra step or extra time to increase the quality or the experience of the spinning. Today I reflect over when and why I’m cutting corners or create new ones.

The other day I told my husband about a recent project where I had cut corners for the sake of the shorter fluff to stuff cycle and an instant feedback between the steps. He paused and asked me “What makes you decide what corners to cut?”. And Voilá, a blog post idea was born.

Cornerstones of processing

There are several steps I take on the journey from fleece to yarn. All of them important for the quality of the product. Sometimes, though, the quality of the yarn may not be my first priority. I very rarely skip something because I want it done faster, I know it doesn’t serve me. But there may be other dimensions I am interested in for a specific project.

After washing the fleece I go through a number of stages. You can read more thoroughly about some of them in the post Fleece happens.

Fiber

First of all, I always work from raw fleece and wash it in water only. I want to get to know the fleece from the very beginning. That means I don’t buy fleece that someone else has washed. I don’t buy wool that someone else or a machine has processed. There is so much information in the steps I take before I spin the wool that I don’t want to be without. All steps offer a unique chance to explore the wool and find out its innermost secrets. All steps are appealing to me and give me peace. I don’t see any of the wool preparation steps as time consuming. Instead I see them as gifts that can reveal the secrets of the wool if I just listen to it.

Newly shorn autumn fleece from a Swedish Gestrike sheep.
Newly shorn autumn fleece from a Swedish Gestrike sheep.

I don’t cut any corners when it comes to the fiber. To me, too much information is lost in commercially prepared fiber and I don’t feel connected to it as I do with a fleece that has come straight from the hoof.

Picking

Picking is where I pick each staple to separate it from the mass of the fleece. In this the staple may open up slightly, easing felted or tangled parts and allowing vegetable matter to fall out. I also get a unique opportunity to go through the fleece with my hands, literally staple by staple, getting to know its characteristics. During picking I also get rid of second cuts, dirt, felted parts or otherwise lesser quality wool.

I'm listening to my Icelandic wool.
Picking the fleece. No cutting corners here.

At the beginning of my spinning journey I did this with all my fleeces. But somewhere along the way I omitted it, I’m not sure why. Lately, though, I have started picking my fleeces again and realize what a time, muscle and fiber saver it is. A fleece that has been picked is so much easier to handle than an unpicked fleece. When I start working with a fleece that I have picked before storing I know it has gone through a quality control. If I’m lucky I have made some notes during picking that are useful as I continue the processing.

Picking is not a corner I want to cut. It may take time as I do it, but it does save both time, muscles and fiber. Processing will be easier and less straining for both me and the fiber. I believe that a picked fleece will result in a higher quality yarn with a higher fleece to yarn yield.

Teasing

I always tease my wool before carding. One way or another, be it with combs, flicker, cards, hands or by separating undercoat from outercoat. I never skip this step. When I tease the wool I open it up and ease the hold the fibers have on each other. This makes it easier on my arms as well as on the fibers. Should I cut corners on teasing I would be able to work for a shorter time due to strained arms and hands. The yarn would be of a worse quality since unteased locks will protest in the carding, break fibers, create nepps that interrupt my spinning flow and leave a lumpy yarn. A teased wool will therefore generate a higher fleece to yarn yield, have a higher quality and leave my body happier.

Teased wool from rya fleece.

When I comb wool for the sake of combing (as opposed to using combs to tease), the wool will be teased as I comb. Sometimes though, the staples are so dense or felted that I add another corner and tease with a flicker before I comb.

You can read more about teasing here.

Carding and combing

I generally either card or comb my wool. This is the stage where I pre-chew my fiber before spinning. It is definitely possible to spin unprepared (or only teased) wool, but without pre-chewing the spinning will be chunkier and require more effort. During the winter I have spun a low-twist singles Lopi-style yarn from lightly teased locks of Icelandic wool. The purpose was not to cut corners. Rather, it was to preserve the natural colour variegation in the staples. The preparation was chunkier and did require more effort. But all according to my plan.

Any tool that allows me to be a part of the mechanics – be it a spindle, hand cards or a backstrap loom is a tool where I get feedback directly from the fiber. With this as guidance I will be able to to make informed decisions about how to proceed.

If you find combing and carding by hand tedious, try picking and teasing the wool first. I can promise you a difference – the flow in the carding or combing dance will be a lot smoother. You will be able to feel the characteristics of the fibers and their relationship to each other between your hands.

How about drum carding?

I don’t drum card my wool. I don’t own a drum carder. The one time I tried it, it seemed to take as long as hand-carding but with a less balanced body position and lesser quality. Also using the drum carder doesn’t give me the feedback I get from the wool when I hand-card.

Spinning

In my videos and webinars you mainly see me with a spindle of some kind. I do spin on my spinning wheel too, actually more than I spin on spindles. Usually I spin larger projects on my spinning wheel. With that said, I have spun several larger projects with spindles too, like the Cecilia’s bosom friend shawl and the prototype leading up to it, and my Moroccan snow shoveling pants that I knit from 1 kilo of super bulky spindle spun yarn.

I usually pick the spinning tool that I think is the best for the project and the context. Perhaps I want to spin different yarns simultaneously, well, then I may spin one or two on spindles and another on my spinning wheel. I do have two wheels, but only room for one stationary wheel. And there is always room for spindles.

Plying

Plying is not something I have dived into like I have on other parts of the process from fleece to yarn, so I can’t say I know much about it. Perhaps it is therefore I sometimes allow myself to cut corners at the plying stage.

Resting singles

For the singles to compose themselves after I have filled a bobbin it is a good idea to allow them to rest. I usually do this, not always overnight, but at least until the evening. If I just want to test a yarn and spin a sample I tend to skip this step.

Reversing singles

I have learned that it is a good idea to reverse the singles before plying, so that I ply the singles together from the same end I have spun them, especially when it comes to worsted spun yarn. Spinning and plying from the same end will allow for a smoother yarn while spinning and plying from different ends may result in a slightly fuzzier yarn. To reverse the singles for plying I take the two (or more) singles and roll them together on an empty bobbin, so that I ply all singles from one and the same bobbin, from the same end they were spun. I try to follow this recommendation, but sometimes I cut corners here.

Plying from separate bobbins

When I spin on my wheel I spin each single on a separate bobbin. As I ply the yarn from the bobbins all singles come into the plying twist in the same way. But when I spin on spindles I may wind the yarn into a centerpull ball and ply from the inner and outer ends of that single into a 2-ply yarn.

Sometimes I ply from other ends of a centerpull ball. Just because I want to.

I am fully aware that the inner and outer ends of the yarn will come differently into the plying twist. But sometimes I do cut corners here. Most recently with my Moroccan snow shoveling pants and a pair of nalbinding mittens. For the pants I wanted to stay as close as possible to the original procedure from wool to knitting. When it comes to the mittens I was after the short fluff to stuff cycle and instant feedback from one step of the process to the next.

Soaking and setting twist

I do soak most of my yarns and set the twist. But there have been situations when I have cut corners here. Like in the two projects above where I plied from the two ends of a centerpull ball. I wanted to stay close to the traditional making of the pants and I wanted a short fluff to stuff cycle for the mittens and have all the steps fresh in my memory. I know that the yarn is a bit unbalanced, and that is okay. The purpose of the project was to find peace of mind and focus when the world was, and still is, in full storm outside my crafting bubble.

I cut very few corners in the processing steps. High quality rolags come from time spent with the wool.

All in all, I sometimes do cut corners and I always know why I do it. It rarely is about saving time. In fact, I know that spending more time on processing may even save me time in the long run. It will definitely give me a higher quality yarn.

Do you cut corners? Where and why? Where don’t you cut corners? Share in the comments below.

Thank you darling Dan for your clever question about cutting corners. It made me reflect over my process and what is important to me.

Happy spinning!


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