Consistency

I wanted to spin a yarn that was evenly spun and learn more about consistency. I wanted to let the yarn shine both up close and as a whole in a garment. To be able to do that I needed to be really thorough and take notes of every step I took on the way from fleece to the finished yarn.

This is the second post in a blog series. The first post was about how to find the superpowers of a fleece. In the remaining posts I take you through designing and knitting a garment and some calculations. Through the blog series I will use the wool from one sheep as a case study.

Consistency from fleece to yarn

To spin a consistent yarn you need to be consistent in every step of the process. With an unevenly spun yarn it will be a challenge to get consistency in the plying. If the wool isn’t evenly carded or combed, it is difficult to spin an even yarn. Wool that isn’t properly blended or sorted, will result in uneven wool preparation. There are many opportunities through the process to control your consistency and even more opportunities to learn.

It may seem daunting to go through a gazillion of steps to get a consistent yarn. But fear not. To start with, a consistent yarn isn’t at all necessary. I love the feeling of a handspun yarn that is not consistent. It can make it more alive. But sometimes consistency can give a yarn that extra shine that it deserves.

In this post I will tell you about different steps you can take towards consistency and about what I did in my case study. Pick the steps you like, play, experiment and evaluate. Do what works for you. You don’t even need to count or measure that much. Here are three simple steps that can help you a long way:

  • Look at the fiber or yarn and find ways to remember and replicate how you want it
  • Feel the material and let your touch guide you to consistency
  • Take notes and make samples
A sheet of paper with wool, tarn and knitting samples
Planning for consistency

For this particular project, though, I wanted to go all in and learn about consistency and what I can do to come closer to it.

Sorting, blending and teasing

Before I prepare the wool I arrange it in some fashion. I can

  • sort the fleece according to quality, staple length, fiber type or colour
  • blend different qualities to make sure the qualities are evenly spread
  • tease the wool as a preparation for carding.

Blending

In my case study I had two fleeces from the same sheep – the spring shearing and the autumn shearing. The staples from the spring shearing were a bit shorter than the staples from the autumn shearing. I wanted to spin the fleeces together to get both these qualities in my yarn, so I blended them. Had it been summer I would definitely have willowed the fleeces, but instead I just tried to blend them as well as I could in a big basket.

Teasing

After I had blended the wool I teased it. My favourite teasing method is with combs. I used my table mounted combing station and loaded the stationary comb with the blended fiber. I loaded each batch with wool to about a third of the height of the tines and I combed three passes for each batch. That gave me an even teasing throughout the wool.

While doing this, I also added the sari silk I wanted in the yarn as a tweedy effect. For consistency I decided to have a set amount of sari silk tufts with each combed batch. So for every batch of wool I combed I added eight staple length tufts of sari silk. That would give me consistency in the visual appearance of the colored specks. It would also be of importance to the consistency of the yarn quality since the proportions of silk to wool would be consistent.

Carding

For consistency in my carding there are a few tricks to consistency:

  • Make sure you load the card with an equal amount of fiber in each carding batch
  • Keep an eye of how much of the carding pad area that is covered with the fiber
  • Count the strokes and passes to get an even density in each rolag.

In the case study I grabbed a tuft of my teased blend and stroked the width of the card with the tuft until the teeth of the card didn’t catch any more fiber. I kept a one inch passepartout on the sides and upper edge of the carding pad empty to control the width and height of each rolag.

I carded six strokes before transferring the wool to the other card and three passes. This together with the technique to load the cards gave me rolags of the same density and weight.

I spun 12 skeins of 3-ply yarn. I made sure that I had 20 g of rolags for each single. Because I had been so consistent in my carding I ended up with 16 rolags for every single. 16 rolags per single in 12 3-ply skeins of yarn makes 576 rolags of around 1,25 gram each, all in the same shape, size and density. That gave me lots of practice in carding and consistency.

Carded rolags
Consistency in preparing the wool.

Spinning

There are several ways to control consistency when spinning. Apart from adjusting tension and ratio you can

  • keep an even treadling
  • count the treadles for each draft
  • keep an even amount of fiber to each draft
  • stop your drafting hand at the same distance from the orifice for each draft
  • keep an even distance between your front (yarn) and back (fiber) hands.
  • take notes of the twist angle and twists per inch
  • make samples and compare your current spin to the main sample
Skeins of dark grey yarn
Consistent yarn

Another way to get a consistent yarn is to leave some lanolin in the fleece. The lanolin helps me get a smooth draft. Usually I don’t use any detergent at all when I wash my wool (most Swedish sheep breeds are quite low in lanolin), so there is alway enough lanolin left after washing to give me that smooth draft.

I used several of these points in my case study. I spun the yarn with English long draw, which is an excellent opportunity to practice spinning with consistency. For building up twist I kept a set treadle count (4) and for making the draw and adding twist another set treadle count (10).

By keeping an eye on my posture while spinning and keeping my arms close to my body I made sure my hands were at the same distance from each other and from the orifice. I tried to keep my fiber arm elbow close to my body and move my fiber arm outwards to a comfortable angle from my body to control the length of each draw. I also tried to feed an equal amount from the rolag in each draw. This was more of a feeling in my hand than any calculations.

The fact that my yarn was 3-plied also added to the consistency. With three separate singles the chances for a consistent yarn is better than for a 2-plied or chain-plied yarn.

Yarn rolled onto a piece of cardboard
A consistent yarn doesn’t spin itself. It takes testing, counting and documenting.

When I started spinning this yarn I experimented my way to the yarn quality I wanted – thickness, twists per inch, drafting method etc. I saved the sample that I had decided would be my guide. All through the spinning I measured my spinning to this main sample to make sure I was on the right track.

Plying

At this late stage in the process from fleece to yarn, the measures I took in the beginning towards consistency are really paying off. I have three singles that are consistent in thickness, density and twist angle. But there are still some things I can do to add consistency to my yarn. I can

  • keep an even tension between the singles when I ply
  • keep a set treadle count for each feed into the orifice
  • feed an equal length of yarn into the orifice every time
  • Stop every now and then to check the twist angle and balance

This is what I did for this spinning project and it is what I generally do when I ply. I also make sure I move the yarn between the flyer hooks so that I feed an equal amount of plied yarn to every hook.

Some people don’t ply until all the singles are spun and make sure to ply the first singles together with the last singles. It is easy to gradually change the quality of the singles if you spin over a longer period of time. By mixing the singles from the earliest and the latest stages of the spinning, you avoid ending up with different gauged skeins. I have not tried this method yet, mainly because I’m too lazy to transfer all the singles to toilet rolls.

Record keeping

I did end up with a consistent yarn and all the methods I used in aiming for consistency really paid off. I did a lot of experimentation to see which steps I was comfortable doing and that I thought I could keep up with for the whole project.

Ravelry

Ravelry is a very powerful tool where you have the opportunity to keep track of your fiber stash and handspun yarn. I use the different features in my personal Ravelry fiber stash and handspun pages. As the proud geek I am, I record every fleece (and occasional industrially processed fiber) I have and every yarn I spin. I won’t go through every feature you can keep track of, but there are a lot. If you are on Ravelry you can check out my notes for this yarn here.

One of the features I use on Ravelry is the grist calculation – how much meterage or yardage you get per pound or kilo. I usually calculate the grist for every skein to keep record of the spectrum of grists for the skeins in one yarn. Out of the 12 skeins I spun in my case study, one had a grist of 1948 m/kg and two between 1650 m/kg and 1690 m/kg. The other nine skeins ended up with a grist between 1726 m/kg and 1900 m/kg. For me, that is quite consistent.

The satisfaction of a finished yarn

Sample cards

Even if Ravelry is a very powerful tool, you can only get so far with digital record keeping and pictures. For this project I combined these notes with samples of fiber, singles, plied yarn and knitted swatches. And it is so nice to arrange all the samples on a fancy paper. You have everything gathered in one place and you can make notes of calculations, methods, tools and a general feeling of the yarn – nice and orderly and good.

A sheet of paper with wool, yarn and knitting samples
Record keeping – nice and orderly and good.

Spinning for consistency felt very rewarding and I did learn a lot. One of the most important things I learned was that consistency starts already at the fleece – spinning a consistent yarn requires focus on more parts of the process than just the spinning itself. Also, I learned that spinning a consistent yarn takes time and effort, but also that the energy is very well spent. I love how my yarn looks in the individual strands and as a whole.

Even if I won’t strive for consistency in every yarn I spin, there are many techniques from this project that I will incorporate in my coming spinning project. Just the awareness of what a technique or a measure taken will do for my spinning makes me better equipped for planning and implementing a project.

Happy spinning!

This is, indeed, happy spinning!

Don’t forget about the spindle case giveaway! It is open until next Saturday, January 26th at 10 a.m. CET (world clock here)


You can follow me on several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course!
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

The superpowers of a fleece

A sken of dark grey yarn with colored specks in it

For a long time I have wanted to spin a yarn and knit a project where I start from the characteristics of the fleece and make a yarn that highlights the superpowers of that particular fleece. I wanted all the decisions I made from preparing the wool to designing and knitting a garment to be made with consideration to the fleece I had started with.

This post is part of a new blog series. In four posts I will take you through preparing, spinning, designing and knitting a garment, looking at consistency and some calculations. I will use the wool from one sheep as a case study.

A finull/rya gold medalist

In the 2017 Swedish fleece championships I got my hands on a beautiful, dark grey finull/rya crossbred. It is very soft with airy staples and mostly undercoat.

From spring to autumn

The ewe who grew this winner fleece was shorn in the spring, which usually means a little coarser wool and shorter staples than the autumn shearing. This fleece, though, was wonderfully soft.

A finull/rya mix and gold medalist at the 2017 Swedish fleece championships, shorn in the spring. Sheperdess: Margau Wohlfart–Leijdström

The competition had taken place in September, and I realized that the ewe probably was still wearing her summer coat. I contacted the shepherdess, Margau, and I was right, she hadn’t done the autumn shearing yet. A couple of weeks later, I had the autumn shearing in my hands. A little longer staples and even softer than the spring shearing.

Same sheep, shorn in the autumn. The staples are a bit longer and the tips are slightly sun-bleached.

Finding the superpowers

For a long time I was thinking about what I wanted to do with the fleeces. The spring fleece was a gold medalist and I felt a responsibility to make the most out of it. I wanted to let the wool tell me how it wanted to be spun to become its best yarn.

To look for the superpowers in a fleece I need to examine the fleece itself. But I can also get some clues from considering the characteristics of the breed in general, in this case two breeds – Swedish finewool and Rya.

Swedish finewool and Rya

Wool from Swedish finull (closely related to Finn) is typically very fine and soft with a high crimp (2–10 waves per cm). It has well defined staples of up to 8 cm. It is a good choice for spinning a lofty yarn with longdraw from carded rolags.

Rya has very long staples (up to 30 cm) of strong and shiny fibers and about 60% overcoat. A worsted spun yarn from combed top would be a good choice for this kind of wool. Rya is often used in weaving. The combination of the two can make a winner.

A finewool/rya crossbred

The shepherdess Margau has a flock of 25 finewool and rya sheep and has also crossbred these for several years. This has resulted in wool with the best of the superpowers of both breeds – strong, shiny and soft. She has won several medals from the Swedish fleece championships.

The wool I got from Margau is truly magnificent. I am a sucker for grey. This wool has shades of medium to dark grey with a hint of brown. The wool shorn in the spring has the staple length of finewool sheep, up to 8 cm. It is very soft and airy. I would say it looks more like finewool than rya, but the staples are more open than finewool. Finewool can be tedious to prepare since the staples usually are very thin and defined. This wool is a lot easier to prepare.

The autumn shearing has longer staples and a bit lighter. The tips are slightly sun bleached. The overall feeling of the wool is soft, but it is also clear that the wool is strong and shiny.

A row of wool staples
Staples from the spring and autumn shearing of a finewool/rya ewe

This summer I had made a tweed experiment where I blended the autumn shearing with some sari silk. I really got a taste for the mixture between the dark wool and the colourful specks of sari silk. I decided that I wanted to use the spring and autumn fleeces together and blend them with the sari silk for a tweedy yarn.

Fiber preparation

I wanted to be really thorough and sample my way to the best yarn for this wool. I knew from the experiment I had done earlier that carded rolags was the best way to prepare this wool. Before that could happen, though, I needed to go through a few other steps.

Mixing the fleeces

The spring and autumn shearings were a bit different – the spring shearing was shorter because most of the nutrition had gone to the lamb during gestation and lambing period. The autumn shearing had longer staples and were also a bit sun-bleached. I wanted all of these characteristics in the yarn – the short staples for loftiness and the longer for strength – so I mixed the fleeces in a big basket.

Teasing and blending

I used my combing station to tease the wool. This is the way I usually tease before carding, it is a quite efficient method. In this step I could also blend the sari silk with the wool.

A braid of turquoise based sari silk
Sweet sari silk

I loaded the stationary comb with the wool, not considering staple ends or directions, I just loaded ruthlessly to about a third of the height of the tines. At the top I added the sari silk. I combed three passes and then removed the blended fiber from the stationary comb tuft by tuft. This left me with clouds of wool blended with sari silk.

Carding

I am quite used to carding and I have my way of doing it that I think works quite well. Still, after watching the Interweave downloadable video How to Card Wool: Four Spinners, Four Techniques, I made some adjustments. I used to load the whole width of the card with wool, but now I leave a one inch passepartout of the card empty on the sides and top of the carding pad. This way I make sure that all the fibers are actually on the carding pads and not escaping through the sides. I also pay more attention to rolling the rolag between the cards to make neater and more uniform rolags.

Carding is something I love doing, and with these adjustment it became even more satisfying to see the fluffy teased clouds turn into proper and uniform rolags.

Sweet hand-carded rolags with specks of recycled sari silk.

Spinning and plying

I wanted a soft and round yarn, so my idea was to spin a 3-ply yarn with long draw. I made lots of samples with long draw in different thicknesses, but I wasn’t really happy with the results. All the samples felt too dense and not soft enough.

Spinning

For a while, English longdraw had been lurking in the back of my mind, but I was a bit reluctant to try it. If I liked it it would mean that I would have to spin everything with english longdraw and I wasn’t sure I would be able to do that with the consistency I wanted. But I tried it and realized that I had found the best way to spin the rolags. The samples were soft and lofty, and it felt just right. I ended up with a sport weight thickness that seemed perfect for the wool.

yarn samples of different thicknesses
I sampled my way to the best 3-ply yarn for my fleece

Spinning longdraw requires really well carded rolags. With any unevenness in the carding there is a risk that the yarn will be uneven and/or break in the draw. This is even more true for English longdraw where you draw one arm’s length in one motion. Having little specks of short fibers in the rolags feels a bit counter productive here. I didn’t let that stop me, though, I just had to take extra care in examining the roving before setting the twist. I think the yarn broke just a handful of times during the whole spinning.

When I spun the yarn I could feel the amount of blending of the two fleeces. In some rolags the drafting was really easy, almost too easy. This meant that I had mostly shorter staples from the spring shearing in this rolag. In others, the drafting was a bit tougher due to a higher amount of longer staples from the autumn shearing. The longer staples were important to the durability of the yarn, but too much of the longer wool would make a denser yarn than I wanted. Had I done this preparation in the summer I would definitely have mixed the fleeces by willowing them.

A bobbin with dark grey yarn with specks of colour
A bobbin full of yum

Plying

When I ply I like to transfer the singles together to a new bobbin. This way I start plying from the same end as I started spinning. It also allows me to go through the singles one more time before plying. I don’t need to handle three individual singles when plying. Instead I ply them in a bundle straight off one bobbin.

A skein of dark grey wool with colored specks in it.
A finished skein of final/rya tweedy yarn, full of superpowers.

Getting to know a fleece

This wool has gone through my hands numerous times. From sorting, teasing, carding, spinning and plying. I try to read the fleece to find out what I need to do to let it shine. In handling the fiber I get to know know what it feels like, how it sounds, the staple length, the crimp, how well it drafts, how much lanolin is in the wool. Every time the fiber goes through my hands I get new pieces of the puzzle. It is like every step in the process gives me a deeper and broader knowledge and understanding of the wool.

A sken of dark grey yarn with colored specks in it
Some tweedy loveliness

Coming up: In the next part of this blog series I will dive into consistency in all the steps in the process and look at how I take measure – literally – to end up with a yarn that is even.


You can follow me on several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course!
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

English longdraw

Josefin Waltin spinning on a spinning wheel

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

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

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

The English longdraw

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

Lofty and warm

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

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

A double drafting technique

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

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

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

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

Consistency

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

Consistency as a bonus

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

Consistency by design

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

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

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

The technique

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

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

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

Building up twist

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

Making the draw

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

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

Adding twist

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

Rolling onto the bobbin

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

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

The setting

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

A lofty yarn spun with English longdraw

Happy holiday spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course!
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle

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

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

Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle

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

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

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

Long draw

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

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

How I spin cotton on a Navajo spindle

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

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

This is how I do it

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

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

Doing the Navajo dance

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

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

The scenery

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

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

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

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

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Processing cotton

As I wrote in an earlier post, I was given newly harvested cotton from a fellow spinner in Stockholm. I have never handled cotton for spinning before. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to investigate a fiber that is new to me and that I have avoided for environmental reasons.

This is part 2 of my cotton blog series. The first post was about my thoughts of the fashion industry in general and cotton in particular.

Ginning

After the blossom has withered, the seed develops in the cotton capsule (boll). Fibers are attached to the seeds to make it possible for the seeds to be swept away by the wind and start a new plant. Compare it to  dandelion seeds. They wait for a gust of wind to catch them and transport them to a new home where they can start a new plant.

Each cotton boll has from 10 to a gazillion seeds, cozily wrapped in soft cotton fibers. Deseeding, or ginning the cotton is a time consuming process when you do it by hand. On the plus side, ginning by hand yields more clean cotton fiber than ginning mechanically. The fiber (lint) is also less compressed with hand ginning than with mechanical ginning.

When I researched cotton processing I stumbled upon this beautiful and very smart and efficient way of ginning cotton with a flat stone and a metal rod. I tried to do it with what I had at home – a wooden rolling pin and an equally wooden cutting board. I realized quite quickly that it wouldn’t work at all and I was frankly quite embarrassed by my naïveté. Instead I stuck to my original plan and ginned by hand.

The lint is quite strongly attached to the seeds and ginning by hand is a challenge. It took me quite a while to finish the whole 150 grams of cotton. 75 g of it ended up as seeds and the remaining 55 g was spinnable cotton lint.

A bowl of cotton
Cotton!

Willowing

When I read up on willowing wool for a previous video and blog post, I learned that cotton also has a willowing tradition. So naturally I wanted to try willowing cotton as well.

Willowing means to open up the fiber by whipping it with willow sticks. Cotton is prone to compress itself if you handle it manually. There is another way to open up cotton bolls that I haven’t tried yet. You can open up your cotton with a bow-like tool. You place the bow close to a pile of cotton and strike the bow repeatedly. The string snaps the cotton, which opens up. Quite neat if you happen to have a proper bow. I have yet to try this.

I must say I wasn’t as impressed by willowing cotton as I was by willowing wool. Perhaps I did it wrong. I did willow on quite a soft surface. Or perhaps cotton don’t need as much willowing as wool. Either way, the cotton opened up in the beginning, but after a while nothing really happened. I have seen videos where people willow cotton with a lot smaller sticks, more like twigs, and keeping two twigs in one hand for willowing. Another thing to try.

Walter, the neighbor’s cat watched and hung around. After so many videos where I have looked for a cat to make an appearance on my set, I finally got a cat extra! I think he did well and he is welcome back.

The sweet thing about the cat appearance is that spinning and purring is the same word in Swedish: Jag spinner (I spin). Katten spinner (the cat spins).

Josefin Waltin sitting on the ground, looking at a big and furry cat
A dear moment between two spinners.

Carding

I used my regular cards. They are quite fine and work well for cotton. I have read that you need cotton cards for carding cotton, and I am sure the result will bet better with cotton cards. But wool cards are still better than no cards at all.

I use short and very light strokes for the short cotton fibers. Basically, I use the same technique as for wool carding, and finish by rolling the carded fiber into a rolag. I could of course make a pretty cotton puni as well, but I honestly didn’t think about it at the time.

Make sure you don’t make lots of rolags and then store them compressed. Cotton is not elastic and won’t spring back into shape after being compressed. Any kind of fiber preparation is best fresh, and that certainly applies to cotton.

Josefin Waltin carding
Cotton carding in the September sun

The vest I am wearing in the video is the Ivy League vest by Eunny Jang. The yarn is my own handspun (the ones that are not naturally colored are my own hand dyed), mostly of rare and endangered Norwegian sheep breeds.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Tweed!

Two balls of dark grey yarn with coloured specks in them

As I have mentioned before, I am taking part in PLY magazine’s spinalong 51 yarns. It is a theme-based spinalong based on the book 51 yarns by Jacey Boggs Faulkner. Each week they choose one participant who wins a year’s subscription to the magazine. I actually won on week 10: Semi worsted. This week’s theme is tweed.

Tweed: First try

I started a couple of weeks ago and planned to use short clips of handspun yarn that I had unplied and fluffed up. It didn’t work out very well. The fibers didn’t join in in the yarn. Instead they fell out and looked like lint that had got stuck to the yarn.

A ball of dark grey yarn on a stone
Tweed, first try: Failed.

A second try

Of course I wasn’t happy with the yarn. I could have settled for a failed yarn, but I didn’t. I really liked the specks of colour in the dark grey yarn and I knew I could do better. So I browsed for Sari silk and found a beautiful colour blend with turquoise as a main colour. I am very much in a turquoise period right now.

I picked it up from the post office just a few days later and it was as yummy in reality as it was on the picture online, perhaps even more so.

A braid of turquoise based sari silk
Sweet sari silk

Since I have no prior experience with tweed, I wanted to spin a couple of samples with different preparation to find the best way to spin the yarn. So I tried both with hand-combed top and hand-carded rolags.

The yarn I used was a beautiful dark grey mixbreed of Swedish finewool and Rya. The fleece got a gold medal at the 2017 Swedish fleece championships and I snatched it at the auction.

Hand-combed top

A ball of dark grey hand-combed wool with specks of colour in it.
Hand-combed top with sari silk

Before I started combing, I realized that there would be a problem with drawing the top off the comb. When you draw, you usually get the longest fibers first. This would mean that I would get all the sari silk bunched up in the end of the top. And this is exactly what happened. The sari silk was also more streaks of colour than tweedy specks. In addition to that, a lot of sari silk had got stuck in the tines of the combs.

I spun the yarn on a supported spindle and plied it on the fly. Just as I had suspected, the sari silk was unevenly spread across the yarn.

A spindle with dark grey yarn and some coloured specks.
Tweed yarn spun from hand-combed top and plied on the fly on a supported spindle. Almost all of the sari silk is hidden closest to the shaft.

Hand-carded rolag

Carding was a lot nicer than combing. I teased the locks by combinb, together with the sari silk. I pulled the wool off the combs tuft by tuft and loaded them on the cards and carded away. The sari silk was evenly spread across the rolag and it looked beautiful.

A rolag of dark grey wool with coloured specks in it.
A beautiful tweed rolag

I spun it the same way as I had spun the combed tops. I had to pay extra attention to the drafting. Usually, I stay away from nepps when I prepare for carding and I remove any nepps when I see them along the spinning. But this time I wanted to keep them in and I had to watch the yarn carefully so that the yarn didn’t break or get lumpy. But it did turn out beautifully.

A spindle with dark grey yarn with coloured specks.
Tweed yarn spun from hand-carded rolags and plied on the fly on a supported spindle. The sari silk is evenly spread throughout the tweed yarn. Spindle from Malcolm Fielding.

Thoughts

There are clear differences between the finished yarns. Structurewise of course, the yarn spun from carded rolags is fluffier and softer and the yarn spun from combed top is stronger and shinier. But also you can see the difference in the tweed structure. The yarn spun with carded rolags has the sari silk more evenly distributed. The yarn spun from combed top has the sari silk unevenly distributed.

Two balls of dark grey yarn with coloured specks in them.
The finished balls of yarn. On the left is yarn from carded rolags and on the right is yarn from combed top.

It is even more obvious in a knitted swatch. I knit it with the same needle gauge and with the same amount of stitches and rows. You can see the sari silk evenly distributed on the left swatch knitted with yarn spun with carded rolags. The fabric is a bit denser than the one to the right. It also feels softer. To the right is the swatch knit from the yarn spun with combed top. You can see that the sari silk is more dense at the bottom and less so at the top. The sari silk is also less obvious in this swatch since it is combed into the top and spun more as streaks of colour than specks. The sari silk to the left ‘pops’ more.

Two dark grey knitted swatches.
Swatching: Yarn from carded rolags on the left and combed top on the right.

Even if I suspected that the results would be different, I needed to feel it and see it. Only when I experience the difference in real time can I really appreciate it and learn something from it: I learn how fiber behaves and how these fibers in particular behave. My hands need to know the fiber to be able to spin the wool into its best yarn. After this experiment, I think I have a clue to how to accomplish that.

What’s next?

My plan now is to spin the whole fleece into yummy skeins of 3-ply tweed yarn. I will spin it with longdraw from carded rolags on my spinning wheel. I will probably make it a bit thicker, perhaps sport weight yarn. Also, I may use slightly less sari silk per rolag, I prefer it to be more subtle than in the swatch.

I also have secret plans to design a garment to fit the structure and feeling of the yarn.

I went from not having given tweed a second thought to planning to spin a whole fleece into tweed yarn and designing a garment to match it. That wouldn’t have happened without the spinalong. Thank you PLY magazine and 51 yarns!

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • 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. You can subscribe or get an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts and post lots of woolliness.

Spinning English longdraw with a quill

A person spinning on a small spinning wheel

If one day I get the opportunity and the space, I want to get my hands on a walking wheel. To be able to spin majestically while having the freedom of standing and moving around is very appealing to me. When I recently found a wheel – tiny however – with an optional quill, I knew I needed it. You can read more about how the wheel came to me here. This post is about spinning English longdraw with a quill.

Quill wheels

Spinning with a quill – or stylus –  is a very old technique.  The first spinning wheel after the spindle was the great wheel (or walking wheel). It had a quill where the more modern spinning wheel has a bobbin and flyer. They were also hand operated, as opposed to the more modern (and time saving) treadle driven.

With a great wheel you have the perfect opportunity to spin soft and warm yarns with lovely longdraws. As far as I understand it, medieval spinners were allowed to spin weft on the wheel. The strength of the weft yarn wasn’t as crucial sa the warp yarn. The warp had to be spun with a spindle to be strong and even enough.

Watching the quill on my wheel gives me a hint to how Sleeping beauty supposedly hurt herself – this quill is dead sharp. While I did get stung by it several times I did not fall asleep, though. I am pretty sure Sleeping beauty didn’t fall asleep either. She just faked it to be able to shut the door behind her and spin in peace. No friggin’ princes necessary.

Spinning with a quill

The movements of spinning with a quill are so beautiful, like a choreographed dance. Apart from the general feeling of spinning with a quill, there are other benefits as well. Since there are no hooks or orifice, you can spin yarn of any thickness on a quill. You can go crazy with bulky art yarns with whatever you want to attach to it. Perhaps I should give that pigtail yarn with washers that I have been dreaming about a try? Gotta unsharpened that quill first, though.

Close-up of a small spinning wheel with a quill.
Deadly sharp quill with ugly plastic straw.

Spinning with a quill feels very free. There are no hooks to fuss with and there is a simplicity to it when there is less material between me and the wound up yarn. Also, you never have to deal with tension.

Although I try to avoid plastic, I have added an ugly plastic drinking straw to my quill. This is to (hopefully) make it easier to slide the cop off the quill when I am finished.

English long draw

This past Christmas I blogged about the English longdraw and promised you a video with it. I also promised you I would do it with white yarn. This yarn is brown. I will make another video with English longdraw with bobbin and flyer. With white wool. Have faith!

Watching Norman Kennedy spin on a walking wheel gives me goosebumps. Spinning with English longdraw gives the yarn a quality that I believe is more consistent than the American longdraw (which is my ‘regular’ longdraw). The English longdraw is a double drafted draw and very similar to the technique I use when I spin on a Navajo spindle. You can see the Navajo spindle technique in this video.

The technique: Basics

In the December blog post you can read more about the technique. Let’s go through the technique again, step by step:

  • Pinch the yarn with your spinning hand.
  • Gather twist by treadling and keeping the spinning hand still.
  • Unpinch and draw with the fiber hand
  • add some more twist by treadling and keeping the fiber hand still.
  • wind on to the quill

Intermediate

This was the rough sketch. Let’s dig a bit deeper:

  • Pinch the yarn with your spinning hand.
  • Gather twist by treadling and keeping the spinning hand still. Make sure you have a bit of an angle on the yarn (in relation to the direction of the quill).
  • Unpinch and draw with the fiber hand. Keep the angle. Hold the fiber very lightly and release evenly. This is the single draft.
  • add some more twist by treadling and keeping the fiber hand still. This is the double draft.
  • wind on to the quill. This is where you need to change the angle, just as you would on a supported spindle or Navajo spindle. Grab the yarn with your spinning hand. Pull a little to release the yarn from the tip and wind on to the bottom of the quill. This is a quite fast motion.

Advanced

If we look at rhythm and consistency we can go even deeper:

  • Pinch the yarn with your spinning hand.
  • Gather twist by treadling and keeping the spinning hand still. Make sure you have a bit of an angle on the yarn (in relation to the direction of the quill). Count your treadles here.
  • Unpinch and draw with the fiber hand. Keep the angle. Hold the fiber very lightly and release evenly. This is the single draft.  Try to make the release chunks even across the yarn. Count again here…
  • add some more twist by treadling and keeping the fiber hand still. This is the double draft. …and here.
  • wind on to the quill. This is where you need to change the angle to 90 degrees, just as you would on a supported spindle or Navajo spindle. Grab the yarn with your spinning hand. Pull a little to release the yarn from the tip and wind on to the bottom of the quill. This is a quite fast motion.

By counting the treadles you can get more consistency in the yarn. In the video I treadled eight single treadles for gathering twist and another eight to ten for drawing and adding twist.

The beauty of spinning is that you get so much practice, you just repeat the motions again and again. Suddenly, it’s just there, incorporated in your hands and movements and your body knows just what to do.

The video

This time I shot the video at the allotment. I have done some outdoor videos and clips with my stationary wheel and my portable wheel, but it isn’t very easy. That’s what a tiny wheel is for! I just threw the bag over my shoulder and left!

Since good quality carding is s such a vital part of spinning longdraw, I decided to keep the carding part unedited in the clip. Skip it if you don’t need it.

I ordered the double treadle version of the spinning wheel. However, I find it smoother and less noisy when I spin it as a single treadle. I chose to spin with a single treadle in this video. An interesting article in the latest issue of PLY magazine covers single treadle spinning and I am eager to investigate this more.

I know I promised you white wool, but this was what I had at the moment. I hope my light coloured clothes compensate a little.

A person spinning on a small spinning wheel with a quill.
The free and unencumbered long draw with a quill.

From the yearnings for a giant walking wheel to a teeny tiny portable wheel via the quill. I don’t get to walk while spinning, but then again, I couldn’t bring a walking wheel to the woods either. And whichever wheel or other spinning tool I use, I get to spin.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • 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. You can subscribe or get an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts and post lots of woolliness.

A Shetland hap

A person standing behind a stretched Shetland Hap

As I have written in an earlier post, one of my favourite knitting designers is Kate Davies. In her book The book of Haps she has a pattern of a beautiful square Shetland hap, called Moder Dy. When I saw it, I immediately felt that it needed me. After months of knitting and spinning, it is finally finished!

Josefin Waltin standing at the end of a stretched Shetland hap.
Beautiful natural colours on a Shetland hap. I love the variegated Mooskit garter center square. Photo by Dan Waltin.

A hap stretcher to match

Knitting a big shawl like a Shetland hap and making it justice requires proper blocking. And the Shetland way fo doing that is with a hap stretcher. These are very hard to come by and difficult to ship since they are quite large. As it turned out, the hap stretcher needed me too. Fortunately, Kate Davies has an excellent hap stretcher tutorial on her blog.

So, this fall I put on my best carpenter’s suit and started drilling.

Lots of holes.

176 holes.

Eventually I was done drilling, did a little sanding and varnishing and became the proud mother of a brand new hap stretcher.

A person drilling holes on a piece of timber.
Drilling away on my hap stretcher. Photo by Dan Waltin

Shetland all the way

Since the Moder Dy is a typical Shetland hap, I wanted to use Shetland wool for the yarn. After getting tired of spinning up my earlier Shetland fleeces as 2-ply fingering weight yarn, I had spun a few skeins as 3-ply sport weight yarn. I had white, Shaela (light gray), Yuglet and Eskit (dark grays), all from the treasure room for hand spinners at Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers. I have combed the fiber and spun with short draw to define the lace pattern. I planned this quality for the lace edge and shell border.

A skein of white yarn
Shetland white, hand combed and spun with short draw and 3-plied. Strong and defined for lace knitting.

For the garter middle I used a Mooskit (light fawn) fleece that I carded and spun with long draw to make it soft and warm. One of the wonderful benefits of handspinning is that I can customize the yarn for my knitting needs.

A ball of light fawn yarn
A ball of Shetland Mooskit yarn. Hand carded and spun with long draw and 3-plied. Soft and fuzzy for a warm garter center square.

Using what I have

I spun some more 3-ply and started knitting the lace edge in light gray. When I had finished half of the lace edging, I realized that I didn’t have enough light gray yarn. I also didn’t have any more light gray fluff. So I simply changed to a dark gray Shetland yarn. I mean, I can’t be the first one to have run out of fluff  and I’m sure there are other creative solutions for this problem that have resulted in stunning designs. I read once that having limitations actually forces you to be more creative since you need to find a solution within certain boundaries.

Josefin Waltin standing by a stretched Shetland hap.
It’s a really big hap. Here you can see the two different colours of the lace edging. Can you see the trees through the garter stitch middle?  Photo by Dan Waltin.

Spinning as I run out of yarn

This Shetland hap is really huge and It ‘s amazing how much yarn is required. I have spun up more as I have run out of yarn. Since the rows of the shell border are about 500 stitches long in the beginning, one 50 g skein may last only for about 5 rows. Every time I have thought I didn’t need any more yarn, I have realized I was wrong. Way wrong.

Big and heavy knitting

Knitting this hap has been an adventure and it’s wonderful to be in the best seat to see the development. Naturally, the project has grown bigger and bigger and when I knit the last part (the garter middle) I was totally covered under a heavy hap monster.

Total weight: 1055 g

Total meterage: 1909 m

Close-up of a hand knit shawl.
Close-up of the garter stitch center and the auld shell border.  Photo by Dan Waltin.

The pattern called for a sport weight yarn, but the my yarn is for the most part a bit thicker than that. Which also meant that the hap stretcher was a bit too small – had it been bigger I would have been able to stretch the fabric and define the pattern even more in the blocking.

Close-up of a lace shawl
Close-up of the lace edging.  Photo by Dan Waltin.

As always, I have learned a lot from this project. All in all, I’m hap happy!

Don’t waste your wool waste!

When I spin, I usually get a yield of around 55 % of the original weight of the fleece. The rest goes away as waste in either sorting or combing/carding. But I never throw any of the waste away. The most obvious use would be for toy stuffing, but I’m not a big toy maker. Instead, I use most of it in the garden. The wool waste has value even if it’s full of dirt, vegetable matter and poo. Or just because of that.

Pot planting

When I sow in pots I put some wool waste in the bottom to let the roots get some space. If I plan to keep the plants indoors in the winter, I also put wool on top of the soil. This has several benefits. First of all, it protects the surface of the soil so that it doesn’t dry so fast. The dirt in the wool will sink down into the soil when watering and will act as a fertilizer. If I use white wool on top of the soil, it also reflects the light, which is beneficial for the plant. Last, but not least, the wool will prevent the fungus gnats from laying their eggs in the soil.

Mulching

For basically the same reason as the pots, we put wool waste on top of the garden beds at our allotment. It keeps the soil from drying out, it keeps weeds from growing and it fertilizes the soil when it rains. The wee workers in the soil will pull the fibers down into the depth and make the soil earthy and porous. The wool waste may also prevent slugs and roe deers from eating our crop. Not always, though, the bold city roe deers and the despicable Spanish slugs are nasty!

Sometimes the wool doesn’t stay in the garden beds, though. In the early spring I see lots of magpies pulling fibers to use in their nests. I can live with that.

Instant felted soles

I like to put wool waste in my shoes to make instant insulating soles. The more I use the shoes, the more the wool felts and makes excellent personalized soles.

Against visiting ants

Every March equinox, the ants come marching into our house. If we find their way in, we try to stuff the hole with a piece of wool. That usually helps and feels better than any chemical ant control.

Feeding the compost

Small pieces of wool waste from spinning I usually just put in the Bokashi compost. Or, if we have a bigger amount of wool waste that for some reason can’t be used elsewhere, we just put it in the compost. It may take a while to decompose, but eventually it will. And we use all our precious compost in the garden beds.

Wool waste water

Last, but not least, I use the water from wool rinsing. Swedish wool usually has a quite low amount of lanolin in it. I want some lanolin in the wool I spin, so I just rinse the wool in water. This gives me just the right amount of lanolin to spin. I preferably use rain water if the rain barrel is full. The used water has lots and lots of fertilizer and I use it to water the plants outside. It makes the whole garden smell like sheep, and for a little while I pretend I have my own flock.

Do you have more clever ideas for not letting the wool waste go to waste?

Learning new things – medieval style spinning

Josefin Waltin drafting wool from a distaff

I’m in a process where I’m learning new things. Learning a new skill is a beautiful experience. To be able to meet a new technique from a perspective of a beginner allows me to experiment with new tools before I have had the chance to decide which tools to get comfortable with. It teaches me to be humble before the learning process. For a moment I can step outside of myself and watch me gradually grasp the new technique.

Learning to spin medieval style

The purpose of my romance with the ever so charming process of learning is the art of spinning medieval style with a distaff. In this, there are several new things for me to learn:

  • The technique to spin on a new kind of spindle with a new technique
  • How to dress and draft from a distaff
  • How to spin and draft with the wrong hand

Medieval style spinning technique

The medieval spindle technique can be described as a third kind of technique along with suspended and supported spindle spinning. It is a grasped kind of spinning or in-hand spinning. But one of the beauties of spinning medieval style is that you can combine it with suspended spinning (long and short) and support spinning, all according to the circumstances in which you are spinning.

When spinning in-hand style, the yarn goes over the top of the spindle shaft, much like it does with supported spinning. I just love that light pattering sound of the thread snapping off the spindle tip for every turn of the spindle. Check out Cathelina di Alessandri‘s videos at 15th century spinning for great technique instructions.

The distaff

Working with a distaff is totally new to me. I have a hand-held distaff and a belt distaff. The first task is to dress the distaff. I prefer to hand-card my fleece, and so I do my best to assemble 20–25 grams of hand-carded batts on my distaff. I had lots of inspiration from Luca Costigliolo.

My hand distaff is hand turned by Caroline Hershey at Hershey Fiber arts. My belt distaff is hand-carved by my son when he was eight. He was inspired by the wizarding world and wanted to make a “magic cane”. He carved and decorated with mysterious signs and a magic gemstone on top. And when I found it a couple of weeks ago (he is 15 now and doesn’t like to throw away stuff) I saw the perfect belt distaff! A tad too short, but I can live with that. I am planning to carv myself some new ones though, in various lengths for hand-held, belt and floor distaff spinning.

Changing hands

In almost all of my spinning my left hand is my spinning hand and my right hand is my fiber hand. I tried this with in-hand spinning, but I got a cramp in my left hand all the time. The motion is the same whether you spin with your right or left hand, but if you want a specific spinning direction the motion will be different. Unless I spin for something special, I always spin clockwise. Spinning clockwise with your right hand means moving your first and second fingers outwards, away from your body. Spinning clockwise with tour left hand means moving your fingers inward towards your center. And apparently this didn’t work for me. So I switched. I know it is possible, since I have done it with Navajo spindle spinning for similar reasons.

A person holding a spindle
Learning to spin with the wrong hand

Changing an incorporated muscular pattern does take its time, though. But today I really felt progress and thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of having some sort of control over my right hand muscles.

Video plans

I have plans to make a video with medieval style spinning. It’s still a little cold outside, though. The lanolin isn’t on its best behaviour in -7°C. Believe me, I have tried. Today in fact. So I will give you a short sneak peak of my learning process from a cold and snowy Stockholm. Enjoy!

The spindle is one of the spiral notched spindle shafts from NiddyNoddyUK that I unboxed the other day and the whorl is from John Rizzi. Hat pattern is Ella Gordon‘s Crofthoose hat in my handspun yarn and the shawl is my handspun and handwoven from my video Slow Fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl. The fiber I am spinning is a prize winning Värmland fleece. Wonderful to work with and it drafts like a dream. Just not in winter temperatures.

There will be more! In the meantime I will continue to practice and learn.