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!


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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!


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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!


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.

Peace of mind

These are troubled times. When my mind is racing and I need something to focus on I turn to nalbinding. Simple (but not easy), close and slow. Nalbinding gives me some peace of mind in a chaotic world.

All you need to nalbind is a thumb, some yarn, a blunt needle and time. Yes, nalbinding does take time, but it also means you get to spend time with the material you are creating, following every stitch over, under, behind, under, over again, through and around the thumb. Unlike knitting where I tend to zone out sometimes, nalbinding softly whispers for your attention.

Empirical mittens

I decided to work this process as simply as possible. Tease some wool, card some rolags, spin some singles on a suspended spindle. As the spindle gets too heavy for a comfortable spin I wind the singles into a centerpull ball and ply from there on the spindle. I end up with a sweet ball of around 12 grams. That leaves me enough yarn for a couple of rounds on each mitten. I get into a rhythm between preparing, spinning and nalbinding without getting tired of any one part. I also don’t get fatigued or strained by doing one step for a long time.

With a short fluff to stuff cycle like this I get a sense of presence in all the steps. I can make the connection between all the parts of the process and get instant feedback from one step to the next in sort of an empirical mini – or mitten in this case – study.

On my Instagram account I have saved a video series as a highlight called Fluff to stuff, where I go through the process from carding to nalbinding in this project. I have of course teased the wool first, you can read more about that here.

In the moment

I also break the rules and omit some of the steps I normally take – I don’t let the singles sit overnight, I don’t soak the yarn and set the twist before using it. Why? Because I don’t feel like it. In this process like to feel the instant feedback from the previous step into the present and from the present to the next. As the world spins at the moment I just want to be in the moment, channeling my worried mind into that particular step of the process. I need crafting in my hands and in my brain to bring some peace of mind in a chaotic world.

I get instant feedback between steps as I work with a short fluff-to-stuff cycle.

To be honest I don’t think too much about consequences of my choices, they are not the important thing here. And I don’t always have to make conscious choices. Sometimes the wool and the tools make the appropriate choices for me.

The safety of wool

Nalbinding is an activity where I feel truly in the craft. My hands are literally in the project since my thumb is the actual stitch gauge. For every stitch I make the yarn goes around and over my thumb, making it a tool just as important as the needle. The unwashed yarn smells of sheep and leaves a whisper of lanolin on my hands. The slow process of under-over-under-behind-between and under again brings a focus and a slow pace rhythm that is just what I need and can handle right now.

A forgiving craft

I make lots of choices in this project – where I break rules and skip steps. Luckily nalbinding is a forgiving craft, for several reasons.

  • The slowness makes it easier to plan your next step.
  • You basically can’t loose a stitch. You only have the one stitch on your thumb to keep track of (depending on the stitch you have chosen for the project). Should you loose it for some reason it will just tighten and the spiraling construction will lead directly to it.
  • I waulk all my nalbinding projects for extra strength and durability. Any fitting or other irregularities will be smoothed out at the waulking board.
  • Nalbinding is generally worked in a spiral. That way it is easy to shape the project as you go along.
  • Since nalbinding is a sewn technique you can’t work with a continuous strand of yarn. Instead you work with shorter sections – I use three arm’s lengths for each turn. Joins are a natural and inevitable part of the technique.
Nalbinding is a slow process but the fabric will last forever. Alder cone spindle by Wildcraft

Thoughts on nalbinding

Stitches

There are lots of stitches on different difficulty levels to choose from. When I started out I found very few descriptions on left-handed nalbinding. This actually made it easier for me to choose – I could only work with the ones that were described for lefties. After a while I got the hang of the principles and could translate the right-handed instructions in my head.

For Dan’s mittens I chose the Dalby stitch.

Needle

You need a large blunt needle. I have four – one that I bought at Birka World heritage, one I carved from an elm just outside our house and two that kind-hearted supporters made for me. Perhaps I should make some more this spring. Spring is after all the perfect carving season and needles are always welcome.

Lovely nalbinding needles. From the left: Hand-carved by me from an elm tree just outside our house, hand-carved by a student, hand-carved by a supporter and bought at Birka World Heritage.

Yarn

I haven’t really thought so much about the yarn for nalbinding. I like mine with quite a high twist, as my S-plied yarn untwists a bit as I work with my left hand. This means that for anyone working with S-plied yarn with the right hand the twist will instead increase.

2-ply yarn spun with longdraw from hand-carded rolags on a suspended spindle. Plied from both ends of a centerpull ball on a suspended spindle. The wool comes from the Gestrike Ewe Elsa.

It’s a good idea to work with a yarn that can stand the abrasion of going through the fabric so many times. A yarn from a dual coat wool is perfect to work with – it has the warmth of the undercoat and the strength from the outercoat. I used staples that I had sorted out from a Gestrike fleece, with mostly undercoat and a few strands of outercoat.

I spun my yarn woolen from hand-carded rolags. A yarn like this tends to be weaker than a worsted spun yarn. However, the tension the yarn is under due to the weight of the suspended spindle makes the yarn a bit more dense that it would have been with another spinning tool. Also, the combination of undercoat and outercoat keeps the yarn strong but not too coarse.

It’s a good idea to use a wool that felts since you may want to waulk the finished project. You can read more about how I have waulked a pair of nalbound socks here.

Mittens for Dan

The nalbinding project I have been working on for the past few weeks is a pair of mittens for my husband Dan. It was a Christmas gift, but things got in the way and they were only half-finished for the holidays.

For the beginning of the mittens I used an Åsen wool yarn that I had spun for a previous pair of mittens. This particular Åsen fleece had mostly vadmal type staples – mostly warm and airy undercoat fibers and just a few strands of long and strong outercoat fibers. It was not particularly soft and I saw a big nalbinding yarn potential. The airy undercoat fibers would provide lightness and warmth while the few outercoat fibers would bind the fibers together and add strength and integrity to the yarn.

As always with pairs of anything I make both simultaneously. One yarn length on the left and another on the right. When I ran out of yarn I picked out similar staples from a Gestrike fleece and spun the same way – I carded rolags out of teased wool and spun woolen on a suspended spindle. I gave the yarn lots of twist to make sure it would stand the abrasion of going up and down in the nalbinding. The resulting yarn was round, strong and kind, and not too different from the white Åsen yarn.

I just hoped that the yarns would felt reasonably equally, and they did. A design born through a take-what -you-have situation is a good design, don’t you think?

Future nalbinding projects

I have been working comfortably with the Dalby stitch for a number of projects by now. After these mittens I think it’s time for something new. Perhaps a more intricate stitch, perhaps a hat. The possibilities are endless. Still, whatever I choose I know it will be a process where I can feel close to my work, both physically and mentally. Where I can be in the project with just the needle and yarn in my hand and some peace of mind.

A hat embryo for peace of mind at the office office.

To tell you the truth I actually did start another nalbinding project already. After two years of working from my home office I have to be at the office office at least 50 % of the time, starting Monday. With over 800 other people in an open landscape office. I need wool for protection and nalbinding is my project of choice. I’m making a hat.

Resources

Here are some lovely resources for nalbinding

  • On Neulakintaat you can see videos of a whole range of stitches for right-handed and a few for left-handed
  • Mervi Pasanen has written a beautiful book on nalbinding, With one needle
  • If you search for nalbinding on this blog you will find some more posts.

Last week I launched an auction for Ukraine. I donated my gold medal winning embroidery yarn to the highest bid and the money to UNHCR’s work in Ukraine. The highest bid was 200€. The second highest bidder donated her 150€ too and I added another 100€. So I sent 450€ to the Swedish UNHCR and the embroidery yarn to Australia. Also, a foundation is doubling all donations to the Swedish UNHCR, so 900€ are going to their work in Ukraine. Thank you all who participated!

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.

Teasing

When someone oohs and aahs over a handspun yarn I say “It’s all in the preparation”. When someone oohs and aahs over a mean hand-carded rolag I say “It’s all in the pre-preparation”. Today’s post is all about teasing.

Teasing is a way to open up the wool. Either as a single preparation or as a pre-preparation before the main preparation. Teasing wool before carding is an enormous help in getting even, high quality rolags that are a joy to spin.

Staples of rya wool and mohair, wool teased with combs and hand-carded rolags like peas in a pod.
Staples of rya wool and mohair, wool teased with combs and hand-carded rolags like peas in a pod.

I never put wool on my hand cards unless it is teased first. To me, carding is about arranging the fibers evenly and loftily. To do that – without putting too much strain on me and the fibers – I therefore tease first. Without exception. When I teach spinning I always include fiber preparation and teasing.

Why teasing?

When I tease I

  • open up the wool from its state as a bundle of staples. Air comes in between the fibers and makes the fibers more evenly distributed
  • spend more time with the wool
  • prepare to card high quality rolags.

With teasing I can

  • get more evenly carded rolags with less strain on my body and the wool
  • blend fibers, lengths fleeces or colours
  • remove vegetable matter
  • get rid of the shortest fibers
  • leave the teased wool before I card, while carded and combed wool needs to be treated as fresh produce
  • experience more ease and joy when I card.

Without teasing before carding

  • the wool will be more dense and require more force to separate
  • I may strain my shoulders, wrists and arms
  • fibers may break, leaving nepps in the preparation
  • the rolags will be of lesser quality
  • there may be a lot more waste than with teasing.
I gently add the teased wool to my hand card to create an evenly arranged rolag.
I gently add the teased wool to my hand card to create an evenly arranged rolag.

How I tease

I use different tools for teasing – my hands, combs and flickers. Which tool I use when depends on a variety of circumstances.

Teasing with combs

My go-to tool of teasing is combs, usually my larger combs with a combing station that I clamp onto a table (but of course hand held combs work well too). I can tease larger amounts of wool this way and without putting too much strain on my hands and wrists. When I tease with my combs I also have the opportunity to blend different breeds, fiber lengths or colours. You can see a video here where I tease wool that I blend with recycled sari silk. Teasing with combs also helps getting rid of vegetable matter.

Pulling the teased wool straight out of the stationary comb, perpendicular to the tines.
Pulling the teased wool straight out of the stationary comb, perpendicular to the tines.

Teasing with combs is similar to combing in the middle but different in the beginning and in the end. When I tease with combs I don’t consider the direction of the staples the way I would if I were combing – I just make sure there is as little wool as possible on the handle side of the comb. Other than that I just add the wool as it comes.

Värmland wool teased with combs, ready for carding.
Värmland wool teased with combs, ready for carding.

The middle part, the actual combing, is the same as when I comb for a top. When I pull the wool off the comb I don’t pull it in one long section like I would if I were combing, I just pull it in fiber-length tufts.

All my combs come from Gammeldags in Sweden and I highly recommend them, both the mini combs and the larger ones with a combing station to clamp onto the table. You can read more about combs in general and the Gammeldags combs in particular here.

Teasing with a flicker

In some circumstances I use a flicker to tease my wool. This could be if there are certain things I want to remove with the flicker. One example is Swedish finull. Since the finull fibers are so fine the tips can be brittle. To avoid nepps in my yarn I use the flicker to allow any breaking tips to break in the flicker and stay there instead of ending up as nepps in my yarn.

Another example is if the staples have a lot of kemp (or too short fibers in general) in the bottom. A flicker can do a good job in removing some of the kemp.

To flick a staple I hold the cut end firmly and brush out the tip end with the flicker, using my thigh as support and a piece of leather as protection. I turn the staple and brush the other side of the tip. When the tip is teased I flip the staple to brush out both sides of the cut ends. I need to hold the staple quite close to the cut end to avoid having shorter fibers (but long enough for spinning) to stay in the flicker and go to waste.

Flicking as main preparation

I also use a flicker if I want to spin straight from the staples. Perhaps I want to keep something – a colour variegation or a fiber distribution. The flicker opens up the staple without disturbing the fibers in the staple too much and makes the spinning smoother. I used a flicker for my Icelandic fleece that I spun raw from the lock. I teased the staples with a flicker first and then opened up the teased staples further with my hands.

Another project where I used flicked locks as the main preparation was a pair of two-end knitted mittens. I wanted to keep the colour variegation in the yarn and spun a z-plied yarn from teased locks with a supported spindle. You can read about the finished two-end knitted mittens here. The post includes links to earlier parts of the process like preparation and spinning.

Flicking before combing

On some occasions I also use my flicker before combing a top. One example is a Swedish Gotland fleece that had very dense staples that were felted in the cut ends. Opening up the staples before combing made the combing a lot smoother and there was a lot less waste than without the teasing. Similarly, I have teased locks of a Norwegian NKS fleece that had solidified lanolin in the tips (in the post you can watch videos where I show the results with and without teasing before combing). Teasing the staples with a flicker resulted in less work for me and less wool waste.

Using a card as a flicker

Another option is to tease individual staples with your hand cards and get the same results as with a flicker:

  • Place the tip end on the upper edge of a hand card with a hand on top
  • Pull the staple from the carding pad, resisting with the top hand a few times until the tips are teased
  • Flip the staple and repeat for the cut end.

My flicker comes from Louët, but both Ashford and Clemes & Clemes have flickers. Clemes & Clemes has something called a lock pop that seems interesting. You can use a dog or cat brush as a flicker too (or several, they will definitely break). In this video I tease individual staples with a dog comb.

Teasing by hand

If I don’t want to bring too many tools or if I want to stay really close to the wool I tease with my hands. I hold the staple in my hand and tease perpendicularly to the direction of the staple. It obviously takes longer than teasing with a tool, but the benefit is the time you spend with the fiber, getting to know it and how it behaves.

Teasing by hand: Hold the staple lengthwise between your hands and pull almost fiber by fiber perpendicular to the direction of the staple.
Teasing by hand: Hold the staple lengthwise between your hands and pull almost fiber by fiber perpendicular to the direction of the staple.

In my recent spinning project with raw Icelandic wool I combined flicking and hand teasing and spun from what I ended up calling an accordion burrito.

Accidental teasing

A final and sort of accidental way to tease is when you separate undercoat and outercoat with combs. As you doff the outercoat off the comb in a top the undercoat stays in the comb, nicely teased.

After having doffed the long outercoat fibers off the comb I end up with accidentally teased undercoat fibers neatly arranged in the comb.
After having doffed the long outercoat fibers off the comb I end up with accidentally teased undercoat fibers neatly arranged in the comb.

I hope you experiment with teasing if you haven’t already, and enjoy the difference. I will get back to my teasing and a good period drama. To me, teasing will not only result in higher quality rolags, but also a joy in the carding process.

Teased rya locks in the sun (see as in the featured image).
Teased rya locks in the sun (see as in the featured image).

Do you tease your wool in a way I haven’t described here? What are the benefits?

If you have access to any of the breed study webinars I have released you can see how I tease there. And if you are a patron you can have access to all previous breed study webinars in a patron-only video library.

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.

Gunvor’s Sirwal pants

And they are done. My largest spindle spun project so far, the Sirwal snow shoveling pants that used to be common in the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains. I call them Gunvor’s Sirwal pants from the sheep that gave me the wool. Since my 16-year-old has dibs on snow shoveling for pocket money I may use the pants for outdoor yoga and for walking down to the lake for my daily bath.

A while ago I bought Irene Waggener’s beautiful book Keepers of the sheep and reviewed it on the blog. One of the most striking patterns was the Sirwal pants, a pair of black and white striped pants that the shepherds used to knit while herding the sheep.

A patternless pattern

In the book Irene describes her first meeting with the pants in a museum, how she learned to knit them from her host Muah n’Aït Tabatoot’s demonstration. Irene has in turn written down the oral description and demonstration for the book. As all of the projects in the book the pattern is based on working with what you have in the form of wool, yarn, needles and body size rather than a detailed knitting instruction. I really liked the idea and think it would be a good challenge for me.

The challenge of keeping it simple

In the book Irene describes how Muah’s wife Nejma spun and plied the yarn on a floor supported spindle, wound it into a ball and handed it straight over to Muah for knitting. I wanted to make my own pair of Sirwal pants as close to the original as possible. So, a spindle spun yarn. I didn’t have a floor supported spindle of the kind Nejma used, but I do have Navajo style floor supported spindles so I used one of them. I also decided not to soak the yarn and set the twist after plying, to stay as close to the High Atlas way as I could.

“So, the yarn is not soaked and the twist has not been set?” you may say. That’s right. “But soaking the yarn will allow it to bloom into its final shape! And setting the twist will even out the twist over the length of the yarn!” you may continue. That is true. This will probably not happen with my pants. Something else probably will, though. I don’t know what, but if and when it does, all is as it should be. Instead of the finished yarn I got the loveliest smell during knitting and the softest hands. That counts for something too.

Gunvor the Gestrike sheep

Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep
Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep.

I used two fleeces of Gestrike wool, the first and second shearing of the Gestrike ewe Gunvor. She was the subject of my longitudinal study I wrote about in May 2021. She was a beautiful white sheep with large black spots, perfect for the striped Sirwal pants.

Gestrike wool has both long and strong outercoat fibers, soft and airy undercoat and some kemp. This results in a strong and warm yarn, perfect for my Sirwal pants.

A life through stripes

The fleece of Gestrike sheep can lighten with age and Gunvor’s fleece turned out to have that particular characteristic. I took advantage of this feature and used the blackest black from the first shearing at the bottom of the legs and continuted with the lighter shades as I worked my way up the legs. I like how you can see Gunvor’s life through the stripes.

The quality of the wool was different between the shearings too. The first shearing was shinier and a bit finer while the second shearing was a bit shorter and airier. I’m not sure it’s visible in the pants, though. The second shearing was a lot higher in lanolin. As I calculated the yield from the two fleeces I was amazed by the difference. From the raw fleece I got a yarn yield of 59 per cent from the first shearing and 38 per cent from the second. The amount of lanolin should be an important clue to this difference. Perhaps the second shearing also contained more short fibers and/or kemp than the second, that stayed in the combs when I teased the wool.

You can read more about shearing and lanolin content through the seasons in the post Shearing Day.

Bulky

Another challenge was the yarn. The tradition calls for a super bulky yarn, which is far from my light fingering weight default thickness. But a challenge is a challenge and I took it by the horns. I managed to spin the bulkiest singles I have ever spun. Add plying to that and I got myself a super bulky woolen spun yarn from hand carded rolags.

At first I tried to card the wool without teasing the wool first, again in an effort to stay as close to the High Atlas way as possible. But the kemp in the wool made the yarn very scratchy. By teasing the wool with combs I got rid of a lot of the kemp and I decided to keep the teasing.

When the pants were finished I had used 26 balls of yarn. 1200 grams, 717 meters from the two fleeces, between 500 and 700 meters per kilo with an average grist of 590 meters per kilo. You can read more about how I spun this yarn in my blog post bulky.

If you are a patron (or become one) you may get access to a Patreon postcard video I made in November, where I demonstrate how I spin the super bulky yarn.

Knitting

I started knitting as soon as I had the first ball of handspun yarn in my hand. This is how I continued with the whole project – spin a ball and knit it. A yarn of this weight doesn’t last very long, though. At the bottom of the legs one skein lasted about one stripe and at the hips around eight rounds.

Spin a ball, knit a stripe, hoping the two fleeces would be enough for the whole project.

Knitting the Gunvor Sirwal pants was quite strenuous. The bulky yarn and the large needles (5.5 mm) require some work. Add to that the tight twist and the tight gauge and, as I joined the legs in the crotch, quite some weight in my lap to manage. The finished pants weigh around one kilo.

Despite the heavy knitting it was lovely to work with the yarn. I love the roundedness of the yarn and the strong character it has. It takes its place in the world and doesn’t apologize for its existence. I got all giggly by the sheepy smell from the unwashedness of the pants in progress. As I knit I experienced Gunvor’s life, from the blackest of the black lamb locks at the shins to the more mature depth in the lead grey in hip height.

Outdoor yoga and cold baths

If you have been following me for a while you may know that I take baths in the lake every day and that I sometimes practice yoga outdoors. Gunvor’s Sirwal pants are perfect for both outdoor yoga and walking down to the lake on the coldest days.

A walk to the bath

Gunvor’s Sirwal pants are warm, reasonably windproof, and easy to put on after a cold bath, which is important since my fingers are stiff from the cold and I need to get warm fast. Yesterday afternoon I went down to the lake with an axe and cleaned up the edges of the hole in the ice. We’re five ladies in the cold bath group and they have all been cheering me on during the making of the pants.

An outdoor yoga studio

Practicing yoga outdoors is not a problem as long as you have clothing that suits the weather. Down to -2°C is ok with one or two layers of wool tights or sweat pants. I can even practice with bare feet on my cork mat at this temperature. With lower temperatures staying warm easily gets too chunky which makes it difficult to do the postures comfortably.

Gunvor’s Sirwal pants are perfect, though, even for temperatures below -2°C. I took the pictures above at -6°C and it wasn’t too cold. With the suspenders they stay up without getting too tight around the waist.

I practice yoga asana every day, and sometimes outdoors on our terrace. I just love having all the fresh air to myself. As I usually do my outdoor yoga at around 8 p.m. it’s dark, as dark it gets in a city. I get to look up at the sky and the waving pine branches above. It gives the practice an extra dimension of space that I don’t want to be without.

Gunvor’s Sirwal superhero pants, ready for your next wooly adventure.

Some people say the pants look a bit like Obelix’s blue and white striped pants, some say they look like Findus the cat’s green striped suspender pants. They remind me of swimsuits from over a century ago, which is quite suitable since I wear them in a bathing context. But most of all they make me think of superhero pants with their bold stripes and dazzling lightning bolts up the sides. Don’t we all wish to be just a little superhero-y every now and then?

Thank you Irene for making the pattern accessible and Muah for teaching Irene. Thank you Gunvor for the loveliest wool. I have learned a lot from this project.

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.

2021 wrapped up

Another year has passed, filled with spinning memories, like sweets in a bowl. Today I share my favourite wool moments from this year. This is 2021 wrapped up.

As I have looked through my posts in preparation for this wrapping up of the year I have tried to cluster the posts. I have found a few different perspectives that I can sort the posts into. So if you are in a certain mood you can skip to that particular area below.

Meditate

If you are in an artistic mood perhaps you are more inclined to read posts that are written in a more reflective and poetic style.

First comes a carefully worded ode to a small ziplock bag of 55 grams of wool. Actually an exercise from Ursula K Le Guin’s brilliant book on writing, Steering the craft. Do read the piece aloud to discover the rhythm in some of the passages.

In Dear Blanket I address one of the handspun knitted items that I use the most, a Shetland hap Dan and I snuggle under in front of snacks and Netflix every evening. In the same spirit I reflect on a Little ball of yarn.

I also created a more hands-on meditation in the video I call A spinning meditation, recorded in the northernmost part of Swedish Lappland, in the Swedish part of Sápmi. I invite you to spin along with me and feel your way through the spinning.

Reflect

Perhaps you are feeling more like reflecting over wool, spinning and the process you might be leaning more towards in-depth reflections. Here are some suggestions:

In The wool is my teacher I look at the wool in my hands as my most important teacher. If I listen close enough the wool will tell me what it’s all about. When the wool go through my hands time and again in the process from fleece to textile they gather knowledge. In The memory in the hands I reflect over this. And if I for some reason don’t listen to the wool or my experience I will make mistakes. I will also learn from them. In Embrace your mistakes I share some of the mistakes I have embraced over the years.

Through all that happens in the outer and inner world, wool is always there, anchoring me in the moment, opening the door to creativity. I remind myself of this in The comfort of wool. I think this is true for many spinners. In Course exchange I write about teaching new spinners and wishing they get as much out of wool and spinning

Explore

Sometimes I just want to explore a new fleece or a technique, with curiosity and an open mind. Judging from the posts in this section I have done that a lot this year. Try these:

In A coloured fleece I dive deep into the different shades of brown in a variegated brown Värmland fleece. I spin a super bulky Gestrike yarn on a floor supported spindle in Bulky. In Changing hands I talk about why I always teach my spindle spinning students to learn how to spin with both hands as spindle hands.

A couple of years ago I started a breed study series of the wool of Swedish sheep breeds from a spinner’s perspective. Most of these breed studies have been both a blog post and a live webinar. This year I had time for two breed studies – Gestrike wool and Åsen wool. If you registered for the webinars back then you still have access to the replays. During the year I have also had time to explore fleeces from these breeds further, in Nalbinding Åsen mittens and a Gestrike wool Longitudinal study.

Finally, in Break the rules I challenge the rules I have learned about spinning and do whatever I want. And it works!

Experiment

Sometimes I throw myself out into the wild and experiment with something that has proven to be a challenge or a technique that I don’t usually work with. I experiment with different solutions and learn a lot from the experiment. Perhaps you will be inspired to experiment too. Here are some of my recent concoctions:

Pick a fleece full of Vegetable matter and experiment with different ways to remove as much of the vegetable matter as possible. Imagine that same fleece, a rough fleece with kemp. Imagine smooth recycled sari silk. Put them together and read about it in Opposites attract.

I spin a newly shorn Icelandic lamb’s fleece from Iceland In the grease and find joy in the joy that the raw feeling and smell of fresh lanolin gives me. In Fulling singles I am determined to knit with singles yarns and full them to make sure the fabric doesn’t twist and turn.

Experience

In this last section I have gathered posts that have required or given me experience. Perhaps you find inspiration by reading these:

On a lovely Shearing day in October I got to be part of the helper team when Claudia’s Gestrike sheep were shorn by a professional shearer. And I got to bring the fleece of Elsa home on the bus. In Fleece happens I describe my process from when a fleece happens to come to me (like Elsa’s) to when I store it, via note taking, sorting, washing, drying, picking and more. A way to categorize wool in Sweden is by wool type. I walk you through the different wool (or staple) types and how they work. Wool combs describes what properties I think are important when I look at wool combs.

Påsöm embroidery is not about spinning at all, but still textile techniques. This embroidery technique and pattern is unique to the small village of Dala-Floda in County Dalarna in Sweden. Mending apparatus also has nothing to do with spinning, but is important for if and when your garments tear.

Books! Finally Sara Wolf’s book was released and I am a co-author. Read about Knit (spin) Sweden! and enjoy. The book is sold out and it will hopefully be reprinted. In a Book review I talk about Irene Waggener’s book Keepers of the sheep. Do read it!

Finally, in A pattern process I walk you through the agony and hair tearing as I go through the process of designing and construct a knitting pattern for publishing. You will see the root of this agony soon!

Do you have a favourite?

Happy new spinning year!


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.

Opposites attract

It happened again. A baby idea came and made up its mind not to leave me alone until I had listened to it. The baby idea told me to combine rustic gute fleece with recycled sari silk with the motivation that opposites attract. I listened and I’m glad I did.

A while ago I bought a gute fleece. Gute sheep have a very rustic wool that often has a coarse appearance. You can read more about gute wool here. This one was quite unusual, though, with its very soft undercoat and the outercoat playing only a minor part. Still, as with gute in general, the fleece has kemp.

Kemp

Kemp is fibers that have a dominant core with air-filled cells that make the fibers brittle. They are coarse and don’t conform themself with the rest of the fibers, instead they point quirkily in all directions. The upside with kemp, though, is that they fall out of the wool eventually and leave air pockets. And in yarn, air means warmth.

A lovely and in my experience quite rare gute fleece with lots of very fine undercoat, a few strands of outercoat and some kemp. The kemp keeps the staples open and light.

A fulling project

Kemp also gives a rustic look to a fabric. I like a fulled fabric with quirky kemp in it. My original plan for this fleece was to spin a 2-ply yarn to weave and full in a fulling mill. The combination of lots of undercoat with quite small amount of outercoat and kemp makes this a perfect candidate. The undercoat has excellent felting properties, the outercoat binds the fibers together and makes the fabric stronger and the kemp adds an interesting design element while at the same time bringing warmth to the fabric as it falls out and leaves air pockets.

Enter Sari silk

And so the baby idea came to me. What would happen if I blended the rustic gute wool with recycled sari silk? Would the very different fibers complement each other or would they just look odd? If so, would that be a bad thing?

I have blended recycled sari silk with wool before, in my sweater designs Margau beta and Selma Margau (available as a pattern in Spin-Off magazine). The fleeces have been finer and the results scrumptious. I decided to give my baby idea the benefit of the doubt and make a test skein and fulled swatches.

Teasing

So, first of all I teased the wool. I chose to tease with my combing station, where I could at the same time blend the sari silk with the wool. I charge the stationary comb with the (picked) gute staples. For the purpose of teasing I don’t care about the direction of the staples. I also add tufts of sari silk. To keep a reasonably even wool to silk ratio I charge every combload with 8 staple length tufts of sari silk.

As I doff the roving off the stationary comb a lot of the sari silk and the kemp stays in the comb. I try to fiddle the silk out.

I do about four passes in the combing station to get an even roving. There is one tricky thing here, though. As I doff the wool off the combs I get the longer lengths first, then shorter and shorter. Since both the sari silk and the kemp is very short, around one inch, a lot of it stays in the stationary comb. I try to fiddle the sari silk out to the best of my ability. I will try flicking the cut ends of the gute staples before teasing next time to get more kemp out.

You can see how I tease wool, blend it with sari silk and card rolags in this video.

Carding

As I card luscious rolags, the sari silk blends beautifully into the gute wool, like sparkling stars on a foggy night. Unexpected but mesmerizing.

This wool is just dreamy to work with. Very light and airy with a lovely meringue-y resistance to it. The rolags shape themselves like they were born to do just that. If I lean in I hear them singing sweet songs of yummy longdraws. My heart joins in in the chorus.

The longdraws from heaven

Yes, these newborn rolag babies need and deserve a wicked longdraw. As it turns out, the rolags work that out too, I just treadle along and listen to the wool. I allow it to decide how thick it wants to be. It settles for a quite fine thickness that after plying and washing blooms out into a sport weight yarn.

As I look at the newborn yarn I see something unique, a blend that I had never thought of before, but that flirts with me in a new way. I see the differences between the fibers and I tingle at their odd union.

Opposites attract

The kemp and the silk in this blend represent the ends of a number of spectra. While the gute wool is raw (in the sense that it hasn’t been processed) the sari silk has been spun, dyed, woven, ripped and processed again. The colours of the sari silk are vibrant and almost luminescent while the gute wool is softly grey. The kemp doesn’t even take dye. While the sari silk easily blends into the draft the kemp in the gute wool is quirky and goes its own way, often out of the yarn entirely. The kemp leaving air pockets in the yarn, the silk filling them. The silk sari, sheer and draped, the gute wool heavily fulled, dense.

However, as there are numerous ways in which these fibers are different, I can find sweet similarities too. Both sari silk and gute wool have depth in their colours, just on different scales. One on the vibrant side and the other on a subtle grey scale. The fine gute undercoat goes hand in hand with the silk. All the fibers – outercoat, undercoat and silk follow the dance of the twist. Well, not so much the kemp.

Another parameter the sari silk and the kemp have in common is their length. They are both quite short, around an inch long. Due to this similarity in length they stay in the combs when I have pulled the teased fibers out. If I pull out more silk, I get the kemp too. And there they are, side by side, like fiber sisters.

Clown barf?

As I investigate the yarn I wonder if I added too much sari silk. There are quite a lot of colour splashes. Is it too much? I remember a Swedish spinning forum discussion where the word clown barf was mentioned in reference to a very pastelly combed top. Was this approaching a brighter clown barf cousin?

I wrote down the wool to silk ratio and made a mental note about perhaps reducing the amount of sari silk. First I would see what happened in the weaving and fulling.

Sampling and fulling

So, I brought out my pin loom and started making samples to play with. Usually when I experiment with fulling I make two swatches – one that I leave as it is for reference and one that I full. This time I decided to make two fulling samples with different degrees of fulling. This turned out to be an excellent idea.

My theory was that since I believed that silk doesn’t felt the splashes of colour would bulk up and make blobs. This is why I was considering using less sari silk. The clown barfiness calmed down in the woven samples and even more in the fulled swatches. In the heavier fulled swatch the sari silk hardly shows at all. Little enough to leave the sari silk out altogether for that degree of fulling. It turns out that silk does felt.

I do love the lightly fulled swatch, the one I decided to make on a whim. It has a lovely movement that its stiffer cousin doesn’t have. The sari silk glows softly in the comfort of the squishy grey. Side by side with the sari silk is the quirky kemp, eager to see the world.

Under the loupe

Astonished by the fulling results I texted the pictures of the fulled samples to my brilliant friend Cecilia. “What do they look like under the loupe?” she asked in reply. That was the best idea I had heard all week. Of course I need to observe some felting action under a loupe!

So, after some fiddling I managed to get the three swatches under the loupe and some decent photos. As I look at them I see so many interesting things:

  • Silk fibers are really fine! But the gute undercoat is also very fine in this fleece.
  • I can see the light gute fibers, mostly the finer ones but also some with a wider diameter. This seems to confirm my observation of the staples being build up of mostly undercoat fibers and just a few strands of outercoat fibers and that the latter aren’t that coarse.
  • The quirkiness of the kemp (the dark fibers) really shows in the images.
  • There is a thrilling migration going on in the swatches which becomes very clear under the loupe. While the sari silk is superficial and the kemp in the center of the fabric in the original swatch (left), they seem to have traded places in the heavily fulled swatch (right). In both fulled swatches, but especially the heavily fulled, the kemp is on the surface and the sari silk cosily snug in the center. This is visible in the unmagnified photos too – you can see how the sari silk is more diffuse in the fulled samples and the kemp superficial, ready for take-off.

The migration was very fascinating to me and quite the opposite of what I had anticipated before I made the fulled samples. The clown barfiness faded and the marriage between the rough and fine was a success, especially in the lightly fulled sample. The kemp will probably keep migrating out into the world, way outside of the textile.

J’accuse

At the beginning of this week I didn’t know what to write in today’s blog post. I decided to try my gute silk idea to have something to write about. Hadn’t I done that I would never have analyzed it this thoroughly. J’accuse! I totally blame you, my dear readers, for this blog post and its revelations. Thank you! And thank you Cecilia for reminding me to exercise my loupe.

Happy spinning!

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