It’s that time of the year again – the Swedish spinning championships. If I remember correctly I have participated in the championships since 2015. I don’t want to miss this opportunity to spin from wool and instructions that I haven’t chosen myself and learn from the experience.
Last year I won the gold medal for my embroidery yarn. This year I didn’t get any medals, but I would still like to share my yarns and techniques with you.
In the spinning championships all spinners get the same fiber and the same rules. The spinners get around one month to spin their yarn and submit it. A jury confers and the medalists are revealed a few weeks later. Usually the prize ceremony takes place on the fleece and spinning championships in different locations every year, but this year and 2020 they were both digital.
There were two competitions this year: Värmland wool and flax.
The assignment for the Värmland wool was to spin a yarn for knitting, 2-ply or more. We got raw Värmland lamb’s wool in two shades.
Since we got two different colours of the Värmland fleece I figured they would want me to do something with the colours. But two seemed too few, so I decided to make three shades out of the two colours. Using combs I teased each colour separately. I blended a third batch of half dark and half light wool into a shade between the two browns. After that I hand carded each colour separately into rolags.
As I went through the wool I realized that the two colours had different qualities. The darker brown was silky soft and the lighter a bit coarser. I should have listened to this and blended the colours for an even quality. But I was so hung up on the colours so I kept going with the separation.
The wool was a bit difficult to work with. There were lots of very short sections, and the combination with basically no crimp made the fibers quite slippery and reluctant to conform in the twist. This was especially true for the light brown staples with coarser fibers.
Also I realized that I may have used the wrong hand cards ( 72 tpi) but with the very fine fibers I probably should have chosen my finer cards (108 tpi) for a more even fiber distribution in the rolags.
I divided the colours into two piles for two singles with the same amount of the three shades. Somehow I hoped that I would be able to card and spin consistently enough to make the singles equal in length and sections. It didn’t really work out the way I had planned, but still looked good.
I spin a lot on my floor supported Navajo style spindles. I choose them when I want to spin woolen yarn on the bulkier side, but also for finer yarns. You gotta love those arm’s length longdraws.
With this project I wanted to practice in something of a consecutive spinning. I don’t know if this is the correct term, though (please let me know if you have the correct term for this technique). I’m referring to a technique where you spin one spindleful of yarn into a roving or sliver with a very light twist. Then you slide the cop off the shaft and spin the yarn again. A bit more, but still not finished. You keep going until you are happy, 3–4 times is not unusual.
As I understand it, many Navajo spinners often use this technique when they spin yarn for Navajo rugs. The technique facilitates an even yarn and goes a bit faster than a double drafting technique.
For this yarn I chose to spin in three rounds. In the first round I just made a long roving with a very light twist, just enough to keep the fiber together. I made sure I was at a point where the fibers could slide past each other without coming apart. This is the point I call the point of twist engagement. This is where I feel the spinning most alive, where I, with just a very light roll with my thumb, can manipulate the twist so that the fibers work with me towards an effortless draft.
The second round I drafted some more and added some more twist, but still close enough the point of twist engagement to bring me the freedom to work more with my yarn in a third round.
The third round became my final round, where I drafted a little more and added the final twist. As it turned out, I had added too much twist in the second round, making drafting in this third round somewhat of a challenge. But, that’s what I like about these championships – I learn a lot along the way.
I have no problem plying on spindles, but I know I can achieve a consistent plying twist on the spinning wheel. Since I didn’t want to jeopardize things I plied the spindle spun singles on my spinning wheel.
I was very happy with having tried new techniques and having learned so much from this project. I wasn’t very happy with the yarn, though. But one nice thing with the Spinning championships is that every contestant gets access to the jury’s assessment and learn what they can develop their skills. I’m looking forward to reading it when it comes.
For the other competition we got industrially prepared line flax. I bought the same brand of line flax a few years ago and I had worked with it all summer, so I knew its challenges. The assignment was to spin a yarn with two or more plies. The purpose with the yarn was knitting. I was very startled by this since all literature on flax preparation and spinning is aimed at weaving yarns. I literally had no clue to how I could adapt my spinning to a knitting yarn.
As I prepared for this post I realized that I hadn’t taken any photos of the flax preparation steps. Therefore most of the photos are from a different flax spinning project. So the fiber is different but the techniques the same.
Rehackling, brushing and dressing
The flax was very dense. Therefore I rehackled it with two different hackles. I knew from before that this flax had lots of different lengths, so I also knew that a lot of shorter fibers would be removed in the rehackling.
After that I brushed it with my lovely flax brush to bring it some extra shine and to remove the last short bits. I lost almost 50 percent of the weight in these steps, but ended up with the longest fibers in my preparation. And I saved the removed fibers for a later tow yarn.
Dressing the distaff
I dressed the distaff the only way I know how to – in a fan shape. This takes a lot of time, but I imagine all ways of distaff dressing take time. The fibers need to be well separated and easily catch on to each other in a consistent way. You can see how I create my fan and dress my distaff in this video.
Spinning and skeining
I wet spun the yarn (counter-clockwise) to make it strong and shiny. I tried to give it a little less twist than I would for a weaving yarn. This was the only thing I could think of to adapt the yarn for knitting.
I used my niddy-noddy to wind a skein after having plied my yarn. The yarn went through a bowl of water to avoid fraying, and then through a niks. A niks is an Estonian tool for tensioning the yarn when skeining, but without breaking skin. I made mine from a willow stick. You can see a lovely video about the niks here.
This summer has been my summer of flax spinning (more on that in an upcoming post). I think I have spun around 500 grams of flax yarn. But I haven’t dared to scour it. To be able to submit my championships yarn I would have to, though.
I read a couple of flax books, but most of them had scouring methods that involved a whole home chemistry lab or ingredients that aren’t readily available. So I asked around online and finally bought soda ash. It seemed like a chemistry lab on its own, but I managed to use it without any injuries. I boiled the skein in two one hour baths with soda ash and soap and they turned out light and soft.
I’m very happy with my flax yarn and especially about all that I have learned from spinning it. I will continue my flax journey next summer. Perhaps I will even dare to spin my homegrown flax too.
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