Consistency

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

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

Consistency from fleece to yarn

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

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

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

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

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

Sorting, blending and teasing

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

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

Blending

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

Teasing

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

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

Carding

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

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

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

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

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

Carded rolags
Consistency in preparing the wool.

Spinning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plying

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

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

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

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

Record keeping

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

Ravelry

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

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

The satisfaction of a finished yarn

Sample cards

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

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

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

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

Happy spinning!

This is, indeed, happy spinning!

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


You can follow me on several social media:

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

The superpowers of a fleece

A sken of dark grey yarn with colored specks in it

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

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

A finull/rya gold medalist

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

From spring to autumn

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

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

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

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

Finding the superpowers

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

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

Swedish finewool and Rya

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

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

A finewool/rya crossbred

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

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

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

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

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

Fiber preparation

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

Mixing the fleeces

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

Teasing and blending

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

A braid of turquoise based sari silk
Sweet sari silk

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

Carding

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

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

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

Spinning and plying

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

Spinning

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

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

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

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

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

Plying

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

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

Getting to know a fleece

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

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

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


You can follow me on several social media:

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

Swedish spinning championships 2018

Last weekend I attended the 2018 fleece and spinning championships in Dala-Floda. I was there as a visitor, spinning teacher and participant in the Swedish spinning championships 2018. I have entered the championships several times before, and in 2017 I won a bronze medal in the advanced level.

My yarns din’t get to enter the competition, though, since the yarns I spun got lost in the mail and I still don’t know where they are. Still, I am very proud of the yarns I spun and I will share the process with you here.

Spinning championship levels

There were two levels for the spinning championships, intermediate level and advanced level. For both levels the participants got wool and instructions for the construction of the yarns.

Intermediate level

In the intermediate competition the spinner had to spin a 3-ply yarn. We received industrially carded grey batt and the yarn was supposed to fit 2–2,5 mm needles. I am not used to either industrially carded fiber or fiber without lanolin. The spinning was really frustrating! Since the 3-ply yarn was supposed to fit small circumference needles, the singles had to be really thin. I tried to spin in some sort of English long draw, but the yarn kept breaking. It was not the most relaxing spinning I have had.

A skein of grey yarn
Finished 3-ply yarn. 147 m, 43 g, 3410 m/kg. Fingering or light fingering weight.

Spinning this yarn 3-ply and so thin took a long time and a lot of frustration. In fact, I longed for the spinning to be over so that I could go on to the advanced level yarn.

A row of grey handspun yarns
Intermediate level yarns for the spinning championships.

Advanced level

For the advanced competition we received a periwinkle carded batt and dyed locks in dark and light pink of what looked like Swedish finewool. The instructions was to spin any kind of yarn with a combination of the batt and locks.

An obvious choice with a carded batt and untreated locks would be a tailspun yarn. But to me, the dye work in these fibers suggested something else. I wanted to emphasize the contrast between the fluffy batt and the silky locks. I also wanted to show the beautiful two-colour dye work in the locks.

Carded periwinkle wool and pink wool locks
The fiber for the advanced level yarn: Carded periwinkle wool and dyed wool locks in different shades of pink.

I browsed through The spinner’s book of yarn designs and found the perfect yarn to show off the fiber I had received. I only had to manage to spin it…

The yarn I wanted to spin was a cocoon yarn. It is a singles yarn with spool-shaped cocoons every now and then.

This is how I did it:

  1. I spun the batt in a thick single. After an arm’s length or so I broke the yarn so that I had a couple of inches of unspun fluff at the end. I divided up this fluffy end and
  2. inserted a combed lock perpendicular to the single, cut end first. Then I treadled and let the lock roll on to the single in a cocoon shape.
  3. I fixed the cocoon by exhaling warm air and rolling them and thus felting a little.
  4. For extra security, I needle felted the cocoon slightly.
  5. After the cocoon was finished, I let the single untwist a bit before I continued.
  6. I attached the batt to the remaining end on the other side of the cocoon and continued spinning the single.

Here is a short video I made of the cocoon yarn. I did not have the time or the energy to make a pretty video outdoors, so you will have to settle for our ungroomed living room.

After soaking, I still thought there was a bit too much twist in the cocoon yarn, so I ran it through the wheel in a counter-clockwise direction to relax it a bit.A hand holding a periwinkle yarn with pink cocoonsBaby cocoons on their way to the big championships adventure

As a final step, I went through the whole skein and did a quality check of all the cocoons. The first ones were less than perfect in their shape and density. Also, the cocoons closest to the bobbin were collapsed under the pressure of the outermost layers of yarn and not so much cocoon-shaped anymore. I rolled the misshaped ones between my palms to remind them of their original beauty.

A skein of periwinkle yarn with pink cocoons
The competing yarn for the advanced level in the 2018 Swedish spinning championships is finished!

All the parts of the spinning process took a long time. I think I spent a good part of the evenings of almost two weeks to spin the advanced level yarn. But it was worth it. I am not an art yarn spinner by nature and I have learned so much in this process!

I wasn’t the only one who played with coils/cocoons/beehives in the advanced level. It was so inspiring to see all the creativity in the advanced level yarns.

A row of pink and periwinkle art yarns
Advanced level yarns for the championships. The rightmost yarn is actually mine. I had some fluff left and speed spun a mini skein the day before I left for the championships. It was too little to enter, though.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

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

Tweed!

Two balls of dark grey yarn with coloured specks in them

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

Tweed: First try

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

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

A second try

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

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

A braid of turquoise based sari silk
Sweet sari silk

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

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

Hand-combed top

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

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

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

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

Hand-carded rolag

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next?

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

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

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

Happy spinning!


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New video: Spinning around the world

Josefin Waltin spinning on a supported spindle

I made a new video: Spinning around the world. Often, you see me sitting on a stone somewhere in a Swedish fairytale forest. In this video I will visit your forests.

The conservatory

The video was shot in the Edvard Anderson conservatory at the Bergius botanical garden in Stockholm, Sweden. Edvard Anderson (b. 1865) donated his fortune to the Bergius Gardens for a conservatory of Mediterranean plants that the people of Stockholm could enjoy all year round. He also wanted a café in the conservatory, selling coffee, soft drinks, chocolates and pastries. The conservatory opened in 1995 and we have had season tickets since then.

Our son was born in 2003 and he was baptized in the entrance pond which is seen at the beginning of the video.

Spinning around the world

The conservatory is built up of seven different climate regions with the main hall dedicated to Mediterranean plants. Six smaller halls contain plants from tropical and sub tropical rain forests, tropical ferns, deserts and the area in south western Australia. I shot short clips in all of the halls, except for the Australia hall – there was nowhere to sit or place my tripod.

In the tropical hall there was also a fiber section with fiber and dye plants – ramie, New Zealand flax, different kinds of cotton, Indigo, Chinese Indigo and paper mulberry.

Chinese Indigo
Chinese Indigo in the fiber section

Lots of cotton wads were hanging from the cotton plants, enticing me with their squishiness. I asked one of the gardeners what they were doing with the cotton. I figured that if they harvested it and didn’t know what to do with it, I could adopt some of it and spin it. The answer was that they didn’t do anything with it – everything was supposed to have its natural cycle. Hence, they let everything fall to the forest floor and contribute to the natural cycle of the forest. Which of course was reasonable and logic – no cotton for me.

A cotton plant with extra-long staple cotton
Extra-long staple cotton

Longwool for embroidery

The wool I chose for this video is a beautiful shiny white lamb rya. Last August I participated in a live spinning competition. The contestants prepared and spun singles from the same wool in front of an audience for 30 minutes on spindles or wheels. The wool was this rya and we all got about 50 grams each of it. Quite generous, since I only combed three bird’s nests and spun two of them in the competition. I had nearly forgot that I had brought the rest of it home.

Two hand-combed tops and some locks of white Rya wool
Pretty bird’s nests of lamb Rya

I am planning to do some embroidery and I figured this Rya would be a perfect candidate for my embroidery yarn. I combed the fiber and made beautiful bird’s nests, almost too pretty to spin.

Long rya is not the easiest fiber to spin on a supported spindle. The fibers are very long and sleek. This means that you have to keep a good distance between the hands to be able to draft. This is not always easy. But, as with all spinning, you have to get to know the fiber before you can spin it to its full potential.

Thank you for all your kind words about my blog and videos. You are my biggest source of inspiration!

Happy spinning!

A skein of white yarn
A finished skein of Rya yarn, spun and 2-plied on a supported spindle. 101 m and 46 g, 2207 m/kg.

Flicking tips

A ball of wool

After a discussion in a Facebook spinning group about solidified grease in the tips of a fleece, I decided to do a mini study of different ways to prepare a fleece for spinning. I have a fleece of my own that is wonderfully clean but has tips with solidified grease.

The fleece

On the last wool journey with my wool traveling club, I bought a beautiful NKS fleece. NKS stands for Norsk kvit sau: Norwegian white sheep. This is basically what crossbreds are called in Norway. The fleece I chose had a full year’s growth.

In Sweden most sheep are shorn twice a year, which naturally makes the fleece shorter. This means that the fleece shorn in the early spring is of worse quality (since all the nutrients go straight to the lamb) and usually has more vegetable matter (because the sheep have spent much of the winter indoors). The fleece shorn in the autumn has better quality (since the sheep has no lamb to nourish) and less vegetable matter (since the sheep are out grazing). So: Twice a year gives a better but shorter autumn fleece. Once a year gives a longer fleece but can be more mixed in quality.

Lanoliny tips

The fleece was wonderfully clean and shiny with staples of around 12 cm. The tips, though, were greasy. I think that the Norwegian rain had pushed all the lanolin out into the tips. I washed the fleece straight away by soaking it in rain water. It wasn’t until recently (one year after I bought the fleece) that I started processing, and by then the greasy tips had solidified.

Experiment: Flicked vs unflicked tips

I wanted to make an experiment and compare different preparation methods. First, I prepared the way I usually do with a fleece I want to comb: Loading the combs with the cut ends on the tines and combing three passes, then pulling the wool off the comb in one long top.

Combing this way was a struggle. It took a lot of muscle power to get the combs through the wool. And after three passes it was not nearly in a condition I could approve (I always do an uneven number of passes so that I pull the wool off the combs from the cut ends). So, I did five passes. Pulling the wool off the comb was also difficult, the wool was still uneven with bits of solidified gunk left. I picked as much of it out, but there was still stuff left when I spun the top, which of course interrupted my spinning flow.

When you play the videos, a captions symbol appears to the left of the settings symbol. Click or unclick the captions, depending on your preferences.

This was not a pleasant combing experience. So, I tried a different way. I flicked the solidified grease ends before combing. Combing the staples with the tip ends flick carded was a whole different experience.

A lot of gunk was left in the flicker and the floor was sprayed with gunk powder.

A floor dirty with wool waste.
Powdered gunk and gunky flicker waste.

The combing was easy and pleasant after flick carding the tips and I was perfectly happy after my usual three passes. Pulling the wool off the combs was also nice and smooth and the spinning was uninterrupted and yummy.

A skein of white handspun yarn.
A finished skein of fingering weight 2-ply NKS wool, spun with short draw from hand combed tops on a spinning wheel. 194 m, 70 g, 2766 m/kg.

I spun the skein above with both of the preparation techniques. Mostly the flicked version, though, since I only combed a couple of bird’s nests with the tips unflicked. I also knitted a swatch with the finished yarn.

A knitted swatch
A knitted swatch, 25 stitches and 39 rows in 10×10 cm

Other ways to use a flick card

This was one example where flick carding the tips made a big difference for the preparation and spinning experience. I also use my flick card for several other purposes:

  • To remove brittle tips. If I have a fleece with fine fibers and brittle tips I can use the flick card on the tip ends. The brittle tips will end up in the card instead of the yarn (as nepps).
  • To flick both ends of a staple. Sometimes I want to spin from the lock. A flick card is a good tool to separate the fibers in individual staples and spin staple by staple.
  • To tease staples before carding. This might take time, but will give a good result. Fibers that are too short, brittle or dirty will stay in the flick card and the good stuff will go to carding.

Do you use your flick card for other purposes?

Tech stuff

In these videos I have played with both narration and captions. As you may know, I want to shoot my videos outside if possible. But the area around our house is quite noisy. In the background on the other side of the lake you can see the most intense motorway in Sweden, and it makes a lot of noise. Also, we live close to a city airport and the planes fly just above our house, it’s almost like we can tickle the planes on the bellies if we stretch enough. This is why I wanted to try to narrate the clips. And I think it worked out.

In a previous video where I tested my makeshift studio, I added equally makeshift captions. Since then, my editing software has upgraded with a function for closed captioning. Yay! I think they work too.

Please let me know if there is anything of the technical stuff I can improve.

Medieval style spinning

Josefin Waltin spinning with a spindle and distaff, dressed in medieval costume

Since I started spinning with in-hand spindles and distaff in the beginning of the year, I have wanted to make a medieval style spinning video. I did actually make a short video in the cold winter, but it was a great challenge to work with cold lanolin and stiff hands. I realized that I had to wait for spring to make a proper video.

Medieval assistance

While waiting for spring to happen, I talked to my friend Maria. She is a medieval enthusiast and reenactor of epic proportions. She is also one half of Historical textiles and a mean plant dyer and weaver. I asked her if she was willing to help me with the videography and contemporary costume and she was happy to do it.

We synced our calendars and decided on a date to shoot the medieval video. Lucky for us, the agreed occasion turned out to be a beautiful spring day. It was also quite windy, which made our dresses and wimples ripple flatteringly in the wind.

Two women dressed in medieval clothes, spinning and combing wool
Maria and I on the set, crafting away

The costume

Maria came with a huge backpack filled with medieval clothing, all hand sewn by her. Everything else was also hand made – wool combs, belt, hair pins, wimple pins and shoes. It was such an honour to wear all these hand made treasures. I got a sturdy hand woven linen robe (which doesn’t show) and on top of that an indigo dyed woolen dress. An intricately arranged linen headdress, a hand woven belt and hand made shoes. I added the string with spindle whorls. Despite the warm weather, the clothing felt quite airy and comfortable and I never got too hot (or a sun burn). That’s natural materials for ya! Maria says the costume dates to the high fashion of the 1360’s in today’s Northern Germany or Scandinavia.

Josefin Waltin in medieval clothing
Woolen dress (with a linen robe underneath) and linen wimple. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Shooting

We shot the whole video in a nearby forest. The thinly leather soled shoes were very smooth and it was a challenge to get around in the slopes of the forest without slipping. It was not that kind of video I was looking for. I also got a severe thigh rash. Medieval women must have had very thick inner thigh skin. Or perhaps they didn’t have hearty biker thighs.

As we walked to and from the set, we met lots of Saturday strollers. In the typical Stockholm way (never, never, ever stare at or comment on anything out of the ordinary, just roll your eyes when you are sure no one can see you), many people passed us without any comment, but a few people did stop to ask us about what we were up to. They were curious about our costumes, how they were made, when they were from etc. Some people asked if we were nuns. Maria explained that we were regular people from the time around 1360. Nuns dressed in the latest fashion, so this is how they dressed back then. They have just stuck with that fashion ever since, at least the Bridgettines.

The tools

In the video, I spin on spindles from Hershey fiber arts and NiddyNoddyUK. They both have spiral notched tips. The whorls on the spindles are from Pallia. On the leather string in my belt you can see additional whorls from Pallia, John Rizzi and Hershey fiber arts. Both distaffs are my own hand carved. On the belt distaff I have arranged hand carded wool from a prize winning Värmland fleece (just like in this video) and on the hand distaff there is hand carded comb leftovers from Shetland sheep.

Spinning and drafting

When I spin on a medieval style in-hand spindle, I tend to start by using a proper in-hand style and not let go of the spindle. When I feel I have enough twist, I let go of the spindle and use a very short suspension and let the tip of the spindle rest against my thumb. This way I can grab the spindle quickly whenever I need to.

If I use a hand distaff I usually keep the yarn straight by moving my distaff hand away from the spindle. If I use a belt distaff I tend to wrap the yarn onto my distaff hand to keep the yarn from slacking and still hold the spindle in a comfortable position. You can see both these techniques in the video.

Josefin Waltin spinning with a spindle and distaff, dressed in medieval clothing
In-hand spinning with a hand distaff.

In my latest in-hand spinning video, someone asked me if I’m drafting with my left (fiber) hand or if I’m just pulling with my right (spinning) hand. When I spin with a hand distaff, there isn’t much room for the fingers to draft. But even with a belt distaff, I’m not drafting very much. I just let the fibers settle themselves in the twist with the draft of my spindle hand. That usually works just fine when I have prepared the fleece myself (which I usually do) and left just the right amount of lanolin in it to assist my drafting. Perhaps I would use my fiber hand for drafting if I were to use a short draw. I haven’t tried that yet, though.

A 3-ply yarn and two medieval style spindles
3-ply yarn spun on a medieval style spindle and distaff from hand carded batts. 49 g, 97 m, 1981 m/kg. Soft and fluffy as a cloud. Spindle shafts and whorls from Hershey fiber arts and John Rizzi.

I hope you enjoy the video. I (we) certainly enjoyed making it.

Happy spinning!

 

Wip series: First spindle full

A spindle full of grey yarn

Earlier, I wrote about my new spinning project. I am spinning a yarn counter-clockwise to be able to knit myself a pair of twined knitted mittens.

One finished, three to go

The current status is that I have finished one spindle of s-spun singles, about 30 grams. According to the pattern book, I need 100–120 grams, so if I make another 3 30 gram singles I will end up with one 60 gram skein for each mitten. With twined knitting it is av very good idea to knit both mittens at the same time. This to make sure that the gauge turns out the same. I did not do this with my first pair.

A challenging spin

I have to say It is not the easiest spinning I have experienced. The fiber is impressingly smooth and silky, but there is a certain amount of tugging. I think it has to do with the preparation – I comb the locks as lightly as possible, just to separate the fibers. I guess they are still a little attached to each other, making the drafting a little challenging. But I get the effect I want, and I really enjoy spinning counter-clockwise with my left hand.

A close-up of a spindle with grey yarn
The many shades of beautiful grey

Beautiful greys

I love how the colour variation turned out. There is a spectrum from almost white, through silver and light grey to medium and even dark grey, and some strokes of golden brown. Spinning the locks one by one, I was hoping to catch as many of the shades in the fleece as possible. I would not have been able to achieve this effect had I combed the wool in the traditional way. Also, a yarn like this is not possible to machine spin. This will truly be a unique yarn, which warms my heart a little extra.

Happy spinning, both clockwise and counter-clockwise!

Wip series: Preparing for twined knitting

A spindle with light gray yarn

In this series I will write about preparing, spinning and knitting a pair of mittens in the old Swedish technique of twined knitting.

Rediscovering an old technique

Several years ago, long before I started spinning, I stumbled upon twined knitting, also known as two-end knitting (from the Swedish word tvåändsstickning). It is a very old Swedish knitting technique where you knit with two separate strands of yarn and twist them in between the stitches. This makes a very sturdy and windproof textile that will last very long. Because of the twisting, twined knitting takes a lot of time.

The technique was nearly forgotten, but recreated through a textile find in the 1970’s. A mitten was found, thought to originate from the 19th century, but later found to be from the late 17th century. At first there seemed to be nothing special about the mitten, since it looked like regular knitting from the right side. But when the mitten was turned inside out, it was obvious that this was something different. The inside of twined knitting is dense and ridged, due to the twisting of yarns.

A pink mitten turned inside-out
The reverse side of twined knitting looks different than regular knitting.

The responsibility of saving a textile treasure

In my woolly heart of 2009, I wanted to take responsibility to help saving this technique. Since the technique involves twisting, the best result is given when you knit with a z-plied yarn. I bought a skein of z-plied yarn and knitted myself a pair of twined knitting half-mitts. I loved them dearly, and one sad day I lost them together with a knit beret on the subway.

A person wearing a pair of red half-mitts
First twined knitting project: Half-mitts, sadly lost on the subway. If you look closely, you can see that the right mitten is more felted than the left. That’s what happens when you knit one mitten after the other and end up with different sized mittens. Photo by Dan Waltin

A few years later, as a beginner spinner, I spun a skein of z-plied yarn and made myself another pair of twined knitting mittens. The yarn – one of my first handspun ones – was way underspun, but I solved that by felting the finished mittens. These are my go-to mittens that I have worn practically every day for the last five winters.

Two mittened hands on the back of a sheep.
First handspun twined knitting mittens (same as the reversed mitten above). Wool from my favourite Swedish finewool sheep Pia-Lotta, modeling in the picture. Photo by Dan Waltin

Inspiration

Now there is a hole in the thumb. I have mended the hole, but I still want to make another pair, for several reasons. In a recent episode of the Fruity knitting podcast, there was an interview with Karin Kahnlund, master twined knitter, and I got inspired to twine knit again. Another reason is my analysis of spinning direction, where I have looked closely at the hand movements when spinning in different directions with different hands (for more posts in the series, look here and here). As a leftie, this is a perfect opportunity for me to spin counter-clockwise  with my left hand (pulling the spindle). A third reason is about just getting a second chance at spinning a z-plied yarn.

A new project

For this project, I will use the prize winning Värmland fleece I purchased at the auction at the 2017 Swedish fleece championships.

A lock of Värmland wool
A prize winning Värmland lamb fleece

It’s a beautiful, grey lamb fleece with a long staple, soft and almost silky. It is the same fleece I used in my short video of medieval spinning, but in the video I used the shorter staples, carded. For this project I will use the longer staples . This Värmland fleece has a double coat with longer and shorter fibers (the over coat fibers are roughly 22 cm, the under coat fibers about 14 cm).

Close-up of a lock of Värmland wool
The pretty lamb curl

I am combing each individual staple and spin on a supported spindle from the cut end to catch all the fiber lengths in the yarn (for a closer look at the technique, see my video where I spin with the sheep in the pasture).

Close-up of a spindle with light gray yarn
S-spun Värmland yarn. Look at the colour variations!

I will post every now and then to let you know how the project is going.

Happy spinning!

A Shetland hap

A person standing behind a stretched Shetland Hap

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

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

A hap stretcher to match

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

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

Lots of holes.

176 holes.

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

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

Shetland all the way

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

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

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

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

Using what I have

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

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

Spinning as I run out of yarn

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

Big and heavy knitting

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

Total weight: 1055 g

Total meterage: 1909 m

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

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

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

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