Jämtland wool

The newest sheep breed in Sweden is Jämtland sheep. The purpose of the breed is to have a meat sheep with wool that can be a Swedish alternative to the tons of merino wool we import from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. This is the fifth part of my breed study of Swedish sheep breeds from the spinner’s perspective. Previous posts have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool, Dalapäls wool and Värmland wool.

This Sunday, March 22nd at 5 pm CET I will host a free live breed study webinar on Jämtland wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

I am aware that this is very short notice. However, considering the situation in the world, I think we need a live webinar now more than ever.

A framed board with a wool staple and a tuft of carded wool. Letters saying Jämtland wool at the top of the board.
Whole year’ staple of Jämtland wool.

About Jämtland sheep

Stop the waste

A lot of Swedish wool is being wasted. At the same time we import tons of merino wool from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. The owner of a Swedish wool manufacturer in Jämtland in Sweden questioned this system and wondered if there was a way to use Swedish wool for his products. The problem, though, was that Swedish wool was coarser and would be scratchy in the next-to-skin garments that his company made. The idea of a Swedish alternative to wool import was born.

A new breed

As a result of this, a project started in 2004 where merino ewes were imported and crossed with fine fibered Svea ewes. Svea sheep is a Swedish meat breed which is a cross between the meat breed Texel and the Swedish landrace finewool sheep. Swedish finewool does have some merino in them from crossing with the merino sheep that we had in Sweden in the 18th century. In 2010 the Jämtland sheep was presented as a new breed at the world merino conference.

A pile of fine fibered white wool with high crimp.
Unwashed Jämtland wool.

Jämtland sheep has increased in popularity as both a meat bread and a wool breed. Statistics say that there were 382 breeding ewes in 20 flocks in 2019. Rams weigh 90–120 kg and ewes 80–110 kg. This is a lot heavier than the landraces and conservation breeds I have presented in earlier breed studies. The micron count lies between 17 and 23.

Long locks of very fine wool and lots of crimp.
Jämtland wool has the crimpiest crimp.

Fashion industry

Jämtland wool has become very sought after in the fashion industry. Several companies have produced clothes made in Jämtland wool. One problem is that the demand is bigger than the supply. A clothes manufacturer may want larger quantities than the sheep farmers can provide. The garments that have been sold have been produced in small quantities with social, environmental and ethical aspects considered.

Knitters and spinners

Many of the Swedish spinning mills today produce yarn with Jämtland wool and the products are popular among knitters.

Jämtland fleece is also very popular among handspinners in Sweden. In the past few Fleece Championships Jämtland wool has been placed in its own category. The shepherdess I usually buy my Jämtland fleeces from probably has more championship medals than she can count.

Jämtland wool characteristics

Two hands holding a grey long fine fibered staple of wool. Two piles of fleece in the background.
Jämtland wool at the 2019 Swedish fleece championships. Whole year’s fleece to the left, autumn shearing to the right. The white fleece got a silver medal in the Jämtland category.

Jämtland wool is very fine fibered and has high crimp. In contrast to most merino, Jämtland wool also has a beautiful shine. The staples are uniform over the length of the staple and over the body of the sheep.

A microscope picture of wool fibers. Fine and even.
Jämtland fibers enlarged.

Since Jämtland sheep has a lot of merino in them the fleece is generally very high in lanolin, at least compared to the Swedish landraces I’m used to.

I have bought all my Jämtland wool from Birgitta Ericsson, a shepherdess who covers her sheep and shears them once a year. The cover is probably necessary to be able to manage a whole year’s fleece, especially considering the high degree of lanolin.

A dark grey fleece wit fine fibers.
Unwashed staples of grey whole year’s Jämtland wool. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The superpowers

When I see a fleece I want to get to know it and find its superpowers. I look at the different characteristics and choose three that I feel represent the fleece and that I want to let shine in a yarn and garment. The main characteristics I see in Jämtland wool are:

  • The softness of the fibers. They are dying to be worn next to your skin.
  • The crimp. It is hard to take your eyes off the crimp of these staples and I want to make the crimp justice in the yarn I spin.
  • The shine. Jämtland wool generally has a lovely shine that in my experience is unusual in this fine type of wool.

Preparation and spinning Jämtland wool

Washing

Before I go into wool preparation I need to talk a bit about washing. I wash Jämtland wool a lot more brutally than any of the other breeds I spin (I wash other Swedish breeds in water only). Now that I have learned the terminology in English I can safely say that I scour Jämtland wool. I bundle up the long staples and tie them with yarn and put them in a pot. I use lots of detergent and hot water. When the wool is dry I can remove the yarn ties. This method takes away enough lanolin for me to be able to handle the fibers without too much fuss.

Combing and worsted spinning

The first fleeces of Jämtland wool I processed I combed. To avoid breakage I flick carded the ends of the staples first and hand-combed with my mini-combs. This resulted in beautiful, lofty bird’s nests with lots of bounce. I spun these fluffy balls worsted on my spinning wheel.

One issue with fine fibers like these in combination with the dry air in large parts of Sweden is static electricity. When I comb the long fibers they point in every direction possible and make the aligning of the fibers very difficult. I solve this by spraying a mixture of water, coconut oil and a drop of detergent on the staples. This calms them down a bit. The coconut oil is soluble in low temperatures and comes off easily when you wash the yarn.

If there is still a lot of lanolin in the fibers I place the bird’s nests near the fireplace to make it more fluid and cooperative.

2-ply laceweight Jämtland yarn, combed and worsted spun.

From the fold magic

One day I decided to try to spin the long Jämtland staples from the fold. The length was perfect and I thought why not? The second the fibers merged into the drafting triangle from its folded position over my index finger it dawned on me: This is how this Jämtland wool wants to be spun.

A hand holding fibers folded over the index finger. Fibers are going from both sides of the fiber into the spinning twist.
Spinning from the fold. The fibers come into the twist in a wider angle. Since they come into the twist from the middle of the fibers they strive to unfold.

When you spin from the fold you double the staple over your index finger and spin from the middle if the fibers. What happens when you spin from the fold is this:

  • The fibers come into the drafting triangle from a wider angle. In this, more air coms into the yarn.
  • The folded fibers strive to unfold, which also results in more air in the yarn.
Flick carded staples of whole year’s Jämtland wool spun from the fold on a supported spindle and 2-plied.

Spinning from the fold is not a spinning technique, it is just a different way to hold the yarn. Thus, you can spin both woolen and worsted from the fold.

Five pieces of yarn on a board and a staple of wool. The leftmost yarn is sleek and thin. The yarns become more fuzzy and airy towards the right.
Different preparation and spinning of Jämtland wool. From the left: 2-ply combed and spun worsted on a suspended spindle, 2-ply spun worsted from the fold on a suspended spindle, 2-ply spun woolen from the fold on a supported spindle, 3-ply spun woolen from the fold on a supported spindle, 2-ply spun woolen from hand-carded rolag on a supported spindle.

Carding and woolen spinning

I would not recommend carding fibers in this whole year’s length. The fine fibers would most probably break and result in nepps in the yarn. Shorter fibers would be excellent to hand-card with fine cards. The fine fibers and high crimp would be excellent for a soft woolen spun yarn.

Use

I have used Jämtland wool for lots of different purposes – sweaters, half-mitts and shawls. It is perfect for next-to-skin garments and accessories. Due to the fine fibers Jämtland wool is not suitable for projects that will wear a lot.

A woman standing against a tree. She is wearing a grey sweater with white sleeve ends and white hem. The yoke has a stranded knitting spinning wheel pattern.
Grey yarn from the grey Jämtland fleece above. White yarn from Swedish fihewool. Photo by Dan Waltin

The dark grey yarn in the sweater above is worsted spun from hand-combed tops of Jämtland wool. You can see the whole process in this video (available in Swedish too). I knit the sweater in 2015 and I recently had to mend the elbows.

A woman walking on a path. She is wearing a thin asymmetrical turquoise shawl with drape.
Laceweight worsted spun Jämtland yarn in Martina Behm’s Viajante design. Photo by Dan Waltin

In my experience Jämtland wool looks best in fine yarns – lace weight or fingering weight. The shawl above is spun as a lace weight. The shawl below is the leftover yarn from the shawl above.

A girl holding up a turquoise lace shawl. The shawl has a spider at the top.
I got some lace weight yarn left and made a spider shawl for my daughter back in 2015. Photo by Dan Waltin

Live webinar!

This Sunday, March 22nd at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Jämtland wool from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Jämtland wool. I will use Jämtland wool during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I process and spin the wool.

Even if you think you will never come across Jämtland wool this is still an opportunity to learn more about wool 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.

Register for the webinar here!

Happy spinning!


You can follow 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.
  • 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 content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Spinning at work

I always bring some textile craft to work for coffee breaks and meetings. Usually knitting or nalbinding, but lately I have been spinning at work with a suspended spindle. The people around me have very different approaches to my spinning and I enjoy responding to people’s reactions.

Spinning as a safe space

Spinning is a safe space for me. I can spin in my own bubble and at the same time listen to the conversation around me. I need these safe spaces. If we have a coffee break at work and I’m not up to a conversation I can just spin away and take part when I want to and still get new energy. Spinning helps me take in the conversation and place it in a context without getting exhausted. The process of spinning helps me see the bigger picture and find solutions, much like a conversation or (thought process) can be more efficient during a walk, at least in my experience. The process of walking or spinning helps the mind find new paths and a direction of the topic.

Spinning for perception

During department meetings at work I bring my spindle. It helps me focus and take in the information. The combined auditive, visual and sensitive signals give me a better chance of remembering and understanding what is being said. In case the meeting is boring the spindle helps me stay alert. Recently I attended a mandatory training together with a colleague. She said that she was jealous of me who had something to do while listening to the speaker.

A suspended spindle in motion.
I spin at coffee breaks or, like in the picture, on department meetings. Many of my colleagues are softly gazing at the spindle during the meeting.

If I am worried that someone thinks I’m not interested in the meeting I just make sure they notice that I am alert and understand the topic. My boss has commented that I look so calm and at peace when I spin, and she is right.

The watchers

Some colleagues just watch the spindle – the spindle in motion, the rhythm or my hands drafting the fiber. Most of them don’t say anything, but I know they are watching. I also know that my spinning starts something in their minds. Perhaps they enjoy the calming effect of the spindle or think of a foremother who was skilled in a textile technique. Even though nothing is being said I know there is a connection between us, like a diffuse cloud of thoughts merged together into something more palpable, just like the undefined bundle of fiber merges into the twist of the yarn.

A conversation starter

Not often, but sometimes someone asks about my spinning or comments. Perhaps they ask about the breed or comment on the calming effect the spinning has. It usually turns into a lovely conversation about sustainability, the respect for handmade things or the cost for individuals when we buy a cheap T-shirt. These conversations are important for the understanding of something that we too often take for granted. We depend on people making our clothes in shitty conditions, no pay and lots of chemicals. If I can make people around me aware of the time and effort invested in our textiles I have done something good. Perhaps someone decides not to buy that cheap T-shirt next time or buy a more expensive and durable T-shirt that lasts longer and that has been produced in more fair conditions.

A hand holding a suspended spindle in motion in a hair salon.
A while ago I brought my spindle to the hair dresser’s. It started a conversation of the fibers as the hair dresser thought the wool looked a lot like human hair.

A good thing

Whether the people around me just watch, think, comment or ask question I am certain that the reactions are positive. Spinning brings ancient techniques to people’s mind and make them think of times when today’s comfort wasn’t taken for granted. Textile techniques are things of beauty and I believe people respect the skills, art and love that are the foundation of a handmade textile. I am a firm believer that spinning make the world a better and kinder place.

Yarn break

Recently some colleagues from another department started “Yarn breaks” every Monday and Thursday after lunch. We meet at the coffee station and do yarn stuff. Most of the participants knit or crochet at various levels and I spin. We set a timer at 30 minutes and yarn away. These are lovely little pauses. New yarn breakers joins in every week. The more experienced help the newbies and we are all engaged in each other’s projects. The premiere writ warmers were finished, the blueberry hat was given to a new baby and the ripped sleeve got re-knit.

A basket of yarn and open knitting books. A sign invites people to join the yarn breaks.
“Yarn break at noon Mondays and Thursdays. Everybody welcome. Annika treats you to yarn if you want to try.”

Spinning at work: A project

The wool I have been spinning these last few weeks at work is the outercoat of a multicolour Härjedal/Åsen crossbred that I have been writing about in previous posts. To make out the most of the colours I have divided the fleece into colour piles and spun each colour separately. I ended up with five colours of the outercoat.

I have thoroughly enjoyed spinning this wool. Since I have been processing the wool colour by colour it has never seemed like a mountain of wool to spin. Instead I have had a maximum of six combed tops at a time to spin. This way it has felt doable to spin everything on a suspended spindle.

A basket of wool staples, hand-carded rolags and hand-combed tops.
I prep the wool at home and bring to my spinning breaks at work.

I’m spinning this wool into a true worsted yarn intended as a warp yarn. Since it is outercoat only and combed it is freakishly strong even as singles. My plan for the yarn is to weave a bag of some sort. I intend to spin some shiny Klövsjö outercoat as well and dye it into a warm blue colour that hopefully will team up nicely with the browns.

Four skeins of yarn in shades of brown and a spindle with brown yarn.
Five shades of the Härjedal/Åsen lamb Chanel’s outer coat. Spinning at work pays off!

Do you spin at work?

Happy spinning!


You can follow 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.
  • 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 content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Trial and error

Last week I published a video where I spin from the cut end of flick carded staples. The reason for this technique was that I wanted to preserve as much as possible of the colours in a multicoloured fleece. I envisioned a sweater with all the colour variations showing. Today I write about why I chose to spin the sweater yarn in a completely different technique. Through trial and error I have learned – once again – that not every spinning technique goes with every textile technique for every fleece.

Error

When I had finished the first two skein of my first colour I started swatching to see how the yarn behaved. The second I started I realized that this was not the yarn for the sweater I had planned. The yarn was way too dense and felt more like rope in the swatch than a cozy yarn.

A skein of variegated brown yarn on a pier.
A beautiful yarn with lovely colours, but far too dense and coarse for the knitted sweater I had had in mind.

I was quite sad about this for a while. After all, I had got a responsibility to make the fleece justice when I bought it from the shepherdess. I put the rest of the fleece back into the sofa bed and picked up another fleece instead.

Trial

So, how would I spin this yarn to make it suitable for knitting and still keep the colour variations within each colour? I realized that there was way more outercoat than I had originally thought, making the first yarn rougher than I had planned. In the past I have spun other yarns with this method, but with a larger propportion of undercoat – in a pair of mittens, half-mitts and sleeves.

With this in mind I played with the idea to remove some of the outercoat. I also realized that I needed to card and spin this yarn woolen to make the yarn as soft as possible.

Soft knitting yarn

I combed the lovely staples with my medium combs and combing station. After two passes I pulled out two handfulls of outercoat and set aside. Then I pulled out the rest of the wool – that was now teased – and carded rolags. I had been afraid that the colour variation would vanish if I changed the preparation method, but the rolags looked lovely with their variegated colour.

A basket of variegated brown rolags.
I managed to keep the colour variation in the hand-carded rolags.

I spun the yarn with low twist and English longdraw, hoping for a soft yarn. Since I had plans for stranded knitting I made the yarn 2-ply. The result was a soft and warm yarn with a lovely variegated colour. There is still some outercoat in the yarn, keeping it together despite the low twist.

A skein of variegated brown yarn on a flat stone surface.
The new yarn is softer and airier than the original skein.

Comparison

The original yarn was too dense and rough and the new yarn is a lot softer and airier. I was afraid that the colour variation would be lost in the new yarn, but it turns out it wasn’t. It is a bit lighter, which is because the outercoat is chocolate brown and I removed a lot of it.

Two skeins of variegated brown yarn on a flat stone surface.
Original yarn to the left and new to the right. The new yarn is considerably softer and airier. The colour variation is less clear but still there.

Strong warp yarn

The outercoat fibers that I had set aside were long and strong – somewhere between 15 and 20 centimeters. I made another two passes in the combing station to really comb the different batches together. To spare myself from the strain of pulling all the fibers off the comb with my hand I used a button to diz through. I rarely use a diz when I comb, but since there was quite a lot of fiber on the combs I decided the diz would be a good idea. It would also ensure an even top to spin from.

Close-up of a hand pulling brown fiber off a wool comb through a button hole.
I’m dizzing the fibers through a button hole straight off the combing station.

I made the loveliest bird’s nests out of my dizzed tops. They look just like giant cinnamon buns, don’t you think?

A basket of hand-combed bird's nests.
Cinnamon bun bird’s nests.

A talented spinner, Kerstin, recently showed me her warp yarn that she had spun on a suspended spindle. With inspiration from Kerstin I decided to spin a warp yarn with a suspended spindle.

A spinning spindle with brown wool yarn. Trees in the background.
Spinning away, outercoat only on a suspended spindle. The second batch of outercoat is a little lighter than the first.

I have brought the spindle to the office during the last couple of weeks and also to the hair dresser’s (who thought I was spinning human hair). Yesterday I finished my first skein of outercoat warp yarn.

A skein of dark brown yarn on a wooden surface.
A spindle-spun outercoat warp yarn is finished!

It is dead strong, I can’t even break the singles! I have finished the first batch and I’m on my second. Hopefully there will be a lovely gradient from the different batches I had sorted the fleece into.

A project for the rejected

I was a little sad for the first yarn I had spun. I didn’t really know what to do with it. It looked sad and lonely and I wanted to give it a project it would shine in. And I found it. I just started an online course in backstrap weaving with Kimerly Hamill. The strong and dense original yarn would be perfect for the first module of the course.

A person weaving a band on a backstrap loom.
My very first backstrap weaving project.

The yarn was very clingy and I was well aware of that when I warped. Kimberly warned about yarn that was clingy, but I needed to feel for myself what worked, what didn’t work and what I could live with. The warp threads do cling together a lot and the weaving hasn’t been carefree and flowing in this project. But it does work and I’m very proud of my first backstrap weaving project.

I do apologize for the ugly plastic heddle string. It came with the loom and I didn’t question it at the time. Someone else did, though. Marie, a weaving teacher inspired me to use my handspun yarn for the heddles, so that’s what I will try for my next module.

The first backstrap project is now finished and I can’t wait for the second module.

A woven band on a wooden terrace floor.
My very first backstrap woven band is finished! 7,5 cm wide, 100 cm long.

Through trial and error I managed to spin a yarn that would fit my original idea. I also spun a promising warp yarn and found use for my dense yarn in a weaving project. Trial and error helped me find solutions and gave me lots of new inspiration and ideas. And as usual, I learned a lot along the way.

Happy spinning!


You can follow 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.
  • 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 content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Learning by teaching

Two persons spinning on supported spindles.

At the moment I am teaching a course series in supported spindle spinning. I get so proud when I see the progress my students are making – from the initial wobbliness, through understanding what is going to happen to actually managing to control the spindle and in a relaxed motion. It is a journey I have the privilege of being a part of and I feel so lucky to be able to be learning by teaching and seeing their development first hand.

If you are curious about my spinning courses, have a look at my course page where I have both online courses and face-to-face courses (in Sweden).

A table with spindles, spindle bowls and wool processing tools.
All is set for spinning class. I want the students to feel like they are in a candy store for spinners. The spindles and bowls in the front are made by Björn Peck.

Learning by teaching

The thing is, I learn as much as they do. I learn about different learning styles, how to get a message through and how to live up to the students’ expectations. Most of all I learn through the communication with my students.

Learning styles

Every time I interact with a student I need to understand how this individual learns things best. This is a bit difficult in shorter courses, but when I teach the same people for a longer time, like I am in the current course, I get the chance to really understand how to structure my content in a way that makes the most sense to each and every one of them.

Their progress is my reward. When I see improvement from start to present I know that the message has gone through and that I have been able to coach them into finding a way that works for them.

Two persons spinning on supported spindles.
Students making progress!

For every wobbling spindle, uneven rolag or breaking yarn I see I try to understand where the missing link is and how this particular student can understand why something is happening and how they can get past the problem.

Teaching spinning direction

I teach about spinning direction. I make my students learn how to spin with both hands as spindle hand and fiber hand. If you have followed my blog for a while you know I am an advocate of pulling the spindle towards the hand rather than pushing it (if you haven’t, you can read this post about spinning direction and ergonomics or watch this webinar). So for my students to be able to both spin and ply or spin in both directions they need to learn how to do it with both hands, pulling the spindle.

A person spinning on a supported spindle. The spindle is in the left hand and the fiber in the right. Spindles and wool processing tools in the background.
I make all my students learn how to use both hands as spindle hand and fiber hand. Their reward is a better sense of both tasks for both hands. Mine is their understanding and progress.

Not only do they learn how to flick the spindle with both hands, they also learn how to handle the fiber with both hands. Today one of the students was amazed at how much more sensitive her right hand was when handling the fiber. Epiphanies like this make my heart sing – moments when my students understand something and can make progress.

New tool for skilled spinners

Most of the spinners I teach have been spinning for a while. I never direct my courses to beginners (that takes more teaching skills than I have). Occasionally, though, new spinners take my courses. I love the level I can discuss fibers and spinning techniques with my students. It is so rewarding to talk spinning with people who are really good at it. They know how to spin, just not with this particular tool.

However, being a beginner in a field you are normally skilled in can be very frustrating. I need to remind my students to be kind to themselves. Sometimes I need to tell them not to expect to succeed after having tried a new technique for a few minutes.

A person spinning on a supported spindle
This student was a very skilled suspended spindle spinner before my course and is now just as skilled at supported spindle spinning.

Sometimes they get so focused on this new technique that they forget that they know other skills like drafting and holding the fiber. We have talked about the baby bird: how to hold the fiber as if it were a baby bird – firmly enough not to let it escape and loosely enough not to crush it. To emphasize the importance of the light grip of the fiber I even asked them to name their bird. Am I being cruel?

You’ve prepared your wool now spin it

I believe in preparing your own fiber. It may take longer to prepare your fiber in the classroom and you may get less meterage spun but the reward is a deeper understanding of the fiber and how it behaves in the drafting.

Clowe-up of a person carding wool. A counter-clockwise arrow is drawn on the left hand and a clockwise arrow on the right hand.
In the spinning class we prepare our own fiber. Note the arrows on this student’s hands – counter-clockwise on the left hand and clockwise on the right for ergonomic supported spindle spinning.

I know how much fiber processing has helped me understand how fiber behaves. How could I not teach wool processing with this knowledge? It also helps the students understand the importance of wool processing when they spin. An uneven top or rolag will make a difference in the yarn.

In the beginning I taught supported spindle spinning with combed top or carded batts. Since I have started teaching carding and combing and letting the students process their own fiber in the classroom I see a deeper understanding of the processing itself and the importance of good processing for a good spinning result. All of them could show me a row of rolags with the first one uneven and loose and the last even and well defined. And they could make a clear connection between the quality of the processing, the spinning experience and the resulting yarn.

Piles of raw fleece
There’s fleece in the candy store!

Common challenges

Every time I understand the reason for a problem in the classroom I make a new deposit to my experience bank that I can use in future classes. I get to understand common problems, why they occur and how I can change my teaching to make the learning smoother. Problems will occur and to a large extent the same ones. But if I understand what is causing them and how I can coach different students in how to get past them I will become a better teacher. For every time I understand a common challenge I can add it to my curriculum to the benefit of future students in face-to-face and online courses.

Questions help me understand

Whenever a student asks a question I need to find their perspective in my reply. Knowing is one thing, explaining to someone requires you to structure and verbalize that knowledge. This helps me explain something from my own perspective – I have acquired skills from my experience and I explain and show these to my students. But when they ask questions it isn’t my perspective anymore and I need to restructure my knowledge. It is like I look at a vase on a glass table. I can describe the vase from when I stand. However, to describe the vase to someone standing on the other side of the table I may need to move or even crawl under the table to understand how they see the vase – and how they don’t see it. Even if crawling under the table may seem uncomfortable I realize that I learn so much more about the vase when I have seen it from another person’s perspective.


Thank you C, N, N and P. You and all my past and future students make me a better teacher.

Homework this week is to spin singles, both clockwise and counter-clockwise and of course with both hands.

Gotta go. Today I’m teaching how to ply on the fly.

Happy spinning!


You can follow 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.
  • 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 content. 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 2019

Four wool balls in white with brown and dark grey stripes.

This past weekend I went to Öströö sheep farm outside of Varberg on the Swedish west coast for the 2019 fleece and spinning championships. It was a wonderful day. I met lots of people, cuddled with heaps and heaps of fleece and got the people’s choice medal around my neck. In this post I will show you how I made my competing yarns for the championships. In an upcoming post I will share my experience of the fleece championships.

A woman standing by the sea. She is wearing a knitted sweater and a medal around her neck.
I got the people’s choice medal for my competing yarns in the spinning championships!

Swedish spinning championships 2019

August kept me busy with spinning for the spinning championships. It has been a lot of fun and a real challenge. There were two categories in the championships – one intermediate and one advanced. I competed in both.

This year we got fleece to start with. Most of the previous years we have got machine carded batts, which I don’t really like. I want to get to know the fleece from the beginning, I want to dig my hands into a dirty fleece and work all the steps in the process myself.

All participants got the same fleece sent to us on the same day. We got about one month to finish and ship the finished yarns.

Intermediate Gute sock yarn

For the intermediate level of the championships the assignment was to spin a sock yarn. We got raw wool from a gute lamb.

Gute sheep is a primitive breed with both outercoat, undercoat and kemp. You can read more about gute wool in a previous post. This lamb’s fleece has probably both under coat and outer coat, but it is hard to distinguish since the fibers are so very fine, probably in the cashmere range.

Raw fleece in different shades of grey. The fibers are very fine but there is also lots of black, coarse fibers.
Gute (lamb) fleece. Extremely fine fibers but also lots of black kemp.

My original thought was to spin a 3-ply, but then I decided to make it a cable yarn. It is quite difficult, but it makes a really pretty structure and a strong and sturdy yarn, perfect for socks. In the Swedish spinning championships of 2017 I got a medal in a spinning championship for a cable yarn.

Preparation

I started by flick carding the locks. A lot of the kemp stayed in the flick card. After combing the wool even more kemp disappeared. I was left with soft and silky bird’s nests. I can hardly believe it is Gute wool.

Balls of combed light grey wool. Some coarse fibers are in the balls.
Soft and silky bird’s nests of Gute wool. Some kemp is left, but a lot less than when I started.

Spinning a cable yarn

I spun the top worsted, with short forward draw. As I spun I pulled more kemp out.

This is how I made my cable yarn:

  • I spun four singles with Z-twist.
  • Then I plied the singles S into two balanced 2-ply yarns.
  • After that I put more S-twist on the singles.
  • Finally, I plied the two 2-ply yarns together, Z.
A skein of light grey yarn.
A finished fingering weight cable yarn from Gute wool, ready to send to the championships.

I ended up with a fingering weight skein, 55 m, 32 g, 1708 m/kg. Some of the kemp is still in the yarn, but it will push itself out eventually.

Advanced Värmland cape

The advanced level of the championships was really interesting. The assignment was to spin a yarn for a woven cape. Not just any cape, but the cape of the Bocksten man. The Bocksten man was found – murdered with a stick through his chest – in a bog just outside of Varberg (where the spinning and fleece championships took place). A piece of cloth was analyzed and dated to around 1290–1430. His clothes had been very well preserved in the bog. As I understand it, the Bocksten man’s clothing is the only complete men’s outfit in Europe from this time period.

A postcard depicting medieval man's clothing
The medieval clothing of the Bocksten man. Photo by Charlotta Sandelin/Länsmuseet Varberg

The task was to make our own interpretation of the Bocksten man’s woven cape. Either in two different yarns for warp and weft or the same yarn for both. We got raw wool from Värmland sheep, mostly in white, but also some locks of brown and grey. Värmland wool has both undercoat and outercoat, and may be similar to the wool that the cape was originally woven from.

Locks of wool in white, brown and grey.
Silky locks of Värmland wool in white, brown and grey.

I decided to make two different yarns for warp and weft. I also wanted to separate the wool types and spin with different techniques. In addition to that I wanted to play with the colours.

Warp

Preparation

I sorted the staples according to colour and combed each colour separately using my double pitched mini combs. I also separated the outercoat from the under coat and saved the undercoat for the weft.

A palette of Värmland wool. Combed outer coat tops in white, brown and grey plus the undercoat comb leftovers.
A palette of Värmland wool. Combed outercoat tops in white, brown and grey plus the undercoat comb leftovers.

When I had combed through everything I combed it again. I took two bird’s nests and combed together. This way I got bigger nests and could separat the wool types even more.

A wool comb full of silky white long fibers.
Second combing. Just long and silky outercoat fibers.

Before I pulled the combed white wool off the comb I added some of the coloured wool to make a lengthwise stripe in the top.

Four wool balls in white with brown and dark grey stripes.
After this stage in the process it was difficult to continue. I wanted to keep my rippled chocolate merengues!

2-ply yarn

I am not a big fan of big colour variations in the same yarn, I prefer more subtle blending. Still, I wanted both the grey and the brown to shine next to all the white. To achieve a soft colour change I spun one of the singles all-white and the other with the striped tops.

Two bobbins of singles. One pure white and one with a mix of brown, white and grey.
Worsted outer coat singles ready to be plied.

I spun them both with short forward draw and 2-plied.

A skein of white, brown and grey yarn.
A finished lace weight (I have no idea what the translation to weaving is) warp yarn. 94 m, 35 g, 2655 m/kg.

It was such a joy to spin this yarn! The white fibers were so shiny and silky, just like a merengue batter. The grey and brown fibers were different in the structure compared to the white. The grey fibers were coarser and less conforming and the brown fibers were a bit closer to the white. The lengthwise stripe turned the singles to a beautiful chocolate rippled merengue batter.

Weft

Preparation

I wanted a coloured effect in the weft yarn too. I carded rolags of the white wool and in some of them I made stripes of the coloured staples.

Prepared fiber in a mushroom tray. Above and below: Outer coat hand-combed bird's nests. Middle: Under coat hand-carded rolags.
All the fiber prep in a mushroom tray. Above and below: Outercoat hand-combed bird’s nests. Middle: Undercoat hand-carded rolags.

Singles yarn

I wanted warp and weft spun in different directions. Therefore I chose to make the weft a singles yarn. My best tool for an even single is always the Navajo spindle. I started by spinning all the rolags into a roving.

A spindle full of yarn. A wood shed in the background.
Woolen yarn spun with long draw on a Navajo spindle from hand-carded rolags, first pass.

Well, it didn’t really end up as a roving as I had planned. It was more of a loosely spun single. I then spun it all again to give the yarn its final thickness and twist. This is when I realized that there was a bit too much twist for me to be able to make it finer. It was quite a bit of hard work.

A spindle full of yarn. A wood shed in the background.
The second pass on the Navajo spindle. The yarn is finer and more even.

The fact that there was no crimp in this silky soft undercoat made drafting a challenge. I had to pay close attention to the drafting zone to avoid breakage. Even if I spun it too much the first time I think it was a good choice to spin the yarn twice.

Another problem was the fact that the different colours had different characteristics as I wrote earlier. Especially the grey fibers were coarser and more difficult to draft in such a fine yarn. Many colour joins broke and many expletives were uttered.

A skein of singles yarn.
A finished weft yarn for the Bocksten man. 184 m, 42 g, 4335 m/kg. This yarn is so yummy!

After getting used to the behavior of the fibers I learned how to pay extra close attention to the colour changes and joins and ended up with a beautiful skein of singles.

A woven swatch.
Pin loom swatch of my Bocksten man yarns.

A joyful day

A row of yarns on a stick
The competing sock yarns in the intermediate category.

All in all, spinning for the Swedish spinning championships 2019 was a joyful process. The raw material was wonderful and I got to play with it on so many levels. I liked that we were free to make our own interpretations and add our own artistic touch in our contributions to the championships.

A row of yarns on a stick
The competing weaving yarns in the advanced category.

Meeting new and old friends

I met a lot of old friends at the championships – spinners, shepherdesses and suppliers. So many friendly faces to share a happy day with. And at least ten people came up to me, introduced themselves and said they were followers. This really made my day! I also got interviewed by a woman from a weaving podcast (I think she used the word star struck when she approached me). Meeting followers is such a joy for me. I am an introvert, but meeting you in person really warms my heart.

Coming up: The 2019 fleece championships.

Happy spinning!


You can follow 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.
  • 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 content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

From sheep to shawl

Next in line in my walk down memory lane is another Slow fashion video: Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl. Just like the first Slow fashion video it is a labour of love.

In this video I wanted to focus more on the details and I wanted to make a woven garment in my own design.

DIY

I also wanted people to be able to use the video as a guide to make a similar garment themselves. The idea came from a children’s book. When the kids were small we read about Castor the beaver (Bruno or Harvey in English). The story was about Castor making something – growing a plant, baking bread, making a toolbox, sewing an apron and mending a flat tyre. While they are sweet little children’s books, they are at the same time instructions to how to do it yourself. Our daughter made an apron for her brother for his 10th birthday using Castor’s instructions. She was then 7,5 and could barely reach the sewing machine pedal. Dan had to help her with the steering. I think she made a small toolbox for herself when she was even younger.

Even if my video doesn’t show the exact instructions from sheep to shawl it is a direction and guide to the different steps in the process. I hope the video is an inspiration too.

Outlander themed

When I made the video I was very much into the Outlander book and tv series. First and foremost for the abundance of wool garment and other beautiful crafts. Just imagine the time and skills needed to make one single great kilt! In the video I flirt a little with the outlander theme – the plaid shawl, the final scene (featuring our daughter) and the musical theme (arranged and performed by Dan’s talented brother Jens).

There are a few paragraphs in a few of the books where the characters spin and I do hope they decide to include those sections in the upcoming seasons in the tv series.

A woman on a meadow is holding up a plaid shawl in light and dark grey. She is wearing a shirt with a sheep on it.
The finished Sassenach shawl. Photo by Dan Waltin

Happy spinning!


You can follow 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.
  • 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 content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Gotland wool

In the spring 2019 issue of Spin-off magazine I wrote an article on sorting fleeces of Gute and Gotland wool. Some of you have asked for a breed study in Scandinavian sheep breeds. I think it’s a great idea and I will start today! I will look at Swedish breeds to start with and from the spinner’s point of view. A bit about the breed, the characteristics of the wool, how I prepare and spin it and what I want to do with the finished yarn. Today I will cover my thoughts on Gotland wool.

Next Saturday, April 13th at 5 pm CET I will host a live webinar where I share my thoughts and experiences on Gotland wool.

The Gotland sheep

The Gotland sheep is not one of the older Swedish sheep breeds. However, it is the most common breeds in Sweden.

The origin of the Gotland sheep is the Gute sheep. Gute sheep is a very old breed with a rustic fleece. I will cover the Gute sheep in more detail in a later post. In the 1920’s a program started to develop a breed that was good for meat and skins. The new breed was originally called Pälsfår (Fur sheep) to emphasize the use of the skins but was later changed to Gotland sheep to accommodate to a more international audience.

Today the Gotland sheep is the most common breed in Sweden. In 2018 there were 520 registered flocks of Gotland sheep with around 18000 lambing ewes according to the Swedish sheep breeders’ association.

The breeding standards Gotland sheep include standards for meat production and skin quality. The goals for wool characteristics are primarily set for skin quality.

Wool characteristics

Newly shorn wool from a Gotland lamb

The first characteristic that comes to mind when looking at a Gotland fleece is the shine. Gotland wool has a beautiful shine in different shades of grey from medium to dark grey and black. The staples are shaped in a 3-dimensional curl. The wool has a uniformity across the fleece with a solid colour, lock characteristic and staple length. The fleece consists of mostly outercoat and very little undercoat.

Freakishly long Gotland wool. The staples are very dense.

These characteristics are very well suited for a beautiful skin. However, Gotland wool is not my favorite wool to spin. It is easy to be fooled by the beautiful silvery locks, but they can be deceptive.

  • Since there is so little undercoat and wave rather than crimp, the staples are very dense. This facilitates felting, especially at the cut end. Anyone who has shorn a Gotland sheep knows that this breed is a challenge to shear because of the dense fleece.
  • The shine in the locks makes a beautiful sheen in the finished yarn, but the fibers are also very slippery. You need to pay close attention to the fibers when you spin or you are running the risk of the fibers pulling apart. Swedish spinning mills have difficulties spinning pure Gotland wool for this reason. They usually blend Gotland wool with around 25% Swedish finewool.
  • The high percentage of outercoat makes the spinning less… cozy I would say. The fibers feel sort of coarse. The average Gotland fiber is around 40 micron.

With that said, this is my experience of Gotland wool in Sweden. As I understand it, Gotland wool in the U.K. and U.S. are usually softer.

Sounnie, a Gotland lamb

At the great sheep walk last year I suddenly saw her: A Gotland lamb with the sweetest curls: Sounnie. You can see a glimpse of her at 2:20 in this video about Överjärva farm where she lives with her flock. There are also purebred Gotland sheep in the video, the grey ones with black faces and legs.

Sounnie, a 75% Gotland, 25% Finewool lamb. Her overall characteristics is Gotland, though. The other three sheep are Swedish fine wool sheep.

She is 75% Gotland and 25% Swedish finewool, but the characteristics of her fleece is very Gotlandy, with unusually long staples (which doesn’t make sense at all since Finewool staples are around 5 cm/2 inches). I knew I needed her fleece when I saw her, even tough I am a bit reluctant towards Gotland wool. In September it was shearing day and I was there to harvest Sounnie’s sweet silver curls.

At the time I was writing the article for Spin-off and I only had time to make samples and swatches. It was wonderful to work with the newly shorn and freakishly long locks.

Samples and swatches from Sounnie’s fleece.

Processing

Just after Christmas I picked up where I had left Sounnie and started processing the locks. And I was shocked. Gone were the sweet curls and instead I found a tangled and very much felted mess. Just by being in a paper bag in my wool storage (aka the sofa bed) a lot of it had felted. But I wouldn’t let that stop me.

Gotland wool post sofa bed storage: More felted than shiny.

The natural way to attack the locks was to comb them. I had envisioned a thin yarn spun worsted from hand-combed tops. But since so much of the fleece had felted, combing was a big challenge. Combing straight off resulted in an uneven top that I had to struggle with. Even after five passes in the combs the top was uneven.

I tried flicking the staples and spin them individually from the cut end but that also resulted in an uneven yarn. So, as a middle step I flicked each individual staple and then combed them. This gave me the result I wanted. Ironically, a lot of the precious undercoat ended up in the flick card.

Since the locks are so dense I loaded the combs with only a few flicked locks. I landed at eight locks for my mini-combs. Anything more than that would require more muscle power than I had.

Flick-carding the staples before combing makes a much nicer combing experience.

The method with pre-flicking and then combing a limited number of flicked staples resulted in beautiful and even bird’s nests.

Flicked and combed Gotland top.

Spinning

Since Gotland wool is so dense, it also has lots of drape. I want to use that. But too much drape can get heavy. Therefore I wanted to spin a thin yarn that would give me drape without weighing a garment down. I spun the top with short forward draw with a low twist on my spinning wheel and 2-plied it. It resulted in a beautiful, shiny light fingering yarn with lots of drape.

A newborn skein of Gotland yarn

With such a long staple length I needed to keep my hands far apart. Also I needed to pay close attention to the fiber to prevent the slippery fibers from pulling apart.

Spinning the Gotland wool was not a smooth feeling, eventhough this was a lamb’s fleece. It felt like the fibers had a triangular shape rather than round. That is the only way I can explain it.

The two-step preparation took a lot of time and resulted in quite a lot of waste (50–55%). But the spinning was lovely and resulted in a beautiful yarn that was remarkably consistent.

A good preparation is the foundation of a consistent yarn.

Use

Because of the strength of the fiber, Gotland wool is a good choice for sturdy garments like socks. To keep the shine I would comb and spin worsted, but Gotland wool is definitely suited for carding and woolen spinning too.

Sounnie’s yarn is too pretty to be used for socks. I’m planning on a drapey top. I did spin a tailspun yarn from her short neck curls, but even if it turned out nicely, it is far too little to do anything with.

Gotland locks are the perfect choice for a tailspun yarn

Live webinar!

This Sunday, April 14th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Gotland wool from a spinner’s perspective. I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Gotland wool. I will use Sounnie’s fleece as a case study and show you glimpses of how I process the wool.

This is a chance for me to meet you (in the chat at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The last live webinar I did was a great success and since then I have been longing to host another webinar. So register now!

The event has passed

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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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 content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Process

Handspun yarn from Gotland wool

I am a process spinner and I spin because I love the process of spinning. The rhythm, the motions, the feeling of the fiber in my hands and the crafting bubble I enter when I spin – all of these aspects are part of my love of spinning. I do spin for the project too, but I don’t make shortcuts to get faster to the project. In this post I will try to break down the process and investigate what it is that makes me feel so good when I spin.

For some cimematic inspiration connected to the theme of this post, watch my video For the love of spinning.

Rhythm

There is a rhythm in spinning, regardless of what tool I am using. I treadle with my feet, feed the yarn into the orifice and move my hands. Or I set a spindle in motion, draft the fiber and roll the yarn onto the shaft. You can see the rhythm in the preparation too – loading combs or cards, processing the fiber and arranging the fiber in spinnable chunks. From the first step to the last and back again. There is a rhythm and a predictability – if everything goes as it should, I know what is coming next.

I find a sort of security in the rhythm. I can focus on the steps in the process and and be here and now. Stress stays outside of the bubble and allows me to breathe and think more freely.

I have been under a lot of pressure lately with course launch, article and pattern deadlines and new courses to prepare for. But through this I have had one spinning project that was just for me. There was no deadline or pressure with that particular fleece and I made room for spinning for a little while every day. It helped me find peace when in the crafting bubble and balance when outside of it.

The rhythm of spinning helps me find the here and now
The rhythm of spinning helps me find the here and now

Dance

Sometimes I see spinning as a dance. The fibers and tools are the dancers and I am the choreographer (the fiber is also the artistic director). My hands follow each other, back and forth, towards and away from each other, leaving the fiber in a new shape. Fiber hand drafting the fiber for the spinning hand. Spinning hand introducing twist to the fiber and smoothing the newborn yarn, guiding it onto the bobbin or shaft. My eyes follow my hands, watching the fiber, assessing the result and planning the next step.

The combs or cards follow each other, allowing the length of the fiber to gently dictate the choreography. I make dramatic moves for combing long locks and gentle motions, gently caressing the fibers for carding short fibers. I listen to the music of my tools for guidance in the rhythm.

The moves in the dance are linear and simultaneous, gentle and bold, planned and spontaneous. Often in basic step but every now and then a new figure is introduced.

The dance works with the rhythm and helps me find my pace. I get lost in the moment while at the same time focusing deeply on my work.

Spinning on a supported spindle takes and makes focus. Photo by Dan Waltin
The rhythm and dance of spinning helps me find focus. Photo by Dan Waltin

Sometimes I feel disconnected from the spinning. Something is out of step and I can’t find my way in the spinning. Then I look for the dance and find it. I am the choreographer again and the steps fall into place.

How do you dance your spinning?

Memory

When I spin (or knit or weave or nalbind or… well, you get the picture), I spin the context into the yarn. If I listen to a podcast when I spin I can hear its echo the next time I spin that yarn. If I knit at a fika break at work I remember the conversations the next time I pick up the knitting. Spinning on the train can save the view from the landscape in the yarn. The sensation of the crafting enhances the auditive or visual memory of what happen when I craft.

If I have been happy, sad or emotional when spinning, my feelings are gently stored in a protective shield of wool. It feels safe, like my yarn protects my most secret thoughts and emotions. I can look at the yarn and reconnect with particular moments and contexts.

A collection of finished yarns from a fleece allows me to remember and cherish all the things going on in my life when it was created. Good things, bad, happy and sad. They are all there and part of me.

Handspun yarn from Gotland wool
I could tell you that this is Gotland wool spun worsted from hand combed top, but it is so much more than that. Countless emotions, memories and places have been gently spun into the yarn.

Creativity

Spinning is a creative activity. I need to be creative. My whole being needs to express itself creatively. When I spin I feel more balanced, I can ground myself and be at peace. When I am in the creative bubble all the white noise around me fizzles out and allows me to see the world more clearly.

I can also use spinning to ignite creative thinking. Sometimes I may be struggling to find words for a blog post or an article. I stop what I am doing and start spinning instead. After a while of spinning the doors to my creative thinking open and I can take a fresh creative breath again. The connection between the brain hemispheres is strengthened and I can think more efficiently.

Touch

One of my favourite parts of the spinning process is feeling the wool in my hands. The notion that every single fiber has gone through my fingers hundreds of times through sorting, picking, washing, preparing, spinning, plying and knitting warms my heart.

Touching wool gives me a sense of security. It will do me no harm. I will receive the gift of warmth, safety and kindness. It is like I was meant to feel the wool. I think we as humans need to feel natural materials.

Oxytocin

Recently I read a book about love, Kärlek. The author and therapist Eva Sanner writes about touch as an important part of a relationship. Touch releases the hormone oxytocin, which makes us calm and content. It has importance for bonding between partners and between mother and child during nursing. The release of oxytocin also strengthens our immune system.

Go cuddle your sheep, it is good for your immune system. Photo by Anna Herting.

One of the most effective ways to release oxytocin is through massage. When pace and pressure are right, it can give a lot of pleasure for both the giver and receiver of massage.

A spinning hormone?

The book also mentions the release of oxytocin when we pet our pets. Scientific studies show that people with pets have better health than people living alone and that oxytocin can very well be the cause of that. The author writes that we have lots of oxytocin receptors in our hands. When we stroke our pets we take pleasure in it, just like the masseur. At the same time our immune system is strengthened.

This made me stop and think. If oxytocin is released when we stroke our pets, could spinning also lead to the release of oxytocin? The warm wool – not on the hoof anymore but more often than not smelling faintly of sheep – goes through our hands in all the steps of the process. During spinning we handle the wool between our fingertips, one of the most sensitive parts of our bodies. Is the release of oxytocin during spinning part of the feeling of serenity when we spin?

I got so excited about this thought that I emailed the author. I described the spinning process and asked her if she thought that oxytocin was released when we spin. She replied after just a couple of hours and said that it was a very interesting concept. She thought it was very possible that oxytocin could be released during spinning.

Spinning Shetland wool on a spinning wheel
Can spinning wool actually be good for our immune system?

My next thought was, comparing to pace and pressure in massage, is the pace and pressure in the spinning when it feels the best the moment when the most oxytocin is released? Do we have a personal spinning pace that is the most beneficial for us?

The thought of oxytocin as a spinning hormone and beneficial for our immune system gives me goosebumps. And a warm and wooly heart.

Do share your thoughts about this!

Happy spinning indeed!


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. 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 content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

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!