Reciprocity

Reciprocity: from the Latin word reciprocus, meaning ‘moving backwards and forwards’. I buy wool, worth so much more and on a completely different scale than the money I paid for it. A gift from the sheep. I give back in the skill and love I invest in working with it from fleece to textile.

When I see a fleece I see a gift. Even if I have bought the wool for money there is something more, something bigger than a monetary value in the material. A sheep farmer tended the sheep and the pastures. The sheep managed the landscape and grew the wool. These are gifts that work in a dimension way above and beyond money.

I reflect today on reciprocity. On the sharing of gifts that go backwards and forwards in a slow, sweet and ongoing dance between the souls who once took a first step to the beat of the sharing of gifts.

The gifts of wool

There are so many gifts in the wool. Gifts that come sweetly packed in curls and waves. And, if you look close enough, layers and layers of gifts as you peel them off humbly, slowly and mindfully.

Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in her beautiful and important book Braiding Sweetgrass:

“Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart.”

I do my best to listen to the wool with open eyes and an open heart while also reflecting over this on the blog and when I teach spinning and wool handling. I’m forever grateful for the wisdom of book, what it has taught me and what it keeps teaching me as long as I pay attention and listen. Read this book. It has helped me understand so much more and on a much deeper level about the relationships we have with each other and with nature.

The gift of wool in itself

The first and perhaps the most obvious gift is the wool in itself – an exquisite material that will keep me and my loved ones warm and safe. A material that has so many superpowers and so many manifestations as finished textiles.

My very first skein of handspun yarn. Fine finull lamb's wool, hand carded on rusty cards and plied with some fawn alpaca since I didn't have enough fleece.
My very first skein of handspun yarn. Fine finull lamb’s wool, hand carded on rusty cards and plied with some fawn alpaca since I didn’t have enough fleece.

I’m grateful for that first spinning lesson almost ten years ago when I got a box of just-shorn finull wool in my lap, a spindle and a pair of handcards. Back then I didn’t understand the greatness of this single moment, but I think about it often, smiling in my heart at what it has given me.

The gift of characteristics

The characteristics of each individual fleece, whether it’s the shine, the softness the strength or the colour, are all a gift. Every characteristic is something I can work with and learn from. From all the gifts I get from the characteristics of the fleece I want to give back by making the most of them, by making them shine in the yarn and allow the soul of the fleece to sparkle.

The gift of learning

By exploring the wool as I work with it through every step from raw fleece to a finished yarn or textile I learn what it is about, what its strengths are and how I can work with it to honur the sheep that gave me its wool.

Carding the wool by hand gives me the opportunity to listen to it. If I pay attention I will hear it whisper to me how it works and how it likes to be treated.

As I tease the wool I learn about the elasticity and viscosity of the wool. As I card or comb I learn about the length of the fibers and how they relate to each other. When I spin I experience the elasticity, viscosity, length and relationships again, confirming my previously gained knowledge, provided I have listen well enough. In knitting, weaving or whatever technique I use, I learn how the yarn behaves as a material in its new shape. The things I learn I pay forward in courses and blog posts to my students and supporters.

The gift of the craft

I have learned so much about spinning and wool handling since that first day when I got the box of finull wool in my lap. Yet I know I have so much more to learn. The aim of my first yarn was to spin a Z-plied yarn for two-end knitting. While I did manage to spin S and ply Z the yarn was not fit to use for anything really. I had the naïve idea that I would be able to spin something that in both quality and quantity would be enough for a textile that I would want to wear.

Eventually I did spin my first yarn for two-end knitting, from that very first fleece. It was way underspun and way too soft. But I didn’t realize that back then, it dawned on me years later when I spun my third or fourth yarn for two-end knitting. Now, at my fifth or sixth two-end knitting yarn I still learn. How to process, spin, ply and sample to create a yarn I can use and enjoy. Regardless of whether I can actually use and enjoy it I know that I will learn from it.

Crafts leading to new crafts

The gift of the craft is also about having the fortune of actually knowing a craft, knowing how to keep me and my loved ones warm and safe.

After having learned to weave I have been able to improve my weaving yarns. For the gift of wool I give back by making the yarns sparkle. Outercoat fibers of Klövsjö and Härjedal wool spun worsted on a suspended spindle. Used in a backstrap woven bag (shown above). Photo by Dan Waltin.

By learning how to spin I have also visited other crafts. As my spinning journey developed I realized that I needed to learn how to weave to be able to spin a wider spectrum of yarns. Gifts of new crafts came. I am definitely still a beginner at weaving, but I still love all the weaving I can do. Learning how to weave has in turn taught me about how I want my weaving yarns.

The gift of the process

Mmm… the process. Not only the process from the newly shorn fleece through preparing, spinning, plying, finishing and making a textile, but the process in the hands and the brain during whatever step of the process I am enjoying right now. The process of mindfully picking lock by lock from the fleece, of dancing the teased wool through cards or combs and of feeding the yarn into the twist.

The gift of process, where I find a sense of balance in a space that is my own.

The process gives me the gift of space, balance, lightness and freedom, such precious gifts. When my hands and my brain are in the process my shoulders relax. I breathe slower and deeper. The wool enters my hands with the gift of touch, rhythm and ease. As a person living with chronic migraines the process gives me a moment of focus on something else than the vize-like pressure on my senses, a moment to breathe easier and be somewhere else than in the migraine.

When I am in the process I am in a room that is my own, where thoughts are welcome to come and go just as the fibers come and go. There is a sense of allowing, lightness and ease in my room. A sacred place where listening and kindness are keys. I like to think that being in my spinning process makes me a more balanced and humble person, gifts that I hope I am able to spread to the people around me.

The gift of mistakes

Sometimes I think I learn more from my mistakes than I do when everything runs smoothly. At least I learn more suddenly. I know by now that mistakes are good – by making a mistake and analyzing it I will hopefully learn – hands-on – why it happened and what I can do to avoid it the next time.

Every time I look at the mistake I will remember the circumstances around it. I embrace my mistakes and am thankful for them. Even if I may growl a bit when they happen I know I will have use for the experience sooner or later.

The gift of time

Time is an essential part of spinning. Not only the time it takes to actually spin enough yarn for a project, but also the time spent with the woo. The simpler the tools and setup the closer I come to the wool. The less of the mechanics that are in the tools the more the mechanics are in me. I become a part of the tool – I am the tool as I spin on spindles, I am the loom when I weave with a backstrap loom and I am the sewing machine when I hand stitch.

Combed Swedish Leicester wool spun on a suspended spindle into an embroidery yarn. The yarn got me a gold medal in the 2020 Swedish spinning championships. The yarn was part of my auction for Ukraine and now lives in Australia.

All these simple tools take time, but it is also time spent with the wool and with the techniques. This goes for the preparation of the wool too – I want to do all the steps myself and with hand tools, from sorting the wool through picking, teasing, processing and spinning. The time I spend with the wool through all the steps of the process is time and opportunity to listen to the wool and learn. Slow is a superpower and time spent with the wool a gift.

The gift beyond time

Spinning is a space for me, a sacred space beyond time. A space where I get to go with the flow of the fibers, listen to them to understand what steps to take next. In my spinning space I allow myself to just be with the wool and receive the reflections that gently glide through my mind, without expectations, without restrictions.

There is a dimension beyond time that is an extra precious gift, a sacred space where I am allowed to listen to the wool and just be. Photo by Dan Waltin

The gift beyond time is one that goes deeper than any of the other gifts I receive from spinning. I can’t pay back for this gift. But I can express my gratitude by gently dressing my reflections in the sweetest words I can think of and share them with the world.

Reciprocating the gifts

I want to reciprocate al these gifts through the time, skill and love I give back to the wool as I work with it from fleece to a finished yarn or textile. As part of a web of reciprocity it is my responsibility to pay back or forward for the gifts I receive. By being ever curious I want to find the superpowers of the wool and make it the star of the project I make. Even if I can’t give much more back to the sheep and the sheep farmer than my gratitude I can always give it forward by my presence in the wool, by listening to what it teaches me and by sharing my creative process with the world.

Backwards and forwards

I know my gifts will be returned to me or paid forward one way or another. Perhaps someone who reads what I do helps another spinner find a new perspective or listen to the wool. I will continue to return or pay the gifts offered to me forward. Reciprocity seems to work that way, like a dance you dance together, giving and receiving.

I write mindfully about the beautiful wool from Elsa the Gestrike sheep. When Elsa a few months later gives birth to two sweet black ewe lambs with white tufts on their foreheads I get the honour of naming them. I pick the names Barbro and Anita, after two of the women who back in the 1980’s and -90’s nurtured a couple of the oldest flocks of what later was established as Gestrike sheep. As a thank you to generations of sheep farmers I give back again to the sheep and the breed by naming the lambs after some of the pioneers.


Today is my 49th birthday. Perhaps writing this blog post is a part of a returning pre-birthday process of contemplating the years gone by and the years to come. I have an old wise woman deep inside and I’m very fond of her. As time goes by I like to think I’m getting closer to her. I do my best to treat her lovingly and respectfully. In return I will hopefully get some of her wisdom.

I receive so many gifts from you, all sweetly wrapped in kindness and experience. This post is a gift back. I’m so grateful for you all, for dancing to the beat of reciprocity and the sharing of gifts.

Happy spinning!


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dual coat

Many of the Swedish heritage breeds have dual coats, just like Icelandic sheep, Navajo Churro, Karakul, North Ronaldsay and some Shetland sheep. A dual coat has a combination of long and strong outercoat fibers and soft and airy undercoat fibers in the same staple. Today I dive into dual coats and reflect over how I work with these versatile fleeces.

Dual coats are common in primitive breeds, but not with all sheep of that breed and not necessarily consistently over the whole body of the sheep. Swedish heritage breeds like dalapäls, Värmland, Gestrike (featured image above), Klövsjö and Åsen sheep along with rya, gute and Åland sheep are all breeds that can have dual coats on parts or the whole of their fleeces.

Check out the linked breed study posts above to dive deeper into different ways I work with dual coats.

What is a dual coat?

Dual coats consist of long hairs, the outercoat (täckhår) and shorter wool, the undercoat (bottenull). These fiber types look very different and have different purposes. The long outercoat fibers are strong, often shiny and usually packed quite densely in the tips while the shorter undercoat fibers are soft, fine and airily distributed.

The purpose of the coats

The purpose of the outercoat on the sheep is to keep the sheep dry. When rain hits the fleece, the long and dense outercoat tails lead the rain drops away from the body of the sheep. The purpose of the undercoat is to keep the sheep warm. With its lofty distribution air comes in between the fibers and keeps the sheep warm.

In this Icelandic fleece it is easy to imagine the rain drops sliding on the dense outercoat tips out and away from the body of the sheep.

Kemp

In addition to undercoat and outercoat some fleeces have kemp. Kemp is a coarse hair fiber with a medulla, a core with air-filled cells, that takes up at least 60 per cent of the diameter of the fiber. Due to this wide medulla core the kemp fibers are brittle and short (because they break from being so brittle). They are usually white or black and don’t take dye. Kemp fibers are coarse, quirky and stick out of the yarn and usually fall out sooner or later. This is very evident when you prepare a fleece with kemp in it – the floor will be full of kemp that has fallen out of the fleece. Also when you full a garment knit with a yarn with kemp you will find lots of kemp fibers that have crept out of the textile in the agitation.

Fine undercoat fibers, coarser outercoat fibers and quirky kemp fibers in Gestrike wool.
Fine undercoat fibers, coarser outercoat fibers and quirky kemp fibers in Gestrike wool.

In a loupe image it’s possible to see the difference in diameter between undercoat, outercoat and kemp fibers.

Cooperation

The wool types on the sheep cooperate, all in an effort to keep the sheep dry and warm. The outercoat armours the undercoat so that the undercoat can stay airy and the outercoat can stay upright. The undercoat in turn form a fundament for the outercoat. Kemp fibers also help keeping the staple upright and airy so that the rain doesn’t get the sheep wet and cold.

Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep
The staples on Gunvor the Gestrike sheep stand out from her body, keeping rain and cold away.

Let the wool lead the way

When I spin a fleece, any fleece, I like to use the properties of the wool to make a garment that is for me what the fleece was to the sheep that once grew the wool. I let the characteristics of the wool lead the way as I prepare, spin and use it. With a dual coat there are so many ways I can do this and create a wide range of yarns from one single fleece.

Depending on the wool I have and what I have in mind for it I can choose to

  • Separate undercoat from outercoat and prepare the coats separately.
  • Semi-separate the coats. By this I mean that I remove some of one of the coats but not all. Or separate the coats and reintroduce a part of one of the coats to the other.
  • Prepare the coats together.
  • Spin from the lock.

Separating coats

There are different ways to separate the outercoat from the undercoat of a dual coat, depending on what tools you have available.

By hand

The easiest way is to use your hands and separate staple by staple. I hold the staple between my hands with the tip end in one hand and the cut end in the other. I pull gently and wiggle slightly until I feel the coats gliding in different directions. When I have separated the coats I can continue to prepare them separately.

With cards

If you have cards but no combs you can separate the coats with the cards. Place a staple with the cut end on the long edge of the card and push it lightly into the teeth with one hand. With the other hand, pull gently in the tip end until the coats separate. From here you can continue to prepare the coats separately.

With combs

My go-to way to separate coats is with combs. With the combs you can

  • tease both coats
  • separate the coats from each other
  • create a top from the outercoat fibers.

Usually I use my combing station but sometimes also with my mini combs. If possible, I use two-pitched combs. Two or more rows of teeth will hold on to the shorter fibers better than single pitched combs, keeping the undercoat in the combs as I doff off the outercoat.

To separate the coats with combs I then

  • find the cut ends of the staples
  • charge the comb by sliding the cut ends onto the teeth
  • keep as little of the staples as possible on the handle side of the comb
  • charge the comb with up to a third of the height of the tines
  • keep the combs perpendicular to each other and comb with the horizontal comb in a horizontal circular movement
  • change the orientation of the movement to a vertical circle when the first comb is empty
  • Work back and forth until the wool is fully separated.

The wool is now combed and the fibers evenly separated. All cut ends are in one end and the tip ends in the other. I like to stop at an odd number of passes. This way I pull the outercoat from the cut ends, which will generate a smoother drafting of the fibers.

The undercoat fibers stop before the outercoat fibers do. I grab the outercoat fibers outside of the place where the undercoat ends. I pull and wiggle lightly, carefully listening to the wool. When the fibers slide easier past each other I stop and make a new grip, closer to the undercoat fibers but without including them. To create a continuous top I keep pulling out the outercoat, changing my grip until I can’t get more outercoat fibers out of the comb. I even the top out by pre-drafting it lightly and wind it into a bird’s nest. When I pull the last part of the top from the comb I can either comb it together with a couple of more tops or start spinning straight away.

I pull the undercoat out of the comb perpendicular to the teeth. This way any nepps, vegetable matter and too short fibers stay in the combs and I can use this waste for mulching in the garden. The teased undercoat is now ready for further preparation.

You can read more about my favourite combs here.

Carding the undercoat

While the outercoat has been combed during the separation of the coats I have lovely little teased combfuls of undercoat that I usually card. You can read more about carding in this blog post.

I would typically spin the carded undercoat woolen for a soft and warm yarn and the outercoat worsted for a strong and shiny yarn to enhance their respective superpowers.

Semi-separating coats

One lovely thing about dual coats is the endless opportunities I have to customize the fiber type content and the yarn that I spin. Above I describe a complete or close to complete separation of the outercoat from the undercoat. But I can also choose to doff off only part of the outercoat to create a yarn that is soft from the undercoat but still has some strength and shine from the outercoat. I could also make a complete separation between the coats and then reintroduce some of one coat to the other. For example, I can make two sock yarns from one fleece. I the main sock yarn I may use both of the fiber types together, but add more of the outercoat for the heel and toe yarn.

Combing coats together

Combing the coats together will result in a yarn that is still strong but has some softness too. A yarn like this could be a good allround and durable yarn.

For keeping fiber types together I prefer single pitched combs. With only one row of teeth both undercoat and outercoat slide swiftly through the teeth for a nicely blended top. Up until I doff the wool off the comb I take the same steps as described above. When the fibers are separated I grab the wool a bit closer to the teeth to avoid getting only the outercoat. I pull and wiggle gently to make a long top from both undercoat and outercoat.

One challenge with combing the coats together is having one end of the top with mostly outercoat fibers and the other with mostly undercoat. To reduce this risk I can recomb the top. I put the combed wool back onto the comb in sections and recomb it for a couple of passes and then doff or diz it off again. You can read more about this process in my post Combing different fiber lengths.

Carding coats together

Just as I can comb both coats together I can card them together. This will create an airy allround yarn that still has some strength.

I always start by teasing the wool. This is to open up the fibers before carding to prevent strain in the fibers and in my body. You can read more about teasing here.

The different lengths in a dual coat marry well together in a carded rolag. Rya wool left and middle. The staple on the right is mohair that I added in this case for extra sock yarn strength.

But is it possible to card fibers in this length? When I card fibers that are perhaps 20 centimeters I always make sure they are accompanied by shorter fibers. In a combination of short, medium and long fibers the fibers sort of marry each other and create an airy rolag. A dual coat therefore usually works well to card since there are different lengths in the staples. The longest fibers will double around the rolag, but I don’t see that as a problem since there are so many other lengths that won’t.

Spinning from the lock

When I want to work with a very light preparation and as few tools as possible or to preserve a colour variegation I spin from the cut ends of lightly teased locks. I tease with my hands, cards, flicker or combs and spin. Drafting can be a bit of a challenge since the fibers are more densely packed than in a full separation. But the result is usually a beautifully raw yarn with lots of integrity. You can see an example of this and a method I played with in this post about Icelandic wool.

Colours

Many dual coats have different colours in the outercoat and undercoat. This presents a wonderful opportunity to play with the colours. If you for example separate the coats and spin a strong outercoat yarn and a soft undercoat yarn you can combine these in a weaving project. If you weave twill you would end up with one side with the strength of the outercoat warp in one colour and the other side with the softness of the undercoat in another. Just like the wool on the sheep, a soft undercoat layer to keep the body warm and a strong outercoat layer to keep the wet out. Allowing the coats to cooperate still after a long process from fleece to textile just warms my wooly heart endlessly.

A baby sample for a twill weave with separated undercoat and outercoat of the Gestrike sheep Elin.

A wide spinning spectrum

As you see, a dual coat is usually a very versatile fleece that you can prepare in a number of ways depending on the characteristics of the fleece and what projects you have in mind. With this wide spectrum of preparation techniques it is easy to see an equally wide spectrum of spinning opportunities. Add to that the additional possibilities to play with the natural colours of the fleece and different fiber qualities of lamb’s fleeces and adult fleeces. From the finest next to skin woolen lamb’s undercoat yarn to coarse and strong rug yarn. From baby clothes through shawls, mittens, socks, hats and sweaters to woven textiles for clothing, upholstery, tapestries and rugs. For a hand spinner a single dual coat is a treasure box with endless opportunities to make a wide variety of yarn and textile and honour the sheep that once grew the wool.

Read the Spring 2021 Double coated issue of PLY magazine. I’d packed with in-depth articles about dual coats.

I just love writing a blog post where I already have all the necessary photos from previous posts.

Happy spinning!


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Åland wool

Today’s blog post and an upcoming breed study webinar are all about Åland wool. This is my eleventh breed study. Previous breed studies have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool, Dalapäls wool, Värmland wool, Jämtland wool, finull wool, rya wool, Klövsjö wool (blog post only), Åsen wool and Gestrike wool.

This Saturday, April 9th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a free live breed study webinar on Åland wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

The webinar has already taken place.

Åland sheep

Åland sheep is a unique breed that has lived and developed in the archipelago of Åland in the Baltic Sea for centuries. Åland is geographically quite close to Sweden, but is an autonomous region of Finland. The belief used to be that Åland sheep were related to the Finnish landrace, but genetic examinations have shown that Åland sheep is its own and unique breed. It is believed to belong to the most primitive breeds of the Northern European short tail sheep.

In the 1980’s Åland sheep were endangered, but through dedicated work the breed was saved. Åland sheep got a status as its own breed 20 years ago. At the time there were around 150 ewes, now there are over 1800, of which around two thirds live in mainland Finland and the rest in Åland.

Åland sheep is a sturdy breed that have developed into excellent landscape managers in the barren skerries of the archipelago through centuries.

The sheep are relatively small, rams weigh around 60 kilos and ewes around 40 kilos. About half of the rams and some of the ewes have horns. The fleece comes in a wide variety of colours and patterns. Many Åland sheep are born black or dark grey but lighten with age.

Gene bank

In the gene bank for Åland sheep all individuals and their characteristics are documented in a database, including information of wool colour and quality. Through this documentation the aim is to preserve the breed and keep its genetic diversity.

When I read the guidelines for the Åland sheep gene bank I get the sense that the rules are similar to those of the gene banks of Swedish heritage breed. With an aim to preserve the genetic diversity of a very small breed there is no room to breed for specific characteristics like the wool, even if the work with the gene bank does include information about wool quality. I asked Maija Hägglund, the chair of the Åland sheep association about this. She confirmed that the genetic variety is the focus of the gene bank. However, they do recommend sheep farmers to consider wool quality and not allow too coarse or too fine wool to take over in the flock.

Tommi’s Åland sheep

To get hold of some Åland wool I contacted Tommi, a sheep owner with around 50 Åland sheep. His landscape managing sheep graze freely in the barren outer skerries of the Åland archipelago between May and October or November. He takes his boat to visit his sheep every now and them so they will recognize him and know that he is still there. Many other breeds would not be able to survive on their own in this kind of environment. But Åland sheep have grazed these islands for centuries and have adapted to their environment.

Åland wool characteristics

Åland sheep have a dual coat with fine undercoat and long, strong outercoat. The wool can differ very much between flocks, individuals and over the body of one individual.

I got parts of two Åland fleeces from Tommi, one grey with extremely long outercoat and very fine undercoat. The other almost white with some black fibers in it, silky soft undercoat and strong outercoat. Shorter and finer than the grey fleece. Both fleeces have some kemp, but it feels quite fine and doesn’t bother me that much. They add to the rusticity of the yarn and makes it more interesting to me. When I asked Maija about the kemp she said that the occurrence of kemp varies between individuals but that her experience is that the kemp in Åland sheep is relatively fine, expecially when the fibers in general are fine.

Main characteristics

I look for the main characteristics of the fleeces I have. When I work with the Åland wool, through picking, teasing, carding and spinning I see and feel a wool that is full of contrasts – silky, yet rustic, fine, yet strong. The outercoat are the longest I have seen and the undercoat remarkably long for its fineness. I smile when I see the vast difference between undercoat and outercoat and how they still work together with the aim to protect the sheep from the harsh weather on the barren islands. If I have to pick three main characteristics of the Åland wool I have experienced it would be

  • The length, particularly of the outercoat fibers. I don’t see this length of fibers very often. Some of the outercoat fibers in the grey fleece are over 30 centimeters. The undercoat fibers are also remarkably long for their fineness.
  • The silkiness of the undercoat. What can I say, it’s like meringue batter.
  • The contrasts. I love a fleece that surprises me. It tickles my heart to find these long and rustic outercoat fibers right next to silky soft undercoat fibers.

Every time the fibers go through my hands I get to know their characteristics. Through the time I spend with the fibers in my hands and in my muscle memory I get a chance to prepare and spin a yarn that makes the wool justice. By focusing on letting the main characteristics shine in the finished yarn I get the opportunity to show the soul of the fleece as I see it, honouring the sheep that once grew the wool.

Working with Åland wool

When I contacted Tommi he was interested in my view of the wool and what I could do with it as a hand spinner. I decided to spin a few samples to show the variety of yarns I can create from a versatile wool like the Åland fleeces I got.

Prepare

One of the most rewarding things about a dual coat fleece is the opportunity to play. There is so much I can do with a fleece with two distinctively different fiber types. I could

  • Separate undercoat from outercoat.
  • card undercoat and outercoat together
  • comb undercoat and outercoat together
  • semi-separate the fiber types.

Separating fiber types

By separating undercoat from outercoat I get to enjoy and take advantage of the unique characteristics of each fiber type. To separate the fiber types I use my two-pitch combs. The two (or more if that’s available) rows of teeth in the combs allow a firmer grip of the undercoat fibers, keeping them in the comb as I doff the outercoat fibers off the comb. The undercoat fibers left in the comb are hereby teased and ready to be carded into sweet rolags.

I may run the separated outercoat fibers through the combs once more, or a couple of separated tops together. This is to make sure I remove any remaining undercoat fibers and to make the birds’ nests a bit fuller.

Carding fiber types together

I love carding outercoat and undercoat together. This preparation really shows the contrast between them – the soft undercoat, flexible in their communication between the cards, the outercoat fibers more sharp in their appearance, keeping a straight line. Then, in the rolag I see the undercoat sponged up in a bundle with the outercoat like an armour around the round shape.

But can you really card fibers this long without disaster? Wouldn’t the long fibers just double around themselves in the rolag and create a tangled mess? Well, they would if they were alone. In a combination of short, medium and long fibers the fibers sort of marry each other and create an airy rolag. A dual coat therefore usually works well carding since there are naturally different fiber lengths in the staples. The longest fibers will double around the rolag, but I don’t see that as a problem since there are so many other lengths that won’t. Spinning may be a bit slower because of that armouring, but it also means that the yarn will be stronger.

Combing fiber types together

By combing fiber types together I will get a preparation that has characteristics from both fiber type – length, strength, softness and warmth. I use my single pitch combs for this. The single row of teeth allows the fibers to slide through them without separating too much.

While the single pitch combs allow for the fibers to glide through the teeth, doffing the combed top off the comb will still result in a separation to some degree. As I grab the bundle the longest will naturally come off first and the shortest will stay in the combs longer. I can make sure I don’t just grab the outermost fibers to prevent this. I can also divide the combed top into sections and re-comb them.

Semi-separating fiber types

With a dual coats like my Åland fleeces I have the opportunity to tailor the preparation to meet my needs. By removing some of one of the fiber types but not all of it I can adapt the fiber content to a specific kind of yarn. I haven’t had the time to do this with my Åland fleeces yet, but it does present a number of additional possibilities from one single fleece.

Spin

Eight yarn samples from the Åland fleeces I bought from Tommi.

With the different fiber preparations I have described above I ended up making eight wheel spun samples that I sent to Tommi:

  • Z-plied 2-ply yarn from the white fleece, intended for two-end knitting, carded and woolen spun. I spun a full skein of this quality.
  • worsted spun 2-ply yarn from combed outercoat only
  • woolen 3-ply yarn from carded undercoat only
  • woolen 2-ply yarn from carded undercoat only
  • woolen 2-ply yarn from undercoat and outercoat carded together
  • worsted 2-ply yarn from undercoat and outercoat combed together
  • woolen and lightly fulled medium singles yarn from undercoat and outercoat carded together
  • woolen and lightly fulled chunky singles yarn from undercoat and outercoat carded together
Separated fibers: 2-ply worsted spun yarn from combed outercoat (top). 3-ply and 2-ply woolen spun yarn from carded undercoat fibers (middle and bottom).

From the list you can see eight different yarns with different fiber preparations, fiber type content, spinning technique and plies. There are numerous other dimensions to play with here, these are just a few. I love fleeces like these where I can play and find an expression I think rhymes with the fleece I got from the beginning.

2-ply woolen spun yarn from outercoat and undercoat carded together (top). 2-ply worsted spun yarn from outercoat and undercoat combed together (bottom).

In my yarns I have taken advantage of the length of the outercoat fibers – on its own and together with undercoat. I have been able to let the billowy silkiness of the undercoat fibers shine through the orderly outercoat fibers. Finally I have enjoyed displaying the contrast between undercoat and outercoat, creating a range of yarns full of lovely surprises.

Singles yarns woolen spun from outercoat and undercoat carded together. The yarns have been lightly fulled.

Use

Traditionally Åland wool has been used for a wide variety of things – knitting yarn for hats, socks, mittens and sweaters. Weaving yarn for everyday clothing for men and women, interiors like pillows, sheets rugs and curtains. Even sails. It has also been waulked.

When I look at the list and yarn samples above, adding the possibility of yarns from semi-separated fiber types it is easy to see the wide variety of uses of a fleece like the Åland fleeces I have described. Anything from the softest next-to-skin garments, through sweaters, mittens and other accessories, outerwear and strong warps. By tailoring the yarn with different fiber type content you can make socks with extra strong yarn for heels and toes. Just like it has been used by Ålanders for centuries.

The woolen and worsted yarns with both outercoat and undercoat are allround yarns suitable for sweaters and outerwear with their combination of strength and warmth. They could also work well in weaving as warp (worsted) and weft (woolen).

The singles samples are despite their singleness and low twist strong through the long outercoat fibers and could work for any accessory that doesn’t involve too much abrasion, and of course as a weft yarn in weaving.

I haven’t come so far as to plan a project, but I do have plans to continue with a Z-plied yarn for two-end knitting with the white fleece. With the grey fleece I am leaning towards separating the fiber types. Outercoat fibers of this length is quite unusual in my experience and I would love to take advantage of that. A warp yarn from the outercoat and soft knitting yarn from the undercoat is my plan at the moment.

Live webinar!

his Saturday, April 9th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Åland wool from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I prepare, spin and use Åland wool. I will use Åland wool during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I prepare and spin the wool.

The webinar has already taken place

Even if you think you will never come across Åland wool this is still an opportunity to learn more about wool and wool processing in general. The breed study webinar will give you tools to understand different wool types and apply your knowledge to breeds and wool types closer to you.

This is a wonderful chance for me to meet you (in the chat window at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The previous live breed study webinars I have done have been great successes. I really look forward to seeing you again in this webinar.

You can register even if you can’t make it to the live event. I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar. Remember, the only way to get access to the webinar (live or replay) is to register.

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how
  • Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Cutting corners?

I spend a lot of my time with a fleece at the preparation stage. This is where I lay the foundation for the quality of the yarn. But sometimes I cut corners and skip steps. Sometimes I add an extra step or extra time to increase the quality or the experience of the spinning. Today I reflect over when and why I’m cutting corners or create new ones.

The other day I told my husband about a recent project where I had cut corners for the sake of the shorter fluff to stuff cycle and an instant feedback between the steps. He paused and asked me “What makes you decide what corners to cut?”. And Voilá, a blog post idea was born.

Cornerstones of processing

There are several steps I take on the journey from fleece to yarn. All of them important for the quality of the product. Sometimes, though, the quality of the yarn may not be my first priority. I very rarely skip something because I want it done faster, I know it doesn’t serve me. But there may be other dimensions I am interested in for a specific project.

After washing the fleece I go through a number of stages. You can read more thoroughly about some of them in the post Fleece happens.

Fiber

First of all, I always work from raw fleece and wash it in water only. I want to get to know the fleece from the very beginning. That means I don’t buy fleece that someone else has washed. I don’t buy wool that someone else or a machine has processed. There is so much information in the steps I take before I spin the wool that I don’t want to be without. All steps offer a unique chance to explore the wool and find out its innermost secrets. All steps are appealing to me and give me peace. I don’t see any of the wool preparation steps as time consuming. Instead I see them as gifts that can reveal the secrets of the wool if I just listen to it.

Newly shorn autumn fleece from a Swedish Gestrike sheep.
Newly shorn autumn fleece from a Swedish Gestrike sheep.

I don’t cut any corners when it comes to the fiber. To me, too much information is lost in commercially prepared fiber and I don’t feel connected to it as I do with a fleece that has come straight from the hoof.

Picking

Picking is where I pick each staple to separate it from the mass of the fleece. In this the staple may open up slightly, easing felted or tangled parts and allowing vegetable matter to fall out. I also get a unique opportunity to go through the fleece with my hands, literally staple by staple, getting to know its characteristics. During picking I also get rid of second cuts, dirt, felted parts or otherwise lesser quality wool.

I'm listening to my Icelandic wool.
Picking the fleece. No cutting corners here.

At the beginning of my spinning journey I did this with all my fleeces. But somewhere along the way I omitted it, I’m not sure why. Lately, though, I have started picking my fleeces again and realize what a time, muscle and fiber saver it is. A fleece that has been picked is so much easier to handle than an unpicked fleece. When I start working with a fleece that I have picked before storing I know it has gone through a quality control. If I’m lucky I have made some notes during picking that are useful as I continue the processing.

Picking is not a corner I want to cut. It may take time as I do it, but it does save both time, muscles and fiber. Processing will be easier and less straining for both me and the fiber. I believe that a picked fleece will result in a higher quality yarn with a higher fleece to yarn yield.

Teasing

I always tease my wool before carding. One way or another, be it with combs, flicker, cards, hands or by separating undercoat from outercoat. I never skip this step. When I tease the wool I open it up and ease the hold the fibers have on each other. This makes it easier on my arms as well as on the fibers. Should I cut corners on teasing I would be able to work for a shorter time due to strained arms and hands. The yarn would be of a worse quality since unteased locks will protest in the carding, break fibers, create nepps that interrupt my spinning flow and leave a lumpy yarn. A teased wool will therefore generate a higher fleece to yarn yield, have a higher quality and leave my body happier.

Teased wool from rya fleece.

When I comb wool for the sake of combing (as opposed to using combs to tease), the wool will be teased as I comb. Sometimes though, the staples are so dense or felted that I add another corner and tease with a flicker before I comb.

You can read more about teasing here.

Carding and combing

I generally either card or comb my wool. This is the stage where I pre-chew my fiber before spinning. It is definitely possible to spin unprepared (or only teased) wool, but without pre-chewing the spinning will be chunkier and require more effort. During the winter I have spun a low-twist singles Lopi-style yarn from lightly teased locks of Icelandic wool. The purpose was not to cut corners. Rather, it was to preserve the natural colour variegation in the staples. The preparation was chunkier and did require more effort. But all according to my plan.

Any tool that allows me to be a part of the mechanics – be it a spindle, hand cards or a backstrap loom is a tool where I get feedback directly from the fiber. With this as guidance I will be able to to make informed decisions about how to proceed.

If you find combing and carding by hand tedious, try picking and teasing the wool first. I can promise you a difference – the flow in the carding or combing dance will be a lot smoother. You will be able to feel the characteristics of the fibers and their relationship to each other between your hands.

How about drum carding?

I don’t drum card my wool. I don’t own a drum carder. The one time I tried it, it seemed to take as long as hand-carding but with a less balanced body position and lesser quality. Also using the drum carder doesn’t give me the feedback I get from the wool when I hand-card.

Spinning

In my videos and webinars you mainly see me with a spindle of some kind. I do spin on my spinning wheel too, actually more than I spin on spindles. Usually I spin larger projects on my spinning wheel. With that said, I have spun several larger projects with spindles too, like the Cecilia’s bosom friend shawl and the prototype leading up to it, and my Moroccan snow shoveling pants that I knit from 1 kilo of super bulky spindle spun yarn.

I usually pick the spinning tool that I think is the best for the project and the context. Perhaps I want to spin different yarns simultaneously, well, then I may spin one or two on spindles and another on my spinning wheel. I do have two wheels, but only room for one stationary wheel. And there is always room for spindles.

Plying

Plying is not something I have dived into like I have on other parts of the process from fleece to yarn, so I can’t say I know much about it. Perhaps it is therefore I sometimes allow myself to cut corners at the plying stage.

Resting singles

For the singles to compose themselves after I have filled a bobbin it is a good idea to allow them to rest. I usually do this, not always overnight, but at least until the evening. If I just want to test a yarn and spin a sample I tend to skip this step.

Reversing singles

I have learned that it is a good idea to reverse the singles before plying, so that I ply the singles together from the same end I have spun them, especially when it comes to worsted spun yarn. Spinning and plying from the same end will allow for a smoother yarn while spinning and plying from different ends may result in a slightly fuzzier yarn. To reverse the singles for plying I take the two (or more) singles and roll them together on an empty bobbin, so that I ply all singles from one and the same bobbin, from the same end they were spun. I try to follow this recommendation, but sometimes I cut corners here.

Plying from separate bobbins

When I spin on my wheel I spin each single on a separate bobbin. As I ply the yarn from the bobbins all singles come into the plying twist in the same way. But when I spin on spindles I may wind the yarn into a centerpull ball and ply from the inner and outer ends of that single into a 2-ply yarn.

Sometimes I ply from other ends of a centerpull ball. Just because I want to.

I am fully aware that the inner and outer ends of the yarn will come differently into the plying twist. But sometimes I do cut corners here. Most recently with my Moroccan snow shoveling pants and a pair of nalbinding mittens. For the pants I wanted to stay as close as possible to the original procedure from wool to knitting. When it comes to the mittens I was after the short fluff to stuff cycle and instant feedback from one step of the process to the next.

Soaking and setting twist

I do soak most of my yarns and set the twist. But there have been situations when I have cut corners here. Like in the two projects above where I plied from the two ends of a centerpull ball. I wanted to stay close to the traditional making of the pants and I wanted a short fluff to stuff cycle for the mittens and have all the steps fresh in my memory. I know that the yarn is a bit unbalanced, and that is okay. The purpose of the project was to find peace of mind and focus when the world was, and still is, in full storm outside my crafting bubble.

I cut very few corners in the processing steps. High quality rolags come from time spent with the wool.

All in all, I sometimes do cut corners and I always know why I do it. It rarely is about saving time. In fact, I know that spending more time on processing may even save me time in the long run. It will definitely give me a higher quality yarn.

Do you cut corners? Where and why? Where don’t you cut corners? Share in the comments below.

Thank you darling Dan for your clever question about cutting corners. It made me reflect over my process and what is important to me.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how
  • Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

2021 wrapped up

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

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

Meditate

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

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

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

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

Reflect

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

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

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

Explore

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

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

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

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

Experiment

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

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

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

Experience

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a favourite?

Happy new spinning year!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how
  • Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

A spinning meditation

I have a new video for you today! I recorded it this summer in Abisko national park, 200 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. A magical place, perfect for a spinning meditation.

Abisko is such a beautiful spot in the world. I never get tired of it. The stillness, the vast landscape and the vegetation in the mountain birch forests and above the tree line are breathtakingly beautiful. I have had some blurry plans for a spinning meditation for a couple of years now, and just a few weeks before we boarded the train to Abisko I knew that was the place where I would shoot the spinning meditation video.

About the spinning meditation

The spinning meditation is a 12 minute spin-along meditation. I use a suspended spindle in the video, but feel free to use any spinning tool you like. In the video I sit, stand and walk. If there is a section you want to stay longer in you can pause the video. Or, if you want to skip a section, just jump to the next. With a little imagination you can adapt the meditation to fit your personal needs. The video is available in spoken English and spoken Swedish. Both versions have the option for subtitles in English and Swedish.

So here it is, or rather, here they are, A spinning meditation in English and Swedish.

A spinning meditation in spoken English with English and Swedish subtitles.
En spinnmeditation in spoken Swedish with English and Swedish subtitles.

An idea is born

When I have taught five day spinning courses at Sätergläntan craft education center I have offered a spinning meditation as the very last thing we do together before everyone returns home. I have no training in how to put together a meditation and I basically made things up as I went along. But all the students seem to have enjoyed it. Towards the end of the meditation I have invited the students to spin with their eyes closed and feel their way in the spinning. They have all managed to spin with a lot more ease with their eyes closed than they had imagined.

Spinning with eyes closed isn't as hard as you may think. Focus on the sensation of the wool in your hands rather than the visual input and you are on your way.
Spinning with eyes closed isn’t as hard as you may think. Focus on the sensation of the wool in your hands rather than the visual input and you are on your way.

Returning students have requested the spinning meditation after the first year I tried it and I have offered it on other courses where the students have had a few days to get to know each other and feel safe enough to take part in a group meditation. After the meditation they have shared their experiences, especially regarding the section where I invite them to close their eyes. I have learned so much from their stories.

Location scouting

So, a spinning meditation video started to take up space in my head. When we finally got to Abisko after a 17 hour train ride I took several location scouting walks around the mountain birch forest where the Abiskojåkka stream ends in Lake Torneträsk. I found a cliff overlooking the stream, a higher cliff overlooking the whole stream delta and the lake, and a pebble beach with Lapporten, the Lapponian gate, majestically resting on the other shore.

These are places I returned to several times, not only for the sake of the video but also for the incredible beauty, serenity and vast landscape. Most of the photos in this blog post are actually print screens from the video. As usual I didn’t think about taking photos too. But below is a real photo and a sweet memory from one of the hikes we did.

A late glacier buttercup (isranunkel) just below the peak of mount Slåttatjåkka, overlooking the Gohpasvággi canyon and Lake Torneträsk.
A late glacier buttercup (isranunkel) just below the peak of mount Slåttatjåkka, overlooking the Gohpasvággi canyon and Lake Torneträsk.

The hike, from the top of the Mount Njulla chair lift station between the peaks and down along the Kårsavagge canyon turned out to be 8 hours long. I was quite exhausted after having walked downhill for so long, but very happy for the experience.

Weather issues I

When I had decided on my video locations I gathered wool, tools and tripod and went out to shoot the video. In the rain as it turned out. I am a very stubborn person and actually went through with the whole wool preparation part of the video in the rain, wind blowing my hat off my head. After a while, when my hands were fuzzy of all the fibers sticking to the palms of my wet hands I realized that I needed to come to my senses and reshoot the video another day.

Weather issues II

That another day was the last day of our visit, so I needed to shoot the video no matter what. The what of the situation was the temperature this time. It was around 10°C/50°F, which isn’t optimal for spinning wool with lanolin left in it.

I was on a mission, though, and realized that I needed to solve my problem since the weather wouldn’t do it for me. I filled a metal water bottle with boiling water, wrapped the wool around the bottle and a woven seat pad around the wool to keep it as warm as possible. And it worked! I managed to shoot the video at my three chosen locations with only minor… let’s say… interventions.

Visitors

As I sat at the very steep cliff over the roaring stream, combing away, I heard rustling noises in the mountain birch forest. Suddenly, literally out of nowhere, and with no owner to be found, two spitz-like dogs (jämthund/Swedish elkhound?) came towards me. I’m not the biggest dog fan, especially when I’m at steep cliffs over roaring streams with no one else in sight. I had nothing else to do than to stay calm and comb my little heart out. The intruders sniffed at me and my wool and lurked away behind me.

Stray and rude dogs at the set.

After a while they came back, still without owner. Perhaps I should add that in all Sweden dogs are bound to be on a leash or under strict supervision from March to August and on a leash at all times all year round in a national park. I still have no idea where they came from and to whom they belonged.

The dogs actually peed and pooped behind me. On camera! That’s just rude, don’t you think? I could show you clips of their crimes, but I won’t sink to their level.

A spinning meditation

When I shot the video I had no idea how to put together the actual meditation. I just made sure I had shots of all the steps of the spinning process and some pretty angles. During September I have explored the construction of the meditation and the narration. I wanted it to be accessible to as many spinners as possible, both beginners and experienced and with different preferences regarding spinning tools. And I wanted to offer the beauty of spinning with closed eyes. It is quite a special experience. Beauty, inspiration and exploration have been key words as I have crafted the narration of the meditation. I hope you find these aspects if you take part of the meditation.

Oh, and did I bathe in the lake? Of course I did. Every day in either the stream (6°C/43°F) or the lake (8°C/46°F). Also quite meditative.

I hope you enjoy the spinning meditation. Let me know if you meditated along with me in the video and how you experienced it. I also hope you can do the meditation outdoors, possibly with a bit higher temperatures than the 10°C/50°F I shot the video in.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts. You are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Wool combs

Every now and then people ask me for advice on spinning and wool processing tools. In this post I try to break down the properties of wool combs and what they do for the combing, the comber and the combed.

There are many aspects to consider when it comes to wool combs. For me, the most important thing is that they

  • do their job while being
  • gentle to the wool and
  • gentle to the comber.

The job of wool combs

I use my comb for three things mainly:

  • arranging fibers parallel and draw them off in a top
  • separating undercoat from outercoat (and in the next stage draw the outercoat off in a top)
  • teasing wool before carding.

For smooth combing the tines need to be properly aligned in the tine insertion. I have seen home made combs where this is not the case. With the tines haphazardly arranged the tines will get tangled in each other and the combing motion interrupted. The tines also need to be secured in the tine insertion.

The length of the tines need to be equal to or slightly higher than the width of the tine setup on the handle. This way the comber will be able to use all the tines on the combs. If the setup is wider than the length of the combs some tines will be unused and take up unnecessary space and weight.

Being gentle to the wool

The tips of the tines need to be sharp enough to cut through the mass of the wool. If they are too blunt the comber needs to put more force into the combing. This may lead to broken fibers and/or strain for the comber. The tines need to be sturdy to be able to withstand the resistance of the wool mass. If they are too thick, though, the comber again needs to put more force into the combing which may put strain on the comber and break fibers.

Three different sized two pitched combs. The mini combs have 17 tines/10 cm in one row, the minimidi combs 21 tines/10cm in one row and the maxi combs 13 tines/10 cm in one row.

The distance between the tines should be adapted to the kind of wool you comb. Smaller distance for fine wools and larger distance for coarse wools.

Being gentle to the comber

The weight of the combs is important. The combs need to be sturdy enough to, again, be able to withstand the resistance of the wool mass. Still, light enough for the comber to be able to comb comfortably.

As discussed above the tines need a certain sharpness for a smooth motion, but without the risk of breaking skin.

I prefer combs made of wood. The natural material feels comfortable in my hands and it is a renewable source. With an ergonomically designed handle the comber will be able to comb for longer periods of time without strain.

For larger combs I like the tines to be a bit tilted toward the handle side. This makes the combing motion a bit smoother – the shape of the tines sort of follow the circular motion of the combing action.

My wool combs

When people ask me about wool combs I always give them the same answer: Hand made combs by the Swedish maker Gammeldags (with an online web shop in Swedish and English). All the Gammeldags wool combs are unique and made in local Swedish woods. They are balanced in the appearance as well as in the hand.

My five pairs of wool combs, all by Gammeldags.
My five pairs of wool combs, all by Gammeldags.

For the record, I don’t get paid for this post. I just like these combs so much and want to share them with the world and why I like them so much. If this post leads to more sales for the maker I will be happy for the maker for the sale and for the buyer for the joy it will bring them to work with high quality wool combs.

Before I introduce you to my Gammeldags combs I would like you to meet the person behind them.

The Gammeldags story

In preparing to write this post I contacted Birgith Lundgren, the designer of Gammeldags (which translates to Old fashioned). I asked her to share the story of the combs she and her husband Pelle design, make and sell. Pelle is a blacksmith by trade, and he makes the combs and the other tools they sell.

Way back when

Birgith started her career as a physiotherapist and ergonomist, both in private and public health care organizations. In 1998, when she had worked for a few years as a manager in a public health care organization with lots expectations and little resources, she resigned and started her own company, Gammeldags. In her business she sold her hand woven textiles and taught weaving. She also started to explore spinning. At one occasion she came across wool combs from Eastern Europe. These were large and heavy and cumbersome to work with. As the problem solver she is she knew there must be some way to make wool combs that had a more user friendly design.

A wool comb embryo

Back then she was a beginner spinner and developed her skills while at the same time working on understanding what the wool combs should do and how they could be designed to meet these expectations and still be user friendly. Over the years Birgith and Pelle have developed wool combs that are designed for the wool combing as well as for the wool comber. Every suggestion for improvement has been meticulously tested with the wellbeing of the wool comber as a first priority. In 2011 they started selling the wool combs online.

Quality and inspiration

To keep the high quality and their own health they work slowly and methodically. For Birgith the inspiration is the most important thing in working with the tools she sells. If the web shop is empty the customer needs to kindly wait. Birgith and Pelle don’t work by the demand from customers, they work by inspiration for making high quality tools. And it’s all worth the wait – my combs are wonderful tools that I treasure. I use them in my own work as well as on my spinning courses.

Two pitched mini combs

  • Weight: 112 g (one comb)
  • Setup width for tines: 6 cm
  • Tine height: 6 cm
  • Tines per 10 centimeters (of one row): 18
  • Handle length: 14 cm
  • Bought: 2014
The first set of combs I ever bought was a pair of two pitched mini combs, in 2014.
The first set of combs I ever bought was a pair of two pitched mini combs, in 2014.

The first pair of combs I bought was a pair of two pitched mini combs, back in 2014, perhaps earlier. You can see that they have been used a lot. By me as well as by my students. Still, they work just as smoothly as the day I bought them.

The mini combs are lightweight and small enough to work with in your lap. The handles are comfortable to hold and I can work for a long time. I don’t get tired or strained when I use any of my mini combs..

The two pitched mini combs weigh a little more than the single pitched for obvious reasons, but this is not an issue. I use the two pitched combs when I want to separate undercoat from outercoat. If you only have one pair of combs you can still perform both tasks with both kinds of combs.

When you buy mini combs, or combs meant to use one in each hand, be sure to check the weight of the combs. This is what you will work with, plus the resistance of the wool. The heavier the combs the more you need to work and, consequently, the shorter time you will be able to work without strain or fatigue.

Single pitched mini combs

  • Weight 93 g (dark wood), 106 g (light wood). The weight refers to one comb.
  • Setup width for tines: 6.5 cm
  • Tine height: 7.5 cm
  • Tines per 10 centimeters: 17
  • Handle length: 14 cm (dark wood), 14.5 cm (light wood)
  • Bought: March 2018 (dark wood), July 2020 (light wood)

I have two pairs of single pitched combs, one in light wood and one in dark wood. The dark wood is actually not local at all – the dark combs are made of mahogany that Birgith got from a retiring woodworker in the neighbourhood. For myself I only need one pair of single pitched mini combs, but on my courses these are very popular so I bought a second pair last year. As you can see from the fact lists the single pitched combs (bought 2018 and 2020) have slightly different measurements compared to the two pitched combs above (bought 2014). This is a sign of Birgith’s constant work with design improvement. I use the single pitched combs if I want to keep undercoat and outercoat together in a top.

I use mini combs when I want to feel the flow of the crafting process.

If I would have to choose one type of combs it would be the mini combs. Using the lightweight combs in my lap can give me the same feeling of flow as spinning. The circular motion with the hands and the feeling of the fibers agains my skin as I draw the wool off the comb become a familiar choreography. I can bring my mini combs wherever I like and comb on a rock in the forest. With the mini combs I feel closer to the wool than with combs with a combing station (described below). For obvious reasons the mini combs don’t take as much wool in one load as the larger combs.

Maxi combs with combing station

  • Weight: 262 g (one comb)
  • Setup width for tines: 10 cm
  • Tine height: 11.5 cm, bended tips.
  • Tines per 10 centimeters: 13 (of one row)
  • Handle length: 15 cm
  • Bought: July 2018

The second pair of combs I bought was the maxi combs with a combing station. The sets with combing stations are work horses that will give you larger quantities of wool combed than with the mini combs. Another advantage of the station sets is that I can hold the free comb with both hands. That way my hands can share the strain. However, they also need a surface to fasten the station onto (and a pair of clamps).

The combing station on a rainy day and a period drama is the loveliest combo.
The combing station on a rainy day and a period drama is the loveliest combo.

I use the maxi combs with medium to coarse wools. I don’t get the same flowing feeling with the station sets. But they do get the job done quicker. I tend to watch a series while I use these. With an adjustable table I can choose to sit or stand.

Minimidi combs with combing station

  • Weight: 241 g (one comb)
  • Setup width for tines: 8 cm
  • Tine height: 10 cm, bended tips.
  • Tines per 10 centimeters: 21 (of one row)
  • Handle length: 13.5 cm
  • Bought: 2019

A year after I bought the maxi combs with station I got the minimidi combs with station. As you can see the station has changed a bit through Birgith’s work with design improvement. The new design is sleeker and requires less wood, but the function is the same.

The distance between the tines is actually smaller on the minimidi combs 21 tines/10 cm) than on the mini combs (17 tines/10 cm). Due to the smaller distance between the tines the minimidi combs are heavier than the maxi combs, despite the smaller size. The minimidi combs work well with fine to very fine wools.

Video resources:

Happy combing!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

3D printed combs

3D printed comb handles with nails as tines.

In May I got an email from Joseph Bjork at Good and Basic. He has developed a 3D printed charkha and 3D printed combs. He wanted to send these to me in exchange for a review in a blog post. This first review is about the combs.

The designs are free for anyone with access to a 3D printer, but Joseph also sells his products in his Etsy shop. Joseph wrote that he was shocked at the price of spinning tools. Furthermore he says he deeply enjoys fiber arts and wants everyone who is interested to be able to spin. The idea with the 3D printed tools is to offer a cheap alternative to more expensive spinning tools for a new spinner who wants to have a go at the craft. The 3D printed combs cost $31.25.

Hesitation

I read Joseph’s email several times. I honestly didn’t know how to reply. To me, the experience of the tools are as important for the process as the experience of the process. I want to feel the wood in my hands as I prepare my wool, something I won’t get with 3D printed tools. I have seen lots of 3D printed cross-arm spindles with perfect balance and great reviews. However, I have never been interested in these for that particular reason – the sensation of the material in my hand.

At the same time I’m intrigued by Joseph’s view that anyone who wants to should be able to learn how to spin and prepare their wool without having to pay a fortune. To me, hand crafted spinning tools are not expensive. They cost a lot of money, but they are hand made by professionals and cost accordingly. A lot of money, yes, but not expensive. Still, not everyone has enough money to spend on spinning equipment.

Experience

When I looked at the images of Joseph’s 3D prints I could see aspects of them that I knew would be potential problems. I have a lot of experience combing wool – I have combed my way through at least 30 whole fleeces plus another 30 parts of fleeces and lots of teasing with combs. Also, I teach wool processing and know what I want in a pair of combs.

Brutal honesty

I still didn’t know how to reply. Therefore I decided to let Joseph make the decision for me. I listed all my concerns in a bullet list – about the material, the issues I saw with the combs, how expensive it would be to send me the combs and that I would be brutally honest and transparent in a blog post. I also offered to send my review to him without a post in case I didn’t like them.

He appreciated my feedback and still wanted me to try the combs and post a review on my blog. He has received this review of the combs before I published it. So here it is, beginning with a short version:

  • Can the combs produce a top? Yes.
  • Are they safe to use? Not necessarily.
  • Do they give me a feeling of flow as I use them? No.
  • Do they inspire to learn more about combing? No.
  • Would I recommend them to a new spinner? No.

3D printed combs

3D printed wool combs in action
My friend Cecilia is combing some rya wool with the 3D printed wool combs. A pair of my regular combs in the background.

I had my friend Cecilia over for a spinning date and we decided to try the combs together. That way both of us could review them. We could also discuss the combs and further refine our thoughts.

Assembly

The combs came as two 3D printed handles and a bag of nails. There wasn’t much of a description in the package, but there is a video link in the Good and Basic Etsy shop where Joseph shows how he assembles the combs and how he uses them. As I got the combs directly from Joseph without going via the Etsy page, I didn’t see the video until after we had assembled the combs.

3D printed comb handles with nails as tines.
3D printed comb handles with nails as tines.

Since we hadn’t retrieved the instructions we tried different ways. At first we just hammered the nails into the handles. Some were a bit loose and some firm. We decided to add some glue, just underneath the nail heads. It didn’t work optimally. For the second row we glued in the holes before we put the nails in. This resulted in glue all over the nails as they pushed through the gluey holes. We realized that we hadn’t thought very carefully before we tried this. But we also realized that this could happen to anyone. So a clear written description together with the components would have helped here.

Weight and weight distribution

With two rows of nails the combs weigh 240 grams each. This is the same as my midi and maxi combs that I use with a combing station (and that leaves both hands free to hold the active comb). The 3D printed combs are designed to be used without a combing station, though, which makes 240 grams in each hand. For comparison, the mini combs I use privately and in my classes weigh around 100 grams each. 240 grams is manageable. However, each nail weighs over 9 grams, so of the 240 grams the nails weigh 200 grams. Add to this that the nails are outside the hand as you comb. Since a large part – 200 grams – of the 240 grams is outside the hand the 3D printed combs feel even heavier.

Because of the uneven weight distribution the movement of the combs in the combing process gets uneven. As I watched Cecilia comb with a vertical circular motion the active comb almost fell on the way down and struggled on the way up. I have done a lot of combing and consider myself a reasonably experienced comber, but I am not tempted to comb a whole fleece with combs of this weight and weight distribution. I don’t think a beginner would either.

Nails

The nails are quite thick, around 3.5 mm, hence the weight. When Joseph first contacted me I looked at the pictures of the combs and suggested that he made them with thinner tines. He had considered this, but the material and work it required would make the combs cost more, which was against his vision of combs at a low cost. But apart from the weight and weight distribution discussed above, the width of the nails make the combs cumbersome to use. When Cecilia and I assembled the combs we started with a single row of nails. As we combed there were lots of lumps and we needed to comb a lot more passes than we usually do. There were still a lot of lumps left in the resulting top, plus a lot of waste. When we added the second row the result was more satisfying and with an acceptable amount of waste.

I comb to organize the fibers parallel. I also comb to remove vegetable matter, nepps and second cuts and to open up the fibers. The width of the nails in combination with the distance between them isn’t optimal for a satisfactory result in these aspects.

To avoid tear on the fibers I want to comb with large movements in the periphery of the wool, especially when the staples are long. With these combs it feels awkward and heavy. The nails don’t allow the wool to slide smoothly between them. Therefore I need to comb closer to the nails, which leads more tear on the fibers.

Cecilia pointed out that the tapering of the nails felt too abrupt. She would have preferred a softer tapering. From Joseph’s perspective I think a custom made tapering would make the combs cost too much.

Handles

As I wrote in the beginning I am very reluctant to plastic, which I told Joseph when he first wrote to me. He assured me that the material is biodegradable and made of fermented starches, which of course is a good thing. Still, I personally prefer working with wood. The sensation of holding the tools is as important to me as the spinning process. These handles don’t give me that feeling.

Cecilia and I were also concerned about static electricity. The air in Sweden is dry, especially in the winter and more dry the further north you get. The material in the handles may increase this static electricity, making the wool tentacle out in all directions and thus leading to more tear on the fibers.

The handles are square in the shape and not very comfortable to hold, at least not for a long time. Cecilia adds that she wants to be able to flip the handle of the active comb to achieve a more even fiber distribution. The edges of the handles in combination with the weight in the periphery of the combs makes this action difficult and awkward.

Setup

When I saw the pictures of the combs I saw that the setup of the tines/nails was off. For an effective combing the length of the tines need to be sightly longer than the width of the tine setup. In this case the with is about 3 nails too wide. When I pointed this out to Joseph he said it was possible to change the design to accommodate this request, so this may already have been changed.

The combs are quite easy to assemble with just a hammer and some glue. However, there is a risk that the row of nails becomes uneven. Even if the person assembling the combs is super careful, the little ridge underneath the nail head will prevent the nails from coming all the way to the handles. Cecilia, even had a fancy name for this – Smidesskägg, forging beard. The consequences of the ridge will influence the smoothness of the combing.

Risk of injuries

These combs are heavy. More than that, the weight is unevenly distributed. The combing motion becomes arrhythmic. Because of the weight and the uneven weight distribution there is a risk that the user either misdirects the motion of the combing or drops the comb. Either way there is a higher risk of breaking skin than with combs with a more even weight distribution, perhaps even more so for a beginner.

Flow and inspiration

I have the opportunity to buy high quality spinning tools that I like and not think too much about the price. I realize that not everybody has this luxury. There are tools available at mid-range prices too. I consider the 3D printed combs to be in a low-range price category. But the low price comes with a price too.

Let me tell you a story from when I first started spinning: I went to an evening class in hand spinning. We got the opportunity to buy the hand cards and the suspended spindles that the organizer provided. The shaft of the spindle available was 15 mm in diameter and the spindle weighed 93 grams. This is unnecessarily large and bulky for a suspended spindle. I think I payed around 10 or 12 Euros for it, which I consider a low-range price for a spindle. It worked to spin on, but the process wasn’t very enjoyable. I wasn’t eager to learn more about spindle spinning at the time. Instead I tried a (modern) spinning wheel and eventually bought one of my own. It wasn’t until a few years later that I went back to spindle spinning, with lighter and more easy-to-use spindles.

So, what I mean by telling this story is that the 3D printed combs do their job, just like the 93 gram spindle did. But the process is not enjoyable. There are too many adjustments I need to make as a spinner to get the combs (or the 93 gram spindle) to do their job. I want to work with tools that are constructed to suit my body and the technique they are designed for, not accommodating my technique to the construction of the tools. I fear that a beginning spinner who buys combs like these will soon tire of them and buy commercially prepared top rather than discover the beautiful world of processing wool with hand tools. A new spinner usually doesn’t know that combing can be as enjoyable a process as spinning. My guess is that they would buy the combs that were available at their price range. The experience with these first combs would probably form the new spinner’s experience with and attitude to combing.

Conclusion

So if the question is whether it is possible to produce a top with the 3D printed combs the answer is yes. If you ask me if I enjoy the process the answer is no. The combs don’t feel gentle to either hands or wool. To me spinning is a mindful and oftentimes meditative process through all the steps – sorting, washing, teasing, combing/carding, spinning and plying. I want the tools I use and teach with to assist me in the process. I want to enjoy the tools in my hands and using the tools. With the 3D printed combs this is not the case. The material, even if it biodegradable and made of starches, doesn’t feel alive and gentle in my hands. The motion doesn’t make my hands and arms dance as they do with my other tools.

Consequently, I would not recommend these combs to a new spinner. Coming back to the price range I discussed above there is a mid-range that I would recommend a new spinner with a limited tool budget. I don’t think the low price on these combs is worth the effort in the combing process and the lack of flow and inspiration when using them. Just as there is an alternative to the 93 gram spindle at a mid-range price, there is an alternative to the 3D printed low-range priced combs. I would rather recommend the new spinner to practice with dog combs before investing in tools that are more user friendly, more adapted to the process and potentially result in a high quality combed top and a smooth combing experience.

Thank you Cecilia for helping me reviewing the combs. And thank you Joseph for giving me an opportunity to articulate for myself what I want from a pair of combs.

Coming up: Review of a 3D printed charkha.

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Klövsjö wool

Klövsjö sheep is one of Sweden’s ten conservation breeds. In this post I present my experience with the long, strong and shiny Klövsjö wool.

Klövsjö sheep

Klövsjö sheep, is one of the ten conservation breeds in Sweden. Much like the other conservation breeds they were found in the early 1990’s and considered a breed of their own. They were found in the town of Klövsjö in Jämtland in mid-Sweden. Just like the other heritage breeds, the goal is to save the breed with the biggest genetic diversity possible. The breeding aims should not be directed towards a specific characteristics, like the wool.

For a heritage breed Klövsjö sheep are rather large. Rams can weigh 60–80 kg and ewes 45–70 kg. They can get very old, 15 years is not unusual. One of the shepherdesses of the found flocks says her grandmother made porridge for the oldest ewes who had no teeth left so they would make it through the winter.

The statistics from the Swedish sheep breeder’s association state that in 2019 there were 600 breeding ewes in 83 flocks.

Most Klövsjö sheep are white, black or black with white spots in face or on the legs. Klövsjö sheep are affectionate and the ram can usually go with the flock all year round.

Many of the heritage breeds, including Klövsjö sheep, are shorn twice a year. If not, there is a risk that the fleece will felt and be difficult to handle for both shearer and crafter.

Wool characteristics

Klövsjö wool is a dual coat with long, shiny outercoat and soft and fine undercoat. The lock is almost straight with defined staples. The outercoat is coarse and not suitable for next to skin garments. As you can see, the Klövsjö looks a lot like Rya wool. The klövsjö wool I got is a good example of a fleece with mostly staples of rya type.

The shine of Klövsjö wool is exceptional. Especially the outercoat, but there is lots of lovely shine in the undercoat as well.

The Klövsjö ewe Frida's beautiful fleece.
The Klövsjö ewe Frida’s beautiful fleece, unwashed.

The Klövsjö fleece I have is an autumn shearing of a grown sheep. The outercoat is around 18 cm and the undercoat 10.

Prepare

In the 2019 Swedish fleece championships I got my hands on the lovely Klövsjö fleece from the lamb Frida. I decided to plan for a warp yarn with Frida’s outercoat. Therefore I chose to separate outercoat from undercoat and spin them into different yarns. The outercoat makes out the warp yarn and the undercoat may become a soft knitting yarn.

Separating with combs

To separate outercoat from undercoat I use my combing station with two-pitched combs. The two-pitched combs grab hold of the shorter undercoat better than combs with only one row of tines, which makes the separation easier.

I load the stationery comb with the locks, putting the outermost edge of the cut end on the tines so that close to no fiber shows on the handle end of the comb. I comb with the tines perpendicularly to each other in a horizontal circular movements. Since the fibers are so long I need to make bold and dramatic movements. If not, there is a risk that the fibers in the combs aren’t separated and there will be loops which will make a mess.

When as much as possible of the wool is on the active comb I make the circular movement vertical, tines still perpendicular to each other.

I use combs with a combing station to separate the outercoat from the undercoat.

When the staples are separated and the fibers even I pull the outercoat off the stationery comb. I pull just under a staple length at a time, rearranging the grip after each pull so that I get a continuous top out of the comb. When I think there is no more outercoat left I pull the top all the way off the comb and put aside. I then pull the undercoat off and put it in a separate pile.

Second combing

After having made a few rovings I comb them again. This will make the rovings more even and I will be able to separate any residual undercoat from the outercoat. I take a number of combed rovings and recharge them on the stationery comb, usually two or three (of course depending on the capacity of the combs). I comb through the fibers twice and make sure they are fully separated and even.

To make the roving extra even I comb a second time and diz.

When the comb load looks good I pull it off the stationery comb. In this case I want a very even roving so I diz it through a button hole. To start I pull the very tip of the tip end and twist it between my fingers, double it and pull it through the button hole. Then I start dizzing – I push the button forward, pull the fiber bundle and repeat until there is no more outercoat left on the stationery comb. I remove the roving and make a bird’s nest of it. I pull the residual undercoat from the stationery comb and put it on the undercoat pile.

Lovely birds’ nests of combed and dizzed outercoat of Klövsjö wool.

Carding the undercoat

I card rolags from the undercoat that has been separated (and teased) from the outercoat in the combing process:

  1. I pull my teased wool onto the cards. When the wool doesn’t stick anymore I stop. To avoid over loading I remove any excess from the handle side of the card.
  2. I leave an empty frame around the wool. The wool will fluff up when I start carding and it will spread outwards in the next stroke.
  3. I stroke the wool gently between the cards. This pushes the wool just a bit into the teeth – not all the way down. The more silent the carding the better.
  4. After the third pass I use the active card and my free hand to lift the wool off the stationary card and make a rolag with the help of my active card and my free hand. To keep the stationery card steady I push the handle against the inside of my thigh.
  5. When I have reached the handle side of the stationery card and there actually is a rolag, I lift the rolag between my open hand and my active card, move it back to the beginning of the card again and roll the rolag gently between the cards.
Hand carded rolags of Klövsjö undercoat wool.

In the second part (starting at 4:11) of my video Teasing wool with combs you can see my carding technique and how I make the rolags.

Spin

I separated the undercoat from the outercoat to make the most of the two very different fiber types. To enhance the characteristics of each fiber type I spin them differently.

Outercoat

I spent the spring spinning the combed outercoat worsted on a suspended spindle with the aim of a strong warp yarn. The outercoat was very pleasant to work with and drafted like butter.

The length of the outercoat fibers can be a challenge. These fibers were around 20 centimeters. I think it is easier to work with a suspended spindle with this length compared to a spinning wheel. I need to consider the length of the fibers when I draft – the longer the fibers the longer the distance between my hands. If I spin on a spinning wheel the motion will be back and forth, which may be straining for my back. If I spin on a suspended spindle I can draft to the side and won’t have to work with my back in the same way.

The blue dye that turned out green. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The worsted spun outercoat yarn is fiercely strong and incredibly shiny. I dyed it in two shades of blue, which turned out green. I still love the result.

Undercoat

The lovely undercoat rolags had an adventure of their own. I brought them to Vallby outdoor museum and spun them on the great wheel with a smooth long draw into the loveliest woolen yarn. The rolags worked perfectly with the technique. In some cases there was a bit of outercoat left and the draft was a bit more demanding, but for the most part the draft surprisingly smooth.

Spinning the carded undercoat fibers on a great wheel.

The yarn I spun at Vallby is still in singles and I haven’t decided whether I should ply it or not. It is soft and airy and has a silky shine.

You can watch me spin and card the lovely Klövsjö undercoat on my video Spinning on a great wheel (available in Swedish as Spinna på långrock).

Strong and shiny worsted spun outercoat to the left. Soft and airy woolen spun undercoat to the right.

Use

Klövsjö wool with its dual coat is very versatile. You can choose to separate the fiber types like I have above or keep them together and prepare and spin for a woolen or worsted yarn. Considering the range from soft lamb’s wool to the coarser spectrum of a grown ewe the versatility increases even more. Have a look at the blog post about Rya wool I wrote a couple of weeks ago to compare.

Due to this versatility the yarn from Klövsjö wool can be used for a number of different purposes. Use the finest lamb’s undercoat for a next to skin yarn, the strong outercoat for a warp yarn, a combination of undercoat and undercoat for a sweater or play with anything between a fine embroidery yarn to a rough rug yarn.

All I have done so far with the Klövsjö wool I had is a woven belt bag from the spindle spun outercoat. It is combined with the Chanel warp yarn for a lovely green and brown striped pattern.

In my online course Know your fleece there is a 25 minute video where I present Klövsjö wool and demonstrate how I prepare, spin and use Klövsjö wool.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  1. 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.
  2. My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  3. I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  4. I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  5. 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.
  6. Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  7. 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.
  8. I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Blending

I’m not very fond of knitting socks. Yet socks are quite essential. I’m definitely not fond of plastic in sock yarn. Yet a strong fiber is quite practical to prevent holes in the socks. Fortunately, there are other strong fibers than plastic. This is the story of a simple blending process that hopefully will result in durable socks in natural materials.

A small scale sample yarn

On my 2019 wool journey I experimented with a sock yarn where I blended rya lamb’s wool and adult mohair. I ended up with a strong 3-ply sock yarn sample. I started out with 6 + 4 grams of fiber, which did help me find a process and a suitable yarn for socks, but in a very small scale.

Scaling up

On the fleece championships that year I bought a gold medal winning rya fleece and a bag of adult mohair to scale up my experiment to real socks. As usual the fleeces went in the back of the fleece queue, but now they’re next in line. This week I started my sock yarn project.

In my small scale experiment I had used 6 grams of rya and 4 grams of mohair. In my upscaled project I have 650 grams of rya and 400 grams of adult mohair which I somehow needed to blend.

Josefin Waltin sitting with a pile of wool. Locks are flying in the air around her
Willowing wool is a good way to blend wool.

Many people have seen a video where I willow my wool to open up the locks. This method is also perfect for blending two wool qualities or colours. However, I am not willowing my sock blend. I’m not very keen on sitting outdoors in the wind and temperature of November in Stockholm. Also, I’m afraid the willowing may ruin the lock structure in the staples. Since I will be combing the wool I need the staples to maintain their structure so that I can tell the cut end from the tip end. Therefore I needed to find another way of blending my wool.

Uncling

The fleeces had been somewhat compressed in the sofa bed storage and the staples were clinging to one another. So the first step was simply to separate them. Willowing would have been perfect for this task too, but still, not in November. Instead I sat down and started to pick and separate the locks by hand in both fleeces. This gave me the opportunity to look and feel through the fleeces and get to know their characteristics better, literally staple by staple.

The rya fleece was open and airy with long, silky and fine staples. They were also easy to separate from each other. The mohair staples on the other hand were compact in themselves and somewhat reluctant to opening up. The fibers in each staple seemed to cling to each other. The staples were quite easy to separate from each other though, since I had managed to wash a lot of the wax away.

I picked the locks by hand to make the blending of the mohair and rya fleeces easier.

The difference in willingness to separate in the different fleeces is something I need to keep in mind for when I process and spin the wool since it can influence how evenly the wool drafts when I spin. But first things first.

Let’s make Lasagne!

When I had gone through both of the fleeces and separated the staples it was time to start blending them. I did it the simplest way I could think of – I divided the fleeces in 6 piles each. I figured the smaller units of wool I could blend the more even the blend would be.

When I had my 6 + 6 rya and mohair piles I started building a lasagne by layering the piles one by one in a basket – one layer of rya and one layer of mohair until I was out of piles. After that I turned the basket upside down on the floor, dug my hands into the blended pile and whisked the whole arrangement around.

Combing

The final part of the blending was the actual combing. From my thorough lasagne blending technique I knew the two kinds of fiber were reasonably evenly distributed. Therefore I simply grabbed a handful of the blend and started combing. Later I decided to weigh each handful to make sure the rovings would be the same weight. This also eliminated my usual habit of over loading the comb.

8 grams of rya and mohair locks ready to be combed into sweet roving.
8 grams of rya and mohair locks on my medium comb, ready to be turned into sweet roving.

From the hand picking I had learned that the rya and mohair staples were very different. The dual coat rya locks were easy to separate and quite airy while the mohair locks were dense and quite reluctant to let go. With this in mind I made sure to make enough passes to thoroughly separate the fibers. The fleeces have in the blend formed a new togetherness with new characteristics that I need to consider when I work with the preparation and spinning.

I landed in five passes, planking, and then another three passes (you can read more about this combing technique in an earlier post about combing different fiber lengths). After the final three passes I dizzed the roving and got myself a lovely bird’s nest.

A 5 gram rya/mohair bird’s nest.

I am very happy with the result. The fibers are evenly distributed both in and between the rovings. Nothing clings anymore and I can draft easily. I have finished a first test skein and a second improved skein. The spinning process and resulting yarn however, is a matter for another blog post.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  1. 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.
  2. My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  3. I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  4. I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  5. 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.
  6. Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  7. 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.
  8. I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.