Dalapäls wool

A board with white yarn samples and wool locks.

The breed study is moving on and today I will dive in to the beautiful world of Dalapäls wool. This is the third post in my breed study series of Swedish sheep breeds. Previous posts have been about Gotland wool and Gute wool. Coming up is also my third live webinar in the breed study webinar series!

Next Saturday, September 21st at 5 pm CET I will host a live breed study webinar on Dalapäls wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

Register for the webinar here!

Whether you are celebrating World wide spin in public day outdoors or indoors, I hope you take the time to warm up/wind down (depending on your location in the world) with a wooly breed study webinar! A worldwide live stream is definitely a spin in public event.

About Dalapäls sheep

Dalapäls sheep is a rare and endangered Swedish conservation breed. A conservation breed means that the breed is protected. If you have a gene bank you are also committed to preserving the breed. This means that you are not allowed to cross the breed with other breeds. You also commit to strive for genetic diversity – breeding for specific characteristics (like wool or hornedness) is not allowed. In 2018 there were about 160 ewes of the Dalapäls sheep in Sweden.

White sheep eating straw
Dalapäls sheep

The name Dalapäls reveals both origin and use. Dala in this case means from the County of Dalarna. Päls means fur and indicates that the skins have been used for fur. The traditional jacket Kasung was used in areas of Dalarna as part of a traditional costume. It was made of leather and had edgings of white wool locks. The locks look very much like Dalapäls wool.

An old leather jacket with fur edgings in bottom and front hem and cuffs.
A traditional Kasung with wool edgings. Image provided by Creative commons

The wool is usually white. Grey spots can occur. Some lambs are born black but usually turn grey or white as they grow.

The Dalapäls sheep are quite small, around 30 kg for ewes and 50 kg for rams. They have a strong sense for the flock and are very suspicious of strangers. This may come from the fact that they have been grazing in the woods or in a chalet historically and have developed a strong consciousness of enemies like wolf and bear. Because they are so watchful they are not cuddly sheep.

Wool characteristics

Dalapäls wool is a double-coated wool with strong and shiny outer coat and fine, soft and warm under coat. The most common fiber type is the long and wavy staple. This wool type has little or no crimp.

Long, white and wavy wool locks.
Extra long and silky locks of different Dalapäls sheep.

Shorter, wavy and even crimpy staples do occur and the fleece is not even across the body of the sheep. This gives a spinner many choices in spinning the wool. A shepherd or shepherdess can have a small flock of sheep and still get lots of different wool types.

Wool locks of different lengths and character.
One single sheep can have very different wool types. These staples come from the ewe Saga.

Some shepherdesses sort the wool according to fiber type and/or staple length at the shearing stage.

The top three: Shine, fineness and versatility

If I were to pick out three main characteristics of the Dalapäls wool it would be shine, fineness and versatility. I asked my friend Lena who is a Dalapäls shepherdess and these were her choices too. Another Dalapäls shepherdess, Carina, added that Dalapäls wool is easy to spin and I agree to that too.

  • The most obvious characteristic of Dalapäls is the shine – the very special Dalapäls shine. This characteristic alone is enough for me to fall for this breed.
  • My second choice would be the fineness. Eventhough the outercoat is long and strong it is still very fine and can be spun into a next to skin yarn. The undercoat is of course even finer than the outer coat. The locks are very lofty at the base and the undercoat is soft and silky.
  • Because of the variation of the wool between individuals and over the body of one individual sheep, Dalapäls wool is very versatile. I have seen everything from 25 cm long silky and wavy locks to 5 cm curly or even crimpy staples. If you sort the fleece according to wool characteristics and also separate the fiber types you could get a wide variety of yarns.

Preparing and spinning

A Dalapäls shepherdess was going to send her wool to a mill and asked me what kind of yarn she should ask them to spin. I didn’t really know what to answer. You can get so many different kinds of yarn with Dalapäls wool. Especially if you are a handspinner.

Separating the fiber types comes to mind – combing the outer coat for a worsted yarn and carding the under coat for a woolen yarn are good choices. You can just as well card or comb the fiber types together.

Four white yarn samples on a piece of card board.
Dalapäls wool can be spun in many different ways. From the left: Carded undercoat, woolen spun on a spinning wheel. Combed outercoat, worsted spun on a spinning wheel. Undercoat and outercoat teased and carded together, woolen spun on a spinning wheel. Flick-carded locks, spun worsted on a supported spindle from the cut end.

Separating the fiber types

Picking out the longest locks and separating the undercoat from the outercoat can give you two beautiful yarns – a strong and shiny worsted yarn and a soft and warm woolen yarn. I would use double row combs to separate the fiber types and pull the outercoat off. Perhaps I would even comb a second time to separate more and spin worsted from the lovely tops. The leftovers in the combs is the soft and airy undercoat that I would card into rolags and and spin woolen (after having cuddled them).

This way you will get two very different yarns with different superpowers. You can see the difference in the image above, the first from the left is the carded undercoat and the second is the combed outercoat.

Combing or carding together

Another way to create a beautiful Dalapäls yarn is to card or comb the locks as they are, without separating the fiber types. I would do this with the medium and shorter length staples. Carding and spinning woolen would give you a soft yarn that still has some strength and shine. If I were to comb the locks I would use single row combs that won’t separate the fiber types as much as the double row combs. Spinning the combed top worsted would result in a strong and shiny yarn that would still have some softness.

Spinning from the lock

In the Dalapäls yarn I’m currently spinning I have wanted to keep the fiber types together. The locks in this yarn are the very longest locks (see featured image) that the shepherdess has picked out from several fleeces. I have flick carded each lock individually and spun from the cut end. This way I will get both outer coat and under coat in the yarn. You can see my technique in my video Catch the light.

Close-up of a person spinning on a supported spindle.
I’m spinning counter-clockwise to get a Z-plied yarn for twined knitting. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I have spun the yarn on a supported spindle. When I spin from flick carded locks I prefer spinning on a supported spindle. The slowness of the technique allows me to watch the process and focus on quality. Spinning from the lock can be a challenge since the fibers don’t get as much of a separation compared to a hand-combed top.

A white skein of yarn.
Dalapäls yarn, spun from the cut end of flick carded locks on a supported spindle.

But the yarn I get from spinning from the cut end of flick carded locks is strong, shiny and still soft. When I spin it on a supported spindle I also get the quality and the evenness I want.

Blanka

My first acquaintance with Dalapäls wool was at the Swedish fleece championships a few years ago. I saw the fleece and knew I needed it. It turned out a silver medalist in the championships! The sheep’s name was Blanka, a lamb. I talked to the shepherdess and she suggested I spin from the cut end. I did, and used a supported spindle to do it. It became my bedside spinning. I spent many evenings spinning the Dalapäls locks just before bedtime. I had put away some shorter staples and spun a woolen singles yarn from hand-carded rolags on a Navajo spindle. When I was finished I wove myself a pillowcase!

Felting

Even if I don’t plan to felt or full I like to do a fulling test. This gives me information about the fibers in the yarn. In my current project I am planning to weave and full, so the information is truly valuable to me.

I make 10 x 10 cm woven samples on a pin loom and felt them.

Woolen yarn, outercoat and undercoat together

The first sample was from the yarn I had spun woolen from hand-carded rolags with both undercoat and outercoat. The swatch felted nicely, but there were some loops in the structure. This made me suspect that it is mainly the undercoat that felts.

A white felted swatch. Little loops of scattered over the swatch.
Woven felting sample from woolen yarn spun from carded rolags (undercoat and outercoat).

Worsted warp and woolen weft

To test my theory of the felting undercoat I made another swatch where I separated outercoat and undercoat. I used the worsted outercoat yarn as warp and the woolen undercoat yarn as weft. The result was a rectangular swatch from my square woven sample. I had proven my theory – mainly the undercoat felted. The structure of the material is the same, though – a nicely fulled swatch with little loops. They seem to go mainly in the warp direction and I guess I hadn’t separated the fibers properly in the combing process.

A rectangular felted swatch with some loops.
In this sample I have used the outercoat as warp and undercoat as weft. The undercoat has felted, leaving a rectangular shaped swatch.

Lockspun

Just for fun I made a third felting test, this time with my lockspun yarn. It resulted in a loopier swatch. My theory is that this is because the fibers are less separated than the carded sample. This yarn was also spun with longer locks.

A felted swatch with lots of loops in it.
The felted swatch with the lockspun yarn had more loops in it than the other swatches.

Use

Since the Dalapäls wool is so versatile I see a wide variety of uses for Dalapäls yarn. With different preparation, spinning and use of the different fiber types you can use Dalapäls yarn for basically anything except perhaps things that require rough handling like rugs and workwear. From a sheer lamb’s wool lace shawl, through both soft and everyday sweaters to sturdy mittens. As to techniques I don’t see any limits – knitting, weaving, nalbinding would all work well.

A knitting project on a rock by the sea.
My current Dalapäls knitting project – a pair of sleeves in twined knitting.

I’m twine knitting a pair of jacket sleeves. When they are finished I will spin a weaving yarn and full into a vadmal fabric from which I will sew a bodice. Perhaps I will even use locks as a hem decoration, flirting with the Kasung jackets.

Live webinar!

This Saturday, September 21st at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Dalapäls wool from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Dalapäls wool. I will use Dalapäls during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I process the wool.

Even if you think you will never come across Dalapäls wool this is an opportunity to learn more about a rare and endangered breed. The breed study will also 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 did were 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’m sorry Australia and New Zealand, I know it is in the middle of the night for you). I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar.

Register now!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Twined knitting

Two pieces of knitting on a pebble beach.

I have a new video for you today! It is a short demonstration of twined knitting. Don’t worry, there is some spinning in the video too. Twined knitting requires a special kind of yarn that is hard to find and therefore perfect to handspin!

Spin-off article and pattern

In the fall 2019 issue of Spin-off Magazine I wrote an article about twist analysis and spinning for twined knitting. The article also includes a brief history of twined knitting in Sweden. On top of that, I made a pattern for twined knitting mittens especially for this issue. It is my very first published pattern! All the beautiful pictures in the article and the pattern description are Dan’s. Go get your copy now!

About twined knitting

The oldest finding of a twined knitting textile dates back to around the mid 16th century to the early 17th century in county Dalarna in Sweden. There are many garments and accessories left in County Dalarna – mittens, socks and jackets. Usually the sleeves only were twined knit while the torso was sewn of vadmal.

A jacket with red knitted sleeves with a black pattern and a green vadmal torso with decorative stitching.
An antique traditional jacket with twined knitted sleeves and a vadmal torso. From the study collection at Sätergläntan.

Two strands for sturdiness

With twined knitting you use two strands of yarn. The passive strand is carried at the back of the project. You knit with the back strand. This means that after one stitch is made the two yarns are twined. Ridges of twined knitting cover the whole wrong side of a knitted section and makes a sturdy material.

Close-up of a person knitting with two strands of yarn. A city in the background.
Twined knitting is done with two strands of yarn. The ruin of Saint Nicolai in the background.

Even though twined knitting is done with fine needles, the twining makes the fabric strong, sturdy and windproof. It will last for generations. The yarn I use is a handspun light fingering weight yarn and I knit with 2 mm needles.

Basic technique

Set-up:

  • Hold the two strands in your right hand. I usually wrap them once around my pinkie for even tensioning.
  • “Steer” the strands with your index and middle fingers between the strands.

Knitting:

  • Insert the right needle in the first stitch of the left needle
  • Pick up the back strand with your index finger
  • Throw it over the needle
  • Make a knit stitch
  • Insert the needle in the next stitch

When I make a pair of something in twined knitting I always knit both at the same time. This way I will make sure I get the same size.

Two pieces of knitting on a pebble beach.
I knit my jacket sleeves with 2 mm needles. The material is still strong and sturdy. On the inside you can see the horizontal twined ridges.

For cast-on, more basic techniques and a mitten pattern, see my article and pattern in the fall 2019 issue of Spin-off Magazine. For more in-depth knowledge about twined knitting there are good books. Mainly in Swedish, but some also in English. Twined knitting by Birgitta Dandanell was the one I started out with. My current favourite, which also covers the beautiful history of the technique and its traditions is Tvåändsstickat by Birgitta Dandanell, Ulla Danielsson and Kerstin Ankert. This book is in Swedish only, but has lots of beautiful pictures of traditions, old garments and how-to descriptions.

Twining and untwining

The two yarn ends typically come from both ends of a center-pull ball. Since the strands are twined they will eventually have to be untwined. You do this by making a half-hitch around the ball and holding it up to untwine itself.

A woman standing by a medieval wall. She is holding up a ball of yarn and a knitting project.
Every now and then I need to untwine the ball of yarn.

A lady on the train

In the beginning of July when I was on the train back home from teaching at Sätergläntan, I was working on my current twined knitting project. When we had almost arrived in Stockholm an elderly lady approached me and asked me if I had been to Sätergläntan. She had seen me knit on the train. The lady had poor eye sight, but she instantly recognized my untwining of the yarn ball as twined knitting. She told me that she used to twine knit all the time when she was younger. I love the effect public crafting has on people – both crafters and the people around them.

Z-ply yarn

Twined knitting is done best with a Z-ply yarn. An S-ply yarn (which is the most common in commercial yarns) will get even more twined and result in a bulkier material. There are only two mills in Sweden that spin Z-ply yarns for twined knitting. As spinners we can make our own Z-ply yarn, though!

A woman spinning on a supported spindle by a window opening in a ruin.
Spinning for twined knitting at Drotten’s ruin.

For this project – a couple of jacket sleeves – I spin Dalapäls wool on a supported spindle. I have flick carded the individual locks and spin them from the back end. This way I get both undercoat and outercoat in the yarn.

Since I spin counter-clockwise I use my left hand as a spinning hand to pull the spindle towards the palm of my hand when I spin. When I ply I change hands so that my right hand is the spindle hand, pulling the spindle. In this blog post you can read more about my thoughts on spinning direction. You can also check out this webinar on spindle ergonomics.

The Z-plied yarn I twine knit with is the yarn I spin in my recent video Catch the light.

Slow

The fine needles and the twining method makes twined knitting a slow technique. I’m in no hurry, though. I also make it even slower by stopping every now and then to feel the sturdy material and enjoying the structure.

A woman sitting on a font, knitting
Knitting by the font in Saint Catherine’s ruin

Considering that a pair of twined knitted mittens lasts for generations, you only need to make one pair where other techniques would require lots of mending or replacement mittens. Twined knitting may even be faster in a lifetime perspective.

Location: The medieval city of Visby

In mid-July, the whole family took a two-day trip to the medieval city of Visby, Gotland. In Medieval times the city was protected from angry farmers with a sturdy city wall and the wall still stands. Inside the city there are around 10 church ruins from the 12th and 13th centuries. The whole city is a world heritage.

A woman knitting in a ruin. There is no roof in the ruin.
S:t Clement’s ruin was my favorite ruin to knit in.

These sites are perfect for making beautiful video shots (most of which were made by Dan)! I especially loved knitting in the ruins. The space, acoustics and light were all magic. The grass, flowers and ivy all added a touch of mystery to the scenery.

By the way, you can see a glimpse of our children in the video. Towards the end I stand in an opening in of one of the walls of the ruin of Saint Lars, looking down. The two teenagers walking around below, discovering the passageways of the ruin are my darlings. They are also responsible for the stone skipping by the pebble beach.

Challenge yourself and spin a Z-plied yarn. Perhaps you will have finished a pair of twined knitted mittens by the holidays.

Happy knitting!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

The Blanka pillowcase

Close-up of a weave on a rigid heddle loom.
Weaving the Blanka pillowcase

On the Swedish wool championships of 2016 I managed to win the auction of one of the silver medal fleeces, a Dalapäls fleece from Solaengel’s lamb Blanka. I asked a bit about how to best prepare it and I ended up dividing the fleece into two categories – one for the longer staples with undercoat softness and overcoat lengths and one for a bit shorter staples. I spun the first category straight from the staple on a supported spindle into a strong 2-ply yarn. The second category I carded and spun as a soft, thick singles yarn on my Navajo spindle. I envisioned a woven pillowcase with the strong 2-ply as warp and the soft and thick singles as the weft.

I dyed the warp into a blueish green and the weft a bit lighter. After dying, I warped my rigid heddle loom double with closed selvedges. When I warped, I noticed that the yarn had started to felt in the dyeing process and was very clingy. And that clinginess continued all through the weaving. Beating was a struggle, for every change of sheds and rolling back of the weave I had to manually separate each warp thread. Lots of warp threads snapped (as did I) and  as I got closer to the end of the warp, the twin thread of the broken threads also got loose.

I did finish the pillowcase and I spent over 2 hours weaving in broken warp threads. I added a zipper and was unreasonably proud of my very own Blanka pillowcase.

A hand woven pillowcase

All of these problems might make a person give up and throw the whole project away. Had it been a knitting project I might have frogged it. But I had felt every fiber of this yarn in my hands and I knew the yarn by heart and I never thought of giving up. I just needed to find solutions to the bigger problems and have patience with the smaller ones. And I have learned so much from this project. I am a new weaver and learning by doing has been the headlines all through my new weaving career. And for every fault I see I know how that fault came about and what I learned from it. And I bring this knowledge into the next project.

A hand woven pillowcase. Lake in the background.

When I dyed for this project I had some Shetland in the dye as well and I will make another pillowcase (a non-Blanka pillowcase). The yarn is sleeker and hopefully the weaving will be easier.

Close-up of a hand woven pillow case

Until then, I will cuddle with my pretty pillow.

A hand woven pillowcase in the fern

Spinning with the sheep in the pasture

In October 2016 I made a video in the pasture at Överjärva gård. Anna helped me with filming and we both had trouble moving our fingers due to the cold. Sheepwise, we didn’t know quite what to expect. But two very friendly and curious ewes kept us company all through the filming. Anemone the multicoloured finewool lamb and Susanne the Gotland sheep. It was so comforting to have them there. Their calmness, the warm breaths and their constant nose poking on the spindle. Later, Anna was lucky enough to get her hands on Anemone’s lamb fleece.

The fiber I was spinning was from a prize winner, the Dalapäls ewe lamb Blanka. She (well, her owner actually) won a silver medal in the Swedish fleece championships of 2016 and I bought the fleece at the auction that followed. Spindle and cup from Malcolm Fielding.

A person spinning on a support spindle. Two sheep are investigating the spindle
Two very curious and friendly sheep