Clara Sherman Navajo spinning

Clara Sherman spinning on a Navajo spindle

Since I’m not making any new videos this time of year, I thought I’d invite you to see other videos that I like, that feature spinners and spinning techniques around the globe.

First up is a video I’m sure many of you have seen already, but it is so beautiful and inspirational when it comes to Navajo spindle spinning. I am talking about Clara Sherman and her wonderful treatment of spindle, wool and spinning. The way she trusts her body to feel when the twist is just right is so liberating. But not only does she trust her body to feel how the wool wants to be spun, she can also verbalize it and explain it to the viewer. That’s skill and knowledge on a deep level. She has a true respect for the wool and animates it when she talks about the wool crying.

The video features all the parts of the process from sheep to the finished rug, and it emphasizes the importance of thoughtful and thorough preparation to make a high quality all the way to the end product.

Clara Sherman died a few years ago, at the age of 96. I’m so happy that someone filmed her and made some of her talent available on YouTube so that  we have the opportunity to learn from her.

Up close in the microscope

Wool fibers seen through a microscope

The other day I had a spinning date with my friend Anna and her cousin Helena. We had a great time spinning and chatting away. Anna also brought her microscope. I had brought staples from all my current fleeces and I went bananas with the microscope. Here are some examples.

First up is the Swedish finewool, one of my favourite breeds. I think the staple is from the neck, it is very short and fine. You can see the crimp in the microscope and how fine the fiber is. There is a lot of air trapped between the winding fibers. I want to keep this air when I spin it, to make a warm and soft yarn. Therefore I spin it with long draw from hand-carded rolags.

Three staples of white, crimpy wool
Swedish finewool
White wool seen through a microscope
Swedish finewool in the microscope

Next up is white superfine Shetland wool, long staples of fine and crimpy fibers. In this comparison, though, the finewool looks finer than the Shetland wool, and slightly crimpier. And I can see some peat between the Shetland fibers! It is appealing to spin it with long draw to keep the air in. However, these fibers are very long and they work better with the combs to make a strong and shiny yarn with short draw. Any shorter fibers or comb leftovers will be carded and spun with long draw, though.

Two staples of white crimpy wool
White Shetland
White wool seen through a microscope. There are pieces of peat in the wool.
White Shetland in the microscope

For comparison, here is a Leicester staple, with completely different characteristics. The fibers are long and shiny and with waves more than crimp. In the microscope you can see only straight fibers and they seem a bit coarser than the Shetland and finewool samples. It is easy to imagine these fibers organized parallel in a strong yarn. I have spun this yarn with short forward draw from hand- combed tops into a strong and shiny warp yarn.

A staple of wavy wool
Leicester wool
white wool seen through a microscope
Leicester wool in the microscope

This is so much fun!

Engla – a fleece of many uses

Last autumn, when I made a video at Överjärva gård, I happened to buy another fleece. I didn’t mean to, but I saw it in the wool shop and I immediately realized that it needed me. It was half a fleece from the Swedish finewool sheep Engla.

A raw fleece of crimpy finewool
Engla, a newly shorn fleece

When I sorted the fleece, I decided to divide it into different piles according to the quality of the wool. I ended up with three piles – the very short and fine (neck) staples, the medium length staples and the longer staples.

White crimpy wool on the left, carded rolags on the right
The shortest staples were carded

The fleece was a joy to work with – it was clean, easy to sort, wonderful to comb and card and dreamy to spin. I do love Swedish finewool. I can honestly say it has been one of my very favourite fleeces.

Hand holding up a staple of crimpy wool. Boxes of wool to the left.
Medium staples with lots of crimp

I bought 800 g of fleece and ended up with a total of about 440 g of yarn.

Hands holding up long and crimpy wool. Boxes of wool in the background.
The longest staples were combed

So, I carded the fine neck staples and spun them with long draw on a supported spindle and made a 3-ply yarn out of the singles and I was very happy with the result. A light, airy and even yarn with lots of bounce. I also made a video about the plying.

A skein of handspun white yarn in backlight.
3-ply yarn carded and spun with long draw on a supported spindle. 57 g, 203 m, 3581 m/kg

I carded the medium staples as well and spun them with long draw on a Navajo spindle. One of the yarns I made was a prize winner – The sheep, the chicken, the pig and the lion. I also spun several skeins of singles on a Navajo spindle.

Closeup of skeins of yarn in backlight
Thick singles spun with long draw on a Navajo spindle, and will probably be used as weft yarn. 434 m, 212 g with an average of 2000 m/kg.

I combed the longest staples and spun them with short draw on a supported spindle. I experimented with chain-plying “on the fly” and made two videos about it, a detailed video about how to ply-on-the-fly on a supported spindle and another one where I show how I start from an empty spindle with the ply-on-the-fly method.

A skein of handspun white yarn in a clog
Medium length staples combed and plied on the fly on a supported spindle.

I feel very fortunate as a hand spinner to be able to sort my fleeces to make different kinds of yarns, whether it is according to colour, structure or length. It can result in really unique yarns. And I learn so much from it.

A Bronze medal in the Swedish hand spinning championships 2017!

Josefin Waltin smiling with a bronze medal and a skein of yarn around her neck
The proud bronze medalist in the Swedish hand spinning championships 2017

I just won the bronze medal in the Swedish hand spinning championships 2017!

It is a competition where the prize is really valuable feedback on all the contestants’ spinning and an opportunity to give yourself a spinning challenge. The Swedish championships have been running for three years now and I have participated in all of them. Every year there have been two different categories – one regular and one advanced – and contestants are welcome to enter one or both of them.

This year I participated in both categories. All the contestants got the same fluff sent home together with instructions and the finished yarn was sent to a jury and the winners were announced at the Swedish spinning and wool championships festival at Wålstedts spinning mill in Dala-Floda. More about the event in a later post.

The rules of the game

The regular category was a 3-ply yarn. We received batts of two different colours with which we were allowed to play with as we liked. Originally I had planned to spin a gradient yarn, but when I got the batts I realized that the colours were too similar to each other to make a good gradient. Yet, they were too different to work with singles spun in the different colours without looking too speckled. So I simply pre-drafted from both of the batts similarly to get both of the colours in each singles.

A support spindle filled with yarn, Carded batts in the background.
Batts and singles for 3-ply competition yarn. Supported spindle and spinning bowl from Malcolm Fielding.

Spinning for the championships

The different batts had slightly different feelings to them, I think one of them was undyed. I don’t spin from batts very often and I’m not very used to spinning fluff without lanolin. I spun the singles with long draw on a supported spindle to get as much air in the yarn as possible, and plied it on my wheel. And it turned out nicely. But not the best yarn I have spun and not my favourite spinning either.

I did not get any prize for this yarn. However, I got some very constructive feedback from the jury. They said that it was evenly spun, but a bit overplied in some areas.

A skein of 3-ply yarn
Finished 3-ply yarn, spun woolen from batts on a supported spindle, plied on a spinning wheel

The advanced category was a cabled yarn, spun with two different colours of fluff from batts. I really like these colours, both individually and together.

Two carded batts, a blue and a dusty rose
Coloured batts for advanced category.

This time I chose to spin three of the singles in one colour and the fourth in the other colour. I dizzed the fiber through my needle gauge to get an even pre-draft. I spun the singles woolen in hope of a soft and airy result.

two hands dizzying fiber through a sheep shaped needle gauge
Dizzing with needle gauge

The spinning required lots of focus, again because the lack of lanolin and my not being used to it.

a cabled yarn in blue and dusty rose
Cabled yarn spun woolen from dizzed batts on a spinning wheel. It got me a bronze medal in the advanced category.

The jury’s verdict was “An attractive combination of the colours in the cabling that gives an exciting speckledness to the knitting.” It was a real challenge spinning it and I’m very proud of my work.

Spinning on a supported spindle – step by step

I thought I’d write something about how I spin on a supported spindle. I learned a lot from Fleegle’s book about supported spinning, I highly recommend it.

Starting on an empty spindle

An empty spindle shaft is quite slippery and it’s not always easy to start spinning. I take my fiber, unspun, and wrap it a few times round the shaft quite high, perhaps 3–5 cm from the upper tip. Then I flick the spindle in motion, stop, draft and roll on to the shaft. I repeat these steps a few times, until I have a bit of a length. I transfer the spun yarn onto my fiber hand and then, without removing the fiber from the shaft completely, push the starting fiber down to the placement of the permanent cop. I wind on most of the spun thread on the permanent cop, saving a length to spiral up the shaft. And I’m ready to spin!

Spinning continuously with a short draw

When I spin on a supported spindle I spin continuously. This took me a lot of time to learn and I took it step by step.

There are two major parts of this process (well, three actually, but I will get to the third part later on):

  1. Spinning
  2. Rolling the spun yarn onto the temporary cop

For these two steps I need to keep the yarn in different angles in relation to the shaft. When spinning, the yarn is kept in a low angle, 5–45°. This way, the yarn is sliding off the tip every turn and the yarn gets spun. When rolling the yarn onto the shaft, the yarn is kept at a 90° angle from the shaft. So in the spinning process I alternate these two tasks and angles.

Apart from the flicking, I don’t touch the spindle. All the support it needs comes from the spinning surface. The spinning hand is controlling the yarn and the fiber hand is controlling the fiber. I make sure I get a good flick to keep the spinning going long and strong.

Let’s get back to the spinning. For a continuous spin I flick the tip with my spinning hand, preferably with three fingers and my thumb.

I do this in a series of movements, not stopping in between: 5–45° Flick, draft, 90° flick, roll on. If I want to do this with park and draft I stop between: 5–45° Flick. Stop. I draft until I reach my desired amount of twist. Stop. 90° flick, roll on.

There are a few tricks to the spinning that you hardly see in regular motion, but in slow motion they are visible: When I draft I turn my fiber hand against the spinning direction, i.e. anti-clockwise for a clockwise spinning. Just briefly to make the drafting easier and to even out bumps. And just at the beginning of the flicking to roll the yarn onto the temporary cop I take charge by rolling less than a quarter of a round in the wrong direction (anti-clockwise).

Spinning continuously with a long draw

The method is basically the same as for a short draw, but with one difference. When I have flicked the spindle for spinning and put my fingers back on the yarn, I repeatedly open and close my spinning hand fingers on the yarn to let the twist go further into the fiber. This gets you a longer draft before the yarn breaks and a more fluffy yarn.

Moving yarn to permanent cop

So, on to step 3. Using the temporary cop is for convenience. I want to be as economical in my movements as possible and enjoy the continuous motion. But sooner or later I have to move the cop town to its permanent place. So I make a butterfly. With my fiber hand I lift the yarn interchangeably with my thumb and pinkie and thus transfer the yarn from the temporary cop to my fiber hand. When all the yarn from the temporary cop is wound on to my hand I transfer it down to the permanent cop. I help the rolling on with the spinning hand by flicking the shaft. I also make sure I make a neat cop. With a sloppy cop there is a risk the end will never be found again if I lose it.


Usually I don’t ply on my spindles. It takes too much time and is quite boring. But I do it occasionally when I have just a small amount of yarn to ply. So, I made a short video on plying. There’s nothing special about plying on a supported spindle really. I skip the temporary cop in this part of the process, instead I tilt the spindle a little away from the fiber hand and wind the yarn directly on to the permanent cop. In this video I ply from both ends of a center-pull ball. I keep a fiber hand finger between the singles to keep them in order. Then I just ply away.

Fiber is from Swedish finewool sheep. Spindles are from Maine fiber tools and Malcolm Fielding. Spinning bowl also from Malcolm Fielding. Hoody pattern is Kate Davies’ Northmavine Hoody, yarn from Jamieson & Smith.

Happy spinning!

Spinning on a Navajo spindle – drafting

In a previous post I talked about drafting on a Navajo spindle. I made a new video on Navajo spinning today, focusing on drafting.

So, as I described in the earlier post, I roll the shaft, keeping my fiber hand still until the fiber catches the twist. Then I draw in sections, hopefully ending up with a semi-thread of even thickness. Then I draw some more until I reach my target thickness, roll on to the shaft and repeat for the next section. I added a slow motion closeup to show the details.

Filming Navajo spindling is not easy, there are details I want to focus on, but the spinning has lots of parts at quite long distances from each other. I hope the video still makes sense. It was quite cold out when I filmed and the wool was fussy. I could literally hear the wool fat stiffen as I drafted and I had to be very careful not to snap the yarn. Also, the colour of the fiber makes it a little hard to see, but I hope you can see enough. The next fiber I Navajo spin will be white, I promise.

Spindle is from Roosterick. The fiber is hand-carded from a Shetland sheep fleece, purchased at Jameson & Smith Shetland Woolbrokers. Shawl pattern is  the Daisy crescent by Kieran Foley. MC yarn is my handspun and the daisies are various scraps, both storebought and handspun.

Happy spinning!

The Navajo spindle

In september I bought an Interweave video showing different kinds of supported spindles. Among these was a Navajo spindle. I hadn’t paid Navajo spindles much attention before, but after seeing the video I suddenly felt I needed one. And in late november I finally received a beautiful Navajo spindle from Roosterick.

A full Navajo spindle leaning against a rock
My sweet Navajo spindle

The beauty of the Navajo spindle

Spinning on a Navajo spindle is really lovely. The long draw can get amazingly long and is very satisfying. As any other spinning, it’s very soothing. The sound of the point spinning against the bowl, the rhythmic motion of the hands and the feeling of warm wool. Also, it is a spindle technique that involves the whole body. I do like the small movements when flicking a supported spindle, but it is a nice contrast with the long rolling movements and the extension of the other arm away from the body. I decided to learn with the right hand as my spinning hand, the opposite of my preferences regarding other spindles and the wheel. That way I will hopefully avoid muscular strain and give my brain an extra challenge.

How to spin on a Navajo spindle

When spinning on an Navajo spindle you use a long draw. The spinning hand rolls the shaft and the fiber hand controls the fiber, but none of the hands is on the thread (unless for evening out a bump). I roll the shaft several times without moving the fiber hand. When I see that the fiber (still fluffy and unspun) is beginning to catch the twist, I move the fiber hand outwards, letting the fiber catch the twist as my hand moves further out from the body. That gives me a semi-thread (or proto-yarn using Fleegle’s terms in her book about supported spinning) of even thickness. From this stage I can decide what thickness I want. If I want a thick thread I put in some more twist (double drafting) without moving my fiber hand. If I want a thinner thread I move my fiber hand outwards and roll some more. When my arm doesn’t get any longer, I butterfly the thread onto my fiber hand and double draft it in sections. I’ll try to make a video that shows this part more clearly, however, you can see it a bit in the video, starting at 38 seconds.

So, while you can play with any thickness you like,  the Navajo spindle is a perfect tool for practicing spinning thick yarns. Especially thick singles, since you can get quite a low twist yarn with the Navajo spindle. This is a challenge for me, since my go-to thickness is quite thin, but suddenly I really enjoy making fat singles!

The importance of fiber preparation

The fact that you  use a long draw also makes fiber preparation very important. The fiber needs to be carded, preferably by hand. Any nepps or noils will impair the result. Hence, I have practiced – and improved – hand carding in the last few months and the difference between good and not-so-good carding is really evident in the spinning and the finished yarn.

While making my first video on Navajo spindle spinning in December, it became very clear to me that wool grease, just like any other fat, stiffens in the cold. Hence, the yarn broke time and time again. And the beautiful process of learning goes on and on.

Spindle from Roosterick. Fiber is hand combed from Shetland sheep. Hat is Ella Gordon‘s Crofthoose hat, shawl is Kate DaviesNorthmavine hap.

Happy spinning!