Jämtland wool

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

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

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

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

About Jämtland sheep

Stop the waste

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

A new breed

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

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

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

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

Fashion industry

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

Knitters and spinners

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

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

Jämtland wool characteristics

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

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

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

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

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

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

The superpowers

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

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

Preparation and spinning Jämtland wool

Washing

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

Combing and worsted spinning

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

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

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

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

From the fold magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carding and woolen spinning

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

Use

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live webinar!

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

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

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

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

Register for the webinar here!

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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

Spinning from the cut end

In this video I show you how I spin a multicoloured fleece from the cut end of flicked staples to preserve as much as possible of the colour variation. In a previous post you can read about how I divided the fleece into four piles of different colour combinations. I shot the video in late July when we rented a log cabin at a sheep farm in Tiveden in Sweden.

Preserving colours

The wool comes from a Swedish Åsen/Härjedal cross that won a bronze medal at the 2018 Swedish fleece championships. The name of the sheep is Chanel. This fleece is multicoloured over the fleece and over each staple. Shades of chocolate brown, silver, honey and natural white are scattered over the fleece. If I blended it all together it would result in a homogenous oatmeal colour. I wanted to preserve as much as possible of the colour variations. In this first yarn I have picked one of the colourways to play with.

A person holding locks of wool. The quite straight staples are rose grey at the cut end and cocolatey brown in the tip end. The tips end with a curl.
Lovely locks almost too pretty to spin. But I take on the challenge!

Since I had already sorted the wool in four piles of different colour variations I would get four different types of colour variegation. My vision was to design and knit a sweater that would celebrate these colour variations.

I decided to flick card and spin each staple separately from the cut end. That way I would be able to show as much as possible of the colour variation over the staple. The colour variation over the staple comes from different colours in undercoat and outercoat. In this colour variation the outer coat fibers are chocolatey brown and the undercoat silver white. In others the outercoat fibers are darker still or more honey coloured and the undercoat white or grey.

Close-up of a hand holding fiber. Fine and light undercoat and long and shiny outercoat. The undercoat is silver white and the outercoat chocolatey brown.
Dividing the staple in outercoat and undercoat gives you a chance to examine the properties of each fiber type.

The outercoat is really shiny and strong while the undercoat is very fine and almost silky. Without access to measuring the fibers I can tell that there is quite a big difference in diameter between the two fiber types.

Flick carding

To protect my clothes from the flick card I place a leather patch underneath the staple. I hold the cut end in a steady grip and card the tip end. If you card a lot of staples this way it might be a good idea to keep the card stationary and pull the staple towards you. It will be easier on your arms to pull the staple towards you than to move the card hand outwards. This is the same as the principle of pushing and pulling for spindle spinning.

Close-up of a person carding a wool staple. A leather patch is underneath the wool. One hand is holding the staple at the far cut end while the other hand is holding the card that is carding the tip end.
When I card the tip end I keep a steady grip on the cut end.

When the tip end is all carded I flick the staple and hold it in the tip end. You need to hold the staple closer to the middle here, otherwise the shorter undercoat will end up in the flick card. When the staple is carded I start spinning.

Close-up of a person carding a wool staple. A leather patch is underneath the wool. One hand is holding the staple at the middle  while the other hand is holding the card that is carding the cut end.
For carding the cut end I need to grip the staple closer to the cut end to avoid catching all the undercoat in the card.

From the cut end

To catch both the long outercoat and the shorter undercoat I spin from the cut end of my flicked staples. For each draft I make sure I catch both fiber types with my spinning hand.

Fibers that have been flick carded like this are still quite dense and may be a challenge to draft. It is easy to pinch rather than guide with the spinning hand. To ease the strain on the hand I allow the fibers to draft more easily by opening up the twist. I do so by rolling my spinning hand thumb against the twist.

Close-up of a person spinning yarn. You only see the hands holding the fiber.
I roll my spinning hand thumb against the twist to open up the twist and allow for an easier draft.

If necessary I also twist my fiber hand against the twist. This too helps opening up the twist for an easier draft. As I said, the fibers are dense in this kind of preparation. They are also a bit clingy and you need to work and focus to achieve a smooth and even yarn. Since there are lots of elements in this spinning technique I spin with quite a low ratio.

Plying

I wanted to 3-ply this yarn. My problem was that my lazy Kate only accommodated two bobbins. Furthermore, I only had three bobbins. I needed to find my inner McGyver and make the 3-ply yarn happen.

The bobbin was my smallest problem. Remember this is a sheep farm. Naturally the owner has a spinning wheel. I borrowed a bobbin from her wheel, which is an antique. With a very small bobbin compared to my modern ones.

A Mikado lazy Kate

I made a station for my third bobbin with the help of a barbecue stick and two giant outdoor Mikado sticks (you play it with your feet, by the way). I jammed the barbecue stick into the ground outside the cabin and placed the Mikado sticks underneath the third bobbin to lift it off the grass.

Two bobbins on a lazy Kate on a lawn. A third bobbin on the grass next to the others. The third bobbin is secured in the ground with a barbecue stick and the bobbin is resting on two larger wooden sticks. An antique bobbin below the three bobbins. Yarn goes from the three bobbins to the antique bobbin.
A station for a third bobbin next to a lazy Kate that only accommodates two bobbins. All you need is a lawn, a barbecue stick and two giant Mikado sticks!

With this avant garde lazy Kate solution I could transfer my three singles to the antique bobbin.

Carrots to the rescue

I just about managed to fit the 20+20+20 grams of singles onto the antique bobbin. Now I needed a lazy Kate for the antique bobbin – the hole was too small for my Kate. Since the rain was pouring down this was not the time for a barbecue and Mikado stick Kate on the lawn. I needed to solve this problem indoors.

The logs of the cabin are just the way logs are – full of cracks. I jammed another barbecue stick into one of the cracks and slid the antique bobbin onto it.

A spinning wheel plying. In the background an antique bobbin secured on a log cabin wall with a barbecue stick and a carrot as a stop at the end.
Plying with an antique bobbin, a barbecue stick, a carrot and a log cabin. Easy peasy.

Then I realized that the bobbin would slide off the barbecue stick if it didn’t have some sort of stop. I found one in the fridge – I decorated the end of the stick with a potato-like carrot.

Close-up of an antique bobbin on a barbecue stick jammed into a log cabin wall. The bobbin is stopped at the end of a roundish carrot.
Barbecue stick-carrot-log cabin wall plying mechanics.

My idea worked like a charm and I could ply my yarn to the sound of the pouring rain! You can see a short video demonstration of the plying process on my Facebook and Instagram pages.

I was really happy with my ad-hoc solutions. And the yarn. It got the colour variations I was looking for.

A 3-ply skein of yarn in variegated browns and greys.
A 3-ply yarn spun from the cut end of flicked staples, 53 grams, 68 meters.

Location

Lake Unden is just one kilometer from the cabin and we often take evening walks to the lake when we are there. I decided that the pier would be the perfect location for a video with my traveling wheel. So I took the spinning wheel in its bag over one shoulder, tripod over the other and foldable stool, well I took that too. One kilometer proved to be quite far with large and bulky bags. But what wouldn’t you do for the sake of art?

A woman sitting on a pier by a lake. A spinning wheel in front of her. She is wearing a knitted sweater with spinning wheels.
Enjoying the silence by the lake.

It was a lovely evening with only the sound of the lake and the sea gulls. The wooden boards of the pier were warm under my feet and the lake so soothing. I didn’t want to leave. But eventually I did. And we’re coming back this summer!

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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

Carding rolags

I do love a well-made rolag. But making even hand-carded rolags takes practice. I have carded rolags for at least four sweaters. For one sweater I actually calculated the amount of rolags: I used 576 rolags for one single sweater. That’s a lot of practice. Many followers have asked me lately about hand-carding rolags. In this post I describe how I do and why.

A basket full of hand-carded rolags. The rising sun and a lake in the background.
Hand-carded rolags in backlight. Hard to beat.

A wise spinner once said: The spinning is in the preparation. I find this to be very true. So much of the quality of the spinning is born in the preparation. Not only is a thorough prep essential to the quality of the yarn, but the preparation stage also gives you a chance to get to know the fiber.

Even and consistent

I want my rolags to be even and consistent: Even as even distribution of the fibers throughout the rolag. Consistent as in the size and shape of the rolags. This is my goal. There are several ways to get there and I will show you my way.

Even through teasing

The first thing I do is tease the wool – I open up the staples to make a pre-prep before the actual carding. I do this to avoid the risk of over-carding. If I card wool too much fibers will break and leave nepps. One could argue that teasing takes longer and leaves more waste. But I’m not in it for the speed. The faster, unteased, alternative will result in lower quality yarn with the waste in the yarn instead of outside it.

How I tease

I tease in three different ways: With combs, with a flick carder or with my hands. I can also tease with my hand-cards. The important thing is that I open up the staples so that the carding is really just arranging the fibers in an even and consistent manner.

  • My go-to teasing tool is the combs. I load the combs with wool, not considering the direction of the staples. I comb the wool, usually in two passes. This opens up the staples and in a fairly quick way. You can see how I tease with combs in this video, with a discussion in this blog post. I can also blend different fibers together by teasing with combs. In the above mentioned video I blend wool with recycled sari silk.
  • If I am dealing with very fine fibers with brittle tips, like Swedish finewool I use a flick carder and flick each staple separately. This way any fibers that are bound to break are left in the flick carder. I can also use a flick carder for dirty or otherwise damaged tips. I use my flick carder to sort out solidified tips in this video. There is a discussion about the video in this post. If I don’t have a flick carder I can use regular hand-cards to achieve the same result.
  • Sometimes I just want to work with as little tools as possible and tease with my hands. I do it in this video, with a discussion in this blog post. For the purpose of the video I spin straight from the teasing, but it is a great way to tease for carding too.
My favorite way to tease wool is with combs.

Even through carding

When my wool is teased it is time to card it. The teasing has evened out the spacing between the fibers a bit. but I want to do it more and in more manageable chunks: Rolags. The teeth grab hold of the fibers throughout the area of the carding pad and evens out the spacing between the fibers over several staples of wool.

Consistency

Consistent rolags are consistent in shape and size. If I use the same amount of wool in the same distribution over the carding pad I get a good chance at consistent rolags. By making sure all the fiber on the carding pad is carded equally I can control the final shape and size. With consistent rolags I can achieve a yarn that is high in quality, easy to spin and consistent over all the 500+ or so rolags required for one sweater.

A basket full of carded rolags. Fern in the background.
well-defined and consistent rolags are a joy to spin.

How I card

There are probably as many ways to card as there are carding spinners. I will show you my way. For me it gets me to my goal – even and consistent rolags. And who can’t resist high quality rolags? I want to be able to card rolags that I can’t resist spinning.

A basket full of hand-carded rolags, arranged like a bouquet of flowers.
Learn how to card rolags that you can’t resist spinning.

In the second half of this video you can see how I card rolags and shape them.

Loading

I pull my teased wool onto the cards. When the wool doesn’t stick anymore I stop. That way I know I haven’t overloaded the cards. I remove any excess from the handle side of the card, especially if I am dealing with long fibers.

Frame

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. If I load the wool on the whole carding pad area it will fluff out outside of the carding pad and be left uncarded. This would result in an uneven rolag.

I pull the wool onto the card and leave a frame around the wool empty.

Carding

When the card is loaded I start carding. I stroke the wool gently between the cards. This pushes the wool just a bit into the teeth – not all the way down. Just to get a rhythm and avoid over carding I count my strokes and passes – three passes with six strokes for each pass.

When I start carding the wool spreads over the cards, but not outside the teeth if I have left a frame around the wool empty.

To strip the card between passes I place the cards with the handles in the same direction and transfer the wool in two strokes. I make another six strokes. By the third pass the wool is spread evenly across the card area and there are no uneven parts left.

Making Swiss rolls

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: I lift the end of the batt with the card and push the lifted bit down with my hand. Lift some more and push it down until I have rolled the whole batt to the handle side of the stationery card. This way I make a Swiss roll of the carded batt. To keep the stationery card steady I push the handle against the inside of my thigh.

I make a rolag with the help of the active card and my hand. I keep the stationery card in place with my inner thigh.

You know when you can’t resist some frosting on your Swiss roll? This can be applied to carding rolags as well. Just to give my rolag that extra roundness and firmness I roll it once more between the cards: 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. You need to find the right amount of pressure to actually make a difference to the rolag without squishing it.

I usually card enough rolags for one batch – be it one bobbin or one spindle-full, but usually around 20 or 25 grams. This way I make enough rolags to be able to control the consistency and enough to keep them fresh – old rolags tend to go bad after a while. Just like Swiss rolls.

Happy carding!


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!

Gute wool

2-ply yarn of Gute wool, spun with longdraw from hand-carded rolags.

In the spring 2019 issue of Spin-off magazine I wrote an article on sorting fleeces of Gute and Gotland wool. A few weeks ago I covered Gotland wool in a blog post and a live webinar. In this post I will look a bit closer at Gute wool.

This is the second part in a breed study series with live webinars. I look at Swedish breeds to start with and from the spinner’s point of view. A bit about the breed, the characteristics of the wool, how I prepare and spin it and what I want to do with the finished yarn.

Next Saturday, May 25th at 5 pm CET I will host a live webinar where I share my thoughts and experiences on Gute wool.

Gute sheep

Gute ewe at the Skansen outdoor museum
Gute ewe at the Skansen outdoor museum in Stockholm. I love how Gute sheep look almost like an oil painting in their faces.

History

The Gute sheep is a rustic breed and the oldest sheep breed in Sweden. It derives from the horn sheep or Gotland outdoor sheep in Gotland. In the 1920’s a breeding program started, aiming for a hornless sheep that was adapted to meat and pretty skins. This resulted in the Gotland sheep. Around 10 horned sheep were saved, though, and were used to restore the old horn sheep. Some of these sheep were moved to Skansen outdoor museum in Stockholm and their descendants are still at the museum today.

The name was changed to Gute sheep. Gute is an abbreviation of the Gotland outdoor sheep (Gotländskt utegångsfår), and it also refers to a person that has lived in Gotland for at least three generations.

Gute sheep today

A major part of the conservation program for Gute sheep was to keep the genetic variation of the breed. This means that the breed has not been improved. Gut sheep have a big genetic variation. The breeding standards emphasize breeding for all the breed specific characteristics and discourage breeding for or against specific characteristics.

There are around 1500 lambing Gute ewes in Sweden today in 107 flocks according to the Swedish sheep breeders’ association (2018).

The Gute sheep is a symbol of the island of Gotland. Gute ram parking barriers are a common sight in the medieval city of Visby in Gotland. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Wool characteristics

Gute wool has a wide variety of qualities, from very fine undercoat to black kemp. There is a wide variation between individuals and also over the body of one individual. This makes Gute sheep ideal for a small household. Go back a hundred years and see yourself as a small farmer with lots of different kinds of wool for lots of purposes from only a small flock of Gute sheep.

Gute wool has a long outer coat of around 40 micron, a very fine undercoat of around 17 micron and kemp. All these fiber types are present all over the fleece, but to varying degrees. The long and strong outer coat protects the sheep from wind and rain and the fine undercoat keeps the sheep warm. Kemp keeps the staple open and perpendicular to the body of the sheep. This protects the sheep even further from wind and rain and lets even more air in to the staple to keep the sheep warm. There is basically no crimp in the wool. The colour can vary over the body and over the staple.

Gute wool from one individual. The sheep has long and strong overcoat, fine undercoat and kemp over the whole body, but to varying degrees.
Gute wool from one individual. The sheep has long and strong overcoat, fine undercoat and kemp over the whole body, but to varying degrees.

Gute sheep have some primitive characteristics left, one of which being rooing. This means that they naturally shed their wool once a year, usually in the spring or early summer. The fiber thins out and eventually breaks to pave the way for a new fiber. The different fiber types are rooed at different times. A shepherd who knows this can choose to shear the sheep at a specific time depending on which fiber type is being rooed.

Processing

I like to find the superpowers of a fleece and take advantage of these when I prepare and spin it. When I wrote the article for Spin-off I played with different preparation and spinning methods to find the best yarn for the Gute fleece I had.

Since the kemp keeps the staples open, Gute wool is light. I wanted to keep this lightness in the yarn that I spun. I could comb the fiber to make a strong yarn, but when I tried that I just enhanced the coarseness of the wool and it felt more like rope. That may have made a wonderfully strong and rustic rug yarn, but that was not what I was after.

Sampling and swatching

Since the three different fiber types are depending on each other for their respective characteristics, I wanted to keep them together. Therefore I wanted to card them and spin a woolen yarn. For extra lightness I wanted to spin with low twist and 2-ply it. This resulted in a very pleasant sample with a rustic feeling. Below are the samples I made for the Spin-off arcticle. The felted swatch comes from a 10×10 cm woven sample. I love how the yarn felted – very evenly and with a nice touch to it.

Samples and swatches of Gute wool.
Samples and swatches of Gute wool.

Flicking tips

To tease the wool before carding I flick carded the tip and cut ends. When I looked at the staples after flick carding I saw something interesting. I found a lot less kemp in the flicked staples, especially at the cut end. A lot of kemp was stuck in the flick card.

After flick carding the staples a lot of the kemp was left in the flick card.
After flick carding the staples a lot of the kemp was left in the flick card.

This means that the kemp alone had been shed. If you look at the picture above with all the staples in length order you can see the shedding point (the rise) at around 2 cm from the cut end.

In a previous blog post I used my combs to tease the locks before carding. I think using combs for teasing would take away too much of the fine undercoat. By using the flick card I only open up the staples and remove some of the kemp.

Rise and yield

So, the cut end of the kemp was now in the flick card. Left in the staple was the rooed end and the tip end, both thinly tapered rather than straight angle cut. This means that my yarn would be less itchy than a Gute yarn with the cut ends in the yarn. How come? Well, a yarn is itchy if it makes the skin yield to the fiber. If instead the fiber yields to the surface of the skin, the yarn doesn’t itch. Since the kemp ends are thinly tapered, the fibers will yield to the skin. By all means, this is still a rustic yarn that is more itchy than, say, a merino yarn, but the yarn I spun is surprisingly comfortable against my skin.

Carding

After having flicked the staples I carded rolags. Gute wool is wonderful to card, It feels light and airy, but still rustic. There is sort of a fudge-like feeling to carding Gute wool – slow but still smooth. I did use the wrong hand cards, though. Since I card mostly fine wools I have a pair of 108 tpi (teeth per square inch) cards. I contacted my supplier, but the 72 tpi cards were out of stock. The 108 tpi cards are not ideal for Gute wool, but they do a decent enough job.

I carded the flicked staples and made rolags. Photo by Isak Waltin.
I carded the flicked staples and made rolags.

There was a lot of kemp waste on the floor after I had carded the flicked staples. The kemp has quite a prominent medulla (the central core of the fiber, consisting of air-filled cells) and therefore breaks easily.

Ok, my 16-year-old just read this post over my shoulder and was convinced I had made half of the words up. He basically rofl-ed.

How I card

To load the stationary card, I just gently pull them onto the teeth of the card. I gently stroke the wool with the active card. I make 6 strokes for each pass, transfer the wool and make another two passes. I roll the carded batt off the stationary card and make a rolag with the help of the back of my hand. One final roll of between the cards and a baby rolag is born.

Newborn Gute rolags.
Newborn Gute rolags.

If you want to dive into carding, here is a video where I card rolags, start at 4:12.

Spinning

Spinning Gute wool in the morning sun. Photo by Isak Waltin.
Spinning Gute wool in the morning sun. Photo by Isak Waltin.

I wanted a yarn that had as much air as possible in it. I also wanted a yarn that would resemble the function of the wool on the sheep as much as possible – strong and durable, yet still light and airy. Therefore I spun the carded rolags with longdraw at a low ratio for a low twist yarn. The longdraw captures a lot of air between the fibers and the low twist makes sure the air isn’t squeezed out in a tight twist.

2-ply yarn of Gute wool, spun with longdraw from hand-carded rolags.
2-ply yarn of Gute wool, spun with longdraw from hand-carded rolags.

I got the result I wanted – a remarkably light and airy yarn that is still strong and has a really rustic feeling.

A quick comparison with Gotland wool

Let’s go back a few steps here. Remember I told you that Gute sheep and Gotland sheep have the same mother, the horn sheep? The breeding of Gotland sheep was aimed at pretty skins with lots of shiny outercoat and very little undercoat. This makes Gotland wool very dense. Aiming to find the superpowers of a wool, I spun the Gotland wool into a shiny, dense and thin yarn and the Gute wool into a light, strong and rustic yarn.

Below are the Gute and Gotland yarns side by side. They are the same length and the same weight. Gute wool has a lot more undercoat than Gotland wool, but still less undercoat than outercoat. The kemp helps keeping the Gute yarn open and airy.

Gute and Gotland yarn. Both are around 100 m and 45 g.
Gute and Gotland yarn. Both are around 100 m and 45 g.

Looking at these two skeins makes me wonder if the breeds have anything to do with each other at all. But they do. And the picture tells me that it is possible to find the superpowers of a fleece and make them truly shine in a yarn.

Use

I used the Gotland wool in a project that would show the shine and the drape of the yarn. With Gute wool I want to enhance the sturdiness, the lightness and the warmth.

Knitted swatch of Gute yarn.
Knitted swatch of Gute yarn.

While the Gute yarn knits up evenly and very appealing, I was really intrigued by its felting abilities.

A woven and felted swatch from Gute wool.
A woven and felted swatch from Gute wool.

The Gute fleece I bought consists of many qualities and lengths. Dividing the fleece to suit different purposes is appealing. But my plan now is to spin it all up like I have with this first skein and weave a simple tabby pattern. I want to take advantage of the splendid felting abilities and full the fabric into a vadmal material, hopefully in a fulling mill. I can’t imagine I will get enough fulled fabric for a jacket, but perhaps a vest! With handsewn buttonholes. Wouldn’t that be something?

Live webinar!

This Saturday, May 25th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Gute wool from a spinner’s perspective. I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Gute wool. I will use my Gute fleece as a case study and show you glimpses of how I process the wool.

This is a chance for me to meet you (in the chat at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The previous live breed study webinar I did was a great success. I can’t wait to see 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. So register now!

The event has passed


Happy spinning!


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Flicking tips

A ball of wool

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

The fleece

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

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

Lanoliny tips

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

Experiment: Flicked vs unflicked tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other ways to use a flick card

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

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

Do you use your flick card for other purposes?

Tech stuff

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

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

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