Happy hands

Crafting hands are happy hands.

Lately I have thought a lot about crafting and what it does to people, and for people. A long time ago people crafted out of necessity, to clothe their families and keep them safe. I craft because I want to, but also because my hands and my brain need to. Crafting gives me happy hands, heart and brain. In that sense I craft out of necessity too, but perhaps for different reasons. What would happen if we didn’t craft or didn’t even learn how tho craft?

Last weekend I taught a class in floor supported Navajo style spinning. I am always very excited about teaching live. The anticipation is high – what will I learn from my students this time? My heart sings when I get to take part of a student’s learning process. It sings just as much when I learn about how my students learn, only in a different key.

My spindles take the bus to the spinning class. Floor supported spindles by Björn Peck.
My spindles take the bus to the spinning class. Floor supported spindles by Björn Peck (and one from Roosterick).

A crafting classroom is a beautiful place to be in, both physically and mentally. It is filled with makers and creators. People who learn about a craft and who learn through the craft.

The crafting bubble

A few years ago I attended a crafting leadership course. We met once a month with a new theme and a new craft. Once the theme, the technique and the materials had been presented, total silence spread through the room. Every student was in their craft and in their crafting. I call it the crafting bubble. I am sure you all have been there. When time and space disappears and all focus is on the material in your hands and the process of making.

One of the students is transferring her yarn from the upper to the lower cop.
One of this weekend’s students is transferring the spun yarn from the upper to the lower cop.

The course I taught this weekend was no exception. After every introduction to a new topic or technique all you could hear was the buzz of the spindle tips against the bowls on the floor. It is a comforting silence. The silence of creativity and peace.

A second bubble

While there is a crafting bubble around the person crafting I often experience a second crafting bubble when I teach or otherwise craft with other people. Sooner or later there will be a conversation in the room. I find these conversations gentle and loving. I believe crafting does that to people. Crafting to me is peaceful. It’s like there is a mutual understanding of the good of crafting. The air and the thoughts are safe to breathe. I usually hold the conversations of this second crafting bubble close to my heart. I get to take part in other people’s lives and loves. It is a beautiful place.

One of my students was a total beginner. This was the very first yarn he carded and spun.
One of my students was a total beginner. I don’t think he had never held a spinning tool in his hands before. This was the very first yarn he carded and spun.

Empowerment through crafting

I feel rich when I spin. I can make something useful with my hands. There are so many things we take for granted. Things we can easily buy. But in making things I feel a sense of empowerment – I can make things that are useful. In case of disaster I can clothe my family and keep my loved ones warm. I believe this feeling of empowerment through crafting is a feeling everybody should be able to feel at least once in their life. The feeling of some sort of self sufficiency through their hands, some simple tools and natural materials.

Crafting in school

Crafting, or slöjd, (sloyd, one of the few Swedish loanwords in English) is a subject that was was established in the Swedish school system in 1878 and is still a mandatory subject. Until 1962 girls learned textile crafts and boys wooden crafts, but since then all children learn both soft and hard crafts. The word slöjd actually comes from the word slug, which means sly, skilled or handy. Sloyd is smart. Can someone please print a T-shirt with that sentence?

Every now and then debates about the existence of this school subject emerge. Why spend time sewing and carving when you can focus on more important subjects like history or maths? This iss a common argument. But what would happen if we didn’t learn how to make things, how to mend, create or see the potential in a piece of cloth or wood? How would our brains look if we didn’t nurture what I believe is an inherent need to create with our hands? In 2018 a doctor concluded that the medical students’ dexterity in stitching up patients had decreased significantly during the past few years. He believed the reason to be too much swiping and too little fine motor crafting skills. Again, sloyd is smart.

From fluff to stuff

There is something special about following the process from a natural material, through a transformation and all the way to a useful item. The craft in progress, from the roots in the ground underneath a spruce or birch to a finished basket, from the newly shorn wool to a knitted garment (perhaps to put in the basket). To see the change in shape and fashion through your own hands. Watch the pile of shavings below the carving knife grow and a loom bar take shape. To know that I can make that transformation happen right there, in and with my hands. This helps me understand and respect the material and the knowledge of the maker of a hand crafted item.

I find this process especially magical when I use the most simple tools. A spindle to create yarn, a backstrap loom made of hand carved sticks to weave. There is a special kind of closeness to the craft and the crafting when my body is part of the process. The way I control speed and tension of the spindle with my hands and how my body is part of the backstrap loom. It reminds me that the craft and the crafting is within me.

Happy hands

My hands are happy when they craft. My hands are in the craft just as much as the crafting is in my hands. I am in my happy hands. The making in my hands nurture my brain while the brain processes what is happening in the making. From hands to brain and back again. Crafting feels right. I can make things with my hands and I use the knowledge of making for good things.

Crafting hands are happy hands.
Crafting hands are happy hands.

I can see and feel the trace of the hand in the crafted material, the whisper of the natural material in my hand. A human touch of love in the item made. Crafting hands are happy hands.

Happy spinning!


[Course in Sweden]

Det finns fortfarande platser kvar på min femdagarskurs Spinn ullens bästa garn på Sätergläntan i midsommarveckan.

Kom och dyk ner i ullen med mig!


You can find me in several social media:

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

Fulling singles

For the past couple of months I have been spinning singles on a floor supported Navajo style spindle for knitting. When knitting with singles yarns the fabric may bias. Sometimes you want the bias for artistic reasons, but in my project I don’t. Instead I play with fulling singles.

I love spinning singles on my floor supported spindles. Typically I have used my singles as weft yarns in weaving project, and the energy in the yarn hasn’t made any difference in the woven textile.

Unbiased

This summer I bought Nancy Marchant’s Tuck stitches where all the samples were knit in singles. I totally fell for the structure and the stitch definition in the fabric and knew I wanted to challenge myself and experiment with a singles yarn in a knitted fabric. There are basically three solutions if you don’t want the yarn to bias:

  • You can use a balanced knitting pattern that prevents the bias, like ribbing, basketweave, garter stitch or moss stitch.
  • You can full the yarn
  • Also, you can knit alternately with yarns spun in different directions.

Fulling solutions

Come to think of it, I actually did all three, but for the purpose of this post I will focus on the fulling part. In Sarah Anderson’s book The spinner’s book of yarn designs I read that fulling is a light form of felting. The fibers in the yarn stick together and are prevented from living their energized selves. The singles will thereby calm down. Bonuses are that they will also be stronger and less prone to pilling than their unfulled equivalent.

Unfulled singles.
Unfulled singles.

There are few ways you can full your yarn. The three methods I have heard of are

  • steaming in a steamer. You put the yarn in a steamer and watch closely.
  • steaming with an iron. With this method you can hold a steaming iron above the skein still on the niddy noddy. This is perfect for warp yarn that you may want to stay reasonably straight.
  • shocking in hot and cold water.

What wools to full?

Before I write about my fulling process I will mention a few words about what wools to full. Not every type of woo fulls. Usually, what is generally called meat breeds and meat breed crosses don’t do a very good job of fulling. Others full when you glance sideways at them. Like the Värmland wool I used for this project. It has felted in the cut ends just by having been placed in a paper bag in my sofa bed together with other bags of wool. In this project I salute the fulling characteristics (after having cursed for a bit).

Noisy wool and pine cones

My favorite wool oracle Kia recently told me that you can listen to the wool to determine its felting possibilities before you actually try felting it. “Come on”, you may say, “you talk about listening to the wool all the time!” That is very true, but Kia means really listen. Orally.

Pine cones help explaining the scales on different kinds of wools. The old and rustling wools have scales that point outward. They catch on to each other for drafting but not enough for felting. The young and silent wools have scales that are snug to the fiber. These wools are champion welters.
Pine cones help explaining the scales on different kinds of wools. The old and rustling wools have scales that point outward. They catch on to each other for drafting but not enough for felting. The young and silent wools have scales that are snug to the fiber. These wools are champion welters.

Typically (and surely with exceptions) meat breeds and meet breed crosses rustle if you hold them by the ear and squeeze a bit. Other wools, like Swedish landrace and heritage breeds, are totally silent. Kia explains that on the noisy fibers the scales are pointing outwards, like ripe pine cones. That makes the wool easy to spin, but the felting abilities are not top notch since the scales don’t catch onto each other deep enough. The silent wools on the other hands, are like young pine cones with the scales close to the fiber. When agitated or shocked they close down, catching on to each other for dear life. Again, with exceptions from these examples.

Fulling singles

Until now I haven’t fulled yarn on purpose, so I just picked a method and fulled until I liked the result. I didn’t make any tests really, but followed my gut and dived headfirst into the full (pun very much intended) experience.

Shocking

I decided to shock my yarn in hot and cold water. Mainly because it seemed like the easiest way. After washing the yarn I filled two bowls with water – one with the hottest tap water (55 °C in this case) and the other with the coldest tap water (12°C). I read that some people filled the cold water bowl with ice cubes. Both methods seem to work well. The abrupt change in temperature shocks the wool and starts the felting process.

I am sure there are ways to microscopically determine a certain degree of fulling before you can actually see it. To make things easy for myself I just decided to go slow and trust my eyes and my hands in touching the yarn.

The strands in the right skein are still free to move while the strands in the left skein have started to catch on to each other.
The strands in the right skein are still free to move while the strands in the left skein have started to catch on to each other.

I simply put the skeins in one bowl, lifted, gently squeezed out the water and lowered it down in the other bowl. Back and forth until I noticed a difference. What I went for was what I had seen when I had previously accidentally felted skeins while dyeing. If this has never ever happened to you I will explain: The thing I look for is when the strands are no longer completely free to move around.

As soon as one skein was fulled to the degree I describe above I lifted it out of the water. The smallest skeins were faster to felt while the larger ones took a bit longer.

In the microscope

Writing about this actually inspires me to look at the yarn in my loupe. On the pictures below you can see that the fibers in the unfulled yarn (left) are looser in the spin. The fibers in the fulled yarn (right) are more compact in the yarn.

So what happened?

Looking at all my fulled skeins hanging to dry made me a bit nervous. It’s not like you can change your mind about fulling. It sort of sticks. What if I had felted all of them?

To find out I reskeined the fulled skeins after they had dried. The strands did stick together a bit, but no yarn was broken or damaged during the process. The reskeining also gave me the opportunity to calculate the new length after fulling. Out of the 15 skeins I fulled most shrunk only one meter (about 1 % of the total length), one shrunk around 3 meters.

I am very happy with my fulled yarn. The skeins look and feel equally fulled and work well in my knitting project. They yarn feels like it has a body – well rounded and strong. I trust that it will not break, despite its singleness. It is a pleasure to knit and doesn’t split.

Fulled singles with lovely stitch definition in a tuck stitch pattern.
Fulled singles with lovely stitch definition in a tuck stitch pattern.

Going back to that book with the single yarn samples I admired so much I think this yarn has potential to become something really lovely.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

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

A coloured fleece

Sport weight single yarn of four shades of brown from Pax's fleece. Spun from hand carded rolags on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 100 meters, 44 grams. 2270 m/kg. Can I keep this for cuddling?

A year ago I bought a coloured fleece at a fleece market. Or two, actually. One brown and one grey. I didn’t mean to, but they called my name and there was nothing I could do. Today I sort the brown Värmland fleece and dive into its depths.

I have a soft spot for coloured fleeces. In online courses and webinars I usually work with white wool since it shows better on camera (at least with my limited photo skills). But a coloured fleece has a whole new dimension to dive in to.

Pax, a coloured fleece

The diversity of the coloured fleece is what lures me to dive deep and lose myself in the shades. Not only are there spots of different colours, but the tip and the cut ends can be different in colour, as can the undercoat and outercoat. There is so much to discover.

A brown Värmland fleece of many shades.
A brown Värmland fleece of many shades.

Walnut, hazel, driftwood and umber

I decide to sort the locks of the Värmland sheep Pax’s fleece into piles of different colours. I start roughly by picking out all the darker walnut staples I can find. They are disappearingly soft and quite short, some seemingly too short to spin. They seem to consist of mostly undercoat. Perhaps they have grown around Pax’s neck.

Four shades of Pax's fleece – walnut, driftwood, hazel and umber.
Four shades of Pax’s fleece – umber, driftwood, hazel and walnut.

I also find two shades of grayish brown – light hazel and slightly darker driftwood. Both colour staples are silky soft and have bleached tips. The fibers are not as fine as the walnut fibers, but for some reason these lighter coloured staples feel silkier. Perhaps because I don’t expect it. The different feel of the piles give me a hint that the colours will feel different to draft. I need to keep that in mind when I spin.

The different coloured staples of Pax's fleece are different in texture.
The different coloured staples of Pax’s fleece are also different in texture.

The driftwood pile grows larger and larger and I sort it again to look for more shades. I find something of a mix between the driftwood and the walnut. Umber, perhaps. I could probably go on and find more fractions of colours. However, for the project I have in mind I want some distinction between the shades and I am happy with my colour quartet.

New dimensions

When I look at the staples I see that there are still more colours than the four I have sorted out. There are different colour fibers in each staple. Most of the walnut staples are solid walnut, but the others sparkle of different shades. This brings even more depth in the wool and in the yarn I have planned.

The outercoat of the different colours look darker in all four cases.
The outercoat of the different colours look darker than the undercoat in all four cases. The hazel undercoat (bottom right) seem to still have at least two colours even after the separation.

Even though the staples feel a bit different from pile to pile, the distribution of undercoat and outercoat seem fairly similar – a lot of airy undercoat and a few strands of strong outercoat. For this reason I would say that most of the staples are of vadmal type according to the Swedish tradition of classifying staple types.

Vadmal type staples like these with mostly airy undercoat and a few strands of outercoat make perfect carding candidates – the crimpy and unruly undercoat fibers will help building air pockets in the rolags and the longer and stronger outercoat fibers will marry them together, creating a reliable reinforcement in the midst of the cuddly soft.

Colour scheme

I separate the colours because I want to show them one by one. To do that I need to find a combination that doesn’t blur them all together. I play and move around until I land in harmony. Walnut, hazel, umber, driftwood and back to walnut.

I use my combing station to tease one pile at a time. In this process I get a first idea of how each colour drafts. A lot of the walnut staples are very short and there is a lot of waste in this pile (which is also the smallest pile). I suspected that when I sorted the staples. The difference between the hazel and the driftwood is very small, but they are still somewhat distinct between the walnut and the umber.

Yarn of a coloured fleece

I want to make the colours the stars of the yarn I spin from Pax’s fleece. No fuss, no fancy, just a single strand of yarn, moving from shade to shade.

Walnut, driftwood, umber and hazel.
Walnut, driftwood, umber and hazel.

My favourite tool for spinning singles is the floor supported Navajo style spindle. With this tool I have a good overview and control of the spinning right in front of me. I see every potential lump and have the opportunity to open up the twist to smooth it out. I never want to stop. This tool is the perfect companion to the colour quartet. Every rolag amazes me – the depth of the colours is truly mesmerizing.

Long draws

The floor supported spindle also gives me the opportunity to make long, smooth longdraws that just melt in my hand like butter. Again, I never want to stop. Rolling the shaft against my thigh charges the rolag with twist. I make the draw. Long, smooth, slow. Like syrup. I watch the draft closely, to find when the thickness is exactly right. I slack the strand to control the twist and roll the yarn onto the shaft.

Sport weight single yarn of four shades of brown from Pax's fleece. Spun from hand carded rolags on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 100 meters, 44 grams. 2270 m/kg. Can I keep this for cuddling?
Sport weight single yarn of four shades of brown from Pax’s fleece. Spun from hand carded rolags on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 100 meters, 44 grams. 2270 m/kg. Can I keep this for cuddling?

The colours pass by my eyes rolag by rolag. I get to spend time with each section of browns, one at a time. When I have finished one rolag I butterfly it onto my spinning hand and transfer it to the lower cop. Again, the colours wind onto the cop in an ever changing spiral.

My heart sings as I see the cop build up of a thousand strands of brown. No spinning mill can separate the colours of a fleece like this – they would spin a solid oatmeal. I sort and spin for colours because it is possible for me as a hand spinner. Because I can.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

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

Changing hands

Two skeins, one spun clockwise with my right hand as spindle hand, one spun counter-clockwise with my left hand as spindle hand. By changing hands I have learned about what the hands do and what they know.

When I teach spinning on different types of spindles I always urge my students to learn to spin with both hands. Mainly this is for ergonomic reasons, but there are other valuable benefits in changing hands as well.

Pushing and pulling

A few years ago I learned how to spin on an in-hand style, or grasped, spindle. I experienced pain in the ball of my thumb and asked a physiotherapist why. As a leftie, I was spinning with my left hand as a spindle hand. I wanted to spin a clockwise (Z) single and thus spun clockwise with my left hand. The fingers then push the spindle shaft outward. The physiotherapist told me that we have twice as many muscle governing muscles pulling things toward the body compared to muscles pushing things away. One example of this is rowing. When the oars are in the heavy water you pull them against you and when they are in the light air you push them away.

When I was spinning clockwise with my left hand I was pushing the spindle shaft away from my hand and straining the base of my thumb.

You can read more about these ideas in this post and watch and listen to this webinar. With a focus on supported spindle spinning I have written an article about flicking with direction and ergonomics in mind in the Supported spindle issue of PLY magazine.

A magazine cover with a person spinning on a supported spindle. She is holding the yarn in the left hand and the fiber in the right. A title across the image says The flick.
In this picture I spin counter-clockwise with my left hand as spinning hand on a supported spindle. Spindle by Björn Peck.

Spinning ergonomically with different spindle types

  • I usually set a suspended spindle in motion by rolling the shaft up my thigh. To spin clockwise I pull the shaft up my right thigh with my right hand. To spin counter-clockwise I I pull the shaft up my left thigh with my left hand.
  • On an in-hand spindle the pushing and pulling has the most impact. This is where I originally strained the base of my thumb. I pull the shaft into my right hand for clockwise spinning and I pull the shaft into my left hand for counter-clockwise spinning.
  • For a supported spindle I do the same as with the in-hand spindle – I pull the shaft into my right hand for clockwise spinning and I pull the shaft into my left hand for counter-clockwise spinning.
  • When I spin on a floor supported Navajo style spindle I roll the shaft up my right thigh for clockwise spinning and I roll the shaft up my left thigh for counter-clockwise spinning.

Relearning

When I understood the concept of pushing and pulling I decided to relearn – to spin clockwise only with my right hand and counter-clockwise with my left hand. It took me a while to learn to spin with my right hand, but with daily practice it worked. Relearning like this gave me a huge aha moment – in my wobbly attempts at ballet dancing the supported spindle in what had thus far been my “wrong” hand I recognized the struggle my students went through in learning the fine motor skills needed for supported spindle spinning. It was a valuable lesson that I don’t want to be without. Learning through your mistakes is a very powerful and valuable gift.

Teaching

I also decided to teach my students to learn to spin with both hands as spindle hands and, more importantly, why. As a teacher I think it is my responsibility to teach my students to listen to their bodies and make adjustments to spin as comfortably as possible. Changing hands when changing spinning direction is an important part of this.

Most of my students have muttered initially, but most of them have welcomed the idea of changing hands and seen the benefits of it.

Sooner or later they will want to ply their yarn or spin in the other direction for a special purpose. Then they will have no trouble changing hands and directions and spin the yarn they desire. Without strain.

A quick survey

I asked four of my former students if they still practice what I taught them about spinning direction. All of them practice my ideas of pushing and pulling and thus spin clockwise with their right hand and counter-clockwise with their left hand. Two of them fully on all spindle types and two of them mainly on supported spindles. “That way I can spin for a longer time”, one of them said. And that is what we all want, isn’t it?

Practice what I preach

I have practiced the idea of changing hands for supported, suspended and in-hand style spinning since I learned about the concept of muscles for pushing and pulling. When it comes to floor supported Navajo style spinning I haven’t taken the opportunity to relearn, though. All the yarns I have spun with my floor supported spindle have been clockwise, with my right hand (as it is the way I learned originally). I have spun them as single weft yarns in weaving and haven’t had a project where I needed a counter-clockwise spun yarn. Until now.

I am spinning for a project where I want to knit with two contrasting colour singles – one clockwise spun and one counter-clockwise spun. And I realized that it was time for me to practice what I preach in this spinning technique too.

A wobbly start

It is fascinating how odd it feels to change hands. Even though both hands have important tasks – of managing yarn and of managing fiber – it feels peculiarly odd to change. At the same time, rolling the shaft outwards on my thigh would feel even more odd.

So I started the adventure of learning to spin counter-clockwise with my left hand as spinning hand. Setting the shaft in motion on a floor supported spindle is easy. Just a flat hand held lightly against the shaft that is leaning against your thigh, and pull the hand inwards. It was the wobbliest flat hand I have ever seen! And with my dominant hand! I couldn’t pull my flat hand properly against my thigh. In the other end, my right hand didn’t know what to do with the rolag.

A new understanding

When I sat there with these seemingly easy tasks I started wondering what was really happening. I am an intermediate to advanced spinner and I know what the hands do. I believe in the concept of pushing and pulling and teach the concept of changing hands for a reason.

The hands listen to the wool and cooperate in opening up the twist to get the thickness of the yarn I want.

What I realized was that my hands know what to do, but without necessarily telling each other what was going on and without telling my brain what they were doing. Since I wanted to spin two identical yarns, however in different directions, I needed to understand the steps I was taking in the clockwise yarn and translate that into the counter-clockwise yarn. The right hand had to tell the left hand how to roll the shaft. The left hand had to tell the right hand how to make the draft and handle the fiber. I had never done that before. I needed to translate and transfer the knowledge of my hands to each other and to my brain.

Things I noticed:

  • When building up the twist in the fiber, I wasn’t giving the shaft the same thigh-rolling force with my left hand. This resulted in less twist and a thinner and/or weaker yarn.
  • I didn’t trust the fibers to do their thing with the counter-clockwise yarn. Instead I made the draw shorter than with my clockwise spun yarn and fiddled a lot with thick and thin spots.
  • My fiber hand in the counter-clockwise yarn didn’t understand what to do with the semi-spun yarn that I usually store in the fiber hand until I have finished the whole stretch of yarn.

Studying and comparing what my hands were doing in the clockwise spun yarn and what they did in the counter-clockwise spun yarn taught me a lot about the spinning process. The hands need to listen to the wool, but also to each other. When the hands were new to a task they didn’t have the capacity to listen. They were far too busy to learn the basic technique.

After a lot of practice, trial and error I can produce yarns that are quite similar when changing hands.
After a lot of practice, trial and error I can produce yarns that are quite similar when changing hands. Spindles by Roosterick.

With the knowledge of what the hands know, but not necessarily tell each other or the brain, I believe even more in teaching both hands to work as both spinning hand and fiber hand. That way I give the brain a chance to understand a task with the sensory input from both hands. If I add to that an analysis of what it is the hands are actually doing I believe I can understand the spinning process more fully. By learning I will understand better how to teach.

Two skeins, one spun clockwise with my right hand as spindle hand, one spun counter-clockwise with my left hand as spindle hand. By changing hands I have learned about what the hands do and what they know.
Two skeins, one spun clockwise with my right hand as spindle hand, one spun counter-clockwise with my left hand as spindle hand. By changing hands I have learned about what the hands do and what they know.

Conclusions

Changing hands when spinning is a valuable gift you can give yourself. Not only to spin with ergonomics in mind, but also to better understand what it is that the spinning hand and fiber hand are actually doing. I am a firm believer that the knowledge of both tasks in both hands will lead to a deeper understanding of the spinning process on a higher level. With the knowledge of both tasks in both hands I trust that 1+1=3.

Challenge yourself

Does this sound reasonable to you? Do you want to start practicing changing hands? Here are a few challenges you can treat yourself to as a start:

  • Change hands and spinning direction. Practice a little every day.
  • Try to find out what it is you actually do with your usual hand, as spinning hand and as fiber hand. Teach your other hand to do the same.
  • Spin two yarns, one with each hand (and in each direction). Try to spin them as similar to each other as you can.
  • Create a project where you need yarns spun in both directions. Either spinning and plying or with two singles in different directions.

You can do this with a spinning wheel too. Just practice changing your front (orifice) hand and your back (fiber) hand. It can be quite tricky too.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

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

Little ball of yarn

I wanted to spin a yarn that would tell its own story. Raw. Naked. With nothing to hide. Just present itself in its own splendour, on its own merits. This yarn of mine, this little ball of yarn, is a tribute to the wool it was made of.

You know when you happen to go to a fleece market with no intention of buying and you find yourself leaving the place with five bags of fleece? I’m sure you do know. This happened a year ago on the Kil sheep festival, Fårfest i Kil, just weeks before Covid hit Sweden on a larger scale.

Pax

Little ball of yarn. Once soft staples of wooly locks, with gentle swirls in their tips. Peaceful, just like the ewe from which they were shorn: Pax. Peace. Such a suitable name for such sweet curls. My hands can’t resist, can’t help touching – sparkling, giggling, electrified by the joy of soft sheepness. In a paper bag filled with peace and love.

In a corner of the fleece market at the festival I found a sheep farmer who had wool from her Värmland sheep. Large paper bags with sheep’s names and fleece weights written across the brown, coarse structure of the bags. I had all the wool I needed, but what’s the harm in just peeking at the fleeces? Perhaps cuddling with some staples?

Sweet staples of Pax's Värmland locks in shades of brown.
Sweet staples of Pax’s Värmland locks in shades of brown.

I peeked with one eye, then the other. One hand into the bag and, without warning, the other. Peeking into the bag labeled Pax. Just a little. And a little more. A billowing mass of brown staples emerged from the depths of the containers, flooding my hands. Singing, luring, calling my name. Come, come, feel how soft, look at my colour range and curly swirly tips!

Colours and textures

Little ball of yarn. From staples in every possible shape, wave and manner. Strike a pose, do your thing. And the colours. Oh, the colours. I dive into the spectrum of a fleece in all shades of brown. Rosy hazel, misty driftwood and solid walnut. On a closer look, all the colour segments in their own shape and manner. Matte, yet shiny. Subtle, yet vivid. Shy, yet bold.

I have a soft spot for coloured fleeces. Most coloured wool from the Swedish heritage breeds display a wide array of shades from light to dark. And with that, often different textures to different colours over the body of the sheep. Another dimension to explore and loose myself in.

Hazel, driftwood and walnut. All part of Pax's fleece.
Hazel, driftwood and walnut. All part of Pax’s fleece.

I decide to explore the colours of Pax’s fleece. Brown is just a collective name here, there are several nuances to dive in to. From the lightest latte to the darkest walnut. Some solid and some built up of a range of shades. All bringing depth and a longing to see more. The different coloured staples have different texture and appearance. All soft, but differently so. Soft is just so insufficient a word here. How do you describe staples that are soft in different ways? I want a range of descriptives here, a candy store of epithets of softness to choose from! I don’t drink wine, I do wool. So give me the range of ways to articulate wool the way a wine taster does wine.

Round and round

Little ball of yarn. I call your name. But what is your name? How do I make you justice? How do I mirror your soul in a yarn? I want you to shine in all your sheephood. Raw. Simple. Naked. Still elegant. Honest. Safe. The colours displayed, yet the fibers blended into one United Roundedness. Yes, now I know your name.

I choose to card rolags from the sorted colours. Such lovely acquaintances, all of them. Through the cards I get to know the characteristics of each colour. The whispering, almost escaping walnut. Perhaps better matched with finer cards. The hazel somewhat unruly. Driftwood staples mature and kind. Still, all comform into round rolag cylinders, built by a tight collaboration between the fibers and the air between them.

I'm spinning singles on a floor supported Navajo style spindle.
I’m spinning singles on a floor supported Navajo style spindle.

I see before me a singles yarn. Round. Simple. Consistent. A yarn that says it just how it is, with no ulterior motive, nothing to hide.

My favourite tool for a singles yarn is the floor supported Navajo style spindle. With this spindle I get to stretch and allow space to the draft. The long draw from my lap to the tip of my outstretched fiber hand. I love the way the technique allows me to use my whole body while spinning.

The dance

Little ball of yarn. How sweet a spin, a dance to make you shine. In one end flat hand, mindfully rolling the shaft, allowing it to twirl from tip to tip. In the other a closed hand, holding the wooly treasure, like a baby bird. Gently, gently. The strand between, conveying the message between the hands, like a tin can phone between the closest of friends. Hands following to the wool through the yarn, leaning in, listening to the whisper of the wool.

Spinning on a floor supported Navajo style spindle is like performing a choreographed dance. Photo by Dan Waltin
Spinning on a floor supported Navajo style spindle is like performing a choreographed dance. Photo by Dan Waltin

Spinning on a floor supported Navajo style spindle is a joy. I love how fast the yarn spins up, how I get to use my whole body in the process and how my hands need to really listen to the yarn and cooperate to perform the dance choreographed by the strand between them. Through spinning with this tool I get to more fully understand how the draft goes into the twist and how I can open up the twist to manipulate the semi-spun yarn in the direction I want it.

This particular wool is light and cooperative. Listening to it is easy and joyful. While the different colour rolags don’t work exactly the same I can still adapt the spinning so that they come out in the same manner in the yarn.

A skein aswirl

Little ball of yarn. So full of energy. spiraling here, swirling there. Charged with spinning spirit, never still, ever moving. A hot and cold dip will relax, ease and slacken. Allow stillness and peace in the whirl. The twist from the dance is forever trapped in the strand. Where did it go? What else has changed?

Knitting with energized yarns like singles presents some interesting challenges – unless you knit a balanced pattern (like garter stitch or rib) there is a good chance the knitted fabric will end up biased.

A fulled skein of Värmland wool singles.
A fulled skein of Värmland wool singles.

I decide to full the yarn by shocking it. In the fulling process, which can be seen as a light felting, the scales in the fibers catch on to each other, tightening up the yarn slightly and calming the energy down. I dipped the skein in hot and cold water until I saw that the strands in the skein had started to grab on to each other. Värmland wool does tend to felt. Instead of seeing this characteristic as a threat I allowed it to become a superpower to help me calm the energy down.

Little ball of yarn

Little ball of yarn. The strand light as a feather, sweetly wrapped around my thumb, keeping it safe. Layer by layer wound onto the ball, becoming the ball. The clarity of the single strand, the combination of colours, invite me to follow a sole fiber. Round and round individually, yet holding on in a wooly togetherness, streams of air in between.

A finished little ball of yarn. Värmland wool hand carded into rolags and spun with long draw on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 12-ish wpi. 11 grams, 36 meters, 3234 m/kg before fulling.
A finished little ball of yarn. Värmland wool hand carded into rolags and spun with long draw on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 12-ish wpi. 11 grams, 36 meters, 3234 m/kg before fulling.

And so it is here. My little ball of yarn. Only a simple sample of 11 little grams, still filled with hopes and dreams of a fabric, a design, a garment. A soft promise of a continued crafting adventure. My hands tingle to knit with it. At the same time I am reluctant to pull the inner ends braid to ruin the perfectly imperfect little ball of yarn. I want to look at it, follow the strand, follow the fibers, imagine its future.

I twirl the little ball of yarn and loose myself in the sections of hazel, driftwood and walnut.
I twirl the little ball of yarn and loose myself in the sections of hazel, driftwood and walnut.

Eventually I do dare. I dare to pull. Out it comes, the light single, new to the world. Not too skinny, not too floofy, just perfectly airy and pert, my little strand of yarn. Ready to meet its future.

A precious promise

Little ball of yarn. A precious promise of a transformation in shape, texture and vision. I close my eyes and see the shades of brown change in the fabric, walnut, driftwood and hazel float like water colour rivers in a painting, moving fluidly across the surface, inviting the curious to follow its paths.

I spun this yarn to pair it with a white yarn spun the same way from the same breed, only spun in the other direction. The combination of clockwise and counter-clockwise will further balance the structure, together with the fulling. Also it will offer balance to me when I spin – I spin with my left hand counter-clockwise and my right hand clockwise to work as ergonomically as I can. Alternating the two spindles also helps me avoid overworking one arm.

A triple tuck stitch pattern with the shades of Pax's fleece between rows of sheepy white.
A triple tuck stitch pattern with the shades of Pax’s fleece between rows of sheepy white.

This past summer I bought Nancy Marchant’s book Tuck stitches and lost myself (again) in the beautiful spectrum of this fascinating technique with endless possibilities. I picked one. To me, the yarns and the pattern make the perfect match. Soft, squishy, like freshly made waffles.

I do have a design in mind, another companion to the yarns and the structure. I’m just not telling you about it yet. But I will. I just need to spin the rest of the fleeces first.

I think I’ll get the waffle iron out today.

Little ball of yarn. Thank you for allowing me to discover your soul, for fueling my creativity and for giving me peace.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

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