Gotland top

The short-rows didn't make the neckline as round as I had envisioned. I'm still practicing. Photo by Dan Waltin

I have nothing educational to offer you in today’s blog post. Instead I show you my latest finished fluff to stuff project – a Gotland top in my own design and handspun yarn from the Gotland sheep Sounnie.

Sounnie the Gotland top. Photo by Dan Waltin
Sounnie the Gotland top. Photo by Dan Waltin

Background

Those of you who have followed my blog the last few months have seen the wool before. It is the freakishly long locks of the Gotland lamb Sounnie that I wrote about in an article in the spring issue of Spin-off magazine and a blog post on Gotland wool a while ago. Some of you also attended the breed study webinar on Gotland wool where I demonstrated how I prepared, spun and used the wool. Those of you who attended the Gotland wool webinar also saw a glimpse of the yoke on the needles in the webinar.

Sounnie, a Gotland top

Gotland wool in general has a lot of shine, strength and drape, ad so did the fleece I had from the Gotland lamb Sounnie. I wanted to honour these main characteristics in both the yarn and the textile. I played with different preparations, spinning and textile techniques until I found a yarn that would give me the shine, strength and drape the fleece had on the sheep.

Design

Just as I did the yarn and the textile, I wanted my Gotland top to signal shine, strength and drape. I chose to knit a fitted raglan yoke and give the top drape below the bust line. I had a vision of sort of an early 19th century empire look – fitted bust, elbow-length sleeves with some flair and a drapey bodice. At the same time I wanted a sporty look to give it a more modern touch, hence the stripes.

The Sounnie top has a longer back piece and elbow-length sleeves with flair. Photo by Dan Waltin
The Sounnie top has a longer back piece and elbow-length sleeves with flair. Photo by Dan Waltin

The finished top didn’t turn out as drapey as I had envisioned (I am a beginner designer and learning knitting maths by trial and error), but I still like the result. And the longer back-piece adds a little drape. The neckline should have been rounder, I do need to practice my short-row neck shaping. Dan commented that the sweater looked a bit medieval, and I do agree. So a sporty empire medieval top with a square neck it is then!

Construction

The Gotland top has a top-down seamless construction. What may look like side seams are actually just a column of P2 to balance the front and the back and to give the side increases something to lean against.

What may look like a side seam is actually a column of P2 to balance the front and the back. Photo by Dan Waltin
What may look like a side seam is actually a column of P2 to balance the front and the back. Photo by Dan Waltin

Neckline, sleeve ends and hemline are knit in garter stitch. I used short row shaping (I now officially love German short rows!) in the hemline for a longer back piece. I love this detail and I managed to get the maths right from the beginning. Yay!

The little flair in the sleeve ends are just increases in one row. I wanted a flair or trumpet effect and not a frill. I tried two different varieties and I think I got the increase to stay on the right end of the thin frill border.

Flair – not frill. Photo by Dan Waltin
Flair – not frill. Photo by Dan Waltin

Challenges

There are lots of challenges on the winding road of beginner designing. But I learn a lot from every detour and every curve of the ride. All the things I learn are knit into the garment and form a map of what I have learned.

Knitting direction

I wanted to knit it bottom-up as it is – in my opinion – a lot easier to calculate the numbers bottom-up than top-down. But I wasn’t sure there would be enough yarn and I didn’t want to run out of yarn at the bustline. Better to have a garment too short at the bottom than at the top, wouldn’t you agree?

Short rows

As I mentioned above, I didn’t get the neckline the way I had envisioned. I do like the one I ended up with, but it does bother me that I didn’t get it rounder. I’ll have to investigate that for my next design. The yarn isn’t really forgiving. It is a 2-ply yarn and they tend to show holes and irregularities more than 3-ply yarns. The w&t short rows in the back neck show, but I’ll have to live with that. The German short rows on the lower back hem look very nice, though.

The short-rows didn't make the neckline as round as I had envisioned. I'm still practicing. Photo by Dan Waltin
The short-rows didn’t make the neckline as round as I had envisioned. I’m still practicing. Photo by Dan Waltin

Dyeing dilemma

Since I was unsure of how much yarn I would need I only dared to dye one skein for the stripes. And of course there was too little dyed yarn left when I got to the bottom hem. So I dyed a bit more, using the same dye lot, but since I’m not an experienced dyer, the colour didn’t exactly match the original colour. The three bottom rounds have a more yellow tone than the top three in the hemline. But I’m the only one who will see it. If nothing else, it is part of the story of a new design.


When you read this I will be away on the 2019 wool journey with my wool traveling club. I will report about the event in an upcoming post!


Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

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Gotland wool

In the spring 2019 issue of Spin-off magazine I wrote an article on sorting fleeces of Gute and Gotland wool. Some of you have asked for a breed study in Scandinavian sheep breeds. I think it’s a great idea and I will start today! I will 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. Today I will cover my thoughts on Gotland wool.

Next Saturday, April 13th at 5 pm CET I will host a live webinar where I share my thoughts and experiences on Gotland wool.

The Gotland sheep

The Gotland sheep is not one of the older Swedish sheep breeds. However, it is the most common breeds in Sweden.

The origin of the Gotland sheep is the Gute sheep. Gute sheep is a very old breed with a rustic fleece. I will cover the Gute sheep in more detail in a later post. In the 1920’s a program started to develop a breed that was good for meat and skins. The new breed was originally called Pälsfår (Fur sheep) to emphasize the use of the skins but was later changed to Gotland sheep to accommodate to a more international audience.

Today the Gotland sheep is the most common breed in Sweden. In 2018 there were 520 registered flocks of Gotland sheep with around 18000 ewes.

The breeding standards Gotland sheep include standards for meat production and skin quality. The goals for wool characteristics are primarily set for skin quality.

Wool characteristics

Newly shorn wool from a Gotland lamb

The first characteristic that comes to mind when looking at a Gotland fleece is the shine. Gotland wool has a beautiful shine in different shades of grey from medium to dark grey and black. The staples are shaped in a 3-dimensional curl. The wool has a uniformity across the fleece with a solid colour, lock characteristic and staple length. The fleece consists of mostly outercoat and very little undercoat.

Freakishly long Gotland wool. The staples are very dense.

These characteristics are very well suited for a beautiful skin. However, Gotland wool is not my favorite wool to spin. It is easy to be fooled by the beautiful silvery locks, but they can be deceptive.

  • Since there is so little undercoat and wave rather than crimp, the staples are very dense. This facilitates felting, especially at the cut end. Anyone who has shorn a Gotland sheep knows that this breed is a challenge to shear because of the dense fleece.
  • The shine in the locks makes a beautiful sheen in the finished yarn, but the fibers are also very slippery. You need to pay close attention to the fibers when you spin or you are running the risk of the fibers pulling apart. Swedish spinning mills have difficulties spinning pure Gotland wool for this reason. They usually blend Gotland wool with around 25% Swedish finewool.
  • The high percentage of outercoat makes the spinning less… cozy I would say. The fibers feel sort of coarse. The average Gotland fiber is around 40 micron.

With that said, this is my experience of Gotland wool in Sweden. As I understand it, Gotland wool in the U.K. and U.S. are usually softer.

Sounnie, a Gotland lamb

At the great sheep walk last year I suddenly saw her: A Gotland lamb with the sweetest curls: Sounnie. You can see a glimpse of her at 2:20 in this video about Överjärva farm where she lives with her flock. There are also purebred Gotland sheep in the video, the grey ones with black faces and legs.

Sounnie, a 75% Gotland, 25% Finewool lamb. Her overall characteristics is Gotland, though. The other three sheep are Swedish fine wool sheep.

She is 75% Gotland and 25% Swedish finewool, but the characteristics of her fleece is very Gotlandy, with unusually long staples (which doesn’t make sense at all since Finewool staples are around 5 cm/2 inches). I knew I needed her fleece when I saw her, even tough I am a bit reluctant towards Gotland wool. In September it was shearing day and I was there to harvest Sounnie’s sweet silver curls.

At the time I was writing the article for Spin-off and I only had time to make samples and swatches. It was wonderful to work with the newly shorn and freakishly long locks.

Samples and swatches from Sounnie’s fleece.

Processing

Just after Christmas I picked up where I had left Sounnie and started processing the locks. And I was shocked. Gone were the sweet curls and instead I found a tangled and very much felted mess. Just by being in a paper bag in my wool storage (aka the sofa bed) a lot of it had felted. But I wouldn’t let that stop me.

Gotland wool post sofa bed storage: More felted than shiny.

The natural way to attack the locks was to comb them. I had envisioned a thin yarn spun worsted from hand-combed tops. But since so much of the fleece had felted, combing was a big challenge. Combing straight off resulted in an uneven top that I had to struggle with. Even after five passes in the combs the top was uneven.

I tried flicking the staples and spin them individually from the cut end but that also resulted in an uneven yarn. So, as a middle step I flicked each individual staple and then combed them. This gave me the result I wanted. Ironically, a lot of the precious undercoat ended up in the flick card.

Since the locks are so dense I loaded the combs with only a few flicked locks. I landed at eight locks for my mini-combs. Anything more than that would require more muscle power than I had.

Flick-carding the staples before combing makes a much nicer combing experience.

The method with pre-flicking and then combing a limited number of flicked staples resulted in beautiful and even bird’s nests.

Flicked and combed Gotland top.

Spinning

Since Gotland wool is so dense, it also has lots of drape. I want to use that. But too much drape can get heavy. Therefore I wanted to spin a thin yarn that would give me drape without weighing a garment down. I spun the top with short forward draw with a low twist on my spinning wheel and 2-plied it. It resulted in a beautiful, shiny light fingering yarn with lots of drape.

A newborn skein of Gotland yarn

With such a long staple length I needed to keep my hands far apart. Also I needed to pay close attention to the fiber to prevent the slippery fibers from pulling apart.

Spinning the Gotland wool was not a smooth feeling, eventhough this was a lamb’s fleece. It felt like the fibers had a triangular shape rather than round. That is the only way I can explain it.

The two-step preparation took a lot of time and resulted in quite a lot of waste (50–55%). But the spinning was lovely and resulted in a beautiful yarn that was remarkably consistent.

A good preparation is the foundation of a consistent yarn.

Use

Because of the strength of the fiber, Gotland wool is a good choice for sturdy garments like socks. To keep the shine I would comb and spin worsted, but Gotland wool is definitely suited for carding and woolen spinning too.

Sounnie’s yarn is too pretty to be used for socks. I’m planning on a drapey top. I did spin a tailspun yarn from her short neck curls, but even if it turned out nicely, it is far too little to do anything with.

Gotland locks are the perfect choice for a tailspun yarn

Live webinar!

This Sunday, April 14th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Gotland wool from a spinner’s perspective. I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Gotland wool. I will use Sounnie’s 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 last live webinar I did was a great success and since then I have been longing to host another webinar. So register now!

The event has passed

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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!
  • 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!