Spinning flax on a spindle

A spindle and distaff

This is the third post in my series about flax. I wrote the earlier posts about flax processing as a whole, and about this year’s harvest. I don’t have a lot of experience spinning flax, but I’m eager to learn. And I made a video. This time the video is about spinning flax on a spindle. The video also includes how I dress a distaff. Spinning flax on a spindle is a wonderful time to really get to know the fiber and the spinning technique. Also, I’m a bit smitten by Norman Kennedy when he demonstrates spinning flax on an in-hand spindle.

Tools

I use a medieval style in-hand (grasped) spindle with a spiral notch and whorl (in featured image). I bought them from NiddyNoddyUK and I asked Neil to make a spiral notch turning counter-clockwise. The outermost layer of flax fiber is slightly turned counter-clockwise.  Hence, most flax is spun counter-clockwise. This gave me a chance to practice my in-hand spinning with my left hand. If you want to know more about my thoughts on spinning direction I made a blog series about this earlier, check here, here and here.

The distaffs are my own hand carved from our lime tree avenue. I made one belt distaff and one floor distaff. In our terrace lounge furniture there is a very convenient hole in the lid, which fits the floor distaff perfectly.

Dressing the distaff

I have tried to read up on how to dress a distaff. there are many traditions in this, and I picked one that appealed to me. In the video I use a strick of hand processed Belgian flax.

A stick of flax
A beautiful strick of Belgian flax

I tied a ribbon around the root end of the bundle and tied the ends around my waist. I then carefully criss-crossed the bundle several times in very thin layers in an arch on the table in front of me. In this way, the fibers are well separated and always has another fiber to catch on to.

Josefin Waltin preparing to dress a distaff. The flax is spread out in an arch on the table in front of her.
Preparing to dress the distaff. The fibers are criss-crossed in thin layers and they all have fiber friends to hold on to.

When I had finished making the arch, I rolled the flax around the belt distaff and tied with the ends of the ribbon. I should have used a longer ribbon, though.

The flax on the floor distaff in the video is machine processed, also from Belgium I think. Bought at Växbo lin. I dressed the floor distaff the same way as I did the waist distaff.

Spinning flax

I wet spin my flax. The fiber has sort of a gluey substance that is activated in water. This makes a smoother spin. It also helps balancing the yarn. But you have to make sure to add the water at the right place – at the point of twist. Too low and nothing happens, the yarn just looks wet spun but when it dries the fibers go their own way. Too high and you will have trouble with unspun fibers clogged together. I put some flax seeds in my water to get some of that flax seed gel in the spinning.

A person spinning flax on a spindle
Add the water just at the point of twist

Flax fibers are very long and I can keep quite a long spinning triangle. This can be a bit fiddly sometimes, when the drafting triangle gets longer than my arms can reach comfortably.

Because of the length of the fibers, I don’t need very much twist. When I spin wool on an in-hand spindle I usually use a short suspension. I don’t need that when I spin flax. Keeping the spindle in my hand all the time gives me control over the spinning and I can put my focus where I need it the most: On the drafting zone. I need to make sure that there is just the right amount of fiber in the drafting zone.

Josefin Waltin drafting flax fiber from a distaff.
Drafting away, always keeping a close eye on the drafting triangle.

Flax isn’t as forgiving as wool when it comes to lumps, you can’t untwist and redraft. But I still do untwist. Right at the moment where I draft, I untwist slightly to make a smoother draft. This comes in handy especially after I have removed my spinning hand from the yarn to wet my fingers.

A word about climate change

In the shot when I spin leaning against a tree, you can see the yellowed grass behind me. This is not because it is autumn – the video was shot in July, a time when the grass is usually fresh and green. The summer of 2018 was extremely hot and dry. Over 30°C for weeks and almost no rain in large parts of the country. Harvests were ruined and cattle owners had to slaughter their animals because there were no pastures left. We had over 70 forest fires and had to get fire fighters from continental Europe to be able manage them. Talk about climate change.

Josefin Waltin spinning flax with a spindle and distaff. Yellow grass in the background
Spinning in front of the yellowed grass from an extremely hot and dry summer.

Ergonomics

There are a few things you need to think about to be kind to your body. We don’t need to strain our muscles, we want to be able to spin as much and as healthy as possible, don’t we?

Try to keep your spindle close to your body. This way you don’t need to lift your arms more than necessary. Use your body as support! I rest my spinning hand against my belly or hip when I spin.

Aim towards a straight spinning hand wrist. Bending the wrist too much can lead to strained muscles. Adapt your grip to get the most comfortable hand position. In the video you can see me using two different grips on the spindle. Before I started editing the video, I didn’t realize that I was using two different grips. I noticed it when I was adding the captions and figured I had changed grips to get more comfortable.

The first grip is when my hands are close to each other, i.e. when the hand of my spinning  arm is perpendicular to my body or pointing slightly upwards. In this grip I hold the spindle between my thumb, index finger and third finger. The other fingers are supporting the grip. Thumb on the inner side of the spindle and the rest of the fingers on the outer side. I roll the spindle between my thumb, index finger and third finger. I would not use this grip when my hand below a 90 degree angle, since it forces my wrist to bend.

Josefin Waltin spinning flax with a spindle and distaff. Text says "Grip 1: Roll the spindle between index finger and thumb. Support with other fingers."
Grip 1, which I wasn’t even aware of that I was using before I watched the video.

The second grip is one I can use for all my hand positions, but if I have started with the first grip I change to the second when my arm is below a perpendicular angle. I put my fourth finger on the inner side of the spindle to support it. I do the rolling mostly with my index finger in this grip. This is my preferred grip, but it is still nice to be able to change between two different grips during the spinning.

Close-up of a person spinning flax on a spindle. Text says: "Grip 2: Hold the spindle between your third finger and thumb. Supporting with your fourth finger and rolling with your index finger."
Grip 2 is the grip I use most of the time.

Spinning towards  the end of the summer

It takes time to spin flax on a spindle and I’m far from done with the flax I dressed the distaff with. I will keep spinning until the summer is over and it’s not comfortable spin outdoors anymore.

Happy spinning!


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2018 wool journey

Josefin Waltin spinning on a medieval spindle and distaff

In previous posts I have written about the wool traveling club. Each year we make a wool journey together. On the 2017 wool journey we visited a sheep farm and hired a professional wool classifier to teach classes for us. This weekend it was time for the 2018 wool journey.

I didn’t shoot a lot, but I managed to put together a short and silly video.

The View by the river Indal

The 2018 wool journey took place at a spin and knit retreat at a place called Utsikten (“the View”) right by the river Indal in the middle of Sweden. And my, is that a view! The way the river carves its way across the landscape is just breathtaking.

Rive rIndal
The breathtakingly beautiful view of the river Indal on the 2018 wool journey

The members of the club live in different parts of Sweden, but for me this meant a five hour journey to the north by train and bus.

Close-up of a nalbinding project, train window in the background
The wool part of the wool journey starts on the train. I’m nalbinding a pair of socks.

The site is owned by a Swedish-Tibetan family. They found it by accident last September when looking for a summer cottage and bought it without much hesitation. And one of the first events they did was a spin event in February and now this spin and knit retreat.

We lived in a tiny cottage in bunk beds. When we got there I really had to go to the loo after the long journey, but I quickly realized that I couldn’t close the bathroom door. Somehow, the wood had expanded and the door got dead stuck in the threshold, with a 20 cm wide peek hole! I was not amused. It took the owner about three hours to plane the threshold down and finally prying it off completely.

Meeting new and old friends

The annual wool journey is, of course, a chance for us to dive into a wool topic head first and get an inspiration shot for future projects. But it is also about seeing each other and being able to investigate, explore and experiment and play with wool at our own pace and level. It is really rewarding to be able to have a conversation about wool and spinning without having to explain to people basic things like where the wool comes from. I think you all know what I am talking about. We can get right into it and look at a topic from our different perspectives. It is a powerful feeling and I learn so much from these cherished moments together.

I also met new friends. One of those was E. Or, maybe she is and old friend. It sure feels like it. E was the first person I sent the traveling spindle library to three years ago. And we met for the first time now at the View. She is a talented and very humble spinner with lots of love for both wheel spinning and a wide variety of spindles.

We sat in outdoors in the afternoon sun and exchanged ideas about spinning and wool. I gave her some advice on how to spin on a Portuguese spindle and she pointed me in the right direction with my current embroidery yarn project (which may become a later post). I also got a chance to try her Balkan spindle. Spinning on a Balkan spindle is the same principle as other in-hand spindles like the French or Portuguese. It doesn’t have a spiral notch, though, but spinning semi-suspended is easy with the aid of a half-hitch. I found the spindle far too light, though, especially in the beginning when the shaft is all naked. My French and Portuguese spindles weigh around 32 g and this must have weighed half fo that. Do you have any experience with Balkan spindles? Is there trick to it?

Classes

I took two classes, in basic and advanced double knitting. The basic was no problem, after all I had done some double knitting about 8 years ago when I knit a double knitting hat for my daughter. But when it got to the advanced part (with different motifs on both sides) my brain got a little overheated.

I also taught a private class for the members of the wool traveling club in medieval style spinning with a distaff.

A person spinning on a medieval style spindle and distaff
Boel looks very cool and relaxed in the medieval spinning and distaff class. She used our thrashed bathroom threshold for a belt distaff. And that’s a beautiful drafting triangle!

It was a lot of fun and also very educational for me. I haven’t taught distaff spinning before and I got an excellent chance to learn what it is that is difficult and how I need to organize my class to give the most value to the students. There are lots of simultaneous elements in distaff spinning that somehow need to be taught linearly, which can be a challenge.

More view

Ostrich-plume feathermoss
Ostrich-plume feathermoss

We didn’t spend all the time spinning, we also got a sip of nature. The View is situated halfway up the river canyon and one morning we went for a hike uphill. It was a very steep hike through a beautiful forest.

Fishbone beard lichen
Fishbone beard lichen

I had the best guides – Ellinor has a background in forestry, Anna in herbology and Boel is a keen bird watcher. All along the path we found traces of animal life. Lots of moose tracks, droppings and bite marks.

Moose track
Fresh moose tracks
Moose bite marks on tree trunk
A hungry moose has chewed the bark off a tree.

Sadly, we didn’t get to walk all the way up to the top, since we had a class to go to and we had to turn back. But it was a beautiful morning hike.

An angel on the train

The train ride home was crowded. I sat beside an eight-year-old girl. At first, she was playing games on her iPad, I was nalbinding a pair of socks. About an hour into the train ride she said: “Your knitting is pretty!”. And we started talking. I asked her about her favourite things at school. She said that she was going to think for a while and get back to me. After a while, she said that her favourite thing at school was meeting new friends.

After another while, she added: “I also love crafting” but sadly she didn’t bring any crafting material for the train ride. I asked her if she knew how to do finger knitting. She did, and I gave her a ball of my handspun to help her fulfill her crafting needs. She started immediately. With a little help from me in Swedish and her father in Farsi, she knit away, happy as a clam. After a while and a couple of decimeters of finger knitting, she smiled and said “I also love how quiet and peaceful crafting is!”. There was a true crafting soul in her. It warms my heart that I was able to give her some crafting joy on the train.

I don’t remember her name, but she said it meant Most beautiful angel in Farsi. A good name for a girl with crafting super powers.


All in all, the 2018 wool journey was very successful. We are already planning for 2019.

A blue door

Portuguese spindle: Comments

A Portuguese spindle

In an earlier post on Portuguese spindles, I left many questions unanswered. I have looked for facts about the Portuguese spindle and spinning technique but haven’t found much. Until I got an e-mail.

Along came Alice

Alice is the owner of Saber Fazer, where I bought my Portuguese spindle. She also sells tools for flax processing, dye plant seeds, wool from local Portuguese sheep breeds, and she hosts workshops (I am not getting paid to write this). Alice was kind enough to answer many of my questions regarding Portuguese spindles and spinning. She cares deeply about the spindles and manual fiber processing. A kindred spirit.

Spindle design and function

While the spindles are made by a local drumstick maker, Alice hand carves all the spiral grooves herself. She says it is important to get the groove deep enough that the yarn stays in it. She has lots of antique spindles that she has based her design on.

Models, materials and techniques

A deep and well made groove makes it possible to spin with a short suspension. Many antique Portuguese spindles have a metal tip. Because it is made out of metal, it can be very thin. With a thin tip, the spindle will spin more rounds with one roll with the spinning hand. A metal tip rarely allows for short suspension, since the groove isn’t deep enough for the yarn to stay. However, the low friction of the metal makes it possible for the spindle to spin freely against the fingers for short moments.

spindles

In the image you can see some of Alice’s antique spindles, some of them with a metal tip. But only one of these is really good to spin with (third from the right) – it has a very neatly carved tip and a perfect weight. She says you can tell that the original owner used the spindle well.

The metal tipped spindles are very difficult to come by, though. There are antique spindles left with this design, but few of them are still spinnable. There are also modern ones, but Alice writes that they usually are made for decoration and not spinning. She has tried to make spindles with metal tips, but she hasn’t been able to make them with a groove. Yet.

To distaff or not to distaff

In Portugal, Alice writes that spinners spin both with and without a distaff. Mostly spinners who spin in-hand style without letting go of the spindle spin without a distaff. Spinning with short suspension is oftentimes done with a belt distaff. For flax spinning, you will need a distaff to keep the fiber organized.

Fiar com a D.Benta from Saber Fazer on Vimeo.

This spinner, Benta, is using a belt distaff. I am not quite sure about the spinning technique, but it seems like there are short sequences of short suspension.

Cop and belly

When I started spinning on my Portugues spindle, I was used from my medieval style spindles to start the cop quite high on the shaft. Alice writes that I will get a better momentum with the cop lower and with a more prominent belly.  In this video with Adelaide you can see the positioning and the shape of the cop.

Fiar o Linho com a Adelaide / Adelaide spinning flax from Saber Fazer on Vimeo.

You can also see that she is using a metal tipped spindle and how easily and beautifully the spindle rolls in her hand. It is such a beautiful video. I may need to get back to this video in another post on flax spinning, it is such a wonderful document of traditional flax spinning. And I do love the Portuguese language.

Spinning with a Portuguese spindle – Ilídia Oliveira from Saber Fazer on Vimeo.

In this third video with Ilidia you can see the shape of the cop with a prominent belly (in oh-so-pretty backlight). This is also an example with both long and short suspension.

In this post on Alice’s blog you can read more about the spinners and watch a few more clips of beautiful spinning and spindles.

Muito obrigada, Alice!

Two balls of yarn in backlight
Yarn in backlight. Hard to beat. Spun on a Portuguese spindle with distaff.

Medieval style spinning

Josefin Waltin spinning with a spindle and distaff, dressed in medieval costume

Since I started spinning with in-hand spindles and distaff in the beginning of the year, I have wanted to make a medieval style spinning video. I did actually make a short video in the cold winter, but it was a great challenge to work with cold lanolin and stiff hands. I realized that I had to wait for spring to make a proper video.

Medieval assistance

While waiting for spring to happen, I talked to my friend Maria. She is a medieval enthusiast and reenactor of epic proportions. She is also one half of Historical textiles and a mean plant dyer and weaver. I asked her if she was willing to help me with the videography and contemporary costume and she was happy to do it.

We synced our calendars and decided on a date to shoot the medieval video. Lucky for us, the agreed occasion turned out to be a beautiful spring day. It was also quite windy, which made our dresses and wimples ripple flatteringly in the wind.

Two women dressed in medieval clothes, spinning and combing wool
Maria and I on the set, crafting away

The costume

Maria came with a huge backpack filled with medieval clothing, all hand sewn by her. Everything else was also hand made – wool combs, belt, hair pins, wimple pins and shoes. It was such an honour to wear all these hand made treasures. I got a sturdy hand woven linen robe (which doesn’t show) and on top of that an indigo dyed woolen dress. An intricately arranged linen headdress, a hand woven belt and hand made shoes. I added the string with spindle whorls. Despite the warm weather, the clothing felt quite airy and comfortable and I never got too hot (or a sun burn). That’s natural materials for ya! Maria says the costume dates to the high fashion of the 1360’s in today’s Northern Germany or Scandinavia.

Josefin Waltin in medieval clothing
Woolen dress (with a linen robe underneath) and linen wimple. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Shooting

We shot the whole video in a nearby forest. The thinly leather soled shoes were very smooth and it was a challenge to get around in the slopes of the forest without slipping. It was not that kind of video I was looking for. I also got a severe thigh rash. Medieval women must have had very thick inner thigh skin. Or perhaps they didn’t have hearty biker thighs.

As we walked to and from the set, we met lots of Saturday strollers. In the typical Stockholm way (never, never, ever stare at or comment on anything out of the ordinary, just roll your eyes when you are sure no one can see you), many people passed us without any comment, but a few people did stop to ask us about what we were up to. They were curious about our costumes, how they were made, when they were from etc. Some people asked if we were nuns. Maria explained that we were regular people from the time around 1360. Nuns dressed in the latest fashion, so this is how they dressed back then. They have just stuck with that fashion ever since, at least the Bridgettines.

The tools

In the video, I spin on spindles from Hershey fiber arts and NiddyNoddyUK. They both have spiral notched tips. The whorls on the spindles are from Pallia. On the leather string in my belt you can see additional whorls from Pallia, John Rizzi and Hershey fiber arts. Both distaffs are my own hand carved. On the belt distaff I have arranged hand carded wool from a prize winning Värmland fleece (just like in this video) and on the hand distaff there is hand carded comb leftovers from Shetland sheep.

Spinning and drafting

When I spin on a medieval style in-hand spindle, I tend to start by using a proper in-hand style and not let go of the spindle. When I feel I have enough twist, I let go of the spindle and use a very short suspension and let the tip of the spindle rest against my thumb. This way I can grab the spindle quickly whenever I need to.

If I use a hand distaff I usually keep the yarn straight by moving my distaff hand away from the spindle. If I use a belt distaff I tend to wrap the yarn onto my distaff hand to keep the yarn from slacking and still hold the spindle in a comfortable position. You can see both these techniques in the video.

Josefin Waltin spinning with a spindle and distaff, dressed in medieval clothing
In-hand spinning with a hand distaff.

In my latest in-hand spinning video, someone asked me if I’m drafting with my left (fiber) hand or if I’m just pulling with my right (spinning) hand. When I spin with a hand distaff, there isn’t much room for the fingers to draft. But even with a belt distaff, I’m not drafting very much. I just let the fibers settle themselves in the twist with the draft of my spindle hand. That usually works just fine when I have prepared the fleece myself (which I usually do) and left just the right amount of lanolin in it to assist my drafting. Perhaps I would use my fiber hand for drafting if I were to use a short draw. I haven’t tried that yet, though.

A 3-ply yarn and two medieval style spindles
3-ply yarn spun on a medieval style spindle and distaff from hand carded batts. 49 g, 97 m, 1981 m/kg. Soft and fluffy as a cloud. Spindle shafts and whorls from Hershey fiber arts and John Rizzi.

I hope you enjoy the video. I (we) certainly enjoyed making it.

Happy spinning!

 

French spindle

A spindle with yarn and a distaff with wool

I have a new spindle! I didn’t mean for it to happen so fast, though. Today I present to you my French spindle.

Spindle of the month

I have allowed myself to buy one spindle or spinning tool and one book per month. This month it was the Portuguese spindle. I started planning to buy next month’s spindle. I wanted to buy a French spindle and realized that there weren’t any in Europe. So I contacted Neil at NiddyNoddyUK in Wales and asked him if he could make me one, I had noticed in his Etsy store that he had sold some in the past. He was happy to do it. I also asked for a matching ring distaff, because why not? I figured that it would take him a while and I would get it in time for next month. But he had them ready for me the next day, and now I suddenly have them here in my hand. And since I do, I allow myself to use them, even though I’m not supposed to have them yet.

Unboxing pleasure

I love opening spindle parcels. There is so much anticipation – how will the spindle be protected, has the sender thought of reducing plastic in their shipping, will there be a card etc. I love it when the sender combines an environmentally smart package material with the receiver’s eagerness to start spinning straight away. This was a good package. The spindles were protected with sweet Lleyn wool and packed in tissue paper with fancy tape. No plastic as far as the eye could see. Now, that’s a beautiful spindle unwrapping experience.

 

A spindle and distaff on a bed of wool.
French spindle and ring distaff in pear, by NiddyNoddyUK.

French vs Portuguese spindles

The French spindle has lots of similarities with the Portuguese spindle. They are both made out of one piece of wood and they have no whorl. As far as I know the Portuguese spindles always have spiral notches while the French usually do, but they can also have a hook. They can both be made completely out of wood or with a metal tip. While the Portuguese spindle has its belly quite low, the French spindle has a belly just below the middle of the spindle length. The French spindles can be slightly more ornamented than the usually plain, pear-shaped Portuguese.

A French spindle and a ring distaff
Spindle, distaff and wool.

French spindles can have an interchangeable metal cap with a spiral notch. This way a spinner needs only one cap for several spindles. Lots of models of French spindles can be seen at the spindle typology index at the university of Innsbruck. I’m not sure I totally agree with their use of the terms drop spindle and support spindle, though. But the pictures are very valuable and they give us a unique insight in the spinning history of France.

Spinning on a French spindle

There is very little information on how the French spindles were used. Sylvie Dame has been a collector of antique French spindles and documentation for many years and she has quite a large collection. She says that collecting these spindles helps her understand how they were used. She argues that the reason why there is so little information about the usage of these spindles is that spinning used to be such a common daily activity for women and girls and therefore there was no need to write anything down.

From the few clips that I have seen, it seems reasonable to spin the French spindle similarly as the Portuguese or other in-hand spindles. That also makes sense when you look at images of French spindle spinning.

New video

Of course I needed to make a video about it. It was the first warm day of spring. Turn on the volume and listen to the sound of nature. Listen closer, and hear the quiet patter of the yarn against the tip of the spindle.

In the video I’m using the ring distaff I ordered with the spindle. As far as I know, these two are not historically or regionally connected, I just wanted/needed a ring distaff and it’s just what I used for this video. My using the ring distaff together with the French spindle is thus totally unorthodox. I can live with that, though.

Do you have a French spindle, antique or modern? Do you know anything about French spindles or spinning on French spindles? Is there a historical connection between the French and Portuguese spindles?Please let me know in the comments!

Happy spinning!

Portuguese spindle

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Portuguese spindle and distaff

I have a new spindle! I am smitten with distaff spinning bug, as you may have noticed on my recent posts on medieval style spinning and distaff carving. The spindle I bought is a Portuguese spindle. I ordered it from Saber Fazer in Portugal and it arrived just a couple of days ago.

Pretty package

There is something about the experience of opening something and revealing its content. It becomes so obvious if the sender has put their heart and soul in the package. When I opened the postal bag, I found two smaller paper bags, stamped with the brand and a sheep. Both bags were taped with fancy tape.

Two white paper bags with sheep on them
Pretty paper bags

Inside were, except for the spindle and wool, a thank you card and a postcard with botanical style flax anatomy on it. So simple, yet so heartwarming and effective. Organic too, there was no plastic at all, except for the bubble wrap on the inside of the postal bag.

Close-up of a spindle with the text Saber Fazer
Details, details

The spindle

The Portuguese spindle is quite simple in its appearance, just a pear shaped spindle with a spiraled notch.

Two paper bags with wool and a spindle
Beautifully wrapped spinning tools

The spiral starts in the center of the tip of the shaft so that the yarn stays securely in place. The spindle is made from unfinished maple. The spindle weighs 32 g and is about 30 cm.

I haven’t found much information about the Portuguese spindle. There are some images and a bit of info on the spindle index at the university of Innsbruck.

Close-up of the end of a spindle
The groovy groove

The fiber I got together with the spindle is from a local Portuguese sheep breed called Campaniça. I haven’t found any information about them. The wool is quite bouncy and has a nice resist. It is machine carded and without lanolin. I also got a smaller piece of brown combed fiber, which I think may be Portuguese merino.

Dressing the distaff

I dressed one of my hand distaffs with the Campaniça wool. I just rolled it around the distaff so that the direction of the fibers were perpendicular to the drafting. That way I would get a lofty yarn in a woolen-ish sort of drafting technique. I did try to spin the combed brown fiber with the fibers parallel to the drafting, but it was quite difficult and I got lots of lumps.

The spinning

I haven’t found much information on either the Portuguese spindle or the technique, just a few short video clips. The clips show spinning with and without a distaff. I chose to use a distaff because I think it organizes the fiber better. In retrospect, maybe I should have used a belt distaff, since it would make it easier to draft than from the hand distaff.

At first I was quite frustrated, since there wasn’t much action in the spinning. But when I got a bit of yarn onto the spindle, it spun easier. I spun in-hand to draft out the fiber and with short suspension to add twist. I haven’t seen any short suspension in the videos of Portuguese spindle spinning, though. In one description of the technique it said that the spindle never leaves the spinner’s hand, so maybe I spin in an unorthodox way when I spin with a short suspension.

Spring is here!

As I wrote earlier, I’m eagerly awaiting spring so that I can spin outdoors again and make videos. Well, spring is here and so is my first spinning video!

Portuguese spindle and fiber from Saber Fazer and hand distaff is from Hershey fiber arts. Shawl is my handspun and hand woven, featured in my YouTube video Slow fashion – from sheep to shawl.

Happy spinning!

Distaff carving

Close-up of a person carving

A couple  of weeks ago I had a distaff carving day!

The lime avenue

We have a beautiful old lime-tree avenue just outside our house. Ever since someone told me that lime is a perfect carving wood I have longed to get out and make distaffs for in-hand spinning. It has been a cold un-spring so far and far too cold to carve outdoors. According to the weather report, it was supposed to be a little less cold a couple of weeks ago. I prepared to get out and saw the branches down on Saturday morning.

Saturday came, and when I peeked out from behind the curtains, it was a sunny day. I was out the door at nine and got some low hanging branches. I had big plans to sit in the March sun and carve, but the sun got shy and hid behind the clouds, resulting in quite a cold carving session.

Three distaffs

I made three distaffs for different purposes – one 30 cm hand distaff, one 100 cm belt distaff and one 120 cm floor distaff. The lengths are just as I want them. The floor distaff may be a bit too short, though. Or perhaps I just have to get used to the floor distaff spinning technique.

Three hand carved distaffs
Distaffs for belt, floor and hand.

The carving was wonderful – the bark just peeled off  like butter and it was a very nice feeling to carve in fresh wood from such a soft and carving friendly material. I managed to carve all three distaffs without any personal injuries (I did ruin the first hand distaff, though), just a cut in my thumb nail, you can see it in the featured image. Boy, they are practical. Nails, I mean.

I did nothing fancy, I just followed the shape of the sticks and made a few notches at the top to hold the fiber better. There was a small branch at the bottom end of the hand distaff, which I took advantage of to make a more ergonomic handle.

A hand holding a hand distaff
A branch bump fits perfectly in my hand

I carved and carved, made little embellishments and improved imperfections. I didn’t want to stop carving. Why would you want to let a raw, natural material out of your hand?

Dressed for success

I have dressed the two longer distaffs with Värmland wool and given them a test run. They work very well. I will make another skein of the yarn I made in a winter video of in-hand spinning in medieval style. Blog post about the video here.

A distaff dressed with grey wool
Dressed floor distaff. Wool is from Värmland sheep, spindle from NiddyNoddyUK and whorl from Pallia.

I like that the distaffs are organically shaped and the fact that I have to adapt myself to the natural shape of the distaffs. They feel more alive that way.

Happy crafting!

Waiting for spring

Josefin Waltin knitting outdoors

I long

Spring is taking its sweet time in Sweden this year. We’re almost at spring equinox and it was -8°C when I got up this morning. It does get warmer in the sun and the birds are singing very spring-like, but there is still snow and degrees below zero during a big part of the day. My whole being is waiting for spring to happen. I long to get out and craft. I have videos to shoot, outdoor knitting to be enjoyed, distaffs to carve and a whole allotment to cultivate. But it’s still too cold for the lanolin and my hands and I can’t put seeds in a frozen ground.

So I do what I can.

I make

I’m knitting away on my twined knitting mittens.  It is a slow and mindful knitting and I love how the whole range of greys are displayed in the fabric. I had my outdoor knitting premiere the other day (featured image), listening to the birds chirping and the dripping of melting snow from the roofs. It was quite lovely.

I finished spinning a fleece that had been waiting for over 18 months to be spun. It was a soft and beautiful Värmland fleece. But it had quite a lot of second cuts and vegetable matter. It was also very dark and difficult to see when preparing and spinning. All these things made me reluctant to spin the fleece. At the same time I felt guilty about not spinning it. But I finally gathered my energy to do it. It turned out to be quite a nice (wheel) spin, despite the dark colour, and I turned into four skeins of strong and lustrous warp yarn.

Three skeins of dark handspun yarn
The Värmland 2-ply warp yarn, 186 g and 306 m (four skeins), about 1600 m/kg.

I also finished an in-hand spinning yarn, the one I started in this video. It is the same fleece as in the twined knitting mittens, but I used the shorter staples and spun them woolen from hand-carded rolags. It came out quite differently compared to the twined knitting yarn.

A skein of grey handspun yarn
2-ply Värmland yarn, 45 g, 105 m, 2300 m/kg. Spun woolen on an in-hand-spindle from hand-carded rolags.

I found my way back to a rigid heddle weave I started before Christmas. It it yet another pillowcase (such a good practice project). This time in 3-shaft. The warp is 2-ply Leicester, worsted spun (wheel) from hand-combed tops and then dyed. The weft is Shetland singles, spun from hand-carded rolags on a Navajo spindle. It was lovely to weave in the spring sun in the kitchen, but I really wanted to be able to weave outdoors.

A rigid heddle weave with blue warp and dark grey weft
The beginning of a pillowcase

I plan

I am planning this season’s videos. There are lots of ideas in my head – more in-hand spinning of different kinds and in different environments, perhaps some flax spinning. I have promised a video on how I spin English long draw on a spinning wheel. I am also thinking something towards mindfulness and meditation.

I’m also planning to make online spinning courses. This is a bigger project and it has to take its time to get a good result. A lot of you are far away from me and my local courses and this is a way to solve the distance issue. If you are interested in taking an upcoming online course, please let me know what you would like and how.

There is still time for you to make requests for upcoming videos. What would you like to see learn, explore?

Happy spinning!


Do you like what I do? Then head over to my Patreon page and become a patron. If you become a patron I have lots of exclusive material in store for you. If you don’t I will still continue with the blog and make videos, just as I have before.

Spinning direction part 1: Self-study

A hand holding a medieval-style spindle

In an earlier post about learning how to spin on a medieval spindle, I mentioned that I have switched hands for this technique. Usually my left hand is my spinning hand and my right hand my fiber hand. Since I got a cramp learning in-hand spinning I decided to try switching hands. Almost all the illustrations I have seen of medieval spinners have been with the right hand as the spinning hand. A reader, Stefanie, commented on my post, saying that she had had problems similar to mine and that switching hands had made a big difference for her. This made me think about how I spin and what role spinning direction and spinning hand play.

Blog series of spinning direction

Spinning with a spindle can be done with either hand and I don’t think anyone argues with that. You can choose to push the first and second fingers outwards or pull them inwards, with either hand. Nothing spectacular with that either. But if you want to spin in a certain direction, there will be different hand movements depending on whether you are spinning with your left or right hand. Most commercial yarns today are spun clockwise and plied counter-clockwise and it is how I have learned to spin. So, if you want to spin clockwise you will push with your left hand and pull with your right, right?

In this and some upcoming posts I will investigate spinning direction further. So let’s dig deep into the world of spinning direction and get geeky!

Testing my spinning hands

My first step is to investigate how I spin clockwise with both hands and with different spinning tools. By learning to use my right hand as spinning hand I will hopefully be able to see what it is I do. By breaking down the steps of the spinning technique I may see what is happening when and how.

In-hand spinning

As I have mentioned, I started to learn in-hand spinning my usual way, with my left hand as spinning hand. This was just before Christmas. I did get a cramp.  Thinking about the illustrations of medieval spinners with the spindle in their right hand, I knew I had to try to switch hands. Since the technique was all new to me, my muscles weren’t set in their ways and the change went fairly painless. And I didn’t get a cramp. In-hand spinning is so much more controlled than for example supported spindle spinning. This may have made it easier to learn with my right hand.

Looking at the video I notice that it looks more awkward spinning with my left hand (and I’m a leftie). The index finger looks like it’s bent the wrong way in the end of each spin. Also, since I’m pushing the spindle outwards from my hand, I have to hold on to the spindle more tightly so as not to drop it. When spinning clockwise with my right hand, I don’t have to hold on as tightly since I roll the shaft in towards the space between my second and third fingers. The space supports the shaft, and I don’t get a cramp.

Supported spinning: Flicking

I have never had any problems with my left hand as spinning hand when I spin clockwise on a supported spindle. I push to spin clockwise and it has always worked fine.  When I roll the yarn onto the permanent cop, though, I usually get a cramp. Therefore I usually need to switch hand positions several times during the rolling. I am very aware of this but I haven’t made the connection to pushing or pulling the spindle shaft.

I am currently practicing spinning with my right hand. This is a very interesting experience. It feels good to spin (pull) with my right hand and I don’t get a cramp rolling the yarn onto the permanent cop. I don’t have very good control of either of my hands yet but I think I will learn soon enough. In the beginning I felt all backwards and dizzy after my spinning practises, but now it feels more and more comfortable. The interesting thing is that when I look at my switched hands, the pattern I see is the same as the one I see in the participants in my spinning classes. I see the fumbling first attempts at handling the spindle and the uncontrolled movements of hands, spindle, yarn and fiber. And that is a lesson I will happily learn and embrace.

Compared to in-hand spinning, there is a longer pause between repetitions when I wait for the right amount of twist to go into the thread. Also, for every flick in one direction, I take a small charge in the other direction. This is clear in the slow motion section of the left-hand spinning. I haven’t got the hang of it yet with my right hand, but I’m getting there! All in all, supported spindle spinning takes advantage of the support. I don’t have to control my spindle since it is controlled between the yarn and the support. I don’t have to work as much to keep the spindle moving since the support helps me with that. The Support part in supported spinning is really a support in many aspects!

Supported spindle: Rolling

Since I usually get a cramp when rolling the yarn back onto the permanent cop when spinning on a supported spindle, I had to investigate this too.

Looking at when I roll the yarn back onto the permanent cop I see exactly the same finger movements as with the in-hand spindle. The movements are a bit smoother, though, since I have support. So, when pushing the spindle with my left hand, the shaft rolls out of my hand and I may need to hold on tighter. When pulling with my right hand I roll the spindle further into my hand, thus giving the shaft more support. I can happily say that I don’t get a cramp when I roll the yarn onto the permanent cop with my right hand.

Navajo spinning

When I started practicing spinning on a Navajo spindle, I watched lots of videos. I noticed that all the spinners were using their right hand as spinning hands, rolling the shaft towards the body. I chose to learn this way: it seemed odd and uncontrolled to roll outwards. Since rolling the long shaft along your thigh is a comparatively large movement it got quite obvious that it wouldn’t be ergonomic to roll outwards. A funny thing is, that when I made my video on plying on a Navajo spindle, I chose between rolling towards me with my left hand and away from me with my right, but somehow the latter won. I think I will have to make another video, rolling toward me with my left hand. I know better now!

Suspended spindle: Flicking

When I spin on a Turkish spindle I have always spun with my left hand as spinning hand. I tried to switch hands to see what happened.

Looking at it, it seems like the pulling movement is a bit smaller than the pushing movement. Spinning suspended may not be such a problem when it comes to pushing or pulling since it takes quite a lot of time between the repetitions.

Suspended spindle: Thigh rolling

I spin on a top whorl spindle by rolling the shaft down my thigh, using my left hand as spinning hand. This has never been a problem for me. Since I only roll the shaft by moving my flat hand downwards there is no particular strain on my hand. Since the spindle hangs in its own thread, there is no problem with spindle control (as with thigh rolling with a Navajo spindle).

I do however get a cramp sometimes when I roll the spun yarn onto the cop. So I had to try it with switched hands.

It looks like the pulling movement is smoother and smaller, but since spinning on a suspended spindle is comparatively slow and with fewer movements than in-hand spinning I would say that it doesn’t influence the spinning experience very much.

Coming up:

This was a bit of a self-study on spinning direction. I have learned a lot from it and I am amazed at how much there is to analyze from just a few seconds of close-up slow motion video. In the upcoming posts I will look at historical and contemporary aspects of spinning direction and reflect over what I have learned.

Have you had problems with your spinning hand or spinning direction? Have you tried changing hands? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments section!

Happy spinning!

Learning new things – medieval style spinning

Josefin Waltin drafting wool from a distaff

I’m in a process where I’m learning new things. Learning a new skill is a beautiful experience. To be able to meet a new technique from a perspective of a beginner allows me to experiment with new tools before I have had the chance to decide which tools to get comfortable with. It teaches me to be humble before the learning process. For a moment I can step outside of myself and watch me gradually grasp the new technique.

Learning to spin medieval style

The purpose of my romance with the ever so charming process of learning is the art of spinning medieval style with a distaff. In this, there are several new things for me to learn:

  • The technique to spin on a new kind of spindle with a new technique
  • How to dress and draft from a distaff
  • How to spin and draft with the wrong hand

Medieval style spinning technique

The medieval spindle technique can be described as a third kind of technique along with suspended and supported spindle spinning. It is a grasped kind of spinning or in-hand spinning. But one of the beauties of spinning medieval style is that you can combine it with suspended spinning (long and short) and support spinning, all according to the circumstances in which you are spinning.

When spinning in-hand style, the yarn goes over the top of the spindle shaft, much like it does with supported spinning. I just love that light pattering sound of the thread snapping off the spindle tip for every turn of the spindle. Check out Cathelina di Alessandri‘s videos at 15th century spinning for great technique instructions.

The distaff

Working with a distaff is totally new to me. I have a hand-held distaff and a belt distaff. The first task is to dress the distaff. I prefer to hand-card my fleece, and so I do my best to assemble 20–25 grams of hand-carded batts on my distaff. I had lots of inspiration from Luca Costigliolo.

My hand distaff is hand turned by Caroline Hershey at Hershey Fiber arts. My belt distaff is hand-carved by my son when he was eight. He was inspired by the wizarding world and wanted to make a “magic cane”. He carved and decorated with mysterious signs and a magic gemstone on top. And when I found it a couple of weeks ago (he is 15 now and doesn’t like to throw away stuff) I saw the perfect belt distaff! A tad too short, but I can live with that. I am planning to carv myself some new ones though, in various lengths for hand-held, belt and floor distaff spinning.

Changing hands

In almost all of my spinning my left hand is my spinning hand and my right hand is my fiber hand. I tried this with in-hand spinning, but I got a cramp in my left hand all the time. The motion is the same whether you spin with your right or left hand, but if you want a specific spinning direction the motion will be different. Unless I spin for something special, I always spin clockwise. Spinning clockwise with your right hand means moving your first and second fingers outwards, away from your body. Spinning clockwise with tour left hand means moving your fingers inward towards your center. And apparently this didn’t work for me. So I switched. I know it is possible, since I have done it with Navajo spindle spinning for similar reasons.

A person holding a spindle
Learning to spin with the wrong hand

Changing an incorporated muscular pattern does take its time, though. But today I really felt progress and thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of having some sort of control over my right hand muscles.

Video plans

I have plans to make a video with medieval style spinning. It’s still a little cold outside, though. The lanolin isn’t on its best behaviour in -7°C. Believe me, I have tried. Today in fact. So I will give you a short sneak peak of my learning process from a cold and snowy Stockholm. Enjoy!

The spindle is one of the spiral notched spindle shafts from NiddyNoddyUK that I unboxed the other day and the whorl is from John Rizzi. Hat pattern is Ella Gordon‘s Crofthoose hat in my handspun yarn and the shawl is my handspun and handwoven from my video Slow Fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl. The fiber I am spinning is a prize winning Värmland fleece. Wonderful to work with and it drafts like a dream. Just not in winter temperatures.

There will be more! In the meantime I will continue to practice and learn.