Knit (spin) Sweden! – second edition

Just a short message today. Knit (spin) Sweden! – second edition is finally available! It ships from May 25th but you can order it now on Amazon.

Sara Wolf has worked hard to get a second edition publish and it’s finally here! The paper quality in this edition is thicker and gives the photos more justice. Our translator Anna Lindemark has worked equally hard with proof reading and fact checking the English version while at the same time translating the book to Swedish. This second edition is in English though. Hopefully the Swedish version will be published soon too.

You can read more about Knit (spin) Sweden! here.


As you are reading this I am on the ferry to Åland. I’m giving a presentation and workshop about Åland wool from a spinner’s perspective to the Åland sheep association. I may also find myself a ladder and take a dip in the Baltic Sea.

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 missanything!
  • 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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • 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.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.

Using singles

The other week I asked you on my Facebook page and Instagram for inspiration for upcoming blog posts. I got lots of brilliant ideas. One of you asked me to write about spinning and using singles that will remain singles, what to be watching for and whether I spin singles differently depending on the end use.

Singles yarns have a beautiful simplicity to them. What you see is what you get – nothing is hidden between plies, all you see is meter upon meter of wool softly spun like cake icing straight out of a tube. A stitch knit with singles yarn is usually clear and well defined. With singles it is possible to work with colours in a way that isn’t possible with plied yarns. If I want my yarn to change colours I just attach a new colour to my yarn. I don’t need to do anything extra to achieve this, like chain-plying or trying to match colours from two singles as I ply.

Spinning singles

I have spun lots of singles yarns on my floor supported Navajo style spindles. The techniques is slow, something I enjoy. At the same time it is fast – I don’t put very much twist in my singles and when I am done there is no plying step.

I love spinning singles on my floor supported Navajo style spindles. I get a good overview of the yarn and my hands cooperate to spin as consistently as possible.

Traditionally, Navajo weavers spin singles for weaving Navajo rugs. Whenever I want to spin a singles yarn, and especially if I want to spin a bulkier yarn than my default fingering weight, I turn to my Navajo style floor supported spindles. From my position behind the spindle I have a good overview over an arm’s length of yarn at a time and my hands cooperate through the tension in the yarn to achieve a yarn that is as consistent as possible.

Using singles

So far I have used these singles as weft yarns in weaving projects – a curtain, pillowcases and a shawl, all spun on floor spindles. Weaving with singles works out very well. They help creating a light and warm fabric.

Lately, though, I have used singles in knitting projects too. I have written quite a lot of posts about my project with Icelandic wool where I have spun a low-twist singles Lopi-style and lightly fulled yarn and knit an Icelandic-style sweater.

However, singles yarns have energy in them and there is always a risk of a biased fabric when you use singles for knitting. There are ways to reduce this risk, though:

  • A low twist will reduce the risk of biasing. It will however increase the risk of breakage and pilling.
  • Fulling singles will stabilize them. They will be stronger, less prone to pilling and less likely to create a biased fabric. A fulled singles yarn will also be less prone to splitting during knitting.
  • A balanced knitting stitch will reduce the risk of bias. Rib, broken rib, moss stitch or garter stitch are examples of patterns that are balanced.
  • Knitting with two singles spun in different directions is also a way to avoid bias in the knitted fabric.

Cecilia’s bosom friend

As it happens, I have a brand new pattern in the Spring 2022 issue of Spin-Off magazine, where I am using singles. The pattern is for a bosom friend or Hjärtevärmare (heart warmer). The knitting technique is tuck stitches, beautifully and elaborately explored and described by Nancy Marchant in her book Tuck stitches – sophistication in hand knitting.

In the pattern I work in different ways to take advantage of the benefits of singles and to reduce some of the risks associated with singles. In fact, In the pattern I use all the suggestions in the bullet list above.

Low twist

One of the reasons I love spinning singles on a floor supported Navajo style spindle is that I can control speed and twist on a whole different level than I would on a spinning wheel. I am the captain of the twist ship. Through the connection of the yarn between my spinning hand and fiber hand I have full control of the twist – everything that happens in the yarn transmits to my hands and they have the opportunity to respond with appropriate action. For every arm’s length of yarn I spin I check the twist by slacking the yarn. Fine-tuning is just a twitch of my fingers away and at a speed where I am in control.

Low twist singles for Cecilia’s bosom friend.

Fulling

Even if the twist in my singles is low, there is still undoubtedly twist, which means energy, which means a risk of a biased fabric. By this I mean that the singles yarn won’t stay still if you leave it – it will squirm and move because it is not balanced like a yarn that has been plied into balance – two singles spun in one direction and then plied with the same amount of twist in the other direction.

My solution for balancing the singles is to full them lightly. I dip them alternately in hot and cold water until I see that they tighten up a little. The result is a balanced yarn that is a bit more durable and presents a nice roundedness. The yarn also doesn’t split when I knit with it.

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.

The yarns for the shawl was my first try at fulling singles and I haven’t experimented with the technique before, so this is just the way I chose. I am sure there are other methods for this too. You can read more about the process of fulling these yarns in this blog post.

Balanced knitting stitch

This is a very fun part that you can play a lot with. A stockinette fabric consists of one stitch only. If you knit a square in garter stitch the edges will roll. Other stitches, like garter stitch, moss stitch and ribbing has a combination of knit and purl stitches, either over the row (like ribbing), between rows (like garter stitch) or both (like moss stitch). A square knit in any of these structures will not roll in the edges. By balancing the structure like this you will get a fabric with a reduced risk of bias caused by an energized singles yarn.

I chose a broken rib stitch for Cecilia’s bosom friend to avoid bias. The edging, ties and tassels are knit with a 2-ply yarn.

In Nancy Marchant’s book Tuck stitches she sorts her stitch dictionary (or stitchionary as she describes it) of tuck stitches into stockinette, ribbed, broken rib and semi-ribbed fabrics. I wanted a fabric that wouldn’t bias but also not be as elastic as a ribbed structure, so I chose a pattern that was categorized as a broken rib to base my design on.

Knitting with two singles spun in different directions

All patterns in Tuck stitches are based on a two-colour design. As I was thinking about this and worrying about bias I realized that I could spin the different colours in different directions. This too would prevent biasing. If you have been with me for a while you know I am an advocate for switching hands, and this is what I did – I spun one colour clockwise with my right hand as spinning hand and the other colour counter-clockwise with my left hand as spinning hand.

The two colours and directions look lovely in their simple singleness and the tuck stitch pattern.

More about the pattern

The shawl is fully reversible with different and equally lovely structures on the “right” and “wrong” sides. The grey yarn comes from a sheep with different shades of grey. I have taken advantage of this and spun the grey yarn in sections of different shades.

Cecilia’s bosom friend.

I love how the singles yarns get full exposure in the pattern. Nothing is hidden, any thick or thin spots get as much attention as the even parts. A whole shawl is held together with just single strands of yarn. Isn’t that a beautiful thought to rest your mind in?

I’m using singles only for my Cecilia’s bosom friend pattern. Screen shot from the pattern page on Ravelry.

Before I created the sharp version of Cecilia’s bosom friend I made a prototype that I gave to my friend Cecilia. Will you be knitting a bosom friend for yourself or a loved one?

Get the Cecilia’s bosom friend pattern and read more about the story behind it in the spring 2022 issue of Spin-Off magazine!

And oh, if you have been curious about the secret project that led to the blog post A pattern process back in September, I can now ease your suspension: The Cecilia’s bosom friend shawl pattern.

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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • 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
  • 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.

Full circle

I have finished a project! A lovely Icelandic-style yoke sweater that has been on my wish list for a few years now. I have knit it with my handspun singles lopi-style yarn. An Icelandic sheep sweater shorn in October on an Icelandic pasture, spun from November to February and knit in February into a sweater for me with a round yoke. A full circle from fleece to sweater.

I have been working with the Icelandic lamb’s fleece for this sweater since November, a lot more monogamous than I usually do. Since I decided to spin the wool in the grease I didn’t want to let it sit longer than necessary, so I made an exception for it in my fleece queue.

27 skeins of Icelandic singles yarn.

Telja pattern

The pattern I chose is Telja by Jennifer Steingass. I wanted an Icelandic style pattern that was designed for a lopi-style yarn in a yarn weight I could manage to spin as a singles yarn. I figured that my lopi-style yarn would stand the best chance of resembling the stranded colourwork if the original pattern was designed for a similar yarn.

Shifting shades

The light grey, lighter grey, white and dyed blues come from one Icelandic lamb. I also bought 200 grams of fleece from a dark grey lamb for some contrast in the colourwork. I used the light grey (in the middle of the picture below) as the main colour. As it turned out, the contrast between the light grey and the dark grey was too small, so I needed a solution that would show the pattern despite this challenge.

These skeins come from one and the same fleece. The middle skein is the overall shade of grey of the fleece. This is also the shade that I have dyed in two blue tones.

Some parts of the fleece were lighter, almost white, and I decided to spin these parts separately into a white yarn. In the sweater I used the white yarn as main colour just before, during and just after a colourwork section, making the light grey ex-main colour a contrast colour over the colourwork sections. I tried to make a gradient from the light grey to the white with a couple of skeins that were sort of a light light grey.

Will there be enough white yarn left to finish the neckline?

I was a bit nervous about the white yarn, though, I wasn’t sure I had enough of it. When I bound off the last stitch of the collar I realized that it was enough, I even had a meter or so left. At least just enough to tie the leftover skeins of the remaining other colours into a bundle.

I dye with my little eye

Last summer I read about the Bengala mud dye colours in Handwoven magazine. I got a bit obsessed by the earthy tones and decided to buy some and try. A few pinkish tones, orange and yellow, plus indigo that would work with the other colours. I hadn’t found a good project to experiment with, until now. I wanted two shades of the same colour and decided on the indigo.

I have said it before and I say it again: Dyeing is not one of my superpowers. The shades got a bit too close to each other and somehow they both dry bleed. But I still love the result. And I’m very happy that I dyed on the light grey, it gives such a beautiful depth in the colour.

I will continue experimenting with these colours in upcoming projects. I’m sure I will learn a lot.

A teared watercolour painting

I had some thoughts about the shades and colours in the beginning, but as soon as the stranded pattern started to unravel I just loved the effect. It looks a bit smudged, almost like a tie-dye or watercolour art painted with drops of rain or tears.

The pattern falls from the yoke like a watercolour painting. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I wanted the yarn to be as simple and ras aw as possible. With that comes a sweater with that same raw expression. As I knit round and round the pattern runs down from my hands and land comfortably in an organized structure. On the wrong side the soft floats emerge like gentle waves on a summer lake.

Using handspun yarn in a project where the gauge is crucial for the fit is a challenge. Even more so with a singles yarn. I realized that the sleeves (which I knit before the body) got a bit tight at the cuffs with the stranded colourwork. No, I can’t tell you that, it’s too embarrassing.

I got a bit nervous about the colourwork sections over the hips and yoke, though. I tried the sweater on after the hip section and it worked. I was so scared of the yoke riding up that I didn’t try the sweater on until mid-colourwork, and to my great relief it fit perfectly. I do have to remove my glasses when I put the sweater on and off since the neckline is an I-cord bind-off with no elasticity, but I can take that.

A joyous knit

The yarn was truly lovely to knit with and it gave a soft and kind structure, lightweight and simple. I was a bit worried about the risk of bias since the yarn is single (eventhough I have shocked it to full it slightly). Therefore I added faux side and underarm seams using a column of purls.

I have been wearing the sweater a lot lately. It’s both comfortable and comforting to wear and I feel rich and fortunate to have the skills to make myself a warming and protecting shell.

Full circle. The sweater is finished and I’m spinning away on my next project on a department meeting at the home office.

So, now I have around 750 meters left of the yarn. Most of it in the light grey colour. I may dye some of it and use it in another project. I liked the Shaina top by Yumiko Alexander. With some modifications and additions I think I can make it work.

Resources

I have written a few earlier post about this fleece from different perspectives:

  • In Close I write a poetic style ode to the fleece.
  • In the grease covers the main part of the processing and spinning of the yarn – spinning a low-twist singles yarn from the cut end of teased locks in the grease.
  • In The gift of knowledge I look at a spinning from a spiritual perspective using this fleece as an example. It also shows how I make accordion burritos of the teased wool for easier spinning.
  • A sore thumb forced me to switch hands and a new world opened in front of me, right there in my hands. It also resulted in the free five-day challenge Hands-on that you are welcome to join.
  • In Dear Fleece I give thanks to the fleece for teaching me so much and move on from spinning to knitting.

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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • 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
  • 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.

Gunvor’s Sirwal pants

And they are done. My largest spindle spun project so far, the Sirwal snow shoveling pants that used to be common in the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains. I call them Gunvor’s Sirwal pants from the sheep that gave me the wool. Since my 16-year-old has dibs on snow shoveling for pocket money I may use the pants for outdoor yoga and for walking down to the lake for my daily bath.

A while ago I bought Irene Waggener’s beautiful book Keepers of the sheep and reviewed it on the blog. One of the most striking patterns was the Sirwal pants, a pair of black and white striped pants that the shepherds used to knit while herding the sheep.

A patternless pattern

In the book Irene describes her first meeting with the pants in a museum, how she learned to knit them from her host Muah n’Aït Tabatoot’s demonstration. Irene has in turn written down the oral description and demonstration for the book. As all of the projects in the book the pattern is based on working with what you have in the form of wool, yarn, needles and body size rather than a detailed knitting instruction. I really liked the idea and think it would be a good challenge for me.

The challenge of keeping it simple

In the book Irene describes how Muah’s wife Nejma spun and plied the yarn on a floor supported spindle, wound it into a ball and handed it straight over to Muah for knitting. I wanted to make my own pair of Sirwal pants as close to the original as possible. So, a spindle spun yarn. I didn’t have a floor supported spindle of the kind Nejma used, but I do have Navajo style floor supported spindles so I used one of them. I also decided not to soak the yarn and set the twist after plying, to stay as close to the High Atlas way as I could.

“So, the yarn is not soaked and the twist has not been set?” you may say. That’s right. “But soaking the yarn will allow it to bloom into its final shape! And setting the twist will even out the twist over the length of the yarn!” you may continue. That is true. This will probably not happen with my pants. Something else probably will, though. I don’t know what, but if and when it does, all is as it should be. Instead of the finished yarn I got the loveliest smell during knitting and the softest hands. That counts for something too.

Gunvor the Gestrike sheep

Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep
Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep.

I used two fleeces of Gestrike wool, the first and second shearing of the Gestrike ewe Gunvor. She was the subject of my longitudinal study I wrote about in May 2021. She was a beautiful white sheep with large black spots, perfect for the striped Sirwal pants.

Gestrike wool has both long and strong outercoat fibers, soft and airy undercoat and some kemp. This results in a strong and warm yarn, perfect for my Sirwal pants.

A life through stripes

The fleece of Gestrike sheep can lighten with age and Gunvor’s fleece turned out to have that particular characteristic. I took advantage of this feature and used the blackest black from the first shearing at the bottom of the legs and continuted with the lighter shades as I worked my way up the legs. I like how you can see Gunvor’s life through the stripes.

The quality of the wool was different between the shearings too. The first shearing was shinier and a bit finer while the second shearing was a bit shorter and airier. I’m not sure it’s visible in the pants, though. The second shearing was a lot higher in lanolin. As I calculated the yield from the two fleeces I was amazed by the difference. From the raw fleece I got a yarn yield of 59 per cent from the first shearing and 38 per cent from the second. The amount of lanolin should be an important clue to this difference. Perhaps the second shearing also contained more short fibers and/or kemp than the second, that stayed in the combs when I teased the wool.

You can read more about shearing and lanolin content through the seasons in the post Shearing Day.

Bulky

Another challenge was the yarn. The tradition calls for a super bulky yarn, which is far from my light fingering weight default thickness. But a challenge is a challenge and I took it by the horns. I managed to spin the bulkiest singles I have ever spun. Add plying to that and I got myself a super bulky woolen spun yarn from hand carded rolags.

At first I tried to card the wool without teasing the wool first, again in an effort to stay as close to the High Atlas way as possible. But the kemp in the wool made the yarn very scratchy. By teasing the wool with combs I got rid of a lot of the kemp and I decided to keep the teasing.

When the pants were finished I had used 26 balls of yarn. 1200 grams, 717 meters from the two fleeces, between 500 and 700 meters per kilo with an average grist of 590 meters per kilo. You can read more about how I spun this yarn in my blog post bulky.

If you are a patron (or become one) you may get access to a Patreon postcard video I made in November, where I demonstrate how I spin the super bulky yarn.

Knitting

I started knitting as soon as I had the first ball of handspun yarn in my hand. This is how I continued with the whole project – spin a ball and knit it. A yarn of this weight doesn’t last very long, though. At the bottom of the legs one skein lasted about one stripe and at the hips around eight rounds.

Spin a ball, knit a stripe, hoping the two fleeces would be enough for the whole project.

Knitting the Gunvor Sirwal pants was quite strenuous. The bulky yarn and the large needles (5.5 mm) require some work. Add to that the tight twist and the tight gauge and, as I joined the legs in the crotch, quite some weight in my lap to manage. The finished pants weigh around one kilo.

Despite the heavy knitting it was lovely to work with the yarn. I love the roundedness of the yarn and the strong character it has. It takes its place in the world and doesn’t apologize for its existence. I got all giggly by the sheepy smell from the unwashedness of the pants in progress. As I knit I experienced Gunvor’s life, from the blackest of the black lamb locks at the shins to the more mature depth in the lead grey in hip height.

Outdoor yoga and cold baths

If you have been following me for a while you may know that I take baths in the lake every day and that I sometimes practice yoga outdoors. Gunvor’s Sirwal pants are perfect for both outdoor yoga and walking down to the lake on the coldest days.

A walk to the bath

Gunvor’s Sirwal pants are warm, reasonably windproof, and easy to put on after a cold bath, which is important since my fingers are stiff from the cold and I need to get warm fast. Yesterday afternoon I went down to the lake with an axe and cleaned up the edges of the hole in the ice. We’re five ladies in the cold bath group and they have all been cheering me on during the making of the pants.

An outdoor yoga studio

Practicing yoga outdoors is not a problem as long as you have clothing that suits the weather. Down to -2°C is ok with one or two layers of wool tights or sweat pants. I can even practice with bare feet on my cork mat at this temperature. With lower temperatures staying warm easily gets too chunky which makes it difficult to do the postures comfortably.

Gunvor’s Sirwal pants are perfect, though, even for temperatures below -2°C. I took the pictures above at -6°C and it wasn’t too cold. With the suspenders they stay up without getting too tight around the waist.

I practice yoga asana every day, and sometimes outdoors on our terrace. I just love having all the fresh air to myself. As I usually do my outdoor yoga at around 8 p.m. it’s dark, as dark it gets in a city. I get to look up at the sky and the waving pine branches above. It gives the practice an extra dimension of space that I don’t want to be without.

Gunvor’s Sirwal superhero pants, ready for your next wooly adventure.

Some people say the pants look a bit like Obelix’s blue and white striped pants, some say they look like Findus the cat’s green striped suspender pants. They remind me of swimsuits from over a century ago, which is quite suitable since I wear them in a bathing context. But most of all they make me think of superhero pants with their bold stripes and dazzling lightning bolts up the sides. Don’t we all wish to be just a little superhero-y every now and then?

Thank you Irene for making the pattern accessible and Muah for teaching Irene. Thank you Gunvor for the loveliest wool. I have learned a lot from this project.

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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • 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
  • 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.

Bulky

The Gestrike sheep Gunvor's lamb's fleece is slowly turning into chunky skeins of super bulky yarn.

What is your default yarn? Mine would be a 2-ply fingering, on rare occasions sport weight yarn. Today I spin way out of my comfort zone. With the slowness of a floor supported Navajo style spindle I do my best to approach a bulky yarn.

Snow shoveling pants

A while ago I wrote a review of the book Keepers of the sheep – knitting in Morocco’s High Atlas and beyond by Irene Waggener. I was intrigued by many of the the stories and patterns in the book.

One of the patterns that stuck to me was the Sirwal pants. A pair of knitted pants that shepherds used to knit and wear for shoveling snow among other things. As all of the patterns in the book the pattern is based on working with what you have in the form of wool, yarn, needles and body size rather than a detailed knitting instruction. I really liked the idea and think it would be a good challenge for me.

A bulky endeavour

Another challenge would be the bulky yarn that was suggested for the pants. My default yarn is fine, usually a fingering or sportweight yarn. I have started exploring spinning thicker singles on my floor supported spindles and enjoyed it very much. Spinning fat singles is very satisfying for some reason. I think it’s the letting go of perfect that is really appealing.

While I have never actually tried spinning a bulky yarn on a spinning wheel, I believe it would be too quick a tool for me. Or perhaps I just can’t let go of perfect that much. I think the spinning wheel would give the yarn too much twist and/or too uneven thickness. With the floor supported spindle I have the time to control thickness and twist and still spin up the yarn very quickly.

Floor supported spindle

So, my choice for the bulky yarn required for the Sirwal pants was my floor supported spindle. My wool choice was easy – Gunvor the black and white Gestrike sheep was the perfect candidate. A medium wool with airy undercoat and long and strong outercoat, ranging from around 10 to 20 centimeters in fiber length.

The lamb’s fleece of Gunvor the Gestrike sheep is the perfect candidate for my bulky pant yarn.

I wanted to keep the whole process as simple as possible and not use more tools than I needed, just as the knitting shepherds had done for generations. Therefore I tried to card the wool without teasing it first. After all, the locks were very airy and easy to open up. However, there were more short fibers and kemp in the wool than I wished, and I soon realized that these bothered me too much. By teasing the wool first with combs I got rid of a lot of the unwanted fibers. So I decided to keep the teasing.

This wool is so lovely to work with. It’s open and airy, making the carding a joy. no fuss, no tangles, just a sweet carding flow. A lot of the remaining short kemp fibers, especially in the white parts of the fleece, come out in the carding and spinning (and sticks to all my clothes).

Letting go of perfect

One of the challenges (for me at least) with spinning thick yarn is to let go of perfect. It is so easy to draft a little extra just to get that fuzz out. And another little extra. This is where I need to close the door to perfectionism, open my mind and my heart to the fuzz and go on to the next section. Once I have accepted this very provoking challenge and incorporated it into my spinning it is truly liberating. I see the fuzz, acknowledge it and embrace it. It’s there and that is ok. And it will fade out in 1 the plying and 2 the knitting.

A twisted rolag

When I spin a yarn of this thickness on a floor supported spindle I make three to four serious rolls of the shaft up my thigh so that the twist travels up the whole undrafted rolag.

A light hand on the shaft allows me to roll the shaft all the way up my outer thigh to insert twist into the wool.
A light hand on the shaft allows me to roll the shaft all the way up my outer thigh to insert twist into the wool.

After having inserted twist into the whole length of the rolag I make the first arm’s length draft, letting in some of the twist that has built up in the yarn spun previously.

Then I draft and add the final twist in 3–4 sections. This way the spinning of one rolag takes less than two minutes. A quick yarn in a slow technique. Now, that’s satisfying!

Opening up the twist

I work a lot with opening up the twist here. It is a technique that I use in all my spinning but is especially useful in spinning on a floor supported spindle. The hands need to communicate through the yarn between them. For that to happen the twist must be alive in the yarn – I need to work at what I call the point of twist engagement.

With my spindle hand thumb I roll the yarn against the twist to open it up. This way the fibers get more room to move and I can draft it to the thickness and evenness I want.
With my spindle hand thumb I roll the yarn against the twist to open it up. This way the fibers get more room to move and I can draft it to the thickness and evenness I want.

The point of twist engagement is a point where there is enough twist to prevent the yarn from coming apart but not so much that the yarn can’t move. At the point of twist engagement the fibers can slide past each other. By opening up the twist – rolling the yarn against the twist – the fibers can move in the yarn and pass this information on to my hands.

For a guided tour in the point of twist engagement check out the spinning meditation video I released last week.

2-ply super bulky

I usually don’t ply on my floor supported spindles, so I plied this yarn on my spinning wheel. The resulting 2-ply yarn is just lovely – bulky, round and kind. Perfect for snow shoveling pants.

I wrap the yarn around my wpi nostepinne and can’t really believe what I see. I’m so new to this yarn weight – both in spinning and knitting – that I didn’t think I would be able to achieve it. But I did. And it works.

My Sirwal pants are coming along just fine. I add stripe after stripe as I finish a new skein, just as described in the book. The yarn knits up very quickly and I need to spin more after just 1–2 stripes. But I do like the balance of knitting and spinning parallel.

Sirwal pants knit in my bulky Gestrike wool yarn.
Sirwal pants knit in my bulky Gestrike wool yarn and 5.5 mm needles.

I hope we get snow this year so that I can try the shoveling potential in the pants (if my daughter doesn’t get to the shovel first). I also have plans to proudly walk down to the lake with my Sirwal pants in the winter months for my daily bath.

Happy spinning!


Next weekend I will be teaching and there may not be a post.


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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • 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 pattern process

Join me in a pattern process – an adventurous and emotional journey from the sparkling idea for a new design through all the bumps and challenges in the process to a finished pattern and beyond.

1 Sparkling

You know when a baby idea gently but convincingly softly whispers in your mind: Feed me. Feeed me! The whisper gets louder, more vivid, and more impossible to reject. The idea is there to stay, to poke you in the eye until you do feed it.

A baby idea comes knocking on my door, demanding my attention.
A baby idea comes knocking on my door, demanding my attention.

This happened to me a couple of years ago. Well, several times, but this post is about a particular baby idea. I saw something that ignited the baby idea. Something I had seen before, but obviously and flatly ignored.

2 Inspiring

Once I have adopted the baby idea inspiration is everywhere. What about this structure, shape, can we please include these features, pretty please? And tassels, let’s have tassels! Says the baby idea, a bit more confident and, frankly, bossy now.

The ideas bounce around in my head 24/7 like a pinball game on the border between inspirational and overwhelming. When I come to my senses I manage to place a filter of structure and reason over the pinball ideas and sort out my favourites to knead some more.

3 Creating

So, now I have the basic building blocks of my pattern idea. In this phase I get to play with details, whole, structure and technique until I come closer to a yarn and garment design that are feasible as a knitting project. I really enjoy this part of the pattern process since it is unpretentious. It doesn’t demand or criticize. It simply allows me to refine and boil down my ideas into something unique, yet manageable.

I get to play with details, whole, techniques and structure.
I get to play with details, whole, techniques and structure.

This is the pure and innocent phases at which I have no idea of the agonizing, doubting and sweating phases that are to come.

4 Spinning

The pattern process for projects with handspun yarn is a bit different than projects using commercial yarn. First of all, I need to create the yarn I need for my project, which makes the process a bit longer and more adventurous. Second of all, I can’t expect a group of test knitters to go through a whole wool process to spin for and finally knit a garment I have chosen for them. And finding and testing a commercial yarn that looks and works kind of like my handspun just to have a commercial yarn reference doesn’t serve me.

I still want to design, though, so I have decided to set my own rules for designing for handspun. Without commercial yarn and without test knitters.

The final yarn design for a knitting pattern that was published a year ago, the Selma Margau sweater.
The final yarn design for a knitting pattern that was published a year ago, the Selma Margau sweater.

I spin to show the most prominent characteristics of the fiber. At the same time, I have a project idea that lies in the other end of the pattern process journey. For the project to happen I need to create a yarn that does make the fiber justice and that works in the project.

5 Swatching

In the swatching phase of my pattern process I do my best to match the yarn with the needles and the fabric structure. With the fiber as my most important foundation I need to find a way to create a yarn that mirrors the characteristics of the fiber while at the same time working with the structure I have in mind for the fabric.

Don't skip the swatching. Don't skip the swatching. Don't skip the swatching.
Don’t skip the swatching. Really. Don’t skip the swatching.

To this comes the delicate balance between swatching enough for a desired result and not using up too much of the fiber I have before I have even started the sharp version. Usually the fiber for my idea comes from one unique fleece. When it is gone I have no more.

6 Agonizing

Ok, so the yarn is too thick/thin/loose/tight, the fabric too dense/loose/completely off, the idea totally unrealistic and my mood too cranky. This is when I need to be kind to myself and take myself back to the power of that first sparkle. Working through challenges will make my idea stronger and better. I need to go through a number of wrong doors to make sure I know which are the right doors. Agony is part of the pattern process and will take me further along the journey. Embrace the wrong doors.

7 Knitting

Once I feel some sort of harmony in yarn, technique and details I put them all together and start knitting. Hopefully I have swatched enough to avoid having to frog too much of my precious handspun yarn.

The joy of just knitting away.
The joy of just knitting away.

For this particular project I actually completed a full-scale prototype with yarn spun from a different fleece before I dived into the sharp version of the project.

8 Thinking (I’ll remember)

Ooh, this was a good solution! I’ll keep knitting for a while to see what it looks like. I don’t have to take notes, I’ll remember how I did it. The naiveté of a budding designer is endearing.

9 Wishing (I had been more thorough)

Ok, what was I thinking? It was ages ago, there is no way I can remember what I did!

10 Doubting (If this was such a good idea after all)

Why did I suggest writing a pattern for this? I’m clearly not mature enough to understand the scope of a pattern process. Who am I to make a pattern?

The symptoms of Imposter syndrome can be very cruel at this stage. Even if I have taken notes of all the stitches there is so much more than that to a pattern. You know all those practical how-to tips that make a pattern intelligible and smooth to follow. I feel an extra responsibility here since the people who do decide to knit my project will have spent time spinning for this particular design. The pattern and the description need to allow them to work confidently through the pattern.

11 Procrastinating

Oh, a new fleece, let’s explore!

Look, a kitten, let’s play!

Come on couch, lets nap!

And all of the above. Procrastinating is a skill I have exercised to near perfection. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a project hoarder. Mid-project I get an idea for another design and my mind drifts away in the luring and glittering mist of a new baby idea.

12 Dragging (my feet)

I need to get this pattern organized. Now. The longer I wait the more I will have forgotten. Perhaps if I sneak up on myself I won’t even notice I have started organizing? Yeah, let’s do that!

(feel free to loop 8–12 any desired amount of times)

13 Sweating

Designing is one thing. It will provide me with a garment that fits me. A pattern on the other hand needs all the numbers and information for others to be able to understand and create the garment. Every letter I write in that pattern description needs to be enough and necessary for the knitter to recreate my project.

WPI, wraps per inch. A very important number to remember and add in a pattern description.
WPI, wraps per inch. A very important number to remember and add in a pattern description.

Ok. Let’s do this. These are the things I need to produce, structure, calculate, proof-read and re-proof-read.

  • An introduction, where I present the background to my project, its features, the wool, yarn and inspiration. This is where I do my best to sell my project.
  • Numbers – spinning angle, grist, yarn weight, twist, wool weight, yarn length, gauge, sizes, size alterations, needles, notions, measurements, most of which I don’t consider early in the process when it would have been very becoming to have taken some simple but utterly useful notes.
  • Illustrations, simple graphics to show the shape, size and numbers of the project. Basic skills in anatomy sketching would have been charming here.
  • Charts. Just simple graphics with rows and columns filled with pretty symbols and colours. And, of course, the same information in written text. How hard can that be?
  • Terminology and abbreviations. A pattern needs to be condensed in order to allow the recipient to make sense of the content and not get lost in the forest of words. To condense a pattern you need to use established abbreviations. You need to provide the key to the abbreviations and also an explanation of the key. It’s like transporting balloons – you can either transport them all blown up. This will take up a lot of space. Or, you can transport the empty balloons together with a pump that will provide the air needed for all the balloons. Or something like that, you get the gist.
  • Photos that show the design of the garment, the knitting structure, fit, length, details and whole. Preferably in a pretty setting and on a reasonably good hair day. I’m so grateful for my husband Dan’s photo skills and artistic eye.
  • And oh, the actual pattern. A series of very condensed abbreviations in row upon row, unraveling the secrets of the design to those who have the key. The pattern is focused on the details. At this stage I need to have convinced the knitter of the whole picture to stay with me and that it will be all worth it (see the introduction point above). To proof read the pattern part is a nightmare. A comma in the wrong place can be disastrous. Thank the goddesses for tech editors.

14 Breathing (in a square)

Gathering all the parts for the pattern can be very energy consuming. Do I have all the parts the editor needs? Am I using the right software? Did I follow the templates? Did I do that umpteenth proof reading?

A perfect square to breathe in when necessary.
A perfect square to breathe in when necessary.

I’m not on top of this. I am very thankful for Kate Atherley’s book The beginner’s guide to writing knitting patterns (she also has an online course for this). It covers a lot and keeps me a little more at ease in this part of the pattern process. But still. I’m definitely not on top of this.

Oh, let’s throw in some more procrastinating (11) here while we’re at it.

15 Submitting (slightly panicked)

I’m doing this. Now. I’m sending the 3 MB email (photos, blood, sweat and tears excluded) with the seven attachments.

In a second.

In just another second.

Now…

…-ish.

Swoosh.

(feel free to go back to 14 Breathing in a square here)

16 Obsessing (about a millisecond after submitting)

Did they get it? Can they read it? Do they like it? Will they be able to publish it? Will I be able to publish a pattern ever again?

An email lands in my inbox a couple of days later. “I was able to download and open all of the attachments. Your piece is absolutely fabulous!”

Did you hear that noise? It was my deep sigh of relief.

The obsessing phase can be active even in later phases. This blog post and the mindmap below for example may very likely be part of the obsessing phase.

Next stop on the obsessing train: The tech editor’s verdict. Choo choo!

(make your own loop cocktail of one or more of the points above. My recommendations are 9, 10, 13 and 14)

17 Missing

After having submitted the pattern it feels a bit empty. I miss my project. It has been a part of me for so long. Suddenly the work is done and I don’t know what to do with myself. The finished project is there, looking at me with big eyes. But I can’t show it off until the publication is out, which will be in another six months or so.

Just after submitting a pattern for publication I really miss my project.
Just after submitting a pattern for publication I really miss my project.

18 Resetting

Coming into and out of emotional stages always takes time for me. It is like my body and my mind aren’t in sync. But after a while, when my body has settled my mind will be able to rest in a more balanced state. Slowly, I get more susceptible to new inspiration.

A new baby idea cries for my attention.
A new baby idea cries for my attention.

One morning, when enough time has passed for me to have completely forgotten all the blood, sweat and tears I have shed through the previous pattern process, I wake up with a faint but very vivid baby idea. It whispers softly in my ear: Feed me. Feeeed mee! And so I begin a new pattern process journey (see 1 sparkling above). How hard can it be? Well, it’ll be a bumpy ride. But always worth it.

Thank you K and the gang for believing in me.

Feel free to use the mindmap chart below for your own pattern process. Perhaps you have titles or doodles of your own to add.

To make the pattern process clearer I have made a mindmap for you to follow.
To make the pattern process clearer I have made a mindmap for you to follow.

Have a look at my previous patterns:

And if you haven’t already, do listen to the latest episode of the Fiber Nation podcast, “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t knit that” about AI knitwear design. It’s hilarious.

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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • 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.

Book review: Keepers of the sheep

Keepers of the sheep – knitting Morocco's High Atlas and beyond, by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n'Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddylymy. Photo published with permission from the author.

Today I give you a book review. I have read the lovely and important book Keepers of the sheep – knitting in Morocco’s High Atlas and beyond by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n’Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddelymy.

I have been wanting to read this book ever since I learned that it had been published (in December 2020), and a couple of weeks ago I finally got around to actually ordering it, from Retrosaria Rosa Pomar in Portugal (you can also buy the book from Irene’s U.S. Etsy store). I had it in my mailbox only a week after I ordered it.

Keepers of the sheep is a beautiful book, both in its appearance and its content. In the book we get to follow Irene’s journey and exploration in knitting, story and history in Morocco’s High Atlas. We also get to peak at sheep, shepherding, spinning and wool. The book is built up of stories and portraits of the landscape and the people, knitting patterns and a historical journey back in time to possible origins of knitting.

Story

We begin the book in Irene’s own first encounter with the landscape and the people of Morocco’s High Atlas. We get to see the vast landscape through her eyes. For a moment I am there with her, getting a first taste of the soft, still vibrant colours. Page by page we get to follow Irene as she comes closer to the people in the village. She finds men who show her their knitting traditions and teach her to knit some of the garments that we can enjoy in the book.

Irene’s story

To prepare for this review I asked Irene a bit about her own background and how she ended up in Morocco and writing a book about knitting traditions. She tells me that she came to the country as a language student and later to teach at the university. On yet another visit she began working with artisans and shepherds in the village of Timloukine.

Keepers of the sheep – knitting Morocco's High Atlas and beyond, by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n'Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddelymy. Photo published with permission from the author.
Keepers of the sheep – knitting Morocco’s High Atlas and beyond, by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n’Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddelymy. Photo published with permission from the author.

During this work they realized the importance of the knitting skills of the shepherds and artisans. Irene says that the branch of the knitting family tree the book covers doesn’t get much mention in the knitting books. The knowledge has traditionally been passed down orally and through observations which would be another reason why this book is so important. A book like Keepers of the sheep would also be a means to help the community promote traditional crafts like sock knitting that is usually practiced by women. She also says that the book indeed has inspired many of the women to learn to knit from their fathers and grandfathers.

At the moment Irene is researching for an upcoming project that she hopefully will be able to share soon. I can’t wait!

History

In the past part of the book we get to follow Irene on a trail back in time to possible origins of knitting traditions in North Africa. Decade by decade we get clues to the knitting riddle of North Africa, starting with World War II, going back through the colonial period, and to medieval Egypt. Through various periods of migration, linguistic clues, cross cultural pattern similarities, designs and styles Irene describes a possible scenario of the origins of knitting in the area and perhaps even of the origins of knitting in the western world. An interesting aspect here is that Sara Wolf makes a similar journey through knitting history in the book Knit (spin) Sweden, and ends up in an Egyptian sock as a clue to a possible knitting origin in North Africa.

In this section Irene dives into the archives to look at textile fragments and images and creates designs inspired by historical patterns, techniques and period garments.

Oral tradition

Knitting in Morocco’s High Atlas starts with the yarn, the need and the needles you have. There is a framework of knitting and detail techniques, but as a knitter you need to make the decisions of yarn weight, needle size, gauge and size while you knit. You try as you go. Again and again.

I realize that it must have been a challenge for Irene to explain the orally transfered try-as-you-go description in a written form for a chart and detailed oriented audience. I think she does this in a lovely and balanced way, maintaining the respect of the oral traditions while being at the same time very pedagogical toward her audience.

An advantage of a perspective that starts with the material you have is how perfect it is for handspun yarn. A framework of techniques instead of step by step instructions seems to open the doors to experimentation and a sense of freedom.

Wool and spinning

In the High Atlas the tradition is that men knit while keeping the sheep and women spin. The spindles are long floor supported spindles that the spinner spins while sitting on the floor. The yarn seems to be mainly for weft and pile in rugs, but some older women also spin for knitting.

Spinners in the village of Timloukine. Photo published with permission from the author.
Spinners in the village of Timloukine. Photo published with permission from the author.

If you look at Irene’s Instagram you can see a few videos with very talented spinners dancing the wool into soft and airy woolen yarn from cloud-like carded batts. It looks as though they are effortlessly breathing out the yarn through their relaxed fingers. It is truly mesmerizing to watch. When they ply the yarn they roll the shaft outward along the underarm, a technique I haven’t seen before.

 When I ask Irene about the wool from the local sheep she says she thinks it is similar to a Cheviot she has spun when it comes to softness, texture, drafting length, and behaviour on the spindle. High Atlas sheep are as fare as she knows not dual coated but do have a bit of kemp. She describes the wool as having a dry, airy quality and is not overly strong or weak.

If you want to dive deeper into the spinning in Morocco’s High and Middle Atlas you can read Irene’s lovely article in the Supported spindle issue of PLY magazine. She does a very good job of describing the spinning techniques used in the area.

Irene has an Etsy shop where she sometimes is able to sell both wool, yarn and spindles. I am hoping to be able to buy a spindle if they become available.

Knitting patterns

Scattered through the book are lovely knitting patterns, all written in a try-as-you-go fashion using the material and tools you have at hand. The patterns come both from the techniques Irene learned from the knitters she met and from garments and fragments she has found when researching the knitting history in the area.

Tqasher Jadeed socks

The first pattern in the book is a pair of socks. I don’t see myself as a sock knitter, but I can see that the engineering of these is different than the models I have seen. As with all the other patterns in the book the pattern is built up as a try-as-you-go process where you need to be confident enough to trust your instincts when it comes to the fit. All of the parameters – needles, yarn thickness and numbers – are sort of fluid in a very compelling way. It looks very liberating to just go! The technique for toes and heels are there of course, but the rest is up to you to balance.

Tqasher Jadeed, new socks. A lovely pattern in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.
Tqasher Jadeed, new socks. A lovely pattern in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.

I would really like to knit the Tqasher Jadeed socks. Perhaps in a rya wool yarn.

Sirwal pants

We need to talk about the Sirwal pants. Suspender pants in broad stripes of natural black and white handspun yarn. A zig-zag stripe follows the sides of the legs to elegantly travel the passive colour along the active without floats or joins. They remind me of the first bathing suits for men – striped, covering and knit in wool.

Sirwal pants in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.
I’m fascinated by the Sirwal pants and their dazzling lightning bolt up the sides of the legs. Photo published with permission from the author.

Now, as some of you may know, I take daily baths in my nearby lake all year round. In the winter I need to dress practically – I need to stay warm in clothes that are loose and easy to put on a very cold body after the bath. Wouldn’t the Sirwal pants be just heavenly ideal for this purpose? I long to spin this yarn, on a spindle from the High Atlas if possible, and knit straight off the spindle. Raw, improvised and simple. I have the perfect candidate for the job. Gunvor the Gestrike sheep, my longitudinal fleece study sheep, was born white with lots of black spots. Her first fleece will be perfect for the Sirwal pants. I can’t wait to knit those vertical zig-zag side stripes.

Historically inspired patterns

In the historic section of the book Irene creates designs inspired by textile fragments, traditional garments and art in the area. Hats, socks, belts, a bath mitt and complex but ingenious multi-colour intarsia details.

Lovely belts in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.
Lovely belts in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.

After the historical journey Irene takes us on towards the end of the book she writes (p. 118):

“Rather than solely focusing the narrative on Muslim Arab expansion across the continent, the evidence available to us raises the importance of investigating the role indigenous Amazigh people may have played the dissemination and possibly even development of knitting. It challenges us to consider North Africa not as a passive recipient to cultural influences from abroad but an active player in the evolution and transmission of knitting between continents and peoples.”

There is so much we can learn from this book and from the, in my western perspective, very fresh framework that comes from the oral tradition and try-as-you-go technique. The techniques and perspective constitute an key foundation of knitting history. Keepers of the sheep plays an important part in spreading this perspective. Thank you Irene and the artisans and shepherds in the book for sharing this knowledge with us.

Part of the earnings from the sale of the book is donated to the women’s cooperative Cooperative Ibilou. The cooperative works with community development projects benefitting citizens of the village Timloukine. When you buy the book you will be part of spreading the knowledge of an oral tradition while at the same time contributing to keeping the tradition alive and sustainable for textile artists in the High Atlas area.

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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • 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.

Socks

During the fall and winter I have been spinning a rya/mohair cabled sock yarn. It has taken a long time but I finally reached the bottom of the wool basket a few weeks ago. For Christmas I had promised Dan a pair of socks in a colour and style of his choice and I have now finished knitting them.

A blend of lamb's rya (dual coat) and adult mohair makes a strong foundation for a plastic free sock yarn.
A blend of lamb’s rya (dual coat) and adult mohair makes a strong foundation for a plastic free sock yarn.

Dye

The colour of Dan’s choice was blue, which was kind of vague. Lucky for him, since my dyeing experiments can be quite adventurous. First I mixed equal proportions of yellow, red and blue for a brown base. Then I added more blue and just a pinch of yellow to lean the blue a bit toward petrol. While I do love the colour it ended up a lot darker and murkier than I had planned. It is quite liberating, though, to just accept that I get the colour I get, enjoying the ride.

I dye with my little eye and it never turns out the way I had imagined. Still, I am happy for the colour I get.
I dye with my little eye and it never turns out the way I had imagined. Still, I am happy for the colour I get.

Design

The yarn has absolutely no elasticity, so I knew I needed to make the fabric elastic. A k2p2 rib was an easy choice. Dan wanted stripes, so he got stripes of the dyed and the natural white skeins. A simple short row toe (which I am ever amazed at and never seem to understand how it actually works) that I am particularly delighted by.

A sidetrack here: Provisional cast-on with a crochet chain. How is it that I always manage to fail utterly and completely with this method? I imagine just pulling the end of the crochet chain and magically unravel a perfect row of loops. Instead I end up having to untie it loop by loop. I had to check a YouTube tutorial for the second sock to get it right (which I actually did).

I had planned to knit the heel in the project, but changed my mind mid-sock and made sort of a semi- afterthought heel. The whole point of making this hopefully very strong and durable sock yarn was so that the socks would last, and without plastic. So, with an afterthought heel I will be able to knit a new heel when necessary.

Knitting and bingeing

My first test in spinning this yarn was a combed and worsted spun yarn that resulted in string. The carded and woolen spun version I tried next was so much better. Still, the yarn is quite dense and left a clear mark across my index finger as I knit the socks. The positive side of this, though, was that the density and strength of the yarn made out sort of a self regulating anti-strain button – I couldn’t binge knit these socks without strained shoulders and yarn cuts. So I took it in small portions, leaving space for taking a step back and planning the design. Slow is a superpower.

A basket full of yarn is like a bowl of candy!
A basket full of yarn is like a bowl of candy!

I watched several episodes of Gentleman Jack and Scott and Bailey for these socks. Suranne Jones with her several aspects of superheroness will be forever entangled in these socks. Like sort of a gentle sock body guard for Dan.

Numbers

The yarn is of light fingering weight and the gauge 25 stitches and 38 rows of stockinette stitch with 2.5 millimeter needles for a 10×10 cm square. This gauge leaves a tight material that I think is suitable for socks. For Dan’s socks I cast on 60 stitches to fit his feet with a comfortable negative ease. The yarn is quite heavy – four singles in the yarn (1819 meters per kilo) with quite some twist – and the finished socks weigh 161 grams in total (293 meters of yarn). The code word for these socks is chunky.

Toe-up

I knit the socks toe-up. I think it is the only way I have ever knit socks. My calves are quite generous above the ankles and I think it is easier to increase the circumference as I go than to decrease it. So I stayed in my comfort zone with Dan’s socks.

After the toes were finished I knit the socks parallell. Not on the same cable needles though, since I had too many balls of yarn to babysit. About 10 centimeters above the heel I changed to 3 millimeter needles to fit the calves. I used Jeny’s surprisingly stretchy bind-off for the leg opening.

Sock future

Knitting socks wasn’t as bad as I remembered it. However, this was with my own sock yarn and as a gift for my husband, so I really needed to get a good result. The socks fit Dan perfectly and look very nice. After the first wear he said they were a bit scratchy. I hope they will soften up after a few dates with his feet. Also, I’m looking forward to follow the durability of the yarn. I actually saved the leftover 2-plies for mending when that time comes.

At last, in early March, Dan got his Christmas socks.
At last, in early March, Dan got his Christmas socks.

There is yarn left for another two pairs of socks in a smaller size. I am also considering using the yarn for heels and toes only. Then I would have to spin another yarn for the foot and ankle, though.

Dan, my love, may your feet always be warm and happy. Merry Christmas!

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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

Knit (spin) Sweden!

Knit (spin) Sweden is in your online bookstore now!

Sara Wolf has written the lovely book Knit (spin) Sweden and I’m a co-author. The book has been out for a while, but due to Brexit and lockdowns I got my hands on it only last week. Today I give you a sneak peak of the book.

The more I read this book the more I’m fascinated by Sara’s thoroughness and knowledge. She leaves no stone unturned in finding answers to her questions. And even when she has no answer she does her very best to present as complete a picture as she possibly can. I am so glad to know her and proud be part of this book.

Sara Wolf

Sara Wolf has had a long career in museums as a textile conservator. She has a great passion for textiles in general and knitting in particular. Through her many travels, Sara has developed a deep interest in different knitting techniques and traditions around the world. While she teaches knitting she is always open to learning new techniques herself. I may be partly responsible for dragging her into the deep, deep spinning rabbit hole.

Sara has a long experience as a textile conservator, knitter and knitting traveller.
Sara has a long experience as a textile conservator, knitter and knitting traveller.

Knitting history in Sweden

While knitting is a relatively new textile technique it is still old enough to have a blurry origin. There are pieces of the puzzle, but we don’t have the whole picture. As the structured and organized reasearcher Sara is, she provides us with a lot of pieces that lead us not to a clear picture bot a lot closer to one. One example is an Egyptian sock, dated between the 12th and 14th century. The sock is knit with intricate stranded colourwork and has complex toe and heal constructions. This leads Sara to the conviction that knitting started a lot earlier than the dating of the sock. And together with findings of coins from over 20 different nations in the island of Gotland in the 9th century it makes the idea of an early arrival of knitting in Sweden very appealing.

Swedish knitting designers

Sara has chosen to portray five Swedish knitting designers and their work – the two-end knitting patterns of master knitter Karin Kahnlund, Viking inspired cable design by Elsebeth Lavold, floral stranded colourwork by Katarina Segerbrand, everyday cable garments by Ivar Asplund and the work of experimenting designer Kristin Blom.

Swedish fleece and fibers

In the fall of 2018 Sara contacted me via my blog and asked if I could spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds for a book (this book) she was writing. I was a bit reluctant at first, but we really connected and soon I sent handspun yarns from Swedish sheep breeds across the pond to her. She in turn knit swatches of my yarns.

The section in the book about Swedish fleece and fibers is almost entirely focused on Swedish sheep breeds and the wool they produce. This is the part of the book where I come in. While Sara describes the Swedish sheep breeds, I write about my process and what I think of the wool I work with. She has then written about her experience with the yarn in knitting.

I finally have the book Knit (spin) Sweden in my hands!
I finally have the book Knit (spin) Sweden in my hands! My contribution to the book is handspun yarn and some of the sections in the chapter of Swedish fleece and fibers.

My handspun in Sara’s hands

Having someone else knit with my handspun yarns is a new experience to me. Sara has some really interesting points as a knitter that differ from mine as a spinner. Some of the yarns are too scratchy as a knitting yarn, which I was fully aware of when I sent them to her. No matter how much I want a yarn to work as a knitting yarn, Sara with her long experience and skill as a knitter can pinpoint what it is that makes a particular yarn less suitable for next to skin garments. This understanding confirms my decision a few years ago to learn how to weave to be able to use yarns from the whole spectrum of spinning possibilities– from the softest of soft next to skin knitting yarn to the coarsest rug weaving yarn.

Yarn shops, mills and fairs

In three of the chapters in Knit (spin) Sweden Sara goes through places to visit in Sweden – yarn shops, craft shops, museums, spinning mills, sheep farms, fiber artists, wool and knitting fairs and much more. She writes about how to get there, what to expect and where the real treasures are.

Three chapters of the book Knit (spin) Sweden are dedicated to yarn shops, spinning mills, sheep farms, fiber artists and fairs all over Sweden.
Three chapters of the book Knit (spin) Sweden are dedicated to yarn shops, spinning mills, sheep farms, fiber artists and fairs all over Sweden.

Sara has visited many of these places during her travels to Sweden and bought their yarns. Just as with my handspun yarns she has test knitted all the yarns and tells us how they feel when knitting and as a fabric and in what kind of technique and use she thinks they will be best suited.

Knitting patterns

Are you curious about trying some Swedish knitting patterns? In the book Sara offers 11 patterns, featuring traditional patterns from different regions in Sweden and from some of the featured designers in the book. Sara has also adapted some of the historically interesting findings into patterns. I have contributed with a pair of two-end knitted wrist-warmers using traditional crook-stitch patterns.

Glossary

In the back of the book Sara provides a Swedish to English and English to Swedish glossary of knitting and spinning terms.

Find Knit (spin) Sweden here

You can find Knit (spin) Sweden in several online bookstores in North America, Europe and Sweden. Check the publisher Cooperative press in the U.S., Amazon in the U.S., Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Book depository in the E.U., and Adlibris, Akademibokhandeln and Bokus in Sweden. On all the Amazon options you can look inside the book and read the first few pages, including Sara’s and my introductions.

Knit (spin) Sweden is in your online bookstore now!
Knit (spin) Sweden is in your online bookstore now!

Thank you Sara for all the hard work you have put in to this book and for inviting me on your journey.

Have you read the book? Let me know what you think!

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. Contributions from those who can afford it will also help keeping the content free for those who can’t. 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.
  • 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.