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:

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

Dear Blanket

As a knitter of 35 years and a spinner of 8,5 years I have produced a lot of textiles. Some of them have wandered off to new adventures, some are used every now and then. Others are used and loved every day. One of these is a Shetland hap I spun and knit from Shetland fleece three years ago. This is a love letter to a dear blanket.

Dear Blanket,

we have been through a lot you and I. From a bundle of Shetland fleeces through washing, sorting, carding, spinning, plying and knitting to a finished Shetland hap. You had traveled a bit before you came to us. From the soft, green hills of Shetland to me in Stockholm. All four fleeces – white, eskit, shaela and mooskit – and pressed together. In plastic bags! I realize the humiliation of that, dear Blanket, but you did come to a good home in the end, didn’t you?

Once I had liberated you from that horrid plastic prison I gave you a lovely soak. You provided the lather from your soapy suint supply. Thank you for that! I did what I could to make you shine like the star you are. Softly spun with smooth long draw, rolag by rolag into a squishy 3-ply yarn and fashioned through an intricate but subtle lace pattern. The result: A perfectly lovely blanket. I think you rather enjoyed that! A traditional Shetland hap construction in all your Shetlandiness, but here with me in Sweden.

50 of the around 1000 grams of 3-ply handspun Shetland yarn that was made into a dear blanket.

We took the tram together to the craft leadership course, remember? Well, just the edges of you of course, way back when you were little and easy to handle. The tram ride took me 40 minutes. Very handy, I must say, since that is the time it took to knit two reports. As I worked my way in to the border and the middle you got increasingly harder to handle. The size of you! Towards the end of the knitting you covered most of my lap and half the sofa.

When you were finished

I made a hap stretcher for you, dear Blanket, to flaunt all your soft natural colours and lacey exquisiteness. It must have felt good getting de-wrinkled like that and straightened into your true shape, size and manner. Exposed to sun and daylight, just as you had been once on the hoof.

Nowadays

we hang out almost every day during the cold season. You just have that perfect nap size. Did you know that, dear Blanket? Your weight is light enough not to weigh down and heavy enough to feel safe and at ease under. I feel very privileged wrapped in you like a dumpling. You even have the wavy edges to match! Your natural colours and comforting wooly touch make me feel totally safe and at peace as your human-sized filling.

A person standing behind a stretched Shetland Hap
The Moder Dy hap. A dear blanket in a perfect nap size. Photo by Dan Waltin

In the evenings you are the perfect lap warmer for two people to snuggle under. Sometimes a teenager comes and worms themselves underneath your warmth with us. We don’t mind, quite the contrary. We are happy for whatever teenage snuggle we can get these days.

A dear blanket for two.
A dear blanket for two.

You have also joined me for Shavasana in my yoga practice. I bet you like that. No fidgeting, no fussing. Just a flat, relaxed, breathing body to cover.

Do you remember all the indoor huts you have been the floor, walls or roof of? With giggling children, soft toys and cushions making up a whole world for a precious moment. The giggling children are older now, sometimes more grumpy than giggly, and still use you for a hut. But they would never call it that these days.

The past few weeks

have been really cold, around -14°C at night. When I go to bed I steal you from the sofa, dear Blanket, and smuggle you up to the bedroom and drape you on top of my duvet. On occasions like these it’s like you undergo a transformation – from that everyday blanket in muted colours you suddenly stretch yourself into a majestic creation, like the train of an exquisite gown. Shining, suddenly. Beaming. Nights like that I imagine I sleep extra well underneath your wooly warmth.

The comfort of sleeping under a dear blanket in the cold winter.
The comfort of sleeping under a dear blanket in the cold winter.

Even though we enjoy your warmth and safety every day you don’t look a day older than when I unpinned you from the hap stretcher three years ago. I thank you for all the warmth and support you have provided us, dear Blanket. I hope you will continue to keep us safe and at peace.

A dear blanket to give warmth and comfort on cold winter days.
A dear blanket to give warmth and comfort on cold winter days.

All my love,

Josefin

P.S. I do wonder what will become of you when we are no longer with you. Who will treasure you? Who will know where you came from? Perhaps your heritage will be a secret to your future companion. Either way I’m sure you will warm someone else’s heart and become someone else’s dear blanket. And that’s the important thing.

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.
  • 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.

Portrait of a sweater

At the Jämtland wool webinar a couple of weeks ago I showed a sweater made in Jämtland wool and how it had been worn on the elbow after five years. After the webinar I got a request from a follower. She asked me to make some sort of portrait of a sweater and show different stages of its life. I found the idea brilliant and I am happy to meet her request. So here it is – the portrait a sweater.

A woman walking outdoors. She is wearing a grey sweater with white spinning wheels in a stranded knitted yoke.
The spinning wheel sweater straight off the needles in 2015

Everyday and wool festivities

I have worn my sweater for both everyday and festive occasions. As an everyday sweater I have worn it at home and at work. It is a warm sweater that works for a large part of the year.

At work nobody really notices it, to most of my colleagues it is just another knitted sweater. But when I go to wool and spinning events it is definitely a festive sweater – people see the work that has been put into it, they smile heartily at the spinning wheels on the yoke and some recognize it from my videos.

In 2018 I attended the Swedish fleece and spinning championships. That is definitely a festive occasion.

No matter where or when I wear it, it always feels comfortable and safe.

A five year portrait

I started the making of the sweater in 2014 by shearing the Swedish finewool lamb Pia-Lotta. The whole process is well documented and actually the main character of one of my earliest videos Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater (also available in Swedish). In the video I go through all the stages from raw fleece to a finished sweater. For that reason alone this is the perfect sweater to use in a portrait. In this portrait I document the stages of wearing.

I knit the sweater in the Fileuse design by Valérie Miller.

A new spinner

When I made the sweater I had been spinning for two years. Since then I have improved my spinning for another six years. While it is far from my best spinning it is definitely one of my favourite sweaters. And one of my most worn.

Looking at the sweater today I see many things I would have done differently. The grey yarn is unevenly and loosely spun. I think the yarn ranges between light fingering and sport weight. A consistent fingering weight yarn with more twist would fill out the stitches better and give a more finished overall impression.

The yarn is quite thin and unevenly spun at the neckline.

Had I placed the bulkier yarn on the elbows they would probably be less worn now. The white finewool yarn is also a bit unevenly spun. However, it is woolen spun and the uneven parts don’t show as much as they do in the worsted spun grey Jämtland yarn.

I placed the bulkiest skein on the bottom of the sweater. Perhaps it would have worked better on the elbows.

Tales from the elbows

As I wrote in the preamble of this post the sweater is worn at the elbows. I have seen the thinned-out threads for a while and a couple of months ago my daughter told me there was a hole on the right elbow.

I mended it with parallel blanket stitches over a horizontal help thread. That is the only mending technique I have learned.

A darning needle mending a knitted sweater.
A mended underarm on a hoody in a commercial yarn. The sweater has been worn a lot during three years.

I must have been too greedy with the mending since there is a hole on the same elbow again, just underneath the first mending. I should have mended a bigger area.

Portrait of a sweater. A new hole on the right elbow, just underneath the first mending.

I stand at work and use the mouse with my left hand. The right elbow often leans on the table top. I guess that is the reason why my right elbow has thinned out faster than the left. The left elbow is thin, but not worn through.

A thin spot on my left elbow.

Don’t get me wrong – Five years is a long time for a sweater that I have worn so often. I remember finishing the sweater just in time to bring it to Shetland wool week in 2015. In Shetland I bought yarn for a hoodie at Jamieson & Smith and started knitting it, so the hoodie is a bit younger. I have worn these two sweaters equally – the spinning wheel sweater in handspun and the hoodie in commercial yarn. I started mending the hoodie in several places two years ago (see picture above of a sweater with stripes). My first mending of the handspun spinning wheel sweater (which is older) was this year.

A new mending

I used help threads for my new patch.

To mend the new hole I removed the old mending. I figured it would be better to make a bigger mending than to overlap the old one. To find a suitable mending technique I used Kerstin Neumüller’s excellent and methodical book Mend and patch (available of course in Swedish and also German and French). I attached help threads over the hole and followed the knitted pattern with a darning needle threaded with the mending yarn.

A mended elbow hole! I removed the help threads and wove in the ends after I had finished the mending.

The mending technique description calls for a thinner yarn than the original one to avoid a bulky patch. I went the other way and used a bulkier yarn. The elbow is an exposed area and I didn’t want to have to mend a third time. The yarn I used is a handspun Gotland yarn I made for socks. It has two Z-spun threads and one S-spun thread that are plied S for extra strength. I hope it does the trick!

The spinning wheel sweater in 2020, with a mended elbow. The portrait of a sweater has changed.

I decided to make an invisible mending. It blends into the original textile quite well. However, I now understand the beauty of visible mending. With yarn in a contrasting colour you will actually see what you are doing when you mend the hole!

Other signs of wear

I inspected the sweater to look for other signs of wear. I saw a thin spot on the cuff of the right arm. However, I think this part is slightly felted since it is knit in Swedish finewool which felts easily. I don’t think the risk of further damage is alarming. I have it on my watch list but I haven’t done anything to fix it yet.

Close-up of a knitted piece of fabric with a worn-out edge.
A thin spot on the right cuff.

I also looked for pilling and didn’t find much at all. There might have been pilling in the early days and if there was it has all been worn off by now.

All in all I think this sweater has really worn well. I have worn it so many times and it is a wonder that it still looks so nice. I plan to wear it for at least another five years.

Make that sweater

You don’t have to be a master spinner to spin yarn for a whole sweater. There will be uneven parts and flaws. You will be able to look at it later and understand what you would have done differently today. You will also look at your accomplishment with pride. All the flaws you see are seeds to new learning. All the mistakes you see will remind you of what you have learned and how you have used that piece of learning in later projects.

Make that sweater. Embrace the mistakes as gifts of learning and wear your accomplishment with pride. When you see thin patches and holes, mend them and be even more proud. Make your own portrait of a sweater, and many sweaters to come.

Thank you for the inspiration Sissel!

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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

Fair isle yoke

This post is not about spinning. It is, however, about the first knitting design I made, a Fair Isle yoke. I started designing and knitting it over two years ago, but for different reasons I have pushed it aside in favour of other projects. During my current stashbusting frenzy I have finally finished it.

A woman wearing a knitted sweater with a Fair Isle yoke in turquoise and oatmeal.
My finished Fair Isle yoke. Photo by Dan Waltin

Knitwear design

The idea of making my own knitwear designs has been in my mind for some years now. It has become more and more real and I have produced a few designs already and published one pattern. My problem has been that while I want to design for handspun yarn I have felt a need to involve commercial yarn for the sake of test knitting and publishing on Ravelry. That’s the way it goes, right? You make the pattern, send it to test knitters with yarn instructions and publish it. I thought I would have to make two items of every design – one in commercial yarn to fit the knitwear design practice and one in my handspun for my sake. Lately, though, I have realized that I can skip the commercial yarn part and just design for the yarn I spin. I can do this my way. I realize that I won’t sell tons of patterns by designing for handspun. But I need to design, my brain needs it.

A fair isle yoke

This sweater design started in 2017 in this spirit – a design in a commercial yarn for the sake of the established pattern writing practice. The yarn is 2ply jumper weight from Shetland woolbrokers.

Close-up of a Fair-Isle yoke
A Fair-Isle yoke knit in 2ply jumper weight from Shetland woolbrokers. Photo by Dan Waltin

When my brain created designs for my handspun yarns the yoke had to stand back. At some point I got back to it, only to realize that I would have to frog all of it. I had knit up to the armholes but too wide and too short. I reknit it with a better fit and put it aside again in favour of another handspun design. This fall I decided to finish it, and I did. After all, I had made the design (and changed it a number of times) and the yoke chart was finished so I just needed to follow my own instructions. But there had been quite a few alterations along the way, so I decided not to aim for a published pattern. I would ease the pressure and just make the sweater for myself.

The basics

This is a fairly basic Fair Isle sweater. A fitted body and a Fair Isle yoke. A k2p2 rib at the bottom, cuffs and neck. The bottom part of the Fair Isle pattern is based on traditional Fair Isle patterns and the top part (the rounder shapes) is more free-styled.

I managed to make a successful short row shaping for the neck. I made it below the yoke part just after the joining of the sleeves. It came out just the way I wanted it to. I did reknit the neck above the Fair Isle pattern once. My first try was a bit too wide and the second try was just right.

The Fair Isle yoke pattern consists of seven colours – three dark pattern colours, three light background colours and one pop of colour.

There are four decrease rounds in the fair Isle pattern. I love how they make the bubble shapes aim towards the neck. That was my plan, to let the bubble shapes form sort of a pearl necklace around my neck. After the reknitting of the neck I added a fifth decrease round above the Fair Isle pattern.

Things I love

I love the Fair Isle yoke – the colours, the pattern and the fit. I made it according to the books I have studied and it was successful.

The colours

I spent a lot of time choosing the colours. I wanted to do this by the book – three pattern colours, three background colours and one pop of colour. Easy, but complicated. I was advised to look at the colours in black and white to make sure the lightest dark was still darker than the darkest light. It was a lot of fun!

Close-up of a Fair Isle yoke. Main colours in turquoise, background colours in light natural colours and a pop of red.
Seven colours – three dark pattern colours, three light background colours and one pop of colour. Four decrease rounds in bubble shapes closest to the neck. The white yarn is my handspun. Photo by Dan Waltin

For several years I have had a special place in my heart for teal and turquoise and I still do. I found my three pattern colours that look lovely together. The tangerine pop works perfectly with these.

The background colours are oatmealy (the main colour), natural white and white white. The white white is actually my own handspun yarn. I did buy a white white together with the rest of the skeins, but when I couldn’t find it when I needed it, I picked a handspun instead. It is Shetland wool, though, bought as a fleece from Shetland woolbrokers, so it is the same fibers at least.

The pattern

This is my first ever try at making a Fair Isle pattern. And after a lot of time charting, re-charting and swatching I came up with something I like and that is simple enough to knit. It is an eight stitch repeat and quite a small pattern.

I love how the colours blend into each other, almost like water colours. You have to look closely to see the subtle changes. It actually looks like a real Fair Isle pattern, fancy that!

Fit

I am very happy with the fit (from the yoke up, that is). I managed to plan the chart very well to make the yoke sit comfortably on the shoulders without sagging or pushing itself up.

Things I love less

The body is still too wide and a bit too short, at least from the waist down. I have a problem with the waist shaping of my sweaters. I wear a size M except for the hip measurement where I am a size L. This makes the waist shaping a bit dramatic and difficult to get right. Now I know that I need to allow for more ease at the waist to get a more harmonious waist shaping and still fit over the hips. I hadn’t had this epiphany when I designed (and reknit) the body. Perhaps I will reknit the body once more.

The back of a Fair Isle sweater
A little blousy at the back and still a bit too wide over the hips. I may reknit the body again. Photo by Dan Waltin

The sleeves are a bit too tight. Not for me, but in comparison to the rest of the sweater. And there is an ugly mistake in the body – I had miscalculated the number of stitches in the body. When I started the Fair Isle yoke I suddenly had four stitches too many and I decreased these during the knitting of the yoke. Not very elegant. This doesn’t really show in the yoke, but the back of the sweater is a bit blousy.

All of these parts are parts you don’t see in the photos. I gave Dan strict instructions on what angles he could shoot in, to show mostly the good parts.

Close-up of the back of a Fair Isle sweater
You can see a glimpse of the surplus stitches at the back of the yoke. The join at the back of the Fair Isle pattern is a bit untidy in the picture. Since then I have ripped up the woven-in ends and redone it and it looks much better now. Photo by Dan Waltin

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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

Finished

A few weeks ago I took you on a tour of some of my unfinished projects. I have actually finished a few things lately. One of them is a sweater in my own design from my handspun yarn. I call it Bianka.

A woman wearing a knitted sweater in shades of grey, from natural white at the neck to dark grey by the hips.
The finished Bianka sweater. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Bianka

Staples of wool in shades of grey.
Bianka’s fleece in shades of grey.

A while ago I bought a fleece in shades of grey. The wool was from the Swedish finewool and East Frisean cross Bianka. She was old and is on other pastures now. The Shepherdess was happy that I gave some love and care to the last of her fleece. This was a day I had decided not to buy any fleece. I failed.

Colour sorting

Five skeins of handspun yarn from natural white through medium greys to dark grey. Three of the shades have specks of colour in them.
Shades of grey. From the left: Selma, three shades of Bianka in the middle and on the far right the nameless sheep number 12004. Selma, the lightest shade of Bianka and the dark grey has sari silk carded into it.

I decided to divide the fleece into three shades to show their beauty and spin them separately. I carded rolags and spun a 3-ply yarn with English long draw. The skeins turned out beautifully, but they weren’t enough for a sweater. I did have two other spinning projects going on that would suit my three greys perfectly – one natural white from the finewool/rya cross Selma (coming up in a later post) and one dark grey from the Margau Beta sweater. Luckily there was yarn left from the knitting project they had been involved in.

A plain design

I wanted to design a sweater that would let the colour gradient be the star. I also wanted it to be an everyday sweater. Since I wasn’t sure I had enough yarn I wanted it to be as plain as possible with a fitted design.

Top-down

A knitted sweater in shades of grey.
The sweater is knit top-down in the round to take advantage of the colour gradient. Please note the snowflakes. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I am new to designing and I have found bottom-up designs much easier to calculate than top-down. However, for this design I needed to start at the top. I wanted the shades to go from light to dark and I had much more of the darker shades than the lighter ones. I figured the distribution of the colours would be more in balance if the smaller amounts were at the yoke where the circumference was smaller. Hence, I needed to pull myself together and design a top-down sweater. After the third frogging it worked!

Subtle details

I wanted some small and subtle design element, though, and I wanted it to be present in different parts of the sweater. I found a very simple cable ribbing that I used for the collar, cuffs and bottom hem. The yoke shaping got the same kind of cable. I also added a faux seam in the sides and sleeves. The whole sweater is knit in the round, though.

Close-up of a knitted yoke in shades of grey. The neckband and raglan shaping is cabled.
Cabled neck ribbing that continues in the raglan shaping. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I decided not to make any short rows to for the neck. It would disturb the raglan cables and I wanted the design to be as simple as possible. I could have placed short rows below the raglan cables, but then the colour segments would look wrong.

Colour challenge

Since I was determined to keep the colour changes in the same place for sleeves and body and I didn’t have endless amounts of yarn I needed to knit the body and sleeves at the same time. There were lots of needles and cables to get tangled in, I can tell you! But I think there is a beauty in the limitation – if I have a finite amount of material I need to be more creative than if I had all the material I could wish for. I see the limitation as a positive thing that I need to account for in my design and that gives it an extra dimension.

Two hands touching a tree. You can see the cuffs of a knitted sweater. The ribbing of the cuffs is cabled.
The cuffs have the same cabled ribbing as the neck and raglan shaping. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I was a bit worried that I would run out of yarn before I was finished and I was aware that I may have had to keep the sleeves shorter than I wished them to be. In the end I did end up with one skein left of the darkest shade and part of a skein of the second darkest. I didn’t have to make the sleeves shorter. I love that the uncabled part of the cuff spreads out like a little skirt over my hands.

Close-up of the bottom hem of a knitted sweater. The hem has cabled ribbing.
A faux side seam and cabled ribbing at the bottom hem. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The hem ribbing has the same pattern as the cuffs. I like the fairly high ribbing, especially in combination with the few centimeters of dark grey above the ribbing, before the lighter grey takes over.


All in all I’m very happy with the result. I am learning more and more about garment design and what I can do with the yarn I have. All the way from feeling a fleece for the first time and through the steps of the process to a finished yarn a design takes shape in my mind. I feel so empowered by the realization that I can mold my fleece into a finished garment that celebrates the wool that made it possible.

Perhaps I will knit myself a matching hat with the leftover yarn.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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