Grey matters

I love grey wool. There are so many possible shades from just a combination of black and white fibers. And the combinations within combinations gives me a whole universe of sparkling silver. I can look at a grey yarn for ages and get mesmerized by the spiraling promise of everlasting variation.

Also, I have discovered the wonderful world of dyeing on grey. The colours turn out so deep and rich and gives the yarn a beautiful heathered effect from all the shades in the grey. Which, of course, puts me in a dilemma – I want to keep the beautiful grey and at the same time dye it for the wonderful  colour result.

A grey Trønder fleece

At Christmas, I bought a beautiful fleece from talented wool classifier Kia Gabrielsson of Ullsörvis. It was a grey Trønder fleece with lots of different shades in it. I separated the fleece and ended up with four piles of grey, from anthracite to very light grey. I carded the fiber and spun the colours separately and 3-plied them. The result was four squishy skeins of yummy greys.

Four skeins of grey handspun yarn
3-ply grey Trønder yarn spun woolen from hand-carded rolags

I also found the perfect knitting project for the skeins, where I could use all the shades and show the beautiful variation. It was the Slouchy shrug by 伊凡 陳, Yarn door on Ravelry.

Josefin Waltin wearing a grey slouchy shrug made of handspun yarn
The slouchy shrug in four shades of Trønder grey. Photo by Dan Waltin
Josefin Waltin wearing a grey slouchy shrug made of handspun yarn
A square knit in Brioche stitch, folded in half, sleeves knit on in the fold and a brim round the edges. Voilá, a slouchy shrug! Photo by Dan Waltin

There is a story in every item

Close-up of a striped shawl draped over stone steps
Lamina wrap by Ambah O’Brien, knit in my handspun.

There is a story in every part of the process and in every item I make.

When I knit something it is always in a certain context. Perhaps I am talking to someone, listening to a podcast or thinking of something. Next time I pick up the needles, my mind brings that context to life again in the feeling of the structure and the muscular memory of the motion. It’s like the context gets caught in the thread and woven into the garment. A parallel process of the time, space and events of that moment is created and recreated.

I may be thinking about when I prepared and spun the yarn or remembering what the fleece felt like. Perhaps I am thinking of how the dye didn’t turn out the way I had planned but how I still loved the result.

I may remember the last time I was knitting at a coffee break at work, letting my co-workers choose the next colour.

Perhaps I remember a heartwarming conversation with a curious subway passenger asking me about my project. I may smile at the memory of seeing other passengers watching the repetitive movements of my hands, and getting helplessly enraptured in the motion. I imagine they are positively affected by my serenity.

I may definitely remember all the mistakes I have made in the process, how I have dealt with them and what I have learned from them.

When the garment is finished and all the ends woven in, I wrap myself in it, like a story book. And I walk on, a little richer in memories.

A striped shawl draped over stone steps
So many new stories in one single item.

Oh, Kieran

In my series of favourite designers the turn has come to Kieran Foley. He makes extremely complicated designs, mostly shawls, in lots of vibrant colours, using several intricate techniques such as intarsia, lace knitting and stranding, preferably all at the same time. All the designs make you breathless, both by looking at and by knitting, like the Kurdish shawl and the Oceania pattern. I have made a few of his not so exhaustingly complicated designs. Well, one of them really was quite complicated, the Daisy crescent shawl. A regular crescent shawl, but with flowers knit in intarsia. Using 69 mini skeins.

A person squatting on a rock, putting her hands on a crescent-shaped shawls with flowers
The Daisy Crescent. MC is my handspun, Daisies are scraps of handspun and commercial yarns. Photo by Dan Waltin

My first Kieran was less difficult, though, the Shetland crescent. He was inspired by the colour range of Shetland sheep when he designed it. I was at the time equally fascinated by the same in alpaca, so I knit in in my handspun alpaca yarn.

A hand holding hanger with a natural-coloured lace shawl
Shetland Crescent, by Kieran Foley. Yarn is my handspun alpaca. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I also made the Echo beach shawl with very interesting ladder patterns. So simple an idea, yet so exquisitely designed.

Oh, Veera

In a recent post I told you about one of my favourite knitting designers, Kate Davies. Another favourite designer is Veera Välimäki. She has designed a lot of sweaters with brilliantly smart and yet simple yoke constructions, preferably using short rows. Many of the designs are in garter stitch which gives handspun yarns an extra opportunity to show their perfect non-perfectness.

My first Veera was a shawl, though, the Color affection. You can read more about it here. I knit it in my handspun  alpaca yarn in natural colours and I love the result, it has a wonderful drape.

The back of a person wearing a striped shawl
Color affection, by Veera Välimäki. Yarn is my handspun alpaca. Photo by Dan Waltin

When I changed jobs a few years ago, my colleagues gave me a gift voucher at a local yarn store (boy, did they know me well!) and I bought the yarn for and knit the Still light tunic, a garment I could live in.

One of my favourite Veera designs is the Shift of focus sweater, which I altered a bit. Instead of a buttoned front, I made it closed and I really loved the result. The yarn was a different matter, though. I wasn’t very used to making consistent grist, so the skeins were quite different in thickness. Also, I had spun too little yarn, so I had to make some more from another fleece. Fortunately I had the same dye bath left, so nobody knows the difference.

The torso of a person wearing a teal knitted top
Shift of focus, by Veera Välimäki. Yarn is my hand dyed and handspun from Jämtland sheep, Swedish finewool sheep and some silk. Photo by Dan Waltin

Right now I’m working on the Sides and stripes sweater. The yarn is my handspun from Swedish finewool sheep (blue) and Jämtland sheep (orange) and hand dyed with Greener shades.

Orange and blue hand spun skeins of yarn on a wash line
Yarn for Sides and stripes sweater by Veera Välimäki

I’ll show you when it’s finished!

Oh, Kate

One of my all-time favourite knitting designers is Kate Davies. She is from Scotland and many of her designs are influenced by the landscape and history of Scotland and Shetland. She has written several books, where she often combines and integrates stories of the area, history, tradition and beautiful photography with the patterns. Like the Moder Dy hap, where she tells the story of how these giant shawls were constructed and why, the origin and purpose of the different parts of the shawl and how she has adapted it to modern techniques and yarns. You can read more about the Moder Dy pattern in Kate’s blog. This hap is on my waiting list. I just have to spin a little more yarn before I can begin.

In the textile department of my book shelf I have three of her books, Colours of Shetland, The book of haps and Inspired by Islay, and I can recommend them all.

I don’t know what it is about her patterns that is so appealing. Perhaps it it the foundation in traditional techniques that she has adapted to a contemporary context. One example is the Paper dolls sweater pattern, a traditional sweater with a Fair Isle construction but with a more contemporary motif. I knit it a couple of years ago for my daughter. She complained that she always got hand-me-downs. But this one was only for her. Knit in my handspun, of course. Another such example is the Oa sweater. Also a Fair isle pattern, but knit as a modern hoody. It is also on my list and also in need of yarn being spun.

Connecting a pattern to a story is also something that gives a design an extra meaning. Like the Stevenson sweater and Stevenson gauntlets that origin from the story of a famous light house engineer. I knit it in my handspun yarn, but obviously I didn’t check the gauge properly and I had to make lots of adjustments to get a good fit.

Josefin Waltin standing by a tree, wearing knitted gauntlets and a short sleeve sweater
Stevenson sweater and Stevenson gauntlets, by Kate Davies. Yarn is my handspun. White and blue is Jämtland wool, fawn is Shetland wool. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Or perhaps it is just because her designs look so darn good and are so ingeniously smart constructed. The Northmavine hoody is one such design. The clever striping that looks just like blue stripes, but actually contains four different shades of blue and turquoise (you find the same stripes in the Northmavine hap as well). The clever hood construction that is so obvious when you think about it. And the super smart edgings  and finishings that don’t have one single seam. That is an ingenious pattern.

Josefin Waltin wearing a knitted hoody, scarf and hat
Northmavine Hoody, by Kate Davies. Yarn from Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers. Photo by Dan Waltin.

And as you may have seen on several of my videos I wear my Northmavine hoody a lot. I bought the pattern and the yarn in Shetland at Shetland wool week 2015 and I’m longing to go back. Perhaps the hoody takes me a little closer.

The sheep, the chicken, the pig and the lion

There was a spinning competition at the wool fair I visited today.

A row of art yarns in different colours and styles
Competing yarns. Winner 4th from the right, third prize to 5th or 7th from the right, I can’t really tell them apart in this picture
A row of art yarns of different colours and styles.
Another set of competing yarns, mine 4th from the right

I love spinning competitions. The competition today was about spinning a yarn (beforehand and send it in), any kind of yarn, from Swedish sheep and adding a recycled material. Also, you needed to describe what the yarn was intended for. A really nice idea!

One of the reasons why I love spinning contest is that it gives me a chance to widen my horizons. I am forced to think outside my go-to yarn box. And this contest in particular. In the crafts section of my book shelf I have The spinner’s book of yarn designs by Sarah Anderson. I have learned so much by reading it and there is one yarn in particular that I always have wanted to try to spin, but I have never thought of a proper use for it. And now I had my chance. It was the pigtail yarn. You Z-spin two singles, one with more twist that the other. As you ply, you let the overspun single ply back on itself at suitable intervals to make intentional pigtails. You can also add pre-strung beads to the ends of the pigtails.

So, I spun thick singles from hand-carded rolags on my Navajo spindle. The wool was from the finewool sheep Engla from Överjärva gård.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Navajo spindle. Dandelion field in background.
Spinning singles on a Navajo spindle

At first I was playing with the idea to pre-string the overspun single with washers and add them to the top of each pigtail, but I realized that this would be too difficult. After all, I have never spun an art yarn before. My wool traveling friend Ellinor suggested chicken feathers instead. And I loved the idea.

I had planned to ply the singles on the Navajo spindle, but after a while I came to my senses and used the wheel instead. Plying was a really mad task. The yarn was too heavy and too voluminous and the bobbin wouldn’t pull up the yarn properly (probably because I had the wrong tension). And the pigtails were quite difficult to get right.

Close-up of spinning on a spinning wheel.
Plying intentional pigtails

When the singles were finished, I was left with a bobbin with disastrously stiff phone wire. So, I let the yarn go through the wheel again in the opposite direction to unwind the overply a little. And it worked!

Ellinor sent me a packet of beautiful feathers from her chickens.

Chicken feathers on an orange envelope with chicken stamps.
Chicken feathers with chicken postage stamps

After experimenting with different ways to attach the feathers to the pigtails, I ended up sewing them through the core of the feather and onto the ends of each pigtail and it worked out perfectly. But it took me three weeks to sew them on. At least they won’t fall off!

Close-up of hands attaching feathers to a yarn.
Attaching feathers onto pigtails, one by one

I imagine the yarn being used as knitted-on edge on a collar on a cardigan knit in a bulky white yarn. The feathers will make it look almost like a lion’s mane. Hence the name – The sheep, the chicken, the pig and the lion.

Josefin Waltin with a skein around her neck. The yarn has feathers attached to it.
The sheep, the chicken, the pig, the lion and the spinner

The sheep is the Swedish finewool sheep Engla who provided me with the fiber, the chicken is the previous owner of the feathers, the pig is the model for the pigtails and the lion is the look of the wearer with the yarn in the collar.

So, there were about 27 yarns in the competition.

The contestants had been very creative in their yarns. They had attached fibers from clothes, cassette tape, buttons, silk flowers etc. The winner was a beautiful core spun mohair yarn with hand dyed silk fibers and hand crocheted silk flower buttons. The third prize was wool spun together with human hair, also beautifully done.

And how did I do? Well, I came in second!

The yarns were auctioned for charity. At this moment I don’t know if anyone bought my yarn. But I’d love to see it in a project!

How it all began

Josefin Waltin knitting a pastel purple sweater in a garden chair 1985.

I have been knitting since forever. There is actually a picture of me knitting a sweater in my aunt’s summerhouse garden in Austria. I was twelve. After that, I have been knitting in periods. The latest period has lasted over 15 years so far.

In 2011 I was talking about knitting with my friend Anna. She told me that most  of the wool in Sweden is wasted because no one wants it or knows how to take care of it. And I couldn’t have that. I found a weekly class at Överjärva gård in Stockholm and Anna and I started to learn how to spin on a drop spindle. A “beginner” spindle, weighing about 90 g and with a shaft not very unlike a broom handle. I wasn’t very good at it, Anna quickly got a nice and even thread but mine was mostly involuntarily thick-and-thin. But I practised.

After a few weeks I asked if I could try a spinning wheel. I could, and I really enjoyed it. After another few weeks, I dived into heaps of bunched-up Polish weekly magazine pages on the living room floor and delivered my very first spinning wheel, a Kromski Symphony. And we’ve the best of friends ever since.

A few years later, I started visioning a film featuring all the steps from fleece to sweater. While planning the film project, I started thinking about drop spindling again. It would look so good on camera. So I bought a few drop spindles and started practising again, and this time I really enjoyed it. And a video was eventually published, Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater (Swedish title Slow Fashion – från får till tröja).