The superpowers of a fleece

A sken of dark grey yarn with colored specks in it

For a long time I have wanted to spin a yarn and knit a project where I start from the characteristics of the fleece and make a yarn that highlights the superpowers of that particular fleece. I wanted all the decisions I made from preparing the wool to designing and knitting a garment to be made with consideration to the fleece I had started with.

This post is part of a new blog series. In four posts I will take you through preparing, spinning, designing and knitting a garment, looking at consistency and some calculations. I will use the wool from one sheep as a case study.

A finull/rya gold medalist

In the 2017 Swedish fleece championships I got my hands on a beautiful, dark grey finull/rya crossbred. It is very soft with airy staples and mostly undercoat.

From spring to autumn

The ewe who grew this winner fleece was shorn in the spring, which usually means a little coarser wool and shorter staples than the autumn shearing. This fleece, though, was wonderfully soft.

A finull/rya mix and gold medalist at the 2017 Swedish fleece championships, shorn in the spring. Sheperdess: Margau Wohlfart–Leijdström

The competition had taken place in September, and I realized that the ewe probably was still wearing her summer coat. I contacted the shepherdess, Margau, and I was right, she hadn’t done the autumn shearing yet. A couple of weeks later, I had the autumn shearing in my hands. A little longer staples and even softer than the spring shearing.

Same sheep, shorn in the autumn. The staples are a bit longer and the tips are slightly sun-bleached.

Finding the superpowers

For a long time I was thinking about what I wanted to do with the fleeces. The spring fleece was a gold medalist and I felt a responsibility to make the most out of it. I wanted to let the wool tell me how it wanted to be spun to become its best yarn.

To look for the superpowers in a fleece I need to examine the fleece itself. But I can also get some clues from considering the characteristics of the breed in general, in this case two breeds – Swedish finewool and Rya.

Swedish finewool and Rya

Wool from Swedish finull (closely related to Finn) is typically very fine and soft with a high crimp (2–10 waves per cm). It has well defined staples of up to 8 cm. It is a good choice for spinning a lofty yarn with longdraw from carded rolags.

Rya has very long staples (up to 30 cm) of strong and shiny fibers and about 60% overcoat. A worsted spun yarn from combed top would be a good choice for this kind of wool. Rya is often used in weaving. The combination of the two can make a winner.

A finewool/rya crossbred

The shepherdess Margau has a flock of 25 finewool and rya sheep and has also crossbred these for several years. This has resulted in wool with the best of the superpowers of both breeds – strong, shiny and soft. She has won several medals from the Swedish fleece championships.

The wool I got from Margau is truly magnificent. I am a sucker for grey. This wool has shades of medium to dark grey with a hint of brown. The wool shorn in the spring has the staple length of finewool sheep, up to 8 cm. It is very soft and airy. I would say it looks more like finewool than rya, but the staples are more open than finewool. Finewool can be tedious to prepare since the staples usually are very thin and defined. This wool is a lot easier to prepare.

The autumn shearing has longer staples and a bit lighter. The tips are slightly sun bleached. The overall feeling of the wool is soft, but it is also clear that the wool is strong and shiny.

A row of wool staples
Staples from the spring and autumn shearing of a finewool/rya ewe

This summer I had made a tweed experiment where I blended the autumn shearing with some sari silk. I really got a taste for the mixture between the dark wool and the colourful specks of sari silk. I decided that I wanted to use the spring and autumn fleeces together and blend them with the sari silk for a tweedy yarn.

Fiber preparation

I wanted to be really thorough and sample my way to the best yarn for this wool. I knew from the experiment I had done earlier that carded rolags was the best way to prepare this wool. Before that could happen, though, I needed to go through a few other steps.

Mixing the fleeces

The spring and autumn shearings were a bit different – the spring shearing was shorter because most of the nutrition had gone to the lamb during gestation and lambing period. The autumn shearing had longer staples and were also a bit sun-bleached. I wanted all of these characteristics in the yarn – the short staples for loftiness and the longer for strength – so I mixed the fleeces in a big basket.

Teasing and blending

I used my combing station to tease the wool. This is the way I usually tease before carding, it is a quite efficient method. In this step I could also blend the sari silk with the wool.

A braid of turquoise based sari silk
Sweet sari silk

I loaded the stationary comb with the wool, not considering staple ends or directions, I just loaded ruthlessly to about a third of the height of the tines. At the top I added the sari silk. I combed three passes and then removed the blended fiber from the stationary comb tuft by tuft. This left me with clouds of wool blended with sari silk.

Carding

I am quite used to carding and I have my way of doing it that I think works quite well. Still, after watching the Interweave downloadable video How to Card Wool: Four Spinners, Four Techniques, I made some adjustments. I used to load the whole width of the card with wool, but now I leave a one inch passepartout of the card empty on the sides and top of the carding pad. This way I make sure that all the fibers are actually on the carding pads and not escaping through the sides. I also pay more attention to rolling the rolag between the cards to make neater and more uniform rolags.

Carding is something I love doing, and with these adjustment it became even more satisfying to see the fluffy teased clouds turn into proper and uniform rolags.

Sweet hand-carded rolags with specks of recycled sari silk.

Spinning and plying

I wanted a soft and round yarn, so my idea was to spin a 3-ply yarn with long draw. I made lots of samples with long draw in different thicknesses, but I wasn’t really happy with the results. All the samples felt too dense and not soft enough.

Spinning

For a while, English longdraw had been lurking in the back of my mind, but I was a bit reluctant to try it. If I liked it it would mean that I would have to spin everything with english longdraw and I wasn’t sure I would be able to do that with the consistency I wanted. But I tried it and realized that I had found the best way to spin the rolags. The samples were soft and lofty, and it felt just right. I ended up with a sport weight thickness that seemed perfect for the wool.

yarn samples of different thicknesses
I sampled my way to the best 3-ply yarn for my fleece

Spinning longdraw requires really well carded rolags. With any unevenness in the carding there is a risk that the yarn will be uneven and/or break in the draw. This is even more true for English longdraw where you draw one arm’s length in one motion. Having little specks of short fibers in the rolags feels a bit counter productive here. I didn’t let that stop me, though, I just had to take extra care in examining the roving before setting the twist. I think the yarn broke just a handful of times during the whole spinning.

When I spun the yarn I could feel the amount of blending of the two fleeces. In some rolags the drafting was really easy, almost too easy. This meant that I had mostly shorter staples from the spring shearing in this rolag. In others, the drafting was a bit tougher due to a higher amount of longer staples from the autumn shearing. The longer staples were important to the durability of the yarn, but too much of the longer wool would make a denser yarn than I wanted. Had I done this preparation in the summer I would definitely have mixed the fleeces by willowing them.

A bobbin with dark grey yarn with specks of colour
A bobbin full of yum

Plying

When I ply I like to transfer the singles together to a new bobbin. This way I start plying from the same end as I started spinning. It also allows me to go through the singles one more time before plying. I don’t need to handle three individual singles when plying. Instead I ply them in a bundle straight off one bobbin.

A skein of dark grey wool with colored specks in it.
A finished skein of final/rya tweedy yarn, full of superpowers.

Getting to know a fleece

This wool has gone through my hands numerous times. From sorting, teasing, carding, spinning and plying. I try to read the fleece to find out what I need to do to let it shine. In handling the fiber I get to know know what it feels like, how it sounds, the staple length, the crimp, how well it drafts, how much lanolin is in the wool. Every time the fiber goes through my hands I get new pieces of the puzzle. It is like every step in the process gives me a deeper and broader knowledge and understanding of the wool.

A sken of dark grey yarn with colored specks in it
Some tweedy loveliness

Coming up: In the next part of this blog series I will dive into consistency in all the steps in the process and look at how I take measure – literally – to end up with a yarn that is even.


You can follow me on several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course!
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. 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 posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

English longdraw

Josefin Waltin spinning on a spinning wheel

In the last video of 2018 I give you what I promised you back in March – a video about spinning English longdraw. Share it if you like it!

In July I made a video with spinning English longdraw with a quill, but that time I was using brown wool that was a bit difficult to see. This time I use white wool and I hope you can see the fiber better this time.

I’m spinning on my RoadBug spinning wheel from the Merlin tree. The fiber is Shetland wool, hand-carded rolags from combing leftovers.

The English longdraw

With the English longdraw – or double drafting – you gather twist, make an arm’s length draw, add twist and roll back onto the bobbin in one smooth motion. The technique is full of superpowers that I will dissect in this post.

Lofty and warm

Spinning English longdraw will get you a lofty and warm yarn. When sampling for a spinning project recently I tried different kinds of drafting techniques, turns per inch, thicknesses and fiber preparation. I was amazed by the difference between the “regular” (American) longdraw and the English longdraw – the English longdraw was so much softer and loftier!

A skein of white yarn
A sweet little skein spun with English longdraw. 16 g, 36 m, 2297 m/kg

A double drafting technique

When you spin with the English longdraw you use a double drafting technique:

  • After you have gathered the twist you make the draw. This first part of the double draft results in a pencil roving with a soft twist.
  • After the draw has been made, you begin the second part of the double draft by adding twist.

You can compare this to the technique used with different kinds of spindles – the Navajo spindle and the Akha spindle are two examples. A good idea to practice the English longdraw is to begin with a slower tool like a Navajo or Akha spindle. You also spin with an English londgraw on a walking wheel. The English longdraw is an excellent choice for spinning short fibers.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a spinning wheel
An arm’s length’s draw gives consistency.

Consistency

With the English longdraw you have the opportunity to spin a consistent yarn. The draw in itself helps achieve this consistency since it is quite a long draw.  In addition to that, you can make the yarn even more consistent by planning your project.

Consistency as a bonus

When you spin with an English longdraw you can make the draw as long as you like or find comfortable. This is achievable with American long draw as well. The difference is that by gathering the twist in the English longdraw and then make the draw in one motion, the twist will catch the fibers more evenly over the draft.

Consistency by design

As I wrote in the paragraph above, the length of draw in itself helps you achieve a more consistent yarn. However, you can also take advantage of this and plan for even more consistency. By aiming for the same length in every draw, you will add to that consistency. Try to get a feeling for what draw length is comfortable and stick to that length in every draw. Voilá – consistency.

You can also add to the consistency by controlling the amount of twist in every draw. I do this by having a set treadle count – I make samples of different amounts of treading and set my inner meteronome to the count that gives me the best yarn for that particular fiber. In the video I count to eight when I gather twist, make the draw and count to ten when adding twist. By doing this for every draw I will have a more consistent yarn.

It has to be said, though – no yarn will be consistent without a good preparation. I use hand-carded rolags. Hand-carding rolags takes a lot of time, but it also gives me a lot of practice. The yarn I’m spinning at the moment (not pictured)  is a 3-ply yarn. One single is 20 grams and consists of around 16 hand-carded rolags. That makes 48 rolags for one 60 gram 3-ply skein. So far I have spun 10 skeins – 480 rolags. That’s a lot of practice and 480 chances to learn new things. Think about that the next time you sigh over your hand cards.

The technique

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the technique. Spinning English longdraw is done in a four-step sequence:

  • Building up twist
  • Making the draw
  • Adding twist
  • Rolling onto the bobbin

We will look at each of the steps individually. But before you do anything, you need to make sure the wheel is ready: Bring out the oil and lubricate. Spinning English longdraw requires serious spinning wheel pampering.

Building up twist

In this first step I prepare for the draw and decide how much fiber I want in each draw. With quite a low ratio I build up twist just in front of the unspun fiber. That means that I hold the rolag carefully and treadle for a set amount of treadles. I pinch the yarn with my spinning hand just in front of the rolag so that the twist doesn’t enter the fiber. This is the only time in this technique where the spinning hand is on the yarn. The fiber hand takes care of the rest.

Making the draw

In this second step I decide the thickness of the yarn.

A lot of things happen at the same time now. I unpinch the yarn with the spinning hand and make an arm’s length draw in one single motion with my fiber hand. This lets the twist enter the unspun fiber as both fiber and twist distribute over the drawn length. I now have a pencil roving with a soft twist in it. I need to make the draw slow enough so that the yarn doesn’t break and fast enough so that the fibers still have their mobility. This of course also depends on how much twist you have built up – how many treadles you have counted to.

Adding twist

In the third step I decide how much twist I want the yarn to have. I hold the yarn in the arm’s length I have decided and count to my set treadle count.  I watch the yarn and assess it as I treadle. If I need to, I have time to make adjustments in this step.

Rolling onto the bobbin

The last step ends the just made draft and prepares for the new draft. I roll the yarn onto the bobbin in one smooth motion and pinch the yarn just in front of the rolag again, ready for the next draw.

Close-up of a person spinning on a spinning wheel
When gathering twist, I pinch the yarn with my spinning hand just in front of the rolag. The fiber hand holds the rolag loosely.

The setting

The video was shot in August at the cabin we rent at a sheep farm every summer. This was an overcast day and it was difficult to get good colour quality. To compensate for the overexposed pasture in the background, I have focused extra on the sound – the music, the running stream and an occasional baah.

A lofty yarn spun with English longdraw

Happy holiday spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course!
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. 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 posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Spinning cotton on an Akha spindle

A spindle with fiber

I have a new spinning video for you today! This time I discover the beauty of spinning cotton on an Akha spindle. The Akha spindle is by far my favorite tool for spinning cotton.

This is the fifth and last post in my cotton blog series. Previous posts have been about my opinion of the cotton industrycotton processing, spinning cotton on a Tahkli spindle and spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle.

The Akha spindle

The Akha spindle is used by the Akha people who live in the region between Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Chinese Yunnan. It is a spindle primarily used for spinning cotton. I think it would work for other short fibers as well, but I haven’t tried that. The whorl is placed in the middle of the shaft and you spin it with a two-step technique in two dimensions. The end of the upper part of the shaft has either a hook or a notch. Mine comes from NiddyNoddyUK and has a notch and I make a half-hitch to secure the yarn.

Spinning cotton on an Akha spindle

Cotton drafts very easily but has very short fibers. This means that you can draft the fiber as long as you don’t apply any pressure on the yarn.

It also means that you can’t spin cotton with a suspended spindle. Or, at least it would be very difficult. Yet, you use the Akha spindle suspended in the second step of the spinning technique. How does this work? Well, you need to make sure the drafting is all done in the first step. This is how I do it:

First step: Horizontal and supported

Setup: I hold the spindle horizontally in my spindle hand (my right hand for clockwise spinning). I hold the bottom part of the spindle shaft. The fiber is in my fiber hand, I hold it very lightly. I use hand-carded rolags. You can see how I card cotton here. No hand is on the yarn.

A person spinning horizontally on a spindle
Drafting away on my Akha spindle

  • I draft the fiber by increasing the distance between my hands. My fiber hand just supports the rolag and keeps it from falling down. No holding or pinching.
  • At the same time I roll the bottom of the spindle shaft. It is a very light movement – I use my index finger and thumb for rolling and the other three fingers for support. I pull my index finger toward the palm of my hand – clockwise with my right or counter-clockwise with my left (for a discussion on spinning direction and ergonomics, see this post).
  • I make a loose draft until I reach a length of the yarn that allows for a second draft.
  • When I have enough length between my hands I can allow myself to pinch the yarn in front of the rolag to avoid more fiber to enter the draft.
  • Now I can keep drafting and rolling. I make sure I do very small adjustments – I draft a little, roll a little, always checking that there is enough twist to hold the fibers together and enough draft to give the fibers mobility.
  • I draft until I can’t see or feel any more mobility or uneven parts in the fiber. When there are no more lumps and when there is no more give in the yarn, I stop the drafting.

A spindle hanging in its yarn
The second part of the two-step spinning sequence.

Second step: Vertical and suspended

  • I hold the yarn right in front of the rolag and let the spindle hang in its now-drafted yarn. If the fiber hasn’t been sufficiently drafted, the yarn will break.
  • I roll the bottom part of the shaft along my thigh in the spinning direction to add twist. A lot of twist. The bottom tip of the shaft is a bit tapered, so the spindle spins very fast.
  • When I’m happy with the amount of twist, I roll the yarn onto the cop, make a half-hitch and start the first step again.

The real spinners

I found a YouTube clip of a woman spinning on an Akha spindle. She does It a bit differently. She combines the first and second parts by having an arm’s length of long draw and then another arm’s length where the spindle hangs suspended. Also, she seems to spin counter-clockwise and she manipulates the yarn with her spindle hand to keep the spindle in motion.

Here is another clip of women spinning cotton on Akha spindles. They seem to be using both methods. The person behind the camera doesn’t seem to fully understand how to shoot spinning, though.

The setting

I shot the video when I was teaching spinning at Sätergläntan in early October. Before I came I knew it would be a beautiful place so I had planned to shoot a video there. I just needed to find a suitable spot. And it didn’t take long for me to find the perfect location. There are lots of beautiful old wooden houses where the students live. But the prettiest ones were the storage houses (härbre) that are used as simple lodging in the summer. You can compare it to an Alaskan or Canadian bear cache. I am truly fascinated by the old wood. I just want to hold my hands against the log walls on a sunny day and feel the warmth and the kindness of the wood.

A row of wooden store houses
Old wooden store houses, used for light lodging at Sätergläntan craft institute.

All the store houses had different doors. I just picked the one with the prettiest door. A student in the course I was teaching was kind enough to help me with the shooting of the video.

A favourite tool

In the cotton blog series I have prepared my cotton bolls and spun with three different spindle types – the Tahkli, Navajo and now Akha spindles. They are quite different but they all make the most of the superpowers of the cotton fiber.

  • The Takhli spindle with its speed catches the short fibers in the twist and I can manipulate the yarn while the spindle spins.
  • With the Navajo spindle I can  take my time making a double draft and use the length between my hands to even out the twist.
  • The Akha spindle allows me to separate the different parts of the spinning process and finish one at a time.

I have to say that my favourite of all these cotton spinning tools is the Akha spindle. It fits the characteristics of the cotton so perfectly and really makes the most of the properties of the cotton fiber. I can choose to sit or stand when I spin with it. The supported part does not require me to sit and the length of the yarn is short enough not to dangle in the floor for the suspended part if I sit down.

The Akha spindle I’m spinning on in the video (from NiddyNoddyUK ) is so very light and sweet to work with. It weighs only 14 grams but is not too delicate. It is very comfortable to spin with. I love the light feeling when I roll the shaft in my hand, feeling the structure of the wood and the subtle turning details. It is really fast when I set it in motion against my thigh and spins beautifully centered. She’s a keeper!

A spindle hanging in its own yarn
A favourite cotton spinning tool

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course!
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. 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 posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle

In today’s new video: Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle. It is difficult, but I learned a lot about spinning long draw and how to feel what the fiber wants.

This is the fourth post in my cotton blog series. Previous posts have been about my opinion of the cotton industrycotton processing and spinning cotton on a Tahkli spindle. So, here is my video about spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle.

Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle

I love spinning on my Navajo spindles. I love the whole-body approach to it. Especially when you compare it to the more fine-tuning supported spindle spinning where you mostly use your fingers. When I spin on my Navajo spindles I can use big movements and involve my whole body.

So far, I have only spun wool on my Navajo spindles. But when I read Connie Delaney’s book Spindle spinning from novice to expert I learned that Native Americans spun cotton on ground-resting spindles in pre-columbian times. Of course I needed to try that too!

The Navajo spindle is a perfect tool for spinning cotton. Since it is supported by the ground there is no weight on the yarn or fiber. When spun with a lot of twist cotton is strong, but before that happens you can’t put any weight on it.

Long draw

Spinning cotton is done best with a long draw from hand-carded rolags. And the only way to spin on a Navajo spindle is to spin long draw, preferably from hand-carded rolags. Isn’t that the perfect match! Here is my take on carding cotton.

As I covered in the post on spinning cotton on aTahkli spindle, cotton is very sensitive to compression, so it is vital to hold the rolag very lightly. Hold it as if it were a newly hatched chicken.

How I spin cotton on a Navajo spindle

While some spinners spin the fiber twice or even three times, I prefer to use a double draft. This means that I draft the fiber two times in the same take. The first time is to get the twist evenly into an amount of fiber. The second draft is to even out the twist and to reach the final thickness of the yarn.

Close-up of a person spinning on a Navajo spindle
Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle., the first draft. Like magic, the twist enters the fibers and yarn happens.

This is how I do it

  • With a very light hand I roll the shaft to build up the twist in the yarn. I let the fiber hand follow the motions of the rolling. I let the rolling rest in the angle at the base between my thumb and index finger.
  • After a given amount of rolls, I move my fiber hand outwards, letting the twist enter the fiber. This first draft gives me a roving. After a certain length I can’t stretch my fiber arm any more and I wind the roving onto my fiber hand so that the yarn never slacks.
  • Now I make the second draft in comfortable arm-length sections. I roll and draft, always making sure that there is enough twist to hold the yarn together, and enough mobility to allow the fibers rearrange themselves more evenly. If there are lumps, I open up the twist by untwisting slightly between my hands. For this both of my hands are on the yarn, controlling the piece between them.
  • A final add of extra twist. Cotton needs a lot of twist to hold together and make a strong yarn. I realized that this yarn didn’t have enough twist, so after the video was made I went through the yarn again and added extra twist.
  • When I have spun for a while I transfer the spun yarn down to the permanent cop, using my fiber hand as a middle station.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Navajo spindle.
Transferring the yarn to the permanent cop, using my fiber hand as a middle station.

Doing the Navajo dance

Spinning on a Navajo spindle is almost like dancing. The hands are constantly leading and following each other and working together in a given choreography. The fiber is their master and the hands need to listen to the fiber to be able to make the right moves. When the spindle hand rolls the shaft to gather up the twist the fiber hand follows in a gentle motion. The fiber hand takes over the control in the first draft and the spindle hand allows for a matching resistance. In the second draft both hands work together.

Allow your hands to really listen to the fiber. Cotton is a picky master, but the fiber usually tells you what it wants. I can literally feel when the twist enters the fiber in the second draft. Be sure to pay attention to what the fiber tells you.

The scenery

I shot this video outside our common laundry room. A sweet white building under a big oak. A century ago it used to be a stable for the horses that worked in the factories that were here before our house was built.

It was a really windy day in the end of September and I had a hard time keeping control over fiber, yarn and hair.

The Navajo spindle (and bowl that is outside of the picture) is from Roosterick.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a long-shafted spindle.
It was a windy day!

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. 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 posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Spinning English longdraw with a quill

A person spinning on a small spinning wheel

If one day I get the opportunity and the space, I want to get my hands on a walking wheel. To be able to spin majestically while having the freedom of standing and moving around is very appealing to me. When I recently found a wheel – tiny however – with an optional quill, I knew I needed it. You can read more about how the wheel came to me here. This post is about spinning English longdraw with a quill.

Quill wheels

Spinning with a quill – or stylus –  is a very old technique.  The first spinning wheel after the spindle was the great wheel (or walking wheel). It had a quill where the more modern spinning wheel has a bobbin and flyer. They were also hand operated, as opposed to the more modern (and time saving) treadle driven.

With a great wheel you have the perfect opportunity to spin soft and warm yarns with lovely longdraws. As far as I understand it, medieval spinners were allowed to spin weft on the wheel. The strength of the weft yarn wasn’t as crucial sa the warp yarn. The warp had to be spun with a spindle to be strong and even enough.

Watching the quill on my wheel gives me a hint to how Sleeping beauty supposedly hurt herself – this quill is dead sharp. While I did get stung by it several times I did not fall asleep, though. I am pretty sure Sleeping beauty didn’t fall asleep either. She just faked it to be able to shut the door behind her and spin in peace. No friggin’ princes necessary.

Spinning with a quill

The movements of spinning with a quill are so beautiful, like a choreographed dance. Apart from the general feeling of spinning with a quill, there are other benefits as well. Since there are no hooks or orifice, you can spin yarn of any thickness on a quill. You can go crazy with bulky art yarns with whatever you want to attach to it. Perhaps I should give that pigtail yarn with washers that I have been dreaming about a try? Gotta unsharpened that quill first, though.

Close-up of a small spinning wheel with a quill.
Deadly sharp quill with ugly plastic straw.

Spinning with a quill feels very free. There are no hooks to fuss with and there is a simplicity to it when there is less material between me and the wound up yarn. Also, you never have to deal with tension.

Although I try to avoid plastic, I have added an ugly plastic drinking straw to my quill. This is to (hopefully) make it easier to slide the cop off the quill when I am finished.

English long draw

This past Christmas I blogged about the English longdraw and promised you a video with it. I also promised you I would do it with white yarn. This yarn is brown. I will make another video with English longdraw with bobbin and flyer. With white wool. Have faith!

Watching Norman Kennedy spin on a walking wheel gives me goosebumps. Spinning with English longdraw gives the yarn a quality that I believe is more consistent than the American longdraw (which is my ‘regular’ longdraw). The English longdraw is a double drafted draw and very similar to the technique I use when I spin on a Navajo spindle. You can see the Navajo spindle technique in this video.

The technique: Basics

In the December blog post you can read more about the technique. Let’s go through the technique again, step by step:

  • Pinch the yarn with your spinning hand.
  • Gather twist by treadling and keeping the spinning hand still.
  • Unpinch and draw with the fiber hand
  • add some more twist by treadling and keeping the fiber hand still.
  • wind on to the quill

Intermediate

This was the rough sketch. Let’s dig a bit deeper:

  • Pinch the yarn with your spinning hand.
  • Gather twist by treadling and keeping the spinning hand still. Make sure you have a bit of an angle on the yarn (in relation to the direction of the quill).
  • Unpinch and draw with the fiber hand. Keep the angle. Hold the fiber very lightly and release evenly. This is the single draft.
  • add some more twist by treadling and keeping the fiber hand still. This is the double draft.
  • wind on to the quill. This is where you need to change the angle, just as you would on a supported spindle or Navajo spindle. Grab the yarn with your spinning hand. Pull a little to release the yarn from the tip and wind on to the bottom of the quill. This is a quite fast motion.

Advanced

If we look at rhythm and consistency we can go even deeper:

  • Pinch the yarn with your spinning hand.
  • Gather twist by treadling and keeping the spinning hand still. Make sure you have a bit of an angle on the yarn (in relation to the direction of the quill). Count your treadles here.
  • Unpinch and draw with the fiber hand. Keep the angle. Hold the fiber very lightly and release evenly. This is the single draft.  Try to make the release chunks even across the yarn. Count again here…
  • add some more twist by treadling and keeping the fiber hand still. This is the double draft. …and here.
  • wind on to the quill. This is where you need to change the angle to 90 degrees, just as you would on a supported spindle or Navajo spindle. Grab the yarn with your spinning hand. Pull a little to release the yarn from the tip and wind on to the bottom of the quill. This is a quite fast motion.

By counting the treadles you can get more consistency in the yarn. In the video I treadled eight single treadles for gathering twist and another eight to ten for drawing and adding twist.

The beauty of spinning is that you get so much practice, you just repeat the motions again and again. Suddenly, it’s just there, incorporated in your hands and movements and your body knows just what to do.

The video

This time I shot the video at the allotment. I have done some outdoor videos and clips with my stationary wheel and my portable wheel, but it isn’t very easy. That’s what a tiny wheel is for! I just threw the bag over my shoulder and left!

Since good quality carding is s such a vital part of spinning longdraw, I decided to keep the carding part unedited in the clip. Skip it if you don’t need it.

I ordered the double treadle version of the spinning wheel. However, I find it smoother and less noisy when I spin it as a single treadle. I chose to spin with a single treadle in this video. An interesting article in the latest issue of PLY magazine covers single treadle spinning and I am eager to investigate this more.

I know I promised you white wool, but this was what I had at the moment. I hope my light coloured clothes compensate a little.

A person spinning on a small spinning wheel with a quill.
The free and unencumbered long draw with a quill.

From the yearnings for a giant walking wheel to a teeny tiny portable wheel via the quill. I don’t get to walk while spinning, but then again, I couldn’t bring a walking wheel to the woods either. And whichever wheel or other spinning tool I use, I get to spin.

Happy spinning!


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English long draw

a hand wound ball of dark grey yarn

A while ago I came across the term English long draw. I saw a video by Longdrawjames where he showed and explained the English long draw and the importance of good carding. With this technique you build up the twist in an unspun piece of rolag while pinching the yarn with your spinning hand, pull the rolag back and unpinch the spinning hand, build up twist and then the yarn roll onto the bobbin in one smooth motion. Ruth McGregor has made a beautiful and relaxing video where it all looks really easy. She also shows how to hand card. Amanda Hannaford of mandacraft also made a great videos that shows and explains the technique.

As with all spinning, the preparation is crucial. You need to be able to make even rolags with your hand carders. If you leave uneven parts in the rolags, the spinning will be more difficult and the yarn will be equally uneven. And with uneven yarn, the twist will be uneven, making it more difficult to ply and risking lots of unintentional pigtails in the thinnest sections.

I have spun with this technique for a while now, but rather on a Navajo spindle than on a spinning wheel. If you look closely at Navajo spinning (at least the way I do it), you can see that it is the same technique. In this video I show the technique, especially in the slow motion section. I do tend to build up my twist in slightly bigger chunks of the rolag. Then I add twist in arm length sections, but otherwise it is practically the same.

A few days ago I decided to finally try it on my spinning wheel. It was a bit tricky at first, but after a while I got the hang of it!

I have not made a video about this. Yet. I need to practice a bit more first and wait for the spring so that I can shoot the video outside. And I will use white wool. In the meantime, look at the videos I mentioned and repeat this mantra:

  1. Build up the twist in a few inches of rolag
  2. Draw out the fiber hand until your reach your desired yarn thickness
  3. Add more twist for a stronger yarn
  4. Let the yarn roll onto the bobbin in one smooth motion

And Voilá! A yarn is spun!

In my experience, the English long draw leaves a more even yarn than with what to me is a traditional long draw (or does it have another name in comparison to the English?). The draw is longer and you have more control of the process. I also believe that I can get a more controlled rhythm with the English long draw.

Happy spinning!

A 3-ply sport weight yarn spun with English long draw from hand-carded rolags. The wool is combing leftovers from Shetland sheep (Eskit).

New video: Spinning through the seasons

a few skeins of handspun yarn on a tree trunk

I have a new spinning video for you today. It took me a necessary while to finish it.

I wanted to make a video where the seasonal change plays a major part. So I chose to make as few changes as possible, to let the seasons shine in all their glory. I chose to film everything on the same location, a tree trunk in a grove outside our house. While the spot and the spinning are the same, all that changes is the nature around me. I filmed whenever I thought the nature had changed enough to make a difference compared to the last filming. I focused on new flowers, seed capsules and changing colours of leaves. I love the first wood anemone/vitsippa in april and Marathon lily/Krollilja with its delicate flower in July and the seed capsule in August.

The tree was cut down quite recently, and when I chose the spot in early spring I didn’t really know how the ground would look like in high summer. It turned out to be a favourite spot for a nasty and invasive weed (ground elder/kirskål). It grew so high I couldn’t even find the trunk in July, so I had to cheat a little and use the weed wacker. I can highly recommend ground elder soup, though!

People sometimes have favourite seasons. I hope you find yours. Enjoy!

Navajo spindle is from Roosterick

Fiber is my hand carded wool from Shetland wool and Swedish finewool.

Knitting pattern for sweater is the Fileuse pattern by Valerie Miller, yarn is my handspun

Knitting pattern for shawl is the Marin shawl by Ysolda Teague, yarn from Wollmeise

Knitting pattern for hat is the Crofthoose hat by Ella Gordon, yarn is my handspun

Up close in the microscope

Wool fibers seen through a microscope

The other day I had a spinning date with my friend Anna and her cousin Helena. We had a great time spinning and chatting away. Anna also brought her microscope. I had brought staples from all my current fleeces and I went bananas with the microscope. Here are some examples.

First up is the Swedish finewool, one of my favourite breeds. I think the staple is from the neck, it is very short and fine. You can see the crimp in the microscope and how fine the fiber is. There is a lot of air trapped between the winding fibers. I want to keep this air when I spin it, to make a warm and soft yarn. Therefore I spin it with long draw from hand-carded rolags.

Three staples of white, crimpy wool
Swedish finewool

White wool seen through a microscope
Swedish finewool in the microscope

Next up is white superfine Shetland wool, long staples of fine and crimpy fibers. In this comparison, though, the finewool looks finer than the Shetland wool, and slightly crimpier. And I can see some peat between the Shetland fibers! It is appealing to spin it with long draw to keep the air in. However, these fibers are very long and they work better with the combs to make a strong and shiny yarn with short draw. Any shorter fibers or comb leftovers will be carded and spun with long draw, though.

Two staples of white crimpy wool
White Shetland

White wool seen through a microscope. There are pieces of peat in the wool.
White Shetland in the microscope

For comparison, here is a Leicester staple, with completely different characteristics. The fibers are long and shiny and with waves more than crimp. In the microscope you can see only straight fibers and they seem a bit coarser than the Shetland and finewool samples. It is easy to imagine these fibers organized parallel in a strong yarn. I have spun this yarn with short forward draw from hand- combed tops into a strong and shiny warp yarn.

A staple of wavy wool
Leicester wool

white wool seen through a microscope
Leicester wool in the microscope

This is so much fun!

The diversity of a fleece

In a previous post I wrote about fleece sorting and my fascination of the diversity within a breed and within a single fleece. I chose a few staples from my recent purchase to show you.

Staples from one single Shetland fleece, washed in warm water with a little organic shampoo and three rinses. Bought at Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers

The first fleece is a Shetland fleece in the colour Mooskit. As you can see, there is a variation in colour, staple length, crimp, fiber fineness and staple definition. The shortest fibers on the left are from the neck area, very short, crimpy and fine, they remind me more of Swedish finewool than Shetland wool. I would card this and spin with long draw on either a Navajo spindle or a supported spindle. I would probably treat the short fibers on the far right the same way. The two staples closest to the ruler are longer, darker and a bit coarser, perhaps from the rump area. I could either comb and spin these separately for a more sturdy yarn, or together with finer parts of the fleece to give the yarn strength and colour. The long light staples on the mid left (from the sides) look like they are dying to be combed and spun with short draw on a spinning wheel. On these staples you can also see the break in the fibers about 1 cm from the cut end, where the old fibers are thinned and new have started to grow out. This fleece had such breaks on some parts and they were easy enough to pull off. Combing would also remove these bits.

Another Shetland fleece, washed in warm water and three rinses. Bought at Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers

The second fleece is a white Shetland fleece. The variation is not as big as in the Mooskit fleece, but there are still differences. From very fine, crimpy and clean back and side wool to coarser and more wavy belly and rump wool. I could choose to comb it all together for several skeins of consistent yarn. I could also divide the fleece into different qualities for different purposes. I would love to use some of the finest parts to practice spinning extremely thin yarn.

Both of these fleeces are Shetland fleeces and graded as super fine, but they look quite different. I have another six Shetland fleeces and they have all varied quite a lot. Shetland sheep is a primitive breed, which I have written about in an earlier post. Among other things, they shed their wool as I showed in the Mooskit fleece above. All my other coloured Shetland fleeces have had breaks in the staples where new and old fibers meet. But much less the white fleeces. My theory is that there has been more pressure on the breeding of the white sheep than on the coloured ones and thus this feature has disappeared in some of the white sheep.

The advantage I have as a hand spinner is that I can dive into a fleece like this and plan how I want to use it. I can sort it in an endless amount of ways to fit my purposes or I could combine different parts of the fleece to get the most out of the different qualities of different parts of the fleece. I can play, experiment and above all, learn from what I see in one single fleece if I just look close enough.

Engla – a fleece of many uses

Last autumn, when I made a video at Överjärva gård, I happened to buy another fleece. I didn’t mean to, but I saw it in the wool shop and I immediately realized that it needed me. It was half a fleece from the Swedish finewool sheep Engla.

A raw fleece of crimpy finewool
Engla, a newly shorn fleece

When I sorted the fleece, I decided to divide it into different piles according to the quality of the wool. I ended up with three piles – the very short and fine (neck) staples, the medium length staples and the longer staples.

White crimpy wool on the left, carded rolags on the right
The shortest staples were carded

The fleece was a joy to work with – it was clean, easy to sort, wonderful to comb and card and dreamy to spin. I do love Swedish finewool. I can honestly say it has been one of my very favourite fleeces.

Hand holding up a staple of crimpy wool. Boxes of wool to the left.
Medium staples with lots of crimp

I bought 800 g of fleece and ended up with a total of about 440 g of yarn.

Hands holding up long and crimpy wool. Boxes of wool in the background.
The longest staples were combed

So, I carded the fine neck staples and spun them with long draw on a supported spindle and made a 3-ply yarn out of the singles and I was very happy with the result. A light, airy and even yarn with lots of bounce. I also made a video about the plying.

A skein of handspun white yarn in backlight.
3-ply yarn carded and spun with long draw on a supported spindle. 57 g, 203 m, 3581 m/kg

I carded the medium staples as well and spun them with long draw on a Navajo spindle. One of the yarns I made was a prize winner – The sheep, the chicken, the pig and the lion. I also spun several skeins of singles on a Navajo spindle.

Closeup of skeins of yarn in backlight
Thick singles spun with long draw on a Navajo spindle, and will probably be used as weft yarn. 434 m, 212 g with an average of 2000 m/kg.

I combed the longest staples and spun them with short draw on a supported spindle. I experimented with chain-plying “on the fly” and made two videos about it, a detailed video about how to ply-on-the-fly on a supported spindle and another one where I show how I start from an empty spindle with the ply-on-the-fly method.

A skein of handspun white yarn in a clog
Medium length staples combed and plied on the fly on a supported spindle.

I feel very fortunate as a hand spinner to be able to sort my fleeces to make different kinds of yarns, whether it is according to colour, structure or length. It can result in really unique yarns. And I learn so much from it.