Bulky

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

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

Snow shoveling pants

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

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

A bulky endeavour

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

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

Floor supported spindle

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

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

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

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

Letting go of perfect

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

A twisted rolag

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

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

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

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

Opening up the twist

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

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

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

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

2-ply super bulky

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

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

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

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

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

Happy spinning!


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


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

3D printed charkha

In a previous post I reviewed a pair of 3D printed combs from Joseph Bjork at Good and Basic. Today I review a 3D printed charkha from the same maker.

For more background to this review, read the first sections of the post about the 3D printed combs.

3D printed charkha

The designs are free for anyone with access to a 3D printer, but Joseph also sells his products in his Etsy shop. Joseph wrote that he was shocked at the price of spinning tools. He deeply enjoys fiber arts and wants everyone who is interested to be able to spin. The idea with the 3D printed tools is to offer a cheap alternative to more expensive spinning tools for a new spinner who wants to have a go at the craft.

The 3D printed charkha ready for spinning.
The 3D printed charkha ready for spinning.

I have never used a charkha before and have nothing to compare with when it comes to the tool. However, I am an intermediate to experienced spinner, I have spun cotton and know the spinning technique required. I have been wanting to try a charkha for a while now, though, and this is the perfect opportunity for me to see if I like it. In this sense I’m a good candidate for Joseph’s 3D printed charkha – a charkha beginner who wants to try but not spend too much money. The 3D printed charkha costs $30.

So, here is my review, beginning with a short version:

  • Can I produce yarn with it? Yes.
  • Is it safe to use? Yes.
  • Does it give me a feeling of flow as I use it? Not really.
  • Does it inspire to learn more about charkha spinning? Yes.
  • Would I recommend it to a new spinner? Yes and no.

Assembly

When I opened the bag with the 3D printed parts for the charkha there was no assembly instruction. On a little note in the package there was a link to the Good and Basic YouTube channel where there is an assembly video named I designed 3D printed book charkha. There is also another video where Joseph shows how he uses the Charkha.

The parts for the charkha (including three spindles) look much like the parts of a conventional charkha, only in a different material. Contrary to the wool combs, the metal parts are made of welding rod and give the charkha a balanced look. By assembling the parts on a wooden surface the 3D printed material makes less of a visual disturbance than the 3D printed combs.

Joseph had included some flat rubber bands for the smaller whorl, but the spindle wobbled too much with this solution, making the rubber bands fold and slide off quite often. Instead I used cotton string for both the large and small wheel, which worked better for me. When looking at videos of traditional charkhas, cotton string seems to be used for both the larger and smaller whorls. I think a less elastic rubber (and rounded) band may work too for the larger whorl, but I didn’t have that. After having read this review Joseph is considering changing the included rubber bands.

To keep the charkha steady I clamped it to a table with C-clamps.

Fiber and preparation

To try this charkha I use cotton that has been grown in a botanical garden here in Sweden. I have ginned it myself and carded into rolags with fine (108 tpi) hand cards. For a demonstration of this, watch this video where I prepare cotton for spinning.

Cotton grown in Sweden, ginned and carded by me.

Weight

The 3D printed parts in the charkha are very lightweight. Without resistance the spindle spins very fast. However, with the slightest resistance there are issues.

The knot on the drive band tends to stop the spinning or just glide around the whorl. This happens particularly often where the string goes around the mini whorl on the spindle shaft. When I make the draft the drive band also tends to slide instead of drive the whorls. The more I fill the spindle with yarn the more resistance the cop brings, which makes the rolling onto the spindle tougher. The whorls in a traditional charkha are typically made of wood, which give them a bit more counter-resistance to talk back to the resistance of the drafting.

Communication

In all spinning there needs to be a communication between the hands and the fiber. With this 3D printed charkha this is vital. Since the lightweight charkha is so sensitive to resistance the spinner needs to listen very carefully to the fiber to be able to spin the yarn. I find I need to slack the yarn slightly when the whorl get stuck to get it unstuck. When I see a slub I need to stop to open up the twist before I can go on. With a (wooden) charkha that can take the resistance I wouldn’t need to stop – I could simply add length to the yarn and allow the twist to distribute itself more evenly.

When the thread is to my liking I can add twist with no problem – this part of the spinning process doesn’t involve resistance that will stop the flow. But as I roll the yarn onto the spindle there is resistance again and I need to find solutions to get the yarn onto the spindle without too much extra work. Driving the smaller whorl works better for me than the larger whorl, especially when the spindle has more yarn on it.

This starting and stopping stops the flow of the spinning. And, as I argued in the review of the 3D printed combs, the flow is such an important part of the spinning process. When I don’t get that feeling of flow my inspiration to continue fades. Spinning to me is most of all a process, not just the resulting yarn.

Even if I’m a beginner at charkha spinning I need my overall spinning experience to understand what I need to do when the whorls stop or the drive band glides in the whorls. I need to understand spinning, fiber preparation and how the longdraw works.

Conclusion

A lot of the issues with the 3D printed charkha seem to have to do with the weight of the components. It influences the flow and experience of the spinning, something I talked about in the review of the wool combs as well. Again, I have no previous experience with charkha spinning or with other charkhas so I can definitely be doing things wrong.

So, to the question if I can produce yarn with the charkha the answer is yes. The process isn’t chafe free, though, mainly because of the lightweight parts. Therefore I wouldn’t recommend it to a new spinner. There are so many things that stop the process along the way. For someone like me, with enough spinning experience to trouble shoot and to understand what is happening I would recommend it as a way to try charkha spinning before deciding to buy a charkha that costs considerably more money but also works considerably smoother.

The 3D printed charkha has given me an appetite for a wooden charkha. I have seen a lovely Japanese foldable bamboo charkha, but I haven’t yet figured out how to purchase it. If you know anything about it, please let me know. The principle seems to be the same as Joseph’s charkha – spinning possibilities for everyone at a low cost. The key, for me at least and just as in the case of the 3D printed combs, is how low the cost can sink before the product looses vital functions functions.

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.

Nalbinding Åsen mittens

The waulked and embroidered nalbinding mittens are finished!

For the past few months I have been on an Åsen wool journey. It started with my wanting to make a breed study on Åsen wool. I contacted an Åsen shepherdess who provided me with lovely fleeces. When I started to investigate the fleeces in preparation for the study I sank deep into one of them in the search for its soul. I may have found it in a pair of nalbinding Åsen mittens.

I like to investigate a fleece to find out how it wants to be treated to become its best yarn. In fact, that is my aim in all the fleeces I meet. Every fleece has a purpose and I think I owe it to the sheep who gave me the fleece to find its soul.

A nalbinding friendly fleece

This particular Åsen fleece had mostly vadmal type staples – mostly warm and airy undercoat fibers and just a few strands of long and strong outercoat fibers. It was not particularly soft and I saw a big nalbinding yarn potential. The airy undercoat fibers would provide lightness and warmth while the few outercoat fibers would bind the fibers together and add strength and integrity to the yarn.

Nalbinding straight off the spindle, breaking the rules of soaking and finishing.
Nalbinding straight off the spindle, breaking the rules of soaking and finishing.

To keep as much of the softness in the yarn I carded rolags and spun with a long draw on a suspended spindle. To make the yarn strong I chose the suspended spindle. The tension from the weight of the spindle brings integrity to the yarn. This was the first time I have spun this way. It was truly a lovely treat to explore this technique.

I gave the yarn lots of twist to make sure it would stand the abrasion of going up and down in the nalbinding. The resulting yarn was round, strong and kind. A few strands of black kemp here and there added to the rusticity of the yarn, which went well together with the ancient nalbinding technique.

Nalbinding Åsen mittens

I loved nalbinding these Åsen mittens. Well, I love nalbinding full stop. The technique is slow and I get to hold warm and kind yarn in one hand and a hand carved wooden needle in the other. The slow path of the needle up and down between the strands in my work and the working yarn gently hugging my thumb. Nalbinding doesn’t take up much space and I can do it anywhere. What’s not to love?

The comfort of nalbinding.
The comfort of nalbinding.

Waulking

I was almost sad when I had finished. Now what? Well, a nalbinding project is seldom finished just because the nalbinding itself is over. A nalbinding structure is strong and warm. The sewing of the yarn in all directions of the project makes it impossible to unravel. But my nalbinding projects aren’t finished until it has been properly waulked. The waulking makes the fabric even stronger and warmer. It also makes it windproof.

Nalbinding spirals

Nalbinding is done in a spiral. So for a pair of mittens I make the spiral from the tip of the fingers, round and round and finish at the wrist. I have learned – the hard way – that a nalbinding project made like this shrinks horizontally. Therefore I design the shape a bit off the end proportions – I make them a lot wider than my hands but not necessarily longer.

Nalbinding is generally done in a spiral, which makes the shrinkage happen horizontally. I designed the mittens to be a lot wider than my hands but not much longer.
Nalbinding is generally done in a spiral, which makes the shrinkage happen horizontally. I designed the mittens to be a lot wider than my hands but not much longer.

A few years ago I got a waulking board from Swedish eBay which I used with these mittens to waulk them to a size that would fit my hands. With soap and hot water I started working the mittens against the waulking board. The felting process didn’t take long to start. When I first got to know this fleece I noticed its excellent felting properties.

Woven square, 2-ply yarn and fulled square (from a woven square same as to the left) from Åsen sheep 16010. The fulled square took me less than five minutes to full to size.
Woven square, 2-ply yarn and fulled square (from a woven square same as to the left) from Åsen sheep 16010. The fulled square took me less than five minutes to full to size.

The spiral of the seasons

I was very happy with the end result of the waulking process. The mittens fit perfectly and the shape is very appealing. They are warm, snug and ready for the cold and the wind in the winter. I look forward to wearing them in an authentic setting (and not just for photo purposes in the middle of the summer).

The waulking is finished! The main shrinkage has happened sideways and the mittens have better proportions than pre-waulking.
The waulking is finished! The main shrinkage has happened sideways and the mittens have better proportions than pre-waulking.

I have been making these mittens during a few weeks in June, thinking of winter as the needle has been pushing through the fabric. When I wear them this coming winter I will think of early summer when I made them. It is a lovely cycle, kind of like the nalbound spiral in the fabric.

Finishing

When the mittens had dried after the waulking I brushed the surface lightly to give them a bit of a halo. But they didn’t feel finished, there was something missing. A spinning friend, Elaine, makes the loveliest embroidered mittens, often with just a simple heart on the back of the hand. They look somehow even more inviting with that embroidery.

A tone-in-tone embroidered heart on my waulked nalbinidng mittens.
A tone-in-tone embroidered heart on my waulked nalbinidng mittens.

I felt my mittens needed an embroidery too. Just a simple shape in the natural white nalbinding yarn. I decided on a heart, the kind of careless heart of a phone scribble. Unorganized but still clearly and undoubtedly a heart.

The waulked and embroidered nalbinding mittens are finished!
The waulked and embroidered nalbinding mittens are finished!

I love how the embroidery turned out. Tone-in-tone, but very clearly an embroidery. The round and free shape of the unwaulked yarn against the subtle but structured stripes of the waulked nalbinding. A bit of shine in the embroidery against the matte waulked background. A little shadow from the height of the stem stitch. I can’t wait to wear my nalbinding Åsen mittens this winter!

Nalbinding resources:

  • Excellent written (Finnish, Swedish and English) and video tutorials to a range of nalbinding stitches at Neulakintaat.
  • A new book on Nalbinding by Mervi Pasanen, With one needle. Available in Finnish and English.
  • My own tutorial of the Dalby stitch with the left hand.
  • You can also search for nalbinding on my blog for some more posts with nalbinding projects.

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.

Break the rules

Nalbinding straight off the spindle, breaking the rules of soaking and finishing.

This week I have been rehearsing for tonight ‘s breed study webinar on Åsen wool. I felt a need to spin a nalbinding yarn from one of my Åsen fleeces. To be able to nalbind something to show you and on time I broke the rules, and I liked it.

It’s happening tonight, dear readers, we’re having a breed study webinar on Åsen wool. If you haven’t already, do register for the webinar.

To prepare, I have been rehearsing a few times, with notes, light, sound, tech and tools in order. As a bonus I have given myself the opportunity to get to know the fleeces I will be demonstrating for you.

Break the rules

I got a little carried away with one of the fleeces, though. I wanted to talk about the fleece as a perfect candidate for nalbinding. In this, I realized I needed to have some nalbinding to show you. So I quickly teased, carded and spun some more and plied together with the yarn I had spun on my rehearsals. I wound the yarn into a thumb ball and started nalbinding straight away. No singles resting, no soaking, no finishing. Just straight off the plying spindle.

Nalbinding with love

Nalbinding is for me quite an intimate textile technique. You hold the project in your hand and work very slowly, hands literally entangled in the nalbinding process. The hands get all soft and smooth from the lanolin in the yarn. Since this yarn came straight off the spindle it had more lanolin than usual. It also had the loveliest smell of sheep.

Nalbinding straight off the spindle, breaking the rules of soaking and finishing.
Nalbinding straight off the spindle, breaking the rules of soaking and finishing. I carved the needle from and elm tree just outside the window.

This made me feel even closer to the wool and the slow nalbinding process. The nalbinding technique is very old. With the yarn in such a raw state I felt even closer to the history of nalbinding and a sense of gratitude towards the technique. I enjoyed every over and under of the wooden needle and every loop around my thumb. I imagined the mittens wrapping my hands in wooly love, fulled to fit my hands in a warm embrace. With a simple spindle spun yarn I made a sleeping bag for my hands to snuggle up in, with my hands. Breaking the rules gave me an experience that stretched so much further than the nalbinding project itself. I am so grateful for this.

Spinning for nalbinding in the magical light of May.
Spinning for nalbinding in the magical light of May.

Go ahead and break a rule today, and see what you learn from it.

A short post today. Still, longer than the no post at all that I had planned for.

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.

A design process

Selma Margau sweater.

Finally I can reveal a secret that I have kept for many months: I have designed a sweater and published a pattern! The pattern is available in the Spin-Off summer 2020 issue. I have spent so much time with this project and planning for it and now that it’s finished I miss it a bit. It’s like finishing a good book – even if there was a happy ending you get a little sad by the thought of not spending any more time with the people in the book. In this post I invite you to my two year design process of the sweater pattern Selma Margau.

Selma Margau sweater. Photo by Dan Waltin.

A baby design idea

I started planning for this project two years ago. At the Swedish fleece championships 2017 I fell in love with a dark grey Swedish finewool Rya mixbreed fleece. I started playing with the wool to find a way to make it justice in a yarn. One idea I got was to make a tweed yarn. I got recycled Sari silk and a yarn started to take shape.

In my usual manner I looked for the superpowers of the fleece and landed in a 3-plied woolen yarn spun with English longdraw from hand-carded rolags with Sari silk.

I designed a sweater – Margau Beta – that would let the yarn shine. A raglan yoked stockinette sweater with reverse stockinette panels. I embroidered some flowers along the left side panel, up along the raglan panels and towards the neck band.

A woman walking in the snow. She is wearing a dark grey knitted sweater with white embroidered flowers.
Margau Beta was the first prototype for the Selma Margau design. Photo by Dan Waltin

The sweater was a Beta version, hence the name. I wanted to make another one, only in white wool. Instead of stockinette and reverse stockinette on the center panel I made a cable pattern.

The wool

I asked the shepherdess Margau if she had something in white that was similar to the dark grey fleece. In her thorough manner she sent me samples from three of her white finull/rya ewes. I got to pick the one I liked the most.

Unwashed wool from the finull/rya ewe Selma.
Unwashed wool from the autumn shearing of the finull/rya ewe Selma.

I decided to go with the autumn shearing of Margau’s ewe Selma – a lovely fleece with both long and shiny undercoat and soft undercoat. She also had the most crimpy and consistent wool of the three samples.

Having a relationship like this with talented sheperhedesses is truly valuable to me as a spinner. Usually I find my favourite shepherdesses at the annual fleece championships. I see the fleeces they win medals for and if I am lucky the shepherdess is there and I can talk to them. They are always friendly and helpful and provide me with their gold. Usually they love to see what I make of the wool from their sheep.

Finished rolags with sari silk, ready for spinning.
Finished rolags with sari silk, ready for spinning.

I prepared and spun Selma’s fleece the same way I had spun her dark grey sister’s – a 3-ply woolen yarn spun with English longdraw from hand-carded rolags. The Sari silk was added at the teasing stage.

Six skeins of white yarn with colored specks.
A 3-ply woolen yarn spun with English longdraw from hand carded rolags.

Swatching

When the first skein was finished I dove into swatching to find a suitable pattern for the front and back panels. Looking at cable patterns I realized that a simple cable panel would make the yarn shine. I decided upon a stag horn center with opposing 3+3 ropes on each side.

It took me a few swatches to find the right combination for this yarn, but I think this is the one.
It took me a few swatches to find the right combination for this yarn, but this is the one.

Yarn shortage

I knit away on the body happily and started the first sleeve. At the top of the sleeve I ran out of yarn. And there was no more wool. In desperation I contacted Margau and got Selma’s spring shearing. A bit shorter and a bit more vegetable matter, but otherwise the same quality.

When i had finished both sleeves I came to the really tricky part. Calculating for the yoke is not my best talent, but to my surprise it turned out just how I had envisioned it. The cables behaved and weren’t cut off in the raglan decreases. They just formed pretty cable rays around the neck band.

A woman wearing a natural white cabled sweater. She is standing on a forest floor covered with autumnal leaves.
Well behaved raglan cables. Photo by Dan Waltin.

When the sweater was finished I had one skein of yarn left. I used it for the top part of the yoke in my Bianka sweater.

From design (via tears) to pattern

Designing a garment is one thing. Creating a pattern is a totally different ballpark. I have published a mitten pattern before, but a sweater in numerous sizes is a lot of work. I have calculated and recalculated, found errors, cried and recalculated again. And again. You get the picture. Finally I gave birth to a publishable pattern in nine sizes. And it was approved by the tech editor. The relief was indescribable.

Selma Margau

I named the sweater design Selma Margau after the sheep and shepherdess that provided me with the lovely wool. It is a sweater I wear with love and pride. I made it. I designed the sweater from the properties of the yarn that I in turn designed after the superpowers of the wool. The fibers are shown at their best advantage and I like to think of the finished sweater as a tribute to the sheep that grew the wool and the shepherdess who nurtured that sheep and cared for it with her knowledge and experience.

I needed to stay warm in the beech forest, hence the staged throwing of leaves. Photo by Dan Waltin

Photo shoot

We took the pictures by a wooden castle not far from our house. We did two photo shoots – one by the castle for the pattern in Spin-Off magazine and one for my blog in the beech forest on the caste grounds. The magazine pictures were the most important ones, so we started by the castle. After just a few pictures, though, Dan’s fancy camera started to make odd sounds. We did the last shots quickly and moved on to the beech forest. After just one picture the camera stopped working altogether. It turned out that the one lens Dan had brought was cranky and had gone on a strike. So all but the featured photo for this post were shot with his phone camera. It was a big relief that we had done the magazine shot first.

Selma Margau sweater.
The only picture of the Selma Margau sweater in the beech forest we got with Dan’s fancy camera. Photo by Dan Waltin

It was a cold and windy day and despite the fact that the sweater is way too warm for me with all the cables, I was freezing for the photo shoot. To stay warm I jumped around between takes. When my 14-year-old saw the photos in the evening she was shocked: “Mum, you’re jumping!!” Apparently I haven’t been jumping much lately. But here it is, proof of me jumping in a beech forest.

A woman jumping in an autumn forest. She is wearing a natural white knitted sweater with cables.
I’m jumping to stay warm. Apparently a rare sight. 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!
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  • 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.
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Dancing the Navajo spindle

I have a new video for you today! In the video I’m dancing the Navajo spindle. The technique and cooperation between the hands remind me of a choreographed dance.

The weft yarn for the shawl I’m wearing in the video was spun on a Navajo spindle. You can see how I made the shawl here.

In the beech forest

The video was shot on a May day in a beech forest just in time for the spring flushing. The light was magical with the fresh newborn green on a background of the smooth, almost bewitching warm grey trunks. This is a small beech forest near Dan’s childhood home and less than an hour away from our house. We like to visit it on festive times like early May for the spring flushing and mid-October for the peak of the sparkling autumn leaves fireworks. It is the perfect location for photo and video shoots and for letting your shoulders relax and enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature.

A woman sitting on a tree trunk and spinning on a ground-supported spindle. A basket of carded wool on the ground beside her. She is wearing a T-shirt with a sheep on it and a woven plaid shawl.
Dancing the Navajo spindle. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Dan was behind the camera (his fancy one) for the shooting of this video, hence the beautiful quality. He can’t shoot all my videos for me, so it is an extra treat for me when he does have time to help me. He has the right eye for the motif, composition, the sense of the perfect light and colour scheme and the artistic and technical experience for a beautiful shot. We have a lot of fun on these occasions and I like to think the interplay between us shows in the video. Moreover, I can flirt shamelessly with the camera man!

Words or no words?

At first I had planned to add keywords to the video describing my technique. But when I saw the beautiful shots I was afraid that a tutorial style would ruin the artistic perspective in the video. So for a while I planned to skip text altogether. Then one night when I had trouble sleeping I knew exactly what to do – I wanted to match the artistic perspective in the video with sort of poetic style reflections on the spinning technique.

Dancing

When Dan and I first met in our late teens we took dancing classes together. First jive, then on to ballroom dancing and later Argentine tango. To me, spinning on a Navajo spindle has many similarities with dancing as it includes leading and following, technical and artistic aspects and choreographed and improvised sequences.

Dancing the Navajo spindle

The moves are alternately bold and subtle, following each other in a balanced wave. Both hands lead and follow through different parts of the dance in a power balance between two equal partners.

Both hands so light on spindle and fiber, still controlled and ready for the instructions from their choreography master – the wool. The spindle hand sets the spindle in motion and a never-ending series of pirouettes. Meanwhile, the fiber hand mindfully follows the movements, waiting for the moment to gently take over the lead. When the twist is right the spindle hand surrenders the control in favour of the fiber hand that magically drafts the fiber into a smooth and even yarn.

The union between spun and unspun in the drafting zone is the heart of the dance, the spot where all the energy is created and transmitted to the hands. Fiber is transformed from cloudy mist to organized yarn in a cyclic motion lovingly shared between mindful and experienced hands. All the hands need to do is listen and dance the wool away.

A woman sitting on a tree trunk and spinning on a ground-supported spindle. A basket of carded wool on the trunk beside her. She is wearing a T-shirt with a sheep on it and a woven plaid shawl.
The hands just need to listen to the wool and dance the wool away. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The technical steps

I do like to animate spinning. Spinning is such a large part of my life and I see so much beauty and art in the craft. Animating the spinning becomes sort of a celebration of the beauty of it and a nod in recognition from my soul to the soul of spinning. But I realize dancing the Navajo spindle may not be everyone’s cup of tea. So here is a more technical description of the steps.

Since none of the hands really is on the yarn the hands need to communicate through the yarn, pretty much like a tin can telephone. The energy of the twist and the drafting is transmitted to the hands and you can actually feel it. If you allow your hands to listen carefully they will understand how to react to the different signals. The yarn thus acts like the coreographer – through both planned (the general cycle from fluff to stuff) and improvised signals (stuff happen on the way) the yarn, or rather the energy in the yarn, tells the hands what to do when. The hands follow the guidance from the yarn.

A woman sitting on a tree trunk and spinning on a ground-supported spindle. A basket of carded wool on the trunk beside her. She is wearing a T-shirt with a sheep on it and a woven plaid shawl.
The spun yarn works like a tin can phone and transmits the signals from the yarn to the hands that in turn take action. Photo by Dan Waltin.

This is how I spin on a Navajo spindle:

Both hands are very light – the spindle hand on the shaft and the fiber hand holding the rolag very lightly, like a baby bird. In fact, I tell my students to name their baby bird to be aware of the grip and not strangle sweet Kajsa (a rolag name borrowed from my most recent spinning class). You don’t want to strain your wrists and you don’t want to squish the rolag.

  1. The spindle hand sets the spindle in motion while the fiber hand follows the movements of the spindle.
  2. Now, here comes the first step of the double draft: When there is enough twist in the fiber, the fiber hand drafts the fiber while the spindle hand acts as the antagonist. I draft an arm’s length.
  3. When my arm doesn’t reach any longer but the yarn isn’t drafted enough I store the excess yarn between the pinkie and thumb of my fiber hand, always keeping the yarn taut.
  4. In the second step of the double draft I insert more twist when I need to. To even out the yarn I open up the twist by drafting some more. I can also pin-point uneven parts by rolling the yarn against the twist with my spindle hand thumb to allow the fibers to pass each other smoothly. You can read more about opening up the twist in my post about the Twist model (including examples from Navajo spindle spinning).
  5. I store the spun yarn in a temoporary upper cop.
  6. Repeat steps 1–5 until the rolag is all spun up.
  7. Then I transfer the yarn to the permanent lower cop. I use my fiber hand as a middle station. I butterfly the yarn between my thumb and pinkie. When all the yarn is on the fiber hand I roll it onto the lower cop, supporting the spindle either on the ground or on my hip.
  8. To join in a new rolag I simply place the end of the yarn on top of the rolag and insert twist.

I watch the yarn at all times. This is the beauty of spindle spinning – it is slow enough for the spinner to watch the yarn in the making at all times. You have the opportunity to control the quality up close. Use it.

A woman sitting on a tree trunk and holding a floor-supported spindle. She is reaching down into a basket of white carded rolags.
Well prepared rolags are essential in Navajo spindle spinning. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The prep of the fiber is essential in all spinning, and perhaps especially in the (English) long draw. Read my post and watch my video about teasing wool and carding rolags if you need an update on hand-carding.

A woman spinning on a ground-supported spindle. Large castle gates in the foreground.
The gates to the castle the beech forest belongs to. Photo by Dan Waltin

Dan and I had a wonderful time in the spring beech forest. We went back in early November for the majestic autumn colours. We may have brought the camera too. You may see the results of that photo shoot soon.

Happy spinning!


There is still time to register for the free live breed study webinar on Värmland wool this afternoon! Register here and read more about Värmland wool here. There may be Navajo spindle spinning in the webinar.


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!

Swedish spinning championships 2019

Four wool balls in white with brown and dark grey stripes.

This past weekend I went to Öströö sheep farm outside of Varberg on the Swedish west coast for the 2019 fleece and spinning championships. It was a wonderful day. I met lots of people, cuddled with heaps and heaps of fleece and got the people’s choice medal around my neck. In this post I will show you how I made my competing yarns for the championships. In an upcoming post I will share my experience of the fleece championships.

A woman standing by the sea. She is wearing a knitted sweater and a medal around her neck.
I got the people’s choice medal for my competing yarns in the spinning championships!

Swedish spinning championships 2019

August kept me busy with spinning for the spinning championships. It has been a lot of fun and a real challenge. There were two categories in the championships – one intermediate and one advanced. I competed in both.

This year we got fleece to start with. Most of the previous years we have got machine carded batts, which I don’t really like. I want to get to know the fleece from the beginning, I want to dig my hands into a dirty fleece and work all the steps in the process myself.

All participants got the same fleece sent to us on the same day. We got about one month to finish and ship the finished yarns.

Intermediate Gute sock yarn

For the intermediate level of the championships the assignment was to spin a sock yarn. We got raw wool from a gute lamb.

Gute sheep is a primitive breed with both outercoat, undercoat and kemp. You can read more about gute wool in a previous post. This lamb’s fleece has probably both under coat and outer coat, but it is hard to distinguish since the fibers are so very fine, probably in the cashmere range.

Raw fleece in different shades of grey. The fibers are very fine but there is also lots of black, coarse fibers.
Gute (lamb) fleece. Extremely fine fibers but also lots of black kemp.

My original thought was to spin a 3-ply, but then I decided to make it a cable yarn. It is quite difficult, but it makes a really pretty structure and a strong and sturdy yarn, perfect for socks. In the Swedish spinning championships of 2017 I got a medal in a spinning championship for a cable yarn.

Preparation

I started by flick carding the locks. A lot of the kemp stayed in the flick card. After combing the wool even more kemp disappeared. I was left with soft and silky bird’s nests. I can hardly believe it is Gute wool.

Balls of combed light grey wool. Some coarse fibers are in the balls.
Soft and silky bird’s nests of Gute wool. Some kemp is left, but a lot less than when I started.

Spinning a cable yarn

I spun the top worsted, with short forward draw. As I spun I pulled more kemp out.

This is how I made my cable yarn:

  • I spun four singles with Z-twist.
  • Then I plied the singles S into two balanced 2-ply yarns.
  • After that I put more S-twist on the singles.
  • Finally, I plied the two 2-ply yarns together, Z.
A skein of light grey yarn.
A finished fingering weight cable yarn from Gute wool, ready to send to the championships.

I ended up with a fingering weight skein, 55 m, 32 g, 1708 m/kg. Some of the kemp is still in the yarn, but it will push itself out eventually.

Advanced Värmland cape

The advanced level of the championships was really interesting. The assignment was to spin a yarn for a woven cape. Not just any cape, but the cape of the Bocksten man. The Bocksten man was found – murdered with a stick through his chest – in a bog just outside of Varberg (where the spinning and fleece championships took place). A piece of cloth was analyzed and dated to around 1290–1430. His clothes had been very well preserved in the bog. As I understand it, the Bocksten man’s clothing is the only complete men’s outfit in Europe from this time period.

A postcard depicting medieval man's clothing
The medieval clothing of the Bocksten man. Photo by Charlotta Sandelin/Länsmuseet Varberg

The task was to make our own interpretation of the Bocksten man’s woven cape. Either in two different yarns for warp and weft or the same yarn for both. We got raw wool from Värmland sheep, mostly in white, but also some locks of brown and grey. Värmland wool has both undercoat and outercoat, and may be similar to the wool that the cape was originally woven from.

Locks of wool in white, brown and grey.
Silky locks of Värmland wool in white, brown and grey.

I decided to make two different yarns for warp and weft. I also wanted to separate the wool types and spin with different techniques. In addition to that I wanted to play with the colours.

Warp

Preparation

I sorted the staples according to colour and combed each colour separately using my double pitched mini combs. I also separated the outercoat from the under coat and saved the undercoat for the weft.

A palette of Värmland wool. Combed outer coat tops in white, brown and grey plus the undercoat comb leftovers.
A palette of Värmland wool. Combed outercoat tops in white, brown and grey plus the undercoat comb leftovers.

When I had combed through everything I combed it again. I took two bird’s nests and combed together. This way I got bigger nests and could separat the wool types even more.

A wool comb full of silky white long fibers.
Second combing. Just long and silky outercoat fibers.

Before I pulled the combed white wool off the comb I added some of the coloured wool to make a lengthwise stripe in the top.

Four wool balls in white with brown and dark grey stripes.
After this stage in the process it was difficult to continue. I wanted to keep my rippled chocolate merengues!

2-ply yarn

I am not a big fan of big colour variations in the same yarn, I prefer more subtle blending. Still, I wanted both the grey and the brown to shine next to all the white. To achieve a soft colour change I spun one of the singles all-white and the other with the striped tops.

Two bobbins of singles. One pure white and one with a mix of brown, white and grey.
Worsted outer coat singles ready to be plied.

I spun them both with short forward draw and 2-plied.

A skein of white, brown and grey yarn.
A finished lace weight (I have no idea what the translation to weaving is) warp yarn. 94 m, 35 g, 2655 m/kg.

It was such a joy to spin this yarn! The white fibers were so shiny and silky, just like a merengue batter. The grey and brown fibers were different in the structure compared to the white. The grey fibers were coarser and less conforming and the brown fibers were a bit closer to the white. The lengthwise stripe turned the singles to a beautiful chocolate rippled merengue batter.

Weft

Preparation

I wanted a coloured effect in the weft yarn too. I carded rolags of the white wool and in some of them I made stripes of the coloured staples.

Prepared fiber in a mushroom tray. Above and below: Outer coat hand-combed bird's nests. Middle: Under coat hand-carded rolags.
All the fiber prep in a mushroom tray. Above and below: Outercoat hand-combed bird’s nests. Middle: Undercoat hand-carded rolags.

Singles yarn

I wanted warp and weft spun in different directions. Therefore I chose to make the weft a singles yarn. My best tool for an even single is always the Navajo spindle. I started by spinning all the rolags into a roving.

A spindle full of yarn. A wood shed in the background.
Woolen yarn spun with long draw on a Navajo spindle from hand-carded rolags, first pass.

Well, it didn’t really end up as a roving as I had planned. It was more of a loosely spun single. I then spun it all again to give the yarn its final thickness and twist. This is when I realized that there was a bit too much twist for me to be able to make it finer. It was quite a bit of hard work.

A spindle full of yarn. A wood shed in the background.
The second pass on the Navajo spindle. The yarn is finer and more even.

The fact that there was no crimp in this silky soft undercoat made drafting a challenge. I had to pay close attention to the drafting zone to avoid breakage. Even if I spun it too much the first time I think it was a good choice to spin the yarn twice.

Another problem was the fact that the different colours had different characteristics as I wrote earlier. Especially the grey fibers were coarser and more difficult to draft in such a fine yarn. Many colour joins broke and many expletives were uttered.

A skein of singles yarn.
A finished weft yarn for the Bocksten man. 184 m, 42 g, 4335 m/kg. This yarn is so yummy!

After getting used to the behavior of the fibers I learned how to pay extra close attention to the colour changes and joins and ended up with a beautiful skein of singles.

A woven swatch.
Pin loom swatch of my Bocksten man yarns.

A joyful day

A row of yarns on a stick
The competing sock yarns in the intermediate category.

All in all, spinning for the Swedish spinning championships 2019 was a joyful process. The raw material was wonderful and I got to play with it on so many levels. I liked that we were free to make our own interpretations and add our own artistic touch in our contributions to the championships.

A row of yarns on a stick
The competing weaving yarns in the advanced category.

Meeting new and old friends

I met a lot of old friends at the championships – spinners, shepherdesses and suppliers. So many friendly faces to share a happy day with. And at least ten people came up to me, introduced themselves and said they were followers. This really made my day! I also got interviewed by a woman from a weaving podcast (I think she used the word star struck when she approached me). Meeting followers is such a joy for me. I am an introvert, but meeting you in person really warms my heart.

Coming up: The 2019 fleece championships.

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!

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!