The power of slowness

Spinning your own yarn is a slow process, and the slowest tool is the spindle. I’m not in it for the speed, though. My guess is that few of you are. Spindles are wonderful tools that are easy to bring, affordable and simple in their execution. One of the most powerful benefits of spinning on a spindle is its slowness. Yes, you read that right. The slowness of the spindle is a superpower and a characteristic that we should take advantage of. In this post I celebrate the power of slowness and share my thoughts of the benefits of spindle spinning. If you are reluctant to spindles, this post might convince you to give spindles a chance.

A Navajo lap spindle. Supported by the ground, resting against your thigh. Photo by Dan Waltin.
A Navajo lap spindle from Roosterick. Supported by the ground, resting against your thigh. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Spindle spinning characteristics

Compared to buying a sweater or buying yarn for a sweater, spinning in general is a slow process. But spindle spinning is particularly slow. There are many spindle types around the world – supported, suspended, lap spindles, in-hand/grasped spindles and more. The names of the types reveal how you operate them.

Common spindle types

Different kinds of spindles are better suited for some spinning techniques and yarn constructions than others and the spindle types are quite different from each other.

  • Suspended spindles hang in the yarn you are spinning. The whorl or weight can be on the top of the shaft or on the bottom. You can sit, stand or walk while spinning on a suspended spindle.
  • Supported spindles are supported in a tiny bowl. You usually sit and spin with the bowl in your lap.
  • Lap spindles are supported by the ground and rest against your thigh. You sit on a chair or on the ground and roll the shaft up your thigh to set the spindle in motion.
  • In-hand or grasped spindles (different names for the same group of spindles) are held in the hand. Usually you spin from a distaff on which the fiber is organized. You can spin grasped, with short or long suspension or supported.
  • Horizontal spindles (in lack of a better word) are held horizontally.
A supported spindle and spinning bowl. Spindle maker is Björn Peck.
The spindle is a slow tool. Here a supported spindle and spinning bowl by Björn Peck.

Spindle similarities

Spindles are very old tools that have been used all over the world for at least ten thousand years. They have been developed in their cultural context and thus many spinning traditions have developed a spindle type and spinning technique adapted to the fiber available and the needs of its users. Despite these differences, spindles still have many things in common.

  • Spindles have a simple construction, usually consisting of a spindle shaft and sometimes a whorl.
  • The spindle is operated by your hand.
  • Speed is controlled by your muscles alone. Speed can be facilitated by its construction or by a support from underneath, but there is nothing that accelerates the speed other than your body. Compared to a spinning wheel, a spindle is slow.
  • Tension is governed by gravity (if the spindle is hanging in the yarn you are spinning) or your hands (if you are holding the drafting zone between your hands).
  • The yarn you are spinning is manually wound onto the shaft of the spindle.

The power of slowness

One could argue that spindle spinning is too slow to see any progress. I choose to see the slowness as a superpower. By operating the tool and producing the yarn slowly, your hands and your brain have time to understand what is happening. Especially since you are controlling tool, mechanics and process with your hands.

Drafting

Spinning on a spindle gives you lots of time to focus on your drafting. If you are new to spindle spinning you can even draft when the spindle is not moving at all – the park and draft method allows you to stop the spindle completely, make the draft and set the spindle in motion again. As you get more experienced you can easily adjust the speed to your drafting skills. You can also use a double drafting technique which, with a few exceptions, is exclusive to spindle spinning. Double drafting is possible on most spindle types, but is most common with Navajo spindles and spindles adapted to cotton spinning like the tahkli and the akha spindles.

At 1:12 you can see the double draft on an Akha spindle.

Tension

When you spin on a spindle you are to varying degrees in control of the tension of the yarn. On a suspended spindle the tension is governed by the weight of the spindle. The tension on a supported spindle is governed by the tension between your hands alone – by the position and motions of your hands you have sole control of the tension of the yarn. The same goes for a lap spindle like the Navajo spindle. With an in-hand or grasped spindle it can be a mix of both.

The tension on a supported spindle is governed by your hands alone. Look at 0:14.

Speed

You are responsible for the speed of the spindle. With all spindle types you set the spindle in motion with your spindle hand. Well, apart from occasional foot ignition with suspended top whorl spindles. If you set the spindle in motion with force the spindle will spin fast or for a long time. There are features of the spindle that will facilitate speed or duration of the spin, but there is still a one to one relationship between your setting the spindle in motion and the resulting motion in the spindle.

This simple (but definitely not easy) turn of events is fairly easily and quickly intelligible – you operate a tool and it results in a straightforward action.

With an in-hand or grasped spindle you get lots of time to handle the fiber. Look at 2:31. In fact, I got all the way from Stockholm to Austria on spindles. There’s the power of slowness for ya!

Twist

With the slow action in spindle spinning it is easier to see the twist entering the fiber. With spindle spinning you also have time to control and adjust the amount of twist that goes into the yarn. With the slow speed in spindle spinning it is also easy to experiment and make samples to quickly find the right twist for your yarn. With an in-hand or grasped spindle the spinning process can be quite slow and you can achieve a beautifully lofty and low-twist yarn.

With the in-hand or grasped spindle you have a good view of the drafting zone. You spin slowly and can fine-tune the twist at all times. Start at 0:10.

With the Navajo lap spindle you can easily control twist by adding twist to the yarn for a tighter twist or length for less twist.

A Navajo spindle is a great tool for spinning low twist singles. You have a good overview of the twist and can easily add or remove twist in this technique. The video also shows the double drafting technique used in Navajo spindle spinning.

Understanding through body mechanics

When you control so much of the spinning process at a pace that works for you it will be easier to understand the mechanics of spinning and the process of making yarn. Through controlling the spindle and yarn with your body and feeling the movement of the spindle and the fiber it is easier to understand what is happening than through the mechanics of a spinning wheel. After all, the spinning wheel was invented to facilitate what the body does to handle the spindle. The spinning wheel is a tool to facilitate yarn making for you, but it can also take away some of your muscular memory from the spinning process.

What’s in it for the wheel spinner?

Let’s make a quick and overall comparison of spinning mechanics between spindle spinning and wheel spinning.

Tension

  • Spinning wheel: The tensioning screw moves the mother-of-all further away from the wheel, tensioning the brake band, resulting in a faster in-take of the yarn. The tension is set before you start spinning and can be adjusted during spinning if you stop the wheel.
  • Spindle: You control the tension with your hands. It can be adjusted whenever you like.

Speed

  • Spinning wheel: The size of the pulleys control the speed of the wheel which drives the flyer. You can adjust the speed with your feet to some degree. You can also change the speed by changing pulleys (or change the tension on a scotch tension wheel).
  • Spindle: You control the speed with your hands. You can change the speed whenever you like.

Twist

  • Spinning wheel: The twist is controlled by the speed and tension that you have adjusted before you started your spinning project (see above) and also in the pace with which you feed the yarn onto the bobbin.
  • Spindle: You control the twist with your hands. You can change the tension and speed whenever you like.

Don’t get me wrong – I love spinning on a spinning wheel. I also love what the spinning wheel can achieve with its mechanics.However,spinning on spindles can help me understand what I need to do on the wheel to get the yarn the way I want. And vice versa – spinning on a spinning wheel can help me understand how to work the spindle to get the result I want. Thus, the combination of spinning on spindles and on spinning wheels is unbeatable.

Learning by slowness

The simplicity of spindle spinning can help us understand the mechanics of spinning and the yarn making process. This is much due to the fact that you as a spinner are a part of the spinning mechanics. Your fine motor muscles are more involved in the spinning mechanics when you spin on a spindle than when you spin on a spinning wheel. Moreover, you spend more time with the spinning when you spin on a spindle since it takes longer. Due to these circumstances I like to think that your body will incorporate more of the spinning process and learn through the power of slownessof spindle spinning.

Here I spin flax on an in-hand spindle. I spin quite slowly to get time to handle the drafting of the flax fibers. Look at 2:47.

If you haven’t tried spinning on a spindle, go ahead and give it a chance! Perhaps you have tried and decided it’s not for you. Go ahead and give it another chance! If you have tried and decided that you get pains in your hands/arms/shoulders, go ahead and try a different kind of spindle, change hands or try to find a way to avoid the pain. I challenge you to try spinning on a spindle.

Happy spindling!


My course page is down at the moment due to a less successful app update. You can go straight to my Online school for online courses. In Sweden I have a five day summer course at Sätergläntan.


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. 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!

Spinning on a viking spindle

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Viking style spinning with a distaff

The outdoor video recording season hasn’t begun yet, it is still a bit too cold. But I do have some material left from last season. Today I give you a video I shot in the beginning of August: Spinning on a Viking spindle.

Spinning on a Viking spindle

How did the vikings spin?

The tools

We know what tools the vikings used for spinning – the finds of spindle whorls from the viking city of Birka are endless. The soil hasn’t preserved organic material, so there are basically no finds of spindle shafts or distaffs from Birka.

Spindle whorls from Birka and Gotland
Spindle whorls at the museum of History in Stockholm: Finds from Birka (20 and 22) and Gotland (21). Whorl 22 was made of amber, the whorls 20 and 21 of burnt clay. To the right you can see a glimpse of whorls made of stone.

Finds of spindle shafts and distaffs have been made in another viking city, though – Haithabu, where the soil has ben more beneficial to preserving organic material. Similar items were also found in the Oseberg grave. There were also finds of weaving tablets, needles, looms and loom weights.

Textiles and context

From finds of textile tools and textiles we know that the vikings spun yarn for clothing, household textiles and sails. To provide a family with the necessary textiles people had to spin. All the time. Clothes, ribbons, carpets, bedding, blankets and sails. I can’t even imagine the amount of yarn needed to weave a sail for the boats. I imagine the whole village cooperated in preparing, spinning, weaving and sewing the giant woolen sails. They must have weighed a ton.

To be able to spin every second the hands weren’t occupied with children or household work you needed to bring the fiber with you. That was what the distaff was for. That way you could spin whenever time allowed without having to runtime to get new fiber.

The technique

We don’t know how the viking spun their yarn. There are no written sources or illustrations from this time period. We can only see a few pieces of a puzzle. The rest is just more or less qualified guesswork.

While we have information about the tools, the textiles and to some extent the way of living in this time period, we need to look into the future to learn about the spinning techniques.

Back to the future…

If we go to the European medieval times we can see the same models of whorls, shafts and distaffs in both illustrations and archeological finds. The illustrations can also give us a clue to how the spinners used their tools. In fact, the same spinning method has been used later on as well, all the way into the 20th century. Take a look at spinning on French or Portuguese spindles, just to take a few examples.

Several medieval spinning images can be found in the blog 15th century spinning by Cathelina di Alessandri (alter ego). She has also made substantial research about the spinning method in the European medieval times.

The typical medieval image of a spinner is a woman sitting or standing. She is holding a belt/floor/hand distaff in her left hand and a spindle in her right hand. the yarn goes diagonally over her body from the distaff down to the spindle. The spindle shaft has a bulk in the middle and is thinner towards the ends. The whorl is placed just beneath the bulk. The whorl has a cone-shaped hole to fit the shaft.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Viking style spinning with a distaff
The typical spinning position for spinning in the European medieval era. Perhaps also the Viking era.

… and back again to the past

As I wrote earlier, the tools look the same as the tools found in the Viking era. As I also wrote, there are no illustrations of spinning from the Viking era, only the tools and their context. With the finds of shafts, whorls and distaffs looking the same as in the medieval period, I have no reason to doubt that the spinning technique also looked the same: The yarn going diagonally across the torso from the distaff to the spindle and the spindle grasped in the hand.

Because of these pieces of the puzzle, I have chosen to interpret the Viking spinning method the way I have. It is up to you to agree or disagree.

A 21st century Viking spindle

I have a reenactor friend who spends a month each summer at Birka to show the visitors the way of living at Birka. She asked me to come and give a class on period spinning.

Just after she had asked me I saw a Viking style spindle in the NiddyNoddyUK shop , and I quickly bought it. The Viking spindle shaft and whorl I bought are reproductions of finds from the Oseberg grave.

A Viking style spindle and whorl
A Viking style spindle and whorl, reproductions of finds from the Oseberg grave.

I love going to Birka (it is just a boat trip from our home), and I was very excited about the opportunity to teach Birka reenactors spinning. I told the spindle maker Neil of NiddyNoddyUK about my excitement. Neil was as excited as I was and threw a few similar spindle shafts in the parcel. Such a sweet thing to do!

I had plans to make a video of the class, where the students at Birka would wear period costumes.

The day before we were going to Birka I got a message from my reeanctor friend saying that she had fel and got a concussion and we had the cancel the whole thing. Fortunately she is well now, but we both missed out on a longed for event.

The setting

So, the setting of this video is not a very Viking one. Instead it is a bench in a hidden corner of out allotment area. I shot it on a very hot day and I was happy to be quite still in the shadow.

Kent’s bench

The bench has a story, though. One of the founders of the allotment area was Kent. He was once an active gardener in the allotment, growing lots of potatoes and Japanese lanterns. Lately, though, he hasn’t been there for more than the spring and fall cleaning days. His allotment turned into a jungle. He kept very much to himself, but he seemed to love that garden bench. Every fall cleaning he removed the sitting boards to protect them from the winter and every spring cleaning he brought them back.

One year ago he passed away. His allotment was taken over by a new and enthusiastic gardener and someone else made sure the boards were taken care of during the winter. His Japanese lanterns have spread and shed some sweet orange light in the fall. And the bench is now called Kent’s bench. I’m sure he had something to do with the stubborn insect that bothered me in the video shoot: He didn’t want me to be there.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Viking spindle, ducking from an insect
Insect attack at Kent’s bench.

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. 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!

2018 in retrospect

A Navajo spindle. Photo by Dan Waltin

In the last few days of the year I get a little nostalgic. I browse through the months, looking at all the memories of blogging and youtubing. They are like sparkling candy in a pretty bowl. All different, all sweet and all part of the whole. In this post I look back at 2018 and forward to 2019. Here is 2018 in retrospect!

If you have been following me for a while, this might be a walk down memory lane for you too. If you are new to the blog – welcome – this post  will help you can catch up with what happened during 2018.

The stats

During 2018 I have published

  • 66 blog posts
  • 17 public youtube videos
  • 20 blog post specific videos.

That’s more than one post a week and one one video every three weeks. At the end of the summer I decided I wanted to aim at one post a week during the autumn, but I didn’t realize that I had made even more than that in the spring.

Blog statistics
The stats

I am very proud of the videos and posts I have published this year. I learn new things all the time and I have sharpened my articles and learned how to analyze and reflect to produce interesting content for you. If you have enjoyed my posts and videos during 2018 and look forward to 2019, do become a patron and support my work. This work takes up a lot of my time and I also need to finance editing software and video equipment.

I love writing the posts and making the videos. When I get home on Friday after a week of work I can’t wait for Saturday morning to publish my next post.

During the year I had most viewers in the U.S, followed by Sweden, U.K. Canada and Germany. Thank you all for following, commenting, asking questions and giving valuable feedback. You help me become a better spinner, blogger, youtuber and teacher and I couldn’t do it without you.

Popular posts

The post with the single most views was, quite surprisingly, Willowing wool. I hadn’t planned it at all, I just thought of it one morning, grabbed a fleece and a couple of sticks and started shooting. And over 2500 people have visited the post and even more people have watched the video. It was great fun to make the video and I am happy to have contributed to sharing this old technique and craft.

Josefin Waltin sitting with a pile of wool. Locks are flying in the air around her.
Wool is in the air!

The second most viewed post was, even more surprisingly, Don’t waste your wool waste. This post didn’t even have a video attached to it, which makes it even more puzzling. But it was obviously interesting to both the spinning and the gardening community.

Third in line was Spinning in the 14th century and one of my favourite videos this year. I had such a great time with Maria, who provided the costumes and helped me with the shooting. There is a big difference in quality of the video when I have company (My daughter was with me in parts of the willowing video, which is also a favourite) compared to when I do it all myself. You can see and feel the interplay in the video which gives it different dimension than my solo videos. I hope to make more videos like that during 2019.

Josefin Waltin in medieval costume
Preparing for 14th century video shoot. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Blog series

During 2018 I have made four blog series where I have focused on a theme and looked at it from different perspectives:

They have been very popular and I have loved the opportunity to dig deep in a given topic. I have learned a lot from all four of them, but one of them in particular has totally changed the way I look at – and teach – spinning.

Spinning direction

The series about spinning direction started with an injury. I had started to practice spinning with in-hand spindles where you twiddle the spindle in your hand, basically without letting go of the spindle. A short while after I had started practicing this technique, I got  a cramp in the base of my thumb and I wanted to find out why.

I talked to a vocational therapist who told me that the muscles used for pulling are twice as many as the muscles used for pushing. Being a leftie, I had been pushing the spindle for a clockwise spin. When I changed hands so that the right hand was pulling the spindle for a clockwise spin, there was no more cramp.

A hand holding a spindle
Which is your spinning hand?

This made a huge impact on my own spinning and my teaching. I taught myself to spin with my right hand as spinning hand. It was difficult in the beginning, but with practice I managed to become as skilled with my right hand as I was with my left hand.

Now I teach spinning direction in spindle spinning in all my classes – I encourage them all to learn how to use both of their hands as spinning hands. I want them to have the opportunity to spin and ply with both hands without injuries.  Both my students and I are much more aware now of how the hands move and work.

The blog series was a combination of my own reflections about spinning direction, interviews with professionals in physiology and textile history and poll results from the spinning community. It was read and appreciated by many followers. Long after the series was published I have referred spinners to it who have had questions about pain or cramp in their spinning hand when spinning on spindles. And I am happy to help.

Twined knitting mittens

The blog series about twined knitting mittens was born out of the previous blog series about spinning direction. In the series you are invited to follow me on my path from fleece to a finished pair of mittens.

After having started practicing spinning with my right hand as spinning hand I wanted to give something back to my left hand that had been struggling for so long with pushing the spindle. I wanted to spin a yarn counter-clockwise so that my left hand could pull the spindle.

There is an old Swedish technique called twined knitting. You use two strands of yarn and twine them on the wrong side of the fabric. The technique takes very long to knit, but it results in  a fabric that is very dense and warm.

Close-up of the wrong side of a twined knitted mitten.
The two yarn ends are twined on wrong side of the fabric.

To compensate for the twining, you use a yarn that is Z-plied: Spun counter-clockwise and plied clockwise. So I spun a beautiful Värmland wool on a supported spindle counter-clockwise with my left hand as spinning hand. When the yarn was finished I made a pair of mittens in twined knitting. They weigh 60 g each and my heart sings every time I wear them.

A grey mitten with a venus symbol
Twined knitting mittens. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Flax

The autumn started with a series of processing and spinning flax. I have a tiny experimental flax patch at home. I started it in 2014 and learn new things about flax processing every year. The series includes a video where I process my flax from the 2017 harvest. I went to Skansen outdoor museum and borrowed their flax processing tools and got a lot of help from the friendly staff. The 2017 harvest was the first one I felt I can actually spin with ( I haven’t yet, though). In the series I also invite the viewer to follow the retting process on my lawn, with pictures of the flax straws in different stages of the process.

Retted flax
The flax fiber is easy to pull off the cellulose core. The retting is finished!

 

Cotton

The cotton blog series started with a gift. A fellow spinner gave me 130 g of newly harvested cotton from Stockholm. I am very reluctant to buying cotton clothes because of climate reasons – the fashion industry takes up a lot of farming ground for cotton farming. The industry also uses a lot of pesticides that are harmful for biodiversity and the people working in the business. But with small-scale and locally grown cotton I had the opportunity to try a fiber that I hadn’t spun before! In the series I prepare the cotton and spin it with Tahkli, Navajo and Akha spindles.

New grounds

During the year I have investigated grounds that were new to me. It has been a truly wonderful journey, but also required a lot of energy. In the end, I am very proud of what I have achieved.

Patron launch

In February I launched my Patreon site. This is where followers have the opportunity to support my work and get extra Patreon-only benefits like previews of upcoming videos, Q&A:s and their names in the credits of my videos.

Article in Spin-off

Last June I submitted a proposal to Spin-off magazine. It was accepted, and in March it was published. The link goes to a shorter version of the article. If you want to read the whole article you need to buy the magazine. I wrote about the process of the making of the video Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl (the video was published in August 2017), where I processed and spun yarn for a shawl that I wove on my rigid heddle loom.

I will be writing more articles for spinning magazines.

Business

Around the same time, I started my own business. It feels very grown-up and totally terrifying, but it also gives me a boost to ignite my entrepreneurial switch and acknowledge my work as something more than just a hobby.

Josefin Waltin wearing an apron with an embroidered sheep
My wool handling apron with sheep logo. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Teaching

2018 has been the year of teaching for me. I have been teaching supported spindle spinning in different parts of Sweden during the year. Every time I learn something new about teaching, spinning and analyzing, but most of all I have learned to see and listen what the students need and how they are most likely to understand and learn. There is a big difference between conveying a message and for the receiver to actually understand and make use of it. I’m still learning and I jump with joy every time I see a student make progress.

Online school

I have been planning and working with my online school for nearly a year now, and in December I finally launched it. The first course is a free course in How to pick a supported spindle and bowl. Over 120 people have already taken the course. Come to the school and take the course you too!

A spindle and puck
Supported spindle and bowl by Björn Peck.

I have received a lot of wonderful feedback. Many students have really enjoyed and appreciated the course and given me valuable suggestions for future courses. I am truly thankful for that, it helps me become a better teacher and course creator.

There will be more online courses in 2019!

Favourites

One of my personal favourite videos in 2018 was the one I shot in Austria about plying on the fly on a Turkish spindle. I had such a lovely time standing in the big meadow in the beautiful morning light. And a lot of you enjoyed the video as well.

A hand starting a spindle.
Plying on the fly on a Turkish spindle in Salzkammergut, Austria.

Another favourite, with some shots from Austria, was my craftivism project I choose to stay on the ground. It is a video and a theme that is very important to me: Reducing our carbon footprint by avoiding flying.

Josefin Waltin reading a book on a train
Image from I choose to stay on the ground

A third favourite was the supported spindle video A meditation that I shot by a fulling mill. A beautiful day with pale September light.

You

Even if I have published lots of videos and posts this year I couldn’t have done it without you, my followers and readers. The feedback, inspiration and love I get from you is invaluable. Keep commenting, asking questions and sharing your knowledge. It helps me make better content for you. You are my biggest inspiration!

Plans for 2019

As I write this, it is still winter, which means that I can’t shoot any videos outside. Well, I could, but not with spinning involved, my hands and the fiber won’t work in the cold. I will have to wait until spring to shoot new videos. But I do have a few unedited videos left from 2018, I will publish them until the weather permits new outdoor videos.

I will launch more online courses during the year. Hopefully I will be able to buy a better microphone, so that I can improve the audio quality in upcoming online courses. I will also offer in-person courses around Sweden, perhaps I will see you there.

Björn the wood turner and I talk regularly and we will have a workshop in his workshop (!) in January to look at new models and designs. He will open a web shop soon.

I create my videos out of a special idea I get or if I find a special location I fall in love with. I have a few plans up my sleeve, involving spindles of different kinds. My husband gave me a lightweight tripod for Christmas, so I will be able to get out and about easier. The old one weighs over 2 kg, this one was only 800 g.

If there is anything you would like me to cover in an upcoming post or video, do give me a holler.

These are some of my favorite sweets in the 2018 candy bowl. I hope you found some favourite sweets as well.

With all my heart I thank you for 2018 and wish you a happy new spinning year 2019!

Josefin Waltin spinning on a supported spindle. Photo by Dan Waltin.
Looking forward to spinning in 2019!


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 flax on a spindle

A spindle and distaff

This is the third post in my series about flax. I wrote the earlier posts about flax processing as a whole, and about this year’s harvest. I don’t have a lot of experience spinning flax, but I’m eager to learn. And I made a video. This time the video is about spinning flax on a spindle. The video also includes how I dress a distaff. Spinning flax on a spindle is a wonderful time to really get to know the fiber and the spinning technique. Also, I’m a bit smitten by Norman Kennedy when he demonstrates spinning flax on an in-hand spindle.

Tools

I use a medieval style in-hand (grasped) spindle with a spiral notch and whorl (in featured image). I bought them from NiddyNoddyUK and I asked Neil to make a spiral notch turning counter-clockwise. The outermost layer of flax fiber is slightly turned counter-clockwise.  Hence, most flax is spun counter-clockwise. This gave me a chance to practice my in-hand spinning with my left hand. If you want to know more about my thoughts on spinning direction I made a blog series about this earlier, check here, here and here.

The distaffs are my own hand carved from our lime tree avenue. I made one belt distaff and one floor distaff. In our terrace lounge furniture there is a very convenient hole in the lid, which fits the floor distaff perfectly.

Dressing the distaff

I have tried to read up on how to dress a distaff. there are many traditions in this, and I picked one that appealed to me. In the video I use a strick of hand processed Belgian flax.

A stick of flax
A beautiful strick of Belgian flax

I tied a ribbon around the root end of the bundle and tied the ends around my waist. I then carefully criss-crossed the bundle several times in very thin layers in an arch on the table in front of me. In this way, the fibers are well separated and always has another fiber to catch on to.

Josefin Waltin preparing to dress a distaff. The flax is spread out in an arch on the table in front of her.
Preparing to dress the distaff. The fibers are criss-crossed in thin layers and they all have fiber friends to hold on to.

When I had finished making the arch, I rolled the flax around the belt distaff and tied with the ends of the ribbon. I should have used a longer ribbon, though.

The flax on the floor distaff in the video is machine processed, also from Belgium I think. Bought at Växbo lin. I dressed the floor distaff the same way as I did the waist distaff.

Spinning flax

I wet spin my flax. The fiber has sort of a gluey substance that is activated in water. This makes a smoother spin. It also helps balancing the yarn. But you have to make sure to add the water at the right place – at the point of twist. Too low and nothing happens, the yarn just looks wet spun but when it dries the fibers go their own way. Too high and you will have trouble with unspun fibers clogged together. I put some flax seeds in my water to get some of that flax seed gel in the spinning.

A person spinning flax on a spindle
Add the water just at the point of twist

Flax fibers are very long and I can keep quite a long spinning triangle. This can be a bit fiddly sometimes, when the drafting triangle gets longer than my arms can reach comfortably.

Because of the length of the fibers, I don’t need very much twist. When I spin wool on an in-hand spindle I usually use a short suspension. I don’t need that when I spin flax. Keeping the spindle in my hand all the time gives me control over the spinning and I can put my focus where I need it the most: On the drafting zone. I need to make sure that there is just the right amount of fiber in the drafting zone.

Josefin Waltin drafting flax fiber from a distaff.
Drafting away, always keeping a close eye on the drafting triangle.

Flax isn’t as forgiving as wool when it comes to lumps, you can’t untwist and redraft. But I still do untwist. Right at the moment where I draft, I untwist slightly to make a smoother draft. This comes in handy especially after I have removed my spinning hand from the yarn to wet my fingers.

A word about climate change

In the shot when I spin leaning against a tree, you can see the yellowed grass behind me. This is not because it is autumn – the video was shot in July, a time when the grass is usually fresh and green. The summer of 2018 was extremely hot and dry. Over 30°C for weeks and almost no rain in large parts of the country. Harvests were ruined and cattle owners had to slaughter their animals because there were no pastures left. We had over 70 forest fires and had to get fire fighters from continental Europe to be able manage them. Talk about climate change.

Josefin Waltin spinning flax with a spindle and distaff. Yellow grass in the background
Spinning in front of the yellowed grass from an extremely hot and dry summer.

Ergonomics

There are a few things you need to think about to be kind to your body. We don’t need to strain our muscles, we want to be able to spin as much and as healthy as possible, don’t we?

Try to keep your spindle close to your body. This way you don’t need to lift your arms more than necessary. Use your body as support! I rest my spinning hand against my belly or hip when I spin.

Aim towards a straight spinning hand wrist. Bending the wrist too much can lead to strained muscles. Adapt your grip to get the most comfortable hand position. In the video you can see me using two different grips on the spindle. Before I started editing the video, I didn’t realize that I was using two different grips. I noticed it when I was adding the captions and figured I had changed grips to get more comfortable.

The first grip is when my hands are close to each other, i.e. when the hand of my spinning  arm is perpendicular to my body or pointing slightly upwards. In this grip I hold the spindle between my thumb, index finger and third finger. The other fingers are supporting the grip. Thumb on the inner side of the spindle and the rest of the fingers on the outer side. I roll the spindle between my thumb, index finger and third finger. I would not use this grip when my hand below a 90 degree angle, since it forces my wrist to bend.

Josefin Waltin spinning flax with a spindle and distaff. Text says "Grip 1: Roll the spindle between index finger and thumb. Support with other fingers."
Grip 1, which I wasn’t even aware of that I was using before I watched the video.

The second grip is one I can use for all my hand positions, but if I have started with the first grip I change to the second when my arm is below a perpendicular angle. I put my fourth finger on the inner side of the spindle to support it. I do the rolling mostly with my index finger in this grip. This is my preferred grip, but it is still nice to be able to change between two different grips during the spinning.

Close-up of a person spinning flax on a spindle. Text says: "Grip 2: Hold the spindle between your third finger and thumb. Supporting with your fourth finger and rolling with your index finger."
Grip 2 is the grip I use most of the time.

Spinning towards  the end of the summer

It takes time to spin flax on a spindle and I’m far from done with the flax I dressed the distaff with. I will keep spinning until the summer is over and it’s not comfortable spin outdoors anymore.

Happy spinning!


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Medieval style spinning

Josefin Waltin spinning with a spindle and distaff, dressed in medieval costume

Since I started spinning with in-hand spindles and distaff in the beginning of the year, I have wanted to make a medieval style spinning video. I did actually make a short video in the cold winter, but it was a great challenge to work with cold lanolin and stiff hands. I realized that I had to wait for spring to make a proper video.

Medieval assistance

While waiting for spring to happen, I talked to my friend Maria. She is a medieval enthusiast and reenactor of epic proportions. She is also one half of Historical textiles and a mean plant dyer and weaver. I asked her if she was willing to help me with the videography and contemporary costume and she was happy to do it.

We synced our calendars and decided on a date to shoot the medieval video. Lucky for us, the agreed occasion turned out to be a beautiful spring day. It was also quite windy, which made our dresses and wimples ripple flatteringly in the wind.

Two women dressed in medieval clothes, spinning and combing wool
Maria and I on the set, crafting away

The costume

Maria came with a huge backpack filled with medieval clothing, all hand sewn by her. Everything else was also hand made – wool combs, belt, hair pins, wimple pins and shoes. It was such an honour to wear all these hand made treasures. I got a sturdy hand woven linen robe (which doesn’t show) and on top of that an indigo dyed woolen dress. An intricately arranged linen headdress, a hand woven belt and hand made shoes. I added the string with spindle whorls. Despite the warm weather, the clothing felt quite airy and comfortable and I never got too hot (or a sun burn). That’s natural materials for ya! Maria says the costume dates to the high fashion of the 1360’s in today’s Northern Germany or Scandinavia.

Josefin Waltin in medieval clothing
Woolen dress (with a linen robe underneath) and linen wimple. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Shooting

We shot the whole video in a nearby forest. The thinly leather soled shoes were very smooth and it was a challenge to get around in the slopes of the forest without slipping. It was not that kind of video I was looking for. I also got a severe thigh rash. Medieval women must have had very thick inner thigh skin. Or perhaps they didn’t have hearty biker thighs.

As we walked to and from the set, we met lots of Saturday strollers. In the typical Stockholm way (never, never, ever stare at or comment on anything out of the ordinary, just roll your eyes when you are sure no one can see you), many people passed us without any comment, but a few people did stop to ask us about what we were up to. They were curious about our costumes, how they were made, when they were from etc. Some people asked if we were nuns. Maria explained that we were regular people from the time around 1360. Nuns dressed in the latest fashion, so this is how they dressed back then. They have just stuck with that fashion ever since, at least the Bridgettines.

The tools

In the video, I spin on spindles from Hershey fiber arts and NiddyNoddyUK. They both have spiral notched tips. The whorls on the spindles are from Pallia. On the leather string in my belt you can see additional whorls from Pallia, John Rizzi and Hershey fiber arts. Both distaffs are my own hand carved. On the belt distaff I have arranged hand carded wool from a prize winning Värmland fleece (just like in this video) and on the hand distaff there is hand carded comb leftovers from Shetland sheep.

Spinning and drafting

When I spin on a medieval style in-hand spindle, I tend to start by using a proper in-hand style and not let go of the spindle. When I feel I have enough twist, I let go of the spindle and use a very short suspension and let the tip of the spindle rest against my thumb. This way I can grab the spindle quickly whenever I need to.

If I use a hand distaff I usually keep the yarn straight by moving my distaff hand away from the spindle. If I use a belt distaff I tend to wrap the yarn onto my distaff hand to keep the yarn from slacking and still hold the spindle in a comfortable position. You can see both these techniques in the video.

Josefin Waltin spinning with a spindle and distaff, dressed in medieval clothing
In-hand spinning with a hand distaff.

In my latest in-hand spinning video, someone asked me if I’m drafting with my left (fiber) hand or if I’m just pulling with my right (spinning) hand. When I spin with a hand distaff, there isn’t much room for the fingers to draft. But even with a belt distaff, I’m not drafting very much. I just let the fibers settle themselves in the twist with the draft of my spindle hand. That usually works just fine when I have prepared the fleece myself (which I usually do) and left just the right amount of lanolin in it to assist my drafting. Perhaps I would use my fiber hand for drafting if I were to use a short draw. I haven’t tried that yet, though.

A 3-ply yarn and two medieval style spindles
3-ply yarn spun on a medieval style spindle and distaff from hand carded batts. 49 g, 97 m, 1981 m/kg. Soft and fluffy as a cloud. Spindle shafts and whorls from Hershey fiber arts and John Rizzi.

I hope you enjoy the video. I (we) certainly enjoyed making it.

Happy spinning!

 

Distaff carving

Close-up of a person carving

A couple  of weeks ago I had a distaff carving day!

The lime avenue

We have a beautiful old lime-tree avenue just outside our house. Ever since someone told me that lime is a perfect carving wood I have longed to get out and make distaffs for in-hand spinning. It has been a cold un-spring so far and far too cold to carve outdoors. According to the weather report, it was supposed to be a little less cold a couple of weeks ago. I prepared to get out and saw the branches down on Saturday morning.

Saturday came, and when I peeked out from behind the curtains, it was a sunny day. I was out the door at nine and got some low hanging branches. I had big plans to sit in the March sun and carve, but the sun got shy and hid behind the clouds, resulting in quite a cold carving session.

Three distaffs

I made three distaffs for different purposes – one 30 cm hand distaff, one 100 cm belt distaff and one 120 cm floor distaff. The lengths are just as I want them. The floor distaff may be a bit too short, though. Or perhaps I just have to get used to the floor distaff spinning technique.

Three hand carved distaffs
Distaffs for belt, floor and hand.

The carving was wonderful – the bark just peeled off  like butter and it was a very nice feeling to carve in fresh wood from such a soft and carving friendly material. I managed to carve all three distaffs without any personal injuries (I did ruin the first hand distaff, though), just a cut in my thumb nail, you can see it in the featured image. Boy, they are practical. Nails, I mean.

I did nothing fancy, I just followed the shape of the sticks and made a few notches at the top to hold the fiber better. There was a small branch at the bottom end of the hand distaff, which I took advantage of to make a more ergonomic handle.

A hand holding a hand distaff
A branch bump fits perfectly in my hand

I carved and carved, made little embellishments and improved imperfections. I didn’t want to stop carving. Why would you want to let a raw, natural material out of your hand?

Dressed for success

I have dressed the two longer distaffs with Värmland wool and given them a test run. They work very well. I will make another skein of the yarn I made in a winter video of in-hand spinning in medieval style. Blog post about the video here.

A distaff dressed with grey wool
Dressed floor distaff. Wool is from Värmland sheep, spindle from NiddyNoddyUK and whorl from Pallia.

I like that the distaffs are organically shaped and the fact that I have to adapt myself to the natural shape of the distaffs. They feel more alive that way.

Happy crafting!

Learning new things – medieval style spinning

Josefin Waltin drafting wool from a distaff

I’m in a process where I’m learning new things. Learning a new skill is a beautiful experience. To be able to meet a new technique from a perspective of a beginner allows me to experiment with new tools before I have had the chance to decide which tools to get comfortable with. It teaches me to be humble before the learning process. For a moment I can step outside of myself and watch me gradually grasp the new technique.

Learning to spin medieval style

The purpose of my romance with the ever so charming process of learning is the art of spinning medieval style with a distaff. In this, there are several new things for me to learn:

  • The technique to spin on a new kind of spindle with a new technique
  • How to dress and draft from a distaff
  • How to spin and draft with the wrong hand

Medieval style spinning technique

The medieval spindle technique can be described as a third kind of technique along with suspended and supported spindle spinning. It is a grasped kind of spinning or in-hand spinning. But one of the beauties of spinning medieval style is that you can combine it with suspended spinning (long and short) and support spinning, all according to the circumstances in which you are spinning.

When spinning in-hand style, the yarn goes over the top of the spindle shaft, much like it does with supported spinning. I just love that light pattering sound of the thread snapping off the spindle tip for every turn of the spindle. Check out Cathelina di Alessandri‘s videos at 15th century spinning for great technique instructions.

The distaff

Working with a distaff is totally new to me. I have a hand-held distaff and a belt distaff. The first task is to dress the distaff. I prefer to hand-card my fleece, and so I do my best to assemble 20–25 grams of hand-carded batts on my distaff. I had lots of inspiration from Luca Costigliolo.

My hand distaff is hand turned by Caroline Hershey at Hershey Fiber arts. My belt distaff is hand-carved by my son when he was eight. He was inspired by the wizarding world and wanted to make a “magic cane”. He carved and decorated with mysterious signs and a magic gemstone on top. And when I found it a couple of weeks ago (he is 15 now and doesn’t like to throw away stuff) I saw the perfect belt distaff! A tad too short, but I can live with that. I am planning to carv myself some new ones though, in various lengths for hand-held, belt and floor distaff spinning.

Changing hands

In almost all of my spinning my left hand is my spinning hand and my right hand is my fiber hand. I tried this with in-hand spinning, but I got a cramp in my left hand all the time. The motion is the same whether you spin with your right or left hand, but if you want a specific spinning direction the motion will be different. Unless I spin for something special, I always spin clockwise. Spinning clockwise with your right hand means moving your first and second fingers outwards, away from your body. Spinning clockwise with tour left hand means moving your fingers inward towards your center. And apparently this didn’t work for me. So I switched. I know it is possible, since I have done it with Navajo spindle spinning for similar reasons.

A person holding a spindle
Learning to spin with the wrong hand

Changing an incorporated muscular pattern does take its time, though. But today I really felt progress and thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of having some sort of control over my right hand muscles.

Video plans

I have plans to make a video with medieval style spinning. It’s still a little cold outside, though. The lanolin isn’t on its best behaviour in -7°C. Believe me, I have tried. Today in fact. So I will give you a short sneak peak of my learning process from a cold and snowy Stockholm. Enjoy!

The spindle is one of the spiral notched spindle shafts from NiddyNoddyUK that I unboxed the other day and the whorl is from John Rizzi. Hat pattern is Ella Gordon‘s Crofthoose hat in my handspun yarn and the shawl is my handspun and handwoven from my video Slow Fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl. The fiber I am spinning is a prize winning Värmland fleece. Wonderful to work with and it drafts like a dream. Just not in winter temperatures.

There will be more! In the meantime I will continue to practice and learn.

Unboxing

Three spindles

Since before Christmas I have been waiting for spindles I have ordered. I have been checking my mailbox every day, all excited at first and then grumpy and disappointed. I know that both the U.S. and Swedish postal services are really slow, so I was expecting it to take its time. But still, I have been very eager.

The spindles I was waiting for was from Hershey Fiber Arts, NiddyNoddy UK and Neal Brand. In November I had ordered a medieval spindle shaft from Hershey Fiber arts, but due to mutual misunderstandings it came without a notch. Caroline was very kind to replace it for me. The Neal Brand spindle was also a replacement. A dear spindle I had bought from him earlier had broken this summer in Austria and I was very sad about it. When I mailed Neal Brand to ask him how best to fix it, he kindly offered to send me a replacement. People are so kind! The NiddyNoddy spindles was a regular order – three medieval spindles with spiral notches.

So. Today I nearly jumped out of my chair when the doorbell rang loudly. It was the mail man and he had not one, but two spindle-shaped parcels in his hand. I was over the moon, thanked him and skipped inside. As I was fondling the parcels, the doorbell rang again. It was the mailman again. He had forgotten to deliver spindle-shaped parcel number three!

Here is a short clip from the unboxing. Oh, a mistake at 0:32. The correct fruit is pear.

Happy spinning!