A coloured fleece

Sport weight single yarn of four shades of brown from Pax's fleece. Spun from hand carded rolags on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 100 meters, 44 grams. 2270 m/kg. Can I keep this for cuddling?

A year ago I bought a coloured fleece at a fleece market. Or two, actually. One brown and one grey. I didn’t mean to, but they called my name and there was nothing I could do. Today I sort the brown Värmland fleece and dive into its depths.

I have a soft spot for coloured fleeces. In online courses and webinars I usually work with white wool since it shows better on camera (at least with my limited photo skills). But a coloured fleece has a whole new dimension to dive in to.

Pax, a coloured fleece

The diversity of the coloured fleece is what lures me to dive deep and lose myself in the shades. Not only are there spots of different colours, but the tip and the cut ends can be different in colour, as can the undercoat and outercoat. There is so much to discover.

A brown Värmland fleece of many shades.
A brown Värmland fleece of many shades.

Walnut, hazel, driftwood and umber

I decide to sort the locks of the Värmland sheep Pax’s fleece into piles of different colours. I start roughly by picking out all the darker walnut staples I can find. They are disappearingly soft and quite short, some seemingly too short to spin. They seem to consist of mostly undercoat. Perhaps they have grown around Pax’s neck.

Four shades of Pax's fleece – walnut, driftwood, hazel and umber.
Four shades of Pax’s fleece – umber, driftwood, hazel and walnut.

I also find two shades of grayish brown – light hazel and slightly darker driftwood. Both colour staples are silky soft and have bleached tips. The fibers are not as fine as the walnut fibers, but for some reason these lighter coloured staples feel silkier. Perhaps because I don’t expect it. The different feel of the piles give me a hint that the colours will feel different to draft. I need to keep that in mind when I spin.

The different coloured staples of Pax's fleece are different in texture.
The different coloured staples of Pax’s fleece are also different in texture.

The driftwood pile grows larger and larger and I sort it again to look for more shades. I find something of a mix between the driftwood and the walnut. Umber, perhaps. I could probably go on and find more fractions of colours. However, for the project I have in mind I want some distinction between the shades and I am happy with my colour quartet.

New dimensions

When I look at the staples I see that there are still more colours than the four I have sorted out. There are different colour fibers in each staple. Most of the walnut staples are solid walnut, but the others sparkle of different shades. This brings even more depth in the wool and in the yarn I have planned.

The outercoat of the different colours look darker in all four cases.
The outercoat of the different colours look darker than the undercoat in all four cases. The hazel undercoat (bottom right) seem to still have at least two colours even after the separation.

Even though the staples feel a bit different from pile to pile, the distribution of undercoat and outercoat seem fairly similar – a lot of airy undercoat and a few strands of strong outercoat. For this reason I would say that most of the staples are of vadmal type according to the Swedish tradition of classifying staple types.

Vadmal type staples like these with mostly airy undercoat and a few strands of outercoat make perfect carding candidates – the crimpy and unruly undercoat fibers will help building air pockets in the rolags and the longer and stronger outercoat fibers will marry them together, creating a reliable reinforcement in the midst of the cuddly soft.

Colour scheme

I separate the colours because I want to show them one by one. To do that I need to find a combination that doesn’t blur them all together. I play and move around until I land in harmony. Walnut, hazel, umber, driftwood and back to walnut.

I use my combing station to tease one pile at a time. In this process I get a first idea of how each colour drafts. A lot of the walnut staples are very short and there is a lot of waste in this pile (which is also the smallest pile). I suspected that when I sorted the staples. The difference between the hazel and the driftwood is very small, but they are still somewhat distinct between the walnut and the umber.

Yarn of a coloured fleece

I want to make the colours the stars of the yarn I spin from Pax’s fleece. No fuss, no fancy, just a single strand of yarn, moving from shade to shade.

Walnut, driftwood, umber and hazel.
Walnut, driftwood, umber and hazel.

My favourite tool for spinning singles is the floor supported Navajo style spindle. With this tool I have a good overview and control of the spinning right in front of me. I see every potential lump and have the opportunity to open up the twist to smooth it out. I never want to stop. This tool is the perfect companion to the colour quartet. Every rolag amazes me – the depth of the colours is truly mesmerizing.

Long draws

The floor supported spindle also gives me the opportunity to make long, smooth longdraws that just melt in my hand like butter. Again, I never want to stop. Rolling the shaft against my thigh charges the rolag with twist. I make the draw. Long, smooth, slow. Like syrup. I watch the draft closely, to find when the thickness is exactly right. I slack the strand to control the twist and roll the yarn onto the shaft.

Sport weight single yarn of four shades of brown from Pax's fleece. Spun from hand carded rolags on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 100 meters, 44 grams. 2270 m/kg. Can I keep this for cuddling?
Sport weight single yarn of four shades of brown from Pax’s fleece. Spun from hand carded rolags on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 100 meters, 44 grams. 2270 m/kg. Can I keep this for cuddling?

The colours pass by my eyes rolag by rolag. I get to spend time with each section of browns, one at a time. When I have finished one rolag I butterfly it onto my spinning hand and transfer it to the lower cop. Again, the colours wind onto the cop in an ever changing spiral.

My heart sings as I see the cop build up of a thousand strands of brown. No spinning mill can separate the colours of a fleece like this – they would spin a solid oatmeal. I sort and spin for colours because it is possible for me as a hand spinner. Because I can.

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.

Changing hands

Two skeins, one spun clockwise with my right hand as spindle hand, one spun counter-clockwise with my left hand as spindle hand. By changing hands I have learned about what the hands do and what they know.

When I teach spinning on different types of spindles I always urge my students to learn to spin with both hands. Mainly this is for ergonomic reasons, but there are other valuable benefits in changing hands as well.

Pushing and pulling

A few years ago I learned how to spin on an in-hand style, or grasped, spindle. I experienced pain in the ball of my thumb and asked a physiotherapist why. As a leftie, I was spinning with my left hand as a spindle hand. I wanted to spin a clockwise (Z) single and thus spun clockwise with my left hand. The fingers then push the spindle shaft outward. The physiotherapist told me that we have twice as many muscle governing muscles pulling things toward the body compared to muscles pushing things away. One example of this is rowing. When the oars are in the heavy water you pull them against you and when they are in the light air you push them away.

When I was spinning clockwise with my left hand I was pushing the spindle shaft away from my hand and straining the base of my thumb.

You can read more about these ideas in this post and watch and listen to this webinar. With a focus on supported spindle spinning I have written an article about flicking with direction and ergonomics in mind in the Supported spindle issue of PLY magazine.

A magazine cover with a person spinning on a supported spindle. She is holding the yarn in the left hand and the fiber in the right. A title across the image says The flick.
In this picture I spin counter-clockwise with my left hand as spinning hand on a supported spindle. Spindle by Björn Peck.

Spinning ergonomically with different spindle types

  • I usually set a suspended spindle in motion by rolling the shaft up my thigh. To spin clockwise I pull the shaft up my right thigh with my right hand. To spin counter-clockwise I I pull the shaft up my left thigh with my left hand.
  • On an in-hand spindle the pushing and pulling has the most impact. This is where I originally strained the base of my thumb. I pull the shaft into my right hand for clockwise spinning and I pull the shaft into my left hand for counter-clockwise spinning.
  • For a supported spindle I do the same as with the in-hand spindle – I pull the shaft into my right hand for clockwise spinning and I pull the shaft into my left hand for counter-clockwise spinning.
  • When I spin on a floor supported Navajo style spindle I roll the shaft up my right thigh for clockwise spinning and I roll the shaft up my left thigh for counter-clockwise spinning.

Relearning

When I understood the concept of pushing and pulling I decided to relearn – to spin clockwise only with my right hand and counter-clockwise with my left hand. It took me a while to learn to spin with my right hand, but with daily practice it worked. Relearning like this gave me a huge aha moment – in my wobbly attempts at ballet dancing the supported spindle in what had thus far been my “wrong” hand I recognized the struggle my students went through in learning the fine motor skills needed for supported spindle spinning. It was a valuable lesson that I don’t want to be without. Learning through your mistakes is a very powerful and valuable gift.

Teaching

I also decided to teach my students to learn to spin with both hands as spindle hands and, more importantly, why. As a teacher I think it is my responsibility to teach my students to listen to their bodies and make adjustments to spin as comfortably as possible. Changing hands when changing spinning direction is an important part of this.

Most of my students have muttered initially, but most of them have welcomed the idea of changing hands and seen the benefits of it.

Sooner or later they will want to ply their yarn or spin in the other direction for a special purpose. Then they will have no trouble changing hands and directions and spin the yarn they desire. Without strain.

A quick survey

I asked four of my former students if they still practice what I taught them about spinning direction. All of them practice my ideas of pushing and pulling and thus spin clockwise with their right hand and counter-clockwise with their left hand. Two of them fully on all spindle types and two of them mainly on supported spindles. “That way I can spin for a longer time”, one of them said. And that is what we all want, isn’t it?

Practice what I preach

I have practiced the idea of changing hands for supported, suspended and in-hand style spinning since I learned about the concept of muscles for pushing and pulling. When it comes to floor supported Navajo style spinning I haven’t taken the opportunity to relearn, though. All the yarns I have spun with my floor supported spindle have been clockwise, with my right hand (as it is the way I learned originally). I have spun them as single weft yarns in weaving and haven’t had a project where I needed a counter-clockwise spun yarn. Until now.

I am spinning for a project where I want to knit with two contrasting colour singles – one clockwise spun and one counter-clockwise spun. And I realized that it was time for me to practice what I preach in this spinning technique too.

A wobbly start

It is fascinating how odd it feels to change hands. Even though both hands have important tasks – of managing yarn and of managing fiber – it feels peculiarly odd to change. At the same time, rolling the shaft outwards on my thigh would feel even more odd.

So I started the adventure of learning to spin counter-clockwise with my left hand as spinning hand. Setting the shaft in motion on a floor supported spindle is easy. Just a flat hand held lightly against the shaft that is leaning against your thigh, and pull the hand inwards. It was the wobbliest flat hand I have ever seen! And with my dominant hand! I couldn’t pull my flat hand properly against my thigh. In the other end, my right hand didn’t know what to do with the rolag.

A new understanding

When I sat there with these seemingly easy tasks I started wondering what was really happening. I am an intermediate to advanced spinner and I know what the hands do. I believe in the concept of pushing and pulling and teach the concept of changing hands for a reason.

The hands listen to the wool and cooperate in opening up the twist to get the thickness of the yarn I want.

What I realized was that my hands know what to do, but without necessarily telling each other what was going on and without telling my brain what they were doing. Since I wanted to spin two identical yarns, however in different directions, I needed to understand the steps I was taking in the clockwise yarn and translate that into the counter-clockwise yarn. The right hand had to tell the left hand how to roll the shaft. The left hand had to tell the right hand how to make the draft and handle the fiber. I had never done that before. I needed to translate and transfer the knowledge of my hands to each other and to my brain.

Things I noticed:

  • When building up the twist in the fiber, I wasn’t giving the shaft the same thigh-rolling force with my left hand. This resulted in less twist and a thinner and/or weaker yarn.
  • I didn’t trust the fibers to do their thing with the counter-clockwise yarn. Instead I made the draw shorter than with my clockwise spun yarn and fiddled a lot with thick and thin spots.
  • My fiber hand in the counter-clockwise yarn didn’t understand what to do with the semi-spun yarn that I usually store in the fiber hand until I have finished the whole stretch of yarn.

Studying and comparing what my hands were doing in the clockwise spun yarn and what they did in the counter-clockwise spun yarn taught me a lot about the spinning process. The hands need to listen to the wool, but also to each other. When the hands were new to a task they didn’t have the capacity to listen. They were far too busy to learn the basic technique.

After a lot of practice, trial and error I can produce yarns that are quite similar when changing hands.
After a lot of practice, trial and error I can produce yarns that are quite similar when changing hands. Spindles by Roosterick.

With the knowledge of what the hands know, but not necessarily tell each other or the brain, I believe even more in teaching both hands to work as both spinning hand and fiber hand. That way I give the brain a chance to understand a task with the sensory input from both hands. If I add to that an analysis of what it is the hands are actually doing I believe I can understand the spinning process more fully. By learning I will understand better how to teach.

Two skeins, one spun clockwise with my right hand as spindle hand, one spun counter-clockwise with my left hand as spindle hand. By changing hands I have learned about what the hands do and what they know.
Two skeins, one spun clockwise with my right hand as spindle hand, one spun counter-clockwise with my left hand as spindle hand. By changing hands I have learned about what the hands do and what they know.

Conclusions

Changing hands when spinning is a valuable gift you can give yourself. Not only to spin with ergonomics in mind, but also to better understand what it is that the spinning hand and fiber hand are actually doing. I am a firm believer that the knowledge of both tasks in both hands will lead to a deeper understanding of the spinning process on a higher level. With the knowledge of both tasks in both hands I trust that 1+1=3.

Challenge yourself

Does this sound reasonable to you? Do you want to start practicing changing hands? Here are a few challenges you can treat yourself to as a start:

  • Change hands and spinning direction. Practice a little every day.
  • Try to find out what it is you actually do with your usual hand, as spinning hand and as fiber hand. Teach your other hand to do the same.
  • Spin two yarns, one with each hand (and in each direction). Try to spin them as similar to each other as you can.
  • Create a project where you need yarns spun in both directions. Either spinning and plying or with two singles in different directions.

You can do this with a spinning wheel too. Just practice changing your front (orifice) hand and your back (fiber) hand. It can be quite tricky too.

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.

Little ball of yarn

I wanted to spin a yarn that would tell its own story. Raw. Naked. With nothing to hide. Just present itself in its own splendour, on its own merits. This yarn of mine, this little ball of yarn, is a tribute to the wool it was made of.

You know when you happen to go to a fleece market with no intention of buying and you find yourself leaving the place with five bags of fleece? I’m sure you do know. This happened a year ago on the Kil sheep festival, Fårfest i Kil, just weeks before Covid hit Sweden on a larger scale.

Pax

Little ball of yarn. Once soft staples of wooly locks, with gentle swirls in their tips. Peaceful, just like the ewe from which they were shorn: Pax. Peace. Such a suitable name for such sweet curls. My hands can’t resist, can’t help touching – sparkling, giggling, electrified by the joy of soft sheepness. In a paper bag filled with peace and love.

In a corner of the fleece market at the festival I found a sheep farmer who had wool from her Värmland sheep. Large paper bags with sheep’s names and fleece weights written across the brown, coarse structure of the bags. I had all the wool I needed, but what’s the harm in just peeking at the fleeces? Perhaps cuddling with some staples?

Sweet staples of Pax's Värmland locks in shades of brown.
Sweet staples of Pax’s Värmland locks in shades of brown.

I peeked with one eye, then the other. One hand into the bag and, without warning, the other. Peeking into the bag labeled Pax. Just a little. And a little more. A billowing mass of brown staples emerged from the depths of the containers, flooding my hands. Singing, luring, calling my name. Come, come, feel how soft, look at my colour range and curly swirly tips!

Colours and textures

Little ball of yarn. From staples in every possible shape, wave and manner. Strike a pose, do your thing. And the colours. Oh, the colours. I dive into the spectrum of a fleece in all shades of brown. Rosy hazel, misty driftwood and solid walnut. On a closer look, all the colour segments in their own shape and manner. Matte, yet shiny. Subtle, yet vivid. Shy, yet bold.

I have a soft spot for coloured fleeces. Most coloured wool from the Swedish heritage breeds display a wide array of shades from light to dark. And with that, often different textures to different colours over the body of the sheep. Another dimension to explore and loose myself in.

Hazel, driftwood and walnut. All part of Pax's fleece.
Hazel, driftwood and walnut. All part of Pax’s fleece.

I decide to explore the colours of Pax’s fleece. Brown is just a collective name here, there are several nuances to dive in to. From the lightest latte to the darkest walnut. Some solid and some built up of a range of shades. All bringing depth and a longing to see more. The different coloured staples have different texture and appearance. All soft, but differently so. Soft is just so insufficient a word here. How do you describe staples that are soft in different ways? I want a range of descriptives here, a candy store of epithets of softness to choose from! I don’t drink wine, I do wool. So give me the range of ways to articulate wool the way a wine taster does wine.

Round and round

Little ball of yarn. I call your name. But what is your name? How do I make you justice? How do I mirror your soul in a yarn? I want you to shine in all your sheephood. Raw. Simple. Naked. Still elegant. Honest. Safe. The colours displayed, yet the fibers blended into one United Roundedness. Yes, now I know your name.

I choose to card rolags from the sorted colours. Such lovely acquaintances, all of them. Through the cards I get to know the characteristics of each colour. The whispering, almost escaping walnut. Perhaps better matched with finer cards. The hazel somewhat unruly. Driftwood staples mature and kind. Still, all comform into round rolag cylinders, built by a tight collaboration between the fibers and the air between them.

I'm spinning singles on a floor supported Navajo style spindle.
I’m spinning singles on a floor supported Navajo style spindle.

I see before me a singles yarn. Round. Simple. Consistent. A yarn that says it just how it is, with no ulterior motive, nothing to hide.

My favourite tool for a singles yarn is the floor supported Navajo style spindle. With this spindle I get to stretch and allow space to the draft. The long draw from my lap to the tip of my outstretched fiber hand. I love the way the technique allows me to use my whole body while spinning.

The dance

Little ball of yarn. How sweet a spin, a dance to make you shine. In one end flat hand, mindfully rolling the shaft, allowing it to twirl from tip to tip. In the other a closed hand, holding the wooly treasure, like a baby bird. Gently, gently. The strand between, conveying the message between the hands, like a tin can phone between the closest of friends. Hands following to the wool through the yarn, leaning in, listening to the whisper of the wool.

Spinning on a floor supported Navajo style spindle is like performing a choreographed dance. Photo by Dan Waltin
Spinning on a floor supported Navajo style spindle is like performing a choreographed dance. Photo by Dan Waltin

Spinning on a floor supported Navajo style spindle is a joy. I love how fast the yarn spins up, how I get to use my whole body in the process and how my hands need to really listen to the yarn and cooperate to perform the dance choreographed by the strand between them. Through spinning with this tool I get to more fully understand how the draft goes into the twist and how I can open up the twist to manipulate the semi-spun yarn in the direction I want it.

This particular wool is light and cooperative. Listening to it is easy and joyful. While the different colour rolags don’t work exactly the same I can still adapt the spinning so that they come out in the same manner in the yarn.

A skein aswirl

Little ball of yarn. So full of energy. spiraling here, swirling there. Charged with spinning spirit, never still, ever moving. A hot and cold dip will relax, ease and slacken. Allow stillness and peace in the whirl. The twist from the dance is forever trapped in the strand. Where did it go? What else has changed?

Knitting with energized yarns like singles presents some interesting challenges – unless you knit a balanced pattern (like garter stitch or rib) there is a good chance the knitted fabric will end up biased.

A fulled skein of Värmland wool singles.
A fulled skein of Värmland wool singles.

I decide to full the yarn by shocking it. In the fulling process, which can be seen as a light felting, the scales in the fibers catch on to each other, tightening up the yarn slightly and calming the energy down. I dipped the skein in hot and cold water until I saw that the strands in the skein had started to grab on to each other. Värmland wool does tend to felt. Instead of seeing this characteristic as a threat I allowed it to become a superpower to help me calm the energy down.

Little ball of yarn

Little ball of yarn. The strand light as a feather, sweetly wrapped around my thumb, keeping it safe. Layer by layer wound onto the ball, becoming the ball. The clarity of the single strand, the combination of colours, invite me to follow a sole fiber. Round and round individually, yet holding on in a wooly togetherness, streams of air in between.

A finished little ball of yarn. Värmland wool hand carded into rolags and spun with long draw on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 12-ish wpi. 11 grams, 36 meters, 3234 m/kg before fulling.
A finished little ball of yarn. Värmland wool hand carded into rolags and spun with long draw on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 12-ish wpi. 11 grams, 36 meters, 3234 m/kg before fulling.

And so it is here. My little ball of yarn. Only a simple sample of 11 little grams, still filled with hopes and dreams of a fabric, a design, a garment. A soft promise of a continued crafting adventure. My hands tingle to knit with it. At the same time I am reluctant to pull the inner ends braid to ruin the perfectly imperfect little ball of yarn. I want to look at it, follow the strand, follow the fibers, imagine its future.

I twirl the little ball of yarn and loose myself in the sections of hazel, driftwood and walnut.
I twirl the little ball of yarn and loose myself in the sections of hazel, driftwood and walnut.

Eventually I do dare. I dare to pull. Out it comes, the light single, new to the world. Not too skinny, not too floofy, just perfectly airy and pert, my little strand of yarn. Ready to meet its future.

A precious promise

Little ball of yarn. A precious promise of a transformation in shape, texture and vision. I close my eyes and see the shades of brown change in the fabric, walnut, driftwood and hazel float like water colour rivers in a painting, moving fluidly across the surface, inviting the curious to follow its paths.

I spun this yarn to pair it with a white yarn spun the same way from the same breed, only spun in the other direction. The combination of clockwise and counter-clockwise will further balance the structure, together with the fulling. Also it will offer balance to me when I spin – I spin with my left hand counter-clockwise and my right hand clockwise to work as ergonomically as I can. Alternating the two spindles also helps me avoid overworking one arm.

A triple tuck stitch pattern with the shades of Pax's fleece between rows of sheepy white.
A triple tuck stitch pattern with the shades of Pax’s fleece between rows of sheepy white.

This past summer I bought Nancy Marchant’s book Tuck stitches and lost myself (again) in the beautiful spectrum of this fascinating technique with endless possibilities. I picked one. To me, the yarns and the pattern make the perfect match. Soft, squishy, like freshly made waffles.

I do have a design in mind, another companion to the yarns and the structure. I’m just not telling you about it yet. But I will. I just need to spin the rest of the fleeces first.

I think I’ll get the waffle iron out today.

Little ball of yarn. Thank you for allowing me to discover your soul, for fueling my creativity and for giving me peace.

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.

Teaching at Sätergläntan

This week I have been teaching at Sätergläntan craft education center – a five-day course I call A spindle a day. The students learn four different spindle types and wool processing. On the fifth and final day I invite them to a wool tasting to make them realize how much they have actually learned. The course is also about the slowness of spindle spinning and how spinning can help you find peace of mind.

Sätergläntan craft education center in its midsummer prime.

Teaching at Sätergläntan

This is the third time I teach a five-day course at Sätergläntan – the first time was all about supported spindle spinning. Last summer I taught A spindle a day for the first time. It has been such a lovely experience every time. Inspiration oozes from every corner of every building at the center. Every handle, curtain, rug, hook and decoration is hand made. Teaching at Sätergläntan is – aside from the teaching experience itself – an experience mindfully wrapped in a handmade environment bursting with craft and creativity.

I stayed in the landscape house where all the rooms are named after Swedish landscapes. I got the Gotland room, which must have been the nicest of them all. It was filled with hand crafted things made with love and care by crafters and artists from Gotland in traditional techniques.

A spindle a day

The course was fully booked many months ago, but due to the corona crisis several people had had to cancel their reservations. But there were still enough students left for the center to go through with the course. We all missed the presence of the spinners who couldn’t make it and hope they will be able to take it another, safer time. As a teacher I felt privileged, though, for the opportunity to teach only five students and be able to give them all individual coaching when they needed it. The students were between 20 and 69,5 years old – my youngest group yet. Usually I’m the youngest at 47. The students had different spinning backgrounds and experiences from novice to intermediate but all with a profound interest in textiles and wool.

Suspended spindle

The first day was dedicated to wool knowledge, combing and suspended spindle spinning. We looked at what the wool preparation does not only for the spinning experience but also for the decisions you make through the process. Every time you handle the wool you learn something about it – how long the staples are, the elasticity, how it drafts and how it holds together. All these little pieces add together into a puzzle that gets more and more complete as you work with the wool. When you get to the spinning part you have gathered information that will help you make decisions about your yarn and your spinning technique. We worked with these thoughts as our guide throughout the whole course.

I encouraged the students to try different wools and reflect over how the wools are and behave differently and how the behavior of the wool influence the decisions they make for the yarn.

One students made thorough samples with notes for all her preparation, spinning techniques and spindle types.
One students made thorough samples with notes for all her preparation, spinning techniques and spindle types.

Navajo style spindles and carding

Day two was dedicated to carding and spinning on Navajo style spindles. As I wrote in last week’s post my wood turner Björn Peck had delivered a batch of beautiful Navajo style spindles for the course.

Navajo style spindles are risky to ship, especially between continents. If you are in North America, please buy from Navajo artists. Here is one. There are also other makers in the U.S.

Carding rolags

There is something about carding. Some people card the way they have learned many years ago, some don’t really like carding because they don’t get good result. But few have analyzed their carding or which properties to strive for in their rolags. In the course we talked about what we want the rolag to do and how to get there.

Rolag progression in Åsen wool from one student from bottom to top. The aim is a rolag with an even distribution of separated fibers throughout a rolag with an even and defined shape.

After the class one student said she had been carding for 35 years but had never got as round rolags as she had today. Another said that she now enjoyed the carding process in a way she hadn’t before. My heart bubbles of joy when I can guide my students to make new insights like these. They all made a remarkable progress in their carding similar to the one in the photo above.

Spinning on Navajo style spindles

Spinning on a Navajo style spindle is both slow and fast. You set the spindle in motion by rolling the shaft with your flat hand against your outer thigh. You don’t get much speed in that. However, you usually spin with quite low twist yarn and often bulky yarns.

The students felt more comfortable with the slow spinning style but did get results fast since the fiber spun up quickly. And they all loved the technique. The whole body is involved in the motion and there is something magic happening between the hands in the long draw that stretches from the spindle hand at the thigh and the fiber hand by the opposite shoulder.

We worked a lot with opening up the twist and finding the point of twist engagement. The point of twist engagement is the space in the distance between fiber and yarn where there is enough twist for the fibers to stick together but not enough to lock them. This was a revelation to the students. By keeping the twist close to that twist angle where the fibers just slide past each other without sliding apart they could manipulate the yarn by opening up the twist with just a light movement with their thumbs on each side of the point of twist engagement.

Double and consecutive drafting

We tried spinning with both a double draft and (in lack of better words) a consecutive draft.

With the double draft you

  • add twist to the rolag until you feel the rolag twisting slightly in your fiber hand
  • draft (the first draft) by moving your fiber hand outwards until you reach shoulder height
  • fine tune any bumps by opening up the twist
  • add more twist (second draft) when you are happy with the shape and thickness of the yarn.

In consecutive drafting (does anyone have a better term for this?) you

  • do only the first draft all through the wool for one skein. You end up with a fluffy cake of lightly twisted pencil roving or pre-draft.
  • Once finished you draft through the wool a second, third or even fourth time, each time drafting a bit until you get the thickness you want, still keeping the twist close to the point of twist engagement. At the final draft you add the twist you need for the finished yarn.

This is a more efficient way that can also lead to a more even yarn. I haven’t done this very much, but this day I tried it. I ended up making four consecutive drafts, starting with a bulky pre-draft and ending with a thin and even singles yarn.

I really liked this consecutive method of drafting and I will explore it further. Having one task for each turn with the wool made the yarn more even. I also had time to think about what I was doing and how I wanted to go through with the upcoming draft.

In-hand spindle and distaff

I always feel a bit nervous when I present the in-hand spindle and distaff technique. There are lots of things to focus on and it can be a bit overwhelming. But it can bring the students closer to textile history (from a European perspective). It can also bring them closer to the yarn and the spinning since the spinner has a lot of control over the yarn they spin.

Nice and orderly and good. Dressed distaffs for in-hand spinning. Värmland, finull and dalapäls wool.

The students dressed their distaffs and spun their yarns, all looking like the flemish paintings that give us the clues to the technique – a proud raised distaff hand, a twiddling spindle hand in hip-height and the yarn diagonally over the torso. And, as with all the previous spindle techniques they learned how to spin with both hands as spindle hands and fiber hands, just like I tell them to. They look at their technique, verbalize it and make lots of progress in both theory and practice – they talk about what they do and have the vocabulary to analyze the technique.

In-hand spinning with distaffs in the shade.

Supported spindle

The fourth spindle in the course was the supported spindle. This is the spindle I feel the most confident teaching because I have done it so many times. It was also the spindle some of the students had looked forward to the most.

Supported spindle spinning day was a success. Spindle in cherry by Björn Peck.

On a one- or two-day course I usually teach the technique in steps, beginning with an empty spindle, progressing to spinning with commercial yarn and then move on to fiber. But in this course the students have gradually learned the skills they need to spin on a supported spindle and they can skip these preparational steps. They have learned to change angles and spin over the upper tip of the spindle in both Navajo style spinning and in-hand spinning. Through all the previous spindle days they have learned to handle the wool, wool preparation and most importantly to listen to and trust the wool. They all loved the technique and quickly came to a mindful place when spinning.

My students learn to flick with three fingers and the thumb for more flicking oomph and less strain. Supported spindle in flame birch by Björn Peck.

Many of them had very high expectations of the Björn Peck spindles I had brought and they were not disappointed. I had spindles from several different renown spindle makers for them to try but most of them loved Björn’s spindles the best.

Wool tasting

Wool tasting is a concept I have developed to give the students an experience of one wool at a time and to allow them to practice what they have learned throughout the week. We do this on the fifth day that is dedicated to peace of mind and reflection.

They get five different wools, one at a time and get to handle each wool for 15 minutes. They analyze the wool, make notes of its characteristics, prepare and spin it and tie a sample to the wool tasting form. During these 15×5 minutes they go on a journey to discover each wool on their own, make decisions on preparation and spinning tools and how to prepare and spin it based on the skills they have learned during the week. When the wool tasting form is filled with all five wools in the tasting they have in front of them a map of what they have learned.

I enjoyed every second of watching them focused at their task. During the course I had seen them struggling with tools and spindles, making amazing progress and now handling wool, tools and thought process with confidence. I was so proud of them and thankful for having had the privilege of guiding them to their new skills.

Spinning meditation

The last thing we did before the course was over was to go inwards in a spinning meditation. To me spinning and meditation have a lot in common. Just like meditation, spinning can bring you into a flow where you can allow your thoughts to come and go and to find the space between your thoughts.

In the spinning meditation we allow ourselves to listen to the wool with no expectations on the yarn. For fifteen minutes we spin in silence. I do my best to guide them into noticing their surrounding, the experiences of the senses in the spinning and the inner process when they spin. Towards the end of the meditation I ask them to close their eyes if they want to to get the opportunity to come even closer to the inner process of spinning. Spinning with your eyes closed can seem scary, but all the students felt safe enough in the group and confident enough in their spinning to close their eyes, some for several minutes.

Through the filled-out form in the wool tasting the students got their map of what they had learned. During the spinning meditation I got mine. I saw them spin relaxed, focused and with knowledge in their hands and minds. Eventhough it was melancholic to leave Sätergläntan and the students my heart was singing as I walked over the meadow to the main building. For five days I had had the privilege of watching five spinners develop and grow in their spinning skills and wool preparation, but perhaps most of all in their inner spinning process. And I had been a part of that.

I will treasure these memories like sweets in a chrystal bowl. In the darkness of the winter months I will pick them, one by one, and think back on a lovely midsummer time spent at Sätergläntan. But befor that, I will come back. In October I teach the five-day course Spin the fleece’s best yarn. I can’t wait.

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.
  • 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.

Spindle delivery

Two years ago I contacted the wood turner Björn Peck to ask him if he could make supported spindles for me. Another wood worker had recommended him to me. The first thing Björn said when I emailed him was “I want you to show me how you spin with them. I can’t create a tool for you if I don’t know how you use it”. So he came to our house and I showed him how I spin on supported spindles. He has been making spindles for my courses ever since. Yesterday he came by with another spindle delivery.

Björn Peck, professional wood turner and spindle maker. Photo by Dan Waltin

Finding supported spindles

I have been teaching supported spindle spinning since 2016. For a while I had been very frustrated over the fact that my dedicated students had gone home after the course and ordered spindles from the U.S. or Australia and had had to wait three weeks for their spindles to arrive. In that time they had most probably forgotten all they had learned and practiced in the course.

I had a vision of finding a wood turner in Sweden who could provide me with spindles for my students – both for teaching and for the students to buy after the class. I wanted the students to be able to practice the technique straight after the course, when it was still fresh in their memories.

Finding a wood turner

When I contacted Björn I realized straight away that he was serious and dedicated to his work. He wanted to do this and he wanted to do it good. I explained to him what I wanted the spindle to do. I had taught a few supported spindle spinning classes by then and I knew what my students struggled with and what they needed in a spindle. During that first summer Björn worked on different prototypes and we emailed back and forth. We met a couple of more times so that I could try his new models. It’s a good thing that we live in the same city.

Spindle prototype
One of Björn’s first prototypes

A spindle journey

That fall I taught a class again and for the first time with Björn’s spindles. He had finished them just a couple of days before he brought them to me. They still smelled of fresh varnish.

The first live batch of Björn Peck's supported spindles.
The very first spindle delivery from Björn Peck.

Spindles and pucks were made in local Swedish woods – apple, maple, cherry, birch, bird cherry, laburnum, walnut (not Swedish) and rowan. The bowls matched the wood in the spindles and had a metal indentation for the spindle tip to spin in. All the spindles were sold at the course.

I used Björn’s first batch of supported spindles for my video A meditation. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The students gave feedback about the models so that Björn could improve them. For the next batch Björn made the indentations in the pucks a bit deeper so that the spindle wouldn’t dance out of them.

A few weeks later I taught a five-day course in supported spindle spinning. The students had lots of time to try the spindles and give feedback to Björn. They were very thorough in their investigations and eager to help Björn make the spindles even better.

Spinning students eager to find the best spinning puck indentation in a five-day course in supported spindle spinning in 2018.

Later I also visited Björn in his workshop where he had rebuilt some of his tools to be able to improve the balance of the spindles even further.

Unfinished whorls, but still oh, so lovely.

The balance in his spindles is now flawless. He allows the wood decide the design and adapts his technique to that. If necessary, he puts a metal weight in the whorl for balance. The indentation in the pucks is now made of glass, which makes the spindles spin forever.

My private Björn Peck supported spindle and puck in masur birch. You can see it in action in my video Catch the light.

Navajo style spindles

Many people had asked me to teach Navajo spindle spinning. I really liked the idea, but it would only work if I could get Björn to make Navajo style spindles for me. A friend had brought me two Navajo spindles to Sweden by a friend who had been to the U.S. in business. The company doesn’t ship outside of the U.S. since they couldn’t guarantee that the spindles would arrive undamaged or at all.

I asked Björn and he promised he would try. He warned me that he might not be able to make the shafts straight enough on such long spindles. Despite that, I created a course called A spindle a day, including Navajo spindle spinning and hoped to all my spinning goddesses that Björn would be able to make the spindles.

A person spinning on a large ground-rested spindle.
Björn’s first batch of Navajo style spindles for my course A spindle a day in 2019.

After a lot of research, trial and error, he presented Navajo spindles for the course. I brought them to to the course and they were an immediate success, as was the course.

Spindle delivery

It is course season again at Sätergläntan craft education center and I am teaching the second edition of my course A spindle a day. The course has been sold out for many months, but due to the corona crisis many students have had to cancel their reservations.

Another spindle delivery of Björn Peck spindles in birch, flame birch, masur birch, laburnum, cherry and rowan.

Still, there are enough students in the class to go through with it. The school has adapted the courses and the activities to the social distancing rules of course. I go to Sätergläntan this afternoon to teach this much awaited second edition of A spindle a day. Björn came by yesterday with a lovely spindle delivery – supported spindles, Navajo style spindles and a couple of in-hand spindles.

Navajo style spindles by Björn Peck
Five beautiful Navajo style spindles delivered by Björn Peck. Spindles in ash, pucks in ash and maple.

A proud cooperation

I am so happy and proud of the cooperation I have with Björn. He makes spindles for my courses so that my students can walk home with a high quality spindle made by a professional wood turner in local woods. I listen to my students’ feedback about the spindles and pass it on to Björn, so he can improve them even further. We are both winners in this cooperation. I get happy students who can continue their spinning journey after the class with a professionally made tool. Björn gets his spindles sold to happy customers. There is, however, no money exchanged between us. He does put me first in line though, when I have a course coming up.

When he came to me that first time two years a go I told him that he probably would be able to sell spindles all over the world. He didn’t believe me then. But now he does and his shop sells out in just a few days after he has updated it.

Björn and I look at the details of his latest spindle delivery. Photo by Dan Waltin.

You can buy Björn Peck’s supported spindles here. If there are any left.


More resources:

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.
  • 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.

Curtain

I don’t like curtains in our home just for the sake of curtains. They need a purpose – to keep light out or for privacy. My husband suggested we get a curtain for the front door, to keep the draft out. That is definitely a purpose and I agreed. I suggested I would weave it.

This is part four of a stashbuster series. The first post was about Rya knots, the second about weaving bands and in the third I made a blanket out of pin loom squares.

A loosely woven fabric in natural white with dark grey stripes.
A loosely woven fabric in natural white and dark grey wool singles and commercial flax.

Weaving

When I came up with the idea to weave Dan’s draft curtain I saw before me a loosely woven fabric that would be a perfect curtain. “Is a loose weave really the perfect draft stopper?” you say. Hold your horses, I’ll get back to that in a bit, all things in due time.

Bulky singles and sleek flax

I love spinning bulky, low twist singles on my Navajo spindle. I use them as weft in weaving projects. If you are in Sweden you can take a two-day course in Navajo spindle spinning in March!

Through the years I have spun quite a lot of bulky singles on my Navajo spindle and I haven’t used all the skeins that I have spun. When I took inventory in my bursting stash I found quite a lot of skeins of bulky singles in natural white and dark grey.

Close-up of natural white skeins of bulky singles.
Bulky singles from my stash for the weft.

I decided to use them in the curtain, there were more than enough skeins for a curtain. I also had a whole cone of commercial flax yarn that would be perfect as warp – strong, sleek and with that shine only flax can give you.

Double width – double the fun?

My loom is only 60 cm wide so I warped for a double width weave. I know from previous experience that flax yarn is a challenge to weave with and that proved to be accurate in this project as well.

Close-up of a weave in a loom. Natural white and dark grey stripes of wool yarn with flax warp.
Double layered curtain weave.

The double weave in combination with the loose fabric gave me an extra challenge. The top layer stayed reasonably taut while the bottom layer sagged and fussed. Trying to pass the shuttle through the bottom shed was a fight every time and really tough on my eyes, trying to identify the home of each warp thread. I was afraid that the left and right sides of the curtain would look different, but I kept weaving. I was really quite frustrated at times.

A woman cutting a warp.
The cutting down of the curtain warp will reveal all the secret of the fold and the second layer of the double width.

That is the beauty of weaving with handspun, though – so many things can go wrong and I can’t allow myself to give up. So much love, skill and time have been invested in the project and I just have to finish it. If there are problems along the way I need to fix them. End of story.

Cut

When I cut down the warp the weave actually looked good! It was a bit loose in the fold, but better too loose than too tight, right? A wave of joy rushed through me when I realized that I could actually make something with this cloth.

A person unfolding a cut-down warp.
The curtain weave was a bit loose in the fold but looked otherwise surprisingly good.

Sewing

Since the fabric was so loosely woven there was no way I would be able to sew the curtain on a sewing machine. Instead I settled down with waxed flax thread and started hand stitching.

The first thing I did was to secure the raw edges with a simple whip stitch so that the ends wouldn’t fray. When they were all secured I stitched hems on both ends after having soaked the cloth.

Loops

A curtain hanging on a forged rod with loops made of a woven band.
A hand woven band of Shetland wool for curtain loops. You can see a second curtain behind my woven curtain.

At first I had planned to make a channel for the curtain rod to go through, but as I was having my band weaving frenzy I realized I could make loops of the band to hang the curtain in. It probably has a fancy curtain name that I don’t even know in Swedish. Anyway, I cut half of the band in six peaces, whip stitched the edges and backstitched them onto the upper hem. I saved the other half of the band for a simple tieback.

A hand forged curtain rod and rod holder. An edge of a curtain hangs in loops from the rod.
A simple hand forged curtain rod and rod holder.

The curtain was finished. But at the same time it didn’t feel finished. There was something missing. It was loose and transparent and didn’t look curtainy enough. I remembered that we had an undyed linen sheet in the cloth stash. It had got a rip and we saved it to use for mending. Perhaps I could make a background curtain to give the whole assembly a more curtainy look?

A parachute accident

I found the sheet. As I unfolded it I tried to remember where the rip had been and hoped that it wouldn’t be a problem for my project. After all, a sheet is a lot larger than a front door, and the rip might be placed outside of my measurement needs. This thought lasted for a millisecond.

When the sheet was fully unfolded I saw it.

A circular hole, the size of a human head.

Larger than a human head.

In the middle of the sheet.

One of my darling little raspberry pies had had a parachute period a few years ago – he made parachutes for his toy figures and threw them up in the air to let them quietly fall down. My sweet little crafter. While I am proud that he instinctively started to make a parachute himself instead of asking for a store-bought parachute, I clearly remember having taught him how to cut fabric long before the parachute accident. In the middle of the sheet! When I muttered about fabric cutting etiquette my now almost seventeen-year-old said that the chance to blame anyone had expired a long time ago and that he didn’t have any guilt in it anymore. He was probably right. But still. A hole.

A picture of the hole would have been appropriate here. But the wound is too fresh.

Mending

I really wanted to make this curtain with stashed, up-cycled and reused materials only. So I had to find a way to fill the parachute hole instead of buying a new back curtain material. My initial idea was to take the leftover sheet cloth and make a visible mending with embroidery around the join. This seemed like a big project, though, so I decided to procrastinate for a while.

After a while I remembered that I had bought some lace ribbon at a flea market last summer. What if I could make a join with the lace? That would mend the hole and make a pretty detail on the back curtain.

A linen curtain with a lace inlay
A lace mended parachute accident.

I hand-stitched the raw edges of the sheet, hemmed it and added the lace where the parachute section had been. This really made the sheet turn into a real curtain instead of just an emergency solution. The back curtain looked lovely. I sewed snap fasteners on the front and back curtains so that I could detach them for washing.

I also went through the curtain and evened out any uneven shuttlings with a tapestry needle. The fold looks a lot better and hardly shows at all.

The last thing I added was curtain weights in the bottom hems of both curtains. This was the only item I bought. That and the curtain rod. It is hand forged locally, though and quite sustainably produced.

A real curtain

A finished handwoven curtain from spindle spun weft and commercial flax warp. Handwoven bands for rod loops and tieback and a back curtain made of a recycled linen sheet and a vintage lace ribbon.
A finished handwoven curtain from spindle spun weft and commercial flax warp. Handspun, handwoven bands for rod loops and tieback and a back curtain made of a recycled linen sheet and a vintage lace ribbon. All seams are hand sewn.

I wanted the simplicity of the loosely spun wool with the shine of the flax. The loose weave shows off the wool and gives the weave an impression of being both bulky and delicate at the same time. The loosely spun singles with the loose weave gives the curtain an almost raw look.

A curtain hanging in front of an open door.
The finished curtain keeps the draft out (especially if you close the door).

Together with the back curtain and the weights in the bottom hems the whole assembly has a lovely drape. It even looks pretty and finished from the back.

A linen sheet curtain tied back with a woven band.
The back of the curtain with the linen sheet.

I am so happy with the result. It turned out better than I had imagined and it feels very grown up.

A linen curtain with a lace ribbon join.
Billowing lace that is just the right amount of not too lacey.

A slow curtain

This curtain took time to make and assemble. The slowness of the weaving and hand stitching gave me time to think and make decisions that I wouldn’t have made had it been a faster process. I have said it before and I certainly say it now: Slow is a superpower that allows us to think and make grounded decisions.

A tied-back curtain.
A slow curtain made by hand and heart.

Every time I walk through the door my heart sings when I pass the curtain. So much love, care and creativity was put into this project. The fact that I managed to turn it into something that we use every day makes it even more precious.

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!

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!

From sheep to shawl

Next in line in my walk down memory lane is another Slow fashion video: Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl. Just like the first Slow fashion video it is a labour of love.

In this video I wanted to focus more on the details and I wanted to make a woven garment in my own design.

DIY

I also wanted people to be able to use the video as a guide to make a similar garment themselves. The idea came from a children’s book. When the kids were small we read about Castor the beaver (Bruno or Harvey in English). The story was about Castor making something – growing a plant, baking bread, making a toolbox, sewing an apron and mending a flat tyre. While they are sweet little children’s books, they are at the same time instructions to how to do it yourself. Our daughter made an apron for her brother for his 10th birthday using Castor’s instructions. She was then 7,5 and could barely reach the sewing machine pedal. Dan had to help her with the steering. I think she made a small toolbox for herself when she was even younger.

Even if my video doesn’t show the exact instructions from sheep to shawl it is a direction and guide to the different steps in the process. I hope the video is an inspiration too.

Outlander themed

When I made the video I was very much into the Outlander book and tv series. First and foremost for the abundance of wool garment and other beautiful crafts. Just imagine the time and skills needed to make one single great kilt! In the video I flirt a little with the outlander theme – the plaid shawl, the final scene (featuring our daughter) and the musical theme (arranged and performed by Dan’s talented brother Jens).

There are a few paragraphs in a few of the books where the characters spin and I do hope they decide to include those sections in the upcoming seasons in the tv series.

A woman on a meadow is holding up a plaid shawl in light and dark grey. She is wearing a shirt with a sheep on it.
The finished Sassenach shawl. Photo by Dan Waltin

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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

A spindle a day

A meadow of flowers with a red building in the background.
Sätergläntan craft education center in its prettiest midsummer dress.

Yesterday I came back from Sätergläntan center for craft education. I have been teaching a five-day course in different spindle techniques. I call the course A spindle a day, referring to both the outline of the course and of the way spinning keeps me healthy – it makes me feel focused, peaceful and and sharp.

A person spinning on a suspended spindle in backlight
The rooms bursts with creativity on A spindle a day. Spindle by Wildcraft.

Sätergläntan bursts of crafting and creativity and it is a very inspirational place to be. This is the second time I teach at Sätergläntan, the last time was last October when I taught a five-day course in supported spindle spinning. I feel so lucky to be able to teach here. Only a couple of weeks ago Hazel Tindall and Nancy Marchant taught classes here.

A spindle a day

In October 2018 I taught a five-day course in supported spindle spinning. The principal of the center asked me if I wanted to come back and teach this summer. I did. From previous courses I knew that many people want to learn how to spin on a supported spindle, but I also know that there are many other spindle types that people want to learn. I sketched up a new course and called it A spindle a day.

I wanted to create a course where people could learn different spindle types, but also to really enjoy the superpowers of the slowness of spindle spinning. Spindle spinning allows you to focus on quality. You get time to listen to the wool and find out how it wants to be treated to be able to spin its best yarn.

Practicing spindle techniques is also a perfect thing to do outdoors – all you need is a spindle and some processed fiber and you are good to go. After all, that’s how people have been spinning for tens of thousands of years.

Day 1: Suspended spindle

The first part of day 1 was dedicated to wool knowledge and processing. After that we were ready to spin!

Wool knowledge

We started the first day with some basic wool knowledge. We looked at some of the Swedish breeds and their characteristics – staple length, crimp, fiber types, fineness etc. Handling wool from the very beginning helps us get to know the wool and understand what the characteristics do in a yarn and how we can enhance certain characteristics in the way we prepare and spin the yarn.

Combing wool

We also needed some wool to spin with, so we spent the next lesson combing. Some had combed before but hadn’t really got the hang of it and some had not combed at all. We used mainly a very dense Swedish Leicester wool that was a challenge to separate.

A person combing wool outdoors.
Don’t rush your combing. It needs your love and attention just as much as the spinning does. Combs from Gammeldags, wool from Värmland sheep.

We also looked at desired characteristics of hand combs – Tine length, sharpness, tine rows and distance between the tines. All these aspects will have an impact of the yarn we spin. As a spinner I need to adapt my combs to the wool I use and the result I want.

Suspended spindle

Most of the students in the class had spun on a suspended spindle before, some for a long time. They took the time to focus and practice. Some of them had never set the spindle in motion by rolling the shaft up the thigh before and were amazed at the speed it induced.

A person spinning on a suspended spindle
A lot of speed is inserted in the spindle when the spinner sets it in motion by rolling the shaft up the thigh. The spindle was made by the student.

The most experienced spinner played the game “how long can I spin before I need to roll the yarn onto the shaft” and set the spindle in motion with her feet.

A person rolling a spindle between the feet to set the spindle in motion.
You don’t need a spinning wheel to use with your feet for spinning! Spindle by Forsnäs Hemman.

Beginner spindler

There was one student who had no prior spinning or wool processing experience. It was my responsibility to meet her at her level and find the right step size for her to make progress and shine. And she did! It was wonderful to see how she worked with the wool with determination and dedication, how she understood the concept of drafting and found the point of twist engagement.

A person drafting yarn from a spindle she is pinching between her knees.
A new spinner is born. With dedication and determination she approached the suspended spindle and made impressive progress. Here she is parking and drafting. Towards the end of the day she started to skip the parking part.

Changing hands

When I teach spindle spinning I encourage, no, I make my students change hands. I want them to be able to use either hand as spinning hand or fiber hand. All hands in my class need to learn and be comfortable with how to control the fiber and how to control the yarn. I am a firm believer that you understand more about the spinning process and spinning mechanics if both hands know both tasks.

All the students did as I told them and they were amazed at how it actually worked after the initial learning process.

Day 2: Floor-supported spindle

On the second day all the students were beginners again, none of them had any previous experience of the floor-supported spindle.

A spindle from above
Navajo spindle by Björn Peck

A floor-supported spindle is, obviously, supported by the floor. It is thus a long spindle, somewhat longer if you sit on a chair than if you sit on the floor. We focused on the Navajo spindle where the spinner spins longdraw from hand-carded rolags.

A spindle with white and brown bulky yarn on it.
Practicing bulky singles on a Navajo spindle. Spindle by Björn Peck.

Carding rolags

With Navajo spindle spinning there are no short cuts – you need to make hand-carded rolags and they need to be even. The quality of the rolag will have consequences for the spinning process and the yarn you are spinning.

A person carding wool
There are no shortcuts – Navajo spindle spinning requires even and consistent hand-carded rolags!

Most of the students had experience in carding, but they all realized what difference dedicated time and thoroughness can do for the result. They learned quickly, though, and were amazed at their own progress – after a few loose and uneven rolags came concentric and even ones that made the teacher very proud.

A grayish-brown skein of singles yarn.
A thick singles yarn spun from hand-carded rolags on a Navajo spindle. The wool comes from the Värmland sheep Viola.

Let your hands listen to the wool

With a Navajo floor-supported spindle your hands need to communicate. Those of you who have watched the beautiful video of Navajo weaver Clara Sherman spinning on a Navajo spindle have heard her talk about the hands knowing and feeling what to do. This is very true when it comes to Navajo spindle spinning. The spindle hand is rolling the spindle shaft up the thigh and the fiber hand is holding the rolag ever so lightly. No hand is on the yarn to control it. The yarn is created in the cooperation between the hands, like a choreographed dance. The hands therefore need to listen to the wool to know when more twist needs to be added and when to add more length to the yarn or to open up the twist.

A person spinning on a floor-rested spindle
Learning to spin on a Navajo floor-supported spindle. Spindle by Björn Peck.

Being a beginner in a known field

The students I teach are generally experienced spinners. But when they come to my classroom they are beginners again. This can cause lots of frustration. As intermediate and experienced spinners they have so much knowledge. They know how wool behaves, how to draft and what they need to do to the yarn to get it where they want. They just don’t know this particular tool. I need to remind them to be patient and have respect for their own learning process.

A person spinning outdoors on a floor-rested spindle
The weather wasn’t always spinning-friendly, but when it was we took the chance to spin outdoors. Navajo spindle by Björn Peck.

Day 3: In-hand spindle with distaff

Mid-week we are tired. The students have been stuffed for two days and their brains need time to process all the things they have learned. And that’s ok. Sometimes we need to stop and listen, take a break or a step back. Still, they managed to take in and flourish in a new spinning technique and a new way to handle the fiber.

In this section of the course we also looked at some historical aspects of spinning. How did they spin in Central European medieval times? How did the Vikings spin? We also looked at French, Portuguese and Balkan spindles, which are all spun with a similar technique and with a distaff.

Twiddling

For the in-hand (or grasped or twiddle) spindle, the spinner holds the upper tip of the spindle between their fingers and turns the spindle in the hand. After some practice you can let go of the spindle and allow it to spin freely for short periods, still in the hand, always ready to grasp again. This was a challenge to the students. They thought they would never be able to control the spindle in the hand, but before lunch they all did!

Handling in-hand spindle and distaff is not a walk in the park.

Managing the distaff

The next step was to add the distaff. That too was a challenge – to hold the distaff while at the same time draft with the fiber hand, twiddle the spindle and keep an eye on the yarn going diagonally over the chest. They managed that too.

A person walking while spinning.
We’re taking our in-hand spindles and distaffs for a walk.

In fact, we even went for a walk with our spindles and distaffs. Now, that’s progress!

Day 4: Supported spindle

A person spinning on a supported spindle from a rolag.
It’s Supported spindle spinning Day! Supported spindle and puck by Björn Peck.

This is my game. I have taught lots of classes in supported spindle spinning. I know what to do, I know my course outline and I know the most common challenges the students face.

This time I was dead wrong.

These students have, step by step and in other contexts, become acquainted with most of the skills needed for supported spindle spinning, and they didn’t need much of my assistance before they were spinning away on their supported spindles. They didn’t have to start with a leader to practice the movements and angles, they had already practiced them the previous days with the other techniques.

People spinning on different kinds of spindles
Learning supported spindle spinning after suspended, floor-rested and in-hand spindle spinning turned out to be a smooth process.

Old skills in a new package

This is the thing about new skills – even if you are totally new to a thing, you always have some older skills you can apply to the new ones, albeit in a new package.

  • They know from the floor-rested and in-hand spindles how to change the angle between spinning and rolling onto the shaft.
  • With the in-hand spindle they have practiced fine-motor skills for twiddling the spinning tip.
  • Early on the first day we talked about opening up the twist to achieve a more even yarn and they have practiced it ever since.
  • Since day one they have practiced wool preparation and know what consequences it has for the quality of the spinning and the yarn.
  • For nearly every question they have asked I have encouraged them to analyze and find the answer themselves. They have started to analyze more themselves now and understand more why things happen the way they do in their spinning.
  • They know how to pack a mean permanent cop.

All I had to do was to coach them in flicking and encourage them to analyze even more.

I’m so proud of them!

A person spinning on a supported spindle from a rolag.
Spinning on a supported spindle from high quality hand-carded rolags. Supported spindle and puck by Björn Peck.

Day 5: Wool tasting

The fifth day was only half a day, so there was no new spindle. Instead the students put their new skills to the test in a wool tasting.

Testing new skills

They got five different wools and a chart. For each wool they were to make an initial assessment of the wool – what was their immediate feeling of the wool?

A person filling in a chart. Yarn samples are attached to the chart.
A lot of dedication was invested in the wool tasting.

They prepared and spun the wool and made a sample, taking notes of preparation method, spinning technique and spindle type. For every wool they got fifteen minutes. The room was quiet and the air thick with concentration. They were all dedicated and knew exactly how they wanted to prepare and spin the different wools and made thorough notes. It was a joy to observe!

A filled-in chart with yarn samples attached to it.
Want to know the wools in the wool tasting? From the left: Norwegian NKS, Dalapäls wool, Svärdsjö wool, Gute wool and Huacaya alpaca.

So much of what they had learned during the week came in use in the wool tasting. They had been provided with lots of tools and in the wool tasting they proved that they knew how to use them.

Spinning meditation

The last thing we did before lunch and journeys homeward was a spinning meditation. I hadn’t planned it, but one of the student had taken one of my previous courses where we had had a spinning meditation and asked if we could do it again. And it was a very suitable finale of a wonderful week.

A woman knitting on a bench. A meadow in the background.
A bench, some yarn and a meadow. The simplest things in life can be the most powerful.

Spinning, especially on spindles, can be truly meditative and is one of the superpowers of the craft. For me, a spindle a day keeps me balanced and focused. Perhaps it also keeps the doctor away.

Happy spinning!


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