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!


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!

Textile heritage

Flemish tapestry weave with a woman spinning on a spinning wheel.

Sometimes I envy spinners who have a textile heritage. Their mothers taught them how to spin, they spin on their grandmother’s spinning wheel, they learned because everybody did it, that kind of heritage. I have no textile heritage. In this post I will reflect over where our spinning genes come from.

Family

I have no spinners in my family. My mother used to sew a lot when I grew up and I inherited that from her, but I know of no one in the family who has had any kind of interest in spinning. My mother may have taught me how to knit (because that is what you did in the -80’s), but I wouldn’t call her a knitter.

Josefin Waltin knitting a pastel purple sweater in a garden chair 1985.
A 12 year old Josefin knitting. The year was 1985 and I was sitting in my aunt’s summer house garden in Austria.

Somepeople are fortunate enough to have a well defined textile heritage. They can point out a person in their life who taught them how to spin or who has in some other way been important to them when they learned how to spin. I have no inherited tools with a personal history, no treasured family textiles, no tales to tell of old hands showing the motions.

Tradition

Some cultures have a strong textile heritage. Perhaps especially cultures where sheep are an important part of the agriculture and the landscape. With the sheep comes crafting that becomes an important part of people’s cultural and personal history. Textile crafting is a natural part of the culture and anyone who doesn’t craft is the odd person.

Shetland textile heritage

In 2015 I visited Shetland with my wool traveling club for Shetland wool week. Sheep are everywhere in Shetland. I think there are about 10 times more sheep than two-legged inhabitants. The treeless landscape is shaped by the sheep and the infrastructure needs to accommodate for sheep and pastures. Shetland looks like a sheep planet with tiny villages scattered in the landscape for people visiting.

Sheep grazing by the Bressay lighthouse, Shetland. East coast of Mainland Shetland in the background.

It was of course a wonderful week that none of us will ever forget. But the one thing that made the biggest impression on me was the textile heritage. Every Shetlander knows their textile heritage. And I do mean everyone. Their mothers and grandmothers have knitted when walking and shepherding and whenever their hands were not occupied with something else. Because they had to. Knitted items were sold and used as an important means for trading.

Every Shetlander knows what a hap stretcher, jumper board or a knitting belt is. There is a beautiful flora of special knitting terminology with influences from the Norse language and Scots. Hentilagets=Tufts of wool found in the pastures. Sprettin=ripping back (Sprätta in Swedish means ripping up a sewn seam). Makkin=knitting.

A person standing behind a stretched Shetland Hap
The Moder Dy hap. Photo by Dan Waltin

The textile heritage is tightly woven into everyone’s cultural and personal history. Since oil happened in Shetland, women haven’t needed to knit to provide for their families anymore, but the heritage is still very strong.

Navajo spinning and weaving

After having read a review of the book Spider woman’s children in the latest issue of Spin-off magazine, I knew I needed to buy the book. I ordered it, and when it arrived it proved to be a beautiful book that warmly told the stories of Navajo women (and a few men) who spin yarn from the Churro sheep.

Spider woman's children by Lynda Teller Pete and Barbara Teller Ornelas
Spider woman’s children by Lynda Teller Pete and Barbara Teller Ornelas

The wool is spun on Navajo spindles and the yarn is used to weave traditional Navajo tapestry rugs. The tradition is passed down from mother to daughter (or son), as are the textile tools and specific patterns or styles. It is a strong matriarchal culture with a true and genuine respect for the craft and the crafter. Many Navajo have spent a lot of time at trading posts where they have sold their rugs. The rugs are well sought after today and sell for thousands of dollars on auctions.

Master Artist workshop: Navajo weaving

Spinning, knitting and weaving in the Andes

This week I bought the video Andean spinning from Interweave. It features the talented Nilda Callañaupa Alveraz in a gentle conversation with Linda Ligon. Nilda shows how the women of the Andes spin sheep’s wool, alpaca and llama on bottom whorl spindles, pushkas. They spin constantly, and usually very thin yarn for weaving. Hands are never idle and there is always some textile crafting going on. The women spin, ply, dye and weave together and create a textile treasure to take great pride in. Men spin bulkier yarn and often in llama wool for weaving potato sacks. Imagine that, storing your potatoes in handspun, hand woven llama sacks. What a potato feast!

Nilda Callañaupa Alveraz tells Linda Ligon about Andean spinning. Short clip from the downloadable video Andean spinning.

They spin the wool on simple hand-carved and very lightweight bottom whorl spindles. Just a stick and a whorl. No hook, you just secure the yarn with a couple of half-hitches and you are good to go. They don’t prepare the wool with any tools other than your hands. They just separate the fibers with their hands and turn them into clouds that they drafts from.

Another video that shows Andean spinning from unprocessed wool.

The process is mesmerizing and my heart was singing when I watched the video. The simplest of tools make the most beautiful, yet sturdy and useful textiles. I instantly felt a need for a pushka spindle. Even as we speak, two pushkas are on the way to me. I intend to get myself a fleece that I can tease and draft directly from without tools. I don’t know what breed they use, but since the Spanish brought the sheep, chances are that there is at least some amount of merino in today’s sheep grazing the Andean slopes. I’m thinking some Jämtland wool or Norwegian crossbred, NKS, will do the trick.

Abby Franquemont who grew up in the Andes as a daughter of anthropologists learned the technique from an early age (but shockingly late in the eyes of the locals). She is currently back in Cusco, Peru, and sends daily sweets in the shape of videos from her visit. It makes me want to go to Peru right now and spin with them. Anyone know of a decent train line from Europe to South America?

A Swedish textile community

There are places in Sweden with a cultural textile heritage. The county of Dalarna for example is a region where twined knitting has been the dominant textile technique for centuries. Women were knitting whenever their hands were free to knit. Idle hands were a sin. Many people in this region today can show a treasured vadmal jacket with twined knitted sleeves, safely stored in the attic. And they treasure it.

Future textile heritage

Next generation

My children don’t know how to spin and they don’t share my passion for textiles. But they do have a passive knowledge of spinning and wool. They can tell the difference between a Texel sheep and a Finewool sheep. Probably Rya and Gotland too. They know the names of quite a few of the spindle types I have and they enjoy the sound of the spinning wheel. How many city kids have this knowledge today? Every time I see a sign of this passive knowledge my heart smiles. I know that I have passed a treasured knowledge to them, even if they don’t share my passion.

Urban spinning

Recently I got a new supported spindle and bowl. The bowl had a metal piece underneath to fit a magnet so that the bowl doesn’t slide off my lap when I spin. The other day I went to the hardware store to get a strong magnet. I had brought the bowl to check if the magnet would be strong enough. When I waited in line I imagined what I would answer if the sales person would ask what the bowl was used for. I imagined answering “the line is too long for me to tell you what the bowl is used for”. I was a bit disappointed when he didn’t ask me. Not even after testing the function with my handspun hat between the magnet and the bowl! But he did get me a decent magnet.

Supported spindle and bowl by Björn Peck
Supported spindle and bowl by Björn Peck. Few people outside the spinning community know what they are used for, let alone why I would want a magnet for it.

In a culture with a strong textile heritage this situation wouldn’t have occurred. The hardware store would have exposed the magnets in the shop with a sign saying “Get your spindle bowl magnets for safe commuter spinning here!”. Wouldn’t that be something?

Metro crafting

I wouldn’t say that Stockholm has a textile heritage, at least not one that I know of. I don’t often see textile crafting in Stockholm. Whenever I see a person trying to untangle their earphones on the metro my heart jumps because I instantly think they are knitting. But they are not. The irony of this is that they wouldn’t have had to untangle their earphones in the first place had they only had the knowledge to knit them in!

No untangling necessary with knit-in headphones.
No untangling necessary with knit-in earphones. Picture from 2012. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The few times I don’t get around by bike I spin or knit on the metro. First and foremost because I want to, but also to make textile crafting visible. I want people to know that spinning exist. I want people to reflect over what it is that I do, perhaps dig out threads of memories of knitting grandmothers, weaving aunts or just old hands showing how it’s done. Some people are brave enough to ask me what I’m doing, or just seek eye contact and smile. Once I was standing in the metro, nalbinding away. A man in his 60’s was watching what I was doing. After a while he smiled at me and asked “Isn’t that that nalbinding?” I was so shocked I nearly forgot to get off at the next stop. Never have I experienced anyone outside the textile community recognizing nalbinding, let alone a man.

A pair of striped socks in backlight
Nalbinding socks. Photo by Dan Waltin

I treasure moments like these. They give me hope that I can be a part of passing at least a passive knowledge of textile tradition on.

Online heritage

Most of my you who follow me on my blog and YouTube channel are spinners. A few just appreciate the serenity of my videos and another group is fascinated by the textile techniques without an intention of crafting themselves. Recently one of my videos was spread in a non-spinning context. In one week the amount of viewers grew from 600 to 21000 (!) and is now up in around 36000 views. Spinners are my target group, but seeing so many other people appreciating my textile heritage makes my toes dance of joy.

Making my own history

I may not have a textile heritage. But I have made my own. The positive side of not having a textile heritage is that I don’t have a given thread to follow. I’m not expected to follow a pre-destined tradition. I make my own thread and my own discoveries based on my curiosity and love for the craft. That is a heritage I am proud of.

What is your textile heritage?


The featured image I chose for this post is a Flemish tapestry weave made by my sister-in-law’s grandmother Birgit. Birgit was a weaver and left tons of hand woven pieces when she passed away. My sister-in-law does have a textile heritage is by her grandmother and mother, but she is not a textile crafter herself. When she was sorting out her grandmother Birgit’s belongings she thought of me and gave me a whole bag with beautiful handwoven kitchen towels and a few tapestry weaves. This way I can say that I have adopted my sister-in-law’s textile heritage.


You can follow me on several social media:

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

Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle

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

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

Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle

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

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

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

Long draw

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

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

How I spin cotton on a Navajo spindle

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

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

This is how I do it

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

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

Doing the Navajo dance

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

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

The scenery

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

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

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

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

Happy spinning!


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Spinning direction part 1: Self-study

A hand holding a medieval-style spindle

In an earlier post about learning how to spin on a medieval spindle, I mentioned that I have switched hands for this technique. Usually my left hand is my spinning hand and my right hand my fiber hand. Since I got a cramp learning in-hand spinning I decided to try switching hands. Almost all the illustrations I have seen of medieval spinners have been with the right hand as the spinning hand. A reader, Stefanie, commented on my post, saying that she had had problems similar to mine and that switching hands had made a big difference for her. This made me think about how I spin and what role spinning direction and spinning hand play.

Blog series of spinning direction

Spinning with a spindle can be done with either hand and I don’t think anyone argues with that. You can choose to push the first and second fingers outwards or pull them inwards, with either hand. Nothing spectacular with that either. But if you want to spin in a certain direction, there will be different hand movements depending on whether you are spinning with your left or right hand. Most commercial yarns today are spun clockwise and plied counter-clockwise and it is how I have learned to spin. So, if you want to spin clockwise you will push with your left hand and pull with your right, right?

In this and some upcoming posts I will investigate spinning direction further. So let’s dig deep into the world of spinning direction and get geeky!

Testing my spinning hands

My first step is to investigate how I spin clockwise with both hands and with different spinning tools. By learning to use my right hand as spinning hand I will hopefully be able to see what it is I do. By breaking down the steps of the spinning technique I may see what is happening when and how.

In-hand spinning

As I have mentioned, I started to learn in-hand spinning my usual way, with my left hand as spinning hand. This was just before Christmas. I did get a cramp.  Thinking about the illustrations of medieval spinners with the spindle in their right hand, I knew I had to try to switch hands. Since the technique was all new to me, my muscles weren’t set in their ways and the change went fairly painless. And I didn’t get a cramp. In-hand spinning is so much more controlled than for example supported spindle spinning. This may have made it easier to learn with my right hand.

Looking at the video I notice that it looks more awkward spinning with my left hand (and I’m a leftie). The index finger looks like it’s bent the wrong way in the end of each spin. Also, since I’m pushing the spindle outwards from my hand, I have to hold on to the spindle more tightly so as not to drop it. When spinning clockwise with my right hand, I don’t have to hold on as tightly since I roll the shaft in towards the space between my second and third fingers. The space supports the shaft, and I don’t get a cramp.

Supported spinning: Flicking

I have never had any problems with my left hand as spinning hand when I spin clockwise on a supported spindle. I push to spin clockwise and it has always worked fine.  When I roll the yarn onto the permanent cop, though, I usually get a cramp. Therefore I usually need to switch hand positions several times during the rolling. I am very aware of this but I haven’t made the connection to pushing or pulling the spindle shaft.

I am currently practicing spinning with my right hand. This is a very interesting experience. It feels good to spin (pull) with my right hand and I don’t get a cramp rolling the yarn onto the permanent cop. I don’t have very good control of either of my hands yet but I think I will learn soon enough. In the beginning I felt all backwards and dizzy after my spinning practises, but now it feels more and more comfortable. The interesting thing is that when I look at my switched hands, the pattern I see is the same as the one I see in the participants in my spinning classes. I see the fumbling first attempts at handling the spindle and the uncontrolled movements of hands, spindle, yarn and fiber. And that is a lesson I will happily learn and embrace.

Compared to in-hand spinning, there is a longer pause between repetitions when I wait for the right amount of twist to go into the thread. Also, for every flick in one direction, I take a small charge in the other direction. This is clear in the slow motion section of the left-hand spinning. I haven’t got the hang of it yet with my right hand, but I’m getting there! All in all, supported spindle spinning takes advantage of the support. I don’t have to control my spindle since it is controlled between the yarn and the support. I don’t have to work as much to keep the spindle moving since the support helps me with that. The Support part in supported spinning is really a support in many aspects!

Supported spindle: Rolling

Since I usually get a cramp when rolling the yarn back onto the permanent cop when spinning on a supported spindle, I had to investigate this too.

Looking at when I roll the yarn back onto the permanent cop I see exactly the same finger movements as with the in-hand spindle. The movements are a bit smoother, though, since I have support. So, when pushing the spindle with my left hand, the shaft rolls out of my hand and I may need to hold on tighter. When pulling with my right hand I roll the spindle further into my hand, thus giving the shaft more support. I can happily say that I don’t get a cramp when I roll the yarn onto the permanent cop with my right hand.

Navajo spinning

When I started practicing spinning on a Navajo spindle, I watched lots of videos. I noticed that all the spinners were using their right hand as spinning hands, rolling the shaft towards the body. I chose to learn this way: it seemed odd and uncontrolled to roll outwards. Since rolling the long shaft along your thigh is a comparatively large movement it got quite obvious that it wouldn’t be ergonomic to roll outwards. A funny thing is, that when I made my video on plying on a Navajo spindle, I chose between rolling towards me with my left hand and away from me with my right, but somehow the latter won. I think I will have to make another video, rolling toward me with my left hand. I know better now!

Suspended spindle: Flicking

When I spin on a Turkish spindle I have always spun with my left hand as spinning hand. I tried to switch hands to see what happened.

Looking at it, it seems like the pulling movement is a bit smaller than the pushing movement. Spinning suspended may not be such a problem when it comes to pushing or pulling since it takes quite a lot of time between the repetitions.

Suspended spindle: Thigh rolling

I spin on a top whorl spindle by rolling the shaft down my thigh, using my left hand as spinning hand. This has never been a problem for me. Since I only roll the shaft by moving my flat hand downwards there is no particular strain on my hand. Since the spindle hangs in its own thread, there is no problem with spindle control (as with thigh rolling with a Navajo spindle).

I do however get a cramp sometimes when I roll the spun yarn onto the cop. So I had to try it with switched hands.

It looks like the pulling movement is smoother and smaller, but since spinning on a suspended spindle is comparatively slow and with fewer movements than in-hand spinning I would say that it doesn’t influence the spinning experience very much.

Coming up:

This was a bit of a self-study on spinning direction. I have learned a lot from it and I am amazed at how much there is to analyze from just a few seconds of close-up slow motion video. In the upcoming posts I will look at historical and contemporary aspects of spinning direction and reflect over what I have learned.

Have you had problems with your spinning hand or spinning direction? Have you tried changing hands? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments section!

Happy spinning!

New spinning video: For the love of spinning

Josefin Waltin spinning on a support spindle. Mountains in the background

I have finished another spinning video!

This time I haven’t done the filming myself, so the quality is much better. My husband was behind the camera, which means I had a great photographer and a great camera. And my fourteen year old made the sweet yarnimations. Locations are at home in Stockholm, in the Sazkammergut area in Austria and in Tiveden, Sweden, which are all my favourite places.

I had an idea of a spinning video with just beautiful spinning in beautiful scenery, to illustrate sort of a poem, an ode to spinning. So, during the summer we scouted locations wherever we went, and tripod, camera and spindle was set up where the spot was spot on. I saved all the clips for winter, so that I could make a beautiful spinning video at a time when I would miss light and summer the most.

I got the music from the Free music archive.

Spinning tools from Malcolm Fielding, Kromski, Jenkins yarn tools, Roosterick and Neal Brand.

Enjoy!

For the love of spinning

When I spin
I feel the wool in my hands
each fiber
through its journey
from sheep to yarn
I hear the quiet hum of the spindle tip
I see the wheel turning
chasing its own shadow
in the sunlight

When I spin
I absorb the rhythm
the treadling of my feet
the flicking of the spindle
the movement of my hands
between spun and unspun
a motion with no beginning
and no end

When I spin
time stops
I receive the gift of weightlessness
and enter another dimension
I allow my thoughts to come and go
focused
without holding back
without forcing
in the gentle flow
of meditation
finding the space between my thoughts
I enter the space of making
where the making makes me

When I spin
the memories
of sound, vision and rhythm
are captured in the yarn
as if they were fibers
Mistakes are spun into the thread
the stories they tell
All the choices I have made along the way
make a map of what I have learned
like an echo

The more I spin, the deeper it goes
From the sensation
through the rhythm
into my mind
fueling my experience
going back into my fingers
round and round
like the spinning itself

When I spin
the air around me smiles
the sunlight dusts my yarn with golden sparkle
and I thank all sheep for the gift of wool
I become a better me
because of the love
of spinning.

English long draw

a hand wound ball of dark grey yarn

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Voilá! A yarn is spun!

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

Happy spinning!

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

Clara Sherman Navajo spinning

Clara Sherman spinning on a Navajo spindle

Since I’m not making any new videos this time of year, I thought I’d invite you to see other videos that I like, that feature spinners and spinning techniques around the globe.

First up is a video I’m sure many of you have seen already, but it is so beautiful and inspirational when it comes to Navajo spindle spinning. I am talking about Clara Sherman and her wonderful treatment of spindle, wool and spinning. The way she trusts her body to feel when the twist is just right is so liberating. But not only does she trust her body to feel how the wool wants to be spun, she can also verbalize it and explain it to the viewer. That’s skill and knowledge on a deep level. She has a true respect for the wool and animates it when she talks about the wool crying.

The video features all the parts of the process from sheep to the finished rug, and it emphasizes the importance of thoughtful and thorough preparation to make a high quality all the way to the end product.

Clara Sherman died a few years ago, at the age of 96. I’m so happy that someone filmed her and made some of her talent available on YouTube so that  we have the opportunity to learn from her.

New video: Spinning through the seasons

a few skeins of handspun yarn on a tree trunk

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

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

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

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

Navajo spindle is from Roosterick

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

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

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

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

The diversity of a fleece

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

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

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

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

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

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

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