From sheep to sweater

It is summer and I have a long and well deserved vacation. My business is in sleep mode so this and a couple of following blog updates will be about recycling old themes. Today I celebrate my first longer video project, Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater.

The video is available in Swedish too, Slow fashion – från får till tröja.

Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater

The video started with an urge to tell the story of the craft – all the hours, skills and knowledge put into one single garment.

A map of what I have learned

I knew a lot less about videography back then. And spinning, for that matter. I could point out a thousand mistakes and aspects to improve on. But I won’t. As I often say to my students – the video is a map of what I have learned. All the mistakes are there to remind me of where I can (and have) improve when it comes both the video making and spinning processes.

So regardless of mistakes or lower quality than the videos I produce today I am still very proud of this production. It has the love for the craft that I want to feature in all my videos and it tells the story I want to tell.

A magical sweater

The sweater itself is magic, at least if you belong to the magical world of spinning. At work nobody gives it much thought – it is just a knitted sweater. Most of them probably haven’t even thought about the spinning wheels on the yoke. The thought of it being made of handspun yarn probably haven’t even crossed their minds. But at fiber festivals, spinning classes and other textile events people stop, feel the structure of the sweater and ask about designer, sheep breed and spinning technique. In that magical world the sweater brings people together. It inspires people to process their wool, spin and treasure their craft. I’m happy to be part of spreading the love that spinning brings me and other spinners. Perhaps I can also inspire non-spinners to learn how to spin.

Happy spinning!

A person shearing a white sheep with hand shearers.
I’m shearing the fine wool sheep Pia-Lotta

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!

Calculations

In many spinning or knitting projects people have asked me how much time I have spent spinning, how much raw fleece it takes to spin a certain amount of yarn, how much a skein would cost etc. I have often wondered this myself. In this post I will take you through all the calculations of my recently finished fleece-to-garment project.

This is the fourth post in a blog series. The first post was about how to find the superpowers of a fleece and in the second post I talked about consistency. The third post was about design from fleece to garment. Through the blog series I use the wool from one sheep as a case study.

Wool preparation

I started with two fleeces from the same sheep, one spring shearing and one autumn shearing. I had given parts of both to a friend, so none of them were complete fleeces. But an estimation is that I had around 1,2 kg of raw fiber before I started the project.

To make this yarn happen I went through the following preparations steps:

  • I blended the two fleeces together in a big basket
  • To tease the wool I used combs and added the sari silk at this stage
  • I carded the teased fluff into rolags with my hand cards. Every rolag was carded 6×3 strokes
Close-up of a grey sweater with embroidered flowers.
Photo by Dan Waltin

Spinning

  • I spun the yarn with English longdraw. For each draw I treadled 4 + 10 treadles. Darn it, I didn’t count how many long draws I did for each rolag. But there was a lot of treadling!
  • Every single took 16 rolags. The yarn was 3-plied, which equals 16×3=48 rolags for every skein
  • When the last singles had been plied I had 12 skeins of roughly 60 g each.
  • The total weight of the skeins was 700 g. Total length: 1270 m. 700 g of yarn from 1200 g of wool makes a yield of around 58% of the weight of the fleeces. My average yield is around 55 %.
  • 12 3-plied skeins with 48 rolags in each skein makes 576 rolags, carded with a total of 10368 strokes. Roughly.

Knitting

It took 8 skeins to knit the sweater – 830 m and 440 g. Still, it is light as a cloud and feels like a second skin. Or my very own fleece.

Josefin Waltin wearing a dark grey sweater with embroidered flowers
Photo by Dan Waltin

Time investment

For time calculations I tried to make an estimation of each part of the process from fluff to stuff. For example, I knit for 20 minutes and weighed how much I had knit during that time and multiplied it by 3 to get the knitted weight per hour.

Per skein

  • Teasing/combing 20 g of wool: 20 minutes x 3 = 1 hour
  • Carding 20 g of fiber: 20 minutes x 3 = 1 hour
  • Spinning 20 g of fiber: 40 minutes x 3 = 2 hours
  • Plying 3×20 g of singles: 30 minutes
  • Plus sorting and washing for a total of around 4 hours

Total time for 12 skeins: 60 hours (40 for the 8 skeins for the sweater), 5 hours per skein

Oh, and the embroidery yarn. Let’s add another 4 hours for that.

Knitting time

Knitting per hour: 21,6 g. Total weight of the sweater was 440 g, so an estimated total time for knitting is roughly 20 hours. Plus embroidery 2 hours. Ball winding by hand, 2 hours. Add to that designing, swatching, frogging, pattern calculations, blocking etc, an extra 10 h. That’s roughly 80 hours for one sweater.

Cost

“I know you love knitting, how much for a sweater? I can pay for the material cost!” How many of you have heard that before? My usual answer is, “Tell me a decent hourly rate and I’ll tell you how many hours it took to knit it.” You know where I’m heading, don’t you?

Pia’s calculations

A few years ago Pia Kammeborn, Queen of Kammebornia, calculated the cost of a pair of mittens. The post is written in Swedish but the gist of it is: It takes her around 20 hours to knit a pair of half mitts. Textile crafts (or women’s craft) have never really been paid fairly, so Pia’s calculations are based on an average hourly rate for typical male crafts. With an hourly rate of 600 Swedish kronor/ 60 €/ $67, which is what a craftsman in a typical male craft like plumbing or carpentry would earn, Pia’s mittens would cost around 12000 Swedish kronor/ 1200€/ $1320.

“I know you love renovating kitchens, will you do mine? I can pay for the material cost!”. Nobody ever said that. Does that mean men’s work is worth more than women’s? Well, that’s just wrong.

A man and a woman putting together a wooden floor
Back in 2011, Dan and I renovated our bedroom. We considered asking Dan’s father (who built his own house) to help us, but instead we did it ourselves. Together. We still asked Dan’s father to help out, but as a baby sitter. Photo by Dan Waltin.

My calculations

Back to my sweater. We landed in 80 hours totally from fleece to garment. With the same calculations as in Pia’s example that would land in roughly 48000 Swedish kronor/ 4800 €/ $5280. Or, if you are short on cash, a skein for 3000 Swedish kronor/ 300 €/ $332.

Material cost?

Two of the fleeces were championship winners and I bought them at the auction following the competition. I paid around 800 Swedish kronor/80 €/ $88 for all three fleeces, so an estimation for the cost of the material for the sweater is around 500 Swedish kronor/50 €/ $55. That’s less than the rate per hour in the calculations in Pia’s example above.

Less than 300 Swedish kronor/30 €/ $33 for one fleece is way too cheap, considering the all the work invested by the sheep owner. But that is another story and for a shepherdess to tell.

The crocodile in the river

So basically I’m walking around at work with a sweater worth 48000 kronor! But I can’t be the first person to having done that. Or, well, 48500 to be more exact if you include the material cost, but that’s just a fart in the universe in this example.

Josefin Waltin walking in the snow, wearing a dark grey sweater with embroidered flowers.
Photo by Dan Waltin

I’m just waiting for someone to ask me what I will charge for a sweater. I’ll take the bait without hesitation, like a crocodile in the river, unannounced – BAM! – 48000 kronor.

A baby crocodile

I can say that I would charge 48000 Swedish kronor for a sweater. I know nobody would buy it, though and I won’t sell it. My husband tried to convince me to sell a pair of nalbinding mittens on e-bay for 20000 Swedish kronor just to make a point. But I would never knit or spin for money. These things are my babies.

I know many people need to sell their handspuns and hand knits. And I know the discussion about pricing handspuns – and fleeces – pops up every now and then in the spinning forums. Even if nobody will buy handmade textiles with the calculations above it is an important discussion.

As a hand spinner and/or hand knitter you can always charge at least a little more than you think. Like a baby crocodile. Chances are, the more people pay, the more they will appreciate the time, skill and love invested in handmade textiles.


This was the last post in this blog series. As always, I have learned a lot from writing the posts and reflecting over what I am doing and why. I hope you learned something too.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

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

Design from fleece to garment

Close-up of a grey sweater with white embroidered flowers

Through my years as a spinner I have made lots of projects where I spin for a garment. This time I take the process further and make my own garment design, based on the superpowers of the fleece. In this post I look at design from fleece to garment.

This is the third post in a blog series. The first post was about how to find the superpowers of a fleece and in the second post I talked about consistency. In the remaining post I take you through some calculations. Through the blog series I use the wool from one sheep as a case study.

Design: Margau beta

When I designed the yarn in this case study I worked with the superpowers of the fleece. I wanted to take advantage of the characteristics of the wool in the finished yarn. By listening to the wool and let it tell me how it wanted to be prepared and spun I could allow it to become its best yarn. I wanted the same for the design of a garment – to let the yarn be the star of the garment. So I designed for the yarn. Meet the Margau beta design.

Josefin Waltin walking in the snow. She is wearing a dark grey knitted sweater with white flowers embroidered on the side.
Meet the Margau Beta design. Photo by Dan Waltin

Texture

I wanted a simple pattern with both knit and purl elements. An advanced pattern like cables or lace would take the focus from the yarn too much. At first I was playing with the idea of stockinette stitch with panels of garter stitch. This idea didn’t work very well, since garter stitch fills out the thickness of the fabric and takes from the length. Stockinette and garter in the same row would therefore result in a bubbly structure, which I didn’t want. Instead I came up with simple panels of stockinette and reversed stockinette. The smooth stockinette shows off the shine in the yarn and the reverse stockinette reveals the roundedness of the 3-ply and the colored specks from the sari silk.

Model

I love the look of a raglan yoke. It looks very flattering and knitting in the round suits me as a process knitter. Top-down knitting is what first comes to mind for me, but I wanted to try bottom up this time. I knit the sweater seamlessly with a no-ease fit and waist shaping. Neckband and cuffs in garter stitch.

Design details

The main part of the body of the sweater is knit in stockinette. At the front and on the sleeves there are panels of reverse stockinette stitch. The waist shaping is all made in reverse stockinette side panels. The panels pass the sleeve in the front and back and go between the raglan yoke shapings.

Close-up of a dark- grey knitted sweater with embroidered flowers.
The side panels pass on both sides of the sleeves and between the raglan shapings. Photo by Dan Waltin

Embroidered flowers

I decided I wanted som assymetrical bling on one of the side panels. I spun a yarn from another finull/rya mix breed, also a winner (silver medal) at the Swedish fleece championships and also from shepherdess Margau Wohlfart-Leijdström. She knows what she is doing! This finull/rya mixbreed, however is more rya-like in its character. The staples are long, shiny and quite straight, but also soft (lamb).

A white fleece.
Long, soft and shiny staples of a finull/rya mixbreed.

The fleece was the perfect candidate for an embroidery yarn, and extra special since it was from the same flock as the main fleeces. I combed the staples and spun with short forward draw into a 2-ply worsted yarn.

I had plans to dye it in a light turquoise and a medium turquoise, but the colors turned out all wrong for this project (dyeing is not one of my superpowers). Beautiful colours, but just not for this sweater. I ended up using the natural white only.

Handspun yarn
2-ply embroidery yarn.

The embroidery pattern is simple flowers in chain stitch. I placed them randomly on the left side panel and let them continue on the left front raglan panel and end mid-neckline.

Close-up of a grey sweater with white embroidered flowers
Flowers climbing up the side panels. Photo by Dan Waltin

I have never embroidered on a knitted garment before and I was very careful not to stretch the embroidery yarn. The chain stitch is in itself has some ease. I didn’t stretch the chains since I wanted the rounded shape of a flower petal. that way it works quite well even on a garment with no ease.

Thoughts for a future pattern

I call the design Margau beta. Margau is the name of the shepherdess. I added Beta because it is not a finished pattern. and I haven’t made a pattern to publish for this sweater. Knitting this sweater was a test to see if I could design one at all. However, I do want to try to make a pattern of the design eventually if people are interested. From the experiences of designing and knitting Margau beta I have some alterations to make:

  • I will try to design the second design top-down. I think it will make the yoke fitting easier.
  • The neckline needs to be a bit more rounded and I will experiment more with short rows.
  • I do like wide raglan panels, but I think they will benefit from being a little slimmer. That will probably make the transition between front and back look better.
  • The front panel can also be a bit slimmer. That will probably make the yoke area look better.
  • To make a better balance and fit, I may put a panel at the back too (in this design the back is all stockinette).
  • The sleeves are a bit too tight and will benefit from a little more ease.
  • I am playing with the idea of making some sort of pattern in the side panels, perhaps also in the front panel. To fit a pattern, the side panels need to be a bit wider at the waist.

I just need to spin some more yarn first.

A sweater to wear with pride and love. Photo by Dan Waltin

I am very happy about this design and I wear the sweater with love and pride.

Coming up: The last post in this blog series is about calculations. I will summarize the work with this fleece with some interesting stats!


You can follow me on several social media:

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

Consistency

I wanted to spin a yarn that was evenly spun and learn more about consistency. I wanted to let the yarn shine both up close and as a whole in a garment. To be able to do that I needed to be really thorough and take notes of every step I took on the way from fleece to the finished yarn.

This is the second post in a blog series. The first post was about how to find the superpowers of a fleece. In the remaining posts I take you through designing and knitting a garment and some calculations. Through the blog series I will use the wool from one sheep as a case study.

Consistency from fleece to yarn

To spin a consistent yarn you need to be consistent in every step of the process. With an unevenly spun yarn it will be a challenge to get consistency in the plying. If the wool isn’t evenly carded or combed, it is difficult to spin an even yarn. Wool that isn’t properly blended or sorted, will result in uneven wool preparation. There are many opportunities through the process to control your consistency and even more opportunities to learn.

It may seem daunting to go through a gazillion of steps to get a consistent yarn. But fear not. To start with, a consistent yarn isn’t at all necessary. I love the feeling of a handspun yarn that is not consistent. It can make it more alive. But sometimes consistency can give a yarn that extra shine that it deserves.

In this post I will tell you about different steps you can take towards consistency and about what I did in my case study. Pick the steps you like, play, experiment and evaluate. Do what works for you. You don’t even need to count or measure that much. Here are three simple steps that can help you a long way:

  • Look at the fiber or yarn and find ways to remember and replicate how you want it
  • Feel the material and let your touch guide you to consistency
  • Take notes and make samples
A sheet of paper with wool, tarn and knitting samples
Planning for consistency

For this particular project, though, I wanted to go all in and learn about consistency and what I can do to come closer to it.

Sorting, blending and teasing

Before I prepare the wool I arrange it in some fashion. I can

  • sort the fleece according to quality, staple length, fiber type or colour
  • blend different qualities to make sure the qualities are evenly spread
  • tease the wool as a preparation for carding.

Blending

In my case study I had two fleeces from the same sheep – the spring shearing and the autumn shearing. The staples from the spring shearing were a bit shorter than the staples from the autumn shearing. I wanted to spin the fleeces together to get both these qualities in my yarn, so I blended them. Had it been summer I would definitely have willowed the fleeces, but instead I just tried to blend them as well as I could in a big basket.

Teasing

After I had blended the wool I teased it. My favourite teasing method is with combs. I used my table mounted combing station and loaded the stationary comb with the blended fiber. I loaded each batch with wool to about a third of the height of the tines and I combed three passes for each batch. That gave me an even teasing throughout the wool.

While doing this, I also added the sari silk I wanted in the yarn as a tweedy effect. For consistency I decided to have a set amount of sari silk tufts with each combed batch. So for every batch of wool I combed I added eight staple length tufts of sari silk. That would give me consistency in the visual appearance of the colored specks. It would also be of importance to the consistency of the yarn quality since the proportions of silk to wool would be consistent.

Carding

For consistency in my carding there are a few tricks to consistency:

  • Make sure you load the card with an equal amount of fiber in each carding batch
  • Keep an eye of how much of the carding pad area that is covered with the fiber
  • Count the strokes and passes to get an even density in each rolag.

In the case study I grabbed a tuft of my teased blend and stroked the width of the card with the tuft until the teeth of the card didn’t catch any more fiber. I kept a one inch passepartout on the sides and upper edge of the carding pad empty to control the width and height of each rolag.

I carded six strokes before transferring the wool to the other card and three passes. This together with the technique to load the cards gave me rolags of the same density and weight.

I spun 12 skeins of 3-ply yarn. I made sure that I had 20 g of rolags for each single. Because I had been so consistent in my carding I ended up with 16 rolags for every single. 16 rolags per single in 12 3-ply skeins of yarn makes 576 rolags of around 1,25 gram each, all in the same shape, size and density. That gave me lots of practice in carding and consistency.

Carded rolags
Consistency in preparing the wool.

Spinning

There are several ways to control consistency when spinning. Apart from adjusting tension and ratio you can

  • keep an even treadling
  • count the treadles for each draft
  • keep an even amount of fiber to each draft
  • stop your drafting hand at the same distance from the orifice for each draft
  • keep an even distance between your front (yarn) and back (fiber) hands.
  • take notes of the twist angle and twists per inch
  • make samples and compare your current spin to the main sample
Skeins of dark grey yarn
Consistent yarn

Another way to get a consistent yarn is to leave some lanolin in the fleece. The lanolin helps me get a smooth draft. Usually I don’t use any detergent at all when I wash my wool (most Swedish sheep breeds are quite low in lanolin), so there is alway enough lanolin left after washing to give me that smooth draft.

I used several of these points in my case study. I spun the yarn with English long draw, which is an excellent opportunity to practice spinning with consistency. For building up twist I kept a set treadle count (4) and for making the draw and adding twist another set treadle count (10).

By keeping an eye on my posture while spinning and keeping my arms close to my body I made sure my hands were at the same distance from each other and from the orifice. I tried to keep my fiber arm elbow close to my body and move my fiber arm outwards to a comfortable angle from my body to control the length of each draw. I also tried to feed an equal amount from the rolag in each draw. This was more of a feeling in my hand than any calculations.

The fact that my yarn was 3-plied also added to the consistency. With three separate singles the chances for a consistent yarn is better than for a 2-plied or chain-plied yarn.

Yarn rolled onto a piece of cardboard
A consistent yarn doesn’t spin itself. It takes testing, counting and documenting.

When I started spinning this yarn I experimented my way to the yarn quality I wanted – thickness, twists per inch, drafting method etc. I saved the sample that I had decided would be my guide. All through the spinning I measured my spinning to this main sample to make sure I was on the right track.

Plying

At this late stage in the process from fleece to yarn, the measures I took in the beginning towards consistency are really paying off. I have three singles that are consistent in thickness, density and twist angle. But there are still some things I can do to add consistency to my yarn. I can

  • keep an even tension between the singles when I ply
  • keep a set treadle count for each feed into the orifice
  • feed an equal length of yarn into the orifice every time
  • Stop every now and then to check the twist angle and balance

This is what I did for this spinning project and it is what I generally do when I ply. I also make sure I move the yarn between the flyer hooks so that I feed an equal amount of plied yarn to every hook.

Some people don’t ply until all the singles are spun and make sure to ply the first singles together with the last singles. It is easy to gradually change the quality of the singles if you spin over a longer period of time. By mixing the singles from the earliest and the latest stages of the spinning, you avoid ending up with different gauged skeins. I have not tried this method yet, mainly because I’m too lazy to transfer all the singles to toilet rolls.

Record keeping

I did end up with a consistent yarn and all the methods I used in aiming for consistency really paid off. I did a lot of experimentation to see which steps I was comfortable doing and that I thought I could keep up with for the whole project.

Ravelry

Ravelry is a very powerful tool where you have the opportunity to keep track of your fiber stash and handspun yarn. I use the different features in my personal Ravelry fiber stash and handspun pages. As the proud geek I am, I record every fleece (and occasional industrially processed fiber) I have and every yarn I spin. I won’t go through every feature you can keep track of, but there are a lot. If you are on Ravelry you can check out my notes for this yarn here.

One of the features I use on Ravelry is the grist calculation – how much meterage or yardage you get per pound or kilo. I usually calculate the grist for every skein to keep record of the spectrum of grists for the skeins in one yarn. Out of the 12 skeins I spun in my case study, one had a grist of 1948 m/kg and two between 1650 m/kg and 1690 m/kg. The other nine skeins ended up with a grist between 1726 m/kg and 1900 m/kg. For me, that is quite consistent.

The satisfaction of a finished yarn

Sample cards

Even if Ravelry is a very powerful tool, you can only get so far with digital record keeping and pictures. For this project I combined these notes with samples of fiber, singles, plied yarn and knitted swatches. And it is so nice to arrange all the samples on a fancy paper. You have everything gathered in one place and you can make notes of calculations, methods, tools and a general feeling of the yarn – nice and orderly and good.

A sheet of paper with wool, yarn and knitting samples
Record keeping – nice and orderly and good.

Spinning for consistency felt very rewarding and I did learn a lot. One of the most important things I learned was that consistency starts already at the fleece – spinning a consistent yarn requires focus on more parts of the process than just the spinning itself. Also, I learned that spinning a consistent yarn takes time and effort, but also that the energy is very well spent. I love how my yarn looks in the individual strands and as a whole.

Even if I won’t strive for consistency in every yarn I spin, there are many techniques from this project that I will incorporate in my coming spinning project. Just the awareness of what a technique or a measure taken will do for my spinning makes me better equipped for planning and implementing a project.

Happy spinning!

This is, indeed, happy spinning!

Don’t forget about the spindle case giveaway! It is open until next Saturday, January 26th at 10 a.m. CET (world clock here)


You can follow me on several social media:

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

The superpowers of a fleece

A sken of dark grey yarn with colored specks in it

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

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

A finull/rya gold medalist

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

From spring to autumn

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

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

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

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

Finding the superpowers

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

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

Swedish finewool and Rya

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

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

A finewool/rya crossbred

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

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

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

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

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

Fiber preparation

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

Mixing the fleeces

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

Teasing and blending

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

A braid of turquoise based sari silk
Sweet sari silk

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

Carding

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

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

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

Spinning and plying

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

Spinning

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

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

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

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

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

Plying

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

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

Getting to know a fleece

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

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

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


You can follow me on several social media:

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

Slow

A friend of mine made a big personal change in her life recently. She had decided to listen to her heart and go back to the university for the third time after already having made a big career change once. Someone said to her that it was better to strive inwards than upwards. This sentence stuck to me and it floats around in my heart and reminds me softly every now and then to embrace the superpower of slow.

To get you in the mood for slow I give you a short and sweet video where I show you how I wind a ball of handspun yarn with my thumb.

Share the video and blog post if you like them!

The power of slow

Slow is for me a form of connection to the here and now. In society today, speed is power. There is a vast array of information rushing by every second. I need to sort things out in my brain and figure out what is important to me and what is just a waste of my time and energy.

With technological  speed I can reach more people in a shorter time, which is of course of importance in sharing my online work. I rely on this speed. But when we make shortcuts to cut costs and get more done faster, someone else will have to pay for it with their time, work and health. If I want to buy a sweater, somebody must do the work for me. And the cheaper the sweater, the more this someone has to pay. There is a big difference between price (what I pay for a sweater) and cost (what someone else has to pay for me to get a cheap sweater).

I can make my own sweater. Even if I will let someone else take care of the whole sheep part, I usually do know the sheep owner. Once I get my hands on a fleece, I can do all the steps and end up with a sweater. And the process will definitely be slow. If you are a spinner or any other kind of crafter you know this. I have made two videos with the concept of slow in mind: Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater and Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a supporter spindle and wearing a sweater with spinning wheels
A sweater knitted with my handspun yarn. The sweater has the leading role in my video Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater

I have paid for my sweater with my own time, experience, skills and design. By dedicating all this time to the process of making, I will gain so much more than just a sweater.

The power of thought

Being creative allows you to entertain the creative side of your brain.  When I spin (or do any kind of craft that I am fairly comfortable with) I also open up the door to creative thinking. Creative making in this sense allows for creative thinking. I can take advantage of this. If I feel a bit dull minded I go to my spinning tool of the day and spin. After a while I enter the crafting bubble. This state of being in the making sends a signal to my synapses to open all the doors to creative thinking. My dull mind becomes sharp and I can solve a problem or give birth to a new baby idea to take care of.

Josefin Waltin spelning on a supported spindle
Creative making and creative thinking

It is like being creative takes me to a place where I can find balance between focus on the process and unrestrained thinking – the crafting flow. It is very much like meditation. I have the same feeling in my body after crafting as I do after meditation – I feel light, empowered and balanced.

The power of touch

When I get my hands on a fleece I get to know it. Through all the steps in the process from fleece to garment every single fiber has gone through my hands numerous times. My hands tune in the channel of the superpowers of this particular fleece. They know the staple length, they know how the crimp behaves, how it drafts and how the yarn should feel when it is just right. My hands enter their own crafting bubble and after a while they just know how to prepare the wool to make the finished yarn show off all the superpowers of the fleece.

Hands feeling a fleece
The power of touch

My hands become an extension of my brain – like antennae – and allow my mind to read and interpret the material I work with.

Respect

Crafting is a sustainable way to use natural materials instead of buying new stuff. You may have heard of the “3 R’s” of waste management – reduce, reuse and recycle. Crafting is a part of this. You reduce the waste by using natural materials, you reuse the material instead of throwing away old stuff and buy new and you recycle by mending broken things.

I would like to add respect to this trio. By getting to know the material I work with I gain a sense of respect for it. I learn about the superpowers of this particular material and what it can give me. In return I handle the material with care and respect and highlight its superpowers in the things I create. You can compare it to gardening. The soil gives nourishment to my crops and I need to give something back to the soil when I harvest to be able to harvest again. By using the natural material to the best of its potential and all that it gives me I respect it.

Recently I have embroidered a lot. There is a slow process for you! But as all crafting it puts me in the crafting bubble and I am in my hands again, happy as a clam. Suddenly I want to save all the abandoned linen floss and embroidery silk in every flea market in all the land and make pretty patterns to save the world.

An embroidery, linen on wool
Slow fireworks embroidered with linen floss found – and saved – at a flea market.

Winding a ball of yarn

The faster things roll in society, the more important slow becomes. By making things slow I make an effort to balancing all the speed around me and hopefully getting some peace of mind in the process. It can be as simple as winding a ball of yarn.

Thumb nostepinne

I do own a ball winder and I use it sometimes. But I prefer using my thumb. Recently all my skeins have turned into pretty thumb wound balls of yarn. It gives me even more time to feel the fiber and once again pay tribute to its superpowers and all that it has given me.

Winding a ball of yarn with your thumb as a nostepinne is slow. Slower than using a nostepinne and definitely slower than a ball winder. But it gives me more time to hang out with the yarn that I have put so much skill, love and care into. I get time to watch the yarn in all its glory and remember the process of making it. And what is another fifteen minutes spent on a ball of yarn that has already taken me hours upon hours to process and spin? I like to think that I owe it to the yarn to spend that extra time and care to make it shine.

The technique

The technique is basically the same as for winding with a nostepinne, but instead of turning the nostepinne you will turn the ball on your thumb.

If you happen to be right-handed, you have the opportunity to learn how to wind with your left hand. You can also translate the image to right-handed in your head. The description in the titles is made to work with any hand. This is how I do it:

  • If I work from a skein I put it over my knees or the arm rest of my chair and wind from there.
  • I hold the yarn end in my hand and wind the yarn very loosely around my thumb. You don’t want to stop the blood flow in your thumb and you do want to be able to turn the ball with ease.
  • I wind diagonally from lower outside of the thumb to the upper inside.
  • For every round I place the strand of yarn closer to the inside of the thumb.
  • After a while I can wind a little less loosely.
  • When the front is full I turn the ball outwards. This way I can keep placing the strand of yarn towards the inside of the thumb again. This is where I would turn the nostepinne if I were using one.

I shot the video on Christmas Day. I generally don’t make outdoor spinning videos in the winter since the lanolin solidifies in the cold. But for winding yarn I don’t need to draft.

A hand wound ball of handspun yarn. A winter city in the background
Let your yarn shine!

The setting is our terrace overlooking Stockholm. In the background you can see Essingeleden, the largest traffic route in Sweden, which is anything but slow.

The yarn I wind in the video is the yarn I spin in my English longdraw video. The mittens featured in the video were knit with my handspun Shetland and Jämtland yarn and I used the pattern Stevenson Gauntlets by Kate Davies.

If you are not already there, try to embrace the rhythm of slow and strive inwards.

Happy ball winding!


You can follow me on several social media:

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

Processing cotton

As I wrote in an earlier post, I was given newly harvested cotton from a fellow spinner in Stockholm. I have never handled cotton for spinning before. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to investigate a fiber that is new to me and that I have avoided for environmental reasons.

This is part 2 of my cotton blog series. The first post was about my thoughts of the fashion industry in general and cotton in particular.

Ginning

After the blossom has withered, the seed develops in the cotton capsule (boll). Fibers are attached to the seeds to make it possible for the seeds to be swept away by the wind and start a new plant. Compare it to  dandelion seeds. They wait for a gust of wind to catch them and transport them to a new home where they can start a new plant.

Each cotton boll has from 10 to a gazillion seeds, cozily wrapped in soft cotton fibers. Deseeding, or ginning the cotton is a time consuming process when you do it by hand. On the plus side, ginning by hand yields more clean cotton fiber than ginning mechanically. The fiber (lint) is also less compressed with hand ginning than with mechanical ginning.

When I researched cotton processing I stumbled upon this beautiful and very smart and efficient way of ginning cotton with a flat stone and a metal rod. I tried to do it with what I had at home – a wooden rolling pin and an equally wooden cutting board. I realized quite quickly that it wouldn’t work at all and I was frankly quite embarrassed by my naïveté. Instead I stuck to my original plan and ginned by hand.

The lint is quite strongly attached to the seeds and ginning by hand is a challenge. It took me quite a while to finish the whole 150 grams of cotton. 75 g of it ended up as seeds and the remaining 55 g was spinnable cotton lint.

A bowl of cotton
Cotton!

Willowing

When I read up on willowing wool for a previous video and blog post, I learned that cotton also has a willowing tradition. So naturally I wanted to try willowing cotton as well.

Willowing means to open up the fiber by whipping it with willow sticks. Cotton is prone to compress itself if you handle it manually. There is another way to open up cotton bolls that I haven’t tried yet. You can open up your cotton with a bow-like tool. You place the bow close to a pile of cotton and strike the bow repeatedly. The string snaps the cotton, which opens up. Quite neat if you happen to have a proper bow. I have yet to try this.

I must say I wasn’t as impressed by willowing cotton as I was by willowing wool. Perhaps I did it wrong. I did willow on quite a soft surface. Or perhaps cotton don’t need as much willowing as wool. Either way, the cotton opened up in the beginning, but after a while nothing really happened. I have seen videos where people willow cotton with a lot smaller sticks, more like twigs, and keeping two twigs in one hand for willowing. Another thing to try.

Walter, the neighbor’s cat watched and hung around. After so many videos where I have looked for a cat to make an appearance on my set, I finally got a cat extra! I think he did well and he is welcome back.

The sweet thing about the cat appearance is that spinning and purring is the same word in Swedish: Jag spinner (I spin). Katten spinner (the cat spins).

Josefin Waltin sitting on the ground, looking at a big and furry cat
A dear moment between two spinners.

Carding

I used my regular cards. They are quite fine and work well for cotton. I have read that you need cotton cards for carding cotton, and I am sure the result will bet better with cotton cards. But wool cards are still better than no cards at all.

I use short and very light strokes for the short cotton fibers. Basically, I use the same technique as for wool carding, and finish by rolling the carded fiber into a rolag. I could of course make a pretty cotton puni as well, but I honestly didn’t think about it at the time.

Make sure you don’t make lots of rolags and then store them compressed. Cotton is not elastic and won’t spring back into shape after being compressed. Any kind of fiber preparation is best fresh, and that certainly applies to cotton.

Josefin Waltin carding
Cotton carding in the September sun

The vest I am wearing in the video is the Ivy League vest by Eunny Jang. The yarn is my own handspun (the ones that are not naturally colored are my own hand dyed), mostly of rare and endangered Norwegian sheep breeds.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

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

Flax retting

Flax retting on the ground

While I have been processing the retted flax from the 2017 harvest, I continue to handle the the 2018 harvest. In this post I invite you to a very unconventional rippling, windy winnowing and a real retting adventure!

This is part five in a blog series about flax. The previous posts are about flax processing in general, the 2018 harvest in my experimental flax patchspinning flax on a spindle and flax processing. Last year I wrote about the first harvests in my experimental flax patch and my first attempt at spinning flax on a wheel.

Rippling

After the flax has dried completely I need to ripple it before I can ret it. This means that I remove the seed capsules from the stalks. The seeds will make a total tangle of the flax if they remain on the stalks and I need the seeds for next year’s cultivation.

Usually, you would use a ripple for rippling flax. A ripple looks like a giant comb. You pull the strick of dried flax through the tines and the seed capsules fall off the stalks at the other end. Easy peasy. If you happen to have a ripple. Which I don’t. I did see one at a flea market in Austria, though. I have never seen a flax ripple that big! The shop was closed, so I could only see it from the outside.

A rusty flax ripple in a shop window
Giant Austrian flax ripple

So, instead of a flax ripple, I do the MacGyvery thing and use a pillow case and a rolling pin! I put one strick at a time in the pillow case, put the pillow case on a table and start rolling on the pillow case with the rolling pin. The seed capsules break and stay in the pillow case and I can remove the strick of flax seedless.

A person rolling with a rolling pin over two bundles of flax in a pillowcase
Rippling without a ripple. Photo by Isak Waltin

This is where the neighbours walk past asking polite and curious questions.

Retting

When the flax is deseeded it is time to ret it. The retting process separates the flax fibers from the cellulose core with the help of humidity and mould. You can use running water, dew or snow – water retting, dew retting or snow retting. These methods take different amounts of time and result in different colours in the finished flax.

While we do have a creek nearby, I have never tried water retting. The creek is usually dry after the snow has melted and I can’t really count on it for flax purposes. I know some people use an inflatable kiddie pool, but I haven’t tried that yet. Snow can be very unstable too, so my best shot is dew retting.

As many of you may know, the summer here in Sweden has been exceptionally dry, so I was prepared to help the dew along with my watering pot. It rained the first nights after I had laid out the flax, though, and there has been lots of morning dew.

I spread the flax in a thin layer in rows. I make sure the roots are in the same direction in every row.

The neighbours are still curious and polite at this stage.

Turning and checking

Now I need to watch the retting carefully. Dew retting can take anything from 15 to over 30 days, depending on the rain and dew. I turn the flax once a week and check the process.

After one week I can see that the retting process has started, you can see that it has got dark spots. There is no sign of the fibers separating from the core.

A hand holding a flax straw. Flax on the ground in the background
Day 8 of retting. The retting process has started. You can see the dark spots on the straw. The flax fibers have not separated from the cellulose core.

Another week later the flax is darker but there is still no sign of the fiber separating.

A hand holding a flax straw. Flax on the ground in the background
Day 14 of retting. The retting process continues and the flax is still darker. However, the flax fibers have still not separated from the cellulose core.

On day 19 something has started to happen! After wiggling the stalk in different directions, the fibers actually separate from the cellulose core! It is still too early to break the retting, but I have to check every day now.

A hand holding a flax straw. Flax in the background.
Day 19 of retting. The flax is still darker and the fibers are starting to separate from the cellulose core.

Finally, on day 21, the retting is finished. Just as on day 19, the fibers separate from the cellulose core, but with significantly more ease. As soon as I wiggle the straw, the fibers separate fro the cellulose and I can pull the fibers off in their entire length.

A hand holding a flax straw, flax in the background.
On day 21 the retting is finished. The fibers separate easily and in their entire length from the cellulose core.

I roll up the flax in bundles and dry them standing up in a conical shape.

A bundle of flax standing in a conical shape on the ground
The retted flax needs to dry before I store it.

When the flax has dried it will keep for decades. Rodents stay away from it, since it has retted. I will keep mine indoors over the winter and process it outdoors next summer.

Winnowing

While the flax has been retting, the seeds that were saved in the pillowcase have dried in a bowl in the window. There is a mixture of seed, capsules and vegetable fragments from the stalks. I want to keep the seeds. Had I been a chicken owner, the girls would have got the winnowed capsules for breakfast.

I wait for a windy day to winnow them. I pour the seeds between two bowls in the wind.

Hands pouring seeds from one bowl to another.
Winnowing the flax seeds. Photo by Nora Waltin

The light seed capsules blow away in the wind while the seeds fall down into the lower bowl. I pour back and forth until most of the capsule parts are gone. This particular day, the wind had a very hard time deciding which way to blow. I danced around, trying to find the direction of the wind and ending up with most of the stuff in my hair and on my clothes.

I am very disappointed in my neighbours who weren’t even around to be curious and polite.

Hands holding bowls, pouring seeds from one bowl to another.
The wind takes the dried and light capsules to new adventures. The heavy seeds fall securely into the lower bowl. Photo by Nora Waltin

I end up with a promise of a successful flax season 2019.

A bowl of flax seeds.
Winnowed flax seeds

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

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

Flax processing

A struck of processed flax

Last weekend I attended the Wool and flax days at Skansen open-air museum in Stockholm. Dressed in all wool and linen, I brought my own retted flax from the 2017 harvest. My plan was to process my own flax with their tools and guidance. My friend Anna was kind enough to shoot the whole thing.

This is part four in a blog series about flax. The previous posts are about flax processing in general, the 2018 harvest in my experimental flax patch and spinning flax on a spindle. Last year I wrote about the first harvests in my experimental flax patch and my first attempt at spinning flax on a wheel.

Skansen open-air museum

Skansen is the oldest open-air museum in the world. Old houses and buildings from all over Sweden have been brought to Skansen for display. Skansen employees are dressed in period costumes and tell the visitors all about the buildings, tools and ways of living.

I spent an hour of the beautiful August afternoon at Älvrosgården, a farm from the beginning of the 19th century. For this event flax processing tools had been brought out on the yard to show how a strick of dry and dull flax stems can be turned into gold.

Tools for processing flax were often a bridal gift. A married woman needed to be able to process the family’s flax to make clothing and domestic textiles. You can often see names and wedding dates on old distaffs, hackles and scutching knives.

I showed the staff my modest flax harvest and asked if I could process it with their tools. They were delighted and very kind and showed me the ropes.

Breaking

The flax fiber is placed on the outside of a cellulose core. To separate the flax from the core you need to break the core. This is done in the flax break. In this stage you see how the cellulose cores crumble to bits while the long flax fibers stay intact. The Swedish word for this stage is bråka. Quite similar to the English word.

A person breaking flax
I’m breaking the flax to break the cellulose core that is surrounded by the flax fibers. Photo by Anna Herting

Pulling

This is a tool I have never seen or heard of before. It is called a “draga”, which is an old word for something that pulls. Which makes sense – you pull the broken flax through the “puller” to remove the coarsest bits of cellulose. Quite effective! Has any of you seen this type of tool before?

A person pulling flax through a puller
I’m pulling the flax through the “puller” as a step between breaking and scutching. Photo by Anna Herting

Scutching

The next step is the scutching, Skäktning in Swedish. You use a wooden tool similar to a knife to remove the bits and pieces of broken cellulose from the flax fibers. The more bits you are able to remove, the better prepared the flax will be for the final step.

A person scutching flax
I’m scutching the flax to remove the small pieces of cellulose that were broken in the breaking step. Photo by Anna Herting

Hackling

Hackling the flax is usually done in several steps. In this case, two steps. You pull the scutched flax through vicious tines to remove short and brittle fibers and the last pieces of cellulose. In this step you also arrange the fibers parallel. After having hackled a while I learned how to lift the strick of flax over the hackles instead of swinging it. When swinging, the flax turns in the air and doesn’t lie straight over the tines.

A person hackling flax
First hackling step. Flax samples on the table with different retting methods. Photo by Anna Herting

On the table you can see samples of flax that has been retted with different methods – dew retting, water retting and snow retting.

A person hackling flax
Second hackling step. Photo by Anna Herting

The first step of the hackling process is through a rough hackle and the second step through a finer hackle. This stage is performed at your own risk. I managed to go through it with only one pierced finger. These are the only flax processing tools I actually have at home.

Close-up of a person hackling flax.
I ended up with only one hackling wound! Photo by Anna Herting

The coarser bits that end up in the hackles, the tow, is saved and spun into a coarser yarn or used as insulation in the buildings. The pieces of cellulose core that is scattered on the ground are treats for the chickens. So while this is a time and labour demanding process, nothing goes to waste.

Admiring

The flax turned into such a beautiful bundle of gold. I am still amazed at what I have managed to make, from just a handful of flax seeds. I got new seeds for this season from Ann-Marie, a retired flax farmer and spinner. This flax is actually spinable! And I just found out that Ann-Marie is selling out the last of her seeds and she is sending me some for next season!

My beautiful strick of flax from the 2017 harvest in my experimental flax patch.

The fibers are long, lustrous and plentiful. And I must have done something right with the retting too. I am happy as a clam about my beautiful flax.

Four strikes of processed flax
Results from my experimental flax so far. From the left: 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

You can see the difference to the earlier years. The 2014 harvest was the thickness of a rat’s tail. 2015 was at least three rat’s tails!  In 2016 I failed with the retting, you can still see lots of pieces of cellulose. Finally, the newly processed flax from the 2017 harvest is long, beautiful and silky. And just outside our house, the 2018 harvest is retting on the lawn.

I’ll be back next year

I passed my flax processing exam. The Skansen staff was so kind and helpful and welcomed me back to process my next harvest. A big thank you to the Skansen staff at Älvrosgården for their kindness and guidance, to Anna for shooting and to Ann-Marie for the seeds.

Happy spinning!


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Tweed!

Two balls of dark grey yarn with coloured specks in them

As I have mentioned before, I am taking part in PLY magazine’s spinalong 51 yarns. It is a theme-based spinalong based on the book 51 yarns by Jacey Boggs Faulkner. Each week they choose one participant who wins a year’s subscription to the magazine. I actually won on week 10: Semi worsted. This week’s theme is tweed.

Tweed: First try

I started a couple of weeks ago and planned to use short clips of handspun yarn that I had unplied and fluffed up. It didn’t work out very well. The fibers didn’t join in in the yarn. Instead they fell out and looked like lint that had got stuck to the yarn.

A ball of dark grey yarn on a stone
Tweed, first try: Failed.

A second try

Of course I wasn’t happy with the yarn. I could have settled for a failed yarn, but I didn’t. I really liked the specks of colour in the dark grey yarn and I knew I could do better. So I browsed for Sari silk and found a beautiful colour blend with turquoise as a main colour. I am very much in a turquoise period right now.

I picked it up from the post office just a few days later and it was as yummy in reality as it was on the picture online, perhaps even more so.

A braid of turquoise based sari silk
Sweet sari silk

Since I have no prior experience with tweed, I wanted to spin a couple of samples with different preparation to find the best way to spin the yarn. So I tried both with hand-combed top and hand-carded rolags.

The yarn I used was a beautiful dark grey mixbreed of Swedish finewool and Rya. The fleece got a gold medal at the 2017 Swedish fleece championships and I snatched it at the auction.

Hand-combed top

A ball of dark grey hand-combed wool with specks of colour in it.
Hand-combed top with sari silk

Before I started combing, I realized that there would be a problem with drawing the top off the comb. When you draw, you usually get the longest fibers first. This would mean that I would get all the sari silk bunched up in the end of the top. And this is exactly what happened. The sari silk was also more streaks of colour than tweedy specks. In addition to that, a lot of sari silk had got stuck in the tines of the combs.

I spun the yarn on a supported spindle and plied it on the fly. Just as I had suspected, the sari silk was unevenly spread across the yarn.

A spindle with dark grey yarn and some coloured specks.
Tweed yarn spun from hand-combed top and plied on the fly on a supported spindle. Almost all of the sari silk is hidden closest to the shaft.

Hand-carded rolag

Carding was a lot nicer than combing. I teased the locks by combinb, together with the sari silk. I pulled the wool off the combs tuft by tuft and loaded them on the cards and carded away. The sari silk was evenly spread across the rolag and it looked beautiful.

A rolag of dark grey wool with coloured specks in it.
A beautiful tweed rolag

I spun it the same way as I had spun the combed tops. I had to pay extra attention to the drafting. Usually, I stay away from nepps when I prepare for carding and I remove any nepps when I see them along the spinning. But this time I wanted to keep them in and I had to watch the yarn carefully so that the yarn didn’t break or get lumpy. But it did turn out beautifully.

A spindle with dark grey yarn with coloured specks.
Tweed yarn spun from hand-carded rolags and plied on the fly on a supported spindle. The sari silk is evenly spread throughout the tweed yarn. Spindle from Malcolm Fielding.

Thoughts

There are clear differences between the finished yarns. Structurewise of course, the yarn spun from carded rolags is fluffier and softer and the yarn spun from combed top is stronger and shinier. But also you can see the difference in the tweed structure. The yarn spun with carded rolags has the sari silk more evenly distributed. The yarn spun from combed top has the sari silk unevenly distributed.

Two balls of dark grey yarn with coloured specks in them.
The finished balls of yarn. On the left is yarn from carded rolags and on the right is yarn from combed top.

It is even more obvious in a knitted swatch. I knit it with the same needle gauge and with the same amount of stitches and rows. You can see the sari silk evenly distributed on the left swatch knitted with yarn spun with carded rolags. The fabric is a bit denser than the one to the right. It also feels softer. To the right is the swatch knit from the yarn spun with combed top. You can see that the sari silk is more dense at the bottom and less so at the top. The sari silk is also less obvious in this swatch since it is combed into the top and spun more as streaks of colour than specks. The sari silk to the left ‘pops’ more.

Two dark grey knitted swatches.
Swatching: Yarn from carded rolags on the left and combed top on the right.

Even if I suspected that the results would be different, I needed to feel it and see it. Only when I experience the difference in real time can I really appreciate it and learn something from it: I learn how fiber behaves and how these fibers in particular behave. My hands need to know the fiber to be able to spin the wool into its best yarn. After this experiment, I think I have a clue to how to accomplish that.

What’s next?

My plan now is to spin the whole fleece into yummy skeins of 3-ply tweed yarn. I will spin it with longdraw from carded rolags on my spinning wheel. I will probably make it a bit thicker, perhaps sport weight yarn. Also, I may use slightly less sari silk per rolag, I prefer it to be more subtle than in the swatch.

I also have secret plans to design a garment to fit the structure and feeling of the yarn.

I went from not having given tweed a second thought to planning to spin a whole fleece into tweed yarn and designing a garment to match it. That wouldn’t have happened without the spinalong. Thank you PLY magazine and 51 yarns!

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • 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. You can subscribe or get an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts and post lots of woolliness.