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!


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!

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.

Spinning English longdraw with a quill

A person spinning on a small spinning wheel

If one day I get the opportunity and the space, I want to get my hands on a walking wheel. To be able to spin majestically while having the freedom of standing and moving around is very appealing to me. When I recently found a wheel – tiny however – with an optional quill, I knew I needed it. You can read more about how the wheel came to me here. This post is about spinning English longdraw with a quill.

Quill wheels

Spinning with a quill – or stylus –  is a very old technique.  The first spinning wheel after the spindle was the great wheel (or walking wheel). It had a quill where the more modern spinning wheel has a bobbin and flyer. They were also hand operated, as opposed to the more modern (and time saving) treadle driven.

With a great wheel you have the perfect opportunity to spin soft and warm yarns with lovely longdraws. As far as I understand it, medieval spinners were allowed to spin weft on the wheel. The strength of the weft yarn wasn’t as crucial sa the warp yarn. The warp had to be spun with a spindle to be strong and even enough.

Watching the quill on my wheel gives me a hint to how Sleeping beauty supposedly hurt herself – this quill is dead sharp. While I did get stung by it several times I did not fall asleep, though. I am pretty sure Sleeping beauty didn’t fall asleep either. She just faked it to be able to shut the door behind her and spin in peace. No friggin’ princes necessary.

Spinning with a quill

The movements of spinning with a quill are so beautiful, like a choreographed dance. Apart from the general feeling of spinning with a quill, there are other benefits as well. Since there are no hooks or orifice, you can spin yarn of any thickness on a quill. You can go crazy with bulky art yarns with whatever you want to attach to it. Perhaps I should give that pigtail yarn with washers that I have been dreaming about a try? Gotta unsharpened that quill first, though.

Close-up of a small spinning wheel with a quill.
Deadly sharp quill with ugly plastic straw.

Spinning with a quill feels very free. There are no hooks to fuss with and there is a simplicity to it when there is less material between me and the wound up yarn. Also, you never have to deal with tension.

Although I try to avoid plastic, I have added an ugly plastic drinking straw to my quill. This is to (hopefully) make it easier to slide the cop off the quill when I am finished.

English long draw

This past Christmas I blogged about the English longdraw and promised you a video with it. I also promised you I would do it with white yarn. This yarn is brown. I will make another video with English longdraw with bobbin and flyer. With white wool. Have faith!

Watching Norman Kennedy spin on a walking wheel gives me goosebumps. Spinning with English longdraw gives the yarn a quality that I believe is more consistent than the American longdraw (which is my ‘regular’ longdraw). The English longdraw is a double drafted draw and very similar to the technique I use when I spin on a Navajo spindle. You can see the Navajo spindle technique in this video.

The technique: Basics

In the December blog post you can read more about the technique. Let’s go through the technique again, step by step:

  • Pinch the yarn with your spinning hand.
  • Gather twist by treadling and keeping the spinning hand still.
  • Unpinch and draw with the fiber hand
  • add some more twist by treadling and keeping the fiber hand still.
  • wind on to the quill

Intermediate

This was the rough sketch. Let’s dig a bit deeper:

  • Pinch the yarn with your spinning hand.
  • Gather twist by treadling and keeping the spinning hand still. Make sure you have a bit of an angle on the yarn (in relation to the direction of the quill).
  • Unpinch and draw with the fiber hand. Keep the angle. Hold the fiber very lightly and release evenly. This is the single draft.
  • add some more twist by treadling and keeping the fiber hand still. This is the double draft.
  • wind on to the quill. This is where you need to change the angle, just as you would on a supported spindle or Navajo spindle. Grab the yarn with your spinning hand. Pull a little to release the yarn from the tip and wind on to the bottom of the quill. This is a quite fast motion.

Advanced

If we look at rhythm and consistency we can go even deeper:

  • Pinch the yarn with your spinning hand.
  • Gather twist by treadling and keeping the spinning hand still. Make sure you have a bit of an angle on the yarn (in relation to the direction of the quill). Count your treadles here.
  • Unpinch and draw with the fiber hand. Keep the angle. Hold the fiber very lightly and release evenly. This is the single draft.  Try to make the release chunks even across the yarn. Count again here…
  • add some more twist by treadling and keeping the fiber hand still. This is the double draft. …and here.
  • wind on to the quill. This is where you need to change the angle to 90 degrees, just as you would on a supported spindle or Navajo spindle. Grab the yarn with your spinning hand. Pull a little to release the yarn from the tip and wind on to the bottom of the quill. This is a quite fast motion.

By counting the treadles you can get more consistency in the yarn. In the video I treadled eight single treadles for gathering twist and another eight to ten for drawing and adding twist.

The beauty of spinning is that you get so much practice, you just repeat the motions again and again. Suddenly, it’s just there, incorporated in your hands and movements and your body knows just what to do.

The video

This time I shot the video at the allotment. I have done some outdoor videos and clips with my stationary wheel and my portable wheel, but it isn’t very easy. That’s what a tiny wheel is for! I just threw the bag over my shoulder and left!

Since good quality carding is s such a vital part of spinning longdraw, I decided to keep the carding part unedited in the clip. Skip it if you don’t need it.

I ordered the double treadle version of the spinning wheel. However, I find it smoother and less noisy when I spin it as a single treadle. I chose to spin with a single treadle in this video. An interesting article in the latest issue of PLY magazine covers single treadle spinning and I am eager to investigate this more.

I know I promised you white wool, but this was what I had at the moment. I hope my light coloured clothes compensate a little.

A person spinning on a small spinning wheel with a quill.
The free and unencumbered long draw with a quill.

From the yearnings for a giant walking wheel to a teeny tiny portable wheel via the quill. I don’t get to walk while spinning, but then again, I couldn’t bring a walking wheel to the woods either. And whichever wheel or other spinning tool I use, I get to spin.

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.

Willowing wool

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

Willowing wool is an ancient technique where you use two willow sticks (or some other bendy wood) to whip the wool. This helps to open up the locks, get air in to the wool and vegetable matter out.

An ancient technique

There are illustrations from the European middle ages of people willowing wool, but I can imagine the technique has been used ever since wool has been used for spinning. In my book Ull – hemligheter, möjligheter, färdigheter by Kerstin Gustafsson and Alan Waller, it says that wool beating used to be an occupation. The wool beaters usually also traded in wool, whipped it and blended to get an even quality. The finished blends would then be sold to mitten producers. Also, people would of course beat the wool in rural homes as a first step of processing their own wool.

The cover of a book. The cover has two hands with unspun wool between them. The back of a sheep in the background
Ull – hemligheter, möjligheter, färdigheter by Kerstin Gustafsson and Alan Waller. A Swedish wool rarity from 1987.

Five years ago I went to the west coast of Sweden together with my wool traveling friend Anna for a one-week spinning course. The teacher was Lena Köster, a Swedish master spinner. She taught us to whip the wool, and it was great fun.

The origin of a word

Since the technique has been performed with soft sticks, usually willow, it has been called willowing. This word root (!) has remained even after the start of the industrialism. A machine that was designated to open up the locks, remove vegetable matter and blend the wool was called a willowing machine, willy or willower. As a linguistic geek, I just love the substantial origin of the word.

The definition of the word willow, willy:
The origin of the word willow has ancient roots. From the Cassell Concise English dictionary.

Angels and devils

I was told that the flying locks used to be called angels. The higher the angels flew the more air had been let in to the wool and the better the wool was whipped. And they do look like angels – white, fuzzy  and endlessly beautiful. And, oh, another word for the willowing machine was devil. If you have ever seen a willowing machine (or a wool picker for that matter) you will understand. It looks like your average Tudor era torture tool.

The origin of a video

As it happened, I had a bunch of willow sticks lying around the house. I had made a low hurdle for a flower bed and bought willow sticks for this purpose. Yes, I shouldn’t need to buy sticks when there are lots of them in the woods, but I have made this hurdle several times with maple saplings, and it just won’t last. But I digress.

A willow hurdle around a flower bed
My sweet willow hurdle

It also happened that I had a fleece in the fleece storage (aka our sofa bed) that had a little too much vegetable matter in it. Recently, there has been lots of discussions on a facebook spinning forum about vegetable matter and the best way to get rid of it. I had suggested whipping the wool. so I had recently picked the thought up from deep within my memory storage.

Willowing wool – shooting

So, I picked a spot on our terrace to shoot a video of willowing wool, sat myself down on the floor and started willowing. It was a lot of fun. My daughter came by and helped me whip for a while. She said: ‘You look really happy, Mum, like a five-year-old who just got an ice-cream cone.’ Indeed. An ice-cream cone made of wool.

Josefin Waltin sitting on the ground, willowing wool
Willowing wool can be an adventurous affair with obtrusive angels attacking.

I shot the video from one angle unpaused. The whole uncut clip was about 50 minutes (I edited it down to four minutes). I spent a lot of that time gathering lost wool angels. There was a breeze, and I can vouch for that the time spent chasing wool increases proportionally to the increase of wind speed. This particular wind was a whimsical one, it had a hard time deciding where to blow.

Josefin Waltin sitting on the ground with wool in front of her.
Gathering lost angels

I got the music from the free music archive. Using the search words ‘fly’ and ‘high’, I found this beautiful harp piece by Anne van Schotorst. It’s called Birds came flying. I think it suited my flying angels quite well.

I hope you like the video.

Happy willowing!

 

 

Wip series: Finished twined knitting mittens!

Two grey mittens

I have finally finished my twined knitting mittens!

This is the fifth and final post in my wip series of spinning for and knitting a pair of twined knitting mittens. The previous posts are about preparing, spinning, plying and knitting.

A lot of joy

I am very happy with the result. They were a true joy to knit. But, as always, there is a melancholy and a sense of loss when finishing a project. There are so many thoughts in a project. Practical thoughts like the next step in the project, how to avoid mistakes, but also all the thoughts that float around in my mind in the making. Things I hear, think or experience while I make are things that are captured in the thread and, literally, woven in to the fabric. In this sense, the finished item is so much more than a pair of mittens. It is a sparkling weave of skill, experience, memories, thought processes, love and emotions. And I treasure them all in my wooly, twined knitted treasure box.

Even if I miss the process of making, I do get to relive all the emotions and sensations that are a part of the mittens. Every time I wear them.

A lot of time

Twined knitting does take a lot of time to make, but the reward is such a sturdy and strong fabric.  And once I was over the initial novelty of the technique (which isn’t all new to me, but the last time I did twined knitting was in 2010), I found a nice rhythm of knitting, twining and untwisting.

A lot of yarn

I used 2 mm needles, which was perfect for this yarn. As you can see, the fabric is very dense on the surface. When you turn the mitten inside out you can see the beautiful ridges, caused by the twining. These also add to the density of the mittens.

Close-up of a grey mitten turned inside-out.
The inside of the mittens show the beautiful ridges created by the twining of the two working yarns.

When I first read the pattern I was a bit sceptical to the yarn requirements – 60 g per mitten seemed a lot to me. After a while I started worrying about having spun too little yarn! But when I had woven in the last yarn end I did have some yarn left, just enough to make a handful of pin loom squares.

The pattern

I used a basic mitten pattern from Berit Westman’s booklet Tvåändsstickning. She has a lot of examples of charted chain path patterns. For the cuffs I made a simple xo pattern from the book. This doesn’t show very well even after blocking. For the back of the hands I wanted something special, so I made my own pattern. I wanted the mittens to represent all the strong and talented textile workers through history. When I had finished the chart, I realized that it was International women’s day, which was very suitable.

A grey mitten with a venus symbol
A venus symbol. The perfect mitten chart. Photo by Dan Waltin

Felting

I struggled with the thought of felting the mittens for extra strength and durability. I had felted my first two pairs of twined knitting mittens. But already at the spinning stage I got a strong feeling of the wool being really prone to felting. It was quite sticky in all the parts of the process and I handled the yarn very carefully. I feared that if I felted the mittens, there was a strong risk of over felting. Also, since I had worked with the structure and colour of the yarn from the very beginning, I wanted the yarn to be the star of the show.

Evaluation

The colour

I do love the variegated colour of the yarn and it looks beautiful in the mittens. Especially in the pattern parts. The mixture of greys and the light golden brown gives the fabric a lovely depth. I am a sucker for greys!

The ply

As you can see in the pictures of the finished yarn, It was quite loosely spun and plied. This goes hand in hand with the wool, that was almost straight. I did over ply the yarn after it was balanced, to compensate for the unplying made by the twining. I don’t think it would have hurt to over ply a little more than I did.

The fabric

I think this is the most even I have ever knit. I think it is easier to make a more even and tight fabric with twined knitting than with regular knitting, since it is easier to pull the thread after each stitch. Also, I love the mixture of plain twined knitting and the blocks of pattern knitting. The squiggly horizontals are well matched with the straight verticals.

Close-up of a grey twined knitting mitten.
The pattern and the colour variations really make the wool justice.

The feeling

When I was preparing the wool and saw the black guard hairs I was afraid that the mittens would be itchy. But they are not. It is just that silky feeling of the under coat. The guard hairs just add a strength bonus. That’s a well behaved yarn! When I wear the mittens I pet the silky ridged insides with my hands. I feel rich.

The works

All in all, I think these mittens are in the top five of myfavourite hand spun projects and I smile every time I wear them. I feel proud and humbled to have the knowledge and skills to create something like this, like thousands of women (and a few men) have done before me.

What is your favourite hand spun project?

Happy spinning!

A pair of twined knitting mittens hanging from a tree branch.
Spring is coming and it’s a happy mitten day!

Wip series: First z-ply skein finished

A skein of grey yarn rolled up into a bundle.

It’s micro snowing today! See the tiny snowflakes in the yarn on the featured image? Anyway, about a week ago the first s-spun single for my twined knitting mittens project was full. Today I present the first finished z-ply skein.

A skein of yarn in shades of grey.
A finished skein of z-plied yarn of Värmland wool. Fingering weight, 148 m, 61 g, 2443 m/kg.

Characteristics

The yarn is totally without bounce, which isn’t surprising, given the wavy, almost straight character of the staples. It is really silky and strong, which is a combination of the soft and silky undercoat and the long and strong outercoat. As you can see in the pictures, there are some guard hairs that are misbehaving, but I don’t see them as a problem. I really like the way the colour variations came out. I’m painting pictures in my head with the knitted fabric as the canvas in endless variations of grey. I think this will make a great yarn for my twined knitting mittens.

Technique

I spun the singles with my left hand as spinning hand. That way I could pull the spindle counter-clockwise. It was a really nice experience and felt light and right.

I used the same spindle for both singles, so each single was transfered onto an empty toilet paper roll when finished. That way I could start plying from the same end as I started spinning. I learned somewhere that the yarn will hold together better that way.

When it came to plying, I switched hands so that I plied clockwise with my right hand as the spinning hand, again pulling the spindle. I didn’t experience any pain in any hand. Well, to tell the truth, I did get a bit sore on the skin of the fingertip of my right index finger from two straight hours of plying, but that was just stupidity, don’t tell anyone.

A spindle full of grey yarn
A very full spindle – 60 grams of yarn on a 24 gram spindle (Malcolm Fielding).

Next step

Since I want to knit both mittens at the same time, I can’t start knitting until the second skein is finished. And I’ve already started spinning the third spindle. It’s a really nice project to work with. I comb a few locks, spin them, comb some more and so on.

Gotta go, I’ve got some more s to spin.

Happy spinning!

Wip series: First spindle full

A spindle full of grey yarn

Earlier, I wrote about my new spinning project. I am spinning a yarn counter-clockwise to be able to knit myself a pair of twined knitted mittens.

One finished, three to go

The current status is that I have finished one spindle of s-spun singles, about 30 grams. According to the pattern book, I need 100–120 grams, so if I make another 3 30 gram singles I will end up with one 60 gram skein for each mitten. With twined knitting it is av very good idea to knit both mittens at the same time. This to make sure that the gauge turns out the same. I did not do this with my first pair.

A challenging spin

I have to say It is not the easiest spinning I have experienced. The fiber is impressingly smooth and silky, but there is a certain amount of tugging. I think it has to do with the preparation – I comb the locks as lightly as possible, just to separate the fibers. I guess they are still a little attached to each other, making the drafting a little challenging. But I get the effect I want, and I really enjoy spinning counter-clockwise with my left hand.

A close-up of a spindle with grey yarn
The many shades of beautiful grey

Beautiful greys

I love how the colour variation turned out. There is a spectrum from almost white, through silver and light grey to medium and even dark grey, and some strokes of golden brown. Spinning the locks one by one, I was hoping to catch as many of the shades in the fleece as possible. I would not have been able to achieve this effect had I combed the wool in the traditional way. Also, a yarn like this is not possible to machine spin. This will truly be a unique yarn, which warms my heart a little extra.

Happy spinning, both clockwise and counter-clockwise!

Wip series: Preparing for twined knitting

A spindle with light gray yarn

In this series I will write about preparing, spinning and knitting a pair of mittens in the old Swedish technique of twined knitting.

Rediscovering an old technique

Several years ago, long before I started spinning, I stumbled upon twined knitting, also known as two-end knitting (from the Swedish word tvåändsstickning). It is a very old Swedish knitting technique where you knit with two separate strands of yarn and twist them in between the stitches. This makes a very sturdy and windproof textile that will last very long. Because of the twisting, twined knitting takes a lot of time.

The technique was nearly forgotten, but recreated through a textile find in the 1970’s. A mitten was found, thought to originate from the 19th century, but later found to be from the late 17th century. At first there seemed to be nothing special about the mitten, since it looked like regular knitting from the right side. But when the mitten was turned inside out, it was obvious that this was something different. The inside of twined knitting is dense and ridged, due to the twisting of yarns.

A pink mitten turned inside-out
The reverse side of twined knitting looks different than regular knitting.

The responsibility of saving a textile treasure

In my woolly heart of 2009, I wanted to take responsibility to help saving this technique. Since the technique involves twisting, the best result is given when you knit with a z-plied yarn. I bought a skein of z-plied yarn and knitted myself a pair of twined knitting half-mitts. I loved them dearly, and one sad day I lost them together with a knit beret on the subway.

A person wearing a pair of red half-mitts
First twined knitting project: Half-mitts, sadly lost on the subway. If you look closely, you can see that the right mitten is more felted than the left. That’s what happens when you knit one mitten after the other and end up with different sized mittens. Photo by Dan Waltin

A few years later, as a beginner spinner, I spun a skein of z-plied yarn and made myself another pair of twined knitting mittens. The yarn – one of my first handspun ones – was way underspun, but I solved that by felting the finished mittens. These are my go-to mittens that I have worn practically every day for the last five winters.

Two mittened hands on the back of a sheep.
First handspun twined knitting mittens (same as the reversed mitten above). Wool from my favourite Swedish finewool sheep Pia-Lotta, modeling in the picture. Photo by Dan Waltin

Inspiration

Now there is a hole in the thumb. I have mended the hole, but I still want to make another pair, for several reasons. In a recent episode of the Fruity knitting podcast, there was an interview with Karin Kahnlund, master twined knitter, and I got inspired to twine knit again. Another reason is my analysis of spinning direction, where I have looked closely at the hand movements when spinning in different directions with different hands (for more posts in the series, look here and here). As a leftie, this is a perfect opportunity for me to spin counter-clockwise  with my left hand (pulling the spindle). A third reason is about just getting a second chance at spinning a z-plied yarn.

A new project

For this project, I will use the prize winning Värmland fleece I purchased at the auction at the 2017 Swedish fleece championships.

A lock of Värmland wool
A prize winning Värmland lamb fleece

It’s a beautiful, grey lamb fleece with a long staple, soft and almost silky. It is the same fleece I used in my short video of medieval spinning, but in the video I used the shorter staples, carded. For this project I will use the longer staples . This Värmland fleece has a double coat with longer and shorter fibers (the over coat fibers are roughly 22 cm, the under coat fibers about 14 cm).

Close-up of a lock of Värmland wool
The pretty lamb curl

I am combing each individual staple and spin on a supported spindle from the cut end to catch all the fiber lengths in the yarn (for a closer look at the technique, see my video where I spin with the sheep in the pasture).

Close-up of a spindle with light gray yarn
S-spun Värmland yarn. Look at the colour variations!

I will post every now and then to let you know how the project is going.

Happy spinning!

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.

Wool sorting

Two hands pulling a staple of white wool

I love wool sorting. Standing outside feeling through each staple of a beautiful fleece. The sensation in my hands when I touch the fiber – warm, rich and airy. The smell of the sheep. A few clues to where the sheep has been – lots of peat in Shetland fleeces and leaves, pines or moss in Swedish fleeces, or a bit of nylon string from fences or silage.

When I sort wool, I try to read the fleece. My mind goes to where the sheep might have been and done. It also goes to how the fleece is different on different parts of the body and how I can prepare and spin these sections differently to make the most out of the versatility of the wool. In some places long and sleek staples that part easily, in some places short, crimpy and fluffy. In yet other places a bit coarser but still promising. I am quite fascinated by the difference between fleeces of the same breed and within one individual.

Every time I sort a fleece I learn something new, about the breed, about how I can try new methods or combinations to make a yarn the way the fiber wants to be handled. I can make more subtle observations each time I stick my hands into a new fleece. At that moment I feel empowered by the wool and all that it gives me.

A crimpy fleece
A Mooskit Shetland fleece from Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers