Last autumn, when I made a video at Överjärva gård, I happened to buy another fleece. I didn’t mean to, but I saw it in the wool shop and I immediately realized that it needed me. It was half a fleece from the Swedish finewool sheep Engla.
When I sorted the fleece, I decided to divide it into different piles according to the quality of the wool. I ended up with three piles – the very short and fine (neck) staples, the medium length staples and the longer staples.
The fleece was a joy to work with – it was clean, easy to sort, wonderful to comb and card and dreamy to spin. I do love Swedish finewool. I can honestly say it has been one of my very favourite fleeces.
I bought 800 g of fleece and ended up with a total of about 440 g of yarn.
So, I carded the fine neck staples and spun them with long draw on a supported spindle and made a 3-ply yarn out of the singles and I was very happy with the result. A light, airy and even yarn with lots of bounce. I also made a video about the plying.
I carded the medium staples as well and spun them with long draw on a Navajo spindle. One of the yarns I made was a prize winner – The sheep, the chicken, the pig and the lion. I also spun several skeins of singles on a Navajo spindle.
I combed the longest staples and spun them with short draw on a supported spindle. I experimented with chain-plying “on the fly” and made two videos about it, a detailed video about how to ply-on-the-fly on a supported spindle and another one where I show how I start from an empty spindle with the ply-on-the-fly method.
I feel very fortunate as a hand spinner to be able to sort my fleeces to make different kinds of yarns, whether it is according to colour, structure or length. It can result in really unique yarns. And I learn so much from it.
I love grey wool. There are so many possible shades from just a combination of black and white fibers. And the combinations within combinations gives me a whole universe of sparkling silver. I can look at a grey yarn for ages and get mesmerized by the spiraling promise of everlasting variation.
Also, I have discovered the wonderful world of dyeing on grey. The colours turn out so deep and rich and gives the yarn a beautiful heathered effect from all the shades in the grey. Which, of course, puts me in a dilemma – I want to keep the beautiful grey and at the same time dye it for the wonderful colour result.
A grey Trønder fleece
At Christmas, I bought a beautiful fleece from talented wool classifier Kia Gabrielsson of Ullsörvis. It was a grey Trønder fleece with lots of different shades in it. I separated the fleece and ended up with four piles of grey, from anthracite to very light grey. I carded the fiber and spun the colours separately and 3-plied them. The result was four squishy skeins of yummy greys.
I also found the perfect knitting project for the skeins, where I could use all the shades and show the beautiful variation. It was the Slouchy shrug by 伊凡 陳, Yarn door on Ravelry.
There is a story in every part of the process and in every item I make.
When I knit something it is always in a certain context. Perhaps I am talking to someone, listening to a podcast or thinking of something. Next time I pick up the needles, my mind brings that context to life again in the feeling of the structure and the muscular memory of the motion. It’s like the context gets caught in the thread and woven into the garment. A parallel process of the time, space and events of that moment is created and recreated.
I may be thinking about when I prepared and spun the yarn or remembering what the fleece felt like. Perhaps I am thinking of how the dye didn’t turn out the way I had planned but how I still loved the result.
I may remember the last time I was knitting at a coffee break at work, letting my co-workers choose the next colour.
Perhaps I remember a heartwarming conversation with a curious subway passenger asking me about my project. I may smile at the memory of seeing other passengers watching the repetitive movements of my hands, and getting helplessly enraptured in the motion. I imagine they are positively affected by my serenity.
I may definitely remember all the mistakes I have made in the process, how I have dealt with them and what I have learned from them.
When the garment is finished and all the ends woven in, I wrap myself in it, like a story book. And I walk on, a little richer in memories.
Here it is, finally. My second bigger video project Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl.
Slow fashion and the value of a craft
I wanted to make another video on the slow fashion theme. Also, I wanted to show some other aspects of crafting. I have seen people sell handmade items for basically the cost of the material, which is such a shame. There is so much talent, time, effort and experience behind a handmade item. People don’t give it a second thought in a society where we expect to have stuff and we are in turn expected to buy more stuff (that has preferably been shipped three times around the globe). Giant store buildings are popping up like mushrooms because we don’t have any space left for all our stuff. This video is about the value of good craftmanship and all the time, tradition, skill and effort that lie behind it.
For the love of spinning
The video is also about the love of spinning. I try to capture the way spinning gives me that meditative feeling, how the motions and the touch of the fibers gives me serenity and a sense of weightlessness.
The leading fleeces
The fiber in the shawl is from two natural colour Shetland fleeces. The warp was spun worsted on a spinning wheel from hand-combed tops and 2-plied. The weft was spun woolen on a Navajo spindle from hand-carded rolags into a singles yarn. The shawl was woven on a 60 cm rigid heddle loom on double width.
For tools and designers, see this post. For a connection to Outlander, look here.
The first ever fleece I bought was from the Swedish finewool sheep Pia-Lotta at Överjärva gård. She was a lamb back then and it was the wool I learned to spin with. I have managed to get hold of her fleece twice more (the last time I shore her myself). Finewool has become my house fiber. It is the fiber I feel most comfortable spinning and my hearts jumps a beat whenever I get my hands on finewool fluff.
At the wool traveling club‘s wool journey 2016 I bought some really yummy finewool at Solkustens spinnverkstad and a couple of days ago I started preparing it for spinning. I know it is a year later, but that’s my fleece queue at the moment – one year from purchase to process if I keep the queue order.
A good finewool fleece is really crimpy with superfine fibers. It is moderate in lanolin and usually only needs scouring in cold water before processing. It is wonderfully soft, silky to the touch and a very good candidate for carding for a warm and airy woolen yarn. The ends can be a bit brittle and break in the preparation. Therefore it’s a good idea to make sure that doesn’t happen, to avoid nepps and noils in your yarn. I flick card the tip ends of every staple. Any brittle tips stay in the flick card instead of in the yarn.
I have spun my first yarn in this fiber from hand-carded rolags on my spinning wheel and I love the result.
I also plan to make a 3-ply yarn spun on a Navajo spindle. When I spun this yarn on the wheel, I realized that I have learned so much about long draw from spinning on a Navajo spindle. I wouldn’t have been able to spin singles this consistent if I hadn’t practiced long draw as much as I have on the Navajo spindle. At that insight, my heart skips a beat again.
I got wool today! Three bags full, actually. Two beautiful Shetland fleeces, one Moorit (brown) and one Eskit (dark grey).
Previous Shetland fleeces
I have bought a few Shetland fleeces and I love all of them dearly. I bought the first ones when my wool traveling club attended Shetland wool week 2015. I got to enter the wonderful treasure room for hand spinners at Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers. A room in the basement filled with dreamy fleeces, handpicked for handspinners. I ended up buying one white and one Flecket (patches of black, grey and white). This Christmas I bought another two – one Shaela (light grey) and one Yuglet (dark grey). More about them in a later post.
About the Shetland sheep
The Shetland sheep is an old sheep breed and they are traditionally rooing their wool. The sheep sheds its wool at a certain time of year when the fibers thin and the new wool starts to grow underneath. This has advantages and disadvantages. An advantage is that the fiber closes at the weak spot, which makes a garment more resistant to cold and wet weather. Another advantage is that the yarn is smoother, since the ends are thinned out instead of cut off.
A disadvantage is that there is a lot of waste, and sometimes a risk of nepps and noils in the finished yarn. If the fibers don’t break or isn’t pulled off and if the sheep isn’t sheared at the rooing moment, there will be a weak spot where the rooing occurs while the new fiber starts to grow. So, on the fleeces I bought at Christmas (about six months after the rooing) the part between cut end and rooing spot was quite long, about 4–6 cm. These parts were either wasted or used for carding.
When to get the best fleece
I wanted to get my next fleeces with as little outgrowth as possible. The rooing usually occurs in June as far as I know. I read in a post in the Shetland woolbrokers’ blog that Jan is busy with incoming wool from July, so I gathered that the shearing starts about then. So I e-mailed them in July and asked them to get me the best fleeces they could find. I wanted two solid-colour fleeces and the colour really didn’t matter (not black and not white, though), the important thing was the quality. And today I picked them up from the post office. The woman at the post office looked rather suspiciously at my three bursting bags, smelling faintly of sheep. I must have looked rather funny on my bike with one bag in my bike bag, one strapped on to the bike rack and one dangling from the handlebar.
The fleeces are really wonderful. Soft like butter, superfine fibers, strong and resilient. They are also amazingly clean. I’m used to Swedish fleeces, where even the cleanest ones have some vegetable matter in them, either from silage, weeds or needles. Once I actually found a whole chestnut in a fleece!
The Moorit fleece (picture above) is super soft (lamb, I think) with staples about 12 cm. The ends are bleached, which is common on brown fleeces. This means that the finished yarn also might be bleached, which I will put under consideration when choosing projects for it.
The Eskit fleece (lamb) is just as soft and clean. The staples are longer, up to 15 cm. There might be an outgrowth though, you can see the change of quality in the bottom 3 cm of the staple. Hopefully the fibers break at the rooing point when I comb it and the cut end parts stay in the combs.
I have divided both the fleeces in two parts, one part with the finest, softest fibers from the neck and the sides and one with the still very soft but not softest fibers. This way I can adapt my yarns to different projects.
My spinning plans
I will comb the fleeces and spin with short forward draw. My go-to yarn is 2-ply fingering weight, But I think I will also stash up on some 3-ply sport with these fleeces, I have lots of queueing knitting projects requiring sport weight yarn. The shorter lengths left in the combs will be carded and spun with long draw. I do love to spin these carded rolags into singles on my Navajo spindle and use as weft. More on how I prepare fleeces in an earlier post on combing and carding.
Gotta go now. I have fleeces to cuddle.
Please correct me if I’m wrong about the properties or terminology of Shetland wool.
On the Swedish wool championships of 2016 I managed to win the auction of one of the silver medal fleeces, a Dalapäls fleece from Solaengel’s lamb Blanka. I asked a bit about how to best prepare it and I ended up dividing the fleece into two categories – one for the longer staples with undercoat softness and overcoat lengths and one for a bit shorter staples. I spun the first category straight from the staple on a supported spindle into a strong 2-ply yarn. The second category I carded and spun as a soft, thick singles yarn on my Navajo spindle. I envisioned a woven pillowcase with the strong 2-ply as warp and the soft and thick singles as the weft.
I dyed the warp into a blueish green and the weft a bit lighter. After dying, I warped my rigid heddle loom double with closed selvedges. When I warped, I noticed that the yarn had started to felt in the dyeing process and was very clingy. And that clinginess continued all through the weaving. Beating was a struggle, for every change of sheds and rolling back of the weave I had to manually separate each warp thread. Lots of warp threads snapped (as did I) and as I got closer to the end of the warp, the twin thread of the broken threads also got loose.
I did finish the pillowcase and I spent over 2 hours weaving in broken warp threads. I added a zipper and was unreasonably proud of my very own Blanka pillowcase.
All of these problems might make a person give up and throw the whole project away. Had it been a knitting project I might have frogged it. But I had felt every fiber of this yarn in my hands and I knew the yarn by heart and I never thought of giving up. I just needed to find solutions to the bigger problems and have patience with the smaller ones. And I have learned so much from this project. I am a new weaver and learning by doing has been the headlines all through my new weaving career. And for every fault I see I know how that fault came about and what I learned from it. And I bring this knowledge into the next project.
When I dyed for this project I had some Shetland in the dye as well and I will make another pillowcase (a non-Blanka pillowcase). The yarn is sleeker and hopefully the weaving will be easier.
I usually buy fleece and do my own preparation. For that I use my mini combs and my carders. I try to use as much of the fiber as possible and make as little waste as possible.
I do love combing. The way the wool transforms from separated staples to a fluffy bundle is like magic. And drawing the fiber off the comb in a long, continuous piece is very satisfying.
The longer fibers align themselves into that long combed piece. But usually there is an amount of shorter fibers left in the combs. I pull these out, one pinch at time, and card. The nepps and noils stay in the combs and I use this waste in the garden.
I follow the same routine when I card, but without making the combed bird’s nests. I lightly comb the fleece I want to card, pull it off the combs one pinch at a time and then card. This way, I use the combs for teasing the wool. It is much faster and nicer than teasing each staple with a flicker, which I used to do. And now I love carding too!
When I started practising supported spinning, I was using what was left of three fleeces of beautiful alpaca I had bought from Österlen alpacka a few years ago. I was spinning in bed just before I went to sleep. It was calming, like meditation and I cherished those bedtime spinning moments. I was spinning to learn, so I didn’t have a project planned for the yarn, but after a while I envisioned a sheer woven shawl. A bit like those fancy wide cashmere shawls. My mother-in-law was going through chemo at the time and she is always cold so I wanted to make it for her.
After about six months of bedtime spinning I started weaving on my rigid heddle loom. And it was hell. I am a new weaver and I am advising all weavers, regardless of experience, never to weave in alpaca. It’s a very slippery fiber. And especially prone to breaking with a super thin singles weft. Or perhaps the advise is not to weave with a super thin singles weft.
But I did learn a lot along the way. And that’s the beauty of creating, isn’t it? For every mistake you make you learn something new to add to your experience bank and bring into future projects. And at the end of the warp it turned out beautifully, smooth as silk.
My biggest film project – so far – is Slow fashion.
The slow video project Slow fashion
It began as an idea of showing the whole process from sheep to sweater. As it happened, I did have a clip from when I was shearing a sheep at a course in small-scale sheep husbandry at Överjärva gård, so I was able to start the project even earlier in the process than I had originally planned. And when I saw Valérie Miller’s Fileuse pattern I just knew it was the right pattern for the project.
The white fleece is from the finewool sheep Pia-Lotta at Överjärva. Hers was actually the very first fleece I bought when I started learning how to spin and I was so happy to learn that I was going to shear her. Pia-Lotta was so calm when I shore her. The sheep just stood there while I was leaning my legs against her. She did pee a lot, and she was actually standing on my foot once while peeing, but it was still definitely worth it.
Slow getting slower
There was a minor setback in the production in the spring when I was waiting to get my hands on the second fleece, a grey fleece from a Jämtland sheep from Vemdalsfjällens alpackor. The sheep Gråan was their only grey sheep and I was very thankful to be able to buy so much of it. But the weather was really wet up there in shearing season, so the owner couldn’t shear the sheep for weeks. That is slow fashion, literally.
The leading fleeces
The two fleeces are quite different. The finewool fleece is springy and fluffy and perfect for carding and long draw spinning. The Jämtland fleece has a really long staple of very fine fibers and ideal for combing and short forward draft. The Jämtland sheep is a quite new Swedish breed, bred to be a domestic alternative to merino wool shipped from the other end of the world.
The shearing part was shot in a simple sheep shed, but the all the rest of the clips were filmed outdoors. There are so many possibilities when filming outside, and there’s no clutter to consider. Most of the shots were filmed around our home in Stockholm and at Åsebol sheep farm. Some shots are from Austria and the very last piece is from Bressay, Shetland at Shetland wool week. I shot the sheep parts and my family and a few friends patiently filmed all the parts with me in front of the camera, which were quite many. My brother-in-law arranged and played the beautiful piano piece.
One of the hardest parts of filming was the sheep shots at Åsebol. I wanted some closeups and preferably some cuddling shots. But the sheep were not interested at all, as soon as we, very gently, got into the pasture, they went in the other direction. On our last day we cheated and brought the owner with some sheep goodies and they came running and I could eventually leave happy.
Not just another video
I wrote in the beginning of this post that the project began as an idea of showing the whole process. But it ended up being so much more than that. It is a celebration of sustainability, serenity, the slow fashion movement, and, perhaps most of all, the love of spinning.