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.
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.
I just came home from vacations out of town. First we had a wonderful week in Austria, hiking and seeing my relatives. We flew to Vienna and then took the train to Salzburg. So, when it came to craft planning I didn’t want anything in my hand luggage that any security staff could take away from me. My standard in-flight craft is nalbinding. A blunt wooden needle (or, in this case, bone) and yarn. It doesn’t take much space either. And my loved ones are always in need of warm and wind-proof mittens. These particular mittens will be for my brother-in-law. They were also a perfect companion for hiking.
We had to stay overnight in Vienna, so I could rearrange my luggage and have access to both spindles and knitting projects for the train ride. And I do love spinning on the train.
Lots of knitting was done also at the B&B we stayed at. I couldn’t not knit the 2017 Shetland wool week pattern, even though I’m not coming this year either.
And, oh, I also found the house spinning wheel at the B&B! A little beauty that had been used for both flax and wool spinning by the owner’s mother in the early 1900’s.
The second vacation was in a log cabin in Tiveden in Sweden at the Åsebol sheep farm. They have finewool, Texel and Rya sheep.
We came by car and I brought a lot more crafting stuff on this trip. The car was quite full. I had a basket of carders and combs between my feet on the floor. But it was worth it, this farm is one of my favourite places on earth.
We did some hiking there as well, and I brought the nalbinding.
We spent a lot of time at the farm, just enjoying the silence and the occasional Baah. And i did a lot of spinning. I brought five spindles plus carders and wool combs and enjoyed them all.
At the end of the week, I had spun quite a lot.
Two more weeks of vacation at home. And there will be spinning!
In October 2016 I made a video in the pasture at Överjärva gård. Anna helped me with filming and we both had trouble moving our fingers due to the cold. Sheepwise, we didn’t know quite what to expect. But two very friendly and curious ewes kept us company all through the filming. Anemone the multicoloured finewool lamb and Susanne the Gotland sheep. It was so comforting to have them there. Their calmness, the warm breaths and their constant nose poking on the spindle. Later, Anna was lucky enough to get her hands on Anemone’s lamb fleece.
The fiber I was spinning was from a prize winner, the Dalapäls ewe lamb Blanka. She (well, her owner actually) won a silver medal in the Swedish fleece championships of 2016 and I bought the fleece at the auction that followed. Spindle and cup from Malcolm Fielding.
I just came home from the Wool traveling club‘s 2017 Wool journey. We have had such a wonderful time – Anna, Ellinor, Boel and I. Kristin couldn’t make it this time.
We went to Åsebol sheep farm, one of my favourite places on earth. During our stay we mostly sat by the creek, spinning and knitting. We also sat on the back porch, knitting and spinning. Sometimes we sat in the front porch. Spinning and knitting. Every now and then we went for a walk to see the sheep. Sometimes spinning.
We also had three classes. On the first day I taught a class in supported spinning. My students were fast learners and I think they enjoyed the class. We also hired Kia Gabrielsson from Ullsörvis to teach two classes. Kia is Sweden’s only wool classifier and works at a wool station in Gol, Norway.
Wool knowledge is essential to a spinner. With knowledge of wool characteristics the spinner will know what to look for in a fleece to match the quality and the purpose of the yarn. Kia unloaded tons of fleeces from her van and provided us with a wool protocol on which to note characteristics of the wool – strength, shine, elasticity, crimp etc.
We looked at several fleeces and filled in a wool protocol for each fleece. They were all wonderful fleeces and very different from each other. As a spinner I have endless opportunities to choose a fleece – or parts of a fleece – to suit my preferences, whether I want to make a sheer shawl, a warm sweater, a sturdy rug or something else. As a final exam, we each got to fill in a protocol of a fleece from the sheep farm.
Uruahipi or Māori knitting
Kia’s second class was in Māori knitting, or Uruahipi. It is a very basic kind of knitting with minimal processing, which makes a very soft and airy fabric with a life of its own. You start by drafting straight off the staples to get kind of a rough sliver. The next step is to roll the sliver on your lap to make an even roll. After that you knit. This is usually an activity you do together – with the fleece in the middle you draft and roll for each other. Kia told us stories of how the Māori used to knit like this in the 60’s. She worked in New Zealand in the 80’s and saw lots of Uruahipi knitwear and asked around to find out more about the technique. She fell in love with it and, lucky for us, she brought it back to Sweden. It also turned out that the technique has been used in other parts of the world.
With the fleece warming our toes and the drafted sliver criss-crossing between us I felt very connected to it all – the wool, the stories and, above all, to Kia and my wool traveling friends.
If you know anything more about Māori knitting or Uruahipi (I think it’s also sometimes called Kiwicraft), please let me know! There is also a Swedish Facebook group for Uruahipi.
After four days of wooly adventures the 2017 wool journey came to an end. We went home and I think we all cherish the memories and long for our next wool journey in 2018.
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.