Överjärva farm

A red farm building.

The farm

One of my favourite sheep hang-outs is Överjärva farm just outside Stockholm. There has been a farm at Överjärva for centuries. In the beginning of the 20th century it was the biggest farm in the parish. Today it’s a city farm with sheep, horses, chickens and organic farming.

A red wooden house with black doors. A sign post in the front.
Businesses around Överjärva farm

Kulturlandskaparna is the organization that looks after the sheep and works to maintain the farm and the biodiversity in the area. This is where I first learned how to spin, where I bought my first fleece (and a few more after that) and I took a course in small-scale sheep farming.

The shepherdess

The Patron and head sheeprdess of Överjärva is Ulla. She knows all the sheep by name. If you present a fleece to her she can name the sheep just by smelling it. She is passionate about the sheep and the landscape management. She passes on the knowledge about the importance of sheep by teaching young and old as much as she can about sheep and why we need them.

Ewes and lambs
Ewes and new lambs hanging out at the farm. Photo by Anna Herting.

At the farm, Ulla teaches kids to be helper shepherds and shepherdesses. For the moment there are only helper shepherdesses, and around 10–15 years old. They learn how to take care of the sheep and are a big help at the farm. It is also evident that the helper shepherdesses grow when they learn about how to take responsibility for the sheep.

With the sheep in the pasture

People come to the farm all year round to see the sheep. They are very used to humans and most of them love to be cuddled. During the lambing period in the spring they get privacy, though, but in the end of April it was the first day visitors were allowed to go in to the pasture and cuddle with ewes and lambs. Of course I was there.

Lambs and sheep
The lambs are curious about the two-legged sheep with funny-looking fleeces.

The big sheep walk

Moving the sheep

When the lambs are big enough and the grass has grown a bit after the winter, it is time to move the sheep and their lambs to their summer pastures. This is done on the great sheep walk in late May. Visitors are invited to take part in the move and walk all the sheep families through the neighbourhood to the fresh grass in the new pasture. Of course I was there to take part in the big sheep move.

Organizing the walk

The sheep walk is a whole machinery. The sheep families are moved from the farm pasture one at a time and assigned to a human family, and they all stay around the farm until every sheep is out. Anna, her family and I were in charge of the Swedish finewool sheep Anemone (you have seen her before, in this video) and her lambs Tim, Linus and Vilda.

Josefin Waltin walking with a black and white sheep in a leash.
Walking with Anemone and her lambs. Anemone is a Swedish finewool sheep and very friendly. Photo by Anna Herting

The sheep are a bit wild and difficult to handle at the beginning of the walk, but after a while they settle down. Since the walk goes through traffic, the sheep need to be led in in leashes. One human family family taking the responsibility for one sheep family. The sheep family must be held together with the ewe just in front of her lambs and you are not allowed to pass another sheep family. There can’t be a gap in the long row of sheep families. The herd strives to be together, and if there is a gap they will start to run to cover the gap. This can have chaotic consequences in a traffic environment.

One of the most difficult tasks on the sheep walk is to keep the sheep in the middle of the lane. If they go too far to either side, they will get close to the grass and all the work with keeping the sheep orderly is wasted.

Ulla, the head shepherdess, doesn’t walk with the sheep. She goes ahead in the car and organizes things at the pasture. Instead, the helper shepherdesses are in charge of the walk. And the y do it with great skill and pride. They watch all the families along the lines and make sure everything is in order, that the ewes is just in front of her lambs, that there is no gap in the lane and are always ready to give a hand when needed. The smaller children are in charge of stopping the traffic. When a car comes on the same road or when the caravan crosses a street, the kids stand broad-legged with their arms out to the sides to stop the cars and protect the caravan. They take their task very seriously.

Dancing in the streets

It is almost like a choreographed dance to keep all the sheep in the right place in relation to their families, other families and the road. But it is a dance I am happy to entertain the audience with. And there is an audience – all along the walk are happy citizens watching with their cameras ready. For some people watching the event is something they are looking forward to all spring. It certainly is for me as a participant.

Snack time

Half-way through the walk the whole caravan stops at a big castle park for a mid-walk snack. This is vital if the sheep are going to arrive to the new pasture without sheep chaos. The walk is about 5 km, mostly on asphalt and straining for them. With a grazing break they will get enough energy to walk the last bit without trying to escape to the grass every chance they get.

Summer pastures

After about 5 km and perhaps an hour’s walk, we are finally at the summer pastures. From this moment, everything goes very fast. When all the sheep are in the pasture, they go wild. At the same time, they have to be freed from their leash collars. When that is done, the whole event is over. But for the sheep, a whole summer of grazing awaits.

Video

I made a video of the visitors in the pasture and the great sheep walk. In the photo above you can see how I have attached my phone camera with a gorilla pod wrung around my bag strap.

I published the video and blog post yesterday, but I had to unpost it due to copyright violations. I had chosen an old folk tune for the video, Hårgalåten, performed by a well known Swedish key harpist Åsa Jinder. Due to the copyright violation the video wouldn’t be able to be viewed in some countries, one of them being the U.S. So I removed the video and replaced the tune with a song by Josh Woodward, from the free music archive.

Enjoy!

Flicking tips

A ball of wool

After a discussion in a Facebook spinning group about solidified grease in the tips of a fleece, I decided to do a mini study of different ways to prepare a fleece for spinning. I have a fleece of my own that is wonderfully clean but has tips with solidified grease.

The fleece

On the last wool journey with my wool traveling club, I bought a beautiful NKS fleece. NKS stands for Norsk kvit sau: Norwegian white sheep. This is basically what crossbreds are called in Norway. The fleece I chose had a full year’s growth.

In Sweden most sheep are shorn twice a year, which naturally makes the fleece shorter. This means that the fleece shorn in the early spring is of worse quality (since all the nutrients go straight to the lamb) and usually has more vegetable matter (because the sheep have spent much of the winter indoors). The fleece shorn in the autumn has better quality (since the sheep has no lamb to nourish) and less vegetable matter (since the sheep are out grazing). So: Twice a year gives a better but shorter autumn fleece. Once a year gives a longer fleece but can be more mixed in quality.

Lanoliny tips

The fleece was wonderfully clean and shiny with staples of around 12 cm. The tips, though, were greasy. I think that the Norwegian rain had pushed all the lanolin out into the tips. I washed the fleece straight away by soaking it in rain water. It wasn’t until recently (one year after I bought the fleece) that I started processing, and by then the greasy tips had solidified.

Experiment: Flicked vs unflicked tips

I wanted to make an experiment and compare different preparation methods. First, I prepared the way I usually do with a fleece I want to comb: Loading the combs with the cut ends on the tines and combing three passes, then pulling the wool off the comb in one long top.

Combing this way was a struggle. It took a lot of muscle power to get the combs through the wool. And after three passes it was not nearly in a condition I could approve (I always do an uneven number of passes so that I pull the wool off the combs from the cut ends). So, I did five passes. Pulling the wool off the comb was also difficult, the wool was still uneven with bits of solidified gunk left. I picked as much of it out, but there was still stuff left when I spun the top, which of course interrupted my spinning flow.

When you play the videos, a captions symbol appears to the left of the settings symbol. Click or unclick the captions, depending on your preferences.

This was not a pleasant combing experience. So, I tried a different way. I flicked the solidified grease ends before combing. Combing the staples with the tip ends flick carded was a whole different experience.

A lot of gunk was left in the flicker and the floor was sprayed with gunk powder.

A floor dirty with wool waste.
Powdered gunk and gunky flicker waste.

The combing was easy and pleasant after flick carding the tips and I was perfectly happy after my usual three passes. Pulling the wool off the combs was also nice and smooth and the spinning was uninterrupted and yummy.

A skein of white handspun yarn.
A finished skein of fingering weight 2-ply NKS wool, spun with short draw from hand combed tops on a spinning wheel. 194 m, 70 g, 2766 m/kg.

I spun the skein above with both of the preparation techniques. Mostly the flicked version, though, since I only combed a couple of bird’s nests with the tips unflicked. I also knitted a swatch with the finished yarn.

A knitted swatch
A knitted swatch, 25 stitches and 39 rows in 10×10 cm

Other ways to use a flick card

This was one example where flick carding the tips made a big difference for the preparation and spinning experience. I also use my flick card for several other purposes:

  • To remove brittle tips. If I have a fleece with fine fibers and brittle tips I can use the flick card on the tip ends. The brittle tips will end up in the card instead of the yarn (as nepps).
  • To flick both ends of a staple. Sometimes I want to spin from the lock. A flick card is a good tool to separate the fibers in individual staples and spin staple by staple.
  • To tease staples before carding. This might take time, but will give a good result. Fibers that are too short, brittle or dirty will stay in the flick card and the good stuff will go to carding.

Do you use your flick card for other purposes?

Tech stuff

In these videos I have played with both narration and captions. As you may know, I want to shoot my videos outside if possible. But the area around our house is quite noisy. In the background on the other side of the lake you can see the most intense motorway in Sweden, and it makes a lot of noise. Also, we live close to a city airport and the planes fly just above our house, it’s almost like we can tickle the planes on the bellies if we stretch enough. This is why I wanted to try to narrate the clips. And I think it worked out.

In a previous video where I tested my makeshift studio, I added equally makeshift captions. Since then, my editing software has upgraded with a function for closed captioning. Yay! I think they work too.

Please let me know if there is anything of the technical stuff I can improve.

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

Shetland wool

I got wool today! Three bags full, actually. Two beautiful Shetland fleeces, one Moorit (brown) and one Eskit (dark grey).

Close-up of a brown Shetland fleece
Shetland Moorit.

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.

Just yum

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.

Close-up of a dark grey Shetland fleece
Shetland Eskit.

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.

Back in town

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.

Close-up of a nalbinding project. Mountains in the background.
Nalbinding at Postalm, Austria. Bone needle from Birka. Yarn is my handspun 3-ply from finewool/rya crossed sheep from Åsebol sheep farm.

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.

Hands spinning on a support spindle on the train.
Spinning on the train between Vienna and Salzburg. Spindle from Neal Brand, spinning disk from John Rizzi. Fluff is merino/tussah silk from Vinterverkstan.

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.

Close-up of stranded knitting. Mountains in the background.
Knitting the Bousta beanie by Gudrun Johnston, the 2017 Shetland wool week pattern. Yarn is my handspun from Shetland fleece from Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers (greens) and Jämtland sheep (grey).

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.

An old spinning wheel.
A pretty spinning wheel, next to a flax distaff.

The second vacation was in a log cabin in Tiveden in Sweden at the Åsebol sheep farm. They have finewool, Texel and Rya sheep.

Two Rya sheep, one dark grey and one white.
Beautiful 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.

A person nalbinding by a creek.
Nalbinding away by the creek.

We did some hiking there as well, and I brought the nalbinding.

Close-up of a nalbinding project by a lake.
Nalbinding again.

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.

A Turkish spindle with a country road in the background.
Spinning Finewool on a Jenkins Finch.

At the end of the week, I had spun quite a lot.

Several skeins and full spindles.
Wool production at Åsebol sheep farm: Dark grey singles (on Roosterick Navajo spindle and leftmost toilet roll), five skeins of thick singles finewool yarn spun on Navajo spindle (and all of the fluff for it combed and carded on the log cabin  porch), Shetland singles on drop spindle from Bosworth (I am planning to Navajo-ply it), Finewool on Jenkins Turkish spindle, merino/tussah silk on supported spindle from Malcolm Fielding, nalbinding mittens and some secret stuff on the rest of the toilet rolls. Photo by Dan Waltin

Two more weeks of vacation at home. And there will be spinning!

Spinning with the sheep in the pasture

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.

A person spinning on a support spindle. Two sheep are investigating the spindle
Two very curious and friendly sheep

Wool journey 2017

A flock of sheep in the pasture. The sun is shining on them.
Happy sheep at Åsebol sheep farm

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.

Five toilet rolls filled with white yarn.
Rule number one on Wool journeys: Do not throw away empty toilet paper rolls! They are needed as bobbins.

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

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.

A person filling out a form above a white fleece.
Protocol for wool assessment

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.

Hands in a white fleece. The sun is shining.
So many wonderful fleeces

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.

Kia Gabrielsson holding hand teased wool
Kia drafting for Māori knitting

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.

People sitting in a ring with hand teased lengths of wool going across them. A fleece on the floor in the middle.
Entangled in Uruahipi and Kia’s stories

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.

Close-up of a project knit with unspun yarn
Uruahipi swatch

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.

Josefin Waltin cuddling with a sheep. Dandelions and farm houses in the background.
Lots of sheep cuddling. Photo by Anna Herting

Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater

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.

Close-up of a knitted sweater with a spinning wheel pattern
The perfect 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.

Josefin Waltin shearing a sheep with hand shearers.
Shearing the finewool sheep Pia-Lotta.

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.

Video making

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.

Josefin Waltin cuddling with a sheep
Finally some sheep cuddling

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.