English longdraw

Josefin Waltin spinning on a spinning wheel

In the last video of 2018 I give you what I promised you back in March – a video about spinning English longdraw. Share it if you like it!

In July I made a video with spinning English longdraw with a quill, but that time I was using brown wool that was a bit difficult to see. This time I use white wool and I hope you can see the fiber better this time.

I’m spinning on my RoadBug spinning wheel from the Merlin tree. The fiber is Shetland wool, hand-carded rolags from combing leftovers.

The English longdraw

With the English longdraw – or double drafting – you gather twist, make an arm’s length draw, add twist and roll back onto the bobbin in one smooth motion. The technique is full of superpowers that I will dissect in this post.

Lofty and warm

Spinning English longdraw will get you a lofty and warm yarn. When sampling for a spinning project recently I tried different kinds of drafting techniques, turns per inch, thicknesses and fiber preparation. I was amazed by the difference between the “regular” (American) longdraw and the English longdraw – the English longdraw was so much softer and loftier!

A skein of white yarn
A sweet little skein spun with English longdraw. 16 g, 36 m, 2297 m/kg

A double drafting technique

When you spin with the English longdraw you use a double drafting technique:

  • After you have gathered the twist you make the draw. This first part of the double draft results in a pencil roving with a soft twist.
  • After the draw has been made, you begin the second part of the double draft by adding twist.

You can compare this to the technique used with different kinds of spindles – the Navajo spindle and the Akha spindle are two examples. A good idea to practice the English longdraw is to begin with a slower tool like a Navajo or Akha spindle. You also spin with an English londgraw on a walking wheel. The English longdraw is an excellent choice for spinning short fibers.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a spinning wheel
An arm’s length’s draw gives consistency.

Consistency

With the English longdraw you have the opportunity to spin a consistent yarn. The draw in itself helps achieve this consistency since it is quite a long draw.  In addition to that, you can make the yarn even more consistent by planning your project.

Consistency as a bonus

When you spin with an English longdraw you can make the draw as long as you like or find comfortable. This is achievable with American long draw as well. The difference is that by gathering the twist in the English longdraw and then make the draw in one motion, the twist will catch the fibers more evenly over the draft.

Consistency by design

As I wrote in the paragraph above, the length of draw in itself helps you achieve a more consistent yarn. However, you can also take advantage of this and plan for even more consistency. By aiming for the same length in every draw, you will add to that consistency. Try to get a feeling for what draw length is comfortable and stick to that length in every draw. Voilá – consistency.

You can also add to the consistency by controlling the amount of twist in every draw. I do this by having a set treadle count – I make samples of different amounts of treading and set my inner meteronome to the count that gives me the best yarn for that particular fiber. In the video I count to eight when I gather twist, make the draw and count to ten when adding twist. By doing this for every draw I will have a more consistent yarn.

It has to be said, though – no yarn will be consistent without a good preparation. I use hand-carded rolags. Hand-carding rolags takes a lot of time, but it also gives me a lot of practice. The yarn I’m spinning at the moment (not pictured)  is a 3-ply yarn. One single is 20 grams and consists of around 16 hand-carded rolags. That makes 48 rolags for one 60 gram 3-ply skein. So far I have spun 10 skeins – 480 rolags. That’s a lot of practice and 480 chances to learn new things. Think about that the next time you sigh over your hand cards.

The technique

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the technique. Spinning English longdraw is done in a four-step sequence:

  • Building up twist
  • Making the draw
  • Adding twist
  • Rolling onto the bobbin

We will look at each of the steps individually. But before you do anything, you need to make sure the wheel is ready: Bring out the oil and lubricate. Spinning English longdraw requires serious spinning wheel pampering.

Building up twist

In this first step I prepare for the draw and decide how much fiber I want in each draw. With quite a low ratio I build up twist just in front of the unspun fiber. That means that I hold the rolag carefully and treadle for a set amount of treadles. I pinch the yarn with my spinning hand just in front of the rolag so that the twist doesn’t enter the fiber. This is the only time in this technique where the spinning hand is on the yarn. The fiber hand takes care of the rest.

Making the draw

In this second step I decide the thickness of the yarn.

A lot of things happen at the same time now. I unpinch the yarn with the spinning hand and make an arm’s length draw in one single motion with my fiber hand. This lets the twist enter the unspun fiber as both fiber and twist distribute over the drawn length. I now have a pencil roving with a soft twist in it. I need to make the draw slow enough so that the yarn doesn’t break and fast enough so that the fibers still have their mobility. This of course also depends on how much twist you have built up – how many treadles you have counted to.

Adding twist

In the third step I decide how much twist I want the yarn to have. I hold the yarn in the arm’s length I have decided and count to my set treadle count.  I watch the yarn and assess it as I treadle. If I need to, I have time to make adjustments in this step.

Rolling onto the bobbin

The last step ends the just made draft and prepares for the new draft. I roll the yarn onto the bobbin in one smooth motion and pinch the yarn just in front of the rolag again, ready for the next draw.

Close-up of a person spinning on a spinning wheel
When gathering twist, I pinch the yarn with my spinning hand just in front of the rolag. The fiber hand holds the rolag loosely.

The setting

The video was shot in August at the cabin we rent at a sheep farm every summer. This was an overcast day and it was difficult to get good colour quality. To compensate for the overexposed pasture in the background, I have focused extra on the sound – the music, the running stream and an occasional baah.

A lofty yarn spun with English longdraw

Happy holiday spinning!


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Nalbinding socks

A pair of striped socks in backlight

One of my favourite textile techniques is nalbinding. I have made lots of mittens in nalbinding and showed you glimpses of the technique. In this post, though, I go a bit deeper into the world of nalbinding. This is my first pair of nalbinding socks.

An ancient technique

Nalbinding  is a simple technique where you seam with a blunt wooden or bone needle with your thumb as your gauge. It is an ancient technique, dating back at least to the Viking age, but probably further back in pre-history. It is basically a sewing technique, since the thread goes in loops through each other. There is no way to rip the seam, you have to pick it up stitch by stitch. When you are out of yarn, you simply join in a new yarn and felt it together by rolling the ends together between your palms with the addition of a little saliva. Perfect for handspun yarns! It might be a good idea to practice joins in a subtle way if you are amongst people. I am a master of subtle joins. The resulting fabric is dense and sturdy and lasts for a long time. If you waulk your project, it will basically last forever.

Stitches for all tastes

While the basic technique stays the same, there are lots of different stitches to choose from. In the beginning, I chose between the few stitches I could get access to in a leftie description. After the initial learning period, I advanced to the whole spectrum of stitches and learned how to make them from the right-handed descriptions. Lately, I have made most projects in the Dalby stitch.

Close up of nalbinding
Nalbinding close-up using the Dalby stitch. The technique leaves a sturdy fabric, perfect for socks and mittens.

I love the rhythm of the Dalby stitch – pick, pick, over, under, back in a cross and under again, hold the threads with your thumb and pull the yarn to a new thumb loop. It is like a choreographed dance. It also makes a quite dense and firm fabric, great for mittens and socks.

Here is a quick tutorial of the Dalby stitch from a leftie’s perspective.

Mittens for everyone

I have nalbound (?) several pairs of mittens for me and my family. It is quite easy, beginning with a small spiral worm, increasing until you have a suitable circumference and keep spiraling until you have reached the proper length. A hole and gusset (with decreases) for the thumb of course and then you just add the thumb. Increasing, decreasing, hole and plain stitches. The challenging part is the waulking. I’ll get to that later.

Nalbinding socks

This time I wanted to try to make a pair of nalbinding socks. The technique is the same, a spiral worm to start with, increasing until a proper circumference, plain stitch and a big hole for the heel. Continue the spiral in plain stitch until you have the desired length. The new part for me this time was the heel. I started the heel at the hole and decreased until I only had a small hole left, and then I just closed it with a few stitches.

Stripes!

I had seen lots of beautiful striped nalbound mittens and socks and decided that it was time for me to investigate that level. Also, I wasn’t sure there would be enough yarn for single colour socks. After I had made my first spiral worm, I just added another colour. With this technique, I could only bind one round at a time, until the end of the round of the previous colour. This helped me keep track of the rounds and make sure both socks looked the same (I always make both mittens/socks at the same time to keep track of my increases and decreases).

The material

I used two needles, one in bone, bought at the museum at Birka, and one in elm, which I have carved myself. It is a bit too short, but I still love it.

The white yarn is a 3-ply yarn I originally spun (woolen) for a blanket. It is a rya/finewool cross. I also used the yarn for a pair of nalbound mittens for my brother-in-law as a thank you for arranging and playing the music for my video Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl. And as it turned out, I had some yarn left. Rya wool is long and silky and finewool soft and crimpy, a good combination in a cross. The dark grey yarn is 2-ply (worsted) from a crimpy and long-stapled Shetland Eskit fleece.

Pieces of scrap yarn
The nalbinding part is over and all the ends have been woven in.

Waulking

As I wrote earlier, I have made lots of pairs of nalbound mittens. And they have all ended up too long after waulking. Only recently, it occurred to me that nalbinding material shrinks more widthwise than lengthwise. This means that I need to make the mittens proportionally wider to be able to waulk them to a proper size both lengthwise and widthwise. I can tolerate some margin of error in a pair of mittens, but socks need to fit. So, waulking the socks was a challenge.

 

A person waulking a garment on a waulking board.
Waulking away with my waulking board.

Waulking takes time at the beginning.

Close-up of a hand waulking a garment on a waulking board
Still waulking.

Lots of time.

A person waulking socks on the feet.
And waulking some more.

Suddenly, magic happens and you can see the waulked character of the fabric. I am thankful that the different yarns waulked relatively in the same manner.

A pair of waulked nalbinding socks on a waulking board.
The waulking is finished!

Final touches

I had made a slit in the top of the sock shaft to make it easier to put them on. After the socks had dried from the waulking, I added a simple blanket stitch.

A pair of striped socks hanging on a wash line
Waulked socks with a simple blanket stitch edging.

Now, my feet are ready for my hiking boots!

Featured photo by Dan Waltin

A Shetland hap

A person standing behind a stretched Shetland Hap

As I have written in an earlier post, one of my favourite knitting designers is Kate Davies. In her book The book of Haps she has a pattern of a beautiful square Shetland hap, called Moder Dy. When I saw it, I immediately felt that it needed me. After months of knitting and spinning, it is finally finished!

Josefin Waltin standing at the end of a stretched Shetland hap.
Beautiful natural colours on a Shetland hap. I love the variegated Mooskit garter center square. Photo by Dan Waltin.

A hap stretcher to match

Knitting a big shawl like a Shetland hap and making it justice requires proper blocking. And the Shetland way fo doing that is with a hap stretcher. These are very hard to come by and difficult to ship since they are quite large. As it turned out, the hap stretcher needed me too. Fortunately, Kate Davies has an excellent hap stretcher tutorial on her blog.

So, this fall I put on my best carpenter’s suit and started drilling.

Lots of holes.

176 holes.

Eventually I was done drilling, did a little sanding and varnishing and became the proud mother of a brand new hap stretcher.

A person drilling holes on a piece of timber.
Drilling away on my hap stretcher. Photo by Dan Waltin

Shetland all the way

Since the Moder Dy is a typical Shetland hap, I wanted to use Shetland wool for the yarn. After getting tired of spinning up my earlier Shetland fleeces as 2-ply fingering weight yarn, I had spun a few skeins as 3-ply sport weight yarn. I had white, Shaela (light gray), Yuglet and Eskit (dark grays), all from the treasure room for hand spinners at Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers. I have combed the fiber and spun with short draw to define the lace pattern. I planned this quality for the lace edge and shell border.

A skein of white yarn
Shetland white, hand combed and spun with short draw and 3-plied. Strong and defined for lace knitting.

For the garter middle I used a Mooskit (light fawn) fleece that I carded and spun with long draw to make it soft and warm. One of the wonderful benefits of handspinning is that I can customize the yarn for my knitting needs.

A ball of light fawn yarn
A ball of Shetland Mooskit yarn. Hand carded and spun with long draw and 3-plied. Soft and fuzzy for a warm garter center square.

Using what I have

I spun some more 3-ply and started knitting the lace edge in light gray. When I had finished half of the lace edging, I realized that I didn’t have enough light gray yarn. I also didn’t have any more light gray fluff. So I simply changed to a dark gray Shetland yarn. I mean, I can’t be the first one to have run out of fluff  and I’m sure there are other creative solutions for this problem that have resulted in stunning designs. I read once that having limitations actually forces you to be more creative since you need to find a solution within certain boundaries.

Josefin Waltin standing by a stretched Shetland hap.
It’s a really big hap. Here you can see the two different colours of the lace edging. Can you see the trees through the garter stitch middle?  Photo by Dan Waltin.

Spinning as I run out of yarn

This Shetland hap is really huge and It ‘s amazing how much yarn is required. I have spun up more as I have run out of yarn. Since the rows of the shell border are about 500 stitches long in the beginning, one 50 g skein may last only for about 5 rows. Every time I have thought I didn’t need any more yarn, I have realized I was wrong. Way wrong.

Big and heavy knitting

Knitting this hap has been an adventure and it’s wonderful to be in the best seat to see the development. Naturally, the project has grown bigger and bigger and when I knit the last part (the garter middle) I was totally covered under a heavy hap monster.

Total weight: 1055 g

Total meterage: 1909 m

Close-up of a hand knit shawl.
Close-up of the garter stitch center and the auld shell border.  Photo by Dan Waltin.

The pattern called for a sport weight yarn, but the my yarn is for the most part a bit thicker than that. Which also meant that the hap stretcher was a bit too small – had it been bigger I would have been able to stretch the fabric and define the pattern even more in the blocking.

Close-up of a lace shawl
Close-up of the lace edging.  Photo by Dan Waltin.

As always, I have learned a lot from this project. All in all, I’m hap happy!

New video: Spinning through the seasons

a few skeins of handspun yarn on a tree trunk

I have a new spinning video for you today. It took me a necessary while to finish it.

I wanted to make a video where the seasonal change plays a major part. So I chose to make as few changes as possible, to let the seasons shine in all their glory. I chose to film everything on the same location, a tree trunk in a grove outside our house. While the spot and the spinning are the same, all that changes is the nature around me. I filmed whenever I thought the nature had changed enough to make a difference compared to the last filming. I focused on new flowers, seed capsules and changing colours of leaves. I love the first wood anemone/vitsippa in april and Marathon lily/Krollilja with its delicate flower in July and the seed capsule in August.

The tree was cut down quite recently, and when I chose the spot in early spring I didn’t really know how the ground would look like in high summer. It turned out to be a favourite spot for a nasty and invasive weed (ground elder/kirskål). It grew so high I couldn’t even find the trunk in July, so I had to cheat a little and use the weed wacker. I can highly recommend ground elder soup, though!

People sometimes have favourite seasons. I hope you find yours. Enjoy!

Navajo spindle is from Roosterick

Fiber is my hand carded wool from Shetland wool and Swedish finewool.

Knitting pattern for sweater is the Fileuse pattern by Valerie Miller, yarn is my handspun

Knitting pattern for shawl is the Marin shawl by Ysolda Teague, yarn from Wollmeise

Knitting pattern for hat is the Crofthoose hat by Ella Gordon, yarn is my handspun

Up close in the microscope

Wool fibers seen through a microscope

The other day I had a spinning date with my friend Anna and her cousin Helena. We had a great time spinning and chatting away. Anna also brought her microscope. I had brought staples from all my current fleeces and I went bananas with the microscope. Here are some examples.

First up is the Swedish finewool, one of my favourite breeds. I think the staple is from the neck, it is very short and fine. You can see the crimp in the microscope and how fine the fiber is. There is a lot of air trapped between the winding fibers. I want to keep this air when I spin it, to make a warm and soft yarn. Therefore I spin it with long draw from hand-carded rolags.

Three staples of white, crimpy wool
Swedish finewool
White wool seen through a microscope
Swedish finewool in the microscope

Next up is white superfine Shetland wool, long staples of fine and crimpy fibers. In this comparison, though, the finewool looks finer than the Shetland wool, and slightly crimpier. And I can see some peat between the Shetland fibers! It is appealing to spin it with long draw to keep the air in. However, these fibers are very long and they work better with the combs to make a strong and shiny yarn with short draw. Any shorter fibers or comb leftovers will be carded and spun with long draw, though.

Two staples of white crimpy wool
White Shetland
White wool seen through a microscope. There are pieces of peat in the wool.
White Shetland in the microscope

For comparison, here is a Leicester staple, with completely different characteristics. The fibers are long and shiny and with waves more than crimp. In the microscope you can see only straight fibers and they seem a bit coarser than the Shetland and finewool samples. It is easy to imagine these fibers organized parallel in a strong yarn. I have spun this yarn with short forward draw from hand- combed tops into a strong and shiny warp yarn.

A staple of wavy wool
Leicester wool
white wool seen through a microscope
Leicester wool in the microscope

This is so much fun!

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

Epiphany

close-up of a person spinning on a spinning wheel

I just had a moment, a realisation. A moment to cherish and save in my treasure bank like a piece of beautifully wrapped candy.

You know when you make something and it doesn’t feel right, and then you make a subtle change and suddenly everything falls into place. In spinning it can be about the length of the draft, the rhythm of the treadling or the amount of fiber drafted.

This just happened. I’m spinning a Shetland fleece I bought this summer. It is very soft and crimpy and has a very long staple. I have realized that there is a bit too much lanolin left in it, it doesn’t flow right. I have made adaptations so that the combing flows easier, but the spinning wasn’t the way I wanted it to be and it bothered me. The flow wasn’t really there and the fiber told me so: “It isn’t wrong, but it definitely isn’t right either”. Until I made that liberating change that made such a difference. It wasn’t much, just a lighter hold with my spinning hand. And suddenly there was flow. It was as though the fiber said to me “yeah, you’ve got it now!”. I had found the key to how the fiber wanted to be spun.

The beauty of this is, that the process of spinning itself allows you to really contemplate and reflect over this while you are spinning, which makes the experience even more powerful. I feel like I have had a shot of vitamin Spin.

Namaste.

Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl

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.

Josefin Waltin sitting outside by the spinning wheel. There are garden chairs around her with smartphones attached to them for filming.
In the studio, with garden chairs as camera stands. Photo by Dan Waltin

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.

Josefin Waltin standing in field with plaid shawl over her arm, sheep in the background.
The finished shawl. Photo by Dan Waltin

For tools and designers, see this post. For a connection to Outlander, look here.

The non-Blanka pillowcase

The non-Blanka pillowcase

A while ago I finished my first pillowcase, Blanka. It was a real struggle with felting warp and broken threads. I managed to finish it though, and now it has its place in our couch. When I dyed the yarn, I also dyed some Shetland that I had spun in basically the same way – 2-ply worsted spun from hand-combed tops and singles woolen spun on a Navajo spindle from carded rolags.

I was curious to see if this weave would be less of a struggle than the first one. The difference was remarkable. It was a joy to weave. First of all, I had a couple of projects with double weaving in my experience bank and second of all, it was a much more cooperative yarn.

Non-Blanka and Blanka pillowcases together

Every project has its own story, so has this one. In July, my family and I were preparing for a trip to Austria. I had packed all my necessary knitting and spinning projects. On the morning of our departure, I got a text saying that the flight had been cancelled due to a tornado at Vienna airport. We managed to book a flight 36 hours later. So, suddenly we had lots of time to kill. I chose to spend that time warping my loom for the non-Blanka pillowcase! I started, but towards the end I realized that there wasn’t enough green warp yarn. Well, there was some more, but in another project, that was packed in my suitcase. So I decided to use a light warp thread for the last 5 cm. It looked nice and it was also a reminder of the extra day we had at home before we left for Austria.

When we got home from Austria I had finished the project that had the missing green warp yarn and I decided to use it in the pillowcase as a weft yarn to match the first odd stripe. And I like the result!

Non-Blanka and Blanka pillowcases, like two peas in a pod.

Three pillows left in the couch to transform. I’m thinking twill!