Portuguese spindle: Comments

A Portuguese spindle

In an earlier post on Portuguese spindles, I left many questions unanswered. I have looked for facts about the Portuguese spindle and spinning technique but haven’t found much. Until I got an e-mail.

Along came Alice

Alice is the owner of Saber Fazer, where I bought my Portuguese spindle. She also sells tools for flax processing, dye plant seeds, wool from local Portuguese sheep breeds, and she hosts workshops (I am not getting paid to write this). Alice was kind enough to answer many of my questions regarding Portuguese spindles and spinning. She cares deeply about the spindles and manual fiber processing. A kindred spirit.

Spindle design and function

While the spindles are made by a local drumstick maker, Alice hand carves all the spiral grooves herself. She says it is important to get the groove deep enough that the yarn stays in it. She has lots of antique spindles that she has based her design on.

Models, materials and techniques

A deep and well made groove makes it possible to spin with a short suspension. Many antique Portuguese spindles have a metal tip. Because it is made out of metal, it can be very thin. With a thin tip, the spindle will spin more rounds with one roll with the spinning hand. A metal tip rarely allows for short suspension, since the groove isn’t deep enough for the yarn to stay. However, the low friction of the metal makes it possible for the spindle to spin freely against the fingers for short moments.

spindles

In the image you can see some of Alice’s antique spindles, some of them with a metal tip. But only one of these is really good to spin with (third from the right) – it has a very neatly carved tip and a perfect weight. She says you can tell that the original owner used the spindle well.

The metal tipped spindles are very difficult to come by, though. There are antique spindles left with this design, but few of them are still spinnable. There are also modern ones, but Alice writes that they usually are made for decoration and not spinning. She has tried to make spindles with metal tips, but she hasn’t been able to make them with a groove. Yet.

To distaff or not to distaff

In Portugal, Alice writes that spinners spin both with and without a distaff. Mostly spinners who spin in-hand style without letting go of the spindle spin without a distaff. Spinning with short suspension is oftentimes done with a belt distaff. For flax spinning, you will need a distaff to keep the fiber organized.

Fiar com a D.Benta from Saber Fazer on Vimeo.

This spinner, Benta, is using a belt distaff. I am not quite sure about the spinning technique, but it seems like there are short sequences of short suspension.

Cop and belly

When I started spinning on my Portugues spindle, I was used from my medieval style spindles to start the cop quite high on the shaft. Alice writes that I will get a better momentum with the cop lower and with a more prominent belly.  In this video with Adelaide you can see the positioning and the shape of the cop.

Fiar o Linho com a Adelaide / Adelaide spinning flax from Saber Fazer on Vimeo.

You can also see that she is using a metal tipped spindle and how easily and beautifully the spindle rolls in her hand. It is such a beautiful video. I may need to get back to this video in another post on flax spinning, it is such a wonderful document of traditional flax spinning. And I do love the Portuguese language.

Spinning with a Portuguese spindle – Ilídia Oliveira from Saber Fazer on Vimeo.

In this third video with Ilidia you can see the shape of the cop with a prominent belly (in oh-so-pretty backlight). This is also an example with both long and short suspension.

In this post on Alice’s blog you can read more about the spinners and watch a few more clips of beautiful spinning and spindles.

Muito obrigada, Alice!

Two balls of yarn in backlight
Yarn in backlight. Hard to beat. Spun on a Portuguese spindle with distaff.

Medieval style spinning

Josefin Waltin spinning with a spindle and distaff, dressed in medieval costume

Since I started spinning with in-hand spindles and distaff in the beginning of the year, I have wanted to make a medieval style spinning video. I did actually make a short video in the cold winter, but it was a great challenge to work with cold lanolin and stiff hands. I realized that I had to wait for spring to make a proper video.

Medieval assistance

While waiting for spring to happen, I talked to my friend Maria. She is a medieval enthusiast and reenactor of epic proportions. She is also one half of Historical textiles and a mean plant dyer and weaver. I asked her if she was willing to help me with the videography and contemporary costume and she was happy to do it.

We synced our calendars and decided on a date to shoot the medieval video. Lucky for us, the agreed occasion turned out to be a beautiful spring day. It was also quite windy, which made our dresses and wimples ripple flatteringly in the wind.

Two women dressed in medieval clothes, spinning and combing wool
Maria and I on the set, crafting away

The costume

Maria came with a huge backpack filled with medieval clothing, all hand sewn by her. Everything else was also hand made – wool combs, belt, hair pins, wimple pins and shoes. It was such an honour to wear all these hand made treasures. I got a sturdy hand woven linen robe (which doesn’t show) and on top of that an indigo dyed woolen dress. An intricately arranged linen headdress, a hand woven belt and hand made shoes. I added the string with spindle whorls. Despite the warm weather, the clothing felt quite airy and comfortable and I never got too hot (or a sun burn). That’s natural materials for ya! Maria says the costume dates to the high fashion of the 1360’s in today’s Northern Germany or Scandinavia.

Josefin Waltin in medieval clothing
Woolen dress (with a linen robe underneath) and linen wimple. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Shooting

We shot the whole video in a nearby forest. The thinly leather soled shoes were very smooth and it was a challenge to get around in the slopes of the forest without slipping. It was not that kind of video I was looking for. I also got a severe thigh rash. Medieval women must have had very thick inner thigh skin. Or perhaps they didn’t have hearty biker thighs.

As we walked to and from the set, we met lots of Saturday strollers. In the typical Stockholm way (never, never, ever stare at or comment on anything out of the ordinary, just roll your eyes when you are sure no one can see you), many people passed us without any comment, but a few people did stop to ask us about what we were up to. They were curious about our costumes, how they were made, when they were from etc. Some people asked if we were nuns. Maria explained that we were regular people from the time around 1360. Nuns dressed in the latest fashion, so this is how they dressed back then. They have just stuck with that fashion ever since, at least the Bridgettines.

The tools

In the video, I spin on spindles from Hershey fiber arts and NiddyNoddyUK. They both have spiral notched tips. The whorls on the spindles are from Pallia. On the leather string in my belt you can see additional whorls from Pallia, John Rizzi and Hershey fiber arts. Both distaffs are my own hand carved. On the belt distaff I have arranged hand carded wool from a prize winning Värmland fleece (just like in this video) and on the hand distaff there is hand carded comb leftovers from Shetland sheep.

Spinning and drafting

When I spin on a medieval style in-hand spindle, I tend to start by using a proper in-hand style and not let go of the spindle. When I feel I have enough twist, I let go of the spindle and use a very short suspension and let the tip of the spindle rest against my thumb. This way I can grab the spindle quickly whenever I need to.

If I use a hand distaff I usually keep the yarn straight by moving my distaff hand away from the spindle. If I use a belt distaff I tend to wrap the yarn onto my distaff hand to keep the yarn from slacking and still hold the spindle in a comfortable position. You can see both these techniques in the video.

Josefin Waltin spinning with a spindle and distaff, dressed in medieval clothing
In-hand spinning with a hand distaff.

In my latest in-hand spinning video, someone asked me if I’m drafting with my left (fiber) hand or if I’m just pulling with my right (spinning) hand. When I spin with a hand distaff, there isn’t much room for the fingers to draft. But even with a belt distaff, I’m not drafting very much. I just let the fibers settle themselves in the twist with the draft of my spindle hand. That usually works just fine when I have prepared the fleece myself (which I usually do) and left just the right amount of lanolin in it to assist my drafting. Perhaps I would use my fiber hand for drafting if I were to use a short draw. I haven’t tried that yet, though.

A 3-ply yarn and two medieval style spindles
3-ply yarn spun on a medieval style spindle and distaff from hand carded batts. 49 g, 97 m, 1981 m/kg. Soft and fluffy as a cloud. Spindle shafts and whorls from Hershey fiber arts and John Rizzi.

I hope you enjoy the video. I (we) certainly enjoyed making it.

Happy spinning!

 

French spindle

A spindle with yarn and a distaff with wool

I have a new spindle! I didn’t mean for it to happen so fast, though. Today I present to you my French spindle.

Spindle of the month

I have allowed myself to buy one spindle or spinning tool and one book per month. This month it was the Portuguese spindle. I started planning to buy next month’s spindle. I wanted to buy a French spindle and realized that there weren’t any in Europe. So I contacted Neil at NiddyNoddyUK in Wales and asked him if he could make me one, I had noticed in his Etsy store that he had sold some in the past. He was happy to do it. I also asked for a matching ring distaff, because why not? I figured that it would take him a while and I would get it in time for next month. But he had them ready for me the next day, and now I suddenly have them here in my hand. And since I do, I allow myself to use them, even though I’m not supposed to have them yet.

Unboxing pleasure

I love opening spindle parcels. There is so much anticipation – how will the spindle be protected, has the sender thought of reducing plastic in their shipping, will there be a card etc. I love it when the sender combines an environmentally smart package material with the receiver’s eagerness to start spinning straight away. This was a good package. The spindles were protected with sweet Lleyn wool and packed in tissue paper with fancy tape. No plastic as far as the eye could see. Now, that’s a beautiful spindle unwrapping experience.

 

A spindle and distaff on a bed of wool.
French spindle and ring distaff in pear, by NiddyNoddyUK.

French vs Portuguese spindles

The French spindle has lots of similarities with the Portuguese spindle. They are both made out of one piece of wood and they have no whorl. As far as I know the Portuguese spindles always have spiral notches while the French usually do, but they can also have a hook. They can both be made completely out of wood or with a metal tip. While the Portuguese spindle has its belly quite low, the French spindle has a belly just below the middle of the spindle length. The French spindles can be slightly more ornamented than the usually plain, pear-shaped Portuguese.

A French spindle and a ring distaff
Spindle, distaff and wool.

French spindles can have an interchangeable metal cap with a spiral notch. This way a spinner needs only one cap for several spindles. Lots of models of French spindles can be seen at the spindle typology index at the university of Innsbruck. I’m not sure I totally agree with their use of the terms drop spindle and support spindle, though. But the pictures are very valuable and they give us a unique insight in the spinning history of France.

Spinning on a French spindle

There is very little information on how the French spindles were used. Sylvie Dame has been a collector of antique French spindles and documentation for many years and she has quite a large collection. She says that collecting these spindles helps her understand how they were used. She argues that the reason why there is so little information about the usage of these spindles is that spinning used to be such a common daily activity for women and girls and therefore there was no need to write anything down.

From the few clips that I have seen, it seems reasonable to spin the French spindle similarly as the Portuguese or other in-hand spindles. That also makes sense when you look at images of French spindle spinning.

New video

Of course I needed to make a video about it. It was the first warm day of spring. Turn on the volume and listen to the sound of nature. Listen closer, and hear the quiet patter of the yarn against the tip of the spindle.

In the video I’m using the ring distaff I ordered with the spindle. As far as I know, these two are not historically or regionally connected, I just wanted/needed a ring distaff and it’s just what I used for this video. My using the ring distaff together with the French spindle is thus totally unorthodox. I can live with that, though.

Do you have a French spindle, antique or modern? Do you know anything about French spindles or spinning on French spindles? Is there a historical connection between the French and Portuguese spindles?Please let me know in the comments!

Happy spinning!

Portuguese spindle

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Portuguese spindle and distaff

I have a new spindle! I am smitten with distaff spinning bug, as you may have noticed on my recent posts on medieval style spinning and distaff carving. The spindle I bought is a Portuguese spindle. I ordered it from Saber Fazer in Portugal and it arrived just a couple of days ago.

Pretty package

There is something about the experience of opening something and revealing its content. It becomes so obvious if the sender has put their heart and soul in the package. When I opened the postal bag, I found two smaller paper bags, stamped with the brand and a sheep. Both bags were taped with fancy tape.

Two white paper bags with sheep on them
Pretty paper bags

Inside were, except for the spindle and wool, a thank you card and a postcard with botanical style flax anatomy on it. So simple, yet so heartwarming and effective. Organic too, there was no plastic at all, except for the bubble wrap on the inside of the postal bag.

Close-up of a spindle with the text Saber Fazer
Details, details

The spindle

The Portuguese spindle is quite simple in its appearance, just a pear shaped spindle with a spiraled notch.

Two paper bags with wool and a spindle
Beautifully wrapped spinning tools

The spiral starts in the center of the tip of the shaft so that the yarn stays securely in place. The spindle is made from unfinished maple. The spindle weighs 32 g and is about 30 cm.

I haven’t found much information about the Portuguese spindle. There are some images and a bit of info on the spindle index at the university of Innsbruck.

Close-up of the end of a spindle
The groovy groove

The fiber I got together with the spindle is from a local Portuguese sheep breed called Campaniça. I haven’t found any information about them. The wool is quite bouncy and has a nice resist. It is machine carded and without lanolin. I also got a smaller piece of brown combed fiber, which I think may be Portuguese merino.

Dressing the distaff

I dressed one of my hand distaffs with the Campaniça wool. I just rolled it around the distaff so that the direction of the fibers were perpendicular to the drafting. That way I would get a lofty yarn in a woolen-ish sort of drafting technique. I did try to spin the combed brown fiber with the fibers parallel to the drafting, but it was quite difficult and I got lots of lumps.

The spinning

I haven’t found much information on either the Portuguese spindle or the technique, just a few short video clips. The clips show spinning with and without a distaff. I chose to use a distaff because I think it organizes the fiber better. In retrospect, maybe I should have used a belt distaff, since it would make it easier to draft than from the hand distaff.

At first I was quite frustrated, since there wasn’t much action in the spinning. But when I got a bit of yarn onto the spindle, it spun easier. I spun in-hand to draft out the fiber and with short suspension to add twist. I haven’t seen any short suspension in the videos of Portuguese spindle spinning, though. In one description of the technique it said that the spindle never leaves the spinner’s hand, so maybe I spin in an unorthodox way when I spin with a short suspension.

Spring is here!

As I wrote earlier, I’m eagerly awaiting spring so that I can spin outdoors again and make videos. Well, spring is here and so is my first spinning video!

Portuguese spindle and fiber from Saber Fazer and hand distaff is from Hershey fiber arts. Shawl is my handspun and hand woven, featured in my YouTube video Slow fashion – from sheep to shawl.

Happy spinning!

Distaff carving

Close-up of a person carving

A couple  of weeks ago I had a distaff carving day!

The lime avenue

We have a beautiful old lime-tree avenue just outside our house. Ever since someone told me that lime is a perfect carving wood I have longed to get out and make distaffs for in-hand spinning. It has been a cold un-spring so far and far too cold to carve outdoors. According to the weather report, it was supposed to be a little less cold a couple of weeks ago. I prepared to get out and saw the branches down on Saturday morning.

Saturday came, and when I peeked out from behind the curtains, it was a sunny day. I was out the door at nine and got some low hanging branches. I had big plans to sit in the March sun and carve, but the sun got shy and hid behind the clouds, resulting in quite a cold carving session.

Three distaffs

I made three distaffs for different purposes – one 30 cm hand distaff, one 100 cm belt distaff and one 120 cm floor distaff. The lengths are just as I want them. The floor distaff may be a bit too short, though. Or perhaps I just have to get used to the floor distaff spinning technique.

Three hand carved distaffs
Distaffs for belt, floor and hand.

The carving was wonderful – the bark just peeled off  like butter and it was a very nice feeling to carve in fresh wood from such a soft and carving friendly material. I managed to carve all three distaffs without any personal injuries (I did ruin the first hand distaff, though), just a cut in my thumb nail, you can see it in the featured image. Boy, they are practical. Nails, I mean.

I did nothing fancy, I just followed the shape of the sticks and made a few notches at the top to hold the fiber better. There was a small branch at the bottom end of the hand distaff, which I took advantage of to make a more ergonomic handle.

A hand holding a hand distaff
A branch bump fits perfectly in my hand

I carved and carved, made little embellishments and improved imperfections. I didn’t want to stop carving. Why would you want to let a raw, natural material out of your hand?

Dressed for success

I have dressed the two longer distaffs with Värmland wool and given them a test run. They work very well. I will make another skein of the yarn I made in a winter video of in-hand spinning in medieval style. Blog post about the video here.

A distaff dressed with grey wool
Dressed floor distaff. Wool is from Värmland sheep, spindle from NiddyNoddyUK and whorl from Pallia.

I like that the distaffs are organically shaped and the fact that I have to adapt myself to the natural shape of the distaffs. They feel more alive that way.

Happy crafting!

Waiting for spring

Josefin Waltin knitting outdoors

I long

Spring is taking its sweet time in Sweden this year. We’re almost at spring equinox and it was -8°C when I got up this morning. It does get warmer in the sun and the birds are singing very spring-like, but there is still snow and degrees below zero during a big part of the day. My whole being is waiting for spring to happen. I long to get out and craft. I have videos to shoot, outdoor knitting to be enjoyed, distaffs to carve and a whole allotment to cultivate. But it’s still too cold for the lanolin and my hands and I can’t put seeds in a frozen ground.

So I do what I can.

I make

I’m knitting away on my twined knitting mittens.  It is a slow and mindful knitting and I love how the whole range of greys are displayed in the fabric. I had my outdoor knitting premiere the other day (featured image), listening to the birds chirping and the dripping of melting snow from the roofs. It was quite lovely.

I finished spinning a fleece that had been waiting for over 18 months to be spun. It was a soft and beautiful Värmland fleece. But it had quite a lot of second cuts and vegetable matter. It was also very dark and difficult to see when preparing and spinning. All these things made me reluctant to spin the fleece. At the same time I felt guilty about not spinning it. But I finally gathered my energy to do it. It turned out to be quite a nice (wheel) spin, despite the dark colour, and I turned into four skeins of strong and lustrous warp yarn.

Three skeins of dark handspun yarn
The Värmland 2-ply warp yarn, 186 g and 306 m (four skeins), about 1600 m/kg.

I also finished an in-hand spinning yarn, the one I started in this video. It is the same fleece as in the twined knitting mittens, but I used the shorter staples and spun them woolen from hand-carded rolags. It came out quite differently compared to the twined knitting yarn.

A skein of grey handspun yarn
2-ply Värmland yarn, 45 g, 105 m, 2300 m/kg. Spun woolen on an in-hand-spindle from hand-carded rolags.

I found my way back to a rigid heddle weave I started before Christmas. It it yet another pillowcase (such a good practice project). This time in 3-shaft. The warp is 2-ply Leicester, worsted spun (wheel) from hand-combed tops and then dyed. The weft is Shetland singles, spun from hand-carded rolags on a Navajo spindle. It was lovely to weave in the spring sun in the kitchen, but I really wanted to be able to weave outdoors.

A rigid heddle weave with blue warp and dark grey weft
The beginning of a pillowcase

I plan

I am planning this season’s videos. There are lots of ideas in my head – more in-hand spinning of different kinds and in different environments, perhaps some flax spinning. I have promised a video on how I spin English long draw on a spinning wheel. I am also thinking something towards mindfulness and meditation.

I’m also planning to make online spinning courses. This is a bigger project and it has to take its time to get a good result. A lot of you are far away from me and my local courses and this is a way to solve the distance issue. If you are interested in taking an upcoming online course, please let me know what you would like and how.

There is still time for you to make requests for upcoming videos. What would you like to see learn, explore?

Happy spinning!


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Wip series: First z-ply skein finished

A skein of grey yarn rolled up into a bundle.

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

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

Characteristics

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

Technique

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

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

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

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

Next step

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

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

Happy spinning!

Wip series: First spindle full

A spindle full of grey yarn

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

One finished, three to go

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

A challenging spin

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

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

Beautiful greys

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

Happy spinning, both clockwise and counter-clockwise!

Wip series: Preparing for twined knitting

A spindle with light gray yarn

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

Rediscovering an old technique

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

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

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

The responsibility of saving a textile treasure

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

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

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

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

Inspiration

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

A new project

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

A lock of Värmland wool
A prize winning Värmland lamb fleece

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

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

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

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

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

Happy spinning!

Spinning direction part 3: Historical spinning direction

An archaeological textile find

So far in the series of spinning direction we have looked at the hand movements and the physiology of spindle spinning. We have also looked at the results of a spinning poll. In this post, we will look back in time at how spun yarn has been used in textiles historically to find a clue to spinning habits today.

Archaeological finds

When it comes to archaeological finds of spinning there are tons of metal, clay or stone spindle whorls to look at. But when it comes to organic materials like wood  and textile fibers, most of them have disintegrated through time. But there are still some finds. With a quick Google search, it seems like most textile finds before medieval times were woven with a z/clockwise spun warp and weft. From the medievals most finds were woven with clockwise warp and counter-clockwise weft (sources here and here). In some of the sources there are also a connection between handedness and spinning direction (here and here). This is also confirmed by Maria Neijman, craft consultant in Stockholm and co-founder of Historical textiles.

A closeup of an archaeological textile find.
An archaeological textile find from Uppsala, Sweden around 1300–1490. The find can be seen at the Swedish history museum. Photo by Maria Neijman.

Looking at a textile find

Looking a bit closer at the featured photo (by Maria Neijman), we see that it is a twill weave with a z-spun warp and s-spun weft. The warp is quite tightly spun, with an angle at about 60–70°. The weft is looser, around 40–50°. The weft is also more unevenly spun with both thick and thin spots. For the weave to hold in the loom, the warp needs to be strong. The weft, on the other hand, can be more loosely spun.

What can we derive from the textile history?

If spinning direction in the medievals has a connection to handedness, can it be the case that spinners (of whom around 80–90 % were and are righthanded) have spun most of the yarn clockwise (pulling) because it was more ergonomic for the spinner? The quality of the weft is not as important as the warp when it comes to strength. Is it possible that the counter-clockwise spun weft was looser and more unevenly spun because it was less natural for the righthanded spinner to spin counter-clockwise (pushing)?

What about the lefties?

I am a leftie, and I know that many lefties have had to do things awkwardly. In the crafts lessons at school I wasn’t taught how to crochet since the teacher didn’t know how to teach me. Many leftie friends have had the same experience. With this background, one side of me is a bit annoyed at this biased righthanded history of spinning. But another, much bigger side of me is fascinated at how much we can learn about spinning from looking at textile finds. I am also grateful that I know more now about possible reasons for my spinning cramp and the fact that I can change hands or spinning directions.

Is this true?

We do not know if any of this is true, we can only make more or less qualified guesswork. But somehow it seems logical, and it gives me a peace of mind to know that it may be true. Most commercial yarns today are z-spun and s-plied. Can this be a remnant from the spinning habits of medieval spindle spinners? This thought is thrilling and gives me goosebumps.

This was the last post in this first blog post series. I hope you have enjoyed it!