Little bands

I have several little bands in my project basket that are only half-finished. The other week I decided to actually finish six little bands, in four different techniques.

My problem is that inspiration jumps me from behind and craves all my attention and I jump from one unfinished object to another. On the one hand I like having parallel projects. If I get tired of one I can always work on another and then get the mojo back for the first one. Working in different techniques is also a good way to stay our of strain. But I can also get very stressed knowing I have several unfinished projects in my basket, not to mention all my ideas for unstarted projects. It feels very good to finish some sweet little bands.

Little bands

Once you start weaving bands you realize there is always a need for one. Even if you don’t necessarily know the practical purpose of the band as you create it there will come a time when that very band is the perfect candidate for a job.

Six little bands have been the loveliest companions on inner and outer journeys this summer.

The more obvious purpose of the band is of course the making of it – spending time with a small, often handspun, project, watching it grow into an actual something and enjoying the weaving process without having to drag a loom around. All I need is a couple of sticks and I’m ready to dive into the process.

One of the sweet things about little bands is the portability. I weave all my bands with a backstrap loom – just a couple of sticks, a belt of some sort around my waist and something to hook the back end of the warp with and I’m ready to weave. I have spent time weaving in cars, trains, parks and office coffee breaks on both inner and outer journeys.

Recently I have also learned to appreciate my feet as part of my backstrap loom – I simply loop the end over my foot propped on top of my other knee and I weave until the foot falls asleep. Then I just change feet.

Three braids

First up in my collection of finished bands are three braided bands from odd balls of handspun wool yarn. Making braided bands is a technique I wanted to learn, so I tried different amounts of ends, different colours and different patterns.

Three 16-strand braids made of leftover balls of handspun wool yarn.

The first one was a simple grey band, I think I like that one the best. I also did one in blue with white patterning and one green with pink and white patterning. The pattern bands revealed my beginner’s mistakes, though, and they look quite sad. But it was a sweet technique to explore and I’m still happy with all of them.

You can see a lovely video where Sally Pointer braids a twelve-strand braid in linen yarn here. A twelve strand linen belt like Sally’s is on my to-craft list.

Nettle band

In July of last year and February this year I harvested nettles that I processed. There was a lot of waste, but I did manage to spindle spin two balls of nettle yarn, one tiny with the dew retted July nettles and one less tiny with the root retted February nettles. You can read more about the process in this blog post.

Throughout the processing and spinning the two retting techniques showed different colours. Once I had scoured them, though, the colour difference was smaller. Still, I used the dew retted yarn as a stripe down the middle of the warp. You can see it very subtly on the picture above.

Weaving the nettle band was lovely, it felt so good to make a little something out of material most people would frown upon. Weaving from weeds makes me feel rich, it’s sort of empowering to know that I can make something useful with my hands should I need to. And I do need, not of some material necessity but for the sake of making, to feel the making in the hands and the connection between hands and brain.

Scrap nettle yarn lucet cord

When I had finished the nettle band I had one tiny little ball left. I wanted to use as much of it as I could, so I decided upon a lucet cord. This is a very old technique that can be described as a 2-stitch I-cord. You use a fork-like tool called a lucet to hold the stitches. With this technique you can take advantage of all the length of the yarn except for the beginning and end.

A lucet cord made with the last little ball of handspun nettle yarn.

I have made a few lucet cords before, but only with wool yarn, which has some bounce, even in the worsted spun outercoat fiber yarns I have tried. Making it with plant fiber is a totally different story. Pulling the loop over the new yarn is more of a struggle and the yarn is less forgiving when it comes to uneven settling of the loop into the cord, but it was still very interesting. As always, spending some time with a material allows you to get to know it and how to work with its characteristics and its own mind.

Pick-up technique backstrap weaving band

I have a secret project going and for that I needed a band. I realized that it needed some extra sparkle, so I decided to make it with a pick-up technique. This takes a lot of time and is quite fiddly, so it’s not ideal for train rides or coffee breaks at work. But I did that anyway. I wove most of it at home, though, with full focus on the 16-row pattern.

One of the big perks of working with a pick-up technique is all the time you get to spend with the yarn. The technique is time-consuming, but that doesn’t bother me. Quite the contrary, I relish the moments when I get to dig my hands into the warp and pick the pattern up into the weave with a naturally curved wooden stick (or, I think I used a shawl pin made out of a twig). The natural materials in my hands make my skin sparkle with joy.

I spun the yarn from hand-teased Norwegian NKS wool on an Andean Pushka. You can see the process of spinning the yarn for this band in this video and the pick-up technique (for a different band) in this.

Little band in progress

When you read this I’m on a weekend getaway with Dan. Naturally, I needed a band to weave on the train. I warped, failed and rewarped, but all went well in the end. I used two colours of worsted spun outercoat wool from Swedish rya sheep from the same flock. The dark brown yarn is from the ram Bertil. The light fawn may be from the ewe Beppelina.

Band in progress: A wool band for an upcoming tie-on pocket project.

I will use the band for an upcoming tie-on pocket project I’m working on. I like playing with stripes in bands. There are so many possibilities and no right or wrong.

Weaving bands with handspun

Most of my handspun yarns are spun from Swedish breeds, and most of these breeds are prone to felting. This can make the yarns sticky, even the smoothest worsted spun outercoat yarns. A project that would be almost impossible to weave wide (like my Frida Chanel bag and loom stick wrap) is far less fiddly as a band. I do have to uncling the warp threads one by one for every new shuttling, but it doesn’t bother me at all when there are only 20–30 warp pairs. I’m just happy to see a brand new band take shape, ready to take its band space in the world.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to missanything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

A spindle a day 3

As I wrote in my previous post I have spent this week at Sätergläntan craft education center, teaching a five-day course where I teach four different spindle types and wool processing by hand. Today I invite you to a sneak peak of the course A spindle a day 3.

Sätergläntan is a place vibrant with crafting hands and crafting hearts. It is such a beautiful environment to be in, where every corner of every room and every mind is sloyd.

80 students were at Sätergläntan this week, learning shrink pots, forging, embroidery on wool, felted images, folk costume dresses, forging and, of course, spindle spinning. All wearing their best visually mended, knit, embroidered and patchworked clothing.

On my way to the train station with four spindle types, wool and tools for twelve students plus my own packing.

There is always some excitement before a course, especially a longer course like this one. What level are the students at? What are their learning styles? How will the group work together? Will I be able to find all the students at their level and their pace?

Beginners

I knew the course was full – twelve students. I haven’t had such a large group before, but with five days together it’s easier to give individual guidance to the students than on a one- or two-day course. Usually my courses are aimed at intermediate to experienced spinners. This one is too, but I open up for beginners too.

As it turned out, most of the students in this course were beginners and some hadn’t ever held a spinning tool in their hands before. This is a big challenge for me since I am used to my students having basic knowledge about wool and some spinning vocabulary. I’m always a little scared to have beginners in my courses because I fear I won’t have the tools to find them at their level. But then again, it’s by practicing I will find and refine my tools. With a class of twelve with lots of beginners and no intermediates I will hopefully get a lot of practice.

I’m demonstrating how I spin on the floor spindle (screen shot from video).

I want to find the students at their level, I want to speak their individual language of learning, catch them there and guide them to their own discoveries. I want them to have their aha-moments, to find the missing link and see, feel and be proud of what they have learned.

Day 1: Wool preparation and suspended spindles

Day 1 was all about wool preparation and suspended spindle spinning. The students have teased, carded and combed and made lots of progress. There has been lots of frustration but also happy cries when the body has understood in practice what the mind has accepted in theory.

As a teacher I try to emphasize what they have actually learned when they are frustrated about a step they have trouble taking. I always encourage my students to place their rolags and yarns on the floor in front of them so they can see their progress over time even if they don’t always see it in the moment. And they do see that there is a vast difference between the first and the latest rolag or the first and the latest ball of yarn.

The twist model

The first thing I talked about before we started spinning on suspended spindles was the twist model. In short, the twist model is about where between no twist at all and very much twist the spinner can find an amount of twist where there is enough twist for the fibers to slide past each other without coming apart. I call this the point of twist engagement.

Finding the point of twist engagement is to me essential to understanding twist and spinning. With the students’ newborn rolags and the twist model in their mind there were some first precious aha-moments in rolag carding, opening up the twist and finding the point of twist engagement.

Switching hands

Another concept I work with already from the beginning with my students is switching hands. I always encourage them to learn to use both hands as spinning hands and both hands as fiber hands. To prevents strained shoulders and to help them understand both hand roles from the perspective of both hands. And they all do it. Not always enthusiastically, but they do it and see the benefits of it.

Check out my free five-day challenge Hands on where I encourage you to switch hands and get acquainted with the roles of the hands.

Day 2: Floor spindle

On day 2 we dived into floor spindles. Here their rolags are really put to the test – spinning on a floor spindle brutally reveals any uneven rolags and the students get an understanding of what in the wool preparation process – teasing, carding or rolag shaping – that needs adjusting.

Floor spindles by Björn Peck.

With the floor spindle we practice longdraws. The long draw a spinner can make on a floor spindle are longer than on a spinning wheel – the yarn can go from the spindle shaft on one side of the body, across the torso and out in the hand of the outstretched arm on the other side of the body.

Students that on the day before have had a hard time finding and working with the point of twist engagement with the suspended spindle have understood it with a lot of joy today with the floor spindle. And who, when, going back to the suspended spindle, suddenly have come past their struggle. This really warms my wooly teaching heart.

Day 3: In-hand spindle

This is the third time I teach the A spindle a day five-day course. I know that the students usually are very tired and sometimes a bit overwhelmed on day 3, which is also the day of the most complicated spindle type: In-hand spindle with a distaff. That in combination with the large proportion of beginners made me a bit nervous. Would I be able to give them the sense of accomplishment?

I didn’t have to worry. They were working very independently by now. They analyzed, experimented and were dedicated to understanding what went wrong and why. And after just an hour or so all of them were spinning with their in-hand spindles and distaffs. I was amazed at all they had learned so far and at how they used their knowledge to understand new tools and techniques. I didn’t even have to tell them to switch hands, they did that automatically.

Day 4: Supported spindle

When I teach supported spindle spinning isolated I usually do it slowly in a step-by-step fashion. In the A spindle a day course though, the students have successively learned all the components of the technique and already know about changing the angle, opening up the twist and working with upper and lower cop. It’s just a matter of getting to know the tool and transfer the technique to a new context.

Björn Peck’s beautiful supported spindles spin like rockets.

This course was no different. Even if they were intimidated by the small motor movement and the speed of the spindles, they quite quickly got the hang of the tool and the technique and spun away happily.

Narrative spinning

At this stage, on day four, they had got to know each other and we did an exercise I call narrative spinning. This is when they sit in pairs and one students spins and tells the other what is happening in the spinning, why it is happening, what they are doing and why they are doing it. The other student listens and asks constructive questions. By narrating their spinning they put words on what may be difficult to grasp. The one listening gets inspiration from a fellow student. I was given this exercise when I was learning to drive and it always works very well in spinning courses when the students have gotten to know each other a bit.

Evenings

The students line up their precious yarn balls by one of the floor looms.

When class is dismissed for the day the students stay in the classroom and practice and/or prepare for tomorrow’s class. So much happens in these evening sessions. Hearty conversation and usually lots of progress without the teacher bothering them with questions and ideas. I’m usually still in the classroom (blogging), but I try not to bother them.

Day 5: Wool tasting and spinning meditation

Day 5 is only half a day so I don’t introduce a new spindle type this day. Instead I offer them a chance to understand how much they have actually learned, by hosting a wool tasting. In the wool tasting they get to try wool from five different breeds that they haven’t worked with before. On this A spindle a day 3 they got a brown silver medal winning Helsinge wool, chocolate brown alpaca, black Klövsjö wool with subtle silver sparkle, white silver medal winning finull wool and light grey and unusually soft gute wool.

Their task is to, for fifteen minutes per breed, prepare and spin the wool and reflect over the wool, technique and choices they make during the process. After the fifteen minutes have passed they get the next wool. We do this in silence so that they can focus on their process.

Apart from working with new wools and using what they have learned in the course, they get the chance to, in a short time, make decisions about preparation and technique without over thinking things. The students usually love this exercise and they get to go back home with the form they fill in, showing all they have learned.

The wool tasting is done in silence for 5 x 15 minutes. I love this part of the course, where I can sit and watch the students work – how they make decisions and work with the wool with the tools and techniques they have got acquainted with during the course.

Spinning meditation

The very last thing we did was a spinning meditation. I guide the students through spinning in mindfulness and without prestige. Towards the end of the meditation I encourage them to close their eyes and feel their way in the spinning. And most of them did, surprised at how much they could actually feel in a situation where they usually relied on their vision.

The wool tasting form was their diploma of what they had learned and the spinning meditation an extra treat for them to reflect over and be proud of how much they had learned.


I’m finishing this blog post on the train back home to Stockholm. I’m going home with a lighter suitcase, many insights, and a warm heart, thrilled over what I have learned and of having been able to guide my students down a new rabbit hole. I hope to come back next summer.

Thank you M, L, S, E-B, E, A, C, L, M-L, H and K for letting me guide you through wool, tools and techniques. Thank you for lots of laughs, many insights and sweet conversations. A special thought goes to M who turned ill and couldn’t make it to the course.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to missanything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Spin where you are

A woman spinning on a supported spindle.

It’s easy to get carried away or stressed by everything you see other spinners do on social media, especially since they only show a small and polished portion of reality. Today I encourage you to spin where you are, in terms of place, tools, skills and mind.

I am a volunteer cultivation advisor at our allotment association. Many of the tenants are enthusiastic and dream of abundance in bloom and harvest. But depending on the circumstances of the allotment it is not always possible to grow the plants they have dreamed of.

For the past week I have been preparing a presentation for the allotment tenants about cultivating where we are, in our allotment and the context in which it is situated – the type of soil it offers, the trees around it and the roots underneath it. I want the allotments gardeners to be able to grow an allotment in their context and with their experience. It may flourish, just not always in the crops they had imagined.

Josefin the cultivation advisor. Parsley is a perfect crop for a shady patch. Also not very appealing to slugs and deer, it seems.

As I was planning the lecture I saw parallels to spinning. Sometimes I get the sense that spinners feel bad because they think they should be able to spin better, more and know more techniques. Spinning to me is a place of ease, an activity that doesn’t make demands on me and a place of allowing. But it’s also easy to get carried away from things you see other spinners do online or in person. Today I want to encourage you to spin where you are.

Experience

We are all on different levels. Some people have spun for decades and some for only weeks. Even if the experienced spinner probably will know a thing or two more than the beginner we all bring our unique perspectives. I love being a beginner since I don’t feel any expectations. I don’t know any of the established dos and don’ts. Sooner or later I will, and I will also learn why they have been labeled as dos and don’ts, but in the moment I look at the craft with fresh and innocent eyes.

Processed flax from my experimental flax patch 2014–2019. I was once a beginner. Year by year I have added to my experience bank. Some years I succeed and some I don’t. But I always learn and that’s my goal with growing flax.

I learn a lot from my students, sometimes I think I learn more than the students themselves. Often the questions from a beginner give me more to reflect on that the question from the experienced spinner. A beginner will challenge my established pattern of teaching and understanding spinning. I need to challenge my methods of teaching, peel off the layers of my habitual patterns and come back to that blank slate to find a channel to the beginner.

A beginner spinner challenges my way of teaching and talking about spinning. I need to find the channel to where they are in their spinning . Supported spindle and bowl by Björn Peck.

I have actually been a beginner several times as a spinner, especially connected to changing hands in the spinning project. If you are up for an adventure, take my five-day challenge Hands-on, where you will play with switching your spinning and fiber hands.

Tools

There are a lot of spinning tools out there and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by them. Like so many other hobbies, spinning can be a tool sport, but it doesn’t have to be. All you need is fiber and a weight or a stick and you’re good to go. Even if I have a lot of spindles I only have two spinning wheels, one of which is my stationary wheel that I use. I don’t own a drum carder, wool picker or blending board. My go-to tools for fiber preparation is my hand cards and my combs, sometimes a flicker, sometimes just my hands.

It’s a great idea to try new tools at spinning guilds or fiber festivals and see what they are like. Chew on them for a bit. Do they suit you? Your wallet? Your home? Use what you have and what you are comfortable with.

Time

Sometimes we don’t feel we have enough time to spin. So many thing crave our attention. But even just a few minutes of spinning/wool preparation/knitting or just cuddling with a staple can get us a long way. I like to see spinning as a state of mind or an inner process rather than a craft or something that demands a physical result.

I'm listening to my Icelandic wool.
I’m listening to my Icelandic wool. Sometimes just digging your hands in raw fleece is enough to feel the closeness to the wool and to getting to know it.

Sometimes we do have times but don’t feel we produce enough yarn in that time. To me, time is a superpower. The more time I spend with wool the more I get to know it. And for me, preparing with hand tools and spinning on spindles give me more quality in the time I spend with the wool. The slowness allows me to spend more time with each fiber, getting to know the wool, how it behaves and how it wants to be spun.

Place

Spinning where you are can of course also mean physically, in a certain space. Sometimes there just isn’t enough space to keep the tools you dream of. I would love to get hold of a walking wheel, which isn’t very likely since they are very rare here, but even if I would there would be no space for it.

I’m spinning where I am. By Lake Torneträsk in Sápmi in this case, with a suspended spindle and a pair of mini combs.

Other times I’m spinning away from home, perhaps in the woods or on the train. It’s not always possible to bring and use a lot of tools and I need to negotiate with myself to find a solution that allows me to spin where I am.

Mind

I have had very hearty conversations over the years with students and supporters who talk about spinning as therapy more than anything else. A place to rest their minds, without expectations or prestige. A place where they can peel off the demands of the world around them and just be in the process. I imagine a lot of emotions are spun into the yarn from those sessions. Which, in itself could be quite therapeutic. A skein to some day look back at and remember where you were emotionally at the time.

Spinning for the soul.

Spinning for me is quite meditative. Just as the fibers come from the fiber supply, into the twist and onto the shaft or bobbin, so do my thoughts. Lightly effortless and and without expectations. They come and I let them go.

For meditative aspects of spinning, watch the videos A meditation and A spinning meditation.

Result

Whether we spin for the process, the project, the mind or a quantitative goal we always get a result, even if we don’t always think so. The result can be a meter, a skein, a collection of samples, relaxed shoulders, a balanced mind. Or, sometimes we get a result, an outcome or reaction much later, a cumulative effect of the superpowers of spinning.

Relaxed shoulders and a balanced mind can be a result too.

When I get migraines I spin to get some space, a moment to focus my dull mind on something other than the nails-on-the-blackboard sensation in my head and all my senses. The sensations don’t go away, but I can relax some from them for a little while, catch my breath and get a sense of ease from the pain. Even if the pain comes back afterwards I’m convinced that the room to breathe I get from spinning through migraines does me good in the long run.

Creativity comes from within because it is there and needs to come out, not because anyone else needs it to be in a certain way. Grow your spinning garden in the abundance that is available there and then. Be kind to yourself. Spin for you and spin where you are.

I’m going to sow my flax patch today.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Spinning championships 2021

It’s that time of the year again – the Swedish spinning championships. If I remember correctly I have participated in the championships since 2015. I don’t want to miss this opportunity to spin from wool and instructions that I haven’t chosen myself and learn from the experience.

Last year I won the gold medal for my embroidery yarn. This year I didn’t get any medals, but I would still like to share my yarns and techniques with you.

Championship format

In the spinning championships all spinners get the same fiber and the same rules. The spinners get around one month to spin their yarn and submit it. A jury confers and the medalists are revealed a few weeks later. Usually the prize ceremony takes place on the fleece and spinning championships in different locations every year, but this year and 2020 they were both digital.

There were two competitions this year: Värmland wool and flax.

Värmland wool

The assignment for the Värmland wool was to spin a yarn for knitting, 2-ply or more. We got raw Värmland lamb’s wool in two shades.

Colour separation

Since we got two different colours of the Värmland fleece I figured they would want me to do something with the colours. But two seemed too few, so I decided to make three shades out of the two colours. Using combs I teased each colour separately. I blended a third batch of half dark and half light wool into a shade between the two browns. After that I hand carded each colour separately into rolags.

As I went through the wool I realized that the two colours had different qualities. The darker brown was silky soft and the lighter a bit coarser. I should have listened to this and blended the colours for an even quality. But I was so hung up on the colours so I kept going with the separation.

The wool was a bit difficult to work with. There were lots of very short sections, and the combination with basically no crimp made the fibers quite slippery and reluctant to conform in the twist. This was especially true for the light brown staples with coarser fibers.

Also I realized that I may have used the wrong hand cards ( 72 tpi) but with the very fine fibers I probably should have chosen my finer cards (108 tpi) for a more even fiber distribution in the rolags.

I divided the colours into two piles for two singles with the same amount of the three shades. Somehow I hoped that I would be able to card and spin consistently enough to make the singles equal in length and sections. It didn’t really work out the way I had planned, but still looked good.

Consecutive spinning

I spin a lot on my floor supported Navajo style spindles. I choose them when I want to spin woolen yarn on the bulkier side, but also for finer yarns. You gotta love those arm’s length longdraws.

With this project I wanted to practice in something of a consecutive spinning. I don’t know if this is the correct term, though (please let me know if you have the correct term for this technique). I’m referring to a technique where you spin one spindleful of yarn into a roving or sliver with a very light twist. Then you slide the cop off the shaft and spin the yarn again. A bit more, but still not finished. You keep going until you are happy, 3–4 times is not unusual.

As I understand it, many Navajo spinners often use this technique when they spin yarn for Navajo rugs. The technique facilitates an even yarn and goes a bit faster than a double drafting technique.

First round

For this yarn I chose to spin in three rounds. In the first round I just made a long roving with a very light twist, just enough to keep the fiber together. I made sure I was at a point where the fibers could slide past each other without coming apart. This is the point I call the point of twist engagement. This is where I feel the spinning most alive, where I, with just a very light roll with my thumb, can manipulate the twist so that the fibers work with me towards an effortless draft.

Second round

The second round I drafted some more and added some more twist, but still close enough the point of twist engagement to bring me the freedom to work more with my yarn in a third round.

Third round

For the third and final round I drafted a little more and added the final twist before I 2-plied the two singles on my spinning wheel.

The third round became my final round, where I drafted a little more and added the final twist. As it turned out, I had added too much twist in the second round, making drafting in this third round somewhat of a challenge. But, that’s what I like about these championships – I learn a lot along the way.

A soaked and finished Värmland 2-ply yarn spun in rounds on a floor supported spindle and 2-plied on a spinning wheel.

Final touch

I have no problem plying on spindles, but I know I can achieve a consistent plying twist on the spinning wheel. Since I didn’t want to jeopardize things I plied the spindle spun singles on my spinning wheel.

I was very happy with having tried new techniques and having learned so much from this project. I wasn’t very happy with the yarn, though. But one nice thing with the Spinning championships is that every contestant gets access to the jury’s assessment and learn what they can develop their skills. I’m looking forward to reading it when it comes.

Flax

For the other competition we got industrially prepared line flax. I bought the same brand of line flax a few years ago and I had worked with it all summer, so I knew its challenges. The assignment was to spin a yarn with two or more plies. The purpose with the yarn was knitting. I was very startled by this since all literature on flax preparation and spinning is aimed at weaving yarns. I literally had no clue to how I could adapt my spinning to a knitting yarn.

As I prepared for this post I realized that I hadn’t taken any photos of the flax preparation steps. Therefore most of the photos are from a different flax spinning project. So the fiber is different but the techniques the same.

Rehackling, brushing and dressing

The flax was very dense. Therefore I rehackled it with two different hackles. I knew from before that this flax had lots of different lengths, so I also knew that a lot of shorter fibers would be removed in the rehackling.

After that I brushed it with my lovely flax brush to bring it some extra shine and to remove the last short bits. I lost almost 50 percent of the weight in these steps, but ended up with the longest fibers in my preparation. And I saved the removed fibers for a later tow yarn.

Dressing the distaff

I dressed the distaff the only way I know how to – in a fan shape. This takes a lot of time, but I imagine all ways of distaff dressing take time. The fibers need to be well separated and easily catch on to each other in a consistent way. You can see how I create my fan and dress my distaff in this video.

I used the fan technique to arrange the flax before dressing the distaff (image from a different flax project)

Spinning and skeining

I wet spun the yarn (counter-clockwise) to make it strong and shiny. I tried to give it a little less twist than I would for a weaving yarn. This was the only thing I could think of to adapt the yarn for knitting.

I wet spun the flax counter-clockwise on my spinning wheel (image from a different flax project).

I used my niddy-noddy to wind a skein after having plied my yarn. The yarn went through a bowl of water to avoid fraying, and then through a niks. A niks is an Estonian tool for tensioning the yarn when skeining, but without breaking skin. I made mine from a willow stick. You can see a lovely video about the niks here.

Scouring

This summer has been my summer of flax spinning (more on that in an upcoming post). I think I have spun around 500 grams of flax yarn. But I haven’t dared to scour it. To be able to submit my championships yarn I would have to, though.

I read a couple of flax books, but most of them had scouring methods that involved a whole home chemistry lab or ingredients that aren’t readily available. So I asked around online and finally bought soda ash. It seemed like a chemistry lab on its own, but I managed to use it without any injuries. I boiled the skein in two one hour baths with soda ash and soap and they turned out light and soft.

My finished contribution to the 2021 Swedish spinning championships.

I’m very happy with my flax yarn and especially about all that I have learned from spinning it. I will continue my flax journey next summer. Perhaps I will even dare to spin my homegrown flax too.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Course exchange

In the early summer my friend Cecilia and I took a course in wild basketry. The teacher, Sanna had been following my Instagram for a while and wanted to learn how to spin, so we made a course exchange.

We call the course exchange Pinn mot spinn, translating roughly to Sticks for spinning. Last weekend we had the second part of the course exchange, when I taught her and her sister-in-law Maria how to spin on a suspended spindle.

Beginners

Both Maria and Sanna are complete beginners when it comes to wool handling and spinning. However, both are active in related areas – Maria is deeply down the knitting rabbit hole and Sanna in basket making with different fiber plants.

All of my courses are outlined with the intermediate to advanced spinner in mind. I love getting access to all the spinning and wool knowledge my students bring to the classroom. Their previous knowledge also makes a common vocabulary possible – we can talk about wool in terms that are reasonably defined and that we understand. I can bring up spinning topics that the students relate to. However, on almost every course I teach there has been at least one complete beginner.

The beginner teacher

I find it much more difficult to teach beginners – especially in a mixed class – and I get the jitters when I realize that one of the students is a beginner. We lack that common spinning vocabulary, I find it hard to find methods to teach from a more general perspective – I am a true nerd and want to go deep. So I was a bit nervous about this one-day spinning course with beginners. With Maria and Sanna, however, I learned that we do have a common ground. It just doesn’t necessarily have to be in wool or spinning.

A common ground

Every student has a reason for coming to the course – they don’t just trip over it. Perhaps there is a general interest in crafting, reenactment, mindfulness or downshifting to name a few examples. And it is that reason I need to find out and use as our common ground.

Maria is a dedicated knitter. She knows what she wants in a yarn and a garment and what properties lie in different fibers. I can talk knitting with her – how she can play with wool preparation and spinning techniques to spin a yarn that suits different knitting projects.

Sanna has her passion in basket making and all plants weaveable. She is also a professional gardener and grows 32 kinds of willow. With her I could find a common ground in the crafting bubble and the importance of getting to know the material through all stages from harvest to finished product. She also wants to learn how to spin nettle and flax fiber. I could talk to her about the differences between protein and cellulose fibers as spinning material. A lovely bonus was that she could name the herb in the wool that I referred to as vegetable matter.

An advantage of having beginner students on the other hand is that they have little or no preconceptions about spinning. With open eyes they took in what I taught them and were truly amazed by what they could achieve.

Simple guidelines

One day for beginners is not much. I wanted them to feel that they could achieve something real and to be able to continue reasonably independently on their own once they got home. Therefore I tried to give them a few simple guidelines.

  • Teasing is what opens up the fibers to make them spinnable. This should be done before carding, which to me is about arranging the fibers in a certain distribution and direction.
  • We talked about spinning mechanics and the body being a part of spindle spinning in a way it is not in wheel spinning. This way they got an understanding of how they can control the spinning with their body as opposed to having the tool control them.
  • Opening up the twist was a central concept in making yarn from fiber. In the spectrum between hard twist (where the fibers can’t move) and untwisted fibers (where the fibers come apart once you separate them) there is a point I call the point of twist engagement, where the fibers glide past each other without coming apart. This is where spinning happens!
  • We also talked about spindle ergonomics and spinning with the hand that is best suited for the chosen spinning direction.

These simple but powerful guidelines made it easier for me to derive where any struggling came from and for them to understand how they could make progress.

Wool handling

As in all my courses we began with wool knowledge and wool preparation. It’s difficult to cover this to beginners in just one day while still having time left for the spinning part, but we talked about fiber types and how we can transform the bundled staples into spinnable preparations.

For a knitter who mostly sees wool in commercial yarns a raw fleece can be both thrilling and daunting. For someone who works mainly with cellulose fibers protein fibers can be truly fascinating to handle.

After a short wool intro they started teasing and carding. Observing their progress was a true joy – from the first wobbly strokes with the cards to some really lovely round and even rolags.

Spinning

By parking and drafting they got the chance to control the spindle without feeling rushed by the moving tool. After having started to trust the wool and trust their knowledge they made lovely long draws.

Maria started parking and drafting and realized after a while that she didn't always need to park the spindle. She spun a lovely and even yarn.
Maria started parking and drafting and realized after a while that she didn’t always need to park the spindle. She spun a lovely and even Åsen wool yarn.

Since I had only the two students I could observe their progress and guide them individually on their personal spinning journeys. Learning a craft is both a cognitive and physical activity, governed by every student own learning process. Through this learning a craft becomes very personal. Some students feel bad about not being able to achieve what they hoped to achieve, some don’t think their work is good enough, some have trouble focusing in a learning setting. Being able to give individual feedback and guidance is vital for their experience of the course and confidence in their crafting. It also gives me more time to learn and enjoy how each student learns.

At the end of the day they both had a tiny ball of their very first handspun yarn. They were both glowing with pride of what they had achieved. So was I.


Thank you Sanna and Maria for allowing me to explore and expand my teaching skills in my part of the course exchange. It was a privilege for me to teach you, especially since I had the luxury of focusing on only two students. I learned a lot! I hope you did too. Use this post to refresh your memories of our spinning day.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Close

Last week I elaborated on the memory in the hands and how staying close to the wool with as few and simple tools as possible allows me to understand the wool better. In this post I stay with this topic, albeit in a more poetic style. Later today I will teach suspended spindle spinning two complete beginners. I hope they too will find the poetry in spinning as they learn.

A newly shorn Icelandic lamb’s fleece from Uppspuni mini mill in Iceland.
Just released from Icelandic mountains, a lamb is shorn
From the tips that grew in the womb
to the airy base,
filled with nutrients
from the summer's pasture
Swiftly relieved from its first coating
on a crisp autumn day,
a singular fleece gently chosen for me.
As it comes to me
I find it as it was,
still newly shorn,
untouched
Staples still holding on
where once there was a sheep.

Side by side the cut ends look back at me,
layered, like pages of an open book,
unfolded, receptive,
inviting me to its stories.
In the other end streaming locks,
holding on like pony tails
skipping home from a day at the beach.
Cone shaped staples. Soft, strong, inviting.
Outercoat long and slender,
undercoat billowing, endless
Sharp waves and unruly foam of a streaming river
Soft ice cream with chocolate ripples
Ski tracks atop untouched snow.

All over a glistening, vivid layer
of lanolin
smelling faintly of sheep,
lubricating the draft,
softening my hands
on their journey through
the wool.
With my hands in the fleece I listen to my best teacher – the wool.
Let me come close, explore,
let me learn
and discover the soul of this mass,
let me honour the sheep
that gave me its treasure.

By shortening the lever
between hands and wool
I stay close
To the sheep
To the wool
To the spinning.

The fibers through my hands
repeatedly
Feeling, meeting the fibers
again and for the first time
in all the steps
from staple
to yarn.
Every time in a new shape,
a new context
a new phase.
I tease the wool with my hands and get additional information about how it behaves.
I tease the fibers apart with my fingers
Sideways, strand by strand
spreading the once bundled staple
into a glistening single layer web
my hands astonished,
by the wool,
in the wool
learning through every move.

How do they hold on?
How do they know
when to hold on, slide or let go?
Spinning the yarn straight off the hand teased staple keeps me close to the wool.
I hold the teased wooliness
gently, attentive
Adding twist,
listening, feeling the draft
Just like that,
teased
raw
close.

My two hands don't touch,
yet the living twist connects them,
passes the information
back and forth
like a tin can phone
connecting sound waves
in cordial conversation
between two friends
sharing the same thought.
My heart sings
through learning,
by leaning in,
listening.
The wool is my teacher,
I treasure her wisdom.

I stay close to the wool,
feel the connection to the sheep
through my hands
and what they learn
by listening to the wool,
and finding its soul.

Resources

Here are some other blog posts written in a more poetic style:

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

The memory in the hands

Spinning on a spindle gives me time to understand what is happening.

Last week I streamed a live breed study webinar on Gestrike wool. One of the participants asked me why I carded by hand instead of using a drum carder. My answer was about the memory in the hands. Today I will elaborate on this topic.

I replied that I want to work with my hands in the fleece. Every time the fibers go through my hands I get to know them. Every time I make a stroke with the cards I feel how the wool resist the cards, I feel how the fibers behave. All the information I get from working with my hands with hand tools is information that helps me when I spin it. So I what to work as much as possible with my hands.

Ancient and modern spinning tools

A spindle is a simple tool, usually consisting of a stick and a weight, sometimes the stick alone. And yet it can do basically the same things as more modern and elaborate tools like the spinning wheel and the e-spinner. Why is that?

Before we elaborate on that we will go back in history to the time before the first mechanized spinning tools when yarn for all cloth was spun with spindles alone. This took time. A lot of time. Yet, spinning was essential to clothe and feed families. When the first mechanized spinning tools like the charkha and later great wheels came they freed a lot of time. Still, for a while in the European medieval times only weft yarn was spun on the great wheel. The warp yarn needed to be strong enough and the wheel wasn’t trusted when it came to quality.

So, back to the question: Why can the spindle and the wheel/e-spinner do the same things while looking so different? Well, as we have established, the Spindle takes a lot of time. The spinner needs to do a lot of things that are built in and sometimes even accelerated in a mechanized or electrified spinning tool. This is where the time factor comes in. The wheel is faster than the spindle in itself. Furthermore the wheel can accomplish things like tension and take-up simultaneously.

Where are the mechanics?

So, while the mechanized spinning tools have, well, mechanics. How come we can get the same result (or even better) with a spindle? The Tasks that the spindle spinner needed to do consecutively were removed and placed in the spinning wheel to speed up the process. To me this means that the mechanics of spindle spinning is in the spinner.

Read that again: The mechanics of spindle spinning is in the spinner.

So, while the mechanized spinning tools save time, they also place the spinning a little further from the spinner through those very mechanics. Consequently, the simpler spinning tools place the mechanics in me. I become part of the spindle. The same goes for a backstrap loom versus a floor loom – the backstrap weaver becomes a part of the loom, controlling warp tension, rhythm and the changing of the sheds.

The nifty thing about spinners and weavers is that they have memory. In this case – muscle memory. When the mechanics of the spindle or the loom are in me my muscles remember the motions they need to accomplish in order to get an expected outcome – yarn or fabric.

Carding

Placing the question in the webinar in this context, I as a carder will have the carding mechanics in me and I become part of the carding. When I make the strokes with the hand cards I feel the resistance of the fibers between and through the cards in my hands. Through just simple hand tools my hands get an understanding of the length of the fibers, their capacity to hold on to each other, their elasticity, strength and loftiness.

Hand carding wool gives me an opportunity to understand how the fibers behave. Photo by Dan Waltin

Placing the fibers in a drum carder I save a lot of time. But I don’t get the sensory feedback from the fibers. I also don’t get the same chance to tailor the wool preparation to each batch.

Time: Quality and quantity

Generally speaking, the simpler the tools the longer it takes to use them. A mechanized tool does have time on its side – it’s faster. I can get more done in less time. However, slow is a superpower in my book. Slow is what makes it possible for me to see and understand what is happening in the spinning process. In spindle spinning I can notice the details in a way I can’t in wheel spinning.

A few years ago we were on a hiking trip. Dan’s mother was with us and her balance isn’t always reliable due to MS. It was kind of a rocky path and we needed to stop and help her navigate between rocks and roots on the path. The pace was a lot slower than it usually was on that hike. But suddenly we were able to see the details. The cushiony moss on rocks and tree stumps, the intricate patterns of lichens and the beauty of dew drops in the blueberry bushes. It gave the hike a completely new meaning. It took a lot more time, but we gained so much in experience and depth. So much more made sense.

Spinning on a spindle gives me time to understand what is happening.
I choose simple spinning tools and invest in my quality bank. Mittens in handspun Värmland wool.

When I spin on a spindle I give my mind the time to understand what is happening and on a deeper level. Time isn’t wasted but invested in a quality bank. So much more makes sense.

Simple and complex

Simple hand tools give me a direct connection to the fibers. The more complex the tools and the more of the functions that are built in to the tools, the further away from the fibers I get. Consequently, the closer I am to the fiber the better I will get to know and understand them. I get information from the fibers via the tools or directly in my hands.

At the moment I’m spinning raw Icelandic wool straight from the cut end of lightly flicked staples on a suspended spindle. My hands and my mind are there in every step of the process, in a pace that allows me to lean in and listen to the wool.

With my hands in the fibers in all the steps of the process I get to know the fibers on all possible levels – as staples, in the processing, in the spinning, plying and as a yarn and textile. With the information in all the steps it will be easier to troubleshoot. My hands come closer to the wool and I can walk myself back through the process and find the missing link. I own the process. I know the wool in my hands better than anyone else.

Thank you Marilyn for your important question!

Resources

Here are a few resources where you can read more about my thoughts on the memory in the hands:

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Book review: Keepers of the sheep

Keepers of the sheep – knitting Morocco's High Atlas and beyond, by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n'Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddylymy. Photo published with permission from the author.

Today I give you a book review. I have read the lovely and important book Keepers of the sheep – knitting in Morocco’s High Atlas and beyond by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n’Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddelymy.

I have been wanting to read this book ever since I learned that it had been published (in December 2020), and a couple of weeks ago I finally got around to actually ordering it, from Retrosaria Rosa Pomar in Portugal (you can also buy the book from Irene’s U.S. Etsy store). I had it in my mailbox only a week after I ordered it.

Keepers of the sheep is a beautiful book, both in its appearance and its content. In the book we get to follow Irene’s journey and exploration in knitting, story and history in Morocco’s High Atlas. We also get to peak at sheep, shepherding, spinning and wool. The book is built up of stories and portraits of the landscape and the people, knitting patterns and a historical journey back in time to possible origins of knitting.

Story

We begin the book in Irene’s own first encounter with the landscape and the people of Morocco’s High Atlas. We get to see the vast landscape through her eyes. For a moment I am there with her, getting a first taste of the soft, still vibrant colours. Page by page we get to follow Irene as she comes closer to the people in the village. She finds men who show her their knitting traditions and teach her to knit some of the garments that we can enjoy in the book.

Irene’s story

To prepare for this review I asked Irene a bit about her own background and how she ended up in Morocco and writing a book about knitting traditions. She tells me that she came to the country as a language student and later to teach at the university. On yet another visit she began working with artisans and shepherds in the village of Timloukine.

Keepers of the sheep – knitting Morocco's High Atlas and beyond, by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n'Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddelymy. Photo published with permission from the author.
Keepers of the sheep – knitting Morocco’s High Atlas and beyond, by Irene Waggener with Muah Ahansali, Hussein Mardi, Muah n’Ait Tabatoot and Noura Eddelymy. Photo published with permission from the author.

During this work they realized the importance of the knitting skills of the shepherds and artisans. Irene says that the branch of the knitting family tree the book covers doesn’t get much mention in the knitting books. The knowledge has traditionally been passed down orally and through observations which would be another reason why this book is so important. A book like Keepers of the sheep would also be a means to help the community promote traditional crafts like sock knitting that is usually practiced by women. She also says that the book indeed has inspired many of the women to learn to knit from their fathers and grandfathers.

At the moment Irene is researching for an upcoming project that she hopefully will be able to share soon. I can’t wait!

History

In the past part of the book we get to follow Irene on a trail back in time to possible origins of knitting traditions in North Africa. Decade by decade we get clues to the knitting riddle of North Africa, starting with World War II, going back through the colonial period, and to medieval Egypt. Through various periods of migration, linguistic clues, cross cultural pattern similarities, designs and styles Irene describes a possible scenario of the origins of knitting in the area and perhaps even of the origins of knitting in the western world. An interesting aspect here is that Sara Wolf makes a similar journey through knitting history in the book Knit (spin) Sweden, and ends up in an Egyptian sock as a clue to a possible knitting origin in North Africa.

In this section Irene dives into the archives to look at textile fragments and images and creates designs inspired by historical patterns, techniques and period garments.

Oral tradition

Knitting in Morocco’s High Atlas starts with the yarn, the need and the needles you have. There is a framework of knitting and detail techniques, but as a knitter you need to make the decisions of yarn weight, needle size, gauge and size while you knit. You try as you go. Again and again.

I realize that it must have been a challenge for Irene to explain the orally transfered try-as-you-go description in a written form for a chart and detailed oriented audience. I think she does this in a lovely and balanced way, maintaining the respect of the oral traditions while being at the same time very pedagogical toward her audience.

An advantage of a perspective that starts with the material you have is how perfect it is for handspun yarn. A framework of techniques instead of step by step instructions seems to open the doors to experimentation and a sense of freedom.

Wool and spinning

In the High Atlas the tradition is that men knit while keeping the sheep and women spin. The spindles are long floor supported spindles that the spinner spins while sitting on the floor. The yarn seems to be mainly for weft and pile in rugs, but some older women also spin for knitting.

Spinners in the village of Timloukine. Photo published with permission from the author.
Spinners in the village of Timloukine. Photo published with permission from the author.

If you look at Irene’s Instagram you can see a few videos with very talented spinners dancing the wool into soft and airy woolen yarn from cloud-like carded batts. It looks as though they are effortlessly breathing out the yarn through their relaxed fingers. It is truly mesmerizing to watch. When they ply the yarn they roll the shaft outward along the underarm, a technique I haven’t seen before.

 When I ask Irene about the wool from the local sheep she says she thinks it is similar to a Cheviot she has spun when it comes to softness, texture, drafting length, and behaviour on the spindle. High Atlas sheep are as fare as she knows not dual coated but do have a bit of kemp. She describes the wool as having a dry, airy quality and is not overly strong or weak.

If you want to dive deeper into the spinning in Morocco’s High and Middle Atlas you can read Irene’s lovely article in the Supported spindle issue of PLY magazine. She does a very good job of describing the spinning techniques used in the area.

Irene has an Etsy shop where she sometimes is able to sell both wool, yarn and spindles. I am hoping to be able to buy a spindle if they become available.

Knitting patterns

Scattered through the book are lovely knitting patterns, all written in a try-as-you-go fashion using the material and tools you have at hand. The patterns come both from the techniques Irene learned from the knitters she met and from garments and fragments she has found when researching the knitting history in the area.

Tqasher Jadeed socks

The first pattern in the book is a pair of socks. I don’t see myself as a sock knitter, but I can see that the engineering of these is different than the models I have seen. As with all the other patterns in the book the pattern is built up as a try-as-you-go process where you need to be confident enough to trust your instincts when it comes to the fit. All of the parameters – needles, yarn thickness and numbers – are sort of fluid in a very compelling way. It looks very liberating to just go! The technique for toes and heels are there of course, but the rest is up to you to balance.

Tqasher Jadeed, new socks. A lovely pattern in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.
Tqasher Jadeed, new socks. A lovely pattern in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.

I would really like to knit the Tqasher Jadeed socks. Perhaps in a rya wool yarn.

Sirwal pants

We need to talk about the Sirwal pants. Suspender pants in broad stripes of natural black and white handspun yarn. A zig-zag stripe follows the sides of the legs to elegantly travel the passive colour along the active without floats or joins. They remind me of the first bathing suits for men – striped, covering and knit in wool.

Sirwal pants in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.
I’m fascinated by the Sirwal pants and their dazzling lightning bolt up the sides of the legs. Photo published with permission from the author.

Now, as some of you may know, I take daily baths in my nearby lake all year round. In the winter I need to dress practically – I need to stay warm in clothes that are loose and easy to put on a very cold body after the bath. Wouldn’t the Sirwal pants be just heavenly ideal for this purpose? I long to spin this yarn, on a spindle from the High Atlas if possible, and knit straight off the spindle. Raw, improvised and simple. I have the perfect candidate for the job. Gunvor the Gestrike sheep, my longitudinal fleece study sheep, was born white with lots of black spots. Her first fleece will be perfect for the Sirwal pants. I can’t wait to knit those vertical zig-zag side stripes.

Historically inspired patterns

In the historic section of the book Irene creates designs inspired by textile fragments, traditional garments and art in the area. Hats, socks, belts, a bath mitt and complex but ingenious multi-colour intarsia details.

Lovely belts in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.
Lovely belts in Keepers of the sheep. Photo published with permission from the author.

After the historical journey Irene takes us on towards the end of the book she writes (p. 118):

“Rather than solely focusing the narrative on Muslim Arab expansion across the continent, the evidence available to us raises the importance of investigating the role indigenous Amazigh people may have played the dissemination and possibly even development of knitting. It challenges us to consider North Africa not as a passive recipient to cultural influences from abroad but an active player in the evolution and transmission of knitting between continents and peoples.”

There is so much we can learn from this book and from the, in my western perspective, very fresh framework that comes from the oral tradition and try-as-you-go technique. The techniques and perspective constitute an key foundation of knitting history. Keepers of the sheep plays an important part in spreading this perspective. Thank you Irene and the artisans and shepherds in the book for sharing this knowledge with us.

Part of the earnings from the sale of the book is donated to the women’s cooperative Cooperative Ibilou. The cooperative works with community development projects benefitting citizens of the village Timloukine. When you buy the book you will be part of spreading the knowledge of an oral tradition while at the same time contributing to keeping the tradition alive and sustainable for textile artists in the High Atlas area.

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Old blog post: The power of slowness

In the summer time I spend a lot of my spinning time with spindles. They are easy to pack, easy to bring and just a joy to use. The slowness of spindle spinning is a superpower in itself as it offers a unique opportunity to deepen your understanding of spinning mechanics and techniques. Today I invite you to an old blog post where I dive into the power of slowness and offer you some of my favourite superpowers of different kinds of spindles.

Happy spinning!

You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Nalbinding Åsen mittens

The waulked and embroidered nalbinding mittens are finished!

For the past few months I have been on an Åsen wool journey. It started with my wanting to make a breed study on Åsen wool. I contacted an Åsen shepherdess who provided me with lovely fleeces. When I started to investigate the fleeces in preparation for the study I sank deep into one of them in the search for its soul. I may have found it in a pair of nalbinding Åsen mittens.

I like to investigate a fleece to find out how it wants to be treated to become its best yarn. In fact, that is my aim in all the fleeces I meet. Every fleece has a purpose and I think I owe it to the sheep who gave me the fleece to find its soul.

A nalbinding friendly fleece

This particular Åsen fleece had mostly vadmal type staples – mostly warm and airy undercoat fibers and just a few strands of long and strong outercoat fibers. It was not particularly soft and I saw a big nalbinding yarn potential. The airy undercoat fibers would provide lightness and warmth while the few outercoat fibers would bind the fibers together and add strength and integrity to the yarn.

Nalbinding straight off the spindle, breaking the rules of soaking and finishing.
Nalbinding straight off the spindle, breaking the rules of soaking and finishing.

To keep as much of the softness in the yarn I carded rolags and spun with a long draw on a suspended spindle. To make the yarn strong I chose the suspended spindle. The tension from the weight of the spindle brings integrity to the yarn. This was the first time I have spun this way. It was truly a lovely treat to explore this technique.

I gave the yarn lots of twist to make sure it would stand the abrasion of going up and down in the nalbinding. The resulting yarn was round, strong and kind. A few strands of black kemp here and there added to the rusticity of the yarn, which went well together with the ancient nalbinding technique.

Nalbinding Åsen mittens

I loved nalbinding these Åsen mittens. Well, I love nalbinding full stop. The technique is slow and I get to hold warm and kind yarn in one hand and a hand carved wooden needle in the other. The slow path of the needle up and down between the strands in my work and the working yarn gently hugging my thumb. Nalbinding doesn’t take up much space and I can do it anywhere. What’s not to love?

The comfort of nalbinding.
The comfort of nalbinding.

Waulking

I was almost sad when I had finished. Now what? Well, a nalbinding project is seldom finished just because the nalbinding itself is over. A nalbinding structure is strong and warm. The sewing of the yarn in all directions of the project makes it impossible to unravel. But my nalbinding projects aren’t finished until it has been properly waulked. The waulking makes the fabric even stronger and warmer. It also makes it windproof.

Nalbinding spirals

Nalbinding is done in a spiral. So for a pair of mittens I make the spiral from the tip of the fingers, round and round and finish at the wrist. I have learned – the hard way – that a nalbinding project made like this shrinks horizontally. Therefore I design the shape a bit off the end proportions – I make them a lot wider than my hands but not necessarily longer.

Nalbinding is generally done in a spiral, which makes the shrinkage happen horizontally. I designed the mittens to be a lot wider than my hands but not much longer.
Nalbinding is generally done in a spiral, which makes the shrinkage happen horizontally. I designed the mittens to be a lot wider than my hands but not much longer.

A few years ago I got a waulking board from Swedish eBay which I used with these mittens to waulk them to a size that would fit my hands. With soap and hot water I started working the mittens against the waulking board. The felting process didn’t take long to start. When I first got to know this fleece I noticed its excellent felting properties.

Woven square, 2-ply yarn and fulled square (from a woven square same as to the left) from Åsen sheep 16010. The fulled square took me less than five minutes to full to size.
Woven square, 2-ply yarn and fulled square (from a woven square same as to the left) from Åsen sheep 16010. The fulled square took me less than five minutes to full to size.

The spiral of the seasons

I was very happy with the end result of the waulking process. The mittens fit perfectly and the shape is very appealing. They are warm, snug and ready for the cold and the wind in the winter. I look forward to wearing them in an authentic setting (and not just for photo purposes in the middle of the summer).

The waulking is finished! The main shrinkage has happened sideways and the mittens have better proportions than pre-waulking.
The waulking is finished! The main shrinkage has happened sideways and the mittens have better proportions than pre-waulking.

I have been making these mittens during a few weeks in June, thinking of winter as the needle has been pushing through the fabric. When I wear them this coming winter I will think of early summer when I made them. It is a lovely cycle, kind of like the nalbound spiral in the fabric.

Finishing

When the mittens had dried after the waulking I brushed the surface lightly to give them a bit of a halo. But they didn’t feel finished, there was something missing. A spinning friend, Elaine, makes the loveliest embroidered mittens, often with just a simple heart on the back of the hand. They look somehow even more inviting with that embroidery.

A tone-in-tone embroidered heart on my waulked nalbinidng mittens.
A tone-in-tone embroidered heart on my waulked nalbinidng mittens.

I felt my mittens needed an embroidery too. Just a simple shape in the natural white nalbinding yarn. I decided on a heart, the kind of careless heart of a phone scribble. Unorganized but still clearly and undoubtedly a heart.

The waulked and embroidered nalbinding mittens are finished!
The waulked and embroidered nalbinding mittens are finished!

I love how the embroidery turned out. Tone-in-tone, but very clearly an embroidery. The round and free shape of the unwaulked yarn against the subtle but structured stripes of the waulked nalbinding. A bit of shine in the embroidery against the matte waulked background. A little shadow from the height of the stem stitch. I can’t wait to wear my nalbinding Åsen mittens this winter!

Nalbinding resources:

  • Excellent written (Finnish, Swedish and English) and video tutorials to a range of nalbinding stitches at Neulakintaat.
  • A new book on Nalbinding by Mervi Pasanen, With one needle. Available in Finnish and English.
  • My own tutorial of the Dalby stitch with the left hand.
  • You can also search for nalbinding on my blog for some more posts with nalbinding projects.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.