Spinning cotton on an Akha spindle

A spindle with fiber

I have a new spinning video for you today! This time I discover the beauty of spinning cotton on an Akha spindle. The Akha spindle is by far my favorite tool for spinning cotton.

This is the fifth and last post in my cotton blog series. Previous posts have been about my opinion of the cotton industrycotton processing, spinning cotton on a Tahkli spindle and spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle.

The Akha spindle

The Akha spindle is used by the Akha people who live in the region between Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Chinese Yunnan. It is a spindle primarily used for spinning cotton. I think it would work for other short fibers as well, but I haven’t tried that. The whorl is placed in the middle of the shaft and you spin it with a two-step technique in two dimensions. The end of the upper part of the shaft has either a hook or a notch. Mine comes from NiddyNoddyUK and has a notch and I make a half-hitch to secure the yarn.

Spinning cotton on an Akha spindle

Cotton drafts very easily but has very short fibers. This means that you can draft the fiber as long as you don’t apply any pressure on the yarn.

It also means that you can’t spin cotton with a suspended spindle. Or, at least it would be very difficult. Yet, you use the Akha spindle suspended in the second step of the spinning technique. How does this work? Well, you need to make sure the drafting is all done in the first step. This is how I do it:

First step: Horizontal and supported

Setup: I hold the spindle horizontally in my spindle hand (my right hand for clockwise spinning). I hold the bottom part of the spindle shaft. The fiber is in my fiber hand, I hold it very lightly. I use hand-carded rolags. You can see how I card cotton here. No hand is on the yarn.

A person spinning horizontally on a spindle
Drafting away on my Akha spindle
  • I draft the fiber by increasing the distance between my hands. My fiber hand just supports the rolag and keeps it from falling down. No holding or pinching.
  • At the same time I roll the bottom of the spindle shaft. It is a very light movement – I use my index finger and thumb for rolling and the other three fingers for support. I pull my index finger toward the palm of my hand – clockwise with my right or counter-clockwise with my left (for a discussion on spinning direction and ergonomics, see this post).
  • I make a loose draft until I reach a length of the yarn that allows for a second draft.
  • When I have enough length between my hands I can allow myself to pinch the yarn in front of the rolag to avoid more fiber to enter the draft.
  • Now I can keep drafting and rolling. I make sure I do very small adjustments – I draft a little, roll a little, always checking that there is enough twist to hold the fibers together and enough draft to give the fibers mobility.
  • I draft until I can’t see or feel any more mobility or uneven parts in the fiber. When there are no more lumps and when there is no more give in the yarn, I stop the drafting.
A spindle hanging in its yarn
The second part of the two-step spinning sequence.

Second step: Vertical and suspended

  • I hold the yarn right in front of the rolag and let the spindle hang in its now-drafted yarn. If the fiber hasn’t been sufficiently drafted, the yarn will break.
  • I roll the bottom part of the shaft along my thigh in the spinning direction to add twist. A lot of twist. The bottom tip of the shaft is a bit tapered, so the spindle spins very fast.
  • When I’m happy with the amount of twist, I roll the yarn onto the cop, make a half-hitch and start the first step again.

The real spinners

I found a YouTube clip of a woman spinning on an Akha spindle. She does It a bit differently. She combines the first and second parts by having an arm’s length of long draw and then another arm’s length where the spindle hangs suspended. Also, she seems to spin counter-clockwise and she manipulates the yarn with her spindle hand to keep the spindle in motion.

Here is another clip of women spinning cotton on Akha spindles. They seem to be using both methods. The person behind the camera doesn’t seem to fully understand how to shoot spinning, though.

The setting

I shot the video when I was teaching spinning at Sätergläntan in early October. Before I came I knew it would be a beautiful place so I had planned to shoot a video there. I just needed to find a suitable spot. And it didn’t take long for me to find the perfect location. There are lots of beautiful old wooden houses where the students live. But the prettiest ones were the storage houses (härbre) that are used as simple lodging in the summer. You can compare it to an Alaskan or Canadian bear cache. I am truly fascinated by the old wood. I just want to hold my hands against the log walls on a sunny day and feel the warmth and the kindness of the wood.

A row of wooden store houses
Old wooden store houses, used for light lodging at Sätergläntan craft institute.

All the store houses had different doors. I just picked the one with the prettiest door. A student in the course I was teaching was kind enough to help me with the shooting of the video.

A favourite tool

In the cotton blog series I have prepared my cotton bolls and spun with three different spindle types – the Tahkli, Navajo and now Akha spindles. They are quite different but they all make the most of the superpowers of the cotton fiber.

  • The Takhli spindle with its speed catches the short fibers in the twist and I can manipulate the yarn while the spindle spins.
  • With the Navajo spindle I can  take my time making a double draft and use the length between my hands to even out the twist.
  • The Akha spindle allows me to separate the different parts of the spinning process and finish one at a time.

I have to say that my favourite of all these cotton spinning tools is the Akha spindle. It fits the characteristics of the cotton so perfectly and really makes the most of the properties of the cotton fiber. I can choose to sit or stand when I spin with it. The supported part does not require me to sit and the length of the yarn is short enough not to dangle in the floor for the suspended part if I sit down.

The Akha spindle I’m spinning on in the video (from NiddyNoddyUK ) is so very light and sweet to work with. It weighs only 14 grams but is not too delicate. It is very comfortable to spin with. I love the light feeling when I roll the shaft in my hand, feeling the structure of the wood and the subtle turning details. It is really fast when I set it in motion against my thigh and spins beautifully centered. She’s a keeper!

A spindle hanging in its own yarn
A favourite cotton spinning tool

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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!
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Shopping trolley makeover

A person pulling a shopping trolley

I have a shopping trolley that I pack all my gear in when I teach spinning. It is lightweight and easy to bring on the metro or train. It can easily swallow three shoe boxes on top of each other, filled with spindles, cards, combs and other tools. This is the story of a shopping trolley makeover.

A shopping trolley makeover

Lately my shopping trolley bag has started to come apart and I decided it was time for it to retire. My husband suggested I look for a new one in wool. That was an excellent idea. The one I had was in some synthetic canvas which wasn’t climate friendly at all. When I browsed for a shopping trolley in wool, though, I couldn’t find one.

Creativity by bike

On an early bike ride to work I got an idea.  My 10 K morning bike ride to work is one of my most creative moments during the day and I usually get so much sorted out in my head on these rides. I direct and edit videos, brainstorm for new videos, outline articles and blog posts etc. When I get to work I just write all of it down and e-mail it to myself. This was one of those ideas. I was going to make a new trolley bag myself – I would just copy all the parts and measurements from the existing trolley bag and stitch them together.

I had seen a made-over shopping trolley before and fallen in love with the idea. A while ago, I took a wood-carving class, and the teacher had upcycled her shopping trolley. Instead of the regular canvas bag she had made one in woven birch bark. The handle was made of carefully carved wood with an ergonomical grip. It was really beautiful and personal. The idea of making one in my own crafting material made my heart jump with joy.

Wool needle punched felt

On a recent fiber event I passed by a vendor who sold needle punched felt in 100 percent wool from Swedish sheep. They sold it by the meter in large rolls. That would be a perfect material for my shopping trolley!

I bought a meter of medium felted needle punched felt. The material is about 6 mm thick and quite sturdy. However, it works excellent to hand sew in.

Cozy sewing

I measured the original shopping trolley bag and copied it right off (I did leave the cane compartment, though, I figured I wouldn’t need it for a while yet). Then I just used a simple backstitch to sew all the pieces together.

The sewing was actually really comfortable. I loved holding the thick wool in my hands and the needle went through the thick material with ease. I used glue clamps to pin the pieces together. And of course I used my handspun yarn for the seams, a 2-ply worsted spun yarn from the black parts of a Shetland flecked fleece.

A woolen shopping trolley in a beech forest.
A personalized shopping trolley, ready for teaching adventures. Photo by Dan Waltin

The compartment was made of a front and a back, two sides, a bottom and a top flap. The top flap closed with velcro. There were steel reinforcement frames in the front and back pieces. I made extra pockets on the tops of the front and back pieces for the frames to fit in. A shorter handle on the back of the bag and a longer on the front. A closing mechanism for the handles, secured with velcro. Two horizontal straps on the back piece held the bag securely on the trolley. After the pictures were taken I got rid of the ugly foam handle on the trolley and replaced it with a cozier one in the same material as the rest of the bag.

All that was left of the original trolley bag was a sad and hollow bundle of polyester canvas.

Embellishments

Needle felted logo

Before I sewed the bag, though, I had some decorations to make. First of all I needle felted my logo to the front of the bag. I tried to pre-trace the logo onto the felted material first, but it was way to fuzzy, so I had to needle felt it all off the cuff. I used a handspun rya yarn I had used earlier for a logo embroidery on my spinning apron.

A needle felted sheep logo
A needle felted logo. Photo by Dan Waltin

A spinner’s quote

After having finished the logo I thought it would be a shame to waste such a blank and lovely canvas. So I embroidered a quote on the closing flap. I used the same handspun yarn I had used for the seams.

I chose a spinning quote from Mahatma Gandhi. He was a spinner and wanted to liberate India from the British by non-violent civil disobedience and spinning. I found it quite fitting.

A quote embroidered on a felted material
‘Every revolution of the wheel spins peace, goodwill and love’. Photo by Dan Waltin

I couldn’t pre-trace on the lid either, so I had to embroider all the writing off the cuff as well. I used a simple backstitch. Embroidering handwriting by improvisation was really a challenge, but when the quote was all finished I was really happy with the result. Despite the rather uneven ‘handwriting’ I am quite fond of it. It has sort of an animated touch to it.

A shopping trolley makeover success

When the shopping trolley bag was finished I just slid it over the trolley handle. I fit like a glove and I was happy as a clam of my beautiful and personal trolley bag. The walls of the bag are really sturdy and it actually looks professional. I can’t wait to board the next train with my new traveling companion!

A person pulling a shopping trolley.
Off to new spinning adventures. Photo by Dan Waltin

A spindle case

I also got another idea. It may have come to me on another bike ride. I had fallen in love with the felted material and I didn’t want to stop sewing in it. So I came up with an idea to make a spindle case. Just a tube with a bottom, a lid and a loop strap for hanging or holding in your hand or sliding onto your belt.

A woolen tube with an embroidered flower
My pretty spindle house, ready for a house-warming party. Or, rather, a spindle warming party. The house is already warm and cozy. Photo by Dan Waltin

In afterthought, the rim of the lid was a bit too short. It is 3 cm and I should have made it around 5 cm. The top of the lid is a bit too small, which makes the rim point outwards a bit and result in an unsmooth fit. I’ll make some changes for my next spindle case!

More embroidery

I have not embroidered much, but a spindle case is a perfect opportunity to practice. And I did love sewing in the material, so there was no hesitation. This time, however, I didn’t use my handspun yarn for the embroidery. Instead, I used thrift shop embroidery flax yarn I found in the back of a cupboard. This case needed colour and most of my handspun is undyed. The silky linen yarn was a perfect match to the matte and sturdy feted wool.

As in my previous embroidery adventures with the needle punched felt I couldn’t pre-trace anything, so I just started with the center ring of a flower and improvised from there. The beauty of being a beginner at something is that you don’t know the rules and I could just make everything up as I went along. And I’m quite happy with the result.

A woolen tube with an embroidered flower
Photo by Dan Waltin

The flower reminds me of a pansy. The dangling tentacles are inspired by an anglerfish. You know, the deep-water fish that has sort of an antennae on the top of its head with a flashlight on it to lure its bait.

Decadent lining

I also chose to line the spindle case, for two reasons. First of all, the spindle would get stuck in the entangled mess at the back of the embroidery without a cover. Second of all, If I would keep some spinning fiber in the case (which I most definitely would), it would stick to the felted surface if I didn’t line it. Of course I didn’t want a synthetic lining material, so I bought a decadently pink silk lining and hand-stitched it to the inside of the tube before I assembled the case.

A woolen tube with silk lining.
Decadently pink silk lining in the spindle case. Photo by Dan Waltin

As a final touch, I cut out a circle of wool to put in the case as protection. This way I can put a small spinning bowl or puck/disk in the bottom of the case. If I put the wool circle on top of the bowl and then slide in the spindle I don’t have  to worry about any damage on the spindle tip.

Josefin Waltin sitting on a log in a forest. A shopping trolley and a tube case beside her.
Wool, spinning and a beech forest in autumnal colours. Couldn’t ask for more. Photo by Dan Waltin

I’m ready for my next spinning teaching adventure!

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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.
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Spinning flax on a spindle

A spindle and distaff

This is the third post in my series about flax. I wrote the earlier posts about flax processing as a whole, and about this year’s harvest. I don’t have a lot of experience spinning flax, but I’m eager to learn. And I made a video. This time the video is about spinning flax on a spindle. The video also includes how I dress a distaff. Spinning flax on a spindle is a wonderful time to really get to know the fiber and the spinning technique. Also, I’m a bit smitten by Norman Kennedy when he demonstrates spinning flax on an in-hand spindle.

Tools

I use a medieval style in-hand (grasped) spindle with a spiral notch and whorl (in featured image). I bought them from NiddyNoddyUK and I asked Neil to make a spiral notch turning counter-clockwise. The outermost layer of flax fiber is slightly turned counter-clockwise.  Hence, most flax is spun counter-clockwise. This gave me a chance to practice my in-hand spinning with my left hand. If you want to know more about my thoughts on spinning direction I made a blog series about this earlier, check here, here and here.

The distaffs are my own hand carved from our lime tree avenue. I made one belt distaff and one floor distaff. In our terrace lounge furniture there is a very convenient hole in the lid, which fits the floor distaff perfectly.

Dressing the distaff

I have tried to read up on how to dress a distaff. there are many traditions in this, and I picked one that appealed to me. In the video I use a strick of hand processed Belgian flax.

A stick of flax
A beautiful strick of Belgian flax

I tied a ribbon around the root end of the bundle and tied the ends around my waist. I then carefully criss-crossed the bundle several times in very thin layers in an arch on the table in front of me. In this way, the fibers are well separated and always has another fiber to catch on to.

Josefin Waltin preparing to dress a distaff. The flax is spread out in an arch on the table in front of her.
Preparing to dress the distaff. The fibers are criss-crossed in thin layers and they all have fiber friends to hold on to.

When I had finished making the arch, I rolled the flax around the belt distaff and tied with the ends of the ribbon. I should have used a longer ribbon, though.

The flax on the floor distaff in the video is machine processed, also from Belgium I think. Bought at Växbo lin. I dressed the floor distaff the same way as I did the waist distaff.

Spinning flax

I wet spin my flax. The fiber has sort of a gluey substance that is activated in water. This makes a smoother spin. It also helps balancing the yarn. But you have to make sure to add the water at the right place – at the point of twist. Too low and nothing happens, the yarn just looks wet spun but when it dries the fibers go their own way. Too high and you will have trouble with unspun fibers clogged together. I put some flax seeds in my water to get some of that flax seed gel in the spinning.

A person spinning flax on a spindle
Add the water just at the point of twist

Flax fibers are very long and I can keep quite a long spinning triangle. This can be a bit fiddly sometimes, when the drafting triangle gets longer than my arms can reach comfortably.

Because of the length of the fibers, I don’t need very much twist. When I spin wool on an in-hand spindle I usually use a short suspension. I don’t need that when I spin flax. Keeping the spindle in my hand all the time gives me control over the spinning and I can put my focus where I need it the most: On the drafting zone. I need to make sure that there is just the right amount of fiber in the drafting zone.

Josefin Waltin drafting flax fiber from a distaff.
Drafting away, always keeping a close eye on the drafting triangle.

Flax isn’t as forgiving as wool when it comes to lumps, you can’t untwist and redraft. But I still do untwist. Right at the moment where I draft, I untwist slightly to make a smoother draft. This comes in handy especially after I have removed my spinning hand from the yarn to wet my fingers.

A word about climate change

In the shot when I spin leaning against a tree, you can see the yellowed grass behind me. This is not because it is autumn – the video was shot in July, a time when the grass is usually fresh and green. The summer of 2018 was extremely hot and dry. Over 30°C for weeks and almost no rain in large parts of the country. Harvests were ruined and cattle owners had to slaughter their animals because there were no pastures left. We had over 70 forest fires and had to get fire fighters from continental Europe to be able manage them. Talk about climate change.

Josefin Waltin spinning flax with a spindle and distaff. Yellow grass in the background
Spinning in front of the yellowed grass from an extremely hot and dry summer.

Ergonomics

There are a few things you need to think about to be kind to your body. We don’t need to strain our muscles, we want to be able to spin as much and as healthy as possible, don’t we?

Try to keep your spindle close to your body. This way you don’t need to lift your arms more than necessary. Use your body as support! I rest my spinning hand against my belly or hip when I spin.

Aim towards a straight spinning hand wrist. Bending the wrist too much can lead to strained muscles. Adapt your grip to get the most comfortable hand position. In the video you can see me using two different grips on the spindle. Before I started editing the video, I didn’t realize that I was using two different grips. I noticed it when I was adding the captions and figured I had changed grips to get more comfortable.

The first grip is when my hands are close to each other, i.e. when the hand of my spinning  arm is perpendicular to my body or pointing slightly upwards. In this grip I hold the spindle between my thumb, index finger and third finger. The other fingers are supporting the grip. Thumb on the inner side of the spindle and the rest of the fingers on the outer side. I roll the spindle between my thumb, index finger and third finger. I would not use this grip when my hand below a 90 degree angle, since it forces my wrist to bend.

Josefin Waltin spinning flax with a spindle and distaff. Text says "Grip 1: Roll the spindle between index finger and thumb. Support with other fingers."
Grip 1, which I wasn’t even aware of that I was using before I watched the video.

The second grip is one I can use for all my hand positions, but if I have started with the first grip I change to the second when my arm is below a perpendicular angle. I put my fourth finger on the inner side of the spindle to support it. I do the rolling mostly with my index finger in this grip. This is my preferred grip, but it is still nice to be able to change between two different grips during the spinning.

Close-up of a person spinning flax on a spindle. Text says: "Grip 2: Hold the spindle between your third finger and thumb. Supporting with your fourth finger and rolling with your index finger."
Grip 2 is the grip I use most of the time.

Spinning towards  the end of the summer

It takes time to spin flax on a spindle and I’m far from done with the flax I dressed the distaff with. I will keep spinning until the summer is over and it’s not comfortable spin outdoors anymore.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. This is a very welcome contribution to the time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Ply on the fly on a Turkish spindle

A spindle and bowl on a chair on a meadow. Mountains in the background.

When I was in Austria with my family recently I experimented with plying on the fly on a Turkish spindle. I posted a picture on Instagram and asked if anyone wanted me to make a video about it. I got a very nice response from several of you who wanted me to go ahead. So I did. Here is my video where I demonstrate how I ply on the fly on a Turkish spindle.

The Turkish spindle

I spin a lot on suspended spindles in the summer, especially my Turkish models. They are perfect for spinning when walking. They don’t take up much room, neither for transport nor for the actual spinning. But sometimes I find spinning on a suspended spindle a bit tedious, so I wanted to learn how to ply on the fly. I have plied a lot on the fly, but so far only on supported spindles.

Ply on the fly on a Turkish spindle

When you ply on the fly you spin a section first. Then you chain-ply that section before you spin the next section. Plying on the fly is a great technique to get a finished yarn without winding the whole cop off the spindle. Well, you do actually wind it all off, but in smaller and more manageable sections. It gives the spinner variation between spinning and plying and you take advantage of the fact that the single is fresh when you ply it. This means that I always want to finish after a plied section and I don’t leave a spun cop on the shaft.

Spinning

For regular spinning on a Turkish spindle you wind the yarn onto the wings. When you ply on the fly you wind the single onto the shaft instead, just like you would on a regular suspended spindle (or the temporary cop of a supported spindle). Then, after you have plied the single, you wind the plied yarn onto the wings.

 

A person spinning on a spindle with crossed wings
Wind your single around the shaft of the spindle. Turkish spindle  from Jenkins yarn tools (Lark model).

When I started practicing plying on the fly the spindle kept dropping to the ground when I was spinning. I got very frustrated because I couldn’t figure out why. And because I was walking at the time. I couldn’t see any difference from regular Turkish spindle spinning. But then I realized that I wound the yarn on differently. Winding the single around the wings helps securing the yarn. So when I figured this out, I wound the yarn around the shaft for plying on the fly, and then under one of the wings before securing it with a half hitch. And, voilá, no more dropping.

Transferring the single

When you have spun your desired length of single, you transfer it to your fiber hand with the butterflying technique – you pick up the yarn in a figure eight with your thumb and pinkie, until you have no more single. This can be done against your belly. It will be more efficient if you do it against a hard surface (my belly isn’t) like a spinning bowl or a table. If this is your start of the yarn, make a loop. If you have already plied a section, you pick up the loop from its parking place on one of the wings. You now have all the freshly spun single on the thumb and pinkie of your fiber hand.

If you have already plied a section, secure the plied end on the shaft with a half hitch (or through the hook if that is how your spindle is constructed).

Chain plying

  • Pick up the loop with your spindle hand index finger. Do not let go of the loop.
  • Pull your single through the loop with your spindle hand thumb, keeping the index finger in the original loop. Make sure you keep all the strands tense.
  • Pick up the new loop from the spindle hand thumb onto your fiber hand middle finger and pull the loop out. This is done by letting go of one strand of yarn at a time from your butterfly. You now have three strands of yarn. Keep these taut. Keep your index finger in the original loop.
  • When you are happy with the length of the section, you can pull your index finger out of the original loop and let the spindle twist the yarn into balance.
  • Wind the plied yarn onto the wings of the spindle – slow and fancy or fast and efficient, your choice. Make a half hitch on the shaft (or put the yarn in the hook) and start the next chain.

When you are out of singles, secure the loop on one of the wings and start spinning the next section.

A person plying on a Turkish spindle
Keep the strands taut and keep the index finger in the original loop

The location

Since I started plying on the fly in Austria, I decided to make the video there as well. We stayed where we alway stay, at a B&B in the town of Mondsee in Salzkammergut. The B&B is an old convent from the 15th and 16th centuries. The owners also own a big meadow that surrounds the B&B. The town is quite crowded with houses nearly on top of each other, but with the meadow you get a spectacular and clutter free view from the B&B over the basilica and the surrounding mountains. The meadow is the place I chose for this video. I am happy to give you a glimpse of a beautiful spot in Austria.

A person spinning on a spindle on a meadow. Mountains and a town in the background.
Spinning on a meadow in the morning sun, surrounded by mountains and a general Austrian-ness. This place makes my heart sing.

Happy spinning!

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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