Wip series: First spindle full

A spindle full of grey yarn

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

One finished, three to go

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

A challenging spin

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

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

Beautiful greys

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

Happy spinning, both clockwise and counter-clockwise!

Wip series: Preparing for twined knitting

A spindle with light gray yarn

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

Rediscovering an old technique

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

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

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

The responsibility of saving a textile treasure

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

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

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

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

Inspiration

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

A new project

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

A lock of Värmland wool
A prize winning Värmland lamb fleece

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

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

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

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

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

Happy spinning!

Spinning direction part 3: Historical spinning direction

An archaeological textile find

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

Archaeological finds

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

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

Looking at a textile find

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

What can we derive from the textile history?

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

What about the lefties?

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

Is this true?

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

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

Spinning direction part 2: Poll results and physiology

A hand distaff dressed with wool and a medieval style spindle.

In an earlier post, I started to investigate spinning direction by looking at my own spinning with my left (dominant) and right hand. The thought came up after I had had to switch hands due to a cramp in my left thumb base while learning to spin in-hand style. In this post, we take a look at poll results and the physiology of spindle spinning.

Spinning poll

I wanted more than my own experience, so last week I made a spinning poll. I want to thank all of you who answered it. I got 155 answers and quite an interesting result.

I wanted to know with which hand you spin clockwise on any kind of spindle. Here are some spinning poll results:

  • About 80 % of the spinners are righthanded. That goes roughly hand in hand with handedness in the world.
  • Of the righthanded, about three quarters spin clockwise with their right hand and one quarter with their left hand.
  • About 7 % of are lefthanded.
  • About two thirds of the lefthanded spinners spin clockwise with their left hand and one third with their right hand.
  • About 15 % answered something else. These answers were mostly about different spinning hands for different kinds of spinning and ambidexterity. Some of the answers were about spinning counter-clockwise. I had asked for spinning hand for clockwise spinning, meaning when you spin clockwise, but I wasn’t clear enough on this. I’ll be more specific next time.

The basics: Pushing and pulling

So far, we have established this:

  1. Spinning clockwise with your right hand means that the fingers pull the spindle into your hand.
  2. Spinning clockwise with your left hand means that the fingers push the spindle out of your hand.

The spinning poll results showed that

  1. three quarters of the righthanded and one third of the lefthanded spinners pull the spindle and
  2. one quarter of the righthanded and two thirds of the lefthanded spinners push the spindle.

The physiology

I used to spin clockwise with my left (dominant) hand. Lately, I have started to learn to spin with my right hand because I experienced a cramp when pushing the spindle clockwise with my left hand. I wanted to know why I got this pain.

I talked to Åsa, an occupational therapist who is also a spinner. I asked her what it is that gives me a cramp at the base of my thumb when I spin clockwise with my left hand. She explained that we have more muscles governing the movements pulling inward than pushing outward. More muscles means that the strain on each individual muscle is less than if there are fewer muscles. Evolutionarily we need more muscles to grab than to let go. This phenomenon even seems to overcome the fact that I am a leftie and probably stronger in my left hand. Let’s look at it from above:

My left hand thumb seems to move slightly more than my right hand thumb. The first and second fingers also seem to be working more – pushing – with my left hand. It looks more strained, and perhaps the movement is a bit bigger than with my right hand. Spinning with my right hand – pulling –  looks easier, despite the fact that it is my weaker hand.

What does this mean for spinning?

62 % of the spinnes who answered the poll seem to be pulling the spindle, which from a physiological perspective seems to be better for the hand than pushing. At the same time, there are different amounts of strain on the hand in different types of spinning, as I have been looking at earlier. When spinning in-hand style there is quite a lot of strain on your hand since the spinner is holding the spindle and twirling it almost all the time. In the other end of the spectrum, there is suspended spindle spinning when you need to wait quite a while between twirls, and oftentimes you roll the spindle shaft up or down your thigh instead of twirling it with your fingers.

If you do experience pain, take a look at how you are spinning. Are you pushing or pulling? Is it time to make a change of hands or spinning direction? Either way, make sure you feel comfortable when you spin.

Does this make sense to you? Have you experienced pain when you spin? If so, have you been pushing or pulling? Have you tried to change spinning hands or spinning direction? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

 

Poll: Which is your spinning hand?

A hand holding a spindle

Hello spinners, I need your help! I am investigating spinning directions for spindle spinning and I would like you to answer this poll. My question is about which hand is your spinning hand when you spin clockwise on any kind of spindle. The spinning hand is the hand with which you turn/twirl/flick your spindle (as opposed to the fiber hand which holds the fiber). Answer in general, what is your most common way to spin. If you would like to elaborate or comment, please write in the comments section. The poll runs until Sunday February 4th 23:59 CET.

For an analysis of spinning direction and spinning hand, see this post.

[yop_poll id=”1″]

Learning new things – medieval style spinning

Josefin Waltin drafting wool from a distaff

I’m in a process where I’m learning new things. Learning a new skill is a beautiful experience. To be able to meet a new technique from a perspective of a beginner allows me to experiment with new tools before I have had the chance to decide which tools to get comfortable with. It teaches me to be humble before the learning process. For a moment I can step outside of myself and watch me gradually grasp the new technique.

Learning to spin medieval style

The purpose of my romance with the ever so charming process of learning is the art of spinning medieval style with a distaff. In this, there are several new things for me to learn:

  • The technique to spin on a new kind of spindle with a new technique
  • How to dress and draft from a distaff
  • How to spin and draft with the wrong hand

Medieval style spinning technique

The medieval spindle technique can be described as a third kind of technique along with suspended and supported spindle spinning. It is a grasped kind of spinning or in-hand spinning. But one of the beauties of spinning medieval style is that you can combine it with suspended spinning (long and short) and support spinning, all according to the circumstances in which you are spinning.

When spinning in-hand style, the yarn goes over the top of the spindle shaft, much like it does with supported spinning. I just love that light pattering sound of the thread snapping off the spindle tip for every turn of the spindle. Check out Cathelina di Alessandri‘s videos at 15th century spinning for great technique instructions.

The distaff

Working with a distaff is totally new to me. I have a hand-held distaff and a belt distaff. The first task is to dress the distaff. I prefer to hand-card my fleece, and so I do my best to assemble 20–25 grams of hand-carded batts on my distaff. I had lots of inspiration from Luca Costigliolo.

My hand distaff is hand turned by Caroline Hershey at Hershey Fiber arts. My belt distaff is hand-carved by my son when he was eight. He was inspired by the wizarding world and wanted to make a “magic cane”. He carved and decorated with mysterious signs and a magic gemstone on top. And when I found it a couple of weeks ago (he is 15 now and doesn’t like to throw away stuff) I saw the perfect belt distaff! A tad too short, but I can live with that. I am planning to carv myself some new ones though, in various lengths for hand-held, belt and floor distaff spinning.

Changing hands

In almost all of my spinning my left hand is my spinning hand and my right hand is my fiber hand. I tried this with in-hand spinning, but I got a cramp in my left hand all the time. The motion is the same whether you spin with your right or left hand, but if you want a specific spinning direction the motion will be different. Unless I spin for something special, I always spin clockwise. Spinning clockwise with your right hand means moving your first and second fingers outwards, away from your body. Spinning clockwise with tour left hand means moving your fingers inward towards your center. And apparently this didn’t work for me. So I switched. I know it is possible, since I have done it with Navajo spindle spinning for similar reasons.

A person holding a spindle
Learning to spin with the wrong hand

Changing an incorporated muscular pattern does take its time, though. But today I really felt progress and thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of having some sort of control over my right hand muscles.

Video plans

I have plans to make a video with medieval style spinning. It’s still a little cold outside, though. The lanolin isn’t on its best behaviour in -7°C. Believe me, I have tried. Today in fact. So I will give you a short sneak peak of my learning process from a cold and snowy Stockholm. Enjoy!

The spindle is one of the spiral notched spindle shafts from NiddyNoddyUK that I unboxed the other day and the whorl is from John Rizzi. Hat pattern is Ella Gordon‘s Crofthoose hat in my handspun yarn and the shawl is my handspun and handwoven from my video Slow Fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl. The fiber I am spinning is a prize winning Värmland fleece. Wonderful to work with and it drafts like a dream. Just not in winter temperatures.

There will be more! In the meantime I will continue to practice and learn.

Plying in Mongolia

Next in our journey around the spinning world is Mongolia. I found this wonderful clip of a woman singing and plying in a Mongolian yurt.

The spindle and the technique looks similar to the ones in Nepal I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. The spindle is quite long with a top whorl and she starts the spinning by rolling it against her thigh. She looks quite happy and, frankly, so would I, spinning in the coziness of a yurt.

ETA February 19th 2020: A follower contacted me today and told me that the lady is Kazakh. She is singing in Kazakh and the decorations in the yurt are typically Kazakh. Her dress is also more Kazakh than Mongolian.

Ancient spinning technique in Ecuador

First of all: Happy St Distaff’s day! I’m celebrating with some distaff spinning of my own and watching spinning videos.

I found a couple of inspiring clips of some beautiful and very old distaff spinning technique in Ecuador. The spindle is held almost horizontally in the outer end and the thread goes over the spindle tip closest to the distaff. In the first video the spinner is using wool and has a belt distaff.

In the second video the spinner is using cotton and a separate floor distaff. She is also rolling the yarn onto a temporary cop, just like I do when I spin supported. Now and then she dips her spinning hand in what looks like water, perhaps to get a better grip on the spindle.

Spindle stick and distaff spinning in Romania

A short clip of a Romanian woman spinning with a spindle stick and distaff. She is holding the spindle stick horizontally and spins it into a bulky and low-twist yarn by tossing and turning the spindle in her hand. She has arranged the fiber beautifully on the distaff, there must be over 200 grams of wool on it!

Norman Kennedy also demonstrates this technique in his video From wool to walking: Spinning wool and creating cloth with Norman Kennedy (preview of the video), available on Interweave.