In the grease

In the PLY magazine Double coated issue Maja Siska wrote an article about spinning a lopi style Icelandic yarn from the lock in the grease. I was intrigued by this and knew I needed to try it myself.

In the article Maja describes how she spins a lopi style yarn from a colour variegated fleece. By spinning from the lock those different colours will come to their right on their own instead of being blended into a medium grayish beige. She also spins the yarn in the grease.

I have read the article numerous times. There were so many things in Maja’s technique that were appealing to me, but most of all the combination. A singles yarn spun from the lock of variegated Icelandic fleece in the grease. What’s not to love?

Close

A lopi style yarn is a singles yarn with little or no twist, usually commercially spun to either be further spun into a plied yarn or used as it is. The yarn still holds together through the combination of long outercoat fibers and fine, warm undercoat fibers. Knitting with a lopi style yarn usually results in a very light but still warm garment. At first I thought a lopi yarn was an ancient tradition in Iceland. It turns out that it is not, it is a product of spinning mills producing yarn for the Icelandic sweaters that originated in the mid 20th century. Thus, the technique in Maja’s article isn’t a traditional way to spin a lopi style yarn. Rather, it is an adaptation to hand spinning from the mill produced pencil roving.

A lopi style yarn. Raw, yet elegant.

Adaptation to hand spinning also offers the opportunity to take advantage of the superpowers of hand spinning. I wanted to stay as close to the original structure of the fleece as possible. A yarn with this very gentle processing and handling gives me goosebumps. I often talk about processing with hand tools as a way to get to know the fleece. When just lightly teasing locks I skip a few steps, but I do get to come close to the wool and its original shape. I wrote a poetic style blog post about this closeness a couple of weeks ago.

Icelandic lamb’s fleece

I have wanted to get acquainted with Icelandic wool for a while now. I had even sought out a fleece supplier. When I read Maja’s article I knew I couldn’t wait anymore. I contacted Hulda at Uppspuni mini mill in Iceland to ask her for a lamb’s fleece.

I was in luck, the lambs were about to be shorn just a week or so later and Hulda promised to pick out a nice fleece for me. Another week or so later the fleece landed on my doorstep, full of icelandic sheepiness. I accidentally asked her to get me part of a darker fleece too. I figured I needed some contrasting colour yarn for a stranded yoke.

Teasing

At first I tried to just hand tease the locks, but despite the lovely openness of the staples I wanted a better separation of the fibers. After some experimenting I landed in lightly opening up of the locks in the direction of the fibers with a flicker and then hand teasing perpendicular to the direction of the fibers. That way I could open the cut end, the tip end and the middle and get the dirt out of the tip ends as well.

I love this opportunity to literally dig my hands into the raw fleece. Nothing has been done with this wool since shearing. By working with this fleece in the grease I have every opportunity in the world to experience it in its very essence, as well as the responsibility to make it justice. Now that’s intriguing!

Spinning from the lock

Spinning from the lock gives me the opportunity to be gentle with the wool and keep the yarn as close to the structure of the fleece on the hoof as possible.

Although I have teased the wool and the fibers seem well separated sideways, they are still quite aligned lengthwise. This makes drafting a challenge and I need to really focus on the fibers coming into the draft and the fibers next in line. My fingers need to listen to the wool to find the length of the fibers and thereby the proper distance between my hands.

Since the fibers are less separated than in a carded or combed preparation I need to work more with my hands to get the fibers reasonably evenly into the twist. I need to make sure an even amount of fiber is going into the twist while at the same time keeping the twist live and close to the point of twist engagement – that point where there is enough twist for the fibers to be able to pass each other without coming apart.

Wheel or spindle?

As you can see from some of the picture I started out spinning this yarn with a suspended spindle. In my vision to handle this yarn as gently and with as few tools as possible I figured a spindle would be the perfect spinning tool. I tried several different weights, but I never seemed to get it right. The yarn got too thin and I didn’t feel that flow that tells me everything is just right. I decided to try the spinning wheel and immediately felt at home. I think the wheel allowed me to work better with both my hands in the drafting.

In the grease

As you can see from some of the pictures I’m spinning by the fireplace. Apart from it being lovely with the warmth and the glowing embers, the heat melts the lanolin, resulting in a heavenly draft. The fibers go through my hands like butter and leave them soft and moisturized in the dry Swedish winter.

I very rarely spin wool with no lanolin, usually I have some lanolin left from gentle washing without detergents. The lanolin lubricates the draft and makes it even and steady. Spinning in the grease, though, is a whole different matter. The lanolin feels truly present in the spinning, like one of the main characters in the spinning drama.

Going backwards

Despite the smooth drafting with the lanolin all soft from the heat of the fireplace, spinning from the lock requires a bit more effort than spinning a prepared rolag or top. Drafting takes longer which results in quite a lot of twist. I tread faster and use my largest whorl (with a ratio of 7.5:1), but still there is far too much twist for my purpose with this yarn. My solution for this is to simply back the yarn once. I spin the bobbin again, but against the twist, removing enough twist to end up with a twist angle of around 20°.

The yarn fluffs up and looks truly inviting as a singles yarn, displaying its whole colour palette, lanolin glistening like tiny stars.

Washing and shocking

To wash my lopi style yarn spun in the grease I do what I normally do with a finished skein: I wash with an organic shampoo in the first water (as hot as my tap can muster, around 55°C), white vinegar in the second and rinse with a third.

Finished skeins of singles lopi style yarn in a lopi style. The skeins are unwashed.

Since the yarn is single there is some energy in it, even if the twist is low. Also, a singles yarn may not be as sturdy as a plied one. So, to ease the energy and to bring some strength to the yarn I full it lightly after the third bath: I dip the yarn in cold water. The temperature difference is enough to push the scales into holding on to each other and stabilize the yarn slightly. After fulling I squeeze the skeins in a towel, whack them against the floor and hang to dry.

I’m very happy with the resulting skeins. They are not completely evenly spun, but as a whole they will produce an even knitted structure. I’m looking forward to seeing the colour variations and the texture in the knitted fabric. I just haven’t had the time to swatch yet.

Thank you Maja for an excellent article. Thank you Hulda for the loveliest fleece.

If you are a patron (or decide to become one) there is a digital postcard video I put together for you where I show you how I prepare and spin this wool into a lopi style yarn like I describe in this post.

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.

In the morning

My favourite time of day is in the morning. The air feels better in the morning – I’m the first one to inhale it. My thoughts are new and fresh, my mind clearer and I find peace. Sometimes I giggle to myself thinking what a treat it is to have discovered this wonderful time of day that very few people seem to know about. In this blog post I spin some precious Gute wool and sing my ode to the morning and its gifts to me.

My space in the morning

I get up at 5:45 a.m. on week days to be able to work when I know work at my best. On weekends I get up at 7 a.m. to have those precious morning hours to myself. Since I work from home since March for pandemic reasons I don’t bike to work anymore, which I truly miss. Instead I have the luxury of being able to take morning swims every day (I have 300 meters to the lake). I can highly recommend it – the combination of energy refill and mindfulness after a morning swim is indescribable.

A morning swim gives me energy and peace of mind.
A morning swim gives me energy and peace of mind. It is 8 a.m. and 6 degrees Celsius in the air, 12 in the water. I swim if the water isn’t too wild and stay in for around 3 minutes.

I’s like the morning offers a unique dimension – the air is fresh to breathe, my thoughts are sprouting and the world is beautiful in all its abundance and complexity. I get access to a morning elixir that expires every day after those precious early hours. The next morning the elixir is there again, available for me to absorb. I’m at platform 9 3/4 and receive a free shot of creativity, clarity and mindfulness. I’m just surprised that other people haven’t found out this superpower charged secret yet. But, then again, in the evening I turn into a pumpkin again – after 8 p.m. my mind turns to goo and I’m not usable for anything. There may be a similar elixir in the evening that I don’t have access to while others do.

Gute in the morning

I love sitting at my spinning wheel in the morning. The room faces east and has large windows in the east and south. The rising sun fills the room with peace and lightness and the view over the lake is spectacular. When I spin the sun warms my back and gives the yarn a special morning sparkle.

The rising sun fills our living room with peace and lightness.

These past few mornings I have spent some quantity time with a Gute fleece. I have had it for over a year now and for some reason I have been reluctant to spin it. Lots of other spinning projects have cut in line and the Gute fleece has humbly taken a step back to wait for its turn. When I finally decided to give the Gute fleece my full attention I was very happy I made that decision.

A fleece of contrasts

Gute wool has it all – the softest cashmere-like undercoat, long and strong outercoat and brittle and quirky kemp fibers. All in different lengths and colours. Together the fiber types make a yarn that is strong and light, robust and squishy. So many contradicting characteristics get along in one single skein.

Gute wool from one individual. The sheep has long and strong overcoat, fine undercoat and kemp over the whole body, but to varying degrees.
Gute wool from one individual. The sheep has long and strong overcoat, fine undercoat and kemp over the whole body, but to varying degrees.

The kemp fibers help keeping the staples open. This make the staples very light and airy. They are easy to tease and open up like blossoms.

The slowness of Gute wool

One of the superpowers of Gute wool comes to life when I process and spin it. There is a slowness in the drafting that I find unique to this breed, at least in my short experience of it. It is like I enter a parallel drafting zone with this fiber – the fibers pass each other with a slowness that can be comparable to syrup. You know that viscous feeling where you need to wait nicely for the syrup to find its way out of the bottle before you can do anything with it.

The way I need to work the flicker and the cards slowly under the fiber’s command is truly fascinating. I can’t rush this fiber, it has a mind of its own. It is not against me, it is on the contrary very cooperative and easy to work with once it has, with strong determination, set the speed of the process.

Gute – a wool like the morning

The slowness helps me understand what is happening in the draft, how the fibers align in the semi-yarn and in the end surrender to the power of the twist. Perhaps it is the different lengths and qualities of the fibers that gives this wool such a special mindset – I never know what to expect and I need to reevaluate the drafting properties for every draft, despite the fact that I have blended the wool properly. Come to think of it, it is with Gute fleece almost like the morning – a parallel space where the conditions change and new rules apply.

Spinning Gute wool is like the morning – a parallel space where new rules apply.

I love working with a wool that challenges me and forces me to think and make decisions in all the steps of the process. I can’t take the draft for granted and I need to stay alert all the way.

Every time I change from spinning to teasing, from teasing to carding or from carding to spinning I make new realizations. I get a deeper understanding of the fibers, how they work together and how to listen to the wool adapt my movements under their command.

Spinning in the morning

Coming back to the theme of this blog post, the morning is my best chance of understanding this wool more deeply. When my mind is alert and my hands eager to learn I can listen to the wool and make it shine. Sitting in the morning sun, inhaling the unused air and the shot of morning elixir gives me the spark, inspiration and peace to understand and learn.

Five finished skeins of Gute yarn. Carded and spun woolen with English longdraw.

There is still fleece in the bottom of the basket and enough for one or two more skeins. When the basket is empty I will have brand new skeins to make a textile with. The empty basket also means that the fleece I have spent so much time with and learned so much from is gone. It’s like finishing a good book and missing being a part of it. Luckily, wool grows out again and there are always new fleeces to learn from.

Creative space

The morning is the time when I feel the most grounded, inspired and creative. It is when I find my spinning mojo, my best ideas and the mental space to write blog posts. After my morning swim my mind wants and needs to be creative – spin in the pale morning sun and let my synapses connect slowly and mindfully or reflect more purposefully in a blog post. My creative space allows me to be more openminded and curious in the morning.

It’s 8 a.m. as I write the last rows of this blog post. I’m going down to the lake now for my morning swim. After that I still have a lot of morning left to enjoy.

When are you the most creative?


And, oh, last week I promised you a photo of me wearing my spinning championships gold medal and a silly grin on my face once I got the medal and the yarn back. Well, I got yarn, medal and diploma in the mail this week and, as promised, here are pictures of me with a silly grin on my face, happy as a lamb.

Happy spinning!

My contribution to the embroidery category of the Swedish spinning championships 2020 got me a gold medal.

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.
  • 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 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.