Flicking tips

A ball of wool

After a discussion in a Facebook spinning group about solidified grease in the tips of a fleece, I decided to do a mini study of different ways to prepare a fleece for spinning. I have a fleece of my own that is wonderfully clean but has tips with solidified grease.

The fleece

On the last wool journey with my wool traveling club, I bought a beautiful NKS fleece. NKS stands for Norsk kvit sau: Norwegian white sheep. This is basically what crossbreds are called in Norway. The fleece I chose had a full year’s growth.

In Sweden most sheep are shorn twice a year, which naturally makes the fleece shorter. This means that the fleece shorn in the early spring is of worse quality (since all the nutrients go straight to the lamb) and usually has more vegetable matter (because the sheep have spent much of the winter indoors). The fleece shorn in the autumn has better quality (since the sheep has no lamb to nourish) and less vegetable matter (since the sheep are out grazing). So: Twice a year gives a better but shorter autumn fleece. Once a year gives a longer fleece but can be more mixed in quality.

Lanoliny tips

The fleece was wonderfully clean and shiny with staples of around 12 cm. The tips, though, were greasy. I think that the Norwegian rain had pushed all the lanolin out into the tips. I washed the fleece straight away by soaking it in rain water. It wasn’t until recently (one year after I bought the fleece) that I started processing, and by then the greasy tips had solidified.

Experiment: Flicked vs unflicked tips

I wanted to make an experiment and compare different preparation methods. First, I prepared the way I usually do with a fleece I want to comb: Loading the combs with the cut ends on the tines and combing three passes, then pulling the wool off the comb in one long top.

Combing this way was a struggle. It took a lot of muscle power to get the combs through the wool. And after three passes it was not nearly in a condition I could approve (I always do an uneven number of passes so that I pull the wool off the combs from the cut ends). So, I did five passes. Pulling the wool off the comb was also difficult, the wool was still uneven with bits of solidified gunk left. I picked as much of it out, but there was still stuff left when I spun the top, which of course interrupted my spinning flow.

When you play the videos, a captions symbol appears to the left of the settings symbol. Click or unclick the captions, depending on your preferences.

This was not a pleasant combing experience. So, I tried a different way. I flicked the solidified grease ends before combing. Combing the staples with the tip ends flick carded was a whole different experience.

A lot of gunk was left in the flicker and the floor was sprayed with gunk powder.

A floor dirty with wool waste.
Powdered gunk and gunky flicker waste.

The combing was easy and pleasant after flick carding the tips and I was perfectly happy after my usual three passes. Pulling the wool off the combs was also nice and smooth and the spinning was uninterrupted and yummy.

A skein of white handspun yarn.
A finished skein of fingering weight 2-ply NKS wool, spun with short draw from hand combed tops on a spinning wheel. 194 m, 70 g, 2766 m/kg.

I spun the skein above with both of the preparation techniques. Mostly the flicked version, though, since I only combed a couple of bird’s nests with the tips unflicked. I also knitted a swatch with the finished yarn.

A knitted swatch
A knitted swatch, 25 stitches and 39 rows in 10×10 cm

Other ways to use a flick card

This was one example where flick carding the tips made a big difference for the preparation and spinning experience. I also use my flick card for several other purposes:

  • To remove brittle tips. If I have a fleece with fine fibers and brittle tips I can use the flick card on the tip ends. The brittle tips will end up in the card instead of the yarn (as nepps).
  • To flick both ends of a staple. Sometimes I want to spin from the lock. A flick card is a good tool to separate the fibers in individual staples and spin staple by staple.
  • To tease staples before carding. This might take time, but will give a good result. Fibers that are too short, brittle or dirty will stay in the flick card and the good stuff will go to carding.

Do you use your flick card for other purposes?

Tech stuff

In these videos I have played with both narration and captions. As you may know, I want to shoot my videos outside if possible. But the area around our house is quite noisy. In the background on the other side of the lake you can see the most intense motorway in Sweden, and it makes a lot of noise. Also, we live close to a city airport and the planes fly just above our house, it’s almost like we can tickle the planes on the bellies if we stretch enough. This is why I wanted to try to narrate the clips. And I think it worked out.

In a previous video where I tested my makeshift studio, I added equally makeshift captions. Since then, my editing software has upgraded with a function for closed captioning. Yay! I think they work too.

Please let me know if there is anything of the technical stuff I can improve.

New spinning video: For the love of spinning

Josefin Waltin spinning on a support spindle. Mountains in the background

I have finished another spinning video!

This time I haven’t done the filming myself, so the quality is much better. My husband was behind the camera, which means I had a great photographer and a great camera. And my fourteen year old made the sweet yarnimations. Locations are at home in Stockholm, in the Sazkammergut area in Austria and in Tiveden, Sweden, which are all my favourite places.

I had an idea of a spinning video with just beautiful spinning in beautiful scenery, to illustrate sort of a poem, an ode to spinning. So, during the summer we scouted locations wherever we went, and tripod, camera and spindle was set up where the spot was spot on. I saved all the clips for winter, so that I could make a beautiful spinning video at a time when I would miss light and summer the most.

I got the music from the Free music archive.

Spinning tools from Malcolm Fielding, Kromski, Jenkins yarn tools, Roosterick and Neal Brand.

Enjoy!

For the love of spinning

When I spin
I feel the wool in my hands
each fiber
through its journey
from sheep to yarn
I hear the quiet hum of the spindle tip
I see the wheel turning
chasing its own shadow
in the sunlight

When I spin
I absorb the rhythm
the treadling of my feet
the flicking of the spindle
the movement of my hands
between spun and unspun
a motion with no beginning
and no end

When I spin
time stops
I receive the gift of weightlessness
and enter another dimension
I allow my thoughts to come and go
focused
without holding back
without forcing
in the gentle flow
of meditation
finding the space between my thoughts
I enter the space of making
where the making makes me

When I spin
the memories
of sound, vision and rhythm
are captured in the yarn
as if they were fibers
Mistakes are spun into the thread
the stories they tell
All the choices I have made along the way
make a map of what I have learned
like an echo

The more I spin, the deeper it goes
From the sensation
through the rhythm
into my mind
fueling my experience
going back into my fingers
round and round
like the spinning itself

When I spin
the air around me smiles
the sunlight dusts my yarn with golden sparkle
and I thank all sheep for the gift of wool
I become a better me
because of the love
of spinning.

English long draw

a hand wound ball of dark grey yarn

A while ago I came across the term English long draw. I saw a video by Longdrawjames where he showed and explained the English long draw and the importance of good carding. With this technique you build up the twist in an unspun piece of rolag while pinching the yarn with your spinning hand, pull the rolag back and unpinch the spinning hand, build up twist and then the yarn roll onto the bobbin in one smooth motion. Ruth McGregor has made a beautiful and relaxing video where it all looks really easy. She also shows how to hand card. Amanda Hannaford of mandacraft also made a great videos that shows and explains the technique.

As with all spinning, the preparation is crucial. You need to be able to make even rolags with your hand carders. If you leave uneven parts in the rolags, the spinning will be more difficult and the yarn will be equally uneven. And with uneven yarn, the twist will be uneven, making it more difficult to ply and risking lots of unintentional pigtails in the thinnest sections.

I have spun with this technique for a while now, but rather on a Navajo spindle than on a spinning wheel. If you look closely at Navajo spinning (at least the way I do it), you can see that it is the same technique. In this video I show the technique, especially in the slow motion section. I do tend to build up my twist in slightly bigger chunks of the rolag. Then I add twist in arm length sections, but otherwise it is practically the same.

A few days ago I decided to finally try it on my spinning wheel. It was a bit tricky at first, but after a while I got the hang of it!

I have not made a video about this. Yet. I need to practice a bit more first and wait for the spring so that I can shoot the video outside. And I will use white wool. In the meantime, look at the videos I mentioned and repeat this mantra:

  1. Build up the twist in a few inches of rolag
  2. Draw out the fiber hand until your reach your desired yarn thickness
  3. Add more twist for a stronger yarn
  4. Let the yarn roll onto the bobbin in one smooth motion

And Voilá! A yarn is spun!

In my experience, the English long draw leaves a more even yarn than with what to me is a traditional long draw (or does it have another name in comparison to the English?). The draw is longer and you have more control of the process. I also believe that I can get a more controlled rhythm with the English long draw.

Happy spinning!

A 3-ply sport weight yarn spun with English long draw from hand-carded rolags. The wool is combing leftovers from Shetland sheep (Eskit).

The diversity of a fleece

In a previous post I wrote about fleece sorting and my fascination of the diversity within a breed and within a single fleece. I chose a few staples from my recent purchase to show you.

Staples from one single Shetland fleece, washed in warm water with a little organic shampoo and three rinses. Bought at Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers

The first fleece is a Shetland fleece in the colour Mooskit. As you can see, there is a variation in colour, staple length, crimp, fiber fineness and staple definition. The shortest fibers on the left are from the neck area, very short, crimpy and fine, they remind me more of Swedish finewool than Shetland wool. I would card this and spin with long draw on either a Navajo spindle or a supported spindle. I would probably treat the short fibers on the far right the same way. The two staples closest to the ruler are longer, darker and a bit coarser, perhaps from the rump area. I could either comb and spin these separately for a more sturdy yarn, or together with finer parts of the fleece to give the yarn strength and colour. The long light staples on the mid left (from the sides) look like they are dying to be combed and spun with short draw on a spinning wheel. On these staples you can also see the break in the fibers about 1 cm from the cut end, where the old fibers are thinned and new have started to grow out. This fleece had such breaks on some parts and they were easy enough to pull off. Combing would also remove these bits.

Another Shetland fleece, washed in warm water and three rinses. Bought at Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers

The second fleece is a white Shetland fleece. The variation is not as big as in the Mooskit fleece, but there are still differences. From very fine, crimpy and clean back and side wool to coarser and more wavy belly and rump wool. I could choose to comb it all together for several skeins of consistent yarn. I could also divide the fleece into different qualities for different purposes. I would love to use some of the finest parts to practice spinning extremely thin yarn.

Both of these fleeces are Shetland fleeces and graded as super fine, but they look quite different. I have another six Shetland fleeces and they have all varied quite a lot. Shetland sheep is a primitive breed, which I have written about in an earlier post. Among other things, they shed their wool as I showed in the Mooskit fleece above. All my other coloured Shetland fleeces have had breaks in the staples where new and old fibers meet. But much less the white fleeces. My theory is that there has been more pressure on the breeding of the white sheep than on the coloured ones and thus this feature has disappeared in some of the white sheep.

The advantage I have as a hand spinner is that I can dive into a fleece like this and plan how I want to use it. I can sort it in an endless amount of ways to fit my purposes or I could combine different parts of the fleece to get the most out of the different qualities of different parts of the fleece. I can play, experiment and above all, learn from what I see in one single fleece if I just look close enough.

Epiphany

close-up of a person spinning on a spinning wheel

I just had a moment, a realisation. A moment to cherish and save in my treasure bank like a piece of beautifully wrapped candy.

You know when you make something and it doesn’t feel right, and then you make a subtle change and suddenly everything falls into place. In spinning it can be about the length of the draft, the rhythm of the treadling or the amount of fiber drafted.

This just happened. I’m spinning a Shetland fleece I bought this summer. It is very soft and crimpy and has a very long staple. I have realized that there is a bit too much lanolin left in it, it doesn’t flow right. I have made adaptations so that the combing flows easier, but the spinning wasn’t the way I wanted it to be and it bothered me. The flow wasn’t really there and the fiber told me so: “It isn’t wrong, but it definitely isn’t right either”. Until I made that liberating change that made such a difference. It wasn’t much, just a lighter hold with my spinning hand. And suddenly there was flow. It was as though the fiber said to me “yeah, you’ve got it now!”. I had found the key to how the fiber wanted to be spun.

The beauty of this is, that the process of spinning itself allows you to really contemplate and reflect over this while you are spinning, which makes the experience even more powerful. I feel like I have had a shot of vitamin Spin.

Namaste.

A Bronze medal in the Swedish hand spinning championships 2017!

Josefin Waltin smiling with a bronze medal and a skein of yarn around her neck
The proud bronze medalist in the Swedish hand spinning championships 2017

I just won the bronze medal in the Swedish hand spinning championships 2017!

It is a competition where the prize is really valuable feedback on all the contestants’ spinning and an opportunity to give yourself a spinning challenge. The Swedish championships have been running for three years now and I have participated in all of them. Every year there have been two different categories – one regular and one advanced – and contestants are welcome to enter one or both of them.

This year I participated in both categories. All the contestants got the same fluff sent home together with instructions and the finished yarn was sent to a jury and the winners were announced at the Swedish spinning and wool championships festival at Wålstedts spinning mill in Dala-Floda. More about the event in a later post.

The rules of the game

The regular category was a 3-ply yarn. We received batts of two different colours with which we were allowed to play with as we liked. Originally I had planned to spin a gradient yarn, but when I got the batts I realized that the colours were too similar to each other to make a good gradient. Yet, they were too different to work with singles spun in the different colours without looking too speckled. So I simply pre-drafted from both of the batts similarly to get both of the colours in each singles.

A support spindle filled with yarn, Carded batts in the background.
Batts and singles for 3-ply competition yarn. Supported spindle and spinning bowl from Malcolm Fielding.

Spinning for the championships

The different batts had slightly different feelings to them, I think one of them was undyed. I don’t spin from batts very often and I’m not very used to spinning fluff without lanolin. I spun the singles with long draw on a supported spindle to get as much air in the yarn as possible, and plied it on my wheel. And it turned out nicely. But not the best yarn I have spun and not my favourite spinning either.

I did not get any prize for this yarn. However, I got some very constructive feedback from the jury. They said that it was evenly spun, but a bit overplied in some areas.

A skein of 3-ply yarn
Finished 3-ply yarn, spun woolen from batts on a supported spindle, plied on a spinning wheel

The advanced category was a cabled yarn, spun with two different colours of fluff from batts. I really like these colours, both individually and together.

Two carded batts, a blue and a dusty rose
Coloured batts for advanced category.

This time I chose to spin three of the singles in one colour and the fourth in the other colour. I dizzed the fiber through my needle gauge to get an even pre-draft. I spun the singles woolen in hope of a soft and airy result.

two hands dizzying fiber through a sheep shaped needle gauge
Dizzing with needle gauge

The spinning required lots of focus, again because the lack of lanolin and my not being used to it.

a cabled yarn in blue and dusty rose
Cabled yarn spun woolen from dizzed batts on a spinning wheel. It got me a bronze medal in the advanced category.

The jury’s verdict was “An attractive combination of the colours in the cabling that gives an exciting speckledness to the knitting.” It was a real challenge spinning it and I’m very proud of my work.

The sheep, the chicken, the pig and the lion

There was a spinning competition at the wool fair I visited today.

A row of art yarns in different colours and styles
Competing yarns. Winner 4th from the right, third prize to 5th or 7th from the right, I can’t really tell them apart in this picture
A row of art yarns of different colours and styles.
Another set of competing yarns, mine 4th from the right

I love spinning competitions. The competition today was about spinning a yarn (beforehand and send it in), any kind of yarn, from Swedish sheep and adding a recycled material. Also, you needed to describe what the yarn was intended for. A really nice idea!

One of the reasons why I love spinning contest is that it gives me a chance to widen my horizons. I am forced to think outside my go-to yarn box. And this contest in particular. In the crafts section of my book shelf I have The spinner’s book of yarn designs by Sarah Anderson. I have learned so much by reading it and there is one yarn in particular that I always have wanted to try to spin, but I have never thought of a proper use for it. And now I had my chance. It was the pigtail yarn. You Z-spin two singles, one with more twist that the other. As you ply, you let the overspun single ply back on itself at suitable intervals to make intentional pigtails. You can also add pre-strung beads to the ends of the pigtails.

So, I spun thick singles from hand-carded rolags on my Navajo spindle. The wool was from the finewool sheep Engla from Överjärva gård.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Navajo spindle. Dandelion field in background.
Spinning singles on a Navajo spindle

At first I was playing with the idea to pre-string the overspun single with washers and add them to the top of each pigtail, but I realized that this would be too difficult. After all, I have never spun an art yarn before. My wool traveling friend Ellinor suggested chicken feathers instead. And I loved the idea.

I had planned to ply the singles on the Navajo spindle, but after a while I came to my senses and used the wheel instead. Plying was a really mad task. The yarn was too heavy and too voluminous and the bobbin wouldn’t pull up the yarn properly (probably because I had the wrong tension). And the pigtails were quite difficult to get right.

Close-up of spinning on a spinning wheel.
Plying intentional pigtails

When the singles were finished, I was left with a bobbin with disastrously stiff phone wire. So, I let the yarn go through the wheel again in the opposite direction to unwind the overply a little. And it worked!

Ellinor sent me a packet of beautiful feathers from her chickens.

Chicken feathers on an orange envelope with chicken stamps.
Chicken feathers with chicken postage stamps

After experimenting with different ways to attach the feathers to the pigtails, I ended up sewing them through the core of the feather and onto the ends of each pigtail and it worked out perfectly. But it took me three weeks to sew them on. At least they won’t fall off!

Close-up of hands attaching feathers to a yarn.
Attaching feathers onto pigtails, one by one

I imagine the yarn being used as knitted-on edge on a collar on a cardigan knit in a bulky white yarn. The feathers will make it look almost like a lion’s mane. Hence the name – The sheep, the chicken, the pig and the lion.

Josefin Waltin with a skein around her neck. The yarn has feathers attached to it.
The sheep, the chicken, the pig, the lion and the spinner

The sheep is the Swedish finewool sheep Engla who provided me with the fiber, the chicken is the previous owner of the feathers, the pig is the model for the pigtails and the lion is the look of the wearer with the yarn in the collar.

So, there were about 27 yarns in the competition.

The contestants had been very creative in their yarns. They had attached fibers from clothes, cassette tape, buttons, silk flowers etc. The winner was a beautiful core spun mohair yarn with hand dyed silk fibers and hand crocheted silk flower buttons. The third prize was wool spun together with human hair, also beautifully done.

And how did I do? Well, I came in second!

The yarns were auctioned for charity. At this moment I don’t know if anyone bought my yarn. But I’d love to see it in a project!

Swedish finewool (finull)

Close-up of crimpy wool.
Yummy Swedish finewool (scoured) from Solkustens spinnverkstad

The first ever fleece I bought was from the Swedish finewool sheep Pia-Lotta at Överjärva gård. She was a lamb back then and it was the wool I learned to spin with. I have managed to get hold of her fleece twice more (the last time I shore her myself). Finewool has become my house fiber. It is the fiber I feel most comfortable spinning and my hearts jumps a beat whenever I get my hands on finewool fluff.

At the wool traveling club‘s wool journey 2016 I bought some really yummy finewool at Solkustens spinnverkstad and a couple of days ago I started preparing it for spinning. I know it is a year later, but that’s my fleece queue at the moment – one year from purchase to process if I keep the queue order.

A good finewool fleece is really crimpy with superfine fibers. It is moderate in lanolin and usually only needs scouring in cold water before processing. It is wonderfully soft, silky to the touch and a very good candidate for carding for a warm and airy woolen yarn. The ends can be a bit brittle and break in the preparation. Therefore it’s a good idea to make sure that doesn’t happen, to avoid nepps and noils in your yarn.

A hand with crimpy wool in it. Wool in the background.
Crimly staples of finewool

I have spun my first yarn in this fiber from hand-carded rolags on my spinning wheel and I love the result.

Close-up of a skein of white handspun yarn.
Fingering weight finewool yarn spun with long draw from hand-carded rolags, 3-ply, 48 g, 113 m

I also plan to make a 3-ply yarn spun on a Navajo spindle. When I spun this yarn on the wheel, I realized that I have learned so much about long draw from spinning on a Navajo spindle. I wouldn’t have been able to spin singles this consistent if I hadn’t practiced long draw as much as I have on the Navajo spindle. At that insight, my heart skips a beat again.

Happy spinning!

Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater

My biggest film project – so far – is Slow fashion.

The slow video project Slow fashion

It began as an idea of showing the whole process from sheep to sweater. As it happened, I did have a clip from when I was shearing a sheep at a course in small-scale sheep husbandry at Överjärva gård, so I was able to start the project even earlier in the process than I had originally planned. And when I saw Valérie Miller’s Fileuse pattern I just knew it was the right pattern for the project.

Close-up of a knitted sweater with a spinning wheel pattern
The perfect pattern for the project.

The white fleece is from the finewool sheep Pia-Lotta at Överjärva. Hers was actually the very first fleece I bought when I started learning how to spin and I was so happy to learn that I was going to shear her. Pia-Lotta was so calm when I shore her. The sheep just stood there while I was leaning my legs against her. She did pee a lot, and she was actually standing on my foot once while peeing, but it was still definitely worth it.

Josefin Waltin shearing a sheep with hand shearers.
Shearing the finewool sheep Pia-Lotta.

Slow getting slower

There was a minor setback in the production in the spring when I was waiting to get my hands on the second  fleece, a grey fleece from a Jämtland sheep from Vemdalsfjällens alpackor. The sheep Gråan was their only grey sheep and I was very thankful to be able to buy so much of it. But the weather was really wet up there in shearing season, so the owner couldn’t shear the sheep for weeks. That is slow fashion, literally.

The leading fleeces

The two fleeces are quite different. The finewool fleece is springy and fluffy and perfect for carding and long draw spinning. The Jämtland fleece has a really long staple of very fine fibers and ideal for combing and short forward draft. The Jämtland sheep is a quite new Swedish breed, bred to be a domestic alternative to merino wool shipped from the other end of the world.

Video making

The shearing part was shot in a simple sheep shed, but the all the rest of the clips were filmed outdoors. There are so many possibilities when filming outside, and there’s no clutter to consider. Most of the shots were filmed around our home in Stockholm and at Åsebol sheep farm. Some shots are from Austria and the very last piece is from Bressay, Shetland at Shetland wool week. I shot the sheep parts and my family and a few friends patiently filmed all the parts with me in front of the camera, which were quite many. My brother-in-law arranged and played the beautiful piano piece.

One of the hardest parts of filming was the sheep shots at Åsebol. I wanted some closeups and preferably some cuddling shots. But the sheep were not interested at all, as soon as we, very gently, got into the pasture, they went in the other direction. On our last day we cheated and brought the owner with some sheep goodies and they came running and I could eventually leave happy.

Josefin Waltin cuddling with a sheep
Finally some sheep cuddling

Not just another video

I wrote in the beginning of this post that the project began as an idea of showing the whole process. But it ended up being so much more than that. It is a celebration of sustainability, serenity, the slow fashion movement,  and, perhaps most of all, the love of spinning.

How it all began

Josefin Waltin knitting a pastel purple sweater in a garden chair 1985.

I have been knitting since forever. There is actually a picture of me knitting a sweater in my aunt’s summerhouse garden in Austria. I was twelve. After that, I have been knitting in periods. The latest period has lasted over 15 years so far.

In 2011 I was talking about knitting with my friend Anna. She told me that most  of the wool in Sweden is wasted because no one wants it or knows how to take care of it. And I couldn’t have that. I found a weekly class at Överjärva gård in Stockholm and Anna and I started to learn how to spin on a drop spindle. A “beginner” spindle, weighing about 90 g and with a shaft not very unlike a broom handle. I wasn’t very good at it, Anna quickly got a nice and even thread but mine was mostly involuntarily thick-and-thin. But I practised.

After a few weeks I asked if I could try a spinning wheel. I could, and I really enjoyed it. After another few weeks, I dived into heaps of bunched-up Polish weekly magazine pages on the living room floor and delivered my very first spinning wheel, a Kromski Symphony. And we’ve the best of friends ever since.

A few years later, I started visioning a film featuring all the steps from fleece to sweater. While planning the film project, I started thinking about drop spindling again. It would look so good on camera. So I bought a few drop spindles and started practising again, and this time I really enjoyed it. And a video was eventually published, Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater (Swedish title Slow Fashion – från får till tröja).