Ground and explore

I have a daily yoga practice that I don’t want to be without. The time I give myself is a moment where I ground in my foundation and explore where my body can take me. On many of these explorations on the yoga mat I have felt a connection to spinning. Grounding and exploring is an important part of my spinning journey.

When I started spinning ten years ago I didn’t know much about spinning at all. I knew knitting and I knew that most of the Swedish wool was being wasted while we imported tons of wool from New Zealand every year. I had decided I wanted to spin a Z-plied yarn for two-end knitting, I knew these yarns were hard to come by. This was the base from which I started building my experience.

Ground

We all have a foundation to lean on, whether it is a few years of spinning practice, a lifetime as a sheep farmer, a reenactment passion or simply the gut feeling that spinning is for me. We all have some sort of connection to spinning, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. This is our foundation, this is our grounding. A safe place where we can connect to what we know.

Pia-Lotta the sheep and mittens from her fleece. Photo by Dan Waltin
Pia-Lotta the finull sheep and two-end knitted mittens from her fleece. Photo by Dan Waltin

My foundation was knitting and a sense of responsibility for endangered techniques and wool waste. While knowing nothing at all about spinning I started from that very foundation, with a curiosity about wool as a knitting companion and as a natural resource that was right in front of me.

Explore

From that foundation I can start exploring what I don’t know, add what I learn to my foundation and explore some more from a new and expanded perspective. Explore the wool, the technique, the tools and my own capacity.

Since I got a box of raw fleece at my very first spinning lesson I got the opportunity to explore and get to know it. I explored the crimp, the elasticity and my technique. Even if I didn’t know it in so many words then, I did explore.

I explore weaving from my foundation as a spinner.

As I learned more I realized that there was a whole range of spinning techniques on the weaving end of the spectrum I decided to learn how to weave. My foundation was by then spinning and I could start from my handspun yarns. I made many mistakes as I explored what I could do and did learn a lot from it. I am still very much of a beginner in weaving. From my grounding as a spinner and with my handspun yarns as my most important foundation, I explore.

Dynamics

From my exploration point I can also go back to my foundation when things start feeling wobbly. The dynamic between grounding and exploring is a sweet motion between what I know and what I have the opportunity to learn, just a short reach away if I dare to take the step.

It’s up to me how far from my foundation I want to explore. As I had finished my two-end knitting yarn I made a pair of two-end knitting mittens. Far too loosely spun and with far too fine fibers in the yarn. As I realized this I went back to my home base, my foundation – I fulled the mittens quite heavily to make them more durable. I spun the yarn for my next two-end knitting project with stronger fibers.

A grey mitten with a venus symbol
I made my second two-end knitting yarn in a stronger wool. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Finding a dynamic between grounding and exploring is a sweet experience. Feeling confident in what I know and how far I can explore gives me strength to reach in new directions while standing strong in my foundation. Reflecting, analyzing and making new discoveries about myself as a spinner are a part of that dynamic. As I learn my foundation deepens, broadens and I can reach further and in new directions from there, just like a tree with deeper roots can stretch further than a sapling.

As my grounding grows, so can my exploration expand. I did make a second (and third) two-end knitting yarn and two-end knitted mittens from new foundations, reaching for further challenges.

The token of my inner artist

A year or so ago I found a bronze sculpture on Swedish eBay. A ballet dancer in a backbend pose, holding her raised ankle behind her. While balancing on the toes of her other leg she is firmly grounded in the floor. At the same time she explores her capacity to broaden her chest and bend her back. Strong, yet supple, grounded, yet open to new possibilities.

I needed her to come to me, and she did. She stands on a sideboard by the living room window, looking out over the lake and into the bright room. She is a token of my inner artist. Grounded in the safety of her foundation. Exploring upwards, outwards, forwards. Her future is bright, but she also has the capacity to face challenges and setbacks with her strength and calmness. She is a part of me.

Every time I practice yoga I see her and my heart sings. She stands beside my spinning wheel and I see her from there too. She reminds me to stand strong in my foundation and explore with curiosity and balance.

The ground will catch me

My ballet dancer is firmly rooted in the ground, yet she explores her capacity to open and stretch her body. Her whole body is attentive to this balance and while she stretches her mind she has full control of all the muscles that keep her upright. If she should fall the ground is there to catch her.

One of my very first weaving projects was full of breaking warp threads.

In one of my very first weaving projects over 30 of my warp threads broke. Very frustrating, no doubt, but my foundation was the handspun yarn and literally the foundation of the project. I know how much time and love I had spent spinning and that I couldn’t let the weave go to waste. I found out how to mend broken warp threads and saved my weave.

As a spinner I ground in my foundation, the ground that is true for me. Yours may be totally different. Our points of explorations will be different too. Yet, we both stand firmly on our respective grounds, reaching and exploring from there. If I fall the ground will catch me, just as your ground will catch you.

The teacher

As a teacher I find it extremely important to get to know the foundation of my students and their respective capacity to explore. I want them to find that dynamic between the points of grounding and exploration that makes them smile and sing “Aaahh!” as they see their progress and realize their own development. I want to be there, right with them as they start from their respective foundations.

Listen to this student as she listens to the wool and aaahhs over understanding carding on a new level.

I hear that aaahh every time I talk about the twist model and we practice opening up the twist. Not right away, but after a bit of practice it comes, I hear my students sing that aaahh, with a smile from ear to ear.

Seven spindle cases finished and ready for my A spindle a day class at Sätergläntan in July, five to go.

In mid July I will be back at Sätergläntan craft education center again, teaching the course A spindle a day to twelve students. I can’t wait to see their journeys. I will bring my yoga mat.

Resources

Below are some resources where you can explore from your foundation:

  • The five-day challenge Fleece through your senses, where you explore a fleece of your own from where you are and with the tools you have
  • The five-day challenge Hands-on, where you explore your hand roles in spinning and change hands to explore on a deeper level.
  • Know your fleece, a course where you go deeper into exploring a fleece of your own with some tools I provide.

Happy exploring!

You can find me in several social media:

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

Knit (spin) Sweden! – second edition

Just a short message today. Knit (spin) Sweden! – second edition is finally available! It ships from May 25th but you can order it now on Amazon.

Sara Wolf has worked hard to get a second edition publish and it’s finally here! The paper quality in this edition is thicker and gives the photos more justice. Our translator Anna Lindemark has worked equally hard with proof reading and fact checking the English version while at the same time translating the book to Swedish. This second edition is in English though. Hopefully the Swedish version will be published soon too.

You can read more about Knit (spin) Sweden! here.


As you are reading this I am on the ferry to Åland. I’m giving a presentation and workshop about Åland wool from a spinner’s perspective to the Åland sheep association. I may also find myself a ladder and take a dip in the Baltic Sea.

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

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

I am a spinner

Many people have asked me how I started spinning. I tell them my story, how it began and how it continued. But the other day someone asked me how I became a spinner. And that is to me a totally different question with a totally different answer. During the first few years after having learned some basics of spinning I could say I know how to spin. For the past few years, though, I can say I am a spinner.

When I stream my webinars I always begin by telling the story of how I began. The very first time I had any kind of spinning tool in my hand was on my first spinning lesson. I got a very heavy suspended spindle in one hand, a pair of hand cards in my other and a cardboard box of the newly shorn fleece from Pia-Lotta the Swedish finull lamb in my lap (You can read about how I began spinning and how I continued in the two very first posts in this blog).

From fleece to project

That is how I started and that is how I want to approach wool – I want to go through the whole process, feel the fibers go through my hands every step of the way from raw fleece to a finished yarn and get to know the wool as I work with it.

On my very first spinning lesson I got to dive into Pia-Lotta’s beautiful finull fleece.

Back then, in 2011, I didn’t know that that was the way I wanted to approach wool, because it was the only way I knew how to approach wool. After a while I did try commercially prepared wool, but it didn’t sing to me.

Doing or being?

A few years ago I listened a lot to Brenda Dayne’s brilliant podcast Cast-on. In one of the episodes she talked about knowing how to knit versus being a knitter. I’m not exactly sure how she phrased it, but her reflection stuck with me. She talked about being a knitter as something more, something deeper than just knowing how to knit.

As I reflect over being a spinner as something deeper than knowing how to spin I think about spinning as the main event, something I always come back home to. Everything I do has its foundation in the wool and in the purpose of spinning. When I discover a fleece I do so with the intention to find its soul and translate it into a yarn with my hands and some tools. When I knit, weave, nalbind or otherwise make a textile of my handspun yarn it is to continue that intention and make the yarn shine in the project. I do spin for a certain project to, but always with the spinning as the foundation and guide.

Spinning is something deeper to me than just a craft. It is a way of being. I am a spinner. Photo by Dan Waltin.

As a comparison, I know how to weave, but I definitely don’t consider myself a weaver and I don’t think I will ever become one. Don’t get me wrong, I love weaving. But weaving is far too complicated for me and I just know the basics. Still, enough to make my yarns beautiful as a woven fabric. The reason I learned how to weave was just that, to be able to use yarns from a wider spectrum of handspun yarns than just for knitting purposes. I learned how to weave for the sake of spinning.

Following my inner guide

To me, being a spinner also means allowing the wool to be the guide, alongside my inner guide, which would be the experience I have built through the years. My hands know and remember earlier projects. I can trust that knowledge to guide me in the fleece I have in front of me. I know enough to trust my experience. I also know that I can make mistakes and learn from them. Perhaps even more than if everything went smoothly.

I listen to the wool and let it guide me as I work with it. Photo by Dan Waltin.

With the experience I can also see patterns on a larger scale, connecting the dots and see a larger whole. While grounded in my experience I also have the confidence to explore new perspectives of a fleece and see where it takes me.

Grounded in my experience I can experiment and find new perspectives.

Spinning is nourishing to me. My main creative output is through handspinning (and to some extent writing), but spinning also gives me something more, a peace of mind, a moment to be in my spinning bubble and just breathe. In that flow of creativity and nourishment I find a sweet balance that I don’t want to be without. A balance where I am a spinner.

Finding the shift

So, back to the question of when I became a spinner. I look through my Ravelry project page to see if I can find a point in time or mind when I shifted from knowing how to spin to becoming a spinner.

For the first few years I did make handspun projects, mostly knitted, alongside commercial yarn items. But in 2014 something happened. A Fair Isle vest finished in May 2014 is the beginning of a turn where 75% of my projects are handspun. What happened during or leading up to the vest project?

Norwegian breeds

I had knit the Fair Isle vest with small skeins of yarn I spun from Norwegian breeds. In 2013, when I had got my first spinning wheel, I had taken a summer course in spinning with my spinning friend Anna.

Old Norwegian Spælsau, part of Kia’s fiber club. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I also entered a fiber club with rare and endangered Norwegian breeds hosted by my wool friend Kia. Kia has had a long career in wool and has worked as a wool classifier in Norway for many years. Tons and tons of wool has passed through her hands and she knows wool deep in her core (she is a wooler by heart). In four deliveries I got fleece from different Norwegian breeds that were either rare, endangered or both, all hand picked by Kia.

More than just a vest

I spun the yarns and enjoyed the characteristics of the different breeds. Kia wrote with love about the breeds, how rare a certain quality or colour was and what she imagined that particular wool to become. Her passion is such an inspiration and it lit a spark in me. I decided to make something real with the small skeins of Norwegian yarn. Thinking back of when I knit the vest I remember a special connection to the yarn and how it turned out in the Fair Isle pattern.

Spinning for and knitting Ivy League Vest by Eunny Jang may have been the place in time and mind where I became a spinner. Photo by Dan Waltin.

At the time I didn’t know I had become a spinner. In hindsight though, Kia’s beautiful fiber club and my relationship to the yarn as I knit that vest can have been a place in time and in my mind where spinning became something more than spinning just as a craft. It became a part of me as a person and I became a spinner.

Kia’s passion for wool is truly inspiring.

I have known for some years now that I am a spinner, but it has never occurred to me to look for the shift between knowing how to spin and being a spinner. So thank you JM for your question. It allowed me to explore and learn something new about myself as a spinner. And thank you Kia for holding my hand as I did become a spinner.

Do you know when you became a spinner?

The wool is my guide.

“Do you think you will ever stop being a spinner?” my husband asked me after I had enthusiastically told him about finding a point in time when I shifted from knowing how to spin to becoming a spinner. “If you for some reason take a break for a while, will you stop being a spinner?” A terrifying thought, no doubt, but probably possible. We never know what life throws at us. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

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.

Spin where you are

A woman spinning on a supported spindle.

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

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

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

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

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

Experience

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

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

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

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

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

Tools

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

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

Time

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

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

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

Place

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

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

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

Mind

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

Spinning for the soul.

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

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

Result

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

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

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

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

I’m going to sow my flax patch today.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

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

Reciprocity

Reciprocity: from the Latin word reciprocus, meaning ‘moving backwards and forwards’. I buy wool, worth so much more and on a completely different scale than the money I paid for it. A gift from the sheep. I give back in the skill and love I invest in working with it from fleece to textile.

When I see a fleece I see a gift. Even if I have bought the wool for money there is something more, something bigger than a monetary value in the material. A sheep farmer tended the sheep and the pastures. The sheep managed the landscape and grew the wool. These are gifts that work in a dimension way above and beyond money.

I reflect today on reciprocity. On the sharing of gifts that go backwards and forwards in a slow, sweet and ongoing dance between the souls who once took a first step to the beat of the sharing of gifts.

The gifts of wool

There are so many gifts in the wool. Gifts that come sweetly packed in curls and waves. And, if you look close enough, layers and layers of gifts as you peel them off humbly, slowly and mindfully.

Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in her beautiful and important book Braiding Sweetgrass:

“Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart.”

I do my best to listen to the wool with open eyes and an open heart while also reflecting over this on the blog and when I teach spinning and wool handling. I’m forever grateful for the wisdom of book, what it has taught me and what it keeps teaching me as long as I pay attention and listen. Read this book. It has helped me understand so much more and on a much deeper level about the relationships we have with each other and with nature.

The gift of wool in itself

The first and perhaps the most obvious gift is the wool in itself – an exquisite material that will keep me and my loved ones warm and safe. A material that has so many superpowers and so many manifestations as finished textiles.

My very first skein of handspun yarn. Fine finull lamb's wool, hand carded on rusty cards and plied with some fawn alpaca since I didn't have enough fleece.
My very first skein of handspun yarn. Fine finull lamb’s wool, hand carded on rusty cards and plied with some fawn alpaca since I didn’t have enough fleece.

I’m grateful for that first spinning lesson almost ten years ago when I got a box of just-shorn finull wool in my lap, a spindle and a pair of handcards. Back then I didn’t understand the greatness of this single moment, but I think about it often, smiling in my heart at what it has given me.

The gift of characteristics

The characteristics of each individual fleece, whether it’s the shine, the softness the strength or the colour, are all a gift. Every characteristic is something I can work with and learn from. From all the gifts I get from the characteristics of the fleece I want to give back by making the most of them, by making them shine in the yarn and allow the soul of the fleece to sparkle.

The gift of learning

By exploring the wool as I work with it through every step from raw fleece to a finished yarn or textile I learn what it is about, what its strengths are and how I can work with it to honur the sheep that gave me its wool.

Carding the wool by hand gives me the opportunity to listen to it. If I pay attention I will hear it whisper to me how it works and how it likes to be treated.

As I tease the wool I learn about the elasticity and viscosity of the wool. As I card or comb I learn about the length of the fibers and how they relate to each other. When I spin I experience the elasticity, viscosity, length and relationships again, confirming my previously gained knowledge, provided I have listen well enough. In knitting, weaving or whatever technique I use, I learn how the yarn behaves as a material in its new shape. The things I learn I pay forward in courses and blog posts to my students and supporters.

The gift of the craft

I have learned so much about spinning and wool handling since that first day when I got the box of finull wool in my lap. Yet I know I have so much more to learn. The aim of my first yarn was to spin a Z-plied yarn for two-end knitting. While I did manage to spin S and ply Z the yarn was not fit to use for anything really. I had the naïve idea that I would be able to spin something that in both quality and quantity would be enough for a textile that I would want to wear.

Eventually I did spin my first yarn for two-end knitting, from that very first fleece. It was way underspun and way too soft. But I didn’t realize that back then, it dawned on me years later when I spun my third or fourth yarn for two-end knitting. Now, at my fifth or sixth two-end knitting yarn I still learn. How to process, spin, ply and sample to create a yarn I can use and enjoy. Regardless of whether I can actually use and enjoy it I know that I will learn from it.

Crafts leading to new crafts

The gift of the craft is also about having the fortune of actually knowing a craft, knowing how to keep me and my loved ones warm and safe.

After having learned to weave I have been able to improve my weaving yarns. For the gift of wool I give back by making the yarns sparkle. Outercoat fibers of Klövsjö and Härjedal wool spun worsted on a suspended spindle. Used in a backstrap woven bag (shown above). Photo by Dan Waltin.

By learning how to spin I have also visited other crafts. As my spinning journey developed I realized that I needed to learn how to weave to be able to spin a wider spectrum of yarns. Gifts of new crafts came. I am definitely still a beginner at weaving, but I still love all the weaving I can do. Learning how to weave has in turn taught me about how I want my weaving yarns.

The gift of the process

Mmm… the process. Not only the process from the newly shorn fleece through preparing, spinning, plying, finishing and making a textile, but the process in the hands and the brain during whatever step of the process I am enjoying right now. The process of mindfully picking lock by lock from the fleece, of dancing the teased wool through cards or combs and of feeding the yarn into the twist.

The gift of process, where I find a sense of balance in a space that is my own.

The process gives me the gift of space, balance, lightness and freedom, such precious gifts. When my hands and my brain are in the process my shoulders relax. I breathe slower and deeper. The wool enters my hands with the gift of touch, rhythm and ease. As a person living with chronic migraines the process gives me a moment of focus on something else than the vize-like pressure on my senses, a moment to breathe easier and be somewhere else than in the migraine.

When I am in the process I am in a room that is my own, where thoughts are welcome to come and go just as the fibers come and go. There is a sense of allowing, lightness and ease in my room. A sacred place where listening and kindness are keys. I like to think that being in my spinning process makes me a more balanced and humble person, gifts that I hope I am able to spread to the people around me.

The gift of mistakes

Sometimes I think I learn more from my mistakes than I do when everything runs smoothly. At least I learn more suddenly. I know by now that mistakes are good – by making a mistake and analyzing it I will hopefully learn – hands-on – why it happened and what I can do to avoid it the next time.

Every time I look at the mistake I will remember the circumstances around it. I embrace my mistakes and am thankful for them. Even if I may growl a bit when they happen I know I will have use for the experience sooner or later.

The gift of time

Time is an essential part of spinning. Not only the time it takes to actually spin enough yarn for a project, but also the time spent with the woo. The simpler the tools and setup the closer I come to the wool. The less of the mechanics that are in the tools the more the mechanics are in me. I become a part of the tool – I am the tool as I spin on spindles, I am the loom when I weave with a backstrap loom and I am the sewing machine when I hand stitch.

Combed Swedish Leicester wool spun on a suspended spindle into an embroidery yarn. The yarn got me a gold medal in the 2020 Swedish spinning championships. The yarn was part of my auction for Ukraine and now lives in Australia.

All these simple tools take time, but it is also time spent with the wool and with the techniques. This goes for the preparation of the wool too – I want to do all the steps myself and with hand tools, from sorting the wool through picking, teasing, processing and spinning. The time I spend with the wool through all the steps of the process is time and opportunity to listen to the wool and learn. Slow is a superpower and time spent with the wool a gift.

The gift beyond time

Spinning is a space for me, a sacred space beyond time. A space where I get to go with the flow of the fibers, listen to them to understand what steps to take next. In my spinning space I allow myself to just be with the wool and receive the reflections that gently glide through my mind, without expectations, without restrictions.

There is a dimension beyond time that is an extra precious gift, a sacred space where I am allowed to listen to the wool and just be. Photo by Dan Waltin

The gift beyond time is one that goes deeper than any of the other gifts I receive from spinning. I can’t pay back for this gift. But I can express my gratitude by gently dressing my reflections in the sweetest words I can think of and share them with the world.

Reciprocating the gifts

I want to reciprocate al these gifts through the time, skill and love I give back to the wool as I work with it from fleece to a finished yarn or textile. As part of a web of reciprocity it is my responsibility to pay back or forward for the gifts I receive. By being ever curious I want to find the superpowers of the wool and make it the star of the project I make. Even if I can’t give much more back to the sheep and the sheep farmer than my gratitude I can always give it forward by my presence in the wool, by listening to what it teaches me and by sharing my creative process with the world.

Backwards and forwards

I know my gifts will be returned to me or paid forward one way or another. Perhaps someone who reads what I do helps another spinner find a new perspective or listen to the wool. I will continue to return or pay the gifts offered to me forward. Reciprocity seems to work that way, like a dance you dance together, giving and receiving.

I write mindfully about the beautiful wool from Elsa the Gestrike sheep. When Elsa a few months later gives birth to two sweet black ewe lambs with white tufts on their foreheads I get the honour of naming them. I pick the names Barbro and Anita, after two of the women who back in the 1980’s and -90’s nurtured a couple of the oldest flocks of what later was established as Gestrike sheep. As a thank you to generations of sheep farmers I give back again to the sheep and the breed by naming the lambs after some of the pioneers.


Today is my 49th birthday. Perhaps writing this blog post is a part of a returning pre-birthday process of contemplating the years gone by and the years to come. I have an old wise woman deep inside and I’m very fond of her. As time goes by I like to think I’m getting closer to her. I do my best to treat her lovingly and respectfully. In return I will hopefully get some of her wisdom.

I receive so many gifts from you, all sweetly wrapped in kindness and experience. This post is a gift back. I’m so grateful for you all, for dancing to the beat of reciprocity and the sharing of gifts.

Happy spinning!


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Åland wool

Today’s blog post and an upcoming breed study webinar are all about Åland wool. This is my eleventh breed study. Previous breed studies have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool, Dalapäls wool, Värmland wool, Jämtland wool, finull wool, rya wool, Klövsjö wool (blog post only), Åsen wool and Gestrike wool.

This Saturday, April 9th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a free live breed study webinar on Åland wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

The webinar has already taken place.

Åland sheep

Åland sheep is a unique breed that has lived and developed in the archipelago of Åland in the Baltic Sea for centuries. Åland is geographically quite close to Sweden, but is an autonomous region of Finland. The belief used to be that Åland sheep were related to the Finnish landrace, but genetic examinations have shown that Åland sheep is its own and unique breed. It is believed to belong to the most primitive breeds of the Northern European short tail sheep.

In the 1980’s Åland sheep were endangered, but through dedicated work the breed was saved. Åland sheep got a status as its own breed 20 years ago. At the time there were around 150 ewes, now there are over 1800, of which around two thirds live in mainland Finland and the rest in Åland.

Åland sheep is a sturdy breed that have developed into excellent landscape managers in the barren skerries of the archipelago through centuries.

The sheep are relatively small, rams weigh around 60 kilos and ewes around 40 kilos. About half of the rams and some of the ewes have horns. The fleece comes in a wide variety of colours and patterns. Many Åland sheep are born black or dark grey but lighten with age.

Gene bank

In the gene bank for Åland sheep all individuals and their characteristics are documented in a database, including information of wool colour and quality. Through this documentation the aim is to preserve the breed and keep its genetic diversity.

When I read the guidelines for the Åland sheep gene bank I get the sense that the rules are similar to those of the gene banks of Swedish heritage breed. With an aim to preserve the genetic diversity of a very small breed there is no room to breed for specific characteristics like the wool, even if the work with the gene bank does include information about wool quality. I asked Maija Hägglund, the chair of the Åland sheep association about this. She confirmed that the genetic variety is the focus of the gene bank. However, they do recommend sheep farmers to consider wool quality and not allow too coarse or too fine wool to take over in the flock.

Tommi’s Åland sheep

To get hold of some Åland wool I contacted Tommi, a sheep owner with around 50 Åland sheep. His landscape managing sheep graze freely in the barren outer skerries of the Åland archipelago between May and October or November. He takes his boat to visit his sheep every now and them so they will recognize him and know that he is still there. Many other breeds would not be able to survive on their own in this kind of environment. But Åland sheep have grazed these islands for centuries and have adapted to their environment.

Åland wool characteristics

Åland sheep have a dual coat with fine undercoat and long, strong outercoat. The wool can differ very much between flocks, individuals and over the body of one individual.

I got parts of two Åland fleeces from Tommi, one grey with extremely long outercoat and very fine undercoat. The other almost white with some black fibers in it, silky soft undercoat and strong outercoat. Shorter and finer than the grey fleece. Both fleeces have some kemp, but it feels quite fine and doesn’t bother me that much. They add to the rusticity of the yarn and makes it more interesting to me. When I asked Maija about the kemp she said that the occurrence of kemp varies between individuals but that her experience is that the kemp in Åland sheep is relatively fine, expecially when the fibers in general are fine.

Main characteristics

I look for the main characteristics of the fleeces I have. When I work with the Åland wool, through picking, teasing, carding and spinning I see and feel a wool that is full of contrasts – silky, yet rustic, fine, yet strong. The outercoat are the longest I have seen and the undercoat remarkably long for its fineness. I smile when I see the vast difference between undercoat and outercoat and how they still work together with the aim to protect the sheep from the harsh weather on the barren islands. If I have to pick three main characteristics of the Åland wool I have experienced it would be

  • The length, particularly of the outercoat fibers. I don’t see this length of fibers very often. Some of the outercoat fibers in the grey fleece are over 30 centimeters. The undercoat fibers are also remarkably long for their fineness.
  • The silkiness of the undercoat. What can I say, it’s like meringue batter.
  • The contrasts. I love a fleece that surprises me. It tickles my heart to find these long and rustic outercoat fibers right next to silky soft undercoat fibers.

Every time the fibers go through my hands I get to know their characteristics. Through the time I spend with the fibers in my hands and in my muscle memory I get a chance to prepare and spin a yarn that makes the wool justice. By focusing on letting the main characteristics shine in the finished yarn I get the opportunity to show the soul of the fleece as I see it, honouring the sheep that once grew the wool.

Working with Åland wool

When I contacted Tommi he was interested in my view of the wool and what I could do with it as a hand spinner. I decided to spin a few samples to show the variety of yarns I can create from a versatile wool like the Åland fleeces I got.

Prepare

One of the most rewarding things about a dual coat fleece is the opportunity to play. There is so much I can do with a fleece with two distinctively different fiber types. I could

  • Separate undercoat from outercoat.
  • card undercoat and outercoat together
  • comb undercoat and outercoat together
  • semi-separate the fiber types.

Separating fiber types

By separating undercoat from outercoat I get to enjoy and take advantage of the unique characteristics of each fiber type. To separate the fiber types I use my two-pitch combs. The two (or more if that’s available) rows of teeth in the combs allow a firmer grip of the undercoat fibers, keeping them in the comb as I doff the outercoat fibers off the comb. The undercoat fibers left in the comb are hereby teased and ready to be carded into sweet rolags.

I may run the separated outercoat fibers through the combs once more, or a couple of separated tops together. This is to make sure I remove any remaining undercoat fibers and to make the birds’ nests a bit fuller.

Carding fiber types together

I love carding outercoat and undercoat together. This preparation really shows the contrast between them – the soft undercoat, flexible in their communication between the cards, the outercoat fibers more sharp in their appearance, keeping a straight line. Then, in the rolag I see the undercoat sponged up in a bundle with the outercoat like an armour around the round shape.

But can you really card fibers this long without disaster? Wouldn’t the long fibers just double around themselves in the rolag and create a tangled mess? Well, they would if they were alone. In a combination of short, medium and long fibers the fibers sort of marry each other and create an airy rolag. A dual coat therefore usually works well carding since there are naturally different fiber lengths in the staples. The longest fibers will double around the rolag, but I don’t see that as a problem since there are so many other lengths that won’t. Spinning may be a bit slower because of that armouring, but it also means that the yarn will be stronger.

Combing fiber types together

By combing fiber types together I will get a preparation that has characteristics from both fiber type – length, strength, softness and warmth. I use my single pitch combs for this. The single row of teeth allows the fibers to slide through them without separating too much.

While the single pitch combs allow for the fibers to glide through the teeth, doffing the combed top off the comb will still result in a separation to some degree. As I grab the bundle the longest will naturally come off first and the shortest will stay in the combs longer. I can make sure I don’t just grab the outermost fibers to prevent this. I can also divide the combed top into sections and re-comb them.

Semi-separating fiber types

With a dual coats like my Åland fleeces I have the opportunity to tailor the preparation to meet my needs. By removing some of one of the fiber types but not all of it I can adapt the fiber content to a specific kind of yarn. I haven’t had the time to do this with my Åland fleeces yet, but it does present a number of additional possibilities from one single fleece.

Spin

Eight yarn samples from the Åland fleeces I bought from Tommi.

With the different fiber preparations I have described above I ended up making eight wheel spun samples that I sent to Tommi:

  • Z-plied 2-ply yarn from the white fleece, intended for two-end knitting, carded and woolen spun. I spun a full skein of this quality.
  • worsted spun 2-ply yarn from combed outercoat only
  • woolen 3-ply yarn from carded undercoat only
  • woolen 2-ply yarn from carded undercoat only
  • woolen 2-ply yarn from undercoat and outercoat carded together
  • worsted 2-ply yarn from undercoat and outercoat combed together
  • woolen and lightly fulled medium singles yarn from undercoat and outercoat carded together
  • woolen and lightly fulled chunky singles yarn from undercoat and outercoat carded together
Separated fibers: 2-ply worsted spun yarn from combed outercoat (top). 3-ply and 2-ply woolen spun yarn from carded undercoat fibers (middle and bottom).

From the list you can see eight different yarns with different fiber preparations, fiber type content, spinning technique and plies. There are numerous other dimensions to play with here, these are just a few. I love fleeces like these where I can play and find an expression I think rhymes with the fleece I got from the beginning.

2-ply woolen spun yarn from outercoat and undercoat carded together (top). 2-ply worsted spun yarn from outercoat and undercoat combed together (bottom).

In my yarns I have taken advantage of the length of the outercoat fibers – on its own and together with undercoat. I have been able to let the billowy silkiness of the undercoat fibers shine through the orderly outercoat fibers. Finally I have enjoyed displaying the contrast between undercoat and outercoat, creating a range of yarns full of lovely surprises.

Singles yarns woolen spun from outercoat and undercoat carded together. The yarns have been lightly fulled.

Use

Traditionally Åland wool has been used for a wide variety of things – knitting yarn for hats, socks, mittens and sweaters. Weaving yarn for everyday clothing for men and women, interiors like pillows, sheets rugs and curtains. Even sails. It has also been waulked.

When I look at the list and yarn samples above, adding the possibility of yarns from semi-separated fiber types it is easy to see the wide variety of uses of a fleece like the Åland fleeces I have described. Anything from the softest next-to-skin garments, through sweaters, mittens and other accessories, outerwear and strong warps. By tailoring the yarn with different fiber type content you can make socks with extra strong yarn for heels and toes. Just like it has been used by Ålanders for centuries.

The woolen and worsted yarns with both outercoat and undercoat are allround yarns suitable for sweaters and outerwear with their combination of strength and warmth. They could also work well in weaving as warp (worsted) and weft (woolen).

The singles samples are despite their singleness and low twist strong through the long outercoat fibers and could work for any accessory that doesn’t involve too much abrasion, and of course as a weft yarn in weaving.

I haven’t come so far as to plan a project, but I do have plans to continue with a Z-plied yarn for two-end knitting with the white fleece. With the grey fleece I am leaning towards separating the fiber types. Outercoat fibers of this length is quite unusual in my experience and I would love to take advantage of that. A warp yarn from the outercoat and soft knitting yarn from the undercoat is my plan at the moment.

Live webinar!

his Saturday, April 9th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Åland wool from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I prepare, spin and use Åland wool. I will use Åland wool during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I prepare and spin the wool.

The webinar has already taken place

Even if you think you will never come across Åland wool this is still an opportunity to learn more about wool and wool processing in general. The breed study webinar will give you tools to understand different wool types and apply your knowledge to breeds and wool types closer to you.

This is a wonderful chance for me to meet you (in the chat window at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The previous live breed study webinars I have done have been great successes. I really look forward to seeing you again in this webinar.

You can register even if you can’t make it to the live event. I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar. Remember, the only way to get access to the webinar (live or replay) is to register.

Happy spinning!

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Cutting corners?

I spend a lot of my time with a fleece at the preparation stage. This is where I lay the foundation for the quality of the yarn. But sometimes I cut corners and skip steps. Sometimes I add an extra step or extra time to increase the quality or the experience of the spinning. Today I reflect over when and why I’m cutting corners or create new ones.

The other day I told my husband about a recent project where I had cut corners for the sake of the shorter fluff to stuff cycle and an instant feedback between the steps. He paused and asked me “What makes you decide what corners to cut?”. And Voilá, a blog post idea was born.

Cornerstones of processing

There are several steps I take on the journey from fleece to yarn. All of them important for the quality of the product. Sometimes, though, the quality of the yarn may not be my first priority. I very rarely skip something because I want it done faster, I know it doesn’t serve me. But there may be other dimensions I am interested in for a specific project.

After washing the fleece I go through a number of stages. You can read more thoroughly about some of them in the post Fleece happens.

Fiber

First of all, I always work from raw fleece and wash it in water only. I want to get to know the fleece from the very beginning. That means I don’t buy fleece that someone else has washed. I don’t buy wool that someone else or a machine has processed. There is so much information in the steps I take before I spin the wool that I don’t want to be without. All steps offer a unique chance to explore the wool and find out its innermost secrets. All steps are appealing to me and give me peace. I don’t see any of the wool preparation steps as time consuming. Instead I see them as gifts that can reveal the secrets of the wool if I just listen to it.

Newly shorn autumn fleece from a Swedish Gestrike sheep.
Newly shorn autumn fleece from a Swedish Gestrike sheep.

I don’t cut any corners when it comes to the fiber. To me, too much information is lost in commercially prepared fiber and I don’t feel connected to it as I do with a fleece that has come straight from the hoof.

Picking

Picking is where I pick each staple to separate it from the mass of the fleece. In this the staple may open up slightly, easing felted or tangled parts and allowing vegetable matter to fall out. I also get a unique opportunity to go through the fleece with my hands, literally staple by staple, getting to know its characteristics. During picking I also get rid of second cuts, dirt, felted parts or otherwise lesser quality wool.

I'm listening to my Icelandic wool.
Picking the fleece. No cutting corners here.

At the beginning of my spinning journey I did this with all my fleeces. But somewhere along the way I omitted it, I’m not sure why. Lately, though, I have started picking my fleeces again and realize what a time, muscle and fiber saver it is. A fleece that has been picked is so much easier to handle than an unpicked fleece. When I start working with a fleece that I have picked before storing I know it has gone through a quality control. If I’m lucky I have made some notes during picking that are useful as I continue the processing.

Picking is not a corner I want to cut. It may take time as I do it, but it does save both time, muscles and fiber. Processing will be easier and less straining for both me and the fiber. I believe that a picked fleece will result in a higher quality yarn with a higher fleece to yarn yield.

Teasing

I always tease my wool before carding. One way or another, be it with combs, flicker, cards, hands or by separating undercoat from outercoat. I never skip this step. When I tease the wool I open it up and ease the hold the fibers have on each other. This makes it easier on my arms as well as on the fibers. Should I cut corners on teasing I would be able to work for a shorter time due to strained arms and hands. The yarn would be of a worse quality since unteased locks will protest in the carding, break fibers, create nepps that interrupt my spinning flow and leave a lumpy yarn. A teased wool will therefore generate a higher fleece to yarn yield, have a higher quality and leave my body happier.

Teased wool from rya fleece.

When I comb wool for the sake of combing (as opposed to using combs to tease), the wool will be teased as I comb. Sometimes though, the staples are so dense or felted that I add another corner and tease with a flicker before I comb.

You can read more about teasing here.

Carding and combing

I generally either card or comb my wool. This is the stage where I pre-chew my fiber before spinning. It is definitely possible to spin unprepared (or only teased) wool, but without pre-chewing the spinning will be chunkier and require more effort. During the winter I have spun a low-twist singles Lopi-style yarn from lightly teased locks of Icelandic wool. The purpose was not to cut corners. Rather, it was to preserve the natural colour variegation in the staples. The preparation was chunkier and did require more effort. But all according to my plan.

Any tool that allows me to be a part of the mechanics – be it a spindle, hand cards or a backstrap loom is a tool where I get feedback directly from the fiber. With this as guidance I will be able to to make informed decisions about how to proceed.

If you find combing and carding by hand tedious, try picking and teasing the wool first. I can promise you a difference – the flow in the carding or combing dance will be a lot smoother. You will be able to feel the characteristics of the fibers and their relationship to each other between your hands.

How about drum carding?

I don’t drum card my wool. I don’t own a drum carder. The one time I tried it, it seemed to take as long as hand-carding but with a less balanced body position and lesser quality. Also using the drum carder doesn’t give me the feedback I get from the wool when I hand-card.

Spinning

In my videos and webinars you mainly see me with a spindle of some kind. I do spin on my spinning wheel too, actually more than I spin on spindles. Usually I spin larger projects on my spinning wheel. With that said, I have spun several larger projects with spindles too, like the Cecilia’s bosom friend shawl and the prototype leading up to it, and my Moroccan snow shoveling pants that I knit from 1 kilo of super bulky spindle spun yarn.

I usually pick the spinning tool that I think is the best for the project and the context. Perhaps I want to spin different yarns simultaneously, well, then I may spin one or two on spindles and another on my spinning wheel. I do have two wheels, but only room for one stationary wheel. And there is always room for spindles.

Plying

Plying is not something I have dived into like I have on other parts of the process from fleece to yarn, so I can’t say I know much about it. Perhaps it is therefore I sometimes allow myself to cut corners at the plying stage.

Resting singles

For the singles to compose themselves after I have filled a bobbin it is a good idea to allow them to rest. I usually do this, not always overnight, but at least until the evening. If I just want to test a yarn and spin a sample I tend to skip this step.

Reversing singles

I have learned that it is a good idea to reverse the singles before plying, so that I ply the singles together from the same end I have spun them, especially when it comes to worsted spun yarn. Spinning and plying from the same end will allow for a smoother yarn while spinning and plying from different ends may result in a slightly fuzzier yarn. To reverse the singles for plying I take the two (or more) singles and roll them together on an empty bobbin, so that I ply all singles from one and the same bobbin, from the same end they were spun. I try to follow this recommendation, but sometimes I cut corners here.

Plying from separate bobbins

When I spin on my wheel I spin each single on a separate bobbin. As I ply the yarn from the bobbins all singles come into the plying twist in the same way. But when I spin on spindles I may wind the yarn into a centerpull ball and ply from the inner and outer ends of that single into a 2-ply yarn.

Sometimes I ply from other ends of a centerpull ball. Just because I want to.

I am fully aware that the inner and outer ends of the yarn will come differently into the plying twist. But sometimes I do cut corners here. Most recently with my Moroccan snow shoveling pants and a pair of nalbinding mittens. For the pants I wanted to stay as close as possible to the original procedure from wool to knitting. When it comes to the mittens I was after the short fluff to stuff cycle and instant feedback from one step of the process to the next.

Soaking and setting twist

I do soak most of my yarns and set the twist. But there have been situations when I have cut corners here. Like in the two projects above where I plied from the two ends of a centerpull ball. I wanted to stay close to the traditional making of the pants and I wanted a short fluff to stuff cycle for the mittens and have all the steps fresh in my memory. I know that the yarn is a bit unbalanced, and that is okay. The purpose of the project was to find peace of mind and focus when the world was, and still is, in full storm outside my crafting bubble.

I cut very few corners in the processing steps. High quality rolags come from time spent with the wool.

All in all, I sometimes do cut corners and I always know why I do it. It rarely is about saving time. In fact, I know that spending more time on processing may even save me time in the long run. It will definitely give me a higher quality yarn.

Do you cut corners? Where and why? Where don’t you cut corners? Share in the comments below.

Thank you darling Dan for your clever question about cutting corners. It made me reflect over my process and what is important to me.

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
  • 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.

Full circle

I have finished a project! A lovely Icelandic-style yoke sweater that has been on my wish list for a few years now. I have knit it with my handspun singles lopi-style yarn. An Icelandic sheep sweater shorn in October on an Icelandic pasture, spun from November to February and knit in February into a sweater for me with a round yoke. A full circle from fleece to sweater.

I have been working with the Icelandic lamb’s fleece for this sweater since November, a lot more monogamous than I usually do. Since I decided to spin the wool in the grease I didn’t want to let it sit longer than necessary, so I made an exception for it in my fleece queue.

27 skeins of Icelandic singles yarn.

Telja pattern

The pattern I chose is Telja by Jennifer Steingass. I wanted an Icelandic style pattern that was designed for a lopi-style yarn in a yarn weight I could manage to spin as a singles yarn. I figured that my lopi-style yarn would stand the best chance of resembling the stranded colourwork if the original pattern was designed for a similar yarn.

Shifting shades

The light grey, lighter grey, white and dyed blues come from one Icelandic lamb. I also bought 200 grams of fleece from a dark grey lamb for some contrast in the colourwork. I used the light grey (in the middle of the picture below) as the main colour. As it turned out, the contrast between the light grey and the dark grey was too small, so I needed a solution that would show the pattern despite this challenge.

These skeins come from one and the same fleece. The middle skein is the overall shade of grey of the fleece. This is also the shade that I have dyed in two blue tones.

Some parts of the fleece were lighter, almost white, and I decided to spin these parts separately into a white yarn. In the sweater I used the white yarn as main colour just before, during and just after a colourwork section, making the light grey ex-main colour a contrast colour over the colourwork sections. I tried to make a gradient from the light grey to the white with a couple of skeins that were sort of a light light grey.

Will there be enough white yarn left to finish the neckline?

I was a bit nervous about the white yarn, though, I wasn’t sure I had enough of it. When I bound off the last stitch of the collar I realized that it was enough, I even had a meter or so left. At least just enough to tie the leftover skeins of the remaining other colours into a bundle.

I dye with my little eye

Last summer I read about the Bengala mud dye colours in Handwoven magazine. I got a bit obsessed by the earthy tones and decided to buy some and try. A few pinkish tones, orange and yellow, plus indigo that would work with the other colours. I hadn’t found a good project to experiment with, until now. I wanted two shades of the same colour and decided on the indigo.

I have said it before and I say it again: Dyeing is not one of my superpowers. The shades got a bit too close to each other and somehow they both dry bleed. But I still love the result. And I’m very happy that I dyed on the light grey, it gives such a beautiful depth in the colour.

I will continue experimenting with these colours in upcoming projects. I’m sure I will learn a lot.

A teared watercolour painting

I had some thoughts about the shades and colours in the beginning, but as soon as the stranded pattern started to unravel I just loved the effect. It looks a bit smudged, almost like a tie-dye or watercolour art painted with drops of rain or tears.

The pattern falls from the yoke like a watercolour painting. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I wanted the yarn to be as simple and ras aw as possible. With that comes a sweater with that same raw expression. As I knit round and round the pattern runs down from my hands and land comfortably in an organized structure. On the wrong side the soft floats emerge like gentle waves on a summer lake.

Using handspun yarn in a project where the gauge is crucial for the fit is a challenge. Even more so with a singles yarn. I realized that the sleeves (which I knit before the body) got a bit tight at the cuffs with the stranded colourwork. No, I can’t tell you that, it’s too embarrassing.

I got a bit nervous about the colourwork sections over the hips and yoke, though. I tried the sweater on after the hip section and it worked. I was so scared of the yoke riding up that I didn’t try the sweater on until mid-colourwork, and to my great relief it fit perfectly. I do have to remove my glasses when I put the sweater on and off since the neckline is an I-cord bind-off with no elasticity, but I can take that.

A joyous knit

The yarn was truly lovely to knit with and it gave a soft and kind structure, lightweight and simple. I was a bit worried about the risk of bias since the yarn is single (eventhough I have shocked it to full it slightly). Therefore I added faux side and underarm seams using a column of purls.

I have been wearing the sweater a lot lately. It’s both comfortable and comforting to wear and I feel rich and fortunate to have the skills to make myself a warming and protecting shell.

Full circle. The sweater is finished and I’m spinning away on my next project on a department meeting at the home office.

So, now I have around 750 meters left of the yarn. Most of it in the light grey colour. I may dye some of it and use it in another project. I liked the Shaina top by Yumiko Alexander. With some modifications and additions I think I can make it work.

Resources

I have written a few earlier post about this fleece from different perspectives:

  • In Close I write a poetic style ode to the fleece.
  • In the grease covers the main part of the processing and spinning of the yarn – spinning a low-twist singles yarn from the cut end of teased locks in the grease.
  • In The gift of knowledge I look at a spinning from a spiritual perspective using this fleece as an example. It also shows how I make accordion burritos of the teased wool for easier spinning.
  • A sore thumb forced me to switch hands and a new world opened in front of me, right there in my hands. It also resulted in the free five-day challenge Hands-on that you are welcome to join.
  • In Dear Fleece I give thanks to the fleece for teaching me so much and move on from spinning to knitting.

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
  • 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.

Dear Fleece

I have been practicing free writing lately and I decided to write this blog post in a flow without overthinking things. It turned into a letter of gratitude to the dear fleece from Iceland I have been working with during the past months.

Dear fleece,

I got you on a lovely October morning. As I opened the parcel that had sailed all the way from Iceland the loveliest smell of lanolin struck my nose like a sweet melody. You had just been shorn off a lamb skipping about in the Icelandic green hills.

I'm listening to my Icelandic wool.
I’m listening to my Icelandic wool.

Lubrication

The lanolin glistened like the Milky Way between your soft fibers. Its presence there to protect the sheep you once grew on, but also serve as a lovely spinning assistant for me as I work with the wool. Moist, flexible lanolin that gives a lightness in the draft and smoothness in the yarn.

A dear fleece on its journey from raw fleece to a softly spun singles yarn.
A dear fleece on its journey from raw fleece to a softly spun singles yarn.

I didn’t even wash you before I started spinning, I wanted the lanolin to be a part of the spinning team – my hands, the spinning wheel and the lanolin all together, listening to the wool to find its best and sweetest yarn. The lanolin works with me to the extent that I hardly need to make any adjustments – my hands just follow the guidance from the lubricated fibers. I am thankful for the lanolin.

Passengers

When I explore a new fleece, part of the adventure is to identify the vegetable matter. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want a fleece filled with vegetable matter, but there will always be bits and pieces in the fleece, that have traveled between the fibers from the pastures the sheep has grazed. From you fell no hay, no straw. Just a few pieces of unidentifiable plants and some dark brown granules of what I believe is peat. At least it looks a lot like the granules that have fallen out of the Shetland fleeces I have got from Shetland.

All the yarn from my Icelandic fleece in a basket.
27 skeins of worsted weight singles yarn, 766 g rams and 1597 meters. I started with 1200 grams of raw fleece, which gives a yield of 65%. My usual yield from raw fleece to finished yarn lies around 55 %.

Being reminded of the reality the sheep has lived in gives me a sort of grounding in the life it has had so far. A sheep with this low amount of vegetable matter is in my imagination a sheep with lots of space on green hills, grazing in all weathers, protected by a fleece that has developed through centuries to protect a body in just those circumstances of weather, landscape and climate. I am thankful, yes, thankful, for the passengers on the fleece that remind me of the sheep and its life. They bring me closer to the sheep and its reality.

Connection

I wanted to spin you as gently as I could, with as little preparation and alteration as possible. Just a light teasing and a soft twist in a singles yarn. A soft yarn that would show your stars – the baby soft undercoat cloud and the strong and silky outercoat armouring – in a gentle almost-not-even-yarn kind of yarn. Just a sweet puff of my spinning wand, where the colours and quirks were still visible, alive and fresh in the yarn. Yes, I wanted a yarn spun from you to be alive, vibrant with the air of you, dear Fleece. A connection to the source of your modest splendour.

With my freshly spun yarn, more like raw food than oven baked, I wanted to be able to knit a garment that would be what you, dear Fleece, had been for the sheep. A protection from the weather, streamlined for me just as you were to the grazing fiber source. Close. Safe. Raw. I am thankful for the connection to the source.

Process

Spinning you has been a process. It is of course always a process, but this one has been unique. I have learned so much from you. First and foremost, I have been monogamous with you. With other fleeces I have worked in parallel process, but with you I wanted to keep the freshness of the lanolin and see it fresh all the way through.

Handspun singles yarn of Icelandic wool.
The knitting has begun! Main color in the middle.

I didn’t even pick your staples before I started teasing them. The basket was full of fields of lightly touching staples. Like a flock of sheep, really. Some from the sides, some from the back, the shortest and sweetest from the neck. All connected to the sheep they once served (don’t worry, she will have new staples to protect her). But in this focused process I have been able to be more present, more aware and learn more, deeper. To listen to your sweet whisper, to find what you wanted to become. To find your soul. I am thankful for the process.

Teacher

Second, I have learned how to work with you a my teacher. How to tease your staples as gently as possible and to still be able to create a soft and smooth yarn with your gentle colours still present, each in their own beauty. How to make my grip gentle and trust your guidance in the spinning. To trust that the yarn will be what it will be and that all is as it should be. I even learned to trust my hands enough to change roles – the spinning hand became a fiber hand and the fiber hand a spinning hand. Wasn’t that an adventure? So lovely an adventure that I kept exploring this sweet change of hands. I am thankful for the teacher.

I'm knitting an Icelandic style sweater with my handspun Lopi-style yarn.
Knitting is happening!

So thank you, dear Fleece, for helping me becoming a better spinner. I’m on a knitting journey with the yarn from you now and I promise I will do my very best to make you proud, as a thank you for all your gifts.

In gratitude,

Josefin


Happy spinning!

Resources

For you, dear readers, I have listed some previous post written with this very fleece as an example and exploration:

  • In the post In the grease I go through my processing method for the Icelandic fleece – lightly teasing the raw fleece with a flicker, hand teasing and spinning from the cut ends into a singles yarn that I then back to get a low Lopi-style twist. 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.
  • I explore a spiritual perspective in The gift of Knowledge, inspired by a quote in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s brilliant book Gathering Moss. In this post you can also learn how to make an accordion burrito.
  • A sore thumb make me switch hands to be able to keep spinning without pain. As it turns out, it was a brilliant idea that I learned a lot from.
  • In Hands-on five-day challenge I invite you to just that. Access the challenge for free here.

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
  • 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.

Hands-on five-day challenge

Today I give you the Hands-on five-day challenge! If you accept the challenge you will be able to explore the roles of your hands in spinning by switching them. You will give yourself the opportunity to explore and get a deeper understanding of both your hands as spinning hand and as fiber hand.

Enroll in the free Hands-on five-day challenge here

In last week’s blog post I switched hands in wheel spinning and spent a lot of time reflecting over the roles of the hands as spinning hands and fiber hands and what happened when I switched. I needed to switch due to a sore thumb in this case. But in all my spindle spinning classes I encourage my students to switch hands for reasons of ergonomics. Either way, switching hands made me reflect and look at my hand roles in a new light. It also gave me a new understanding of what they actually do and potentially can do.

A spark

I was quite caught up in this switching hands adventure. To get an understanding of other spinners’ experiences I wrote a short post in a spinning forum about my new adventure and asked if the members switch hands in their spinning. I got a lot of interesting responses – some did switch regularly, some found it scary but wanted to try and some dismissed the idea. It was one response in particular though, that caught my interest and sparked this whole challenge. J replied and wrote about how she switched. She ended her reply with: “Great challenge!”. And then I realized that I should indeed turn it into a challenge. So I did.

Many of you, over 700 people, have taken my previous challenge, Fleece through the senses and there are over 1000 (!) comments in the challenge. This collection of comments, reflections and insights is so valuable. To me as a course creator and spinning teacher, but especially for us all as spinners and spinning students. There are so many things we can learn from each other!

Hands-on five-day challenge

So, this is how it works: This is a practical challenge where you will get five text lessons over five days. Each lessons has a theme where I encourage you to explore the roles of your hands by switching them. In each lesson you will also get a practice to work with. The challenge is in written English but if you feel more comfortable writing your comments in another language you are welcome to do so.

The purpose of the course is for you to explore the roles of the hands in spinning. The goal is to to get a deeper understanding of both your hands as spinning hand and fiber hand.

A glimpse of the Hands-on five-day challenge (this is a screen shot and not clickable)

Each day of the challenge the lesson will be available at the course page at midnight UTC. If you enroll in the course after that you will get access to the lesson the next day. 15 hours after the lesson has become available you will get an email about it. You are free to work with the lesson whenever you like and for as long as you like.

You can take this challenge at any spinning level. It might even be more challenging for an experienced spinner than for a beginner. To take part in the challenge you will need a spinning tool of your choice – spindles, spinning wheel or e-spinner – and prepared fiber anyway you like it. If you work with spindles it may be a good idea to work with two spindles of the same kind. You will need around 15–30 minutes a day to work with it. You also need pen and paper to take notes of your findings.

A student teacher

This challenge came about through my own learning process as a spinning student. Throughout the challenge I give examples of how I have practiced and learned from my hand switching experiments.

I made a preview release this week for my patrons. One of the first patrons to accept and enroll in the challenge was a bit hesitant to be the first to comment on Day 1 of the challenge, but she did after a while. When she wrote her comment I realized that she was totally right and I enrolled in the challenge myself and added my reflections in the comments. Thank you G for pointing this out to me. You will not be the first to comment now!

Thank you J for lighting the spark for the Hands-on challenge!

Happy switching!


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
  • 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.