A day with the great wheel

Last Sunday I revisited Vallby open air museum to spin in public on their great wheel. My friend Cecilia and I got to dress in historical costume and spend a day with the great wheel.

If you want to see me spinning on the great wheel at Vallby open air museum, there is a video I recorded in 2020. It’s available in English and in Swedish.

Normally the great wheel at Vallby open air museum lives in the manor hall. For this occasion though, the 100th anniversary of the museum, we took the wheel outside and spun on the yard outside the museum farmhouse. It was a sunny day and perfect for spinning outdoors. We shared the yard with the flax processing team.

Wool prep prep

First things first, though. For great wheel spinning you need carded rolags. I always tease my wool before carding and I want the preparation to be fresh. To be able to spin for as long as possible on the great wheel I wanted to tease the wool at home before the event at Vallby so that I only had the carding to do once there.

What’s better finull teasing company than a bit of Austen?

I used Swedish finull wool from the silver medalist (at the Swedish wool championships 2020) Nypon (Rosehip), a sheep who lives at the Glada fåret sheep farm not far from the museum. Finull wool is very fine, very crimpy and very shiny. Usually I tease finull wool with a flick carder to get rid of any brittle tips. But this fleece was in exceptional condition and the tips were strong enough to tease with combs. Here is a video where I tease wool with combs.

Costume

My friend Cecilia is a volunteer at Vallby and she invited me to spin on the great wheel. The volunteers at Vallby wear historical costumes and I was thrilled to get the opportunity to dive into their costume chamber and pick something suitable for the task and the time. I’m very fascinated with all the layers and functions of costumes from this time.

I picked out a very comfortable linen shift, wool skirt and a bodice. To that of course an apron, a neckerchief and a cap. And, of course a pocket. They have lots of pockets at the museum, but I chose my own linen pocket.

Cecilia was dressed in basically the same parts. She had prepared the wheel at the museum that morning so when she picked me up at the train station she was already in character. It was such a joy to see her rushing through the busy waiting hall like a whirlwind with her 18th century flowing around her.

Bosom friends

Cecilia is my second cousin on my only Swedish family line. We met just a few years ago for the first time in decades, and instantly became close friends. A year ago I made Ceciliaand myself a bosom friend that Spin-Off later published as a pattern in the spring issue 2022, Cecilia’s bosom friend. The bosom friends were a natural choice to wear with our costumes and perfect for a slightly chilly September morning.

My friend and cousin Cecilia and I as 18th century women. Photo by Ulla Blomqvist.

I think we look absolutely smashing! Although I do have a problem with the cap. I call it the humiliation cap. It is very lovely, but I feel like a baby when I wear it. But, it was the high fashion at the time and probably outrageous to walk around without it.

Cecilia knows her way around at Vallby open air museum, from where the cuddliest cats live to how to carry a great wheel in and out of buildings with low doorways and high thresholds, capacities that are more useful than you may think.

You can read more about my friendship with Cecilia in the fall 2020 issue of Spin-Off magazine.

Carding

Once we had got our gear together and found a spot to set up camp I started to card my teased wool. It was such a precious moment to sit there on the warm steps by the barn wall in the September light, surrounded by wool and spinning tools in baskets and a great wheel that I had been especially invited to use. What a treat!

I’m carding rolags from teased Swedish finull wool before I start spinning on the great wheel. Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

I used my 108 tpi Finnish cards. They are truly lovely to card with. I am still learning the technique and it’s a joy to be able to focus on the technique.

Spinning

Spinning on a great wheel is like a choreographed dance. There are lots of factors to keep track on – holding the rolag, a stepping sequence, the changes of angles, turning the wheel and coordinating it all together with just the right amount of fiber release. It may look breezy, but I can assure you my brain was near boiling from all the concentration and coordination.

There is also an age factor to juggle with. The great wheel is antique and has its own mind. The spindle is wobbly and I need to take that into account when I make the draw. The leather straps that hold the spindle in place are old and dry. Cecilia changed them temporarily to straps in fresh leather for the occasion. The tensioning of the drive band is a little cranky and needs to be tightened often.

I managed to get one cop very symmetrical and even. Shortly after this photo was taken it collapsed, though and barfed out its innards at the tip end. Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

All of these factors come into the equation when I spin. As I am a beginner with a great wheel It took a while before I understood what was my beginner’s hand and what was the charm of an antique tool.

Still, yarn was made and people enjoyed themselves. Especially Cecilia and I, but hopefully also some visitors.

You can read more about the great wheel in an earlier post.

Meet and greet

Lots of visitors stopped and watched us at our 18th century corner of the farm yard. Some asked questions, some told sweet childhood memories of grannies carding and spinning by the fireplace. Some just watched and smiled in the pale September sun.

Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

It was such a joy to talk to the visitors, hear their stories and tell them a bit of spinning history when they asked about the wheel, the technique and the time.

Our day with the great wheel was a sweet joy and a success. Thank you Vallby outdoor museum for having me! I hope to be invited again.

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 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.

The flax princesses

There are many versions of the story of Sleeping Beauty. The brothers Grimm’s may be the most widespread one while the romanticized Disney animation may be the most known today. Recently I found a new version, though, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you aren’t familiar with the Berta’s flax project, started by Austrian fiber artist and teacher Christiane Seufferlein, read this post before you go on to the story of the Flax princesses.

I am often asked by non-spinners what the princess was stung by. Was it a part of a spinning wheel? Was it a spindle? Or a distaff? My standard reply is usually that while she may have said she was stung by whatever, she was actually just making sure she got some peace and quiet to be able to spin. The new version I found is about strong and independent princesses who save the whole community with golden flax.

The flax princesses

Once upon a time in a land far, far away – or near – where the golden flax grew all the way to the horizon, many bold and skilled princesses lived. All the princesses had precious spindles, wheels and looms. They knew how to take care of the golden flax and turn it into the most beautiful fibers, yarns and textiles.

Once upon a time in a land far, far away.

The princesses also knew that the golden flax was an important and valuable treasure. They weren’t extravagant with the golden flax, instead they saved it for days of hardship. To show how much they valued the golden flax they put it in treasure chests and adorned the precious stricks with paper flowers.

Princess Berta was a skilled spinner and weaver. She also shared the secret of the golden flax in the treasure chests with her son. Princess Gusti knew all the secret flax words. While Princess Maria spun her way through rough childhood winters, Princess Stephanie started a weaving service for her neighbours.

The years went by. Fewer and fewer people knew the secret about the golden flax. Spindles, wheels and looms were stored away or thrown out. The memory of the princesses and their skills was fading away.

One day people started to burn or bury the chests with the once golden flax. Nobody wanted it anymore and it took up too much space. For many years the secret of the golden flax was forgotten by most people. Until one day. A new princess came – bold, skilled and with a very generous heart. Princess Christiane was her name. The son of princess Berta had come to Christiane with Berta’s chest filled to the brim with her golden flax.

Princess Christiane kissed the golden flax and brought it to life again. She shared Princess Berta’s and many of the other princesses’ flax with the world. The stories of the princesses flew out of the chests and enchanted people wide and far. New skilled and bold princesses, with their wheels, looms and spindles polished, cared for the golden flax and made new textiles.

The golden flax, the old princesses and their stories would never be forgotten again. The old stories were spun together with new ones and the flax became golden again.

The story of the flax princesses does not end here, but continues to enchant the world.

Princess Christiane

As it happens, I took the train to Austria with my family just recently. I have an Austrian heritage through both my parents and have spent lots of summers there both as a child with my parents and as an adult with my own family.

My childhood summers were filled with hikes in the mountains around Salzkammergut in Austria.

This time I did get a chance to meet Princess Christiane. She drove for two hours to pick me up at the bed and breakfast where I was staying with my family, and drove another 40 minutes to Bad Ischl where there was an exhibition of traditional and non-traditional costumes in the breakfast parlour of the former emperor and empress. While the exhibition was very interesting and well designed, I enjoyed our talks more than anything.

Josefin and Christiane, both a little star struck. I’m wearing the shawl Christiane gave me.

Christiane is such a generous soul and we shared so many experiences. We talked of spinning, flax and spinning teaching as well as the stories all the flax princesses have told and entrusted Christiane with. And we were both a little star struck with each other.

Sister shawls

As I have been reading about Berta’s flax and all the work Christiane has been doing I have seen her wearing a beautiful shawl. While spinning my Austrian flax (from Princess Stephanie) I realized I wanted to knit something similar, like a sister shawl to the one Christiane was wearing. I spun the yarn and cast on for the project (Veela by Libby Jonson) in time for our long train journey to Austria.

When we arrived to our destination it was a very special feeling to pick up the needles and knit the sister shawl with the yarn I had spun from Austrian flax back home in Sweden, there in Austria. On the same ground where the flax had grown some 80 years earlier.

When I met up with Christiane she was wearing the shawl I had admired so. And when I told her about the sister shawl I was making she instantly gave her shawl to me. It was spun and knit by artists of a Nepalese cooperative, from Nepalese nettles.

A common thread through all the lands

As I am writing this I am going back home on the train to Stockholm, a long journey from Austria. I keep knitting the shawl from my Austrian flax yarn. The thread goes from stitch to stitch, but also from town to town along the way, knitting all the communities together into a kind-hearted flax weave.

We start our journey back home from Salzburg, Austria. I thank the mountains and the land that raised my father and my grandmothers and that is a part of me and my children.

Every time I pick up my knitting I feel the skills and love put into the preparation of the flax, the stories and the value it had and almost lost. I knit this shawl with so much love and respect (and some skin chafing on my index finger) for all the flax princesses.

When I met Christiane met I did take the opportunity to buy some more flax from her. This time I got five stricks (about 800 grams) that were harvested before the turn of the last century. It was safely rolled into her nettle shawl in my luggage on the way back home. I will spin it in Sweden and I will think of the Austrian roots of both myself and the flax.

Berta’s flax. This time with an unknown story. What I do know is that it comes from Walding near Linz and predates 1900.

Vielen lieben Dank Christiane! For bringing the flax world together through princesses all around the world, for the conversations, for your kind soul and for a nettle shawl that will keep warming my heart. I hope we can continue our conversations soon.

Resources

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.

Daily flax

Last summer I mustered up the courage to spin flax. I had got some very long 80 year old Swedish flax from a relative of a relative. To manage it more easily I rehackled it, and spun it whenever I could spin outdoors. This year I am rehackling again – with 80 year Austrian flax from the Berta’s flax project.

It was a mixed feeling when I unraveled the Austrian flax from Stephanie Gumpenberger. I was both eager and scared to spin it. It had such a significant history and I wanted to be sure I could do it justice. But then again, just spinning it at all would do it so much more justice than seeing it burnt, as so many flax chests of the time had been.

Rehackling

Stephanie’s flax has been neatly stored in a chest for many years. As with any flax I like to rehackle it right before I dress it on the distaff, just to give myself the best possible spinning conditions.

80 year old Austrian flax, ready for rehackling.

I have one rough hackle and one fine hackle and so that’s what I used. As I opened the strick I was amazed at the quality of the flax and the condition it was in. Long, smooth and shiny. Almost no tangles. Still, it had been compressed for many years and would do good with rehackling.

I divided the opened strick into smaller bundles to be able to work as gently as possible in the rehackling. The rough hackling took some shorter fibers and a just a few tangles. This first rehackling opened the bundles up a bit and aligned them.

The fine hackling took even less fibers but there was still a significant improvement from the rough hackling. The fibers were even smoother and a bit loftier.

Brushing

In Ångermanland, a small part of Sweden, but an important place of flax husbandry in the past, a flax brush was often used after the fine hackling and just before dressing the distaff. Sometimes two or even three brushes of different fineness were used – the finer the fibers the finer the brush.

Last year I managed to get my hands on a flax brush on Swedish eBay – a real hog-hair brush with a tar handle. I don’t know if it’s considered a rough, medium or fine brush. It does its work though, and it feels very special to be able to use it on my flax. After the brushing all the short fibers are gone and the flax shining in all its glory.

Dressing the distaff

By distaff I mean maple stick I have carved and shoved into a parasol stand on the terrace. Despite its origin and makeshift construction it works very nicely as a floor distaff.

To prepare the flax for the distaff I make a fan of it. I place the flax on the table in front of me and draft out one thin layer at a time into a fan, until I have fanned out the whole bundle. The fibers are now criss-crossed across the surface so that each fiber easily can catch on to a nearby fiber. You can watch how I create my fan in this video.

Sittin’ in the morning sun

I have been spinning the Austrian flax daily when I haven’t been away. I spin the flax on our terrace, either in the pale morning sun or in the shade in the afternoon. The wind catches both my hair and the flax on the distaff, giving the spinning an extra dimension.

As I slowly draft the fibers from the distaff into the twist I find a sweet rhythm – draft, treadle, draft, treadle, occasionally mixed with wetting my spinning hand fingers or moving the draft across the flax. I feel every fiber go through my hands as I think about why they were grown, the land they grew on and the connection to Austria and my own Austrian heritage.

Switching hands

It’s really hard to stop spinning flax. As there is quite a lot of fibers dressed on the distaff I can alway spin a little more before I take a break. When I finally do I realize that I have been spinning for over an hour, just treadling and drafting.

I work a lot with switching hands, both for reasons of ergonomics and to teach both my hands to understand the roles of both spinning hand and fiber hand. With the knowledge that I often spin for long periods when I work with flax, I find it extra important to switch hands.

My daily flax session on the terrace is one of focus and joy. Having the flax going through my hands right in front of my eyes makes my heart sing. And my hands with it.

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.

A spindle a day 3

As I wrote in my previous post I have spent this week at Sätergläntan craft education center, teaching a five-day course where I teach four different spindle types and wool processing by hand. Today I invite you to a sneak peak of the course A spindle a day 3.

Sätergläntan is a place vibrant with crafting hands and crafting hearts. It is such a beautiful environment to be in, where every corner of every room and every mind is sloyd.

80 students were at Sätergläntan this week, learning shrink pots, forging, embroidery on wool, felted images, folk costume dresses, forging and, of course, spindle spinning. All wearing their best visually mended, knit, embroidered and patchworked clothing.

On my way to the train station with four spindle types, wool and tools for twelve students plus my own packing.

There is always some excitement before a course, especially a longer course like this one. What level are the students at? What are their learning styles? How will the group work together? Will I be able to find all the students at their level and their pace?

Beginners

I knew the course was full – twelve students. I haven’t had such a large group before, but with five days together it’s easier to give individual guidance to the students than on a one- or two-day course. Usually my courses are aimed at intermediate to experienced spinners. This one is too, but I open up for beginners too.

As it turned out, most of the students in this course were beginners and some hadn’t ever held a spinning tool in their hands before. This is a big challenge for me since I am used to my students having basic knowledge about wool and some spinning vocabulary. I’m always a little scared to have beginners in my courses because I fear I won’t have the tools to find them at their level. But then again, it’s by practicing I will find and refine my tools. With a class of twelve with lots of beginners and no intermediates I will hopefully get a lot of practice.

I’m demonstrating how I spin on the floor spindle (screen shot from video).

I want to find the students at their level, I want to speak their individual language of learning, catch them there and guide them to their own discoveries. I want them to have their aha-moments, to find the missing link and see, feel and be proud of what they have learned.

Day 1: Wool preparation and suspended spindles

Day 1 was all about wool preparation and suspended spindle spinning. The students have teased, carded and combed and made lots of progress. There has been lots of frustration but also happy cries when the body has understood in practice what the mind has accepted in theory.

As a teacher I try to emphasize what they have actually learned when they are frustrated about a step they have trouble taking. I always encourage my students to place their rolags and yarns on the floor in front of them so they can see their progress over time even if they don’t always see it in the moment. And they do see that there is a vast difference between the first and the latest rolag or the first and the latest ball of yarn.

The twist model

The first thing I talked about before we started spinning on suspended spindles was the twist model. In short, the twist model is about where between no twist at all and very much twist the spinner can find an amount of twist where there is enough twist for the fibers to slide past each other without coming apart. I call this the point of twist engagement.

Finding the point of twist engagement is to me essential to understanding twist and spinning. With the students’ newborn rolags and the twist model in their mind there were some first precious aha-moments in rolag carding, opening up the twist and finding the point of twist engagement.

Switching hands

Another concept I work with already from the beginning with my students is switching hands. I always encourage them to learn to use both hands as spinning hands and both hands as fiber hands. To prevents strained shoulders and to help them understand both hand roles from the perspective of both hands. And they all do it. Not always enthusiastically, but they do it and see the benefits of it.

Check out my free five-day challenge Hands on where I encourage you to switch hands and get acquainted with the roles of the hands.

Day 2: Floor spindle

On day 2 we dived into floor spindles. Here their rolags are really put to the test – spinning on a floor spindle brutally reveals any uneven rolags and the students get an understanding of what in the wool preparation process – teasing, carding or rolag shaping – that needs adjusting.

Floor spindles by Björn Peck.

With the floor spindle we practice longdraws. The long draw a spinner can make on a floor spindle are longer than on a spinning wheel – the yarn can go from the spindle shaft on one side of the body, across the torso and out in the hand of the outstretched arm on the other side of the body.

Students that on the day before have had a hard time finding and working with the point of twist engagement with the suspended spindle have understood it with a lot of joy today with the floor spindle. And who, when, going back to the suspended spindle, suddenly have come past their struggle. This really warms my wooly teaching heart.

Day 3: In-hand spindle

This is the third time I teach the A spindle a day five-day course. I know that the students usually are very tired and sometimes a bit overwhelmed on day 3, which is also the day of the most complicated spindle type: In-hand spindle with a distaff. That in combination with the large proportion of beginners made me a bit nervous. Would I be able to give them the sense of accomplishment?

I didn’t have to worry. They were working very independently by now. They analyzed, experimented and were dedicated to understanding what went wrong and why. And after just an hour or so all of them were spinning with their in-hand spindles and distaffs. I was amazed at all they had learned so far and at how they used their knowledge to understand new tools and techniques. I didn’t even have to tell them to switch hands, they did that automatically.

Day 4: Supported spindle

When I teach supported spindle spinning isolated I usually do it slowly in a step-by-step fashion. In the A spindle a day course though, the students have successively learned all the components of the technique and already know about changing the angle, opening up the twist and working with upper and lower cop. It’s just a matter of getting to know the tool and transfer the technique to a new context.

Björn Peck’s beautiful supported spindles spin like rockets.

This course was no different. Even if they were intimidated by the small motor movement and the speed of the spindles, they quite quickly got the hang of the tool and the technique and spun away happily.

Narrative spinning

At this stage, on day four, they had got to know each other and we did an exercise I call narrative spinning. This is when they sit in pairs and one students spins and tells the other what is happening in the spinning, why it is happening, what they are doing and why they are doing it. The other student listens and asks constructive questions. By narrating their spinning they put words on what may be difficult to grasp. The one listening gets inspiration from a fellow student. I was given this exercise when I was learning to drive and it always works very well in spinning courses when the students have gotten to know each other a bit.

Evenings

The students line up their precious yarn balls by one of the floor looms.

When class is dismissed for the day the students stay in the classroom and practice and/or prepare for tomorrow’s class. So much happens in these evening sessions. Hearty conversation and usually lots of progress without the teacher bothering them with questions and ideas. I’m usually still in the classroom (blogging), but I try not to bother them.

Day 5: Wool tasting and spinning meditation

Day 5 is only half a day so I don’t introduce a new spindle type this day. Instead I offer them a chance to understand how much they have actually learned, by hosting a wool tasting. In the wool tasting they get to try wool from five different breeds that they haven’t worked with before. On this A spindle a day 3 they got a brown silver medal winning Helsinge wool, chocolate brown alpaca, black Klövsjö wool with subtle silver sparkle, white silver medal winning finull wool and light grey and unusually soft gute wool.

Their task is to, for fifteen minutes per breed, prepare and spin the wool and reflect over the wool, technique and choices they make during the process. After the fifteen minutes have passed they get the next wool. We do this in silence so that they can focus on their process.

Apart from working with new wools and using what they have learned in the course, they get the chance to, in a short time, make decisions about preparation and technique without over thinking things. The students usually love this exercise and they get to go back home with the form they fill in, showing all they have learned.

The wool tasting is done in silence for 5 x 15 minutes. I love this part of the course, where I can sit and watch the students work – how they make decisions and work with the wool with the tools and techniques they have got acquainted with during the course.

Spinning meditation

The very last thing we did was a spinning meditation. I guide the students through spinning in mindfulness and without prestige. Towards the end of the meditation I encourage them to close their eyes and feel their way in the spinning. And most of them did, surprised at how much they could actually feel in a situation where they usually relied on their vision.

The wool tasting form was their diploma of what they had learned and the spinning meditation an extra treat for them to reflect over and be proud of how much they had learned.


I’m finishing this blog post on the train back home to Stockholm. I’m going home with a lighter suitcase, many insights, and a warm heart, thrilled over what I have learned and of having been able to guide my students down a new rabbit hole. I hope to come back next summer.

Thank you M, L, S, E-B, E, A, C, L, M-L, H and K for letting me guide you through wool, tools and techniques. Thank you for lots of laughs, many insights and sweet conversations. A special thought goes to M who turned ill and couldn’t make it to the course.

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.

Nettle processing

Last summer I picked some stinging nettles (urticaria dioica) and dew retted them together with my flax harvest. Just as with my tiny flax patch I wanted to experiment with nettles and see what I could find. Today I share my nettle processing and thoughts.

Everything I have done in this experiment has been just that – an experiment and something to relate to in later nettle experiments. This is my only experience with nettles and I can’t tell the cause of different outcomes, only speculate. I can just observe and learn. And there is a beauty in that.

Dew retted

When the flowers had almost finished flowering I picked my first nettles. This was in the end of July. I picked the tallest ones without side shoots and stripped the leaves off. I dried them in tent-line shapes, just like the flax and dew retted later in the autumn. The nettles required a little longer retting period than the approximately 20 days I aim for with flax.

Dew retted (left) and root retted nettle stems. The dew retted stems have the typical spotted look just like dew retted flax.

With no previous experience with nettle retting I wasn’t sure what level of retting was enough. In hindsight I realize that I should have retted a bit longer for a better result.

Root retted

I also read that I could use root retted nettles. That is, nettles that had retted on their growth place over the winter. Harvest day was a sunny day in February, not long before the new shoots would appear.

I felt so good about walking out to one of the spots I had looked out during the summer and harvest what no one would look twice at, just a bundle of last year’s decay.

I am really fascinated by the root retting option. Nature is brilliant in so many ways! I just picked what nature had left to die in its natural cycle and I rescued 60 or so of the still standing stems. I did pick some that had fallen too but they had overretted and were of no use for fiber.

Breaking

A couple of weeks ago I decided to break my nettle stems. I had read about baking the nettle first to make it easier for the fibers to loosen from the core. Heat was the issue here, and I decided to place my nettle stems in my mini greenhouse for a couple of hours on a sunny day.

As I took the two bundles outside the difference between them struck me. The dew retted looked just like that – dew retted, with the dark spots that are typical for dew retted flax. The root retted nettles on the other hand had an even reddish brown colour. As I peeled off some fibers the dew retted were shiny and strong and the root retted matte and somewhat weaker, at least in the samples I tried.

Dew retted (left) and root retted (right) nettle fibers after a turn in the flax break.

I knew nettle processing would be a lot more labour intensive than the already labour intensive flax processing and I was not wrong. Aside from nettles being fewer and harder to hunt the stems are longer and harder to break. Still there was a moment of magic as I started breaking my dry stems: I could actually see fibers!

Scutching

There was a lot of boon (the woody parts) entangled in the fibers and I wondered if I would have to pick them out one by one.

As I had finished breaking both bundles I scutched them. A lot of boon fell out but there was very much left in the fibers. Then I remembered something I saw in a video with Allan Brown – he rubbed the fibers between his hands. This would create heat and make the boon be easier to remove.

Root retted (top) and dew retted (bottom) after scutching and rubbing.

And that is just what happened – a lot of the boon fell out of the preparation as I rubbed the stricks between my palms. The fibers also got a bit softer.

Hackling

I used my rough and fine hackles in the hackling stage of the process. This part was also quite labour intensive – there was more boon and in bigger parts than in flax. I also got more convinced about my theory about the underretted dew retted nettle stems – there was more waste in the dew retted strick than in the root retted strick.

After the fine hackling the fibers were aligned and detangled. I still wasn’t completely happy with them, though. A lot of the fibers were still bundled together, making them coarse. As I hackled the fibers I saw sweet tufts of super soft but very short fibers. I wanted to incorporate these in the yarn. So I saved what soft tufts I could find and kept thinking how to get more of that softness.

Rubbing and scraping

Since the rubbing had worked after the scutching I kept rubbing the now hackled stricks to soften them. I took a small bundle of fiber and rubbed it for about twenty minutes and went on to the next bundle.

The warmth and the agitation did help a lot with the softness, but there was still bark left. I re-watched a clip with Allan Brown again. He used a blunt knife to scrape off the bark, which I tried too. It worked and some more of it came off.

Broken, scutched, rough hackled, fine hackled, rubbed and scraped nettle fibers, root retted (left and middle) and dew retted (right).

As you can see in all the pictures there is at least double the amount of root retted nettle fiber. There may have been a little more to start with, but not much. I withhold my theory of the underretted dew retted nettles. The boon and bark feel more strongly attached to the fibers than those of the root retted fibers. More of the dew retted fibers thus break and I need to manually remove more cellulose bits.

Carding

I used a pair of fine (108 tip) cards to card the nettle fibers. This separated a lot of the fibers that had been glued together by the bark. Most of the fibers in my carded rolags were now shorter but soft, fine and ready to spin!

A note on spinning

I have spun and plied the dew retted fibers and begun spinning the root retted. The fibers are very fine and short so I need to keep my eye on the drafting and quite a lot of twist. I’m spinning a very fine yarn on a 10 gram cross-armed spindle.

The fibers feel quite dry but still work well to spin. I need to focus, though. I still feel some coarseness but seeing the transformation in the fibers through rubbing and agitating the fibers I am convinced that I can soften them even more with more rubbing after plying.

After having read up on finishing nettle yarn I have decided to treat it the same way I do my flax yarns – hot water, soda ash and soap. And then perhaps some more rubbing.

My plan is to weave a narrow band on a backstrap loom.

An accessible fiber

While nettle processing is very time consuming and labour intensive it is possible to spin it. And the more time and dedication you invest in it the bigger the chance to get a soft yarn and textile. And it works. Even with less work I will get a yarn that is usable for something.

2-plied yarn from dew retted nettles.

The sweet thing about nettles is that it is accessible. With no sheep and no ground to grow flax in you can always go out and look for nettles. And if you don’t want to take the nurseries from the small tortoiseshell or other butterflies or fertilization material from your garden you can even pick them in the winter. So go out and gather your nettles! Either when they are ready to pick fresh for dew retting (check resources below for further reading about what to look for) or when they have root retted in late winter.

Resources:

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.

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!


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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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