dual coat

Many of the Swedish heritage breeds have dual coats, just like Icelandic sheep, Navajo Churro, Karakul, North Ronaldsay and some Shetland sheep. A dual coat has a combination of long and strong outercoat fibers and soft and airy undercoat fibers in the same staple. Today I dive into dual coats and reflect over how I work with these versatile fleeces.

Dual coats are common in primitive breeds, but not with all sheep of that breed and not necessarily consistently over the whole body of the sheep. Swedish heritage breeds like dalapäls, Värmland, Gestrike (featured image above), Klövsjö and Åsen sheep along with rya, gute and Åland sheep are all breeds that can have dual coats on parts or the whole of their fleeces.

Check out the linked breed study posts above to dive deeper into different ways I work with dual coats.

What is a dual coat?

Dual coats consist of long hairs, the outercoat (täckhår) and shorter wool, the undercoat (bottenull). These fiber types look very different and have different purposes. The long outercoat fibers are strong, often shiny and usually packed quite densely in the tips while the shorter undercoat fibers are soft, fine and airily distributed.

The purpose of the coats

The purpose of the outercoat on the sheep is to keep the sheep dry. When rain hits the fleece, the long and dense outercoat tails lead the rain drops away from the body of the sheep. The purpose of the undercoat is to keep the sheep warm. With its lofty distribution air comes in between the fibers and keeps the sheep warm.

In this Icelandic fleece it is easy to imagine the rain drops sliding on the dense outercoat tips out and away from the body of the sheep.

Kemp

In addition to undercoat and outercoat some fleeces have kemp. Kemp is a coarse hair fiber with a medulla, a core with air-filled cells, that takes up at least 60 per cent of the diameter of the fiber. Due to this wide medulla core the kemp fibers are brittle and short (because they break from being so brittle). They are usually white or black and don’t take dye. Kemp fibers are coarse, quirky and stick out of the yarn and usually fall out sooner or later. This is very evident when you prepare a fleece with kemp in it – the floor will be full of kemp that has fallen out of the fleece. Also when you full a garment knit with a yarn with kemp you will find lots of kemp fibers that have crept out of the textile in the agitation.

Fine undercoat fibers, coarser outercoat fibers and quirky kemp fibers in Gestrike wool.
Fine undercoat fibers, coarser outercoat fibers and quirky kemp fibers in Gestrike wool.

In a loupe image it’s possible to see the difference in diameter between undercoat, outercoat and kemp fibers.

Cooperation

The wool types on the sheep cooperate, all in an effort to keep the sheep dry and warm. The outercoat armours the undercoat so that the undercoat can stay airy and the outercoat can stay upright. The undercoat in turn form a fundament for the outercoat. Kemp fibers also help keeping the staple upright and airy so that the rain doesn’t get the sheep wet and cold.

Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep
The staples on Gunvor the Gestrike sheep stand out from her body, keeping rain and cold away.

Let the wool lead the way

When I spin a fleece, any fleece, I like to use the properties of the wool to make a garment that is for me what the fleece was to the sheep that once grew the wool. I let the characteristics of the wool lead the way as I prepare, spin and use it. With a dual coat there are so many ways I can do this and create a wide range of yarns from one single fleece.

Depending on the wool I have and what I have in mind for it I can choose to

  • Separate undercoat from outercoat and prepare the coats separately.
  • Semi-separate the coats. By this I mean that I remove some of one of the coats but not all. Or separate the coats and reintroduce a part of one of the coats to the other.
  • Prepare the coats together.
  • Spin from the lock.

Separating coats

There are different ways to separate the outercoat from the undercoat of a dual coat, depending on what tools you have available.

By hand

The easiest way is to use your hands and separate staple by staple. I hold the staple between my hands with the tip end in one hand and the cut end in the other. I pull gently and wiggle slightly until I feel the coats gliding in different directions. When I have separated the coats I can continue to prepare them separately.

With cards

If you have cards but no combs you can separate the coats with the cards. Place a staple with the cut end on the long edge of the card and push it lightly into the teeth with one hand. With the other hand, pull gently in the tip end until the coats separate. From here you can continue to prepare the coats separately.

With combs

My go-to way to separate coats is with combs. With the combs you can

  • tease both coats
  • separate the coats from each other
  • create a top from the outercoat fibers.

Usually I use my combing station but sometimes also with my mini combs. If possible, I use two-pitched combs. Two or more rows of teeth will hold on to the shorter fibers better than single pitched combs, keeping the undercoat in the combs as I doff off the outercoat.

To separate the coats with combs I then

  • find the cut ends of the staples
  • charge the comb by sliding the cut ends onto the teeth
  • keep as little of the staples as possible on the handle side of the comb
  • charge the comb with up to a third of the height of the tines
  • keep the combs perpendicular to each other and comb with the horizontal comb in a horizontal circular movement
  • change the orientation of the movement to a vertical circle when the first comb is empty
  • Work back and forth until the wool is fully separated.

The wool is now combed and the fibers evenly separated. All cut ends are in one end and the tip ends in the other. I like to stop at an odd number of passes. This way I pull the outercoat from the cut ends, which will generate a smoother drafting of the fibers.

The undercoat fibers stop before the outercoat fibers do. I grab the outercoat fibers outside of the place where the undercoat ends. I pull and wiggle lightly, carefully listening to the wool. When the fibers slide easier past each other I stop and make a new grip, closer to the undercoat fibers but without including them. To create a continuous top I keep pulling out the outercoat, changing my grip until I can’t get more outercoat fibers out of the comb. I even the top out by pre-drafting it lightly and wind it into a bird’s nest. When I pull the last part of the top from the comb I can either comb it together with a couple of more tops or start spinning straight away.

I pull the undercoat out of the comb perpendicular to the teeth. This way any nepps, vegetable matter and too short fibers stay in the combs and I can use this waste for mulching in the garden. The teased undercoat is now ready for further preparation.

You can read more about my favourite combs here.

Carding the undercoat

While the outercoat has been combed during the separation of the coats I have lovely little teased combfuls of undercoat that I usually card. You can read more about carding in this blog post.

I would typically spin the carded undercoat woolen for a soft and warm yarn and the outercoat worsted for a strong and shiny yarn to enhance their respective superpowers.

Semi-separating coats

One lovely thing about dual coats is the endless opportunities I have to customize the fiber type content and the yarn that I spin. Above I describe a complete or close to complete separation of the outercoat from the undercoat. But I can also choose to doff off only part of the outercoat to create a yarn that is soft from the undercoat but still has some strength and shine from the outercoat. I could also make a complete separation between the coats and then reintroduce some of one coat to the other. For example, I can make two sock yarns from one fleece. I the main sock yarn I may use both of the fiber types together, but add more of the outercoat for the heel and toe yarn.

Combing coats together

Combing the coats together will result in a yarn that is still strong but has some softness too. A yarn like this could be a good allround and durable yarn.

For keeping fiber types together I prefer single pitched combs. With only one row of teeth both undercoat and outercoat slide swiftly through the teeth for a nicely blended top. Up until I doff the wool off the comb I take the same steps as described above. When the fibers are separated I grab the wool a bit closer to the teeth to avoid getting only the outercoat. I pull and wiggle gently to make a long top from both undercoat and outercoat.

One challenge with combing the coats together is having one end of the top with mostly outercoat fibers and the other with mostly undercoat. To reduce this risk I can recomb the top. I put the combed wool back onto the comb in sections and recomb it for a couple of passes and then doff or diz it off again. You can read more about this process in my post Combing different fiber lengths.

Carding coats together

Just as I can comb both coats together I can card them together. This will create an airy allround yarn that still has some strength.

I always start by teasing the wool. This is to open up the fibers before carding to prevent strain in the fibers and in my body. You can read more about teasing here.

The different lengths in a dual coat marry well together in a carded rolag. Rya wool left and middle. The staple on the right is mohair that I added in this case for extra sock yarn strength.

But is it possible to card fibers in this length? When I card fibers that are perhaps 20 centimeters I always make sure they are accompanied by shorter fibers. 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 to card since there are different 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 from the lock

When I want to work with a very light preparation and as few tools as possible or to preserve a colour variegation I spin from the cut ends of lightly teased locks. I tease with my hands, cards, flicker or combs and spin. Drafting can be a bit of a challenge since the fibers are more densely packed than in a full separation. But the result is usually a beautifully raw yarn with lots of integrity. You can see an example of this and a method I played with in this post about Icelandic wool.

Colours

Many dual coats have different colours in the outercoat and undercoat. This presents a wonderful opportunity to play with the colours. If you for example separate the coats and spin a strong outercoat yarn and a soft undercoat yarn you can combine these in a weaving project. If you weave twill you would end up with one side with the strength of the outercoat warp in one colour and the other side with the softness of the undercoat in another. Just like the wool on the sheep, a soft undercoat layer to keep the body warm and a strong outercoat layer to keep the wet out. Allowing the coats to cooperate still after a long process from fleece to textile just warms my wooly heart endlessly.

A baby sample for a twill weave with separated undercoat and outercoat of the Gestrike sheep Elin.

A wide spinning spectrum

As you see, a dual coat is usually a very versatile fleece that you can prepare in a number of ways depending on the characteristics of the fleece and what projects you have in mind. With this wide spectrum of preparation techniques it is easy to see an equally wide spectrum of spinning opportunities. Add to that the additional possibilities to play with the natural colours of the fleece and different fiber qualities of lamb’s fleeces and adult fleeces. From the finest next to skin woolen lamb’s undercoat yarn to coarse and strong rug yarn. From baby clothes through shawls, mittens, socks, hats and sweaters to woven textiles for clothing, upholstery, tapestries and rugs. For a hand spinner a single dual coat is a treasure box with endless opportunities to make a wide variety of yarn and textile and honour the sheep that once grew the wool.

Read the Spring 2021 Double coated issue of PLY magazine. I’d packed with in-depth articles about dual coats.

I just love writing a blog post where I already have all the necessary photos from previous posts.

Happy spinning!


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Teasing

When someone oohs and aahs over a handspun yarn I say “It’s all in the preparation”. When someone oohs and aahs over a mean hand-carded rolag I say “It’s all in the pre-preparation”. Today’s post is all about teasing.

Teasing is a way to open up the wool. Either as a single preparation or as a pre-preparation before the main preparation. Teasing wool before carding is an enormous help in getting even, high quality rolags that are a joy to spin.

Staples of rya wool and mohair, wool teased with combs and hand-carded rolags like peas in a pod.
Staples of rya wool and mohair, wool teased with combs and hand-carded rolags like peas in a pod.

I never put wool on my hand cards unless it is teased first. To me, carding is about arranging the fibers evenly and loftily. To do that – without putting too much strain on me and the fibers – I therefore tease first. Without exception. When I teach spinning I always include fiber preparation and teasing.

Why teasing?

When I tease I

  • open up the wool from its state as a bundle of staples. Air comes in between the fibers and makes the fibers more evenly distributed
  • spend more time with the wool
  • prepare to card high quality rolags.

With teasing I can

  • get more evenly carded rolags with less strain on my body and the wool
  • blend fibers, lengths fleeces or colours
  • remove vegetable matter
  • get rid of the shortest fibers
  • leave the teased wool before I card, while carded and combed wool needs to be treated as fresh produce
  • experience more ease and joy when I card.

Without teasing before carding

  • the wool will be more dense and require more force to separate
  • I may strain my shoulders, wrists and arms
  • fibers may break, leaving nepps in the preparation
  • the rolags will be of lesser quality
  • there may be a lot more waste than with teasing.
I gently add the teased wool to my hand card to create an evenly arranged rolag.
I gently add the teased wool to my hand card to create an evenly arranged rolag.

How I tease

I use different tools for teasing – my hands, combs and flickers. Which tool I use when depends on a variety of circumstances.

Teasing with combs

My go-to tool of teasing is combs, usually my larger combs with a combing station that I clamp onto a table (but of course hand held combs work well too). I can tease larger amounts of wool this way and without putting too much strain on my hands and wrists. When I tease with my combs I also have the opportunity to blend different breeds, fiber lengths or colours. You can see a video here where I tease wool that I blend with recycled sari silk. Teasing with combs also helps getting rid of vegetable matter.

Pulling the teased wool straight out of the stationary comb, perpendicular to the tines.
Pulling the teased wool straight out of the stationary comb, perpendicular to the tines.

Teasing with combs is similar to combing in the middle but different in the beginning and in the end. When I tease with combs I don’t consider the direction of the staples the way I would if I were combing – I just make sure there is as little wool as possible on the handle side of the comb. Other than that I just add the wool as it comes.

Värmland wool teased with combs, ready for carding.
Värmland wool teased with combs, ready for carding.

The middle part, the actual combing, is the same as when I comb for a top. When I pull the wool off the comb I don’t pull it in one long section like I would if I were combing, I just pull it in fiber-length tufts.

All my combs come from Gammeldags in Sweden and I highly recommend them, both the mini combs and the larger ones with a combing station to clamp onto the table. You can read more about combs in general and the Gammeldags combs in particular here.

Teasing with a flicker

In some circumstances I use a flicker to tease my wool. This could be if there are certain things I want to remove with the flicker. One example is Swedish finull. Since the finull fibers are so fine the tips can be brittle. To avoid nepps in my yarn I use the flicker to allow any breaking tips to break in the flicker and stay there instead of ending up as nepps in my yarn.

Another example is if the staples have a lot of kemp (or too short fibers in general) in the bottom. A flicker can do a good job in removing some of the kemp.

To flick a staple I hold the cut end firmly and brush out the tip end with the flicker, using my thigh as support and a piece of leather as protection. I turn the staple and brush the other side of the tip. When the tip is teased I flip the staple to brush out both sides of the cut ends. I need to hold the staple quite close to the cut end to avoid having shorter fibers (but long enough for spinning) to stay in the flicker and go to waste.

Flicking as main preparation

I also use a flicker if I want to spin straight from the staples. Perhaps I want to keep something – a colour variegation or a fiber distribution. The flicker opens up the staple without disturbing the fibers in the staple too much and makes the spinning smoother. I used a flicker for my Icelandic fleece that I spun raw from the lock. I teased the staples with a flicker first and then opened up the teased staples further with my hands.

Another project where I used flicked locks as the main preparation was a pair of two-end knitted mittens. I wanted to keep the colour variegation in the yarn and spun a z-plied yarn from teased locks with a supported spindle. You can read about the finished two-end knitted mittens here. The post includes links to earlier parts of the process like preparation and spinning.

Flicking before combing

On some occasions I also use my flicker before combing a top. One example is a Swedish Gotland fleece that had very dense staples that were felted in the cut ends. Opening up the staples before combing made the combing a lot smoother and there was a lot less waste than without the teasing. Similarly, I have teased locks of a Norwegian NKS fleece that had solidified lanolin in the tips (in the post you can watch videos where I show the results with and without teasing before combing). Teasing the staples with a flicker resulted in less work for me and less wool waste.

Using a card as a flicker

Another option is to tease individual staples with your hand cards and get the same results as with a flicker:

  • Place the tip end on the upper edge of a hand card with a hand on top
  • Pull the staple from the carding pad, resisting with the top hand a few times until the tips are teased
  • Flip the staple and repeat for the cut end.

My flicker comes from Louët, but both Ashford and Clemes & Clemes have flickers. Clemes & Clemes has something called a lock pop that seems interesting. You can use a dog or cat brush as a flicker too (or several, they will definitely break). In this video I tease individual staples with a dog comb.

Teasing by hand

If I don’t want to bring too many tools or if I want to stay really close to the wool I tease with my hands. I hold the staple in my hand and tease perpendicularly to the direction of the staple. It obviously takes longer than teasing with a tool, but the benefit is the time you spend with the fiber, getting to know it and how it behaves.

Teasing by hand: Hold the staple lengthwise between your hands and pull almost fiber by fiber perpendicular to the direction of the staple.
Teasing by hand: Hold the staple lengthwise between your hands and pull almost fiber by fiber perpendicular to the direction of the staple.

In my recent spinning project with raw Icelandic wool I combined flicking and hand teasing and spun from what I ended up calling an accordion burrito.

Accidental teasing

A final and sort of accidental way to tease is when you separate undercoat and outercoat with combs. As you doff the outercoat off the comb in a top the undercoat stays in the comb, nicely teased.

After having doffed the long outercoat fibers off the comb I end up with accidentally teased undercoat fibers neatly arranged in the comb.
After having doffed the long outercoat fibers off the comb I end up with accidentally teased undercoat fibers neatly arranged in the comb.

I hope you experiment with teasing if you haven’t already, and enjoy the difference. I will get back to my teasing and a good period drama. To me, teasing will not only result in higher quality rolags, but also a joy in the carding process.

Teased rya locks in the sun (see as in the featured image).
Teased rya locks in the sun (see as in the featured image).

Do you tease your wool in a way I haven’t described here? What are the benefits?

If you have access to any of the breed study webinars I have released you can see how I tease there. And if you are a patron you can have access to all previous breed study webinars in a patron-only video library.

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.

A sore thumb

This week a journal entry, writer’s block, migraine and a sore thumb led me to bold decisions, new perspectives and beautiful insights.

A sore thumb

I have been spinning my Icelandic fleece quite frequently lately. The other day I felt some soreness in my left thumb. Minuscule, really. A flap of skin was loose on my finger print and I realized that to keep spinning that wool – in the grease, I might add – while the skin was sore and reddened wouldn’t be the best idea. I got a bit sad. After all, I had worked out a process for this wool that worked very well and I had reached a soft flow in my spinning. A migraine restricted most other activities than slow and mindful crafting for the next few days.

Writer’s block

At the same time I was looking for something to write for this week’s blog post. I usually work with a blog post during most days of the week. On Saturday morning I finally publish it. A void crystallizes itself and on some level I miss what I have just written, just as I miss a spinning project when the basket is empty. The process I have been working on and growing in suddenly becomes a product with the press of a button.

Sans a lot

My hands and my mind still need to write, but it does take some effort and recharging to come up with an idea for a new post. So, I was sans spinning and sans blog idea. Also sans capacity to do much else than activities that didn’t require moving my head.

Morning journaling is a treasured moment for me.

I do free write every morning in my dawn journal and exercise my writing muscles daily. The other day I was scribbling away as the day broke, about crafting and creativity. I reflected over how creativity creates more creativity as I am in the moment, calming bouncy ideas that want my attention, making them less elusive and more mellow. How I am in the creating and the creating is in me.

Enter: Idea (with tart tone)

Half an hour or so later an idea knocked gingerly on the inside of my skull, hoping to get out in the air. It said (with a slightly tart tone, I might add): “Why don’t you change hands? Like you always tell your students to do? That way you get to spin without making the sore thumb worse and you will have something to blog about.” Well, that’s a thought. It will also enable me to spin through the migraine and experience what I torment my students with when I ask them to change hands. The idea was just the kind of idea that I had been writing about that same morning, an idea that had matured in my mind through spinning.

This is actually my favourite kind of blog writing process. I spin a bit, get an idea during the spinning process and write it down. As the idea gets clad in linguistic splendour – preferably with sparkles – I understand more and try my new baby reflection at the wheel or spindle. I realize more and need to put that into writing too. The process of theory and practice in spinning is something I treasure.

Changing hands for ergonomics

When it comes to spindles – supported, suspended, floor supported and in-hand – I have no problem changing hands. I always choose the hand that is most effective for the spinning direction I have chosen (read about spinning direction and ergonomics here and watch a free webinar in spindle spinning here). Ever since I realized its implications for spinning I have practiced this and feel rich with the opportunities it gives me.

This summer I practiced changing hands when I spun flax on my spinning wheel with a makeshift parasol stand floor distaff that I placed alternately to the left and right of me for a more ergonomic and balanced working position. All this has been first and foremost to work with my body and avoid strain in hands, arms and shoulders. I have also raved to my students about the benefits of understanding the work of both hands through both hands. But when it comes to my own default wheel spinning I have never seen any ergonomic benefit of changing hands and therefore never practiced it. Until now.

Hand habits

So what do the hands really do? Well, the two hands have two primary tasks in spinning:

  • One hand, the spindle hand or spinning hand in spindle spinning or the front hand or spinning hand in wheel spinning, controls the spinning. This hand is closest to the drafting triangle and the point of twist insertion, where fibers become yarn. This hand is at the center of the action, where the actual spinning occurs.
  • The other hand, the fiber hand in spindle spinning or back hand or fiber hand in wheel spinning, controls the fiber. This hand holds the fiber and makes sure the right amount of fiber feeds along to the spinning hand without holding the fiber too loosely or too tightly.

In my experience most focus is on the spinning hand, the hand that controls the fiber. The fiber hand just follows along and is in my experience not often debated. It is when we change hands that we realize that the fiber hand has an equally important task. So, to a student who says they are verrry right or left handed and couldn’t possibly change hands I say: Deal with it. Or something a lot nicer. My point is, both hands have important tasks that require fine motor movements. Hand dominance has nothing to do with it.

A rocky boat

In changing hands I will rock the boat and sail out on deep waters. But in the end I will get to the other shore. As I fumblingly place the fiber in the left hand and prepare my right hand for spinning for the first time it feels awkward and clumsy. And, frankly, quite intimidating.

My brain knows what should happen, but sort of doesn’t. Come to think of it, it’s like a migraine aura. I have my field of view in front of me but I can’t make out what it is I see. When I get the blurred vision in an aura I try to move my head around to get access to the whole field of view, at least enough to be able to email my boss and call in sick. I find a new perspective, or, rather, perspectives, that allow me to understand the world from my current reality. I need to find clues in my new perspective to understand what my hands need to do with their new roles.

My hands have no clue what to do but sort of do. The knowledge is there, but integrated in the wrong hand. A link is missing and I need to take leadership of the search party. The new roles for my hands is uncomfortable, but that’s ok. Sometimes we need discomfort to understand the comfort. And an understanding of other people in discomfort for that matter.

Frustration

So, despite the discomfort I stick to my plan and move on. My movements are fumbly and my hands unused to the motions and decisions of their new roles. This is where I start doubting myself. How do I not know this? How come my hands feel absolutely outlandish?

This feeling is something I deal a lot with with my students. Most of them are experienced students that get very frustrated at not knowing what to do when presented with a new tool. Experiencing this sensation myself is truly valuable and I’m grateful for the opportunity. And a bit frustrated. Or possibly a lot.

Awakening

As I practice I understand my hands’ new roles better and better. Placing my left hand role in the right hand forces me to have a conversation between my hands via my brain. I need to analyze the motions and challenges of the right hand through my left hand and digest it in my head.

  • The fibers are stuck in the preparation or coming completely loose. How would my regular hand hold and manage the fiber?
  • I’m clenching my fiber hand in my lap. How does it feel with my regular hand?
  • I’m pinching the thumb of my new front hand. What do I need to change to loosen the grip, and without loosing the technique?
  • The yarn gets too bulky or too fine. How do I find that “just right” sensation I always have in my regular hand?
I’m making progress and have finished a dozen skeins of which half are spun with my awkward hands. But they are not so awkward anymore and I can’t tell the difference between the skeins.

Asking questions like these sharpens my senses and my interpretation of the components in the spinning process. I get to discover the spinning again and listen to the wool, through fresh hands. First-hand (pun vert much intended) I get to see how a new drafting hand and a new fiber hand develop, learn and flourish. Though my wobbly hands I get to understand the spinning process more fully, from a wider perspective. I feel very grateful for the experience.

Choosing the challenge

During this whole week I have worked with my fresh hands. My sore thumb has healed. I can go back to my regular hands if I want to. However, I also have the opportunity to change hands whenever I want, work with and through the discomfort. I can choose to keep challenging myself by keeping this new skill alive, feeding my fresh and sharp perspective of spinning and a humble view of the tasks of spinning hand and fiber hand.

A lopi yarn swatch is finished and I can’t wait to start knitting.

Have you tried changing hands with any spinning tool? And have you stayed with it, exercising both hands in both roles? You are welcome to share in the comments.

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.

Gunvor’s Sirwal pants

And they are done. My largest spindle spun project so far, the Sirwal snow shoveling pants that used to be common in the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains. I call them Gunvor’s Sirwal pants from the sheep that gave me the wool. Since my 16-year-old has dibs on snow shoveling for pocket money I may use the pants for outdoor yoga and for walking down to the lake for my daily bath.

A while ago I bought Irene Waggener’s beautiful book Keepers of the sheep and reviewed it on the blog. One of the most striking patterns was the Sirwal pants, a pair of black and white striped pants that the shepherds used to knit while herding the sheep.

A patternless pattern

In the book Irene describes her first meeting with the pants in a museum, how she learned to knit them from her host Muah n’Aït Tabatoot’s demonstration. Irene has in turn written down the oral description and demonstration for the book. As all of the projects in the book the pattern is based on working with what you have in the form of wool, yarn, needles and body size rather than a detailed knitting instruction. I really liked the idea and think it would be a good challenge for me.

The challenge of keeping it simple

In the book Irene describes how Muah’s wife Nejma spun and plied the yarn on a floor supported spindle, wound it into a ball and handed it straight over to Muah for knitting. I wanted to make my own pair of Sirwal pants as close to the original as possible. So, a spindle spun yarn. I didn’t have a floor supported spindle of the kind Nejma used, but I do have Navajo style floor supported spindles so I used one of them. I also decided not to soak the yarn and set the twist after plying, to stay as close to the High Atlas way as I could.

“So, the yarn is not soaked and the twist has not been set?” you may say. That’s right. “But soaking the yarn will allow it to bloom into its final shape! And setting the twist will even out the twist over the length of the yarn!” you may continue. That is true. This will probably not happen with my pants. Something else probably will, though. I don’t know what, but if and when it does, all is as it should be. Instead of the finished yarn I got the loveliest smell during knitting and the softest hands. That counts for something too.

Gunvor the Gestrike sheep

Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep
Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep.

I used two fleeces of Gestrike wool, the first and second shearing of the Gestrike ewe Gunvor. She was the subject of my longitudinal study I wrote about in May 2021. She was a beautiful white sheep with large black spots, perfect for the striped Sirwal pants.

Gestrike wool has both long and strong outercoat fibers, soft and airy undercoat and some kemp. This results in a strong and warm yarn, perfect for my Sirwal pants.

A life through stripes

The fleece of Gestrike sheep can lighten with age and Gunvor’s fleece turned out to have that particular characteristic. I took advantage of this feature and used the blackest black from the first shearing at the bottom of the legs and continuted with the lighter shades as I worked my way up the legs. I like how you can see Gunvor’s life through the stripes.

The quality of the wool was different between the shearings too. The first shearing was shinier and a bit finer while the second shearing was a bit shorter and airier. I’m not sure it’s visible in the pants, though. The second shearing was a lot higher in lanolin. As I calculated the yield from the two fleeces I was amazed by the difference. From the raw fleece I got a yarn yield of 59 per cent from the first shearing and 38 per cent from the second. The amount of lanolin should be an important clue to this difference. Perhaps the second shearing also contained more short fibers and/or kemp than the second, that stayed in the combs when I teased the wool.

You can read more about shearing and lanolin content through the seasons in the post Shearing Day.

Bulky

Another challenge was the yarn. The tradition calls for a super bulky yarn, which is far from my light fingering weight default thickness. But a challenge is a challenge and I took it by the horns. I managed to spin the bulkiest singles I have ever spun. Add plying to that and I got myself a super bulky woolen spun yarn from hand carded rolags.

At first I tried to card the wool without teasing the wool first, again in an effort to stay as close to the High Atlas way as possible. But the kemp in the wool made the yarn very scratchy. By teasing the wool with combs I got rid of a lot of the kemp and I decided to keep the teasing.

When the pants were finished I had used 26 balls of yarn. 1200 grams, 717 meters from the two fleeces, between 500 and 700 meters per kilo with an average grist of 590 meters per kilo. You can read more about how I spun this yarn in my blog post bulky.

If you are a patron (or become one) you may get access to a Patreon postcard video I made in November, where I demonstrate how I spin the super bulky yarn.

Knitting

I started knitting as soon as I had the first ball of handspun yarn in my hand. This is how I continued with the whole project – spin a ball and knit it. A yarn of this weight doesn’t last very long, though. At the bottom of the legs one skein lasted about one stripe and at the hips around eight rounds.

Spin a ball, knit a stripe, hoping the two fleeces would be enough for the whole project.

Knitting the Gunvor Sirwal pants was quite strenuous. The bulky yarn and the large needles (5.5 mm) require some work. Add to that the tight twist and the tight gauge and, as I joined the legs in the crotch, quite some weight in my lap to manage. The finished pants weigh around one kilo.

Despite the heavy knitting it was lovely to work with the yarn. I love the roundedness of the yarn and the strong character it has. It takes its place in the world and doesn’t apologize for its existence. I got all giggly by the sheepy smell from the unwashedness of the pants in progress. As I knit I experienced Gunvor’s life, from the blackest of the black lamb locks at the shins to the more mature depth in the lead grey in hip height.

Outdoor yoga and cold baths

If you have been following me for a while you may know that I take baths in the lake every day and that I sometimes practice yoga outdoors. Gunvor’s Sirwal pants are perfect for both outdoor yoga and walking down to the lake on the coldest days.

A walk to the bath

Gunvor’s Sirwal pants are warm, reasonably windproof, and easy to put on after a cold bath, which is important since my fingers are stiff from the cold and I need to get warm fast. Yesterday afternoon I went down to the lake with an axe and cleaned up the edges of the hole in the ice. We’re five ladies in the cold bath group and they have all been cheering me on during the making of the pants.

An outdoor yoga studio

Practicing yoga outdoors is not a problem as long as you have clothing that suits the weather. Down to -2°C is ok with one or two layers of wool tights or sweat pants. I can even practice with bare feet on my cork mat at this temperature. With lower temperatures staying warm easily gets too chunky which makes it difficult to do the postures comfortably.

Gunvor’s Sirwal pants are perfect, though, even for temperatures below -2°C. I took the pictures above at -6°C and it wasn’t too cold. With the suspenders they stay up without getting too tight around the waist.

I practice yoga asana every day, and sometimes outdoors on our terrace. I just love having all the fresh air to myself. As I usually do my outdoor yoga at around 8 p.m. it’s dark, as dark it gets in a city. I get to look up at the sky and the waving pine branches above. It gives the practice an extra dimension of space that I don’t want to be without.

Gunvor’s Sirwal superhero pants, ready for your next wooly adventure.

Some people say the pants look a bit like Obelix’s blue and white striped pants, some say they look like Findus the cat’s green striped suspender pants. They remind me of swimsuits from over a century ago, which is quite suitable since I wear them in a bathing context. But most of all they make me think of superhero pants with their bold stripes and dazzling lightning bolts up the sides. Don’t we all wish to be just a little superhero-y every now and then?

Thank you Irene for making the pattern accessible and Muah for teaching Irene. Thank you Gunvor for the loveliest wool. I have learned a lot from this project.

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.

Opposites attract

It happened again. A baby idea came and made up its mind not to leave me alone until I had listened to it. The baby idea told me to combine rustic gute fleece with recycled sari silk with the motivation that opposites attract. I listened and I’m glad I did.

A while ago I bought a gute fleece. Gute sheep have a very rustic wool that often has a coarse appearance. You can read more about gute wool here. This one was quite unusual, though, with its very soft undercoat and the outercoat playing only a minor part. Still, as with gute in general, the fleece has kemp.

Kemp

Kemp is fibers that have a dominant core with air-filled cells that make the fibers brittle. They are coarse and don’t conform themself with the rest of the fibers, instead they point quirkily in all directions. The upside with kemp, though, is that they fall out of the wool eventually and leave air pockets. And in yarn, air means warmth.

A lovely and in my experience quite rare gute fleece with lots of very fine undercoat, a few strands of outercoat and some kemp. The kemp keeps the staples open and light.

A fulling project

Kemp also gives a rustic look to a fabric. I like a fulled fabric with quirky kemp in it. My original plan for this fleece was to spin a 2-ply yarn to weave and full in a fulling mill. The combination of lots of undercoat with quite small amount of outercoat and kemp makes this a perfect candidate. The undercoat has excellent felting properties, the outercoat binds the fibers together and makes the fabric stronger and the kemp adds an interesting design element while at the same time bringing warmth to the fabric as it falls out and leaves air pockets.

Enter Sari silk

And so the baby idea came to me. What would happen if I blended the rustic gute wool with recycled sari silk? Would the very different fibers complement each other or would they just look odd? If so, would that be a bad thing?

I have blended recycled sari silk with wool before, in my sweater designs Margau beta and Selma Margau (available as a pattern in Spin-Off magazine). The fleeces have been finer and the results scrumptious. I decided to give my baby idea the benefit of the doubt and make a test skein and fulled swatches.

Teasing

So, first of all I teased the wool. I chose to tease with my combing station, where I could at the same time blend the sari silk with the wool. I charge the stationary comb with the (picked) gute staples. For the purpose of teasing I don’t care about the direction of the staples. I also add tufts of sari silk. To keep a reasonably even wool to silk ratio I charge every combload with 8 staple length tufts of sari silk.

As I doff the roving off the stationary comb a lot of the sari silk and the kemp stays in the comb. I try to fiddle the silk out.

I do about four passes in the combing station to get an even roving. There is one tricky thing here, though. As I doff the wool off the combs I get the longer lengths first, then shorter and shorter. Since both the sari silk and the kemp is very short, around one inch, a lot of it stays in the stationary comb. I try to fiddle the sari silk out to the best of my ability. I will try flicking the cut ends of the gute staples before teasing next time to get more kemp out.

You can see how I tease wool, blend it with sari silk and card rolags in this video.

Carding

As I card luscious rolags, the sari silk blends beautifully into the gute wool, like sparkling stars on a foggy night. Unexpected but mesmerizing.

This wool is just dreamy to work with. Very light and airy with a lovely meringue-y resistance to it. The rolags shape themselves like they were born to do just that. If I lean in I hear them singing sweet songs of yummy longdraws. My heart joins in in the chorus.

The longdraws from heaven

Yes, these newborn rolag babies need and deserve a wicked longdraw. As it turns out, the rolags work that out too, I just treadle along and listen to the wool. I allow it to decide how thick it wants to be. It settles for a quite fine thickness that after plying and washing blooms out into a sport weight yarn.

As I look at the newborn yarn I see something unique, a blend that I had never thought of before, but that flirts with me in a new way. I see the differences between the fibers and I tingle at their odd union.

Opposites attract

The kemp and the silk in this blend represent the ends of a number of spectra. While the gute wool is raw (in the sense that it hasn’t been processed) the sari silk has been spun, dyed, woven, ripped and processed again. The colours of the sari silk are vibrant and almost luminescent while the gute wool is softly grey. The kemp doesn’t even take dye. While the sari silk easily blends into the draft the kemp in the gute wool is quirky and goes its own way, often out of the yarn entirely. The kemp leaving air pockets in the yarn, the silk filling them. The silk sari, sheer and draped, the gute wool heavily fulled, dense.

However, as there are numerous ways in which these fibers are different, I can find sweet similarities too. Both sari silk and gute wool have depth in their colours, just on different scales. One on the vibrant side and the other on a subtle grey scale. The fine gute undercoat goes hand in hand with the silk. All the fibers – outercoat, undercoat and silk follow the dance of the twist. Well, not so much the kemp.

Another parameter the sari silk and the kemp have in common is their length. They are both quite short, around an inch long. Due to this similarity in length they stay in the combs when I have pulled the teased fibers out. If I pull out more silk, I get the kemp too. And there they are, side by side, like fiber sisters.

Clown barf?

As I investigate the yarn I wonder if I added too much sari silk. There are quite a lot of colour splashes. Is it too much? I remember a Swedish spinning forum discussion where the word clown barf was mentioned in reference to a very pastelly combed top. Was this approaching a brighter clown barf cousin?

I wrote down the wool to silk ratio and made a mental note about perhaps reducing the amount of sari silk. First I would see what happened in the weaving and fulling.

Sampling and fulling

So, I brought out my pin loom and started making samples to play with. Usually when I experiment with fulling I make two swatches – one that I leave as it is for reference and one that I full. This time I decided to make two fulling samples with different degrees of fulling. This turned out to be an excellent idea.

My theory was that since I believed that silk doesn’t felt the splashes of colour would bulk up and make blobs. This is why I was considering using less sari silk. The clown barfiness calmed down in the woven samples and even more in the fulled swatches. In the heavier fulled swatch the sari silk hardly shows at all. Little enough to leave the sari silk out altogether for that degree of fulling. It turns out that silk does felt.

I do love the lightly fulled swatch, the one I decided to make on a whim. It has a lovely movement that its stiffer cousin doesn’t have. The sari silk glows softly in the comfort of the squishy grey. Side by side with the sari silk is the quirky kemp, eager to see the world.

Under the loupe

Astonished by the fulling results I texted the pictures of the fulled samples to my brilliant friend Cecilia. “What do they look like under the loupe?” she asked in reply. That was the best idea I had heard all week. Of course I need to observe some felting action under a loupe!

So, after some fiddling I managed to get the three swatches under the loupe and some decent photos. As I look at them I see so many interesting things:

  • Silk fibers are really fine! But the gute undercoat is also very fine in this fleece.
  • I can see the light gute fibers, mostly the finer ones but also some with a wider diameter. This seems to confirm my observation of the staples being build up of mostly undercoat fibers and just a few strands of outercoat fibers and that the latter aren’t that coarse.
  • The quirkiness of the kemp (the dark fibers) really shows in the images.
  • There is a thrilling migration going on in the swatches which becomes very clear under the loupe. While the sari silk is superficial and the kemp in the center of the fabric in the original swatch (left), they seem to have traded places in the heavily fulled swatch (right). In both fulled swatches, but especially the heavily fulled, the kemp is on the surface and the sari silk cosily snug in the center. This is visible in the unmagnified photos too – you can see how the sari silk is more diffuse in the fulled samples and the kemp superficial, ready for take-off.

The migration was very fascinating to me and quite the opposite of what I had anticipated before I made the fulled samples. The clown barfiness faded and the marriage between the rough and fine was a success, especially in the lightly fulled sample. The kemp will probably keep migrating out into the world, way outside of the textile.

J’accuse

At the beginning of this week I didn’t know what to write in today’s blog post. I decided to try my gute silk idea to have something to write about. Hadn’t I done that I would never have analyzed it this thoroughly. J’accuse! I totally blame you, my dear readers, for this blog post and its revelations. Thank you! And thank you Cecilia for reminding me to exercise my loupe.

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.

In the grease

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

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

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

Close

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

A lopi style yarn. Raw, yet elegant.

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

Icelandic lamb’s fleece

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

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

Teasing

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

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

Spinning from the lock

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

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

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

Wheel or spindle?

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

In the grease

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

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

Going backwards

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

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

Washing and shocking

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

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

Vegetable matter

A while ago I bought a fleece online. It was just one of those spur of the moment purchases, when fleece just happens. It was a beautiful gute fleece with silky soft undercoat, long and fine outercoat and quirky kemp. However, as the fleece landed on my doorstep it turned out to be full of vegetable matter.

I had very mixed feelings about this fleece. On the one hand, an unusually soft gute fleece. On the other hand, all the vegetable matter, all over the fleece. My solution was to fall for the fleece, learn from the vegetable matter and share my thoughts and techniques with you.

A villhöver kind of fleece

Gute wool is typically medium to coarse and can be rough (which is not necessarily bad). The undercoat is usually fine or very fine, but in combination with coarser outercoat and the quirky kemp the feeling on the whole is usually rough.

This fleece on the other hand has the softest undercoat in a very airy distribution. The outercoat fibers are long and fine. The kemp, that helps keeping the fleece open, airy and thereby warm, is present over the whole fleece but is also finer than usual in my experience. This very fine undercoat in combination with kemp is very interesting (and rare) and I wonder what she wants to become. The fleece is quite homogenous (also unusual for a gute fleece) with staples of mainly airy undercoat and few strands of outercoat. I would call this vadmal type staples, also quite rare, especially like this over the whole fleece.

The combination of the airy distribution of the undercoat and low amount of outercoat fibers sometimes make the tips hard to find. In parts of the fleece I have to investigate the whole wool mass thoroughly to find the tip ends.

The fleece with all its unusual characteristics presented a severe case of villhöver. This is a fairly new Swedish portmanteau word (like smog, Brexit and Oxbridge) constructed of the stems vill (want) and behöver (need). Something I want so much that I convince myself that I really, really need it. Or, something that I don’t necessarily need but secretly covet. Like, say, a very inviting gute fleece.

Vegetable matter

The fleece presents no poo, very few felted parts and seems to have been professionally shorn – it has very few second cuts. However rare and intriguing this fleece is, it is still full of vegetable matter. Hey, straw, seeds and an occasional piece of moss. Some parts bad, some parts moderate, but still all over the fleece. I do smile at an occasional piece of the environment the sheep has lived in. It gives me a better connection to its daily life. But definitely not in these amounts.

Vegetable matter all over the fleece.

The curiosity of this fleece did however take over and I decided to see this experience as an opportunity to learn and share my insights with you. Also, the openness of the fleece (thank you kemp!) made me believe that the vegetable matter would fall out quite easily after some work and persuasion. A more compact wool like Swedish Gotland wool would probably take a lot more work to clean from vegetable matter.

I did let the seller know about the high amount of vegetable matter. She offered me a refund. I declined, because that was not what I was after, I just wanted her to know that I would have wanted this information in the ad before I bought the fleece. I also wanted her to let the sheep owner know that a crafter doesn’t want vegetable matter in the fleece and why. Rather than getting a refund for my purchase I want the sheep owner to keep providing this quality of fleece but with better knowledge about how to avoid vegetable matter.

Processing

I realized that I could remove a lot of the vegetable matter through several steps of the processing – washing, drying, shaking, picking and one or more of willowing, teasing and carding. Even spinning can spurt out small seeds. The question was if I could remove enough of the vegetable matter, how much more time it would take and how it would interfere with my flow. Most of the steps I present below for removing vegetable matter are steps I take through all my fleeces anyway before I spin them. I just need to dedicate more time and focus in each step.

Sorting

The first thing to do is to go through the fleece before washing. In this stage I can remove visible vegetable matter, felted parts, poo and second cuts. With this fleece I didn’t do any of this, since I poured the fleece right out of the package into the wash tub.

Washing and drying

It was when I pressed the bundle of fleece into my wash tub that I realized it was full of vegetable matter. As I soaked and changed waters I removed what I could see and fiddle out of the wet mass. I dried the fleece on a compost grid on top of egg cartons. As the fleece dried some smaller pieces fell down to the floor underneath the grid.

Letting the fleece dry on a compost grid on top of egg cartons allows it to dry faster and let go of shallow pieces of vegetable matter.
Letting the fleece dry on a compost grid on top of egg cartons allows it to dry faster and let go of shallow pieces of vegetable matter.

Shaking

When a fleece dries I shake it and move it around to allow air in. It also lets vegetable matter fall out of it. As I have gone through the other steps of the processing I have also shaken the fleece in smaller portions to allow it to let go of bits and pieces.

Willowing

I realize that willowing would be a perfect method to remove vegetable matter from a fleece like this. Willowing means whipping the fleece with flexible sticks (willow or hazel for example). It will open up the locks and allow vegetable matter to fall out. Since it is November and not very willowing friendly temperatures outdoors I haven’t done that. Yet, I might do it in the spring, though. You can read more about willowing and watch one of my most popular videos here.

Josefin Waltin sitting with a pile of wool. Locks are flying in the air around her.
Willowing is an efficient way to open up the locks and remove vegetable matter.

Picking

Picking a fleece is a great way to get a first feeling of what the fleece is like and how it behaves. You see how the staples are built up, how the fibers relate to one another and the condition of the fleece. I simply work staple by staple through the whole fleece, picking them by the tip end one by one from the mass of staples. In this process the staples open up and allow for vegetable matter to fall out.

Picking a fleece is a lovely way to get to know a fleece while at the same time letting air in and vegetable matter out.

I used to pick the fleece (usually before washing), but somewhere along the way I have omitted this step of the process. On my latest fleece though, I did pick the fleece to sort it into different staple types and I realized the potential of this step, both to learn more about the fleece and to enjoy it more. Sitting on the floor and methodically and mindfully picking one staple at a time is time well spent with your fleece. I’m definitely picking up picking again!

Teasing

I always tease my wool one way or another before carding it. Carding for me is to arrange the fibers in a certain way. To do this efficiently and gently the staples need to be opened up before I place them on the cards.

I tease by hand if I don’t have any teasing tools available or if I want to stay really close to the wool and get to know it better.

For efficient teasing before carding I use combs. I can load quite large amounts of staples on the combs, especially if I use my larger combs with a combing station. Here is a post and a video where I show you how I tease wool with combs before carding.

I also use a flicker to tease. A flicker is a smaller card, sometimes used to clean drum carders. I open up staple by staple, one end at a time. Sometimes I use the flicker for very fine fleeces where there is a risk of breaking the tip ends. I prefer the tips breaking (and staying) in the flicker rather than having them turn into nepps in the carding. I have also found the flicker to be a good choice if I want to remove some of the kemp at the cut end.

With the gute fleece I tried teasing with both the flicker and the combs. They both do a good job of removing both vegetable matter and kemp. Since the combs are more efficient I think I will use my maxi combs with a combing station to tease the rest of this fleece.

Teasing gute wool with mini combs.

When I comb wool to make a combed top the teasing is integrated in the combing (unless the staples are really reluctant to opening, then I may tease them with a flicker before combing).

Preparing

Carding the wool allows even more air in between the fibers, and thereby more vegetable matter out. As I inspect the rolags I still see some small pieces of vegetable matter, though.

As I card this magnificent gute wool I truly enjoy the airy and bouncy response I get from it between the cards. Again, every step of the processing allows me to learn more about how the wool behaves and how it wants to be spun.

Spinning

So, now to the final step and possibly an answer to my questions: Have I managed to remove enough of the vegetable matter to produce a decent yarn? Have I experienced the flow and relaxation through the process like I usually do? In short: Was it worth it?

As I spin the yarn small pieces of vegetable matter spurt out from between the fibers. The wool has opened up enough to just gently hold on to the debris, in contrast to how they were entangled in the raw fleece. Every now and then I need to stop the wheel to manually remove little bits and pieces. I did this test from one of the worst parts of the fleece and hopefully other parts will flow easier.

A small skein of yarn from the gute fleece I have washed, dried, shaken, picked, teased, carded and spun and thereby removed a lot of the vegetable matter.
A small skein of yarn from the gute fleece I have washed, dried, shaken, picked, teased, carded and spun and thereby removed a lot of the vegetable matter.

So far I have only teased, carded and spun a small sample of this fleece to investigate what I’m up against. I still haven’t finished picking the fleece, I’m doing it little by little. When I have finished picking the whole fleece I will store it and put it in the fleece queue. If it is warm outside when it’s the gute fleece’s turn in the queue I might willow it before I start teasing and going through the rest of the process with the whole fleece.

Even though each step has taken a bit longer than usual and even though I may experience interruptions in my spinning flow to remove debris I think it will be worth it. This is such an incredible fleece.

As they say, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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.

A coloured fleece

Sport weight single yarn of four shades of brown from Pax's fleece. Spun from hand carded rolags on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 100 meters, 44 grams. 2270 m/kg. Can I keep this for cuddling?

A year ago I bought a coloured fleece at a fleece market. Or two, actually. One brown and one grey. I didn’t mean to, but they called my name and there was nothing I could do. Today I sort the brown Värmland fleece and dive into its depths.

I have a soft spot for coloured fleeces. In online courses and webinars I usually work with white wool since it shows better on camera (at least with my limited photo skills). But a coloured fleece has a whole new dimension to dive in to.

Pax, a coloured fleece

The diversity of the coloured fleece is what lures me to dive deep and lose myself in the shades. Not only are there spots of different colours, but the tip and the cut ends can be different in colour, as can the undercoat and outercoat. There is so much to discover.

A brown Värmland fleece of many shades.
A brown Värmland fleece of many shades.

Walnut, hazel, driftwood and umber

I decide to sort the locks of the Värmland sheep Pax’s fleece into piles of different colours. I start roughly by picking out all the darker walnut staples I can find. They are disappearingly soft and quite short, some seemingly too short to spin. They seem to consist of mostly undercoat. Perhaps they have grown around Pax’s neck.

Four shades of Pax's fleece – walnut, driftwood, hazel and umber.
Four shades of Pax’s fleece – umber, driftwood, hazel and walnut.

I also find two shades of grayish brown – light hazel and slightly darker driftwood. Both colour staples are silky soft and have bleached tips. The fibers are not as fine as the walnut fibers, but for some reason these lighter coloured staples feel silkier. Perhaps because I don’t expect it. The different feel of the piles give me a hint that the colours will feel different to draft. I need to keep that in mind when I spin.

The different coloured staples of Pax's fleece are different in texture.
The different coloured staples of Pax’s fleece are also different in texture.

The driftwood pile grows larger and larger and I sort it again to look for more shades. I find something of a mix between the driftwood and the walnut. Umber, perhaps. I could probably go on and find more fractions of colours. However, for the project I have in mind I want some distinction between the shades and I am happy with my colour quartet.

New dimensions

When I look at the staples I see that there are still more colours than the four I have sorted out. There are different colour fibers in each staple. Most of the walnut staples are solid walnut, but the others sparkle of different shades. This brings even more depth in the wool and in the yarn I have planned.

The outercoat of the different colours look darker in all four cases.
The outercoat of the different colours look darker than the undercoat in all four cases. The hazel undercoat (bottom right) seem to still have at least two colours even after the separation.

Even though the staples feel a bit different from pile to pile, the distribution of undercoat and outercoat seem fairly similar – a lot of airy undercoat and a few strands of strong outercoat. For this reason I would say that most of the staples are of vadmal type according to the Swedish tradition of classifying staple types.

Vadmal type staples like these with mostly airy undercoat and a few strands of outercoat make perfect carding candidates – the crimpy and unruly undercoat fibers will help building air pockets in the rolags and the longer and stronger outercoat fibers will marry them together, creating a reliable reinforcement in the midst of the cuddly soft.

Colour scheme

I separate the colours because I want to show them one by one. To do that I need to find a combination that doesn’t blur them all together. I play and move around until I land in harmony. Walnut, hazel, umber, driftwood and back to walnut.

I use my combing station to tease one pile at a time. In this process I get a first idea of how each colour drafts. A lot of the walnut staples are very short and there is a lot of waste in this pile (which is also the smallest pile). I suspected that when I sorted the staples. The difference between the hazel and the driftwood is very small, but they are still somewhat distinct between the walnut and the umber.

Yarn of a coloured fleece

I want to make the colours the stars of the yarn I spin from Pax’s fleece. No fuss, no fancy, just a single strand of yarn, moving from shade to shade.

Walnut, driftwood, umber and hazel.
Walnut, driftwood, umber and hazel.

My favourite tool for spinning singles is the floor supported Navajo style spindle. With this tool I have a good overview and control of the spinning right in front of me. I see every potential lump and have the opportunity to open up the twist to smooth it out. I never want to stop. This tool is the perfect companion to the colour quartet. Every rolag amazes me – the depth of the colours is truly mesmerizing.

Long draws

The floor supported spindle also gives me the opportunity to make long, smooth longdraws that just melt in my hand like butter. Again, I never want to stop. Rolling the shaft against my thigh charges the rolag with twist. I make the draw. Long, smooth, slow. Like syrup. I watch the draft closely, to find when the thickness is exactly right. I slack the strand to control the twist and roll the yarn onto the shaft.

Sport weight single yarn of four shades of brown from Pax's fleece. Spun from hand carded rolags on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 100 meters, 44 grams. 2270 m/kg. Can I keep this for cuddling?
Sport weight single yarn of four shades of brown from Pax’s fleece. Spun from hand carded rolags on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 100 meters, 44 grams. 2270 m/kg. Can I keep this for cuddling?

The colours pass by my eyes rolag by rolag. I get to spend time with each section of browns, one at a time. When I have finished one rolag I butterfly it onto my spinning hand and transfer it to the lower cop. Again, the colours wind onto the cop in an ever changing spiral.

My heart sings as I see the cop build up of a thousand strands of brown. No spinning mill can separate the colours of a fleece like this – they would spin a solid oatmeal. I sort and spin for colours because it is possible for me as a hand spinner. Because I can.

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.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

In the morning

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

My space in the morning

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

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

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

Gute in the morning

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

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

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

A fleece of contrasts

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

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

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

The slowness of Gute wool

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

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

Gute – a wool like the morning

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

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

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

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

Spinning in the morning

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

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

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

Creative space

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

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

When are you the most creative?


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

Happy spinning!

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

You can find me in several social media:

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

Carding rolags

I do love a well-made rolag. But making even hand-carded rolags takes practice. I have carded rolags for at least four sweaters. For one sweater I actually calculated the amount of rolags: I used 576 rolags for one single sweater. That’s a lot of practice. Many followers have asked me lately about hand-carding rolags. In this post I describe how I do and why.

A basket full of hand-carded rolags. The rising sun and a lake in the background.
Hand-carded rolags in backlight. Hard to beat.

A wise spinner once said: The spinning is in the preparation. I find this to be very true. So much of the quality of the spinning is born in the preparation. Not only is a thorough prep essential to the quality of the yarn, but the preparation stage also gives you a chance to get to know the fiber.

Even and consistent

I want my rolags to be even and consistent: Even as even distribution of the fibers throughout the rolag. Consistent as in the size and shape of the rolags. This is my goal. There are several ways to get there and I will show you my way.

Even through teasing

The first thing I do is tease the wool – I open up the staples to make a pre-prep before the actual carding. I do this to avoid the risk of over-carding. If I card wool too much fibers will break and leave nepps. One could argue that teasing takes longer and leaves more waste. But I’m not in it for the speed. The faster, unteased, alternative will result in lower quality yarn with the waste in the yarn instead of outside it.

How I tease

I tease in three different ways: With combs, with a flick carder or with my hands. I can also tease with my hand-cards. The important thing is that I open up the staples so that the carding is really just arranging the fibers in an even and consistent manner.

  • My go-to teasing tool is the combs. I load the combs with wool, not considering the direction of the staples. I comb the wool, usually in two passes. This opens up the staples and in a fairly quick way. You can see how I tease with combs in this video, with a discussion in this blog post. I can also blend different fibers together by teasing with combs. In the above mentioned video I blend wool with recycled sari silk.
  • If I am dealing with very fine fibers with brittle tips, like Swedish finewool I use a flick carder and flick each staple separately. This way any fibers that are bound to break are left in the flick carder. I can also use a flick carder for dirty or otherwise damaged tips. I use my flick carder to sort out solidified tips in this video. There is a discussion about the video in this post. If I don’t have a flick carder I can use regular hand-cards to achieve the same result.
  • Sometimes I just want to work with as little tools as possible and tease with my hands. I do it in this video, with a discussion in this blog post. For the purpose of the video I spin straight from the teasing, but it is a great way to tease for carding too.
My favorite way to tease wool is with combs.

Even through carding

When my wool is teased it is time to card it. The teasing has evened out the spacing between the fibers a bit. but I want to do it more and in more manageable chunks: Rolags. The teeth grab hold of the fibers throughout the area of the carding pad and evens out the spacing between the fibers over several staples of wool.

Consistency

Consistent rolags are consistent in shape and size. If I use the same amount of wool in the same distribution over the carding pad I get a good chance at consistent rolags. By making sure all the fiber on the carding pad is carded equally I can control the final shape and size. With consistent rolags I can achieve a yarn that is high in quality, easy to spin and consistent over all the 500+ or so rolags required for one sweater.

A basket full of carded rolags. Fern in the background.
well-defined and consistent rolags are a joy to spin.

How I card

There are probably as many ways to card as there are carding spinners. I will show you my way. For me it gets me to my goal – even and consistent rolags. And who can’t resist high quality rolags? I want to be able to card rolags that I can’t resist spinning.

A basket full of hand-carded rolags, arranged like a bouquet of flowers.
Learn how to card rolags that you can’t resist spinning.

In the second half of this video you can see how I card rolags and shape them.

Loading

I pull my teased wool onto the cards. When the wool doesn’t stick anymore I stop. That way I know I haven’t overloaded the cards. I remove any excess from the handle side of the card, especially if I am dealing with long fibers.

Frame

I leave an empty frame around the wool. The wool will fluff up when I start carding and it will spread outwards in the next stroke. If I load the wool on the whole carding pad area it will fluff out outside of the carding pad and be left uncarded. This would result in an uneven rolag.

I pull the wool onto the card and leave a frame around the wool empty.

Carding

When the card is loaded I start carding. I stroke the wool gently between the cards. This pushes the wool just a bit into the teeth – not all the way down. Just to get a rhythm and avoid over carding I count my strokes and passes – three passes with six strokes for each pass.

When I start carding the wool spreads over the cards, but not outside the teeth if I have left a frame around the wool empty.

To strip the card between passes I place the cards with the handles in the same direction and transfer the wool in two strokes. I make another six strokes. By the third pass the wool is spread evenly across the card area and there are no uneven parts left.

Making Swiss rolls

After the third pass I use the active card and my free hand to lift the wool off the stationary card and make a rolag: I lift the end of the batt with the card and push the lifted bit down with my hand. Lift some more and push it down until I have rolled the whole batt to the handle side of the stationery card. This way I make a Swiss roll of the carded batt. To keep the stationery card steady I push the handle against the inside of my thigh.

I make a rolag with the help of the active card and my hand. I keep the stationery card in place with my inner thigh.

You know when you can’t resist some frosting on your Swiss roll? This can be applied to carding rolags as well. Just to give my rolag that extra roundness and firmness I roll it once more between the cards: When I have reached the handle side of the stationery card and there actually is a rolag, I lift the rolag between my open hand and my active card, move it back to the beginning of the card again and roll the rolag gently between the cards. You need to find the right amount of pressure to actually make a difference to the rolag without squishing it.

I usually card enough rolags for one batch – be it one bobbin or one spindle-full, but usually around 20 or 25 grams. This way I make enough rolags to be able to control the consistency and enough to keep them fresh – old rolags tend to go bad after a while. Just like Swiss rolls.

Happy carding!


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