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.

Little ball of yarn

I wanted to spin a yarn that would tell its own story. Raw. Naked. With nothing to hide. Just present itself in its own splendour, on its own merits. This yarn of mine, this little ball of yarn, is a tribute to the wool it was made of.

You know when you happen to go to a fleece market with no intention of buying and you find yourself leaving the place with five bags of fleece? I’m sure you do know. This happened a year ago on the Kil sheep festival, Fårfest i Kil, just weeks before Covid hit Sweden on a larger scale.

Pax

Little ball of yarn. Once soft staples of wooly locks, with gentle swirls in their tips. Peaceful, just like the ewe from which they were shorn: Pax. Peace. Such a suitable name for such sweet curls. My hands can’t resist, can’t help touching – sparkling, giggling, electrified by the joy of soft sheepness. In a paper bag filled with peace and love.

In a corner of the fleece market at the festival I found a sheep farmer who had wool from her Värmland sheep. Large paper bags with sheep’s names and fleece weights written across the brown, coarse structure of the bags. I had all the wool I needed, but what’s the harm in just peeking at the fleeces? Perhaps cuddling with some staples?

Sweet staples of Pax's Värmland locks in shades of brown.
Sweet staples of Pax’s Värmland locks in shades of brown.

I peeked with one eye, then the other. One hand into the bag and, without warning, the other. Peeking into the bag labeled Pax. Just a little. And a little more. A billowing mass of brown staples emerged from the depths of the containers, flooding my hands. Singing, luring, calling my name. Come, come, feel how soft, look at my colour range and curly swirly tips!

Colours and textures

Little ball of yarn. From staples in every possible shape, wave and manner. Strike a pose, do your thing. And the colours. Oh, the colours. I dive into the spectrum of a fleece in all shades of brown. Rosy hazel, misty driftwood and solid walnut. On a closer look, all the colour segments in their own shape and manner. Matte, yet shiny. Subtle, yet vivid. Shy, yet bold.

I have a soft spot for coloured fleeces. Most coloured wool from the Swedish heritage breeds display a wide array of shades from light to dark. And with that, often different textures to different colours over the body of the sheep. Another dimension to explore and loose myself in.

Hazel, driftwood and walnut. All part of Pax's fleece.
Hazel, driftwood and walnut. All part of Pax’s fleece.

I decide to explore the colours of Pax’s fleece. Brown is just a collective name here, there are several nuances to dive in to. From the lightest latte to the darkest walnut. Some solid and some built up of a range of shades. All bringing depth and a longing to see more. The different coloured staples have different texture and appearance. All soft, but differently so. Soft is just so insufficient a word here. How do you describe staples that are soft in different ways? I want a range of descriptives here, a candy store of epithets of softness to choose from! I don’t drink wine, I do wool. So give me the range of ways to articulate wool the way a wine taster does wine.

Round and round

Little ball of yarn. I call your name. But what is your name? How do I make you justice? How do I mirror your soul in a yarn? I want you to shine in all your sheephood. Raw. Simple. Naked. Still elegant. Honest. Safe. The colours displayed, yet the fibers blended into one United Roundedness. Yes, now I know your name.

I choose to card rolags from the sorted colours. Such lovely acquaintances, all of them. Through the cards I get to know the characteristics of each colour. The whispering, almost escaping walnut. Perhaps better matched with finer cards. The hazel somewhat unruly. Driftwood staples mature and kind. Still, all comform into round rolag cylinders, built by a tight collaboration between the fibers and the air between them.

I'm spinning singles on a floor supported Navajo style spindle.
I’m spinning singles on a floor supported Navajo style spindle.

I see before me a singles yarn. Round. Simple. Consistent. A yarn that says it just how it is, with no ulterior motive, nothing to hide.

My favourite tool for a singles yarn is the floor supported Navajo style spindle. With this spindle I get to stretch and allow space to the draft. The long draw from my lap to the tip of my outstretched fiber hand. I love the way the technique allows me to use my whole body while spinning.

The dance

Little ball of yarn. How sweet a spin, a dance to make you shine. In one end flat hand, mindfully rolling the shaft, allowing it to twirl from tip to tip. In the other a closed hand, holding the wooly treasure, like a baby bird. Gently, gently. The strand between, conveying the message between the hands, like a tin can phone between the closest of friends. Hands following to the wool through the yarn, leaning in, listening to the whisper of the wool.

Spinning on a floor supported Navajo style spindle is like performing a choreographed dance. Photo by Dan Waltin
Spinning on a floor supported Navajo style spindle is like performing a choreographed dance. Photo by Dan Waltin

Spinning on a floor supported Navajo style spindle is a joy. I love how fast the yarn spins up, how I get to use my whole body in the process and how my hands need to really listen to the yarn and cooperate to perform the dance choreographed by the strand between them. Through spinning with this tool I get to more fully understand how the draft goes into the twist and how I can open up the twist to manipulate the semi-spun yarn in the direction I want it.

This particular wool is light and cooperative. Listening to it is easy and joyful. While the different colour rolags don’t work exactly the same I can still adapt the spinning so that they come out in the same manner in the yarn.

A skein aswirl

Little ball of yarn. So full of energy. spiraling here, swirling there. Charged with spinning spirit, never still, ever moving. A hot and cold dip will relax, ease and slacken. Allow stillness and peace in the whirl. The twist from the dance is forever trapped in the strand. Where did it go? What else has changed?

Knitting with energized yarns like singles presents some interesting challenges – unless you knit a balanced pattern (like garter stitch or rib) there is a good chance the knitted fabric will end up biased.

A fulled skein of Värmland wool singles.
A fulled skein of Värmland wool singles.

I decide to full the yarn by shocking it. In the fulling process, which can be seen as a light felting, the scales in the fibers catch on to each other, tightening up the yarn slightly and calming the energy down. I dipped the skein in hot and cold water until I saw that the strands in the skein had started to grab on to each other. Värmland wool does tend to felt. Instead of seeing this characteristic as a threat I allowed it to become a superpower to help me calm the energy down.

Little ball of yarn

Little ball of yarn. The strand light as a feather, sweetly wrapped around my thumb, keeping it safe. Layer by layer wound onto the ball, becoming the ball. The clarity of the single strand, the combination of colours, invite me to follow a sole fiber. Round and round individually, yet holding on in a wooly togetherness, streams of air in between.

A finished little ball of yarn. Värmland wool hand carded into rolags and spun with long draw on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 12-ish wpi. 11 grams, 36 meters, 3234 m/kg before fulling.
A finished little ball of yarn. Värmland wool hand carded into rolags and spun with long draw on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. 12-ish wpi. 11 grams, 36 meters, 3234 m/kg before fulling.

And so it is here. My little ball of yarn. Only a simple sample of 11 little grams, still filled with hopes and dreams of a fabric, a design, a garment. A soft promise of a continued crafting adventure. My hands tingle to knit with it. At the same time I am reluctant to pull the inner ends braid to ruin the perfectly imperfect little ball of yarn. I want to look at it, follow the strand, follow the fibers, imagine its future.

I twirl the little ball of yarn and loose myself in the sections of hazel, driftwood and walnut.
I twirl the little ball of yarn and loose myself in the sections of hazel, driftwood and walnut.

Eventually I do dare. I dare to pull. Out it comes, the light single, new to the world. Not too skinny, not too floofy, just perfectly airy and pert, my little strand of yarn. Ready to meet its future.

A precious promise

Little ball of yarn. A precious promise of a transformation in shape, texture and vision. I close my eyes and see the shades of brown change in the fabric, walnut, driftwood and hazel float like water colour rivers in a painting, moving fluidly across the surface, inviting the curious to follow its paths.

I spun this yarn to pair it with a white yarn spun the same way from the same breed, only spun in the other direction. The combination of clockwise and counter-clockwise will further balance the structure, together with the fulling. Also it will offer balance to me when I spin – I spin with my left hand counter-clockwise and my right hand clockwise to work as ergonomically as I can. Alternating the two spindles also helps me avoid overworking one arm.

A triple tuck stitch pattern with the shades of Pax's fleece between rows of sheepy white.
A triple tuck stitch pattern with the shades of Pax’s fleece between rows of sheepy white.

This past summer I bought Nancy Marchant’s book Tuck stitches and lost myself (again) in the beautiful spectrum of this fascinating technique with endless possibilities. I picked one. To me, the yarns and the pattern make the perfect match. Soft, squishy, like freshly made waffles.

I do have a design in mind, another companion to the yarns and the structure. I’m just not telling you about it yet. But I will. I just need to spin the rest of the fleeces first.

I think I’ll get the waffle iron out today.

Little ball of yarn. Thank you for allowing me to discover your soul, for fueling my creativity and for giving me peace.

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.

Värmland wool

Staples of wool

One of my favourite breeds to spin is Värmland wool – a versatile and lightweight wool in many colours. This is the fourth part of my breed study of Swedish sheep breeds from the spinner’s perspective. Previous posts have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool and Dalapäls wool.

Next Saturday, December 14th at 5 pm CET I will host a free live breed study webinar on Värmland wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

Register for the webinar here!

About Värmland sheep

Värmland sheep is a Swedish conservation breed. Many of the Swedish domestic breeds were extinguished in the 18th and 19th centuries due to import of foreign breeds that were more meaty and had other wool qualities. When the domestic breeds were rediscovered around 30 years ago, Värmland sheep (or forest sheep) was the first breed to be rediscovered. They all came from the same flock in the county of Värmland, close to the Norwegian border. Due to an extensive conservation effort the 100 rediscovered sheep are now around 4000. In 2018 there were 1544 breeding Värmland ewes in 170 flocks in Sweden, making Värmland sheep our largest conservation breed regarding both individuals and flocks.

A conservation breed means that the breed is protected. If the sheep farmer has a gene bank they are also committed to preserving the breed. This means that they are not allowed to cross the breed with other breeds. They also commit to strive for genetic diversity – breeding for specific characteristics (like wool or hornedness) is not allowed.

Värmland sheep are quite small – a ewe weighs around 40–60 kg. They are good at keeping the landscape open and eat both shrubberies, flowers and herbs.

Wool characteristics

Staples of wool
Staples of Värmland wool from the left: Two white staples from the same lamb of more of a traditional line. Silky and soft. The brown in the middle is open and airy and just a little coarser. The white silver grey with the honey-dipped tips is divinely silky. To the far right a brown staple with long outercoat and also lots of soft undercoat. All but the middle are from lambs.

Värmland wool is very versatile. A lot of different wool types can occur in one individual, from long dual coated staples to both predominantly outercoat or predominantly undercoat. The fiber is quite fine and sometimes even silky. The staples can be crimpy, wavy or straight. Colours vary between white, grey, brown, beige and black. The staples are usually open and very easy to spin.

Three piles of wool: Brown, grey and white.
Three different Värmland fleeces on the Swedish fleece championships of 2019

There are two main lines of Värmland sheep – the traditional line and the modern line.

Traditional Värmland

A white fleece with wavy staples
A yummy white Värmland fleece with many possibilities. This is more of a traditional Värmland fleece.

The traditional line of Värmland sheep has a lot of undercoat and a few strands of outercoat. The staples are triangular in their shape and the staples are open and airy. These are lovely to spin and make a soft, silky and strong yarn.

Modern Värmland

A lock of Värmland wool
A prize winning Värmland lamb fleece of the modern line – lots of undercoat, long outercoat and some kemp.

When the Värmland sheep was rediscovered some of them were crossed with Old Norwegian spæl rams and possibly also Swedish Rya sheep. This gave the breed more outercoat and in some cases also more kemp.

Versatile and lightweight wool of many colours

If I were to pick out three main characteristics of Värmland wool it would be versatility, lightweight and the large spectrum of colours:

  • Since the staples come in many different forms the Värmland wool is very versatile. I can use different preparation methods and spin a wide variety of yarns from silky soft lace yarn to robust sock yarn and even rug yarn.
  • In my experience Värmland wool is very lightweight. When you look at the staples you see a broad base with lots of air. This also makes Värmland wool very easy to spin.
  • The array of colours make me want to spin them all. The shades of grey are just beautiful and the browns, beige, whites and blacks make the colour possibilities endless.

Preparing and spinning

With a big variety of staple and fiber types I can process and spin Värmland wool in many different ways – fiber types separated, together and with different tools and spinning techniques.

Prepared fiber in a mushroom tray. Above and below: Outer coat hand-combed bird's nests. Middle: Under coat hand-carded rolags.
All the fiber prep in a mushroom tray. Above and below: Outer coat hand-combed bird’s nests. Middle: Under coat hand-carded rolags.

Combing

Longer staples of Värmland wool are lovely to comb, either with both fiber types together or by separating undercoat from outercoat. I would spin a combed top with short draw into a strong and shiny yarn.

A skein of white, brown and grey yarn.
This yarn is spun with short draw from hand-combed top where I have used the outercoat only.

Carding

A Värmland wool with lots of undercoat is lovely to card and spin with long draw. The skein above is spun with the long outercoat only. I carded the separated undercoat and spun with a long draw on a Navajo spindle into a lightweight and airy singles yarn (see image below).

A skein of singles yarn.
A light and airy singles yarn, spun with long draw from hand-carded rolags on a Navajo spindle.

In another fleece I had different staple types. I separated the fleece into two piles – one for long and wavy staples and another for the shorter and crimpier staples. I carded the latter – outercoat and undercoat together – and spun with a medieval spindle and distaff into a very airy and light yarn.

Crimpy staples of a Värmland fleece spun into a light and airy 2-ply yarn on a mediaval spindle and distaff.

Flick carding

The other pile of the grey fleece was in a lovely colour of light silvery grey in the cut end and honey-dipped tips. To save as much of the colour variation as possible I flick carded the staples and spun them individually from the cut end.

A ball of yarn in shades of grey.
Värmland wool spun from the cut end of flicked locks to preserve the natural colour variation over the length of the staple.

Use

Since the variation in fiber and staple type Värmland wool can be spun and used in a wide variety of textiles. My first Värmland fleece has become two pairs of twined/two-end knitted mittens – one whole and one half-mitt.

A grey mitten with a venus symbol
A venus symbol. The perfect mitten chart. Värmland wool in spun from the cut end of flicked staples. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The yarn used in the whole mitts was spun on a supported spindle from the cut-end of flicked locks. You can read more about these mittens here.

The half-mitts are available as a pattern from the Spin-off Fall 2019 issue. The mitts will also be part of a mitt-along! I spun the yarn for these on a spinning wheel, from flick-carded staples. You can also read about how I rescued this yarn from disaster here.

Two hands wearing mittens, and holding some wild flowers by the sea.
Finished Heartwarming mitts knit with mended handspun Värmland yarn. Photo by Dan Waltin

At the moment I am using a sturdier dark brown Värmland yarn as weft in a weaving project.

Rpws of blue Gordian knots in a brown weave
One row of knots and three regular shuttlings. Warp in Shetland wool, weft in Värmland wool and knots in Swedish Leicester wool.

Värmland is also very well suited for fulling. I can also see lace knitting, socks and outerwear in Värmland yarn.

Live webinar!

This Saturday, December 14th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Värmland wool from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Värmland wool. I will use Värmland wool during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I process the wool.

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

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

You can register even if you can’t make it to the live event (I’m sorry Australia and New Zealand, I know it is in the middle of the night for you). I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar.

Register for the webinar here

Happy spinning!


You can follow 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.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Distaff carving

Close-up of a person carving

A couple  of weeks ago I had a distaff carving day!

The lime avenue

We have a beautiful old lime-tree avenue just outside our house. Ever since someone told me that lime is a perfect carving wood I have longed to get out and make distaffs for in-hand spinning. It has been a cold un-spring so far and far too cold to carve outdoors. According to the weather report, it was supposed to be a little less cold a couple of weeks ago. I prepared to get out and saw the branches down on Saturday morning.

Saturday came, and when I peeked out from behind the curtains, it was a sunny day. I was out the door at nine and got some low hanging branches. I had big plans to sit in the March sun and carve, but the sun got shy and hid behind the clouds, resulting in quite a cold carving session.

Three distaffs

I made three distaffs for different purposes – one 30 cm hand distaff, one 100 cm belt distaff and one 120 cm floor distaff. The lengths are just as I want them. The floor distaff may be a bit too short, though. Or perhaps I just have to get used to the floor distaff spinning technique.

Three hand carved distaffs
Distaffs for belt, floor and hand.

The carving was wonderful – the bark just peeled off  like butter and it was a very nice feeling to carve in fresh wood from such a soft and carving friendly material. I managed to carve all three distaffs without any personal injuries (I did ruin the first hand distaff, though), just a cut in my thumb nail, you can see it in the featured image. Boy, they are practical. Nails, I mean.

I did nothing fancy, I just followed the shape of the sticks and made a few notches at the top to hold the fiber better. There was a small branch at the bottom end of the hand distaff, which I took advantage of to make a more ergonomic handle.

A hand holding a hand distaff
A branch bump fits perfectly in my hand

I carved and carved, made little embellishments and improved imperfections. I didn’t want to stop carving. Why would you want to let a raw, natural material out of your hand?

Dressed for success

I have dressed the two longer distaffs with Värmland wool and given them a test run. They work very well. I will make another skein of the yarn I made in a winter video of in-hand spinning in medieval style. Blog post about the video here.

A distaff dressed with grey wool
Dressed floor distaff. Wool is from Värmland sheep, spindle from NiddyNoddyUK and whorl from Pallia.

I like that the distaffs are organically shaped and the fact that I have to adapt myself to the natural shape of the distaffs. They feel more alive that way.

Happy crafting!

Wip series: Finished twined knitting mittens!

Two grey mittens

I have finally finished my twined knitting mittens!

This is the fifth and final post in my wip series of spinning for and knitting a pair of twined knitting mittens. The previous posts are about preparing, spinning, plying and knitting.

A lot of joy

I am very happy with the result. They were a true joy to knit. But, as always, there is a melancholy and a sense of loss when finishing a project. There are so many thoughts in a project. Practical thoughts like the next step in the project, how to avoid mistakes, but also all the thoughts that float around in my mind in the making. Things I hear, think or experience while I make are things that are captured in the thread and, literally, woven in to the fabric. In this sense, the finished item is so much more than a pair of mittens. It is a sparkling weave of skill, experience, memories, thought processes, love and emotions. And I treasure them all in my wooly, twined knitted treasure box.

Even if I miss the process of making, I do get to relive all the emotions and sensations that are a part of the mittens. Every time I wear them.

A lot of time

Twined knitting does take a lot of time to make, but the reward is such a sturdy and strong fabric.  And once I was over the initial novelty of the technique (which isn’t all new to me, but the last time I did twined knitting was in 2010), I found a nice rhythm of knitting, twining and untwisting.

A lot of yarn

I used 2 mm needles, which was perfect for this yarn. As you can see, the fabric is very dense on the surface. When you turn the mitten inside out you can see the beautiful ridges, caused by the twining. These also add to the density of the mittens.

Close-up of a grey mitten turned inside-out.
The inside of the mittens show the beautiful ridges created by the twining of the two working yarns.

When I first read the pattern I was a bit sceptical to the yarn requirements – 60 g per mitten seemed a lot to me. After a while I started worrying about having spun too little yarn! But when I had woven in the last yarn end I did have some yarn left, just enough to make a handful of pin loom squares.

The pattern

I used a basic mitten pattern from Berit Westman’s booklet Tvåändsstickning. She has a lot of examples of charted chain path patterns. For the cuffs I made a simple xo pattern from the book. This doesn’t show very well even after blocking. For the back of the hands I wanted something special, so I made my own pattern. I wanted the mittens to represent all the strong and talented textile workers through history. When I had finished the chart, I realized that it was International women’s day, which was very suitable.

A grey mitten with a venus symbol
A venus symbol. The perfect mitten chart. Photo by Dan Waltin

Felting

I struggled with the thought of felting the mittens for extra strength and durability. I had felted my first two pairs of twined knitting mittens. But already at the spinning stage I got a strong feeling of the wool being really prone to felting. It was quite sticky in all the parts of the process and I handled the yarn very carefully. I feared that if I felted the mittens, there was a strong risk of over felting. Also, since I had worked with the structure and colour of the yarn from the very beginning, I wanted the yarn to be the star of the show.

Evaluation

The colour

I do love the variegated colour of the yarn and it looks beautiful in the mittens. Especially in the pattern parts. The mixture of greys and the light golden brown gives the fabric a lovely depth. I am a sucker for greys!

The ply

As you can see in the pictures of the finished yarn, It was quite loosely spun and plied. This goes hand in hand with the wool, that was almost straight. I did over ply the yarn after it was balanced, to compensate for the unplying made by the twining. I don’t think it would have hurt to over ply a little more than I did.

The fabric

I think this is the most even I have ever knit. I think it is easier to make a more even and tight fabric with twined knitting than with regular knitting, since it is easier to pull the thread after each stitch. Also, I love the mixture of plain twined knitting and the blocks of pattern knitting. The squiggly horizontals are well matched with the straight verticals.

Close-up of a grey twined knitting mitten.
The pattern and the colour variations really make the wool justice.

The feeling

When I was preparing the wool and saw the black guard hairs I was afraid that the mittens would be itchy. But they are not. It is just that silky feeling of the under coat. The guard hairs just add a strength bonus. That’s a well behaved yarn! When I wear the mittens I pet the silky ridged insides with my hands. I feel rich.

The works

All in all, I think these mittens are in the top five of myfavourite hand spun projects and I smile every time I wear them. I feel proud and humbled to have the knowledge and skills to create something like this, like thousands of women (and a few men) have done before me.

What is your favourite hand spun project?

Happy spinning!

A pair of twined knitting mittens hanging from a tree branch.
Spring is coming and it’s a happy mitten day!

Waiting for spring

Josefin Waltin knitting outdoors

I long

Spring is taking its sweet time in Sweden this year. We’re almost at spring equinox and it was -8°C when I got up this morning. It does get warmer in the sun and the birds are singing very spring-like, but there is still snow and degrees below zero during a big part of the day. My whole being is waiting for spring to happen. I long to get out and craft. I have videos to shoot, outdoor knitting to be enjoyed, distaffs to carve and a whole allotment to cultivate. But it’s still too cold for the lanolin and my hands and I can’t put seeds in a frozen ground.

So I do what I can.

I make

I’m knitting away on my twined knitting mittens.  It is a slow and mindful knitting and I love how the whole range of greys are displayed in the fabric. I had my outdoor knitting premiere the other day (featured image), listening to the birds chirping and the dripping of melting snow from the roofs. It was quite lovely.

I finished spinning a fleece that had been waiting for over 18 months to be spun. It was a soft and beautiful Värmland fleece. But it had quite a lot of second cuts and vegetable matter. It was also very dark and difficult to see when preparing and spinning. All these things made me reluctant to spin the fleece. At the same time I felt guilty about not spinning it. But I finally gathered my energy to do it. It turned out to be quite a nice (wheel) spin, despite the dark colour, and I turned into four skeins of strong and lustrous warp yarn.

Three skeins of dark handspun yarn
The Värmland 2-ply warp yarn, 186 g and 306 m (four skeins), about 1600 m/kg.

I also finished an in-hand spinning yarn, the one I started in this video. It is the same fleece as in the twined knitting mittens, but I used the shorter staples and spun them woolen from hand-carded rolags. It came out quite differently compared to the twined knitting yarn.

A skein of grey handspun yarn
2-ply Värmland yarn, 45 g, 105 m, 2300 m/kg. Spun woolen on an in-hand-spindle from hand-carded rolags.

I found my way back to a rigid heddle weave I started before Christmas. It it yet another pillowcase (such a good practice project). This time in 3-shaft. The warp is 2-ply Leicester, worsted spun (wheel) from hand-combed tops and then dyed. The weft is Shetland singles, spun from hand-carded rolags on a Navajo spindle. It was lovely to weave in the spring sun in the kitchen, but I really wanted to be able to weave outdoors.

A rigid heddle weave with blue warp and dark grey weft
The beginning of a pillowcase

I plan

I am planning this season’s videos. There are lots of ideas in my head – more in-hand spinning of different kinds and in different environments, perhaps some flax spinning. I have promised a video on how I spin English long draw on a spinning wheel. I am also thinking something towards mindfulness and meditation.

I’m also planning to make online spinning courses. This is a bigger project and it has to take its time to get a good result. A lot of you are far away from me and my local courses and this is a way to solve the distance issue. If you are interested in taking an upcoming online course, please let me know what you would like and how.

There is still time for you to make requests for upcoming videos. What would you like to see learn, explore?

Happy spinning!


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Wip series: Twined knitting mittens in progress

The twined knitting mittens are in progress! It’s a slow knit, but I knew that already. And the reward is a sturdy, strong and windproof textile, and, of course, a quiet moment of making.

Treasured notes

I read in my Ravelry notes from my last twined knitting project that it would be a good idea to overply the yarn, since the yarn is unplying a little when the yarns are twisted. So before I started casting on, I ran my balanced yarn through the spinning wheel and overplied it. Hopefully it’s enough.

How I do it

Casting on for twined knitting takes three yarn ends, one dark cast-on yarn and the two working yarns. After casting on there are four ends hanging – the ends from the two working yarns and the two ends from the cast-on yarn. The easiest way to weave these in is to make a braid out of them. This is  a pretty detail, as well as practical for hanging up the finished mittens.

To prevent the material from curling, it is a good idea to start with a couple of rows of crook stitch (alternating knit and purl stitches with the purl thread in front of the work). I did four rows and then I started an xo pattern and finished the cuff with another eight crook stitch rows. I’m planning a pattern stitch for the back of the hand and a plain palm side.

I really enjoy this knit. I love the yarn and the structure that develops. I can’t stop feeling the softness of the yarn and the magical texture of the fabric.

A glimpse of the making

I shot a short video of the knitting. I put the baking table in my lap as a background and a flexible knitting light wrapped around my head like a crown. My husband looked at me very quizzically. Still, the lighting arrangement did its job and was successful.

As you can see, it is a slow and a somewhat fidgety knit. Both yarn ends come from the same ball of yarn and every now and then I have to stop and untwist the ball. But I get into the rhythm and enjoy the moment.

Towards the end of the video I show you the wrong side of the work. The horizontal lines you see on the back of the knit rows is where the yarns are twined. This makes the fabric sturdy. If you hold up a regular knit fabric to the light, you see the light through the fabric. This does not happen with a twined knitting fabric, it is really dense – and I’m using 2 mm needles, which would indicate the density of the fabric.

I think it will be a while before I write the post on the finished mittens, I will enjoy the slow knitting and the feeling of the progress of wool yumminess in my hands.

Happy spinning!

Wip series: First z-ply skein finished

A skein of grey yarn rolled up into a bundle.

It’s micro snowing today! See the tiny snowflakes in the yarn on the featured image? Anyway, about a week ago the first s-spun single for my twined knitting mittens project was full. Today I present the first finished z-ply skein.

A skein of yarn in shades of grey.
A finished skein of z-plied yarn of Värmland wool. Fingering weight, 148 m, 61 g, 2443 m/kg.

Characteristics

The yarn is totally without bounce, which isn’t surprising, given the wavy, almost straight character of the staples. It is really silky and strong, which is a combination of the soft and silky undercoat and the long and strong outercoat. As you can see in the pictures, there are some guard hairs that are misbehaving, but I don’t see them as a problem. I really like the way the colour variations came out. I’m painting pictures in my head with the knitted fabric as the canvas in endless variations of grey. I think this will make a great yarn for my twined knitting mittens.

Technique

I spun the singles with my left hand as spinning hand. That way I could pull the spindle counter-clockwise. It was a really nice experience and felt light and right.

I used the same spindle for both singles, so each single was transfered onto an empty toilet paper roll when finished. That way I could start plying from the same end as I started spinning. I learned somewhere that the yarn will hold together better that way.

When it came to plying, I switched hands so that I plied clockwise with my right hand as the spinning hand, again pulling the spindle. I didn’t experience any pain in any hand. Well, to tell the truth, I did get a bit sore on the skin of the fingertip of my right index finger from two straight hours of plying, but that was just stupidity, don’t tell anyone.

A spindle full of grey yarn
A very full spindle – 60 grams of yarn on a 24 gram spindle (Malcolm Fielding).

Next step

Since I want to knit both mittens at the same time, I can’t start knitting until the second skein is finished. And I’ve already started spinning the third spindle. It’s a really nice project to work with. I comb a few locks, spin them, comb some more and so on.

Gotta go, I’ve got some more s to spin.

Happy spinning!

Wip series: First spindle full

A spindle full of grey yarn

Earlier, I wrote about my new spinning project. I am spinning a yarn counter-clockwise to be able to knit myself a pair of twined knitted mittens.

One finished, three to go

The current status is that I have finished one spindle of s-spun singles, about 30 grams. According to the pattern book, I need 100–120 grams, so if I make another 3 30 gram singles I will end up with one 60 gram skein for each mitten. With twined knitting it is av very good idea to knit both mittens at the same time. This to make sure that the gauge turns out the same. I did not do this with my first pair.

A challenging spin

I have to say It is not the easiest spinning I have experienced. The fiber is impressingly smooth and silky, but there is a certain amount of tugging. I think it has to do with the preparation – I comb the locks as lightly as possible, just to separate the fibers. I guess they are still a little attached to each other, making the drafting a little challenging. But I get the effect I want, and I really enjoy spinning counter-clockwise with my left hand.

A close-up of a spindle with grey yarn
The many shades of beautiful grey

Beautiful greys

I love how the colour variation turned out. There is a spectrum from almost white, through silver and light grey to medium and even dark grey, and some strokes of golden brown. Spinning the locks one by one, I was hoping to catch as many of the shades in the fleece as possible. I would not have been able to achieve this effect had I combed the wool in the traditional way. Also, a yarn like this is not possible to machine spin. This will truly be a unique yarn, which warms my heart a little extra.

Happy spinning, both clockwise and counter-clockwise!

Wip series: Preparing for twined knitting

A spindle with light gray yarn

In this series I will write about preparing, spinning and knitting a pair of mittens in the old Swedish technique of twined knitting.

Rediscovering an old technique

Several years ago, long before I started spinning, I stumbled upon twined knitting, also known as two-end knitting (from the Swedish word tvåändsstickning). It is a very old Swedish knitting technique where you knit with two separate strands of yarn and twist them in between the stitches. This makes a very sturdy and windproof textile that will last very long. Because of the twisting, twined knitting takes a lot of time.

The technique was nearly forgotten, but recreated through a textile find in the 1970’s. A mitten was found, thought to originate from the 19th century, but later found to be from the late 17th century. At first there seemed to be nothing special about the mitten, since it looked like regular knitting from the right side. But when the mitten was turned inside out, it was obvious that this was something different. The inside of twined knitting is dense and ridged, due to the twisting of yarns.

A pink mitten turned inside-out
The reverse side of twined knitting looks different than regular knitting.

The responsibility of saving a textile treasure

In my woolly heart of 2009, I wanted to take responsibility to help saving this technique. Since the technique involves twisting, the best result is given when you knit with a z-plied yarn. I bought a skein of z-plied yarn and knitted myself a pair of twined knitting half-mitts. I loved them dearly, and one sad day I lost them together with a knit beret on the subway.

A person wearing a pair of red half-mitts
First twined knitting project: Half-mitts, sadly lost on the subway. If you look closely, you can see that the right mitten is more felted than the left. That’s what happens when you knit one mitten after the other and end up with different sized mittens. Photo by Dan Waltin

A few years later, as a beginner spinner, I spun a skein of z-plied yarn and made myself another pair of twined knitting mittens. The yarn – one of my first handspun ones – was way underspun, but I solved that by felting the finished mittens. These are my go-to mittens that I have worn practically every day for the last five winters.

Two mittened hands on the back of a sheep.
First handspun twined knitting mittens (same as the reversed mitten above). Wool from my favourite Swedish finewool sheep Pia-Lotta, modeling in the picture. Photo by Dan Waltin

Inspiration

Now there is a hole in the thumb. I have mended the hole, but I still want to make another pair, for several reasons. In a recent episode of the Fruity knitting podcast, there was an interview with Karin Kahnlund, master twined knitter, and I got inspired to twine knit again. Another reason is my analysis of spinning direction, where I have looked closely at the hand movements when spinning in different directions with different hands (for more posts in the series, look here and here). As a leftie, this is a perfect opportunity for me to spin counter-clockwise  with my left hand (pulling the spindle). A third reason is about just getting a second chance at spinning a z-plied yarn.

A new project

For this project, I will use the prize winning Värmland fleece I purchased at the auction at the 2017 Swedish fleece championships.

A lock of Värmland wool
A prize winning Värmland lamb fleece

It’s a beautiful, grey lamb fleece with a long staple, soft and almost silky. It is the same fleece I used in my short video of medieval spinning, but in the video I used the shorter staples, carded. For this project I will use the longer staples . This Värmland fleece has a double coat with longer and shorter fibers (the over coat fibers are roughly 22 cm, the under coat fibers about 14 cm).

Close-up of a lock of Värmland wool
The pretty lamb curl

I am combing each individual staple and spin on a supported spindle from the cut end to catch all the fiber lengths in the yarn (for a closer look at the technique, see my video where I spin with the sheep in the pasture).

Close-up of a spindle with light gray yarn
S-spun Värmland yarn. Look at the colour variations!

I will post every now and then to let you know how the project is going.

Happy spinning!