Mending apparatus

For some years now I have been longing to get hold of a 1940’s mending machine, “Stoppapparaten Perfekt” (the mending apparatus Perfect), also known in English as Speedweve. This week I won a bid for the mending apparatus at Swedish eBay (Tradera). As soon as I had got it out of the box I searched the house for holes to mend. I found plenty.

The Stoppapparaten Perfekt is such a great little tool. Small, portable, lightweight and with everything you need to mend holes, except for the hole itself and the mending yarn. But it is so much more than that. It is a piece of history in a little cardboard box.

The mending apparatus

The mending apparatus was produced in the thousands in the 1940’s. The Swedish version was made in a welding workshop in Stockholm. The daughter of the owner writes in an article that she and her brother used to put them together in the workshop for 5 Swedish öre a piece. Street vendors stood in every other street corner of Stockholm, demonstrating the mending process in the speed of light and sold box after box.

Stoppapparaten Perfekt, a perfect little mending apparatus. From the manual: “A practical novelty for mending any kind of finer or coarser woven or knitted goods. […] The mending becomes a pleasant pastime.”

A tantalizing textile tool treasure

Most people have no clue about this apparatus when they see it. But among textile people this is a highly sought after item. When it happens to turn up at an auction lots of people bid lots of money. The box says it cost 3 Swedish kronor in 1940. In today’s money it would be around 80 kronor/$8.5/7.5€. My winning bid at the auction was 800 kronor, a normal winning bid for the mending apparatus. I am aware that it is a crazy sum for a small piece of metal. At the same time it is a cultural heritage. Even if they were sold by the thousands in the 1940’s the supply isn’t endless, especially considering that most people who find it in their attics or dusty old boxes have no clue what it is. So I’m happy I got mine.

Awkward syntax

Another piece of history in this cardboard box treasure chest is the instruction sheet. Or, to be more precise, the language in the instruction sheet. As a linguist (and ex interpreter) I am truly fascinated by the way every sentence is made in a most fascinatingly complicated and heavy fashion. Loads of passive phrases, obsolete expressions and unnecessary words. It takes a long time to read and even longer to comprehend.

The lovely, yet horrific manual to the mending apparatus.

Quick, artful and no previous knowledge required

The funny thing is that the manufacturer advertises the use of the apparatus with the exclamations “Quick! Artful! No previous knowledge required!” Well, once you manage to get through the instructions it may be sort of quick if you have basic weaving skills (that were most probably considered common knowledge among housewives in the 1940’s). But instead of getting you stuck already at the instructions, I invite you to watch this beautiful video where Kajsa Larsdotter methodically explains how to use the mending apparatus. After that you will be all set to mend.

Cultivated, simple and comprehensible

In my day job I work as an administrative officer at a Swedish authority. Every day I make and write decisions. One of my most important jobs is to make the decisions understandable to the receiver. They have the right to know what we grant, what we reject and why. As a government official I need to follow the Swedish language act that states that the language in the public sector should be cultivated, simple and comprehensible (vårdat, enkelt och begripligt). In the beginning we wrote horrific texts that weren’t even comprehensible to our law department. However, since then we have made quite a journey in writing the decisions in a cultivated, simple and comprehensible way.

Reading a text like the instructions to the mending apparatus makes me gasp for air at the first sentence (or the first quarter of the first sentence since they are a mile long). Here is a translation of one of the sections in the instruction sheet:

“7. Insert the pin in the loops and remove the darning mushroom, when enough transverse threads have been threaded that the hole is covered, and turn the frame so that the longitudinal threads fall out of the hooks, and weave in the ends in a regular manner and the work is finished.”

I could go on. But I won’t. Instead I will mend.

Mending

I chose a cashmere sweater I have worn to pieces. I actually bought it for my husband a few years ago. It was quite cheap for cashmere (and I do understand why now). Unfortunately he accidentally felted it in the washing machine. Fortunately it shrank to a perfect size me.

Quite quickly though, seams unraveled and the yarn thinned at the elbows. Note to self: Don’t buy cheap cashmere sweaters. They will 1 cost more for someone else who don’t get paid and work 8 days a week, 2 break and 3 need mending (which is kind of fun but not the point of buying the sweater in the first place).

Preparing

I had already mended the elbow and now it was time to take care of the hole at the underarm. Securing the hole on the darning mushroom with the elastic band was a bit fiddly since the hole was rather large. But after a few trials I got it reasonably centered.

I used handspun yarns for the patch – a pink and orange wool/silk blend that I had got as a gift at some point. It is one of the first yarns I ever spun on a supported spindle and a dear memory.

Warping and weaving

After having sewn a security seam at the bottom of the hole, I sew the bottom end of the warp threads below the security thread and placed the top ends around the hooks. The width of the hooks make the shed possible. By sliding your finger across the loops the shed will change. One of the ingenious parts of this invention. I made a stitch in the sweater after each shuttling.

Finishing

When I got to the top of the warp the weaving got a bit fiddly, but with a little patience and good glasses it worked out. After having removed the warp loops from the hooks I stitched each loop individually in the fabric and wove in the ends on the wrong side.

Using the mending apparatus was a lot of fun. I have lots of holes to practice with. Dan is also keen to use it. I will definitely mend by hand too, but options are always welcome. And as all cultural heritages, tools techniques need to be used and handed down to future generations.

Mend with love and your clothes will keep you warm.

Mend your clothes with love and pride. I do. I see thin spots under the other arm. Perhaps I will take the mending machine for a second dance later today. I do have the same yarn in yellow and green too.

Happy mending!

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.

Weaving with the trees

Photo by dan Waltin

Today, on one of the darkest days in my hemisphere I give you a new video from the other side of the year: Weaving with the trees. I shot the video in the northernmost part of Swedish Lappland in the beginning of July when the sun never set.

This video is my season’s gift to you: Weaving with the trees, with love from me. May it bring you light, space and peace.

Turning the train around

We had plans to take the train to Austria this year. But in March we realized that it wouldn’t be possible. Instead we turned the rails 180 degrees and went 18 hours north, to Abisko, 250 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. Situated by the foot of mount Nuolja it is the perfect starting point for hikers southward on the 400 kilometer Kungsleden trail. We chose to stay at the tourist station and take day trips, though. I packed my backpack with the essentials – emergency snack (Notnüsse, a family tradition of mixed nuts and seeds for energy dips), hat, hiking boots, loom and spindles.

The landscape

Before I dive into the wool and the weaving I need to give you at least the chance to understand the vastness of this landscape. This is so far north from where I live – when the train made a short stop in Boden, at the top of the Bothnian Bay, there were still 5 hours left to go!

You can start your hike straight off the platform at Abisko Tourist station train station. During that whole week we traveled by rail and hiking boots only – we walked from our house to the metro, took the metro to Stockholm Central Station and the train to Abisko.

I'm drinking the water straight from the stream with a Kuksa, hand made by Bengt Waldemarsson and gifted from me to my husband for his birthday. Photo by Dan Waltin
I’m drinking the water straight from the stream with a Kuksa, hand made from a birch burl by Bengt Waldemarsson and gifted from me to my husband for his birthday. The mittens are my handspun and two-end knitted Heartwarming mitts. Photo by Dan Waltin

When you get to Abisko all you see is the vast mountain landscape to the south, lake Torneträsk to the north and more mountains in Sweden and Norway to the northwest. The river Abiskojåkka runs lively from the mountains down to the lake. A bit south-east the U-shaped Lapporten (The Lapponian gate) rises like a queen in the valley.

So, now that you have some idea of the set you may get a feeling of what spinning and weaving with simple tools with endless opportunities this close to nature can feel like. For me, crafting in nature brings me closer to the tools, the craft and the people who craft before, beside and after me.

Rain shadow

The tourist station is situated on the leeway side of mount Nuolja with its rich summer flora. This means that the wind comes from the windward side in the west and the mountain stops the rain from falling on the Abisko side. The phenomenon is called rain shadows and is the reason why Abisko has very few rain days per year (around 300 mm of rain per year while Riksgränsen, 30 km to the west, has roughly 1600).

The trees

In the valleys and up to the tree limit there is basically one kind of tree – the Fjällbjörk, Arctic downy birch. The black and white stems grow in groups of low, gnarly, windswept stems, showcasing their crispy green leaves under the blue sky. The mass effect of these humble fjällbjörk forests is just mesmerizing. There is an enchanted touch to this black-white-green mass and I keep looking for signs of forest beings peeping out from behind one of the stems.

Above the tree limit there are still birches, but not really trees. The mountain is covered in a rich flora, mixed with dwarf birch, dvärgbjörk. The Dwarf birch doesn’t look like a tree or even a bush. Just twigs on the ground, sprinkled with the tiniest green wave-edged leaves. Where the arctic downy birch can’t stand against the arctic winds, the dwarf birch and the flowers can. I love those low, fiercely strong plants that are designed to endure the most extreme elements. I guess you can see their relatives on any mountain.

The wool

I started spinning this yarn a couple of years ago. The wool comes from a Norwegian crossbred, NKS. I have teased the wool by hand and spun it on Andean pushkas straight off the hand teased rovings. To the best of my ability I tried to spin and ply the way Andean spinners spin their yarn. I have watched Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez teach Linda Ligon how to spin the Andean way in the video Andean spinning.

Making. 2-ply yarn from a figure-8 skein by the river Abiskojåkka. Photo by Dan Waltin.
Making. 2-ply yarn from a figure-8 skein by the river Abiskojåkka. Photo by Dan Waltin.

If you want to dive more into how I spun this yarn you can watch my video Learning Andean spinning. You can also read the blog post about the video.

The yarn

I wanted to play with different colours and spinning directions in the yarn. Also, I figured that spinning with both hands would decrease the risk of straining my neck and shoulders. Therefore I alternated between S-plied and Z-plied yarn: I did all clockwise spinning with my right hand and all counter-clockwise spinning with my left hand to always pull the spindle. You can read my thoughts about pushing and pulling the spindle and spinning direction in this blog post. You can also check out my webinar Spindle ergonomics to see what I mean.

So, when I had spun the skeins in two different directions I dyed the yarn and planned the weave. I played with opposing twist directions throughout the striped sequence until I found something I liked. Warping was a challenge, but well worth the time and effort.

Sticking to it

Since I have hand-teased this wool as the only preparation the fibers aren’t as neatly arranged as if I would have processed it with tools. Ends are sticking out here and there. When I weave on a warp-faced weave the warp threads are naturally very close to each other. Using this yarn for such a tight sett led to a very sticky warp. Even if I try to do the process as closely as I can to how I understand Andean spinners do it, some things can’t be the same, especially when I use my local wool. I just had to deal with the sticky warp, spend many hours unsticking warp layers and stick (!) to my plan. To my surprise only one warp thread broke during the entire weaving process.

What yo see in the video are the short sections where I just insert the batten after having manually unstuck the warp threads. I saw no point of showing you the endless fiddling with my shortcomings.

Sources

To get closer to the technique and the textile traditions of the Andes, I bought the beautiful book Secrets of spinning, weaving and knitting in the Peruvian highlands by Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez. The book has excellent tutorials of some of the techniques. The eye-pattern tubular bands and borders is one example. As I mentioned I also took the class Andean spinning by Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez. I took an online course by Kimberly Hamill and later I also bought ebooks on pick-up techniques and the eye-pattern tubular band by Laverne Waddington.

Secrets of spinning, weaving and knitting in the Peruvian highlands by Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez is a beautiful book that explains the traditions of Andean backstrap weaving and has several step-by-step tutorials with pictures.
Secrets of spinning, weaving and knitting in the Peruvian highlands by Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez is a beautiful book that explains the traditions of Andean backstrap weaving and has several step-by-step tutorials with pictures.

Weaving with the trees

Backstrap weaving is practiced in many different cultures across the world. I love the portability of the loom as well as the many traditions and weaving techniques associated with it.

With backstrap weaving the weaver is a part of the loom together with the tree. Many weavers sit while they weave. I prefer standing since I feel it gives me more fine tune control of the tension of the warp. My kids, in the background (dressed in mosquito net head covers), found a climate research location. Photo by dan Waltin.
With backstrap weaving the weaver is a part of the loom together with the tree. Many weavers sit while they weave. I prefer standing since I feel it gives me more fine tune control of the tension of the warp. My kids, in the background (dressed in mosquito net head covers), found a climate research location. Photo by dan Waltin.

Being a part of the loom

The idea of being a part of the loom together with a tree is truly fascinating. Being a part of the loom makes my body understand the rhythm of the weaving better than when I am detached from the loom. I like to compare it to spindles and spinning wheels: When I spin on a spindle – of any kind – I am a part of the mechanics of the spinning. Therefore I can understand and control the spinning better than if I were spinning on a spinning wheel where those mechanics are built-in in the spinning wheel.

Standing while weaving with the trees has downsides when it comes to dropping loom parts or tools, especially when weaving on a cliff. Photo by Dan Waltin
Standing while weaving with the trees has downsides when it comes to dropping loom parts or tools, especially when weaving on a cliff. Photo by Dan Waltin

I prefer standing when I weave on a backstrap loom. I feel it gives me more fine tune control of the tension of the warp. It also feels more flexible than sitting. A downside to weaving standing is that the ground is further away if (when) I drop things. Usually I bring a shoulder bag with the essentials for easy access.

Gratitude

I am, and will keep being, a novice at backstrap weaving. Still, I have learned so much about this craft that is as humble as it is magnificent, as simple as it is complex. And all between just a few hand-carved sticks. And I am truly grateful for the time and space I get to spend with and in the weaving.

I shot the video with my iPhone and a light tripod. Photo by dan Waltin
I shot the video with my iPhone and a lightweight tripod. Photo by dan Waltin

Thank you. sweet followers, for another year of spinning, teaching and learning. Your support, your progress and your spinning stories all give me energy and sparkle to keep creating for you.

Waiting for the train back home to Stockholm. Basswood weaving sword by Verena Soe, Yarnengineer, on Instagram, juniper band lock by Spångmurs.

The week in Abisko ended far too quickly. I am not finished with this place. There are so many things to discover, so many places to craft. I will come back. After all, it’s just an 18 hour train ride from home.

Back home I finished the striped weave and the band. I wove an eye-pattern tubular band around the weave to protect the edges. I sewed the band onto the striped piece and attached D-rings for closure. And voilá, I had myself a wrap for my loom sticks.

I made a wrap to keep all my various sizes of hand carved loom sticks warm and in order. I found the band pattern in Laverne Waddington's book Complementary-warp pick-up. The tubular eye-pattern edging around the wrap has different names in different regions in Peru, Bolivia and Chile.
I made a wrap to keep all my various sizes of hand carved loom sticks warm and in order. I used a band pattern from Laverne Waddington’s book Complementary-warp pick-up. The tubular eye-pattern edging around the wrap has different names in different regions in Peru, Bolivia and Chile.

Support Andean textile artists

I make a monthly donation to the Center for traditional textiles of Cusco. If you want to support the textile traditions of the Andes you can donate. Andean weavers are facing multiple difficulties due to the consequences of the pandemic. The center also has an online shop where you can buy beautiful hand made items like bags, purses, hats, shawls etc.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  1. 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.
  2. My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  3. I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  4. I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  5. 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.
  6. Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 warping meditation

Sometimes I loose myself in the crafting moment. The senses take over like a force of nature and guide me through my process, sweetly, mindfully. My fingers know what to do and still they experience every movement and every sensation as if for the first time. I had one of those sweet moment the other day while I was warping. So today I give you a warping meditation.

I have just come back from a morning swim in the pale morning sun. It is early November and the trees still have some yellow and red leaves on their branches. Heaps of leaves in all shades of red, yellow and brown are scattered over the ground, inviting, enticing. The musky autumn smells swirl around me, whispering sweet autumnal hymns in my ears.

A warp in waiting

Meanwhile, eight skeins of handspun Gute yarn are waiting in the book shelf. My plan is to weave a loose sett and full the finished fabric into a sturdy wadmal cloth. I decide today is Warping Day. Usually I warp longer projects at the local weaver’s guild, but due to the pandemic I don’t want to put the elderly ladies in the guild at risk. The sun is warm on our terrace and that will be my warping zone.

Five skeins of grey yarn.
2-ply Gute yarn, waiting to be put to use.

The whispers of a fleece

As I grab one of the skeins I immediately feel the soft and safe message from the lanolin in the yarn. The smell, the touch and the soft colours take me back to the staples I processed just a few weeks ago. Strong, light and rustic. It also reminds me of the Gute sheep that gave me the wool. I received the gift of wool and it is now my mission to make the strengths of the fleece justice as a textile.

Close-up of two mittened hands holding a skein of grey yarn. Yellow autumn leaves on the ground.
Strong outercoat, soft undercoat and brittle kemp fibers in my 2-ply woolen spun Gute yarn.

I look at the skein in my hand and see the different fiber types – the long and strong outercoat, some fibers finer and some coarser. Soft, soft undercoat in sparkling silvery white. Rough and short kemp fibers that point in a direction of their own choice. I know that a majority of the kemp fibers will fall out of the yarn as I weave, leaving air pockets, making the cloth warmer and softer.

A warping setup on a terrace. A woman dressed in jacket, hat and half-mitts is warping.
A sunny terrace in November is a splendid substitute for a weaving room.

Warping in the November sun

I bring my tools out to the terrace, secure the warping peg and mount the umbrella swift on the fence. The skein on the swift sparkles in all its glorious shades of grey, turning round and round on my command as I feed the yarn to the hungry warp.

Close-up of a warping outdoors.
Thread by thread I build the skeleton of the weave in a warping meditation..

A warping meditation

The yarn goes through my hands over and over again, just as it has many times before during sorting, washing, carding and spinning. The strand in my hand leaves a touch of its wooly magic, like a gentle puff of lanolin and sheephood on my fingers. Inch by inch my fingers attentively follow the thread, from the loom, through the slot of the heddle, around the warping peg and back again.

I own this yarn. My hands made it and through the many hours of processing and spinning they know every fiber of it. Yet, it keeps teaching me new things every time I touch it and it will probably keep teaching me through its career as a fabric, on levels I don’t yet know will exist.

Close-up of a person pulling warp yarn through the slots of a rigid heddle. The person is wearing half-mitts.
Following the warp threads back and forth between the loom and the warping peg makes me present in the moment, like a warping meditation.

Thread by thread I build the frame of the warp, the very skeleton which I will dress, one shuttling after another, with woolen layers. My hands giggle as they touch the surface of this scaffold in the making. As I walk mindfully back and forth with the warp yarn in the shy November sun I remember that the Gute sheep I work with is an outdoor sheep, it stays outdoors all year round. Even the name is an acronym for the very outdooriness of the breed – Gotland outdoor sheep (Gotländskt Utegångsfår). I smile and hope the yarn enjoys being in some way in its natural habitat.

When I have reached the last slot of the heddle I smile at my newborn warp. I wonder what will become of it, how we will work together and what it will teach me next. As I go back inside I thank the sun with its pale rays for their warmth and comfort.

A sun salutation

This time of year I follow the sun – from the gentle sparkles accompanying me on my early morning swim, through the warm morning and mid-day sun by the spinning wheel in the living room and to the afternoon gold-pink-red transformation in my home office.

After a soup lunch I see the loom standing against the book shelf as I leave the kitchen. I can’t help myself and decide to start weaving, just a little bit. The rhythm of dressing the heddle is mesmerizing – Slot, hole, slot, hole all the way to the end. I tie the warp bundles onto the warp beam and feel for irregular tension with my fingers, eyes closed. I lift the heddle and the first shed is born. As new sheds are created between the shuttled weft threads I feel them again – the soft rays, on the side of my face. The sun has rounded the house and reached the office where I weave.

A woman weaving on a rigid heddle loom by a sunny window.
After lunch the sun has reached the other side of the house, where my home office is.

I finish today’s session and put the loom back agains the book shelf. Looking down on the floor I see little heaps of kemp fibers that have decided to leave the yarn and seek their own adventure, just as I anticipated. A new chapter of the weaving journey has begun and I cherish every second of it.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to 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.

Frida Chanel bag

The Frida Chanel field belt bag. Photo by Dan Waltin

A project that I have been working on for a long time is finally finished – the Frida Chanel bag. The bag is woven on a backstrap loom from outercoat yarn spun on a suspended spindle. Frida and Chanel are the two ewes that gave me the wool.

The Frida Chanel bag project has gone slowly but steadily through winter, spring and summer. It has lived through office meetings, sheep festivals and the corona crisis. So many experiences fit in the resulting field belt bag. In this post I walk you through the process from fluff to stuff.

The Frida Chanel bag is comfortable to war across my hip, either to the front or to the back. Photo by Dan Waltin
The Frida Chanel bag is comfortable to war across my hip, either to the front or to the back. Photo by Dan Waltin

The sheep

The wool in the yarn comes from the outercoat from two fleece championships contestants – one Åsen/Härjedal crossbred lamb and one Klövsjö ewe. They are both perfect warp candidates with long, strong and shiny outercoat fibers.

Chanel

I got Chanel on the 2017 Swedish spinning championships. She got a gold medal and rightfully so. It wasn’t for sale, though. The shepherdess didn’t want to part with it. She isn’t a spinner herself, though, and she realized that no spinning mill would do the colour variations justice. I talked to her and she decided to sell it to me.

Chanel's fleece divided into colour piles.
Chanel’s fleece divided into colour piles.

I divided the fleece into colour piles and spun each of the lovely colours separately. After some trial and error I landed in separating undercoat from outercoat and spin the fiber types separately. This way I was able to make both wool and colours justice.

Frida

If found Frida’s fleece at the 2019 Swedish fleece championships. She didn’t win any medals, but she was still so beautiful and I really needed to take her home with me. She has the most incredible shine!

The Klövsjö ewe Frida's beautiful fleece.
The Klövsjö ewe Frida’s beautiful fleece.

The yarns

With Chanel’s outercoat I ended up with five colours of brown, from solid chocolate, through dark and light coffee swirls to a frappuccino.

Five colours of the Åsen/Härjedal lamb Chanel's outer coat.
Five colours of the Åsen/Härjedal lamb Chanel’s outer coat.

I have been spinning Chanel’s combed outercoat tops on a suspended spindle on coffee breaks and meetings at work. Through the soft feeling of the fibers I have been able to filter the coffee break chatter and focus on the content of the office meetings.

I treated Frida’s fleece the same way I had treated Chanel’s – I separated outercoat from undercoat and spun them separately. When I got to spin Frida’s combed top it was already March and the government urged everybody who could to work from home, so I have spun Frida’s outercoat yarn at digital meetings and coffee breaks from my home.

The Klövsjö ewe Frida's outercoat spindle spun into a strong and shiny warp yarn.
The Klövsjö ewe Frida’s outercoat spindle spun into a strong and shiny warp yarn.

I decided to dye the Frida outercoat yarn in two shades of blue. I used the same dye base as the yarn for my weaving bag, but for some reason it turned out green instead. They are still lovely collars and I did get the difference in shade I was after.

Finished yarns from Chanel (brown shades) and Frida (dyed green). Spindle spun and hand wound with love. Photo by Dan Waltin.
Finished yarns from Chanel (brown shades) and Frida (dyed green). Spindle spun and hand wound with love. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Colour play

When all the yarns were finished I had a wonderful weaving yarn treasure to play with. I wanted the stripes to be in different widths and I wanted to pair dark colours with light. In the end I decided on using two gradients – one brown and one green (if you can call two colours a gradient) – going in different directions. I added a section with horizontal stripes in the middle. I messed up with the calculations here, though. The horizontal stripes should have been twice as wide but my head obviously wasn’t with me all the way in the warping.

Being able to build my weave and my loom is such a wonderful feeling of empowerment. I made that pattern from my own yarn. I set up that loom (that is mostly my own carving) to fit my yarns.

A sticky business

Weaving with this. yarn has been a very sticky business. The warp threads have been tremendously clingy and in the beginning I was wondering if I would ever see this weave finished. But the beauty of weaving with your handspun yarns is that it simply has to work out. I need to find ways to make it work. I have invested too much love in this project for it to go down the drain.

To come around the clinging warp threads I tried different sizing methods. My friend Cecilia made herself my guinea pig and tried brushing the warp with gelatine, which worked to some extent for her test warp. I brushed mine with flax seed infusion and later hair spray to make the warp threads stiffer and more protected against the frequent abrasion of a warp-faced weave.

I think the sizing helped to some extent, but the warp was still very sticky. After a while I decided to develop a more mechanical solution – instead of opening up the shed as one movement I declung the warp section by section for each new shed. This way it took me about five minutes to weave two rows and it wasn’t that mindful process that continuous weaving is. But it worked. And once I had accepted the fact that this was the way I was going to weave this project I did find some sort of mindfulness in that too.

In the lime-tree alley

When I worked with the weaving bag and Dan’s camera strap I set up my loom under a spare lime-tree in the lime-tree alley that leads to our house. It is perfectly backstrap loom sized and has a nice view of the park. It has been lovely to weave in this spot and see the spring unfold into summer. My weaves have grown with the grass and the leaves. These past few weeks with this weave the grass has been waist-high and the branches heavy with fully developed leaves.

The last part of June was really hot – around 30 degrees Celsius. My crankiness limit is at 25 degrees so it was way too hot for me. But standing under that lime-tree weaving was such a perfect activity in the heat. I got the shade I needed and some wind. And when the sun broke through the leves I could just move a few steps around the tree to get into the shadow again.

Come to think of it, the colours of the weave reflects the colours of the lime-tree. The browns are the trunk, the dark green the leaves and the light green the sweet flowers. This weave was meant to be woven together with a lime-tree!

A field belt

Sometimes I obsess about things. One of my latest obsessions is the sewing patterns from Merchant & Mills. They have lovely clothes patterns and some bags. I was particularly attached to the Field belt bag. I had finally decided to buy the kit and put it in my shopping cart when it dawned on me: I wasn’t going to buy the kit – I was going to weave the fabric myself! I’m not sure when in the process I got this idea, but probably around March when I started spinning Frida’s outercoat.

Sewing and assembling

The pattern I used for the Frida Chanel bag is simple. A lined pouch with a folded top. A belt goes through a channel at the back for wearing the belt around your hips.

I had to make some adjustments for my handwoven fabric, but mostly the sewing was quite straightforward. I didn’t use a seam allowance for the side seams. Instead I sewed the selvedges together with a figure-8 stitch. That way I lost no width on the sides. And the figure-8 seam is really pretty.

A simple figure-8 stitch closes the selvedges at the side seam. No extra fabric was wasted here. Photo by Dan Waltin
A simple figure-8 stitch closes the selvedges at the side seam. No extra fabric was wasted here. Photo by Dan Waltin

The rivets were tricky, though. I didn’t want to punch the rivets through the woven fabric. I was afraid the warp threads would sneak their way out of the weave. Again I consulted my friend Cecilia. She suggested reinforcing the weave with wood glue (fancy that!) and put extra leather on each side of the weave for the rivets to hold on to. I did this, and managed to push the rivets between the warp threads so that none of them broke.

The leather belt goes through a channel at the back of the bag. Underneath the leather strap for the closing you can see one of the extra pieces of leather I used to reinforce the holes for the rivets and protect the woven fabric. Photo by Dan Waltin.
The leather belt goes through a channel at the back of the bag. Underneath the leather strap for the closing you can see one of the extra pieces of leather I used to reinforce the holes for the rivets and protect the woven fabric. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Lining

Another obsession this spring has been vintage fabrics. I use them to line things. When you open a bag or a spindle case I think it is only fair that you find a scrumtious and decadent lining, don’t you? I chose a flowery upholstery fabric that gave me that tingling feeling I was looking for. I added a nifty bellows pocket in the lining for easy access to important things.

Every bag needs a scrumptious lining! In this case a vintage upholstery fabric I got from Swedish e-Bay. Photo by Dan Waltin.
Every bag needs a scrumptious lining! In this case a vintage upholstery fabric I got from Swedish e-Bay. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Frida Chanel bag

So, this week I finally finished the bag. I love the freedom of wearing it around my waist and the safe feeling of wool at my hip. When I wear it I have the company of the sweet wool providers Frida and Chanel. The shine of the fabric is luscious.

A working period of five months is over. The bag may be small but it contains two sheep, three seasons, a pandemic, work, pleasure and trees. That is a lot to carry for a small bag. But it was made with love and somehow fits it all.


I just started a six week vacation. I will post, but shorter pieces. There will be a lot of crafting during my vacation that I can write about in the fall!

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.
  • 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.

Camera strap

During a few weeks this spring I have been secretly weaving a camera strap for my husband Dan. He takes all the photos for my magazine articles and a lot of photos for my blog. His birthday was this week and I was finally able to give it to him.

Dan is test shooting with nis new camera strap.
Dan is test shooting with his new camera strap.

For his birthday last year I wanted to get him a camera strap from Textiles Cusco, a cooperative of Peruvian weavers that I support. In the end it didn’t work out since I didn’t have the credit card type they accepted. Little did I know then that I would fall into the backstrap weaving rabbit hole before his birthday this year!

The yarns

In the online course in backstrap weaving I took this spring I totally failed the pebble weave pick-up pattern module. My yarn was way too loosely spun and in colours with too little contrast. I wanted to make up for my questionable decisions and weave a strap in a pick-up pattern.

For this project I chose the white and blue yarns I used for the weaving bag I had just finished. I did run the yarns through the spinning wheel again, though, to give them some more twist. In the balanced weave they had been a bit fuzzy and a higher twist would make them stronger, especially considering they would be in a tight warp-faced project.

The participating hand spun yarns in the camera strap.

For the kind of pick-up technique I chose it is a good idea to use three colours – two with high contrast for the pick-up pattern and a third for the edges. The black yarn I chose for the edges comes from a sample bag of a Gotland/finull cross that I got from a shepherdess recently. I tried to prepare and spin it in the same way I had spun the white and blue yarns – hand combed and worsted spun on a spinning wheel and 2-plied with some extra twist. The black yarn turned out a little less elastic though.

The weaving

The strap was only 65 cm long and 4 cm wide, so even if pick-up patterns take time it would still be doable before his birthday. I bought an ebook for a different kind of two-faced pick-up pattern by Laverne Waddington. I wanted the pattern I loved the most and not necessarily the one that was the easiest. In the end I chose one with heart shapes over 16 warp pairs and 32 rows. A lot to keep track of, but I pinned the pattern onto the warp for easy access.

A lovely heart-shaped pattern over the stretch of the camera strap.

Pick-up pattern

In this kind of pick-up pattern you work with warp pairs with one thread of each colour in every pair. When warping for the pick-up part you warp with one colour in the top and one in the bottom. This is to keep track of the colours and pairs. In the pattern you pick up one thread for each pair every row. This results in a pattern that is inverted on the “wrong” side.

Picking up the warp threads for the pick-up pattern. I need to pick up each individual warp thread in a new combination every row for the 32 row repeat. The heddle yarn in the top of the picture is my handspun and cable plied in Gute lamb’s wool.

I use a stick to pick up my warp threads with. In the picture above the blue warp threads are on top. Picking up the blue threads is no problem. When I need to pick up a white thread I need to pick up this from the bottom (white) layer and make sure I don’t pick up the blue thread in that pair.

The camera strap takes shape in the Stockholm spring sun. In the picture I have picked up all the warp threads for the row and inserted the batten in the new shed, ready to beat.

When I have finished picking up the row I place my batten in the picked-up shed and beat. Next row I pick up a new set of warp threads for a new shed. When I have picked up all the rows in the 32 row pattern I start from the beginning again.

I really loved this technique and I will do it again. It doesn’t take much yarn, but the result is so lovely and the fact that I made it makes me all giddy.

Narrow strap

The strap with the pick-up pattern is the part that goes over the shoulder of the photographer. I also needed to make a narrower strap to fasten to the camera. This was just a plain 1 cm wide warp-faced band. I used a band lock instead of the front beam and I didn’t bother with a stick for the heddles. Instead I used a piece of string to hold the heddles. To change the shed I simply lifted the heddles in the string loop.

I used a band lock for the narrow band instead of the wider front loom bar. Also I used a piece of string to hold the heddles instead of a stick. The band lock is made in juniper wood and smells oh so lovely.

The camera strap

Assembling the camera strap was a bit more of a challenge than I had expected. The original strap joined the wide and the narrow straps with a fake leather patch on both sides. I did the same, only with real leather. I used two waxed linen threads simultaneously for a double running stitch. The first strap join was really difficult and fiddly to make. I broke two needles and had sore fingers for a few days afterwards. The leather join looked really crooked and sad. For the other leather join I pre-punched the needle holes which made sewing a lot easier.

All assembled and ready to shoot!
All assembled and ready to shoot!

I decided to pick up the first join and make it better, which was a good decision. I would have been annoyed with the crooked join if I hadn’t. The second time I could use the old needle holes and the sewing went much smoother.

The camera strap sits nicely over the shoulder.
The camera strap sits nicely over the shoulder.

The black edges of the strap are a bit wavy because the black yarn has less elasticity than the blue yarn. But it isn’t a problem, it just adds to the hand made feeling.

Test shooting some grass in the evening light.
Test shooting some grass in the evening light.

I really loved making these straps. The pattern took a long time but the result is so lovely. And making the narrower strap felt surprisingly good. I enjoyed having the knowledge to weave the band so narrow. The yarns worked very well in the project, especially since I had added extra twist.

Dan loves his new camera strap. Last night he went out for a photo shoot – grass in backlight – and it went so much better than with the original camera strap. Fancy that!

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.
  • 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 fleece meditation

“I have a fleece from my young ewe Elin that I think you should have”, said Claudia, a shepherdess of Swedish Gestrike sheep. This happens every now and then. One of the advantages of being known in the spinning world is that shepherdesses trust me with their fleeces and they are curious of what I make of them. In this post I dive deep into the fibers in a fleece meditation.

The ladies and the elements

Claudia and I have met a few times since then but life has happened and the fleece stayed with Claudia. A global crisis came in the way. Eventually and with a little (or a lot) help from a friend Claudia managed to get the fleece to me. Claudia’s friend Kristina – also a spinner – was going to Stockholm where she studies and Claudia asked me if I could meet Kristina outside her school. Of course, I said. The bike ride would do me good.

So, we settled on a Tuesday in the end of April. I imagined a lovely bike ride through town, crisp birch leaves and cherry blossom edging the bike path and the fresh spring air welcoming my face in its midst. As it turned out, it was one of the most dramatic days of spring, weather wise – grinning rain, hail and icy winds had Stockholm in a firm grip, playing with its tousled inhabitants. The birches and the cherry trees were still there of course, but not in the atmosphere I had imagined. Still, a fleece was waiting for me and there wasn’t much I could do.

Embracing the hail as good as I could muster I hopped on the bike and pedaled my way in to town in sheer determination. I met Kristina, chatted for a while and went home with the fleece in the bike bag. An hour and 17 kilometers after I had left home I was back again. A bit cold, a bit wet, but richer in fleece and fresh air.

A raw fleece in dirty black and white.
The raw fleece from the Gestrike ewe Elin forms the beginning of a fleece meditation.

A bath

The fleece of the Gestrike sheep Elin is now in our house, filling the house with the soft smell of sheep and the promise of hours of gentle touch, creative work and new experiences.

Before I put Elin in the washtub I balanced her on the scales. 1,7 kilos, quite a large fleece for a Swedish heritage breed. I assumed some of the weight would wash out with the soaking water.

Soak

I filled the washtub with warm water in the bathroom – it is still a bit too cold to soak wool outdoors. As I gently pressed the sticky fleece down into the tub the water streamed up from underneath, found its path between the fibers, pressing the abruptly awoken dirt out of the staples and into the gushing water, creating reddish brown whirls which slowly shaped echoes of the locks.

A girl should have her privacy in the bath, so I left her in the tub for around fifteen minutes. When I came back I could hardly see her anymore. Gone was the clear water and the brown whirls. All that was left was a luke warm sea the colour of yesterday’s coffee with a few floating islands of wet wool lurking by the surface like frogs waiting for juicy flies. Between the islands were accumulations of soapy foam created by the union of the salty suint and the warm water.

Rinse

I gently squeezed the water out of the heavy water-saturated wool mass and filled the tub with fresh water. I repeated the process three more times, brown whirls fading slightly for each new soak. By the third rinse the water was clear and the wet locks distinctly visible in the tub, black and white staples shining like herrings in a school.

Spin-dry

After another squeeze I moved the shapeless wad into the washing machine to spin-dry it. Fifteen minutes later I opened the drum and was presented a bursting cloud of wool all the way up to the edge. Gone was the pile of sticky staples. Instead I saw before me an airy muchness of creative prospectives, inviting me to explore them.

A clean fleece in black and white.
Elin’s fleece is now clean an a lot lighter.

When I weighed the fleece again I was shocked of the number the pointer stayed at – 1,2 kilos. Gone were 500 grams of lanolin, sweat salts and short bits of fiber. My fleece was freed of half a kilo of gunk that I happily donated to the garden beds as fertilizer. My heart sings of the prospect of a flax harvest invigourated by dirty wool soak.

The fibers

Most of the staples had proud, gently waved outercoat, collected like the straws in a paint brush and air-filled hoopskirt undercoat, ready to embrace anyone who needed their warmth.

Black and white wool staples.
A few members of the Elin dance company.

Outercoat

The fibers are bundled up together to bring protection to the sheep. Some of the strands are long, proud and glistening, aspiring for length to protect the sheep from rain. I close my eyes and imagine the clusters of outercoat almost taking aim at the falling drops, competing about being the team to lead the wet intruder away from the body they have been set to protect.

Separated wool staples.
Dissected staples of Elin’s fleece – a whole staple, outercoat and undercoat.

Undercoat

Other fibers are fine, winding their way through the fiber collective, changing directions unpredictably, forming a billowing multitude of soft warmth to keep the wind and cold at bay. Together with air they fulfill their task with gentle determination.

Kemp

A third kind of fiber can be seen occasionally. Black, brittle and sprawly. This is the kemp, the oddball in the family. The kemp works with the other fibers, keeping the staple upright for additional protection against the elements and allowing more air to enter their fibery togetherness.

A microscope picture of wool fibers.
Strong and straight outercoat, fine and winding undercoat and coarse and brittle kemp, all working together to create the best conditions possible for the sheep.

The fibers look and work differently, yet in cooperation to protect the sheep they once grew on.

A fleece meditation: If I were a sheep

If I think of myself as the sheep the fibers are assigned to protect, how would I arrange them to do the same for me? How would I take advantage of their respective characteristics to create a garment that is for me what the fleece was to the sheep?

A staple of wool.
A fleece meditation.

Look at this picture for a moment. Long and strong outercoat, soft and warm undercoat. That means something. These fibers can be prepared, spun and arranged to their advantage and to give me the best protection. Soft, winding undercoat carefully carded into a pillowy rolag, kemp occasionally peaking out. Long and strong outercoat combed parallel into a bird’s nest.

A combed top and a rolag.
The beginning of the journey to a new textile. Outercoat and undercoat separated and processed.

When I close my eyes and feel a staple of Elin’s carefully selected wool in my hands I sense the different characteristics of the fibers. I envision a woven textile. In my mind I see the strong outercoat fibers as warp and the soft undercoat as weft.

Two shuttles with yarn. One light and airy, one dark and sleek.
Warp and weft. Separated but still together.

A dream of twill

I see twill. Fine singles, winding their way across the fabric. On one side the outercoat dominates – three over, one under – protecting me from the falling rain. The other side soft from the undercoat, keeping me warm and safe, kemp making sure there is room for air. Perhaps the fabric is slightly fulled to protect me even further. The two sides have different superpowers and different colours.

A woven twill sample.
A baby swatch, full of possibilities, waiting to grow into a mature fabric.

Claudia tells me that one of her ewes has a lot less outercoat than the rest of the flock. This sheep prefers to stay protected under a spruce when it rains while the downpour doesn’t bother her sisters. I want to be able to stand in the rain like the sheep, protected from the elements by an ingenious design that has worked for millennia.

A white wool staple with tips pointing in different directions.
The processing of Elin’s fleece could go in many different directions.

Eventhough the fibers in my textile would be disassembled and put together again in just one of many fashions, they would still work together. Their novel composition for a two-legged creature would still serve the same purpose: To keep me protected.

Meanwhile, Elin is generously growing a new fleece that shields her and that can be harvested again.

Stay safe and 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.
  • 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.

Weaving bag

Last week I wrote about my adventures with backstrap weaving and the online course in backstrap weaving I have been taking this spring. In this post I present the final assignment in the course – a woven bag.

Weaving a weaving bag

The assignment for the fifth and last module in the course was to weave a bag made of a warp-faced strap and a balance weave cloth to fold into the body and flap of the bag.

A smiling woman wearing a shoulder bag across her torso. The bag is blue and has fringes.
I’m very happy with my finished weaving bag. Dan was equally happy with the evening light. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The yarn I used was a 2-plied worsted yarn from combed tops of a Norwegian crossbred, NKS. I spun the yarn a few years ago and it has been waiting for a project ever since. Before I warped I dyed three skeins of the six I had.

A weaving bag to fit all the necessary weaving equipment.

Strap

Weaving the strap for the weaving bag went well. The yarn was sleek and didn’t stick, only a bit towards the end of the weave. If I had spun this yarn today and with weaving in mind I would probably have spun it with higher twist.

A backstrap loom outdoors. The project is a blue strap.
The strap is warp-faced.

Body

The instructions for the body of the weaving bag was to weave it balanced. I had done this in a previous project, but that was only 10 cm wide. This one was 23 cm wide, the widest I have woven on a backstrap loom. But I was determined to get it right and proper and after having lashed on I was very happy with the set-up.

A Backstrap Loom outdoors. The project is a wide balance weave in three sections – the edges in blue and the middle in white.
A mid section in white by necessity turned out pretty nicely.

Dyed and undyed

As I was calculating the meterage and the warping I quickly realized that I would need more yarn than I had dyed. Given the fact that dyeing is not my best skill, I didn’t dare to dye the three remaining skeins. Chances were that I would end up with a completely different colour.

One could argue that I should have dyed all six skeins at once, which I obviously hadn’t. The reason for this was that the skeins were a bit different and I picked the tree that looked most alike. And had I dyed all six skeins at once they would have been too bulky for the dyeing pot and the dye would have turned out uneven. So my solution was to add an undyed section in the mid third of the body of the bag.

Having the three sections actually helped me keep track of the warp threads and the spacing between them. The job of lashing on all the 99 warp pairs got a bit easier when I thought of them as 3×33 instead.

Heddles

I used my handspun Värmland outercoat yarn for the heddles for the strap. This was part of my contribution to the advanced category in the 2019 Swedish spinning championships.

A skein of yarn. 2-plied in natural white, grey and brown. The yarn is sleek and silky.
2-plied Värmland outercoat for heddles for the strap.

The yarn worked quite well, but there was a little warp fuzz. It could be because I had reused the yarn several times for heddles. I am new at heddle making as well, so I try to analyze and learn every time.

I didn’t have enough of the Värmland heddle yarn for the width of the body of the bag. Instead I used my contribution to the intermediate category of the same championships – a cable spun yarn from Gute lamb. Very strong, round and sleek.

A light grey silky yarn.
Cable-plied Gute lamb’s wool for heddles for the body of the bag.

The cable-plied yarn worked wonderfully as heddle yarn. It was originally spun as a sock yarn – combed, worsted spun, cable plied and with high twist. These properties worked very well for a heddle yarn.

A warp on a backstrap loom.
A long row of Gute heddles for my balanced weave.

I actually like making the heddles! Holding the heddle yarn, making lots heddles of equal size, watching the individual loops add to the long row of heddles, it really sings to me. It is a feeling of empowerment – I can make sticks and loops turn into a working loom together with myself and a tree!

Fringe

I am not a fringe fan on clothing and accessories. It is a bit too late -70’s/early -80’s for me. Remember the T-shirts with beaded sleeve fringe? I was about ten back then and I’m not particularly keen on going back. But weaving all the way to the end of the warp is an advanced and time-consuming technique that I may learn in time.

A woman wearing a woven shoulder bag.
The weaving bag fringe! Photo by Dan Waltin

Meanwhile, I have to choose between hemming and fringing. This project said fringe and so I fringed. I chose to twist my fringe to protect the yarn from wear.

Assembling

The assembling of the weaving bag is quite easy. The strap has a double function as sides of the bag. The body is folded to make out the front, bottom, back and flap.

Seams

I sewed the strap onto the body with a figure-8 seam that worked very well. The technique doesn’t require any seam allowance and is perfect for stitching selvedges together. The seam is sturdy but still discrete.

Close-up of a woven bag. The fabric is seamed together with a subtle seam.
A figure-8 seam to assemble the bag. The technique is simple – sew up through the left piece, over the edge and up through the right piece in a tight figure-8 pattern.

A decorative seam

I am very fascinated by the Andean spinning and weaving culture. To honor the textiles Andean weavers typically spend at least as much time decorating the woven textiles as they do weaving them. I wanted to do this too and decided to add a decorative seam on the bag opening.

This was the part where I had lashed on, the first few rows I wove on the body part or the third selvedge. When I looked at this selvedge it looked wavy and sloppy. I usually tell my students that your mistakes are a map of what you have learned. In this case, my map told me that I hadn’t beaten the first few rows closely enough to the loom bar.

Close-up of the opening of a bag. The edge is decorated with a seam in blue and white yarn.
My first try on a single-row Kumpay stitch to decorate and protect the bag opening.

In my vanity I thought that a decorative seam would cover the sloppiness of the edge, but of course it didn’t. But it is still a pretty seam that also protects the edge of the bag. I chose what I believe is a single-row Kumpay stitch with two colours.

Decadent rose lining

When I planned the project I suspected that the weaving bag would be somewhat sloppy without lining. Lately I have bought lots of small pieces of vintage fabrics from the Swedish e-bay for this very purpose. I seem to have fallen for bold 70’s motifs and, to my own surprise, roses. I do not like rose patterns. It is too Laura Ashley for my taste (back in the -80’s again). But I firmly believe that the hidden innards of a bag should be allowed to be a bit decadent, don’t you?

Sewing the lining with decadent roses.

I chose a study rosy rose fabric in cotton and linen from my e-bayed stash that worked well with the blue in the bag. I added two pockets in the lining – one on the side to fit emergency sticks and one in the center for pencils. There is plenty of room for other necessities like band locks, yarn, a backstrap and a bottle of water.

The inside of a bag. The bag is lined with a rosy woven fabric and contains weaving sticks and other weaving supplies.
The hidden innards of the bag is lined with decadent pink roses.

Before I stitched the lining onto the bag I added a piece of wool needle punch felt at the bottom of the lining to make the bottom of the bag a bit more stable and defined.

Happy beginner

When I started the bag project I felt confident – I knew what to do when and why. I know what parts I need to build the loom and I know how to operate the loom with my body movements. I know how to fix things when they go wrong. This has given me a lot of weaving confidence, in backstrap weaving as well as my rigid heddle loom.

I love being able to build my loom for every new project. I love being part of the loom. It helps me understand what I can do with it and how.

I am definitely an early beginner, but an independent one. After my first few projects I have the knowledge, skills and tools to realize a baby idea and create a textile at my level. I own my weaving.


Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, Peru

Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco is a non-profit organization focusing on the empowerment of weavers through revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. I support these talented textile artists. Please consider supporting them too. In these uncertain times they need financial support more than ever as they depend largely on tourism.

Happy weaving!


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.
  • 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.

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

Backstrap weaving

For a long time I have been fascinated by the rich textural culture of the Andes. The simplicity of the tools together with the complex textiles you can make and the ubiquitous presence and history of textile making all warm my heart. In this post I share my learning process, my thoughts and my woven projects in the online course in backstrap weaving that I’m taking.

Backstrap weaving

Backstrap weaving is an ancient technique where the warp is attached in one end to a weaver and in the other to a solid object like a tree or a post. The weaver builds the loom for every new project.

Close-up of a backstrap loom. Wooden sticks and rods attached between blue warp threads. A hand is pulling a piece of yarn through the shed.
The building of a Backstrap Loom: On the far ends (which you can’t see) are the near and far loom bars. The near loom bar is attached to the backstrap around the weaver’s hips and the far loom bar around a tree or post. The two bars attached together with silicone bands are the rolling bars. These keep the cross in place and helps the weaver find both sheds. The heddle rod holds the heddles that lift the lower threads in the shed. The beater/sword/machete is used to beat the weft. The thin stick at the top with red silicone bands is a dovetail stick. I’m weaving a circular warp and the dovetail stick keeps the beginning and the end of the warp together.

The technique can be used with tablets, a rigid heddle or with string heddles and is still practiced in many parts of the world. In the Andes most backstrap weaving is done warp-faced.

A person weaving on a backstrap loom. In the picture you see the backstrap around the weaver's hips and the loom bar the backstrap is attached to in front of the weaver. Wooden sticks are stored in the side pockets of the weaver's trousers.
The weaver ties her- or himself into the loom between the near loom bar and the backstrap.

Simple and complex

A year ago I started spinning as close as I could to Andean spinning on Peruvian Pushkas. The fleece I started with was around 2 kilos and there is lots left of it. I still spin every night on my Pushkas before I go to sleep. I have many nights left of spinning before I’m out of fleece.

The Andean way of spinning and weaving fascinates me, as is the rich textile history and culture in the Andes. At first I didn’t plan to learn backstrap weaving, but when I saw that there were online courses available I realized that I really needed to learn this beautiful technique. The courses I have found are made and taught by Kimberly Hamill and Laverne Waddington. I chose Kimberly Hamill’s course and I will also try one of Laverne Waddington’s for some extra techniques. I bought a loom from Kimberly Hamill. She also has instructions on how to make your own backstrap loom.

Backstrap weaving with handspun

One important part of learning backstrap weaving was to use my handspun yarns and find out how to spin suitable yarns for weaving in general and backstrap weaving in particular. By trying different yarns I would be able to learn what works and what doesn’t work for a weaving technique where there is a lot of tension and abrasion on the warp threads.

A natural brown woven strap
My first finished project woven with my backstrap loom. I used a handspun 3-ply from a Härjedal/Åsen crossbred. The yarn was quite sticky and I didn’t have the flow I expect I would have had with less sticky yarn.

Earlier this year I had a band weaving period and there I realized how different levels of fuzz influence the weaving process. In weaving with my handspun yarns I could find what level of fuzziness I could tolerate. So learning backstrap weaving will essentially also teach me how to spin for weaving.

Happy heddles

When I got the loom in the mail I found all the things I needed – an array of sticks of different sizes, warping pegs, c-clamps and balls of string for different purposes. One of the balls of strings was truly hideous. And I’m not talking about the bright pink colour, flown in directly from the -80’s. No, I’m talking about the material: Nylon. The reason for the nylon material was that it was smooth and wouldn’t catch the warp yarn which would be good for a beginner like me. I accepted that and used the nylon for my heddles.

A person weaving on a Backstrap Loom. The warp yarn is natural brown. The heddle yarn is bright pink.
My first backstrap weaving project with the hideous nylon heddles.

Equal heddle and warp

Marie Ekstedt Bjersing is a weaving teacher at Sätergläntan center for craft education. She saw pictures of my first weaving project politely asked me if I had chosen the heddle yarn myself. I said no and asked if she had any thoughts about the heddle yarn. She encouraged me to use my own handspun, which I would never have thought of myself. Her advice was to use a 3-plied yarn with long fibers and high twist. The best yarn for the heddles would be slightly thinner than the warp yarn.

Marie also advised me to use the same material for the heddles as for the warp – wool heddles for wool yarn etc. She has a theory about using equal fibers, or at least fibers with equal properties, in heddles and warp. The strongest material will win and with abrasion the weakest will break. She works with floor looms and often the nylon string have made ugly marks in the beams of the looms – the nylon string is stronger than the wood in the beams. But the heddles are far easier to change than the loom beams. A heddle yarn that is thicker than the warp yarn may cause breakage in the warp threads. Warp and heddle yarns with different properties may cause abrasion in one of the yarns. A balance between the warp yarn and the heddle yarn will be an important part of the balance in the whole weaving process.

Thank you Marie for your wise thoughts!

Handspun heddles

Just as I needed to find out for myself what level of fuzziness I could tolerate in the warp, I needed to find out how I could use my handspun yarn for the heddles. So far it is working out and I take mental notes of how the heddles interact with the warp. I have not yet woven with warp or heddle yarn that I have spun specifically for weaving but I will eventually. This is only the beginning.

I’m surprised that I enjoyed the making the heddles as much as I did! Perhaps just because I used my handspun yarn for the heddles. When I build the heddles that control the warp threads I feel like I can do anything.

A backstrap loom hanging in a staircase.
My Backstrap Loom safely and neatly stored under the staircase. Warp, weft and heddles are my handspun yarn. The backstrap is woven on my backstrap loom.

Backstrap weaving a backstrap

While the first project in the course was a plain strap, the second project was all about backstrap weaving a backstrap. I was thrilled with the idea.

Close-up of a tight warp-faced weaving in natural and turquoise flax yarn.
Backstrap weaving with flax yarn. Second backstrap project.

For this project I chose a commercial flax yarn, though. I figured that I would weave outdoors in the summer and I imagined a linen backstrap would be lovely to weave with.

Close-up of a tight warp-faced weaving in natural and turquoise flax yarn. Heddles in flax yarn. The sun shines through the heddles and leaves shadows on the warp.
Weaving a backstrap with my backstrap loom. Warp, weft and heddles in flax yarn from Växbo lin.

You know when you do something quite seldom, and when you do it again you remember why you don’t do it more often? That is the case for me and weaving with flax yarn. I love flax, but as soon as I weave with it I remember why I don’t do it very much. Flax yarn is not forgiving like wool and it takes lots of patience and focus to work with. I had this realization when I had finished warping. But this time it actually worked like a charm! The weave was a bit crooked in the beginning, but after a while I got a really nice and even looking fabric.

A finished backstrap on the ground. The end is braided.

I now love weaving with my backstrap woven linen backstrap. It fits perfectly and I burst with pride everytime I wrap myself in it.

Problems with pebbles

The third project was quite a challenge. We were weaving a band with pebble weave. The technique involves pick-up patterns. The first assignment was to design the pattern, which proved to be surprisingly difficult. After a while I came up with a wavy sort of pattern that I liked.

For this project I definitely chose the wrong handspun yarn. It was too loosely spun and too fuzzy. Several warp threads thinned out and broke. Also, the colours were too close to each other in hue. I actually didn’t finish the project, but it was still a valuable lesson in the most important qualities in a yarn.

Close-up of a person manipulating warp threads on a backstrap loom.
The third project was pebble weaving. Very thin, too loosely spun yarn in colours in hues too close to each other. The fiber comes from a merino/silk commercially combed top I had received as a gift. I spun the yarn on a supported spindle. If you squint you can see a vague wave pattern. Heddle yarn in Värmland outercoat wool.

I will get back to this technique with more suitable yarn and colours.

Balanced weave

While most backstrap weaving, at least in the Andes is done warp-faced, the fourth project was all about balanced weave. It was quite a challenge to find the right tension to weave loose enough.

A backstrap loom with a balanced weave in greens.
Balanced weave on a backstrap loom.

The yarn I chose was not one of my proudest moments. A while ago I received beautiful commercially combed and blended tops as a gift. I am not keen on spinning these. I don’t really know how to and I find neither flow nor mindfulness in the process. But I figured the yarn would be good for something and why not weaving. So I spun them quick and dirty and had myself some weaving yarn.

A green scarf hanging on a clothes line.
The fourth project was dedicated to balanced weave.

The assignment was to weave a scarf, but I did some miscalculation on the amount of warp threads and ended up with a 10 cm wide scarf instead of 20 cm. So I’m not really sure how to use this scarf. But it was still lovely weaving!

A bag to dye for

The final project of the course was to weave a bag with most of the components from previous projects. I had a lovely yarn that would be perfect for the bag, but I didn’t think the natural white would be very suitable for a bag. So I decided to dye it. I am not a very good dyer, but for some reason I did things right this time and ended up with exactly the colour I wanted. It was even even!

A ball of blue yarn on a tree trunk.
My proudest dyeing moment. The yarn is my handspun from a Norwegian whole-year NKS crossbred spun worsted and 2-plied.

I started weaving a warp faced strap for the bag. This was the first time I really felt I had control of all the aspects of the weaving. I knew what to do, but first and foremost I understood why I did it and how I could fix things that went wrong.

Last night I warped and lashed on for the bag part of the bag, which will be in balanced weave. You may see the finished bag in a future blog post.

A weaving sample over a book. A sheep's head on the cover of the book.
I’m doing sett tests for balanced weave on a book.

A bag with a purpose

Most pictures and videos I have seen of backstrap weaving have been with sitting weavers. I like to stand and so I stand when I backstrap weave. While starting out sitting I have realized that I have a better control of the tension when I stand. I also feel that I can get a stronger tension if I need to. The problem with standing, though, arises when I drop things – usually the sword. During this process I have become a master of picking things up with my toes!

At first I didn’t really know what to use the bag for, but when I realized that I would keep my weaving supplies in it when weaving instead of dropping them I could start weaving the bag with a purpose.

Weaving with the trees

The course started in March when it was way too cold to weave outdoors. But at the fifth module it had started to get warm enough to weave outdoors. I almost cried when I attached my loom to a young linden tree in the pale afternoon sun.

A person weaving outdoors on a backstrap loom. The loom is attached at the far end to a tree. An old house in the background.
Outdoor weaving at last.

Standing there, weaving on a loom that I had built myself (although I haven’t made the loom parts) and actually understood, and with warp, weft and heddles that I had spun myself was truly a magic feeling. Last year’s leaves were rustling under my feet and the spring birds were singing. I could feel the wind in my face. The trunk before me felt strong and safe as I worked with it to control the warp between us. We were both essential parts of the loom. I was finally weaving with the trees.

A Backstrap Loom attached to a tree.
I’m finally weaving with the trees.

Happy weaving!


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!

Spinning at work

I always bring some textile craft to work for coffee breaks and meetings. Usually knitting or nalbinding, but lately I have been spinning at work with a suspended spindle. The people around me have very different approaches to my spinning and I enjoy responding to people’s reactions.

Spinning as a safe space

Spinning is a safe space for me. I can spin in my own bubble and at the same time listen to the conversation around me. I need these safe spaces. If we have a coffee break at work and I’m not up to a conversation I can just spin away and take part when I want to and still get new energy. Spinning helps me take in the conversation and place it in a context without getting exhausted. The process of spinning helps me see the bigger picture and find solutions, much like a conversation or (thought process) can be more efficient during a walk, at least in my experience. The process of walking or spinning helps the mind find new paths and a direction of the topic.

Spinning for perception

During department meetings at work I bring my spindle. It helps me focus and take in the information. The combined auditive, visual and sensitive signals give me a better chance of remembering and understanding what is being said. In case the meeting is boring the spindle helps me stay alert. Recently I attended a mandatory training together with a colleague. She said that she was jealous of me who had something to do while listening to the speaker.

A suspended spindle in motion.
I spin at coffee breaks or, like in the picture, on department meetings. Many of my colleagues are softly gazing at the spindle during the meeting.

If I am worried that someone thinks I’m not interested in the meeting I just make sure they notice that I am alert and understand the topic. My boss has commented that I look so calm and at peace when I spin, and she is right.

The watchers

Some colleagues just watch the spindle – the spindle in motion, the rhythm or my hands drafting the fiber. Most of them don’t say anything, but I know they are watching. I also know that my spinning starts something in their minds. Perhaps they enjoy the calming effect of the spindle or think of a foremother who was skilled in a textile technique. Even though nothing is being said I know there is a connection between us, like a diffuse cloud of thoughts merged together into something more palpable, just like the undefined bundle of fiber merges into the twist of the yarn.

A conversation starter

Not often, but sometimes someone asks about my spinning or comments. Perhaps they ask about the breed or comment on the calming effect the spinning has. It usually turns into a lovely conversation about sustainability, the respect for handmade things or the cost for individuals when we buy a cheap T-shirt. These conversations are important for the understanding of something that we too often take for granted. We depend on people making our clothes in shitty conditions, no pay and lots of chemicals. If I can make people around me aware of the time and effort invested in our textiles I have done something good. Perhaps someone decides not to buy that cheap T-shirt next time or buy a more expensive and durable T-shirt that lasts longer and that has been produced in more fair conditions.

A hand holding a suspended spindle in motion in a hair salon.
A while ago I brought my spindle to the hair dresser’s. It started a conversation of the fibers as the hair dresser thought the wool looked a lot like human hair.

A good thing

Whether the people around me just watch, think, comment or ask question I am certain that the reactions are positive. Spinning brings ancient techniques to people’s mind and make them think of times when today’s comfort wasn’t taken for granted. Textile techniques are things of beauty and I believe people respect the skills, art and love that are the foundation of a handmade textile. I am a firm believer that spinning make the world a better and kinder place.

Yarn break

Recently some colleagues from another department started “Yarn breaks” every Monday and Thursday after lunch. We meet at the coffee station and do yarn stuff. Most of the participants knit or crochet at various levels and I spin. We set a timer at 30 minutes and yarn away. These are lovely little pauses. New yarn breakers joins in every week. The more experienced help the newbies and we are all engaged in each other’s projects. The premiere writ warmers were finished, the blueberry hat was given to a new baby and the ripped sleeve got re-knit.

A basket of yarn and open knitting books. A sign invites people to join the yarn breaks.
“Yarn break at noon Mondays and Thursdays. Everybody welcome. Annika treats you to yarn if you want to try.”

Spinning at work: A project

The wool I have been spinning these last few weeks at work is the outercoat of a multicolour Härjedal/Åsen crossbred that I have been writing about in previous posts. To make out the most of the colours I have divided the fleece into colour piles and spun each colour separately. I ended up with five colours of the outercoat.

I have thoroughly enjoyed spinning this wool. Since I have been processing the wool colour by colour it has never seemed like a mountain of wool to spin. Instead I have had a maximum of six combed tops at a time to spin. This way it has felt doable to spin everything on a suspended spindle.

A basket of wool staples, hand-carded rolags and hand-combed tops.
I prep the wool at home and bring to my spinning breaks at work.

I’m spinning this wool into a true worsted yarn intended as a warp yarn. Since it is outercoat only and combed it is freakishly strong even as singles. My plan for the yarn is to weave a bag of some sort. I intend to spin some shiny Klövsjö outercoat as well and dye it into a warm blue colour that hopefully will team up nicely with the browns.

Four skeins of yarn in shades of brown and a spindle with brown yarn.
Five shades of the Härjedal/Åsen lamb Chanel’s outer coat. Spinning at work pays off!

Do you spin at work?

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!

Curtain

I don’t like curtains in our home just for the sake of curtains. They need a purpose – to keep light out or for privacy. My husband suggested we get a curtain for the front door, to keep the draft out. That is definitely a purpose and I agreed. I suggested I would weave it.

This is part four of a stashbuster series. The first post was about Rya knots, the second about weaving bands and in the third I made a blanket out of pin loom squares.

A loosely woven fabric in natural white with dark grey stripes.
A loosely woven fabric in natural white and dark grey wool singles and commercial flax.

Weaving

When I came up with the idea to weave Dan’s draft curtain I saw before me a loosely woven fabric that would be a perfect curtain. “Is a loose weave really the perfect draft stopper?” you say. Hold your horses, I’ll get back to that in a bit, all things in due time.

Bulky singles and sleek flax

I love spinning bulky, low twist singles on my Navajo spindle. I use them as weft in weaving projects. If you are in Sweden you can take a two-day course in Navajo spindle spinning in March!

Through the years I have spun quite a lot of bulky singles on my Navajo spindle and I haven’t used all the skeins that I have spun. When I took inventory in my bursting stash I found quite a lot of skeins of bulky singles in natural white and dark grey.

Close-up of natural white skeins of bulky singles.
Bulky singles from my stash for the weft.

I decided to use them in the curtain, there were more than enough skeins for a curtain. I also had a whole cone of commercial flax yarn that would be perfect as warp – strong, sleek and with that shine only flax can give you.

Double width – double the fun?

My loom is only 60 cm wide so I warped for a double width weave. I know from previous experience that flax yarn is a challenge to weave with and that proved to be accurate in this project as well.

Close-up of a weave in a loom. Natural white and dark grey stripes of wool yarn with flax warp.
Double layered curtain weave.

The double weave in combination with the loose fabric gave me an extra challenge. The top layer stayed reasonably taut while the bottom layer sagged and fussed. Trying to pass the shuttle through the bottom shed was a fight every time and really tough on my eyes, trying to identify the home of each warp thread. I was afraid that the left and right sides of the curtain would look different, but I kept weaving. I was really quite frustrated at times.

A woman cutting a warp.
The cutting down of the curtain warp will reveal all the secret of the fold and the second layer of the double width.

That is the beauty of weaving with handspun, though – so many things can go wrong and I can’t allow myself to give up. So much love, skill and time have been invested in the project and I just have to finish it. If there are problems along the way I need to fix them. End of story.

Cut

When I cut down the warp the weave actually looked good! It was a bit loose in the fold, but better too loose than too tight, right? A wave of joy rushed through me when I realized that I could actually make something with this cloth.

A person unfolding a cut-down warp.
The curtain weave was a bit loose in the fold but looked otherwise surprisingly good.

Sewing

Since the fabric was so loosely woven there was no way I would be able to sew the curtain on a sewing machine. Instead I settled down with waxed flax thread and started hand stitching.

The first thing I did was to secure the raw edges with a simple whip stitch so that the ends wouldn’t fray. When they were all secured I stitched hems on both ends after having soaked the cloth.

Loops

A curtain hanging on a forged rod with loops made of a woven band.
A hand woven band of Shetland wool for curtain loops. You can see a second curtain behind my woven curtain.

At first I had planned to make a channel for the curtain rod to go through, but as I was having my band weaving frenzy I realized I could make loops of the band to hang the curtain in. It probably has a fancy curtain name that I don’t even know in Swedish. Anyway, I cut half of the band in six peaces, whip stitched the edges and backstitched them onto the upper hem. I saved the other half of the band for a simple tieback.

A hand forged curtain rod and rod holder. An edge of a curtain hangs in loops from the rod.
A simple hand forged curtain rod and rod holder.

The curtain was finished. But at the same time it didn’t feel finished. There was something missing. It was loose and transparent and didn’t look curtainy enough. I remembered that we had an undyed linen sheet in the cloth stash. It had got a rip and we saved it to use for mending. Perhaps I could make a background curtain to give the whole assembly a more curtainy look?

A parachute accident

I found the sheet. As I unfolded it I tried to remember where the rip had been and hoped that it wouldn’t be a problem for my project. After all, a sheet is a lot larger than a front door, and the rip might be placed outside of my measurement needs. This thought lasted for a millisecond.

When the sheet was fully unfolded I saw it.

A circular hole, the size of a human head.

Larger than a human head.

In the middle of the sheet.

One of my darling little raspberry pies had had a parachute period a few years ago – he made parachutes for his toy figures and threw them up in the air to let them quietly fall down. My sweet little crafter. While I am proud that he instinctively started to make a parachute himself instead of asking for a store-bought parachute, I clearly remember having taught him how to cut fabric long before the parachute accident. In the middle of the sheet! When I muttered about fabric cutting etiquette my now almost seventeen-year-old said that the chance to blame anyone had expired a long time ago and that he didn’t have any guilt in it anymore. He was probably right. But still. A hole.

A picture of the hole would have been appropriate here. But the wound is too fresh.

Mending

I really wanted to make this curtain with stashed, up-cycled and reused materials only. So I had to find a way to fill the parachute hole instead of buying a new back curtain material. My initial idea was to take the leftover sheet cloth and make a visible mending with embroidery around the join. This seemed like a big project, though, so I decided to procrastinate for a while.

After a while I remembered that I had bought some lace ribbon at a flea market last summer. What if I could make a join with the lace? That would mend the hole and make a pretty detail on the back curtain.

A linen curtain with a lace inlay
A lace mended parachute accident.

I hand-stitched the raw edges of the sheet, hemmed it and added the lace where the parachute section had been. This really made the sheet turn into a real curtain instead of just an emergency solution. The back curtain looked lovely. I sewed snap fasteners on the front and back curtains so that I could detach them for washing.

I also went through the curtain and evened out any uneven shuttlings with a tapestry needle. The fold looks a lot better and hardly shows at all.

The last thing I added was curtain weights in the bottom hems of both curtains. This was the only item I bought. That and the curtain rod. It is hand forged locally, though and quite sustainably produced.

A real curtain

A finished handwoven curtain from spindle spun weft and commercial flax warp. Handwoven bands for rod loops and tieback and a back curtain made of a recycled linen sheet and a vintage lace ribbon.
A finished handwoven curtain from spindle spun weft and commercial flax warp. Handspun, handwoven bands for rod loops and tieback and a back curtain made of a recycled linen sheet and a vintage lace ribbon. All seams are hand sewn.

I wanted the simplicity of the loosely spun wool with the shine of the flax. The loose weave shows off the wool and gives the weave an impression of being both bulky and delicate at the same time. The loosely spun singles with the loose weave gives the curtain an almost raw look.

A curtain hanging in front of an open door.
The finished curtain keeps the draft out (especially if you close the door).

Together with the back curtain and the weights in the bottom hems the whole assembly has a lovely drape. It even looks pretty and finished from the back.

A linen sheet curtain tied back with a woven band.
The back of the curtain with the linen sheet.

I am so happy with the result. It turned out better than I had imagined and it feels very grown up.

A linen curtain with a lace ribbon join.
Billowing lace that is just the right amount of not too lacey.

A slow curtain

This curtain took time to make and assemble. The slowness of the weaving and hand stitching gave me time to think and make decisions that I wouldn’t have made had it been a faster process. I have said it before and I certainly say it now: Slow is a superpower that allows us to think and make grounded decisions.

A tied-back curtain.
A slow curtain made by hand and heart.

Every time I walk through the door my heart sings when I pass the curtain. So much love, care and creativity was put into this project. The fact that I managed to turn it into something that we use every day makes it even more precious.

Happy spinning!


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