Save the thrums!

A skein of dark grey yarn with knots on it

I have participated in another competition. It is the same as I participated in at a wool fair last year. The competition is called ‘Spin your prettiest yarn’ and the challenge is to spin any kind of yarn from Swedish wool, and ad something recycled. Last year I came in second with my pigtail yarn The sheep, the chicken, the pig and the lion, where the recycled material was chicken feathers. In the 2018 competition, I want to save the thrums. I didn’t win anything, but I had a great time spinning the yarn.

Save the thrums!

In this year’s competition my recycled material is weaving thrums. At least I think that’s what they are called. I’m talking about the last piece of the warp when you cut the weave off the loom. When you cut, there are warp threads left tied to the warp beam that are too short to do anything with. They have a special name in Swedish – effsingar, also meaning something that is cut off (I’ve never heard it being used that way, though). When I have finished a weave on my rigid heddle loom and cut it off, the thrums are about 40 cm long. My heart cries when I cut these handspun pieces of magic off and just leave them (I have never been able to throw them away). But for this project, they will bring some bling to my prettiest yarn.

Making the yarn

I used a beautiful grey fleece of a finewool/rya mix that I had combed. I spun the yarn on a supported spindle and chain plied it in sections, a method called ply on the fly. But before I let the twist into the loop, I inserted  a two inch piece of thrum in the loop. The thrums came from my first and second pillow cases and a blanket.

Plying on the fly on a supported spindle is a focus-demanding business. I actually feel a bit like a spider, handling the spindle, three strands of yarn and the butterflied yarn supply. Ad to that a gazillion 2-inch pieces of thrums to fiddle into the loop of the chain ply and you may agree with me.

Close-up of a person plying on a supported spindle.
Plying on the fly takes focus.

The yarn had to weigh at least 50 grams, so I had to spin 50 grams on one single spindle. It worked, but it was quite tough the last 10 grams.

A spindle full of dark grey yarn.
50 g of yarn on a 23 g spindle (Malcolm Fielding).

After I had finished the spinning, I made a simple knot on each thrum. At this stage, a lot of them wiggled their way out of the loop. I started making knots  at the tie end of the skein and followed the yarn all the way through the skein. I came up with this method after I had shot the clip for the video. Since I had basically the same loop length on every loop, I could easily find where a thrum was missing this way. The knots were a bit slippery since the thrums were naturally warp-straight.

After washing the yarn the knots were a bit more friendly towards their destiny as knots and stayed where I had put them.

A skein of dark grey yarn. It has little coloured knots on it and blue flowers.
A finished yarn with saved thrums

FYI: Strong fibers spun and plied on the fly can generate a mean paper cut.

A knitted swatch of dark grey yarn with coloured knots in it.
Save the thrums swatch.

Happy spinning!

Waiting for spring

Josefin Waltin knitting outdoors

I long

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

So I do what I can.

I make

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I plan

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

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

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

Happy spinning!


Do you like what I do? Then head over to my Patreon page and become a patron. If you become a patron I have lots of exclusive material in store for you. If you don’t I will still continue with the blog and make videos, just as I have before.

Spinning direction part 3: Historical spinning direction

An archaeological textile find

So far in the series of spinning direction we have looked at the hand movements and the physiology of spindle spinning. We have also looked at the results of a spinning poll. In this post, we will look back in time at how spun yarn has been used in textiles historically to find a clue to spinning habits today.

Archaeological finds

When it comes to archaeological finds of spinning there are tons of metal, clay or stone spindle whorls to look at. But when it comes to organic materials like wood  and textile fibers, most of them have disintegrated through time. But there are still some finds. With a quick Google search, it seems like most textile finds before medieval times were woven with a z/clockwise spun warp and weft. From the medievals most finds were woven with clockwise warp and counter-clockwise weft (sources here and here). In some of the sources there are also a connection between handedness and spinning direction (here and here). This is also confirmed by Maria Neijman, craft consultant in Stockholm and co-founder of Historical textiles.

A closeup of an archaeological textile find.
An archaeological textile find from Uppsala, Sweden around 1300–1490. The find can be seen at the Swedish history museum. Photo by Maria Neijman.

Looking at a textile find

Looking a bit closer at the featured photo (by Maria Neijman), we see that it is a twill weave with a z-spun warp and s-spun weft. The warp is quite tightly spun, with an angle at about 60–70°. The weft is looser, around 40–50°. The weft is also more unevenly spun with both thick and thin spots. For the weave to hold in the loom, the warp needs to be strong. The weft, on the other hand, can be more loosely spun.

What can we derive from the textile history?

If spinning direction in the medievals has a connection to handedness, can it be the case that spinners (of whom around 80–90 % were and are righthanded) have spun most of the yarn clockwise (pulling) because it was more ergonomic for the spinner? The quality of the weft is not as important as the warp when it comes to strength. Is it possible that the counter-clockwise spun weft was looser and more unevenly spun because it was less natural for the righthanded spinner to spin counter-clockwise (pushing)?

What about the lefties?

I am a leftie, and I know that many lefties have had to do things awkwardly. In the crafts lessons at school I wasn’t taught how to crochet since the teacher didn’t know how to teach me. Many leftie friends have had the same experience. With this background, one side of me is a bit annoyed at this biased righthanded history of spinning. But another, much bigger side of me is fascinated at how much we can learn about spinning from looking at textile finds. I am also grateful that I know more now about possible reasons for my spinning cramp and the fact that I can change hands or spinning directions.

Is this true?

We do not know if any of this is true, we can only make more or less qualified guesswork. But somehow it seems logical, and it gives me a peace of mind to know that it may be true. Most commercial yarns today are z-spun and s-plied. Can this be a remnant from the spinning habits of medieval spindle spinners? This thought is thrilling and gives me goosebumps.

This was the last post in this first blog post series. I hope you have enjoyed it!

Clara Sherman Navajo spinning

Clara Sherman spinning on a Navajo spindle

Since I’m not making any new videos this time of year, I thought I’d invite you to see other videos that I like, that feature spinners and spinning techniques around the globe.

First up is a video I’m sure many of you have seen already, but it is so beautiful and inspirational when it comes to Navajo spindle spinning. I am talking about Clara Sherman and her wonderful treatment of spindle, wool and spinning. The way she trusts her body to feel when the twist is just right is so liberating. But not only does she trust her body to feel how the wool wants to be spun, she can also verbalize it and explain it to the viewer. That’s skill and knowledge on a deep level. She has a true respect for the wool and animates it when she talks about the wool crying.

The video features all the parts of the process from sheep to the finished rug, and it emphasizes the importance of thoughtful and thorough preparation to make a high quality all the way to the end product.

Clara Sherman died a few years ago, at the age of 96. I’m so happy that someone filmed her and made some of her talent available on YouTube so that  we have the opportunity to learn from her.

I have a new toy – the pin loom

a small loom and lots of finished woven squares

Spinning and fiber work are material sports, there is no point in denying it.

A couple of days ago, I came across an Interweave post on pin loom weaving for hand spinners. At the same time I had a stash cleaning since my handspun storage was bursting. And I realized that the pin loom would solve my problem.

How to weave on a pin loom

A pin loom is a small 10×10 cm loom that only needs a short piece of yarn for one square. The first three passes are just threaded between the pins – vertical, horizontal and vertical again – and on the fourth you weave horizontally with a long needle. You weave in the ends and the square is finished in under 20 minutes. Since all the squares are made in the same way it is easy to sew them together in the selvedges.

Weaving with my handspans

I bought a Zoom loom from Schacht. The technique is really addictive. I like how different yarns behave in different ways on the loom (and off). I spin a lot of yarn, and there is often a small ball of yarn left when I have finished a project. And I can’t throw away these odd balls, no matter how small they are. I have a hard time throwing away even short lengths that I cut off from weaving in ends. I even save the last piece that is left of the warp after cutting it (effsingar is the Swedish word, is there a name for it in English?). There is so much time and love put into these short peaces of yarn and I can’t just ignore that.

An odyssey of my spinning history

When I weave these scraps of yarn it is like an odyssey of all my previous handspun yarns – I get to see and feel them all over again and they bring back memories of projects past. I can also see the development in my own spinning from the uneven, loosely spun yarns in the beginning six years ago to the more consistent ones I make today.

Planned project

My plan is to do what the author Deborah Held suggests in the Interweave post: I will make squares of all my small balls of leftover handspun yarns, sew them together, felt and make a blanket of perhaps 15 x 20 squares. I have got a lot of handspun leftovers in my stash so I think it is a realistic idea. And so far it looks like the colours will go well together.

A small loom and lots of woven squares
Pin looming my little heart out. The yarn on the loom is a z-spun yarn I made in 2012, way too loosely spun, used for a pair of twined knitted mittens I use almost daily

Engla – a fleece of many uses

Last autumn, when I made a video at Överjärva gård, I happened to buy another fleece. I didn’t mean to, but I saw it in the wool shop and I immediately realized that it needed me. It was half a fleece from the Swedish finewool sheep Engla.

A raw fleece of crimpy finewool
Engla, a newly shorn fleece

When I sorted the fleece, I decided to divide it into different piles according to the quality of the wool. I ended up with three piles – the very short and fine (neck) staples, the medium length staples and the longer staples.

White crimpy wool on the left, carded rolags on the right
The shortest staples were carded

The fleece was a joy to work with – it was clean, easy to sort, wonderful to comb and card and dreamy to spin. I do love Swedish finewool. I can honestly say it has been one of my very favourite fleeces.

Hand holding up a staple of crimpy wool. Boxes of wool to the left.
Medium staples with lots of crimp

I bought 800 g of fleece and ended up with a total of about 440 g of yarn.

Hands holding up long and crimpy wool. Boxes of wool in the background.
The longest staples were combed

So, I carded the fine neck staples and spun them with long draw on a supported spindle and made a 3-ply yarn out of the singles and I was very happy with the result. A light, airy and even yarn with lots of bounce. I also made a video about the plying.

A skein of handspun white yarn in backlight.
3-ply yarn carded and spun with long draw on a supported spindle. 57 g, 203 m, 3581 m/kg

I carded the medium staples as well and spun them with long draw on a Navajo spindle. One of the yarns I made was a prize winner – The sheep, the chicken, the pig and the lion. I also spun several skeins of singles on a Navajo spindle.

Closeup of skeins of yarn in backlight
Thick singles spun with long draw on a Navajo spindle, and will probably be used as weft yarn. 434 m, 212 g with an average of 2000 m/kg.

I combed the longest staples and spun them with short draw on a supported spindle. I experimented with chain-plying “on the fly” and made two videos about it, a detailed video about how to ply-on-the-fly on a supported spindle and another one where I show how I start from an empty spindle with the ply-on-the-fly method.

A skein of handspun white yarn in a clog
Medium length staples combed and plied on the fly on a supported spindle.

I feel very fortunate as a hand spinner to be able to sort my fleeces to make different kinds of yarns, whether it is according to colour, structure or length. It can result in really unique yarns. And I learn so much from it.

Slow fashion 2 and Outlander

Slow fashion connection to the Outlander series

I recently published my new video, Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl. There is another aspect of this video as well. I saw the Starz TV-series (on Viaplay in Sweden) and read the book series Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and loved them. The short version is: A combat nurse in post-ww2 Scotland is on her second honeymoon with her husband, when she happens to walk through time in a circle of stones to 1743. The long version is 9000 pages so far (and worth every page!).

Series plot

The mid-18th century was before spinning mills as far as I know. Which would mean that every garment in this time was made from yarn that someone had spun by hand. If not, people would not be clothed at all. I don’t think every household had enough space and money to have their own spinning wheel or buy fabric from someone else, a lot of it was probably spun on a spindle, at least in more remote areas as the Highlands. Just the thought of all the work, skill and effort behind one single great kilt or dress makes me speechless.

Textile crafts in the series

There are a few places in Diana Gabaldon’s books that cover spinning, weaving  and dying, which all warmed my heart. Below is also a metaphorical description of the relationship between brother and sister Jamie and Jenny:

“Their shared childhood linked them forever, like the warp and the weft of a single fabric, but the patterns of their weave had been loosened, by absence and suspicion, then by marriage. Ian’s thread had been present in their weaving since the beginning, mine was a new one. How would the tensions pull in this new pattern, one thread against another?” From chapter 27 in Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

In the TV-series, costume designer Terry Dresbach has been extremely true to the time in creating all the amazing costumes. As a lover of all things woolen, I especially loved the parts in Scotland.

A person running with a plaid shawl behind her

My outlander inspired shawl

In the TV-series the heroine Claire is  wearing a plaid shawls when she goes through the stones. She leaves the shawl on the ground beneath the center stone in the 18th century. Later, she comes back to the stones and the shawl is still on the ground, all wrinkled, weathered and forgotten. I wanted to make a similar shawl, from scratch. I spun yarn and wove a plaid shawl in natural colours (I didn’t want to dive into the process of 18th century plant dying in Scotland). The tools I’m using are from my century, but the same kinds of tools were probably used in the 18th century.

Hobby vs real life necessity

This is a dear hobby to me, but during the whole process I kept thinking that this was real life back then and skills that people needed to feed and clothe themselves to stay alive. So in that aspect, it was not slow fashion at all. It was a necessary part of life.

In the video, there are a few parts where I’m flirting with the Outlander theme. If you are familiar with Outlander you will recognize them.

Plaid shawl hanging on washlline, old red house in background
The finished shawl. Photo by Dan Waltin

Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl

Here it is, finally. My second bigger video project Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl.

Slow fashion and the value of a craft

I wanted to make another video on the slow fashion theme. Also, I wanted to show some other aspects of crafting. I have seen people sell handmade items for basically the cost of the material, which is such a shame. There is so much talent, time, effort and experience behind a handmade item. People don’t give it a second thought in a society where we expect to have stuff and we are in turn expected to buy more stuff (that has preferably been shipped three times around the globe). Giant store buildings are popping up like mushrooms because we don’t have any space left for all our stuff. This video is about the value of good craftmanship and all the time, tradition, skill and effort that lie behind it.

Josefin Waltin sitting outside by the spinning wheel. There are garden chairs around her with smartphones attached to them for filming.
In the studio, with garden chairs as camera stands. Photo by Dan Waltin

For the love of spinning

The video is also about the love of spinning. I try to capture the way spinning gives me that meditative feeling, how the motions and the touch of the fibers gives me serenity and a sense of weightlessness.

The leading fleeces

The fiber in the shawl is from two natural colour Shetland fleeces. The warp was spun worsted on a spinning wheel from hand-combed tops and 2-plied. The weft was spun woolen on a Navajo spindle from hand-carded rolags into a singles yarn. The shawl was woven on a 60 cm rigid heddle loom on double width.

Josefin Waltin standing in field with plaid shawl over her arm, sheep in the background.
The finished shawl. Photo by Dan Waltin

For tools and designers, see this post. For a connection to Outlander, look here.

The non-Blanka pillowcase

The non-Blanka pillowcase

A while ago I finished my first pillowcase, Blanka. It was a real struggle with felting warp and broken threads. I managed to finish it though, and now it has its place in our couch. When I dyed the yarn, I also dyed some Shetland that I had spun in basically the same way – 2-ply worsted spun from hand-combed tops and singles woolen spun on a Navajo spindle from carded rolags.

I was curious to see if this weave would be less of a struggle than the first one. The difference was remarkable. It was a joy to weave. First of all, I had a couple of projects with double weaving in my experience bank and second of all, it was a much more cooperative yarn.

Non-Blanka and Blanka pillowcases together

Every project has its own story, so has this one. In July, my family and I were preparing for a trip to Austria. I had packed all my necessary knitting and spinning projects. On the morning of our departure, I got a text saying that the flight had been cancelled due to a tornado at Vienna airport. We managed to book a flight 36 hours later. So, suddenly we had lots of time to kill. I chose to spend that time warping my loom for the non-Blanka pillowcase! I started, but towards the end I realized that there wasn’t enough green warp yarn. Well, there was some more, but in another project, that was packed in my suitcase. So I decided to use a light warp thread for the last 5 cm. It looked nice and it was also a reminder of the extra day we had at home before we left for Austria.

When we got home from Austria I had finished the project that had the missing green warp yarn and I decided to use it in the pillowcase as a weft yarn to match the first odd stripe. And I like the result!

Non-Blanka and Blanka pillowcases, like two peas in a pod.

Three pillows left in the couch to transform. I’m thinking twill!

Woven blanket

 

A woven wool blanket draped over a park bench.
A finished blanket

Another project is finally finished. I started spinning this yarn over a year ago, but spinning for a blanket takes time!

The fleece is from a Swedish finull/Rya crossbred from Åsebol sheep farm (white, light blue and blue stripes). The yarn was spun on a spinning wheel from hand-carded rolags with long draw and then 3-plied. The dark stripe is from a Shetland flecket fleece from Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers, spun woolen from the fold and 3-plied.

Handspun yarn in backlight

Since I only have a 60 cm rigid heddle loom, I can’t weave one-piece blanket, but my friend Kristin came up with the brilliant idea to weave strips and sew together and then tumble-dry. She has made several blankets this way on her 40 cm rigid heddle loom. So I wanted to make one too. Wrapping myself in a cozy blanket from sheep I meet every summer will bring up sweet summer memories in the cold winter.

The strips have been stowed away for several months now, but today I unwrapped them and started sewing on the living room floor.

Four strips make a blanket.

Tumble-drying was a real bore.

Round and round it goes

And finally I decided it was done and I took out a warm and fuzzy blanket!

A blanket is born!