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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I bought 800 g of fleece and ended up with a total of about 440 g of yarn.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Three pillows left in the couch to transform. I’m thinking twill!
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.
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.
Tumble-drying was a real bore.
And finally I decided it was done and I took out a warm and fuzzy blanket!
On the Swedish wool championships of 2016 I managed to win the auction of one of the silver medal fleeces, a Dalapäls fleece from Solaengel’s lamb Blanka. I asked a bit about how to best prepare it and I ended up dividing the fleece into two categories – one for the longer staples with undercoat softness and overcoat lengths and one for a bit shorter staples. I spun the first category straight from the staple on a supported spindle into a strong 2-ply yarn. The second category I carded and spun as a soft, thick singles yarn on my Navajo spindle. I envisioned a woven pillowcase with the strong 2-ply as warp and the soft and thick singles as the weft.
I dyed the warp into a blueish green and the weft a bit lighter. After dying, I warped my rigid heddle loom double with closed selvedges. When I warped, I noticed that the yarn had started to felt in the dyeing process and was very clingy. And that clinginess continued all through the weaving. Beating was a struggle, for every change of sheds and rolling back of the weave I had to manually separate each warp thread. Lots of warp threads snapped (as did I) and as I got closer to the end of the warp, the twin thread of the broken threads also got loose.
I did finish the pillowcase and I spent over 2 hours weaving in broken warp threads. I added a zipper and was unreasonably proud of my very own Blanka pillowcase.
All of these problems might make a person give up and throw the whole project away. Had it been a knitting project I might have frogged it. But I had felt every fiber of this yarn in my hands and I knew the yarn by heart and I never thought of giving up. I just needed to find solutions to the bigger problems and have patience with the smaller ones. And I have learned so much from this project. I am a new weaver and learning by doing has been the headlines all through my new weaving career. And for every fault I see I know how that fault came about and what I learned from it. And I bring this knowledge into the next project.
When I dyed for this project I had some Shetland in the dye as well and I will make another pillowcase (a non-Blanka pillowcase). The yarn is sleeker and hopefully the weaving will be easier.
I have spun lots of different kinds of yarns in various techniques of preparing, spinning and finishing. I have realized that there are some yarns I don’t really know what to do with since they are not really suited for knitting. Also it’s the other way around – there are some spinning techniques I haven’t bothered practicing since they aren’t very knittable. And so, I have played with the thought of learning how to weave.
I have never known how to weave. And looking at it, I didn’t think it looked that interesting. Lots of calculating and just a flat surface. And I have never been a fan of home textiles.
But I love crafting challenges and two years ago I decided to join the local weaver’s guild and learn the basics of weaving. The guild, or vävstuga (“weaving cabin”, where locals come and weave) is a fantastic place with six floor looms, of which five were purchased by the apartment association. The rent is also paid by the apartment association and all you pay as a member is an annual fee of 5€ plus the material cost for items you weave and keep. All of the members in the guild are women and most of them way beyond 70. Which means that they weave in the daytime and have lots of time to weave. I participated in warping for place mats and started weaving a towel and loved it, but i got really stressed when I knew there was a line of weavers behind me and I had a two week weaving window before it was the next weaver’s turn.
I wanted to weave my own stuff. These ladies are really skilled and glad to share their knowledge, but the system didn’t suit me. So I bought my own loom, a rigid heddle loom. And it was a very good decision. I get to weave what I like, I do the patterns and designs myself and I can use my own handspun yarns. I warp on the balcony when the weather allows it, otherwise I head down to the guild and warp there, always meeting the lovely and helpful weaving guild members.
The rigid heddle loom suits me very well. I can only weave in tabby, but it still gets me far and it allows me to learn more at my own beginner’s level before I take any further steps. I know there is a way to weave twill too and I will explore that further on. I’m thinking a birthday scarf for x.
Now, after almost two years of weaving I just love it, even the calculating and warping parts. I can’t stop feeling the weave. The structure of my own handspun, my warp and weft looking so professional in the loom.
There is a satisfaction in making my own design, counting and recounting until the yarn required matches the amount of yarn I have spun. Someone said that having a limitation of some kind helps creativity. If I have only a certain amount of yarn spun from one fleece, there is no more yarn. I have to adapt my pattern to the circumstances and I learn so much from that. I can play with different textures and techniques in warp and weft and I get to expand my spinning repertoire and play with new ideas. Just as I wanted to.
I always feel a little sad and empty when finishing a weave. We have been together for so long. It feels like yesterday I struggled with warping. I have learnt the best way to weave this particular weave. I have felt the structure in my hands, I know all the mistakes and alterations. I have loved the process, I have ground my teeth, held my breath and floated away in meditation. I have imagined the finished item. But when I finally get there the feeling is mixed. With one simple cut it’s all gone. The stretched warp with its geometrical lines is no more, just a limp cloth. The loom is all naked and empty. All that is left are the cut-down warp ends, too short to use.
But a new phase has started. The finishing of a brand new piece of fabric, dying to look its best. And in my mind I have already started warping for my next weave.