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!

The Blanka pillowcase

Close-up of a weave on a rigid heddle loom.
Weaving the Blanka pillowcase

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.

A hand woven 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.

A hand woven pillowcase. Lake in the background.

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.

Close-up of a hand woven pillow case

Until then, I will cuddle with my pretty pillow.

A hand woven pillowcase in the fern

About weaving

A rigid heddle loom warp
Warping for the Bedtime shawl

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.

Cutting the warp

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.

A hand cutting the warp of a rigid heddle loom with sheep shearers
Cutting the warp. Yarn is my handspun Shetland wool.

The bedtime shawl

An arm holding up a sheer woven shawl in natural colours.
The bedtime shawl

When I started practising supported spinning, I was using what was left of three fleeces of beautiful alpaca I had bought from  Österlen alpacka a few years ago. I was spinning in bed just before I went to sleep. It was calming, like meditation and I cherished those bedtime spinning moments. I was spinning to learn, so I didn’t have a project planned for the yarn, but after a while I envisioned a sheer woven shawl. A bit like those fancy wide cashmere shawls. My mother-in-law was going through chemo at the time and she is always cold so I wanted to make it for her.

A support spindle full of yarn.
Singles from the baby alpaca Miracle

After about six months of bedtime spinning I started weaving on my rigid heddle loom. And it was hell. I am a new weaver and I am advising all weavers, regardless of experience, never to weave in alpaca. It’s a very slippery fiber. And especially prone to breaking with a super thin singles weft. Or perhaps the advise is not to weave with a super thin singles weft.

A rigid heddle loom warped with thin yarn
At the beginning of the alpaca hell

But I did learn a lot along the way. And that’s the beauty of creating, isn’t it? For every mistake you make you learn something new to add to your experience bank and bring into future projects. And at the end of the warp it turned out beautifully, smooth as silk.

A sheer woven shawl folded over a park bench
The finished alpaca shawl