Learning Andean spinning

A woman walking on a country road while spinning

I have a new video for you today where I’m learning Andean spinning. While I do spin on an Andean Pushka in the video I wouldn’t say the video is about Andean spinning. Rather, it is about coming closer to understand the many dimensions of spinning. If you want to learn more about Andean spinning I have linked to lots of resources at the end of this blog post.

Spinning as a way of living

For many people of the Andes, spinning is a way of life. For me it is a hobby. But it is also more than that. I need to spin. My hands need to feel the structure of the wool and the motion of the spindle. My mind needs the moments of peace and tranquility spinning brings me.

The textile tradition of the Andes is long and strong. Techniques and tools have been handed down in an outdoor life for centuries and are still practiced in the open and on the move. Hands are never idle, spindles are always in motion in caring and experienced hands. I am very humbled by a community where textile arts is such a big part of people’s history, traditions and everyday life. In my part of the world textiles are pretty much seen seen as disposable products, often made far away in poor quality by people who work for less than minimun wages in lousy conditions. But in a textile community the textiles and textile crafts are respected and cherished.

Abby Franquemont has spent a lot of her childhood in the Andes, living in a textile community. She has recently moved there and runs a retreat in the area. Right now, this very second, it dawned on me what the title of her bestselling book Respect the spindle is really about.

I am new to Andean spinning. I have practiced for only a few months. During that time I have learned a bit about the technique. More importantly, I have learned a lot about spinning as a craft and art form. I feel the presence of the talented people who have spun before me. I am grateful for their gifts and that there is still so much to learn.

Crafting needs

Many crafts have been lost or forgotten after the industrial revolution. Why make when you can buy, right? The need to craft decreased. But I think in today’s society we need to craft more than ever, but for different reasons. To me, crafting gives me a deeper sense of presence, a feeling that is much needed in a world where we are flooded by information. I need to spin to find balance and to sort out what’s important to me. I think most of you understand what I mean when I speak of the crafting bubble – when you craft and forget time and space and are just in the moment.

Learning Andean spinning

A skein of white handspun yarn
A finished skein of light fingering weight yarn, hand teased and spun on a Pushka spindle 47 g, 124 m, 2629 m/kg

I have written down some basics of how I understand Andean spinning. I am very new to this I’m still learning Andean spinning. There are so many people who are living this technique and who know this so much better than me. Go to them if you want to learn more about Andean spinning.

Preparation

A woman standing by a field, teasing wool.
Teasing the wool by hand gives me a deeper understanding of the wool.

Spinners of the Andes don’t use any tools to prepare the wool. Instead they tease the wool by hand, usually alpaca or sheep’s wool. I use a Norwegian crossbred. Different fiber types will naturally be different to tease.

The chunk of fleece I teased for the teasing clip took around 35 minutes to prepare. This may seem like a very time consuming activity. And yes, you could argue that. But to me it is also an opportunity to get to know the fiber. When it goes through my hands again and again I get to know its structure, how it drafts and how it behaves. My hands store the information and use it in upcoming steps of the process. No time spent with the fiber or spindle is time wasted.

The spindle and the spinning

A woman spinning on a bottom-whorl spindle
The Pushka is a simple tool consisting of a carved stick and a turned balsa whorl

To go from shorn fleece to a finished skein the Andean way you only need one tool: A Pushka. The Pushka is a simple and lightweight spindle with a straight hand-carved stick and a turned balsa whorl. This tool is easy to bring when you are out and about.

The Pushka has no hook, groove or notch. Two to three half-hitches secure the yarn onto the shaft. You can use the spindle suspended, supported or grasped, depending on the context.

Transferring and skeining

Close-up of a person winding a yarn ball on the beach.
Transferring the singles to pebbles is a slow technique. It gives me time to reflect over the yarn I have spun.

In a life on the move there is no place for unnecessary tools. Usually the finished singles are wound around a pebble with the ground soil as a spindle stand. It is simple – not necessarily easy, though – and it works. I found out – the hard way – that it is a good idea to store the singles on the pebbles for a while before skeining. A newly spun single will tangle and make a big mess in the skeining step.

A woman making a skein between her hands.
Making a figure 8 skein is a good exercise!

Spinners of the Andes usually make a figure 8 skein of the two strands of yarn between the arms. Again: It’s simple and it works.

Plying

A person standing by a lake, plying on a spindle.
I ply the yarn by rolling the spindle between the palms of my hands. Sometimes I succeed.

With a figure 8 skein the spinner can easily ply the yarn straight from the skein hanging from the arm. You can either roll the spindle against your thigh or set it in motion between the palms of your hand. The latter technique takes a bit of practice. I’m lucky if I succeed one time out of ten.

Location

A phone camera on a tripod. A woman walking on a country road in the background
Dan always finds the right light, angle and composition. Photo by Dan Waltin

We shot the video during a week this summer when we rented a cottage at a sheep farm. Dan did most of the camera work. He has an eye for the right light, compositions and angles and I’m always happy when he takes the time to help me with my videos. Even if I’m the only one on camera, the interplay between us makes the video so much better and gives it a feeling of a deeper presence.

Learn from the professionals

Indigenous people have been spinning in the Andes for thousands of years. The textile tradition is long and strong, tracing back to the Incas and earlier. But it wasn’t always like that. During the colonial era the Spanish did their best to stop the making and wearing of traditional textiles. The industrialization made hand-made textiles less popular and new fibers were invented. You can read more about the textile traditions in the Andes here.

In the seventies more modern methods and tools spread and the younger generation didn’t learn the craft from their older relatives. A group of weavers did take matters in their own hands, though. Together with Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez they started a group whose mission was to save the old traditions and techniques and sell their textiles. The goal was also to empower indigenous weavers, especially women.

Resources

If you want to know more about Andean spinning there are several things you can do. There are Youtube videos where talented Andean spinners show the technique. Here is one that I like. There is also an online course you can download, where Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez goes through the technique in more detail. You can watch the YouTube trailer and then buy the course at Long thread media.

I recently bought a beautiful book about Andean spinning and weaving – Secrets of Spinning, Weaving, and Knitting in the Peruvian Highlands by Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez. It takes you through all the steps from fleece to embellished textile in beautiful photos and hands-on instructions.

A book on a tree trunk. Secrets of Spinning, Weaving, and Knitting in the Peruvian Highlands by Nilda Callañaupa Alvare
Secrets of Spinning, Weaving, and Knitting in the Peruvian Highlands by Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez. A good resource for learning Andean spinning.

Support Andean textile artists

I just donated $25 to the Center for traditional textiles of Cusco. If you want to support the textile traditions of the Andes you can donateeither to the center as a whole or to a specific program or project. The center also has an online shop where you can buy beautiful hand made bags, purses, hats, ponchos etc. If you donate, please let me know in the comments how much. It would be nice to see how much we have donated in total.

Happy spinning!

A woman walking on a country road while spinning
Walking and spinning deepens the senses of both the walking and the spinning. Photo by Dan Waltin

Swedish spinning championships 2019

Four wool balls in white with brown and dark grey stripes.

This past weekend I went to Öströö sheep farm outside of Varberg on the Swedish west coast for the 2019 fleece and spinning championships. It was a wonderful day. I met lots of people, cuddled with heaps and heaps of fleece and got the people’s choice medal around my neck. In this post I will show you how I made my competing yarns for the championships. In an upcoming post I will share my experience of the fleece championships.

A woman standing by the sea. She is wearing a knitted sweater and a medal around her neck.
I got the people’s choice medal for my competing yarns in the spinning championships!

Swedish spinning championships 2019

August kept me busy with spinning for the spinning championships. It has been a lot of fun and a real challenge. There were two categories in the championships – one intermediate and one advanced. I competed in both.

This year we got fleece to start with. Most of the previous years we have got machine carded batts, which I don’t really like. I want to get to know the fleece from the beginning, I want to dig my hands into a dirty fleece and work all the steps in the process myself.

All participants got the same fleece sent to us on the same day. We got about one month to finish and ship the finished yarns.

Intermediate Gute sock yarn

For the intermediate level of the championships the assignment was to spin a sock yarn. We got raw wool from a gute lamb.

Gute sheep is a primitive breed with both outercoat, undercoat and kemp. You can read more about gute wool in a previous post. This lamb’s fleece has probably both under coat and outer coat, but it is hard to distinguish since the fibers are so very fine, probably in the cashmere range.

Raw fleece in different shades of grey. The fibers are very fine but there is also lots of black, coarse fibers.
Gute (lamb) fleece. Extremely fine fibers but also lots of black kemp.

My original thought was to spin a 3-ply, but then I decided to make it a cable yarn. It is quite difficult, but it makes a really pretty structure and a strong and sturdy yarn, perfect for socks. In the Swedish spinning championships of 2017 I got a medal in a spinning championship for a cable yarn.

Preparation

I started by flick carding the locks. A lot of the kemp stayed in the flick card. After combing the wool even more kemp disappeared. I was left with soft and silky bird’s nests. I can hardly believe it is Gute wool.

Balls of combed light grey wool. Some coarse fibers are in the balls.
Soft and silky bird’s nests of Gute wool. Some kemp is left, but a lot less than when I started.

Spinning a cable yarn

I spun the top worsted, with short forward draw. As I spun I pulled more kemp out.

This is how I made my cable yarn:

  • I spun four singles with Z-twist.
  • Then I plied the singles S into two balanced 2-ply yarns.
  • After that I put more S-twist on the singles.
  • Finally, I plied the two 2-ply yarns together, Z.
A skein of light grey yarn.
A finished fingering weight cable yarn from Gute wool, ready to send to the championships.

I ended up with a fingering weight skein, 55 m, 32 g, 1708 m/kg. Some of the kemp is still in the yarn, but it will push itself out eventually.

Advanced Värmland cape

The advanced level of the championships was really interesting. The assignment was to spin a yarn for a woven cape. Not just any cape, but the cape of the Bocksten man. The Bocksten man was found – murdered with a stick through his chest – in a bog just outside of Varberg (where the spinning and fleece championships took place). A piece of cloth was analyzed and dated to around 1290–1430. His clothes had been very well preserved in the bog. As I understand it, the Bocksten man’s clothing is the only complete men’s outfit in Europe from this time period.

A postcard depicting medieval man's clothing
The medieval clothing of the Bocksten man. Photo by Charlotta Sandelin/Länsmuseet Varberg

The task was to make our own interpretation of the Bocksten man’s woven cape. Either in two different yarns for warp and weft or the same yarn for both. We got raw wool from Värmland sheep, mostly in white, but also some locks of brown and grey. Värmland wool has both undercoat and outercoat, and may be similar to the wool that the cape was originally woven from.

Locks of wool in white, brown and grey.
Silky locks of Värmland wool in white, brown and grey.

I decided to make two different yarns for warp and weft. I also wanted to separate the wool types and spin with different techniques. In addition to that I wanted to play with the colours.

Warp

Preparation

I sorted the staples according to colour and combed each colour separately using my double pitched mini combs. I also separated the outercoat from the under coat and saved the undercoat for the weft.

A palette of Värmland wool. Combed outer coat tops in white, brown and grey plus the undercoat comb leftovers.
A palette of Värmland wool. Combed outercoat tops in white, brown and grey plus the undercoat comb leftovers.

When I had combed through everything I combed it again. I took two bird’s nests and combed together. This way I got bigger nests and could separat the wool types even more.

A wool comb full of silky white long fibers.
Second combing. Just long and silky outercoat fibers.

Before I pulled the combed white wool off the comb I added some of the coloured wool to make a lengthwise stripe in the top.

Four wool balls in white with brown and dark grey stripes.
After this stage in the process it was difficult to continue. I wanted to keep my rippled chocolate merengues!

2-ply yarn

I am not a big fan of big colour variations in the same yarn, I prefer more subtle blending. Still, I wanted both the grey and the brown to shine next to all the white. To achieve a soft colour change I spun one of the singles all-white and the other with the striped tops.

Two bobbins of singles. One pure white and one with a mix of brown, white and grey.
Worsted outer coat singles ready to be plied.

I spun them both with short forward draw and 2-plied.

A skein of white, brown and grey yarn.
A finished lace weight (I have no idea what the translation to weaving is) warp yarn. 94 m, 35 g, 2655 m/kg.

It was such a joy to spin this yarn! The white fibers were so shiny and silky, just like a merengue batter. The grey and brown fibers were different in the structure compared to the white. The grey fibers were coarser and less conforming and the brown fibers were a bit closer to the white. The lengthwise stripe turned the singles to a beautiful chocolate rippled merengue batter.

Weft

Preparation

I wanted a coloured effect in the weft yarn too. I carded rolags of the white wool and in some of them I made stripes of the coloured staples.

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

Singles yarn

I wanted warp and weft spun in different directions. Therefore I chose to make the weft a singles yarn. My best tool for an even single is always the Navajo spindle. I started by spinning all the rolags into a roving.

A spindle full of yarn. A wood shed in the background.
Woolen yarn spun with long draw on a Navajo spindle from hand-carded rolags, first pass.

Well, it didn’t really end up as a roving as I had planned. It was more of a loosely spun single. I then spun it all again to give the yarn its final thickness and twist. This is when I realized that there was a bit too much twist for me to be able to make it finer. It was quite a bit of hard work.

A spindle full of yarn. A wood shed in the background.
The second pass on the Navajo spindle. The yarn is finer and more even.

The fact that there was no crimp in this silky soft undercoat made drafting a challenge. I had to pay close attention to the drafting zone to avoid breakage. Even if I spun it too much the first time I think it was a good choice to spin the yarn twice.

Another problem was the fact that the different colours had different characteristics as I wrote earlier. Especially the grey fibers were coarser and more difficult to draft in such a fine yarn. Many colour joins broke and many expletives were uttered.

A skein of singles yarn.
A finished weft yarn for the Bocksten man. 184 m, 42 g, 4335 m/kg. This yarn is so yummy!

After getting used to the behavior of the fibers I learned how to pay extra close attention to the colour changes and joins and ended up with a beautiful skein of singles.

A woven swatch.
Pin loom swatch of my Bocksten man yarns.

A joyful day

A row of yarns on a stick
The competing sock yarns in the intermediate category.

All in all, spinning for the Swedish spinning championships 2019 was a joyful process. The raw material was wonderful and I got to play with it on so many levels. I liked that we were free to make our own interpretations and add our own artistic touch in our contributions to the championships.

A row of yarns on a stick
The competing weaving yarns in the advanced category.

Meeting new and old friends

I met a lot of old friends at the championships – spinners, shepherdesses and suppliers. So many friendly faces to share a happy day with. And at least ten people came up to me, introduced themselves and said they were followers. This really made my day! I also got interviewed by a woman from a weaving podcast (I think she used the word star struck when she approached me). Meeting followers is such a joy for me. I am an introvert, but meeting you in person really warms my heart.

Coming up: The 2019 fleece championships.

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!

From sheep to sweater

It is summer and I have a long and well deserved vacation. My business is in sleep mode so this and a couple of following blog updates will be about recycling old themes. Today I celebrate my first longer video project, Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater.

The video is available in Swedish too, Slow fashion – från får till tröja.

Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater

The video started with an urge to tell the story of the craft – all the hours, skills and knowledge put into one single garment.

A map of what I have learned

I knew a lot less about videography back then. And spinning, for that matter. I could point out a thousand mistakes and aspects to improve on. But I won’t. As I often say to my students – the video is a map of what I have learned. All the mistakes are there to remind me of where I can (and have) improve when it comes both the video making and spinning processes.

So regardless of mistakes or lower quality than the videos I produce today I am still very proud of this production. It has the love for the craft that I want to feature in all my videos and it tells the story I want to tell.

A magical sweater

The sweater itself is magic, at least if you belong to the magical world of spinning. At work nobody gives it much thought – it is just a knitted sweater. Most of them probably haven’t even thought about the spinning wheels on the yoke. The thought of it being made of handspun yarn probably haven’t even crossed their minds. But at fiber festivals, spinning classes and other textile events people stop, feel the structure of the sweater and ask about designer, sheep breed and spinning technique. In that magical world the sweater brings people together. It inspires people to process their wool, spin and treasure their craft. I’m happy to be part of spreading the love that spinning brings me and other spinners. Perhaps I can also inspire non-spinners to learn how to spin.

Happy spinning!

A person shearing a white sheep with hand shearers.
I’m shearing the fine wool sheep Pia-Lotta

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 from the fold

A hand holding green fiber folded over the index finger. and spinning from the center of the fibers.

The other day I got a fiber sample – a lengthwise striped combed top in different shades of green wool and silk. I decided to spin it from the fold. Spinning from the fold is a great way to get a light and airy yarn. The technique is also perfect for getting crispier colours in a lengthwise striped top.

Spinning from the fold

I mostly spin fiber that I have prepared myself. But sometimes commercially prepared fiber comes my way. This is one of those times – a Granny Smith apple green lengthwise striped top of wool (my guess is BFL or merino) and silk. I saw the perfect opportunity to show you how I spin from the fold.

The superpowers

To spin from the fold you place a staple-length portion of the fiber over your finger. This means that you spin from the middle of the staple length, so that the fibers are folded when they enter the drafting zone. This does two things:

  • Since the fiber comes into the drafting triangle from each side of your finger, the drafting triangle will be wider compared to spinning from the end of the fiber. This will let more air into the yarn.
  • The folded fibers strive towards unfolding. This too will let more air into the yarn.
A hand holding green fiber folded over the index finger., spinning yarn.
The fibers come from both ends of the finger, creating a wider drafting triangle that will result in an airier yarn. The folded fibers want to unfold. This lets even more air in to the yarn.

A yarn spun from the fold will thus be lighter and airier than the same yarn spun with the same grist from the ends of the fibers.

A skein of white yarn.
Jämtland wool, spun with short draw from the fold on a supported spindle.

I spun the yarn above with short draw from flicked staples of Jämtland wool from the fold with a supported spindle. At first I spun from my hand-combed top, but when I tried flicking the staples separately and spinning them from the fold I just knew this was the way this wool wanted to be spun. I love moments like that.

Spinning from the fold is not a drafting technique. Rather, it is simply a different way to hold the fiber. You can spin both woolen and worsted from the fold. You can spin from the fold with any spinning tool.

The how-tos

Spinning from the fold is not difficult. However, there are a few things to think about when you do.

  • Make sure you pull out a staple-length only. If you pull out more than a staple-length some fibers will be spun from the middle and some from the end. This will create a mess.
  • You also need to make sure you tuck the ends into your hand when you spin. If you don’t, there is a risk that they get caught in the yarn. This will create a bigger mess.
  • Still, you need to hold the fiber gently, like a baby bird (still tucking the ends into the hand). If you hold the fibers too tightly they won’t be released into the twist.
  • You can choose to either keep the fiber over your finger or remove your finger and just hold the folded fiber gently in your hand.
  • To join I simply place the spun end over the folded new staple and allow the fiber to get caught in the twist.
A hand holding green fiber folded over the index finger. and spinning from the center of the fibers.
Hold the fiber gently and tuck the ends into your hand.

The context

I spin from the fold when I have a low micron fleece with a long staple length. The fiber needs to be long enough to be folded over your finger and tucked in to your hand. It also needs to be fine enough not to get too bulky in the fold. I flick card each staple separately and spin staple by staple from the fold. A commercially prepped top is also a good candidate for spinning from the fold.

One extra superpower with spinning from the fold is crispier colours in a lengthwise striped top. Spinning from the fold is an excellent way to enhance the colour and/or fiber variations.

Two skeins of blue yarn.
The left skein was spun from the fold and the right from the end. The fiber is the same, a lengthwise striped top. If you look carefully, you can see that the colours in the left skein are a little sharper.

What happens is that one colour stripe at a time enters the drafting zone instead of getting blended should you spin from the end of the fiber. The colour variations stay clear and crisp. This feature is really fun to play with!

A tahkli spindle with light green variegated yarn.
The colours in a lengthwise striped top will get slightly more defined when spun from the fold compared to spinning from the end.

Tools and materials

The little supported spindle in the main video is a rocket speed Tahkli from John Galen. The bowl is actually a singing bowl for meditation (also bought from John Galen), hence the little bell sounds in the video. The fiber is a combed top I got as a sample from Vinterverkstan.

A small turquoise spindle with silver decorations and a small skein of green yarn.
Tahkli spindle from John Galen, fiber from Vinterverkstan.

The spindle in the extra clip is a Portuguese spindle from Saber Fazer. The fiber is a Norwegian NKS (Norsk kvit sau or Norwegian white sheep).

A person spinning outdoors on a spindle.
Spinning NKS (Norsk Kvit Sau, Norwegian white sheep) with a Portuguese spindle from Saber Fazer.

The setting

I shot the clip with the sheep in the background last summer at the cabin we have rented for the past five years.

I shot the main video under the hop arch in our allotment. We assembled the arch this spring to get some shade in the corner. It is a very nice corner for all sorts of fiber related activities! We planted the tansies to attract bees and other pollinators. It worked.

A patch of tansies with bumblebees. A person spinning in the background.
The bees do like their tansies. Here two buff-tailed bumblebees.

The red currant are nearly ripe now.

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!

A spindle a day

A meadow of flowers with a red building in the background.
Sätergläntan craft education center in its prettiest midsummer dress.

Yesterday I came back from Sätergläntan center for craft education. I have been teaching a five-day course in different spindle techniques. I call the course A spindle a day, referring to both the outline of the course and of the way spinning keeps me healthy – it makes me feel focused, peaceful and and sharp.

A person spinning on a suspended spindle in backlight
The rooms bursts with creativity on A spindle a day. Spindle by Wildcraft.

Sätergläntan bursts of crafting and creativity and it is a very inspirational place to be. This is the second time I teach at Sätergläntan, the last time was last October when I taught a five-day course in supported spindle spinning. I feel so lucky to be able to teach here. Only a couple of weeks ago Hazel Tindall and Nancy Marchant taught classes here.

A spindle a day

In October 2018 I taught a five-day course in supported spindle spinning. The principal of the center asked me if I wanted to come back and teach this summer. I did. From previous courses I knew that many people want to learn how to spin on a supported spindle, but I also know that there are many other spindle types that people want to learn. I sketched up a new course and called it A spindle a day.

I wanted to create a course where people could learn different spindle types, but also to really enjoy the superpowers of the slowness of spindle spinning. Spindle spinning allows you to focus on quality. You get time to listen to the wool and find out how it wants to be treated to be able to spin its best yarn.

Practicing spindle techniques is also a perfect thing to do outdoors – all you need is a spindle and some processed fiber and you are good to go. After all, that’s how people have been spinning for tens of thousands of years.

Day 1: Suspended spindle

The first part of day 1 was dedicated to wool knowledge and processing. After that we were ready to spin!

Wool knowledge

We started the first day with some basic wool knowledge. We looked at some of the Swedish breeds and their characteristics – staple length, crimp, fiber types, fineness etc. Handling wool from the very beginning helps us get to know the wool and understand what the characteristics do in a yarn and how we can enhance certain characteristics in the way we prepare and spin the yarn.

Combing wool

We also needed some wool to spin with, so we spent the next lesson combing. Some had combed before but hadn’t really got the hang of it and some had not combed at all. We used mainly a very dense Swedish Leicester wool that was a challenge to separate.

A person combing wool outdoors.
Don’t rush your combing. It needs your love and attention just as much as the spinning does. Combs from Gammeldags, wool from Värmland sheep.

We also looked at desired characteristics of hand combs – Tine length, sharpness, tine rows and distance between the tines. All these aspects will have an impact of the yarn we spin. As a spinner I need to adapt my combs to the wool I use and the result I want.

Suspended spindle

Most of the students in the class had spun on a suspended spindle before, some for a long time. They took the time to focus and practice. Some of them had never set the spindle in motion by rolling the shaft up the thigh before and were amazed at the speed it induced.

A person spinning on a suspended spindle
A lot of speed is inserted in the spindle when the spinner sets it in motion by rolling the shaft up the thigh. The spindle was made by the student.

The most experienced spinner played the game “how long can I spin before I need to roll the yarn onto the shaft” and set the spindle in motion with her feet.

A person rolling a spindle between the feet to set the spindle in motion.
You don’t need a spinning wheel to use with your feet for spinning! Spindle by Forsnäs Hemman.

Beginner spindler

There was one student who had no prior spinning or wool processing experience. It was my responsibility to meet her at her level and find the right step size for her to make progress and shine. And she did! It was wonderful to see how she worked with the wool with determination and dedication, how she understood the concept of drafting and found the point of twist engagement.

A person drafting yarn from a spindle she is pinching between her knees.
A new spinner is born. With dedication and determination she approached the suspended spindle and made impressive progress. Here she is parking and drafting. Towards the end of the day she started to skip the parking part.

Changing hands

When I teach spindle spinning I encourage, no, I make my students change hands. I want them to be able to use either hand as spinning hand or fiber hand. All hands in my class need to learn and be comfortable with how to control the fiber and how to control the yarn. I am a firm believer that you understand more about the spinning process and spinning mechanics if both hands know both tasks.

All the students did as I told them and they were amazed at how it actually worked after the initial learning process.

Day 2: Floor-supported spindle

On the second day all the students were beginners again, none of them had any previous experience of the floor-supported spindle.

A spindle from above
Navajo spindle by Björn Peck

A floor-supported spindle is, obviously, supported by the floor. It is thus a long spindle, somewhat longer if you sit on a chair than if you sit on the floor. We focused on the Navajo spindle where the spinner spins longdraw from hand-carded rolags.

A spindle with white and brown bulky yarn on it.
Practicing bulky singles on a Navajo spindle. Spindle by Björn Peck.

Carding rolags

With Navajo spindle spinning there are no short cuts – you need to make hand-carded rolags and they need to be even. The quality of the rolag will have consequences for the spinning process and the yarn you are spinning.

A person carding wool
There are no shortcuts – Navajo spindle spinning requires even and consistent hand-carded rolags!

Most of the students had experience in carding, but they all realized what difference dedicated time and thoroughness can do for the result. They learned quickly, though, and were amazed at their own progress – after a few loose and uneven rolags came concentric and even ones that made the teacher very proud.

A grayish-brown skein of singles yarn.
A thick singles yarn spun from hand-carded rolags on a Navajo spindle. The wool comes from the Värmland sheep Viola.

Let your hands listen to the wool

With a Navajo floor-supported spindle your hands need to communicate. Those of you who have watched the beautiful video of Navajo weaver Clara Sherman spinning on a Navajo spindle have heard her talk about the hands knowing and feeling what to do. This is very true when it comes to Navajo spindle spinning. The spindle hand is rolling the spindle shaft up the thigh and the fiber hand is holding the rolag ever so lightly. No hand is on the yarn to control it. The yarn is created in the cooperation between the hands, like a choreographed dance. The hands therefore need to listen to the wool to know when more twist needs to be added and when to add more length to the yarn or to open up the twist.

A person spinning on a floor-rested spindle
Learning to spin on a Navajo floor-supported spindle. Spindle by Björn Peck.

Being a beginner in a known field

The students I teach are generally experienced spinners. But when they come to my classroom they are beginners again. This can cause lots of frustration. As intermediate and experienced spinners they have so much knowledge. They know how wool behaves, how to draft and what they need to do to the yarn to get it where they want. They just don’t know this particular tool. I need to remind them to be patient and have respect for their own learning process.

A person spinning outdoors on a floor-rested spindle
The weather wasn’t always spinning-friendly, but when it was we took the chance to spin outdoors. Navajo spindle by Björn Peck.

Day 3: In-hand spindle with distaff

Mid-week we are tired. The students have been stuffed for two days and their brains need time to process all the things they have learned. And that’s ok. Sometimes we need to stop and listen, take a break or a step back. Still, they managed to take in and flourish in a new spinning technique and a new way to handle the fiber.

In this section of the course we also looked at some historical aspects of spinning. How did they spin in Central European medieval times? How did the Vikings spin? We also looked at French, Portuguese and Balkan spindles, which are all spun with a similar technique and with a distaff.

Twiddling

For the in-hand (or grasped or twiddle) spindle, the spinner holds the upper tip of the spindle between their fingers and turns the spindle in the hand. After some practice you can let go of the spindle and allow it to spin freely for short periods, still in the hand, always ready to grasp again. This was a challenge to the students. They thought they would never be able to control the spindle in the hand, but before lunch they all did!

Handling in-hand spindle and distaff is not a walk in the park.

Managing the distaff

The next step was to add the distaff. That too was a challenge – to hold the distaff while at the same time draft with the fiber hand, twiddle the spindle and keep an eye on the yarn going diagonally over the chest. They managed that too.

A person walking while spinning.
We’re taking our in-hand spindles and distaffs for a walk.

In fact, we even went for a walk with our spindles and distaffs. Now, that’s progress!

Day 4: Supported spindle

A person spinning on a supported spindle from a rolag.
It’s Supported spindle spinning Day! Supported spindle and puck by Björn Peck.

This is my game. I have taught lots of classes in supported spindle spinning. I know what to do, I know my course outline and I know the most common challenges the students face.

This time I was dead wrong.

These students have, step by step and in other contexts, become acquainted with most of the skills needed for supported spindle spinning, and they didn’t need much of my assistance before they were spinning away on their supported spindles. They didn’t have to start with a leader to practice the movements and angles, they had already practiced them the previous days with the other techniques.

People spinning on different kinds of spindles
Learning supported spindle spinning after suspended, floor-rested and in-hand spindle spinning turned out to be a smooth process.

Old skills in a new package

This is the thing about new skills – even if you are totally new to a thing, you always have some older skills you can apply to the new ones, albeit in a new package.

  • They know from the floor-rested and in-hand spindles how to change the angle between spinning and rolling onto the shaft.
  • With the in-hand spindle they have practiced fine-motor skills for twiddling the spinning tip.
  • Early on the first day we talked about opening up the twist to achieve a more even yarn and they have practiced it ever since.
  • Since day one they have practiced wool preparation and know what consequences it has for the quality of the spinning and the yarn.
  • For nearly every question they have asked I have encouraged them to analyze and find the answer themselves. They have started to analyze more themselves now and understand more why things happen the way they do in their spinning.
  • They know how to pack a mean permanent cop.

All I had to do was to coach them in flicking and encourage them to analyze even more.

I’m so proud of them!

A person spinning on a supported spindle from a rolag.
Spinning on a supported spindle from high quality hand-carded rolags. Supported spindle and puck by Björn Peck.

Day 5: Wool tasting

The fifth day was only half a day, so there was no new spindle. Instead the students put their new skills to the test in a wool tasting.

Testing new skills

They got five different wools and a chart. For each wool they were to make an initial assessment of the wool – what was their immediate feeling of the wool?

A person filling in a chart. Yarn samples are attached to the chart.
A lot of dedication was invested in the wool tasting.

They prepared and spun the wool and made a sample, taking notes of preparation method, spinning technique and spindle type. For every wool they got fifteen minutes. The room was quiet and the air thick with concentration. They were all dedicated and knew exactly how they wanted to prepare and spin the different wools and made thorough notes. It was a joy to observe!

A filled-in chart with yarn samples attached to it.
Want to know the wools in the wool tasting? From the left: Norwegian NKS, Dalapäls wool, Svärdsjö wool, Gute wool and Huacaya alpaca.

So much of what they had learned during the week came in use in the wool tasting. They had been provided with lots of tools and in the wool tasting they proved that they knew how to use them.

Spinning meditation

The last thing we did before lunch and journeys homeward was a spinning meditation. I hadn’t planned it, but one of the student had taken one of my previous courses where we had had a spinning meditation and asked if we could do it again. And it was a very suitable finale of a wonderful week.

A woman knitting on a bench. A meadow in the background.
A bench, some yarn and a meadow. The simplest things in life can be the most powerful.

Spinning, especially on spindles, can be truly meditative and is one of the superpowers of the craft. For me, a spindle a day keeps me balanced and focused. Perhaps it also keeps the doctor away.

Happy spinning!


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Willowing wool

Josefin Waltin sitting with a pile of wool. Locks are flying in the air around her.

Willowing wool is an ancient technique where you use two willow sticks (or some other bendy wood) to whip the wool. This helps to open up the locks, get air in to the wool and vegetable matter out.

An ancient technique

There are illustrations from the European middle ages of people willowing wool, but I can imagine the technique has been used ever since wool has been used for spinning. In my book Ull – hemligheter, möjligheter, färdigheter by Kerstin Gustafsson and Alan Waller, it says that wool beating used to be an occupation. The wool beaters usually also traded in wool, whipped it and blended to get an even quality. The finished blends would then be sold to mitten producers. Also, people would of course beat the wool in rural homes as a first step of processing their own wool.

The cover of a book. The cover has two hands with unspun wool between them. The back of a sheep in the background
Ull – hemligheter, möjligheter, färdigheter by Kerstin Gustafsson and Alan Waller. A Swedish wool rarity from 1987.

Five years ago I went to the west coast of Sweden together with my wool traveling friend Anna for a one-week spinning course. The teacher was Lena Köster, a Swedish master spinner. She taught us to whip the wool, and it was great fun.

The origin of a word

Since the technique has been performed with soft sticks, usually willow, it has been called willowing. This word root (!) has remained even after the start of the industrialism. A machine that was designated to open up the locks, remove vegetable matter and blend the wool was called a willowing machine, willy or willower. As a linguistic geek, I just love the substantial origin of the word.

The definition of the word willow, willy:
The origin of the word willow has ancient roots. From the Cassell Concise English dictionary.

Angels and devils

I was told that the flying locks used to be called angels. The higher the angels flew the more air had been let in to the wool and the better the wool was whipped. And they do look like angels – white, fuzzy  and endlessly beautiful. And, oh, another word for the willowing machine was devil. If you have ever seen a willowing machine (or a wool picker for that matter) you will understand. It looks like your average Tudor era torture tool.

The origin of a video

As it happened, I had a bunch of willow sticks lying around the house. I had made a low hurdle for a flower bed and bought willow sticks for this purpose. Yes, I shouldn’t need to buy sticks when there are lots of them in the woods, but I have made this hurdle several times with maple saplings, and it just won’t last. But I digress.

A willow hurdle around a flower bed
My sweet willow hurdle

It also happened that I had a fleece in the fleece storage (aka our sofa bed) that had a little too much vegetable matter in it. Recently, there has been lots of discussions on a facebook spinning forum about vegetable matter and the best way to get rid of it. I had suggested whipping the wool. so I had recently picked the thought up from deep within my memory storage.

Willowing wool – shooting

So, I picked a spot on our terrace to shoot a video of willowing wool, sat myself down on the floor and started willowing. It was a lot of fun. My daughter came by and helped me whip for a while. She said: ‘You look really happy, Mum, like a five-year-old who just got an ice-cream cone.’ Indeed. An ice-cream cone made of wool.

Josefin Waltin sitting on the ground, willowing wool
Willowing wool can be an adventurous affair with obtrusive angels attacking.

I shot the video from one angle unpaused. The whole uncut clip was about 50 minutes (I edited it down to four minutes). I spent a lot of that time gathering lost wool angels. There was a breeze, and I can vouch for that the time spent chasing wool increases proportionally to the increase of wind speed. This particular wind was a whimsical one, it had a hard time deciding where to blow.

Josefin Waltin sitting on the ground with wool in front of her.
Gathering lost angels

I got the music from the free music archive. Using the search words ‘fly’ and ‘high’, I found this beautiful harp piece by Anne van Schotorst. It’s called Birds came flying. I think it suited my flying angels quite well.

I hope you like the video.

Happy willowing!