Vegetable matter

A while ago I bought a fleece online. It was just one of those spur of the moment purchases, when fleece just happens. It was a beautiful gute fleece with silky soft undercoat, long and fine outercoat and quirky kemp. However, as the fleece landed on my doorstep it turned out to be full of vegetable matter.

I had very mixed feelings about this fleece. On the one hand, an unusually soft gute fleece. On the other hand, all the vegetable matter, all over the fleece. My solution was to fall for the fleece, learn from the vegetable matter and share my thoughts and techniques with you.

A villhöver kind of fleece

Gute wool is typically medium to coarse and can be rough (which is not necessarily bad). The undercoat is usually fine or very fine, but in combination with coarser outercoat and the quirky kemp the feeling on the whole is usually rough.

This fleece on the other hand has the softest undercoat in a very airy distribution. The outercoat fibers are long and fine. The kemp, that helps keeping the fleece open, airy and thereby warm, is present over the whole fleece but is also finer than usual in my experience. This very fine undercoat in combination with kemp is very interesting (and rare) and I wonder what she wants to become. The fleece is quite homogenous (also unusual for a gute fleece) with staples of mainly airy undercoat and few strands of outercoat. I would call this vadmal type staples, also quite rare, especially like this over the whole fleece.

The combination of the airy distribution of the undercoat and low amount of outercoat fibers sometimes make the tips hard to find. In parts of the fleece I have to investigate the whole wool mass thoroughly to find the tip ends.

The fleece with all its unusual characteristics presented a severe case of villhöver. This is a fairly new Swedish portmanteau word (like smog, Brexit and Oxbridge) constructed of the stems vill (want) and behöver (need). Something I want so much that I convince myself that I really, really need it. Or, something that I don’t necessarily need but secretly covet. Like, say, a very inviting gute fleece.

Vegetable matter

The fleece presents no poo, very few felted parts and seems to have been professionally shorn – it has very few second cuts. However rare and intriguing this fleece is, it is still full of vegetable matter. Hey, straw, seeds and an occasional piece of moss. Some parts bad, some parts moderate, but still all over the fleece. I do smile at an occasional piece of the environment the sheep has lived in. It gives me a better connection to its daily life. But definitely not in these amounts.

Vegetable matter all over the fleece.

The curiosity of this fleece did however take over and I decided to see this experience as an opportunity to learn and share my insights with you. Also, the openness of the fleece (thank you kemp!) made me believe that the vegetable matter would fall out quite easily after some work and persuasion. A more compact wool like Swedish Gotland wool would probably take a lot more work to clean from vegetable matter.

I did let the seller know about the high amount of vegetable matter. She offered me a refund. I declined, because that was not what I was after, I just wanted her to know that I would have wanted this information in the ad before I bought the fleece. I also wanted her to let the sheep owner know that a crafter doesn’t want vegetable matter in the fleece and why. Rather than getting a refund for my purchase I want the sheep owner to keep providing this quality of fleece but with better knowledge about how to avoid vegetable matter.

Processing

I realized that I could remove a lot of the vegetable matter through several steps of the processing – washing, drying, shaking, picking and one or more of willowing, teasing and carding. Even spinning can spurt out small seeds. The question was if I could remove enough of the vegetable matter, how much more time it would take and how it would interfere with my flow. Most of the steps I present below for removing vegetable matter are steps I take through all my fleeces anyway before I spin them. I just need to dedicate more time and focus in each step.

Sorting

The first thing to do is to go through the fleece before washing. In this stage I can remove visible vegetable matter, felted parts, poo and second cuts. With this fleece I didn’t do any of this, since I poured the fleece right out of the package into the wash tub.

Washing and drying

It was when I pressed the bundle of fleece into my wash tub that I realized it was full of vegetable matter. As I soaked and changed waters I removed what I could see and fiddle out of the wet mass. I dried the fleece on a compost grid on top of egg cartons. As the fleece dried some smaller pieces fell down to the floor underneath the grid.

Letting the fleece dry on a compost grid on top of egg cartons allows it to dry faster and let go of shallow pieces of vegetable matter.
Letting the fleece dry on a compost grid on top of egg cartons allows it to dry faster and let go of shallow pieces of vegetable matter.

Shaking

When a fleece dries I shake it and move it around to allow air in. It also lets vegetable matter fall out of it. As I have gone through the other steps of the processing I have also shaken the fleece in smaller portions to allow it to let go of bits and pieces.

Willowing

I realize that willowing would be a perfect method to remove vegetable matter from a fleece like this. Willowing means whipping the fleece with flexible sticks (willow or hazel for example). It will open up the locks and allow vegetable matter to fall out. Since it is November and not very willowing friendly temperatures outdoors I haven’t done that. Yet, I might do it in the spring, though. You can read more about willowing and watch one of my most popular videos here.

Josefin Waltin sitting with a pile of wool. Locks are flying in the air around her.
Willowing is an efficient way to open up the locks and remove vegetable matter.

Picking

Picking a fleece is a great way to get a first feeling of what the fleece is like and how it behaves. You see how the staples are built up, how the fibers relate to one another and the condition of the fleece. I simply work staple by staple through the whole fleece, picking them by the tip end one by one from the mass of staples. In this process the staples open up and allow for vegetable matter to fall out.

Picking a fleece is a lovely way to get to know a fleece while at the same time letting air in and vegetable matter out.

I used to pick the fleece (usually before washing), but somewhere along the way I have omitted this step of the process. On my latest fleece though, I did pick the fleece to sort it into different staple types and I realized the potential of this step, both to learn more about the fleece and to enjoy it more. Sitting on the floor and methodically and mindfully picking one staple at a time is time well spent with your fleece. I’m definitely picking up picking again!

Teasing

I always tease my wool one way or another before carding it. Carding for me is to arrange the fibers in a certain way. To do this efficiently and gently the staples need to be opened up before I place them on the cards.

I tease by hand if I don’t have any teasing tools available or if I want to stay really close to the wool and get to know it better.

For efficient teasing before carding I use combs. I can load quite large amounts of staples on the combs, especially if I use my larger combs with a combing station. Here is a post and a video where I show you how I tease wool with combs before carding.

I also use a flicker to tease. A flicker is a smaller card, sometimes used to clean drum carders. I open up staple by staple, one end at a time. Sometimes I use the flicker for very fine fleeces where there is a risk of breaking the tip ends. I prefer the tips breaking (and staying) in the flicker rather than having them turn into nepps in the carding. I have also found the flicker to be a good choice if I want to remove some of the kemp at the cut end.

With the gute fleece I tried teasing with both the flicker and the combs. They both do a good job of removing both vegetable matter and kemp. Since the combs are more efficient I think I will use my maxi combs with a combing station to tease the rest of this fleece.

Teasing gute wool with mini combs.

When I comb wool to make a combed top the teasing is integrated in the combing (unless the staples are really reluctant to opening, then I may tease them with a flicker before combing).

Preparing

Carding the wool allows even more air in between the fibers, and thereby more vegetable matter out. As I inspect the rolags I still see some small pieces of vegetable matter, though.

As I card this magnificent gute wool I truly enjoy the airy and bouncy response I get from it between the cards. Again, every step of the processing allows me to learn more about how the wool behaves and how it wants to be spun.

Spinning

So, now to the final step and possibly an answer to my questions: Have I managed to remove enough of the vegetable matter to produce a decent yarn? Have I experienced the flow and relaxation through the process like I usually do? In short: Was it worth it?

As I spin the yarn small pieces of vegetable matter spurt out from between the fibers. The wool has opened up enough to just gently hold on to the debris, in contrast to how they were entangled in the raw fleece. Every now and then I need to stop the wheel to manually remove little bits and pieces. I did this test from one of the worst parts of the fleece and hopefully other parts will flow easier.

A small skein of yarn from the gute fleece I have washed, dried, shaken, picked, teased, carded and spun and thereby removed a lot of the vegetable matter.
A small skein of yarn from the gute fleece I have washed, dried, shaken, picked, teased, carded and spun and thereby removed a lot of the vegetable matter.

So far I have only teased, carded and spun a small sample of this fleece to investigate what I’m up against. I still haven’t finished picking the fleece, I’m doing it little by little. When I have finished picking the whole fleece I will store it and put it in the fleece queue. If it is warm outside when it’s the gute fleece’s turn in the queue I might willow it before I start teasing and going through the rest of the process with the whole fleece.

Even though each step has taken a bit longer than usual and even though I may experience interruptions in my spinning flow to remove debris I think it will be worth it. This is such an incredible fleece.

As they say, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Åsen wool

Åsen sheep is one of the ten Swedish conservation breeds. Today’s blog post and an upcoming breed study webinar are all about Åsen wool. This is my ninth breed study. Previous breed studies have been about Gotland wool, Gute wool, Dalapäls wool, Värmland wool, Jämtland wool, finull wool, rya wool and Klövsjö wool.

This Saturday, May 29th at 5 pm CET I will host a free live breed study webinar on Swedish Åsen wool! I will share my experiences with the wool from a spinner’s perspective.

Åsen sheep

Åsen sheep is one of the ten Swedish heritage breeds. This means that it is protected in gene banks and that the sheep farmers in the gene banks are not allowed to breed for specific characteristics, like the fleece. Therefore the fleece can vary a lot in a flock and in an individual.

The Åsen sheep were found in the 1990’s on three farms in the village of Åsen in county Dalarna. The flocks had been kept on the farms for many years with no interference from other breeds.

Åsen sheep. Photo by Ylva Örtengren.

Åsen sheep are one of the forest sheep breeds and quite small. Ewes weigh 40–50 kg and rams 50–55 kg. The rams usually have beautiful horns. In 2020 there were 465 breeding ewes registered with the Swedish sheep breeder’s association, in 55 flocks.

Wool characteristics

As most of the other Swedish heritage breeds, the wool of Åsen sheep can vary greatly between individuals and within one single individual. Some individuals have kemp in their fleece. Kemp is a hollow fiber that is designed to keep the staples upright to protect the sheep from rain running in to the skin. Usually the wool from Åsen sheep is easy to work with.

A wide variety of wool types are represented in this breed – pälsull type (mostly outercoat with a little undercoat), rya type (about 50/50 of outercoat and undercoat), vadmal type (mostly undercoat with a few strands of outercoat) and finull type (almost only undercoat).

Locks of different wool types from different individuals of åsen sheep.
Locks of different wool types from different individuals of Åsen sheep in one flock – from mostly outercoat wool to mostly undercoat wool.

The colours

The colour can vary from white to black with all the greys in between. Many sheep are born dark and lighten with age. So within a flock of sheep of different age there can be a wide variety of colours and shades. It is easy to see that you can spin a wide variety of yarn qualities and colours from a flock of Åsen sheep.

This ewe has three wool types in her fleece – rya wool type (left), finull wool type (middle) and vadmal wool type (right).
This ewe has three wool types in her fleece – rya wool type (left), finull wool type (middle) and vadmal wool type (right). You can see some kemp in the staples to the right.

Vadmal type wool

One of my favourite wool types is the vadmal wool type, with mostly undercoat fibers and just a few strands of outercoat fibers. Usually the staple is triangular in its shape, with a wide and airy undercoat base and a thin outercoat tip.

Mostly vadmal type wool in the staples from this Åsen ewe.

I contacted a shepherdess, Ylva, who has a flock of Åsen sheep. I asked her to get me samples of the different varieties of wool found on her sheep. And she delivered. She had fastened staples on cards with information about the sheep and some thoughts about the wool. You can see some of the samples in the images above.

The main characteristics

When I explore a fleece I want to get to the core of it. I look for the characteristics that I think represent the soul of the fleece. Every fleece is unique, but for the sake of these breed study webinars I choose characteristics that I think can work for the breed as a whole. The characteristics I chose for the Åsen wool fleeces I have worked with are

  • The versatility – there can be a wide variety of staple types in one single fleece. Across a flock there can also be a wide colour range from white to black.
  • The kindness – Åsen wool has a kind air to it. The soft but still a little rustic wool, the open staples and the gentle sheen.
  • The vadmal type staples. I do have a weak spot for this staple type. There is so much you can do with it!

Sample batches

From Ylva’s sample cards I found two favourites, the fleeces from sheep 16010 and 12002. The first two digits in the numbers tell the year the sheep were born. I specifically looked for the vadmal wool type, with most undercoat fibers and just a few strands of outercoat fibers. I asked Ylva if she could send me larger batches of them, which she could.

12002 – a little kemp, a little curl

I found all staple types in this Åsen fleece – from mostly outercoat to the left to mostly undercoat to the right.
I found all staple types in this Åsen fleece – from mostly outercoat to the left to mostly undercoat to the right.

In this fleece I found all the staple types, from mostly outercoat fibers to mostly undercoat fibers. However, the vast majority of the staples lean toward the more undercoaty edge of the range with finull type and vadmal type wool in the forefront. The staples aren’t very long, around 10 centimeters. It is mainly white but does have some light grey spots. Chances are that this sheep was born black.

The staples have a lovely shine and are somewhat silky to the touch. They are soft to touch while at the same time having just a brush of rusticity to them. I see that kindness I talked about earlier – this fleece is easy to work with and doesn’t make a lot of demands. It is kind and gentle. The staples are open and easy to draft.

When I see and feel this fleece I imagine woolen spun yarn for warm sweaters and an occasional hat.

16010 – a dream of vadmal wool

This fleece is a little bit rougher than 12002 above. The staples are considerably longer, around 18 centimeters with undercoat fibers 10 centimeter long. It is a lot more consistent with almost entirely rya type and vadmal type wool and a mix between the types. The fleece is creamy white and I see only a few black kemp fibers. The fibers are almost straight. This wool is a bit clingy to draft.

This fleece was shorn in the spring. Usually the spring shearing is of lesser quality than the fall shearing. This has a number of reasons, like lots of vegetable matter due to the sheep being indoors, pregnancy, cold and less fresh food. Ylva keeps her sheep outdoors all year round and they only seek shelter when they need to. This means that they don’t stand and lie in straw all winter. This fleece is clean and with a lovely quality.

Staples of Åsen wool. Most of them are of rya or vadmal type or in between.
The staples from this Åsen fleece were more consistent. Most of them were of rya or vadmal type or in between.

One technique that comes to mind when I feel this fleece is nalbinding. The soft and airy undercoat fibers will give the yarn warmth while the long and strong fibers will add strength. This wool felts easily, which is another excellent characteristic since I like to full my nalbinding projects for extra strength and windproofing.

Preparation

I chose the fleeces with the vadmal type wool because it is such a lovely type of wool to work with. Mostly soft, but with a little outercoat fibers to keep the fluff in order and add some strength. This wool type is quite rare and my heart sings whenever I dig my hands into a fleece with lots of vadmal type staples. The name vadmal type refers to the fact that a wool with this kind of undercoat to outercoat ratio is particularly suitable to weave for wadmal cloth, a thick broadcloth to keep you warm through the winter.

Åsen wool carded into fluffy rolags.
Åsen wool carded into fluffy rolags. This is from the first Åsen fleece I ever bought. It was a couple of years ago and my first fleece from Ylva’s flock.

While it is fully possible to separate the undercoat and outercoat fibers I choose to work with the fiber types held together. I want to card and spin a woolen yarn. With the majority of the fibers being soft and airy I get the warmth I want, and the few outercoat fibers will elegantly marry these together and add strength and stability to the yarn. So I tease the wool with combs and card rolags.

Spin

Carded rolags like these are just itching to be spun with an English longdraw. The short and airy undercoat fibers will make the draw light while the longer outercoat fibers will add just a little resistance to prevent the rolag or the yarn to fall apart.

A 2-ply tarn with low twist from åsen wool.
The resulting yarn from the rolags above. The skein has long since crossed the Atlantic and is in Sara Wolf’s safe knitting hands. Read more about her knitting samples in Knit (spin) Sweden!

I choose to keep quite a low twist here. I want to show off the wool and all its superpowers and keep the spinning simple. Doesn’t this skein portray a perfectly kind wool?

Use

The whole range

With the wide variety of staple types available in Åsen wool it is easy to understand that you can use the yarn for a wide variety of projects – knitted mittens, sweaters, hats as well as weft yarn for weaving. If you find a fleece with enough outercoat fibers warp yarn is definitely possible too. I know an Åsen shepherdess who spins both weft and warp and sews beautiful garments with the wool from her flock. The undercoat fibers from a soft lamb’s fleece would definitely be a candidate for next to skin garments.

Fulling

Coming back to the wool type vadmal wool – a fulled sample is a very good idea with a fleece like this. Such a lovely way to explore a fleece.

Woven square, 2-ply yarn and fulled square (from a woven square same as to the left) from Åsen sheep 16010. The fulled square took me less than five minutes to full to size.
Woven square, 2-ply yarn (that I didn’t have time to finish) and fulled square (from a woven square same as to the left) from Åsen sheep 16010. The fulled square took me less than five minutes to full to size.

As the fleece of sheep 16010 felt a bit clingy to draft I suspected that it would felt easily, so this was my wool of choice for a fulled sample. I wove a 10 x 10 cm square on my pin loom and started to full with hot water and some dish soap. It took me less than five minutes to full my woven sample to the size above. So I was right, the fleece was a very good candidate for fulling. In this I need to remind myself that wool preparation is a fresh produce, especially with a fleece that is this prone to felting – I will only card as much wool as I need for the day. Carded wool saved for the next day may well felt just by breathing too close to it.

It was a long time since I made something in nalbinding and I think a yarn like this would be a very good candidate. The airiness in the outercoat fibers brings warmth to the garment while the outercoat fibers will give the yarn strength. Just as with the previous nalbinding projects I have made I would full a pair of Åsen mittens. I know the felting properties of the wool and I can’t wait for winter.

A kind wool for teaching

Once I brought Åsen wool to a spinning course. I had several other breeds for the students to choose from, but the Åsen wool was by far the most popular choice, especially for the carding classes. Again, this is a kind and gentle wool. I also believe that some of the students contacted Åsen sheep farmers to buy Åsen wool after they had finished the course.

Live webinar!

This Saturday, May 29th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Swedish Åsen wool from a spinner’s perspective. In the webinar I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I prepare, spin and use Åsen wool. I will use Åsen wool during the webinar and show you glimpses of how I prepare and spin the wool.

Even if you think you will never come across Swedish finull this is still an opportunity to learn more about wool and wool processing in general. The breed study webinar will give you tools to understand different wool types and apply your knowledge to breeds and wool types closer to you.

This is a wonderful chance for me to meet you (in the chat window at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The previous live breed study webinars I have done have been great successes. I really look forward to seeing you again in this webinar.

You can register even if you can’t make it to the live event. I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar. Remember, the only way to get access to the webinar (live or replay) is to register.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

The wool is my teacher

I can read a thousand books about wool, spinning and sheep breeds, but it is the wool in my hands and in my process that will teach me how it wants to be spun. Today I reflect about how the wool is my teacher.

Don’t get me wrong – I love spinning books and they are a wonderful resource for deeper knowledge about wool, wool preparation and spinning. I also need guidance to understand how to work the tools for wool preparation and spinning. But to really understand the wool I need to dig my hands into it and spend quantity time with the fibers.

Trust my hands

Handling fleece may seem daunting, but there are so many rewards in exploring a new fleece. Every time. Regardless of whether it is my first or my twentieth fleece, I need to trust my hands in the fleece. I need to trust that my hands investigate the wool and learn how the wool behaves.

The wool is my teacher. Through trusting my hands to investigate the wool I will learn how it behaves and wants to be spun.
The wool is my teacher. Through trusting my hands to investigate the wool I will learn how it behaves and wants to be spun.
  • What does the wool look and feel like in the grease? What happens when I pull out a lock? The information I get from the raw fleece is a good start to getting to know the fleece.
  • How is the different after washing? I recently soaked a fleece where the locks were very loosely attached to each other. When I lifted the fleece out of the soak a number of stray staples swirled around in the tub, like memories in Professor Dumbledore’s pensieve.
  • How are the locks built up? Are they dense, puffy, crimpy, oblong, triangular or downy? By investigating this I can get an idea of how the yarn may bloom when finished.
  • What is the outercoat to undercoat ratio? The information about the dominant fiber type will give me a clue to what I can expect regarding characteristics like softness, warmth, shine and strength in the finished yarn.
  • How does the wool draft? Is it slinky, tough, smooth or jerky? By drafting from the cut end of a staple I can get an idea of how spinnable the wool is.

Trust the information you receive in your hands. Store it, analyze it and experiment with what you learn.

The wool is my teacher

My hands ask the wool questions like the ones in the bullet list above. I need to trust the wool to reply to me with the information I need to proceed. If I allow my hands to listen to the wool and to trust the wool they will learn about how the wool behaves and what I can do to make it justice. I need to trust the wool to be my teacher. I need to trust my hands to trust the wool. When I give myself the time to slow down and listen I will learn.

Two yarns in ten shades from one fleece. At first I spun outercoat and undercoat together, but that resulted in string. The wool taught me that I would benefit more from separating the coats.
Two yarns in ten shades from one fleece. At first I spun outercoat and undercoat together, but that resulted in string. The wool taught me that I would benefit more from separating the coats.

In the book Momo by Michael Ende the girl Momo lives in an amphitheater. By simply being with people and listening to them, she can help them find answers to their problems, make up with each other, and think of fun games. The story is about the concept of time and how it is used by humans in modern societies. The Men in Grey, eventually revealed as a species of paranormal parasites stealing the time of humans, spoil this pleasant atmosphere. One of the most important steps Momo takes in winning the stolen time back is to walk backwards. Only then can she get forward. So to come to the end of your yarn, go back to the raw fleece. Get to know it, trust it and let it lead the way.

The wool is my teacher every day. Every time I spin I learn and realize something new. I may call myself a spinning teacher, but I am just as much a spinning student. I am so grateful for this.

A learning process

To me, spending time with the wool in all its stages is the most important part of understanding wool and spinning. You can only learn about the fleece you have by being with the fleece you have. Investigate the wool and experiment. What did you see in the investigation? How is that realized in your experimentation? Analyze your findings. What do you see? What do you think that will imply? How does it realize in experimentation? What do you learn from that? The information and knowledge you get from one fleece will stay with you. With every new fleece you get to know you will have more previous fleeces to lean on. Walk backwards to move forwards.

You are your own best teacher

I trust the wool to guide me. In this guiding I trust my hands to listen to the wool. I allow my hands to ask the wool questions. And I listen to the answer. I trust what I learn from the knowledge of my hands. In this process I allow myself to be my own best teacher.

My students at Sätergläntan craft education center are their own best teachers.
My students at Sätergläntan craft education center are their own best teachers.

Together with books and talented teachers I am also my own best teacher. So are you. Trust the wool. Trust yourself to trust the wool.

Tools

I offer coursers where I guide you in understanding your fleece and making your conclusions. Through investigating, being curious and experimenting I encourage you to getting to know your fleece. Here are some tools that may inspire you to investigate your fleece:

  • Fleece through the senses challenge. Free challenge with one assignment every day for five days. This challenge has become very popular! 550 people have already accepted the challenge. Many students have shared their experiences with their fleeces in the comments. This is a huge asset to the course!
  • Know your fleece. An online course where we go a bit deeper into a fleece. I show lots of examples and inspiring videos and you get lots of tools to investigate and explore your fleece.
  • Spinn ullens bästa garn, a five-day course at Sätergläntan. We bring a fleece and investigate it to get to know how it behaves and how it wants to be spun.
  • You are welcome to contact me for a zoom workshop for your spinning group or guild.
  • I also offer personal coaching sessions.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Embrace your mistakes

At the moment I’m teaching a digital course in wool knowledge to a spinning group in Sweden. At last week’s lecture I talked about analyzing the wool characteristics of a fleece. One student , E, said she was a beginner and didn’t know what can be expected by a characteristic. Her question gave me a lot to think about. I want to turn her concern around and highlight the superpowers of working in a new field. Today I want you to embrace your mistakes.

Sometimes it can be frustrating to be a beginner. For me just as for anyone else. The feeling of shortcomings in a group where you feel everybody else knows way more than you do can be discouraging. In moments like these I choose to flip the whole thing around and see the superpowers in being a beginner.

My very first skein of handspun yarn. Fine finull lamb's wool, hand carded on rusty cards and plied with some fawn alpaca since I didn't have enough fleece.
My very first skein of handspun yarn. Fine finull lamb’s wool, hand carded on rusty cards and plied with some fawn alpaca since I didn’t have enough fleece.

Embrace your mistakes

To understand something craft related I need to feel it. If there is a rule, like “don’t use a woolen spun yarn for warp” or “a two-end knitting yarn needs to be firm” I need to experience the consequences. When I have lived it and learned it I can make progress with that lesson in the back of my head and, most importantly, in the memory of my hands. I can also experiment with the boundaries of that rule. Can I use a woolen spun yarn for a very loose sett? What is too soft in a two-end knitting yarn?

Soft and thin yarn from very fine finull lamb's wool. Way too soft for two-end knitting.
Soft and thin yarn from very fine finull lamb’s wool, spun in 2012. Way too soft for two-end knitting.

Deriving the rules

One of the superpowers of being a beginner is that I don’t know the rules. Or, perhaps I have heard of the rules, but mostly in the terms of “Don’t do this, or that will happen”. I need to see and feel for myself to understand why it is wise to go one way instead of the other. I need to learn the mistakes through my hands. Sort of like deriving pythagoras’ theorem to understand why it works. When I don’t know the rules I am most likely to break them and learn something along the way.

Too soft two-end knitting yarn

When I held a spindle in my hand for the first time, on my first spinning lesson, I wanted to spin a Z-plied yarn for two-end knitting. There’s an optimistic attitude for ya! Two-end knitting didn’t happen with that first yarn, but a while later I did make a Z-plied yarn. From the softest finull lamb’s fleece (first beginner’s mistake). Way underspun (second beginner’s mistake). But I didn’t realize that until I had started my two-end knitting project. The yarn broke over and over, but I kept knitting. I did end up with a pair of mittens (fulled, I might add) that I used daily for many winters. When the thumbs needed mending I mended. I am still proud of the mittens and I embrace the mistakes I made.

The Swedish finewool sheep Pia-Lotta. The mittens are two-end knitted from yarn I spun from Pia-Lotta's fleece. Photo by Dan Waltin
The Swedish finewool sheep Pia-Lotta. The mittens are two-end knitted from yarn I spun from Pia-Lotta’s lamb’s fleece. Photo by Dan Waltin

Sock string

The opposite happened with my recent sock yarn. I wanted to make the yarn durable but ended up with string in my first try. But I learned from that, tried again, and succeeded with a softer, but still strong sock yarn. I don’t want to unlearn that lesson.

I am knitting a pair of socks for Dan in this yarn as we speak. They should be strong enough, but I don’t know yet. The yarn makes a clear dent across my left index finger as I knit. I hope they aren’t too scratchy to wear. This proves that my sock project still has lots of potential mistakes to embrace!

Freedom of creation

Sometimes I don’t even know rules exist. That way I can be free in my expression and create from my core. I can follow an idea straight from my heart all the way to a finished project. I will definitely meet challenges and make lots of mistakes. However, when it comes to my handspun I know how much time and love I have invested in it and I just have to make it work. I owe it to the sheep, the sheep farmer and the craft. Making something work despite a big blob of a challenge forces me to use more creativity to work around it. And that is definitely a superpower.

A few years ago I got a beautiful fleece with a lot of lanolin in the tips. I stored it for about a year and decided to start working with it. By then the grease had solidified and was very difficult to work through. Combing it was tough and left my shoulders and arms strained and the wool lumpy. After having experimented for a while I decided to tease the locks with a flicker before loading them to the comb (check out this post about the fleece and watch the two videos in it, showing the difference between combing with unflicked and flicked tips). The combing was easier on my back and resulted in less lumps and less waste.

A map of what I have learned

When I learn something the hard way I will remember what I have learned. My hands will remember. Especially when I look at what I have created. I say this all the time to my students and I mean it from the bottom of my heart: My mistakes are a map of what I have learned. I can look at a finished fabric and see the mistakes. At that instant I know what went wrong, why, what I did to fix it and how I can put that new knowledge to use in following projects.

Warp wisdom

One of my first weaving projects was the Blanka pillowcase. I spun the warp on a supported spindle from the cut ends of flicked locks and the weft on a floor supported Navajo style spindle. I wove the pillowcase as a tube, with two layers of warp on top of each other. The warp ends were very sticky and I had to separate them manually. I think over 30 warp threads broke, on the top layer as well as the bottom layer. I had spent so many hours spinning this yarn, from a prize winning fleece, and I just had to finish it. Eventually I did. I mended the weave by threading a needle with the warp yarn and sewing up and down in the space where the warp thread had broken. I am not afraid of broken warp threads anymore and I know how to fix them.

I must admit I have had to use this knowledge a few times after the disastrous pillow warp too, in the Frida Chanel bag and the stick wrap.

Another lesson in the Blanka pillowcase project was that spinning from individual staples creates lots of joins that are sensitive to abrasion and easily break. I avoid that in weaving nowadays and find other ways to spin the yarn without moving too far away from my creative needs. The pillow lives in our sofa, I wear the bag and I use the stick wrap when I weave. I see the mistakes every day. And I embrace them.

Exploring the boundaries

Some of the times that I have revisited a mistake it has been as an experiment to find out where the limits are. By exploring the boundaries I can find out how much I can bend the rules. If a warp yarn is sticky but still strong enough it will take a lot more time and disrupt the flow. But nothing bad will happen. If the warp threads are strong they will just cling, not break. The worst case scenario is that I will spend more time with the weaving. I don’t see that as a problem.

The joy of the heterogenous fleece

I work with handspun yarn in general and Swedish breeds in particular. More often than not they are unique and heterogenous. I need to compromise with the rules to make the textile work with the unique yarn that I spin. By learning – the hard way – how different yarns work in different kinds of weaves I can explore the boundaries.

A woolen spun Gute warp yarn in a loose sett.
A woolen spun Gute warp yarn in a loose sett.

During the fall I have spun a Gute warp yarn. The Gute wool is very prone to felting, very variegated in staple length, staple type and fiber type. Fibers are sticking out of the yarn and are just waiting for a neighbouring fiber to hold on to. But I still want to fulfill my goal of a light, fulled textile made of my handspun Gute wool. So despite all the rules and recommendations I made a woolen spun Gute warp yarn. The yarn has quite a high twist and the sett is very loose (so that I can full it). And it works. If it doesn’t, I will mend broken warp threads. I know how to do that now.

There will be more wool

Working with your mistakes instead of dreading them is a valuable way to learn more about how your fiber works. Without the mistakes I have made – from the very first blobby skein, through he recent sock string and to all future projects – I wouldn’t have been able to understand the wool I am working with.

The saddest mistakes I have made have been with fleeces that have grown too old and brittle and I have had to use them as mulching in the garden. But even then they come into use. And there will always be more wool. If you lose one unique fleece there will be another equally unique fleece just around the corner of the pasture.

So thank you, E, for your important question. Play, explore and learn. Embrace your mistakes. They will make out a beautiful map of what you have learned.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  1. This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  2. My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  3. I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  4. I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  5. On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  6. Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  7. Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  8. 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.
  9. I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

The bottom of the basket

The bottom of the basket.

A basket full of wool can feel like an endless supply of woolly goodness. After having prepared what may seem like three bags full of wool the content still looks untouched. But the supply is not endless. Sooner or later you will get to the bottom of the basket. I did this week.

By spending time with the wool my hands learn how the wool behaves and how it wants to be spun.
By spending time with the wool my hands learn how the wool behaves and how it wants to be spun.

I love digging my hands in a new spinning project. Fiber by fiber I get to know the fleece – fiber length, elasticity, crimp, colour, shine, fiber type, staple type. These characteristics are there for me to discover. If I only invest my time and focus in the fleece they will present themselves to me. My hands will investigate and learn how the fibers behave on their way from staples to yarn:

  • How do the fibers blend in the preparation?
  • What is the draft like? Is it smooth, fudgy, resistant, slippery, light?
  • How do my hands adapt to the length of the fibers?
  • How does the lanolin work with me in the draft?

Fiber by fiber, meter by meter, my hands are programmed with the knowledge they gain from handling the wool. Always alert, always ready to reevaluate.

The bottom of the basket

But sooner or later, believe it or not, I do reach the bottom of the basket. I look down and there is not a single staple left. The wool that my hands have become so used to, so familiar with, is no more. Just like when I finish a good book – the characters and context I have come to know and love are suddenly just gone. And I miss them. I miss the wool that have become a safe space. My hands and mind have been in this particular wool for so long and now that it is gone I truly miss it.

The bottom of the basket.
The bottom of the basket.

Time spent is knowledge gained

The wool has taught me so much. Even if I can’t always put words on what I have learned – although I try to – my hands will have adapted to the characteristics of the wool. Through all the times the fibers have gone through my hands they will know how to work with the wool. Crafting is the knowledge of the hands. The knowledge from spending hours and hours with the material, the idea, the design and the tools. That knowledge is priceless.

Through handling the fibers again and again my hands have learned how the wool behaves and wants to be spun. The result this time is 12 skeins of cable-plied rya/mohair sock yarn, 454 grams and 826 meters.
Through handling the fibers again and again my hands have learned how the wool behaves and wants to be spun. The result this time is 13 skeins of cable-plied rya/mohair sock yarn, 454 grams and 826 meters.

The knowledge in numbers

I just amused myself with calculating the time spent on my latest spin, that got me to the bottom of the basket. Each of the skeins of my rya/mohair cable-plied sock yarn took:

  • 40 minutes for teasing
  • 40 minutes for carding
  • 2.5 hours for spinning
  • 30 minutes for the first S-ply
  • 20 minutes for the second S-ply
  • 20 minutes for the Z cable ply.

That sums up to 5 hours per skein. I spun 13. That is 65 hours of fibers going through my hands. Plus another few hours of washing fleece, sorting, blending, washing the finished yarn and dyeing. Let’s say 75 hours (mohair takes a lot of time to wash). That is 75 hours of being in the fleece. 75 hours of the fleece telling me what it is and how it wants to be treated (for a further discussion on time and cost of handspun, have a look at this post about calculations).

The bottom of the basket is full of knowledge.
The bottom of the basket is full of knowledge.

When I get to the bottom of the basket I realize it is not empty. I have gained not only a pile of handspun skeins yarn, but also a basketful of knowledge and experience.

I will miss handling this wool for a while. But I will also smile and walk a little prouder. I have a basketful of sparkling new knowledge. Knowledge that I will be able to put into my forthcoming baskets.

Happy spinning!


Gotta go now, I have birthday cake to eat. Our eldest turns 18 today (the age of majority in Sweden) and I am suddenly the mother of an adult.


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Knit (spin) Sweden!

Knit (spin) Sweden is in your online bookstore now!

Sara Wolf has written the lovely book Knit (spin) Sweden and I’m a co-author. The book has been out for a while, but due to Brexit and lockdowns I got my hands on it only last week. Today I give you a sneak peak of the book.

The more I read this book the more I’m fascinated by Sara’s thoroughness and knowledge. She leaves no stone unturned in finding answers to her questions. And even when she has no answer she does her very best to present as complete a picture as she possibly can. I am so glad to know her and proud be part of this book.

Sara Wolf

Sara Wolf has had a long career in museums as a textile conservator. She has a great passion for textiles in general and knitting in particular. Through her many travels, Sara has developed a deep interest in different knitting techniques and traditions around the world. While she teaches knitting she is always open to learning new techniques herself. I may be partly responsible for dragging her into the deep, deep spinning rabbit hole.

Sara has a long experience as a textile conservator, knitter and knitting traveller.
Sara has a long experience as a textile conservator, knitter and knitting traveller.

Knitting history in Sweden

While knitting is a relatively new textile technique it is still old enough to have a blurry origin. There are pieces of the puzzle, but we don’t have the whole picture. As the structured and organized reasearcher Sara is, she provides us with a lot of pieces that lead us not to a clear picture bot a lot closer to one. One example is an Egyptian sock, dated between the 12th and 14th century. The sock is knit with intricate stranded colourwork and has complex toe and heal constructions. This leads Sara to the conviction that knitting started a lot earlier than the dating of the sock. And together with findings of coins from over 20 different nations in the island of Gotland in the 9th century it makes the idea of an early arrival of knitting in Sweden very appealing.

Swedish knitting designers

Sara has chosen to portray five Swedish knitting designers and their work – the two-end knitting patterns of master knitter Karin Kahnlund, Viking inspired cable design by Elsebeth Lavold, floral stranded colourwork by Katarina Segerbrand, everyday cable garments by Ivar Asplund and the work of experimenting designer Kristin Blom.

Swedish fleece and fibers

In the fall of 2018 Sara contacted me via my blog and asked if I could spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds for a book (this book) she was writing. I was a bit reluctant at first, but we really connected and soon I sent handspun yarns from Swedish sheep breeds across the pond to her. She in turn knit swatches of my yarns.

The section in the book about Swedish fleece and fibers is almost entirely focused on Swedish sheep breeds and the wool they produce. This is the part of the book where I come in. While Sara describes the Swedish sheep breeds, I write about my process and what I think of the wool I work with. She has then written about her experience with the yarn in knitting.

I finally have the book Knit (spin) Sweden in my hands!
I finally have the book Knit (spin) Sweden in my hands! My contribution to the book is handspun yarn and some of the sections in the chapter of Swedish fleece and fibers.

My handspun in Sara’s hands

Having someone else knit with my handspun yarns is a new experience to me. Sara has some really interesting points as a knitter that differ from mine as a spinner. Some of the yarns are too scratchy as a knitting yarn, which I was fully aware of when I sent them to her. No matter how much I want a yarn to work as a knitting yarn, Sara with her long experience and skill as a knitter can pinpoint what it is that makes a particular yarn less suitable for next to skin garments. This understanding confirms my decision a few years ago to learn how to weave to be able to use yarns from the whole spectrum of spinning possibilities– from the softest of soft next to skin knitting yarn to the coarsest rug weaving yarn.

Yarn shops, mills and fairs

In three of the chapters in Knit (spin) Sweden Sara goes through places to visit in Sweden – yarn shops, craft shops, museums, spinning mills, sheep farms, fiber artists, wool and knitting fairs and much more. She writes about how to get there, what to expect and where the real treasures are.

Three chapters of the book Knit (spin) Sweden are dedicated to yarn shops, spinning mills, sheep farms, fiber artists and fairs all over Sweden.
Three chapters of the book Knit (spin) Sweden are dedicated to yarn shops, spinning mills, sheep farms, fiber artists and fairs all over Sweden.

Sara has visited many of these places during her travels to Sweden and bought their yarns. Just as with my handspun yarns she has test knitted all the yarns and tells us how they feel when knitting and as a fabric and in what kind of technique and use she thinks they will be best suited.

Knitting patterns

Are you curious about trying some Swedish knitting patterns? In the book Sara offers 11 patterns, featuring traditional patterns from different regions in Sweden and from some of the featured designers in the book. Sara has also adapted some of the historically interesting findings into patterns. I have contributed with a pair of two-end knitted wrist-warmers using traditional crook-stitch patterns.

Glossary

In the back of the book Sara provides a Swedish to English and English to Swedish glossary of knitting and spinning terms.

Find Knit (spin) Sweden here

You can find Knit (spin) Sweden in several online bookstores in North America, Europe and Sweden. Check the publisher Cooperative press in the U.S., Amazon in the U.S., Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Book depository in the E.U., and Adlibris, Akademibokhandeln and Bokus in Sweden. On all the Amazon options you can look inside the book and read the first few pages, including Sara’s and my introductions.

Knit (spin) Sweden is in your online bookstore now!
Knit (spin) Sweden is in your online bookstore now!

Thank you Sara for all the hard work you have put in to this book and for inviting me on your journey.

Have you read the book? Let me know what you think!

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. Contributions from those who can afford it will also help keeping the content free for those who can’t. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Spinning a song

With the information I have about the wool I work with I'm spinning a song. The cues I get as I spin give me the opportunity to also sing my spin.

In previous posts I have compared spinning with dancing – how the hands need to work together to find what the wool needs to become its best yarn. In this post I reflect over the similarities between spinning and singing. Today I feel like spinning a song.

Lead and backup

The other night I was watching an episode of a Netflix series. A talented singer was performing a song on stage. She also had a gutarrist with her. As she came to the chorus he acted as her backup singer. They had a focused eye contact and it looked like he watched her every movement to be able to follow her lead and back her up with every tone, duration and intensity to help bringing harmony to the song.

He had singing skills, experience and the knowledge of where she had been and where she was now. Together with both of their awareness of the present he was able to figure out where she was going and, through that, where he would go. It was a very intense moment where they totally trusted each other’s skills, knowledge and presence in the moment. It reminded me of the relationship between the wool and the spinner.

My hands learn about the wool through handling it and listens mindfully for cues to respond to during spinning.

On stage

When I spin, the wool is my lead singer, I’m the backup and the yarn is the song. I guess, in this analogy, the tools I use are the band. I have spinning skills and experience in general. Each fleece has its own characteristics that I need to keep in mind during the process. Through handling the fleece in all the steps I get a deeper understanding of this particular wool:

  • Through working with the fleece I get a sense of the length of the fibers. I adapt the twist and distance between my hands for a smooth spin and a twist to match the length of the fibers.
  • The quality of the lanolin left in the wool gives the wool a certain viscosity and decides how the fibers move in the spinning. Is it fast or slow? Light or tough? Or is there little to no lanolin left and the yarn slippery and unpredictable? My hands get an understanding of the role the lanolin plays in the way the fibers joins in in the twist.
  • Do the fibers work together as one or are they fighting each other? With stubborn fibers my hands need to make more of an effort whilst an agreeing preparation will allow my hands to work lighter.
  • Is the preparation fresh and airy or a bit old and stubborn? This will decide how much my hands need to work for the fibers to join the twist.
Working with the fleece gives me important information about how the wool is built up and how it behaves.
Working with the fleece gives me important information about how the wool is built up and how it behaves.

These are all cues I use when I spin. My hands remember how the wool behaves and they can adapt to my understanding of it. That is, if you will, the general knowledge of the wool. The wool is the lead singer here and I’m the backup singer. I need to get to know my lead singer but also be open to listening in the moment to be able to follow.

Mindful listening

Through mindful listening during spinning I get cues that tell me what is going on in this very moment. Is there a lump in the preparation that I need to take account for? Are there shorter or longer fibers in a section where I need to change the distance between my hands? I can close my eyes and try to get a sense of the consistency in the yarn. When I draft, my hands will listen for the point of twist engagement, where the yarn is open for adjustments in twist and thickness. My hands remember the quality of the yarn. If I listen mindfully I can follow the wool’s lead and contribute to making the yarn shine.

Focusing on how the fiber behaves gives med cues to respond to when I spin.
Focusing on how the fiber behaves gives med cues to respond to when I spin.

Spinning a song

The wool I’m working with now is a rya/mohair blend for a sock yarn. The mohair is quite dense and the fibers like to stick together. The rya is more airy, so in this combination there are parts that are airy and parts that are denser. I try to tease and card the blend to the best of my ability, but there are still critical spots here and there when I spin. Through the preparation of the wool my hands have gained a basic understanding of how the blend works. It’s not the walk in the park kind of wool, but I am getting to know how it sings. With this knowledge I have a better starting point when I spin. I listen for cues that have become clear to me during processing and I have a pre-understanding of what may turn up.

My hands listen carefully to the information they can get from the fibers in the yarn I'm spinning.
My hands listen carefully to the information they can get from the fibers in the yarn I’m spinning.

Just the other week I realized the difference between freshly carded rolags and rolags that were a week old. The older rolags were stubborn and fighted me while the fresh ones were a lot more cooperative. A freshly made rolag made spinning my song so much easier.

Singing a spin

In this sock yarn song the notes are difficult and the lead singer way ahead of my game. But I do my best to listen mindfully and learn as much as I can from my lead singer. I try hard to learn where my wool has been, where it is in this moment and where I can expect it to be further on and be ready for new cues. By working with what I know about the wool I’m spinning a song. With the knowledge I gain from listening mindfully to the wool while I spin I am also able to think one step ahead and sing my spin.

My hands learn about the wool through handling it and listens mindfully for cues to respond to during spinning.
With the information I have about the wool I work with, I’m spinning a song. The cues I get as I spin give me the opportunity to also sing my spin.

Happy spinning!

Knit (spin) Sweden book is out!

The book Knit (spin) Sweden, written by Sara Wolf with me as a co-author, is out! Some of you have bought it already. I hope you enjoy it! The book is available in online stores. The link is to Amazon U.S. Check it out to read about the book and also look inside it. I’m sure you can find it in other web shops in North America too. I haven’t read it yet, because I haven’t got the book. The European printer is in the U.K. and the books are sadly stuck there in a Brexit innuendo and covid shut down.

Sara has written a history of knitting in Sweden and Swedish knitting traditions. There are also knitting patterns in the book. She visits yarn shops and sheep farms, museums and spinning mills in different parts of Sweden. My contribution to the book is the (spin) part. I have spun yarn from many of the Swedish sheep breeds and sent them to Sara in the U.S. for her to knit swatches with. I have written about my experience with the wool as well as preparing and spinning it. Sara has in turn written about her experience knitting with my yarns.

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

2020 condensed

2020 is over and a new year is waiting to be discovered in all its possibilities. To be able to plan my upcoming year I want to look back at what has happened fiber wise in the past year. If you have been following me for a while you can revisit 2020 with me. If you are new here – a warm welcome – you have the chance to catch up on what has happened. This is 2020 condensed.

From all of me to all of you: Happy new spinning year 2021!

“It’s New Year’s Day. 2021 is on. May s he bring us peace, health, light and love. And wool. May she bring us wool. Happy spinning. Happy new year!” It’s 3.5 degrees Celsius in the water and 2.5 in the air and a lovely day for a morning bath.

Stash and grab

In the first month I focused on reducing my handspun stash. I had spun a lot that I hadn’t really found a project for and the handspun cupboard was bursting in its hinges. The burstiness (it’s a word) stressed me and I realized I needed to do something about it. I made lots of projects of these neglected skeins and leftover balls and we use practically all of them daily.

During the autumn of 2019 I had already started a project and I finished it in January. In the stash I had lots of naah yarn and warp thrum. My first stash busting project was seven woven chair pads with rya knots. All in all I used 1 kilo of stashed handspun yarn for warp, weft and rya knots for seven chair pads. The satisfaction! And we use them every day. I also got on a band weaving frenzy and made five handspun bands with a small rigid heddle in a few winter weeks. And suddenly I realized how much you need hand woven bands.

Years ago I started a stash busting blanket project. I had woven 10×10 cm pin loom squares of odd balls of handspun and finally got to a blanket worthy amount. Read about my blanket, and while you are at it, check out Anna’s pin loom blanket project too! She spun her squares on a medieval spindle specifically for the blanket and it looks beautiful.

With lots of skeins of Navajo spindle spun bulky singles I wove a curtain with a loose sett with the singles as weft and commercial flax yarn as warp. I used an old sheet as a background and mended a hole with a flea market lace ribbon.

A follower asked me to write about how my handspun garments have worn and matured and so I wrote a portrait of a sweater I spun and knit in 2014–2015. Later I also made a post about mending a pair of much loved nalbinding socks.

I have mended lots of other things during the year and I always feel very satisfied doing it. The rest of the family also turn to mending now rather than discarding something that is broken or worn.

Breed studies and webinars

During the past year I have written blog posts about the wool from four different Swedish sheep breeds – finull, Jämtland, rya and Klövsjö wool. I have also managed to live stream three of them in live breed study webinars. Making the breed study webinar takes a lot of time – around 10 hours for one webinar. I am nervous all day before a live stream, but once I go live I love being with you and learning through your questions. So thank you for showing up at my webinars. We are doing this together!

Backstrap weaving

In the beginning of the year I took a few courses in backstrap weaving. Since then I have started to explore this beautiful way of weaving where you as the weaver are also a part of the loom. Being so close to the weaving process has made me understand and respect it on a deeper level. During the year I have woven a weaving bag, a camera strap, a belt bag and a stick wrap on my backstrap loom. At the end of the year I also published the video Weaving with the trees where I weave on a backstrap loom in the northernmost corner of Sweden.

Tech tips

I have tried to blog about how I work with different tools and techniques. One of my most important and foundational concepts that I teach in every class is opening up the twist to achieve an easier draft and less strain. In Finding a fleece I walk you through a lots of useful tips to find fleece to work with. Don’t miss these two blog posts!

I am a happy beginner at embroidery, but I did manage to spin a lovely embroidery yarn as my contribution to the 2020 Swedish spinning championships. The skein gave me a gold medal. In this post I walk you through the rules of the championships and how I spun the yarn.

During the fall I have been experimenting with sock yarn and found a way to spin a cable yarn with a rya/mohair mix. I gave my husband a promise of socks from this yarn in a colour and model of his choice for Christmas. Still, I am sure there will be enough yarn for another couple of socks too.

A couple of videos with tech tips have left the editing board as well. In the beginning of the year I released a video where I spin by a lake from the cut end of flicked locks. A bit later a video where I spin on a Portuguese spindle in the forest. In the early fall I finished a lovely video where I spin on a great wheel in costume at the manor hall of Vallby outdoor museum (Swedish version here).

Meditations

As a way of developing my writing and opening up to a more personal way of expressing myself and my fiber journey I have been experimenting with what I call meditations. In these I let my sensations steer my process with both fiber and words and just enjoy the ride. Read about the knowledge of the hand and my relationship to the morning. Find peace with my warping and fleece meditations.

Teaching

As for many other teachers a lot of my planned courses have been cancelled this year due to Covid. I was however one of the lucky ones who was able to teach at Sätergläntan in the course I call A spindle a day.

I did launch a couple of courses in my online school. The free five-day challenge Fleece through the senses became a huge success from the start. So far 444 people have taken the course and contributed with their explorations and experimentation. Later I launched the course Know your fleece – a course about going deep into your fleece to find its soul.

The crisis has opened many people’s eyes to different ways of communicating. In early July I was invited to a zoom meeting with a spinning guild in the east coast of Australia at 6:30 in the morning. In December I was hired as a speaker at a guild meeting in Washington state in the U.S.

Writing

Apart from the 52 blog posts I have written in other contexts too. I love writing articles for spinning magazines since it makes me explore and challenge my writing even more. For Spin-Off I have written about Textile heritage and how I teach at Sätergläntan. I also published the Sweater pattern Selma Margau for Spin-Off. And of course I didn’t miss the PLY Support spindle issue. I wrote an article I simply call the Flick. In the beginning of the year the Swedish craft magazine Hemslöjd featured me and my spindles in an article.

My contribution to Sara Wolf’s book Knit (spin) Sweden has been taking up a lot of time, energy and love this year. The book is at the printer’s as we speak (a bit delayed due to Covid). You can preorder the book if you want to make sure not to miss it. A Swedish translation is in the pipeline as well.


A large part of the work I do is free and my goal is to keep it that way. If you want to support my creative work and make sure it can go on in a sustainable way, do consider becoming a patron at my Patreon page. You can pick a monthly payment of your choice. A new feature is the possibility to pay annually and get two months for free.


Happy spinning in 2021!

You can find me in several social media:

  1. This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  2. My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  3. I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  4. I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  5. On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  6. Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  7. In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  8. I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Klövsjö wool

Klövsjö sheep is one of Sweden’s ten conservation breeds. In this post I present my experience with the long, strong and shiny Klövsjö wool.

Klövsjö sheep

Klövsjö sheep, is one of the ten conservation breeds in Sweden. Much like the other conservation breeds they were found in the early 1990’s and considered a breed of their own. They were found in the town of Klövsjö in Jämtland in mid-Sweden. Just like the other heritage breeds, the goal is to save the breed with the biggest genetic diversity possible. The breeding aims should not be directed towards a specific characteristics, like the wool.

For a heritage breed Klövsjö sheep are rather large. Rams can weigh 60–80 kg and ewes 45–70 kg. They can get very old, 15 years is not unusual. One of the shepherdesses of the found flocks says her grandmother made porridge for the oldest ewes who had no teeth left so they would make it through the winter.

The statistics from the Swedish sheep breeder’s association state that in 2019 there were 600 breeding ewes in 83 flocks.

Most Klövsjö sheep are white, black or black with white spots in face or on the legs. Klövsjö sheep are affectionate and the ram can usually go with the flock all year round.

Many of the heritage breeds, including Klövsjö sheep, are shorn twice a year. If not, there is a risk that the fleece will felt and be difficult to handle for both shearer and crafter.

Wool characteristics

Klövsjö wool is a dual coat with long, shiny outercoat and soft and fine undercoat. The lock is almost straight with defined staples. The outercoat is coarse and not suitable for next to skin garments. As you can see, the Klövsjö looks a lot like Rya wool. The klövsjö wool I got is a good example of a fleece with mostly staples of rya type.

The shine of Klövsjö wool is exceptional. Especially the outercoat, but there is lots of lovely shine in the undercoat as well.

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

The Klövsjö fleece I have is an autumn shearing of a grown sheep. The outercoat is around 18 cm and the undercoat 10.

Prepare

In the 2019 Swedish fleece championships I got my hands on the lovely Klövsjö fleece from the lamb Frida. I decided to plan for a warp yarn with Frida’s outercoat. Therefore I chose to separate outercoat from undercoat and spin them into different yarns. The outercoat makes out the warp yarn and the undercoat may become a soft knitting yarn.

Separating with combs

To separate outercoat from undercoat I use my combing station with two-pitched combs. The two-pitched combs grab hold of the shorter undercoat better than combs with only one row of tines, which makes the separation easier.

I load the stationery comb with the locks, putting the outermost edge of the cut end on the tines so that close to no fiber shows on the handle end of the comb. I comb with the tines perpendicularly to each other in a horizontal circular movements. Since the fibers are so long I need to make bold and dramatic movements. If not, there is a risk that the fibers in the combs aren’t separated and there will be loops which will make a mess.

When as much as possible of the wool is on the active comb I make the circular movement vertical, tines still perpendicular to each other.

I use combs with a combing station to separate the outercoat from the undercoat.

When the staples are separated and the fibers even I pull the outercoat off the stationery comb. I pull just under a staple length at a time, rearranging the grip after each pull so that I get a continuous top out of the comb. When I think there is no more outercoat left I pull the top all the way off the comb and put aside. I then pull the undercoat off and put it in a separate pile.

Second combing

After having made a few rovings I comb them again. This will make the rovings more even and I will be able to separate any residual undercoat from the outercoat. I take a number of combed rovings and recharge them on the stationery comb, usually two or three (of course depending on the capacity of the combs). I comb through the fibers twice and make sure they are fully separated and even.

To make the roving extra even I comb a second time and diz.

When the comb load looks good I pull it off the stationery comb. In this case I want a very even roving so I diz it through a button hole. To start I pull the very tip of the tip end and twist it between my fingers, double it and pull it through the button hole. Then I start dizzing – I push the button forward, pull the fiber bundle and repeat until there is no more outercoat left on the stationery comb. I remove the roving and make a bird’s nest of it. I pull the residual undercoat from the stationery comb and put it on the undercoat pile.

Lovely birds’ nests of combed and dizzed outercoat of Klövsjö wool.

Carding the undercoat

I card rolags from the undercoat that has been separated (and teased) from the outercoat in the combing process:

  1. I pull my teased wool onto the cards. When the wool doesn’t stick anymore I stop. To avoid over loading I remove any excess from the handle side of the card.
  2. I leave an empty frame around the wool. The wool will fluff up when I start carding and it will spread outwards in the next stroke.
  3. I stroke the wool gently between the cards. This pushes the wool just a bit into the teeth – not all the way down. The more silent the carding the better.
  4. After the third pass I use the active card and my free hand to lift the wool off the stationary card and make a rolag with the help of my active card and my free hand. To keep the stationery card steady I push the handle against the inside of my thigh.
  5. When I have reached the handle side of the stationery card and there actually is a rolag, I lift the rolag between my open hand and my active card, move it back to the beginning of the card again and roll the rolag gently between the cards.
Hand carded rolags of Klövsjö undercoat wool.

In the second part (starting at 4:11) of my video Teasing wool with combs you can see my carding technique and how I make the rolags.

Spin

I separated the undercoat from the outercoat to make the most of the two very different fiber types. To enhance the characteristics of each fiber type I spin them differently.

Outercoat

I spent the spring spinning the combed outercoat worsted on a suspended spindle with the aim of a strong warp yarn. The outercoat was very pleasant to work with and drafted like butter.

The length of the outercoat fibers can be a challenge. These fibers were around 20 centimeters. I think it is easier to work with a suspended spindle with this length compared to a spinning wheel. I need to consider the length of the fibers when I draft – the longer the fibers the longer the distance between my hands. If I spin on a spinning wheel the motion will be back and forth, which may be straining for my back. If I spin on a suspended spindle I can draft to the side and won’t have to work with my back in the same way.

The blue dye that turned out green. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The worsted spun outercoat yarn is fiercely strong and incredibly shiny. I dyed it in two shades of blue, which turned out green. I still love the result.

Undercoat

The lovely undercoat rolags had an adventure of their own. I brought them to Vallby outdoor museum and spun them on the great wheel with a smooth long draw into the loveliest woolen yarn. The rolags worked perfectly with the technique. In some cases there was a bit of outercoat left and the draft was a bit more demanding, but for the most part the draft surprisingly smooth.

Spinning the carded undercoat fibers on a great wheel.

The yarn I spun at Vallby is still in singles and I haven’t decided whether I should ply it or not. It is soft and airy and has a silky shine.

You can watch me spin and card the lovely Klövsjö undercoat on my video Spinning on a great wheel (available in Swedish as Spinna på långrock).

Strong and shiny worsted spun outercoat to the left. Soft and airy woolen spun undercoat to the right.

Use

Klövsjö wool with its dual coat is very versatile. You can choose to separate the fiber types like I have above or keep them together and prepare and spin for a woolen or worsted yarn. Considering the range from soft lamb’s wool to the coarser spectrum of a grown ewe the versatility increases even more. Have a look at the blog post about Rya wool I wrote a couple of weeks ago to compare.

Due to this versatility the yarn from Klövsjö wool can be used for a number of different purposes. Use the finest lamb’s undercoat for a next to skin yarn, the strong outercoat for a warp yarn, a combination of undercoat and undercoat for a sweater or play with anything between a fine embroidery yarn to a rough rug yarn.

All I have done so far with the Klövsjö wool I had is a woven belt bag from the spindle spun outercoat. It is combined with the Chanel warp yarn for a lovely green and brown striped pattern.

In my online course Know your fleece there is a 25 minute video where I present Klövsjö wool and demonstrate how I prepare, spin and use Klövsjö wool.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  1. This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  2. My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  3. I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  4. I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  5. On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  6. Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  7. In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  8. I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Spinning on a great wheel

I have a new video for you today: Spinning on a great wheel. The video was shot at the manor hall at Vallby outdoor museum in Västerås, Sweden in the end of July. My friend Cecilia and I had the loveliest time with the wheel at the 18th century manor hall. We got so wrapped up in spinning and video angles that we totally forgot to take photos. All the photos from the shooting in this blog post are saved frames from the video.

I have been longing to even touch a great wheel for a long time. Due to the size of the great wheels there aren’t many left in Sweden. Luckily, there is one at Vallby outdoor museum not so far from my home in Stockholm.

I made this video in two versions. The first one is in spoken English. It has closed captions in English and Swedish.

The second version is in spoken Swedish, also with closed captions in English and Swedish. I usually don’t make multiple versions or multiple captions, but I made the spoken Swedish version as a thank you to the museum for letting us work and play in their manor hall.

Getting access

My friend Cecilia volunteers as a reenactor at Vallby outdoor museum from time to time. Through this cooperation she has connections with the curators at the museum. She also knows the buildings and the artifacts in the museum collections. During her work at the museum she had seen and admired the beautiful great wheel in the manor hall.

A reenactor at Vallby outdoor museum.
Cecilia volunteers as a reenactor at Vallby outdoor museum from time to time. Photo published with permission from the photographer, Åsa Lindberg at Bellman & Jag AB

Cecilia asked the curators if we could come to the museum and spin on the great wheel and make a video. Since she is used to dressing in period costume when she volunteers she also asked if we could borrow costumes for the event. They agreed and we were over the moon!

The manor hall

The manor hall at Vallby outdoor museum was finished in 1807 in the copper works in Hallstahammar. It was donated to the museum and moved there in 1928.

A red wooden manor hall.
The manor hall at Vallby outdoor museum, built in 1702 at Hallstahammar copper works and moved to the museum in 1928. The red pigment in the paint comes from copper.

There are lots of exciting rooms and chambers in the manor hall. The great wheel is in the dining room, from which you get sneak peaks of the surrounding rooms in the video. We shot the carding scene in the entrance hall.

The building is obviously old and a challenge to protect from wind and weather. To keep the moist out of the house there is a dehumidifier that is turned on automatically. You can hear the dehumidifier as a buzzing sound in the video.

Period costume

We spent a day at the museum in the end of July. Before we went to the manor hall we picked out the costumes in the costume store and transformed into 18th century sisters (Cecilia and I are actually second cousins). In the video we are wearing a simple chemise and on top of that a skirt and a bodice. An apron of course, a neckerchief and the humiliating cap. And, oh, I made sure we got ourselves secret pockets underneath the skirts too. You can’t have too many pockets! The clothes would have been worn by both ladies and maids at the manor hall.

Two women dressed in period clothing from the 18th century. They are sitting on a couch with a basket between them.
Cecilia and I are wearing period clothing from the 18th century, from the same time as the manor hall. Look at me all decadent with my tousled neckerchief!

Shooting

Being in such a beautiful setting made the experience even more special than it already was. The broad floor tiles, the magnificent tapestries and the air of the rooms was mesmerizing. And, of course the costumes added an extra dimension.

The great wheel was standing in a corner in the dining room of the manor hall, which was the perfect spot – the positioning in the natural light from several windows was just perfect. I had brought minimal equipment on the train, just my phone camera and two tripods.

Usually there are lots of visitors at the museum. The entrance is free and visitors can visit all the buildings. During the pandemic there have been restrictions – visitors are allowed to walk around outdoors but not in the buildings. This meant that Cecilia and I had the manor hall to ourselves and could concentrate on spinning and shooting the video. A few visitors peeked through the windows when they saw what they thought was staff in the building and some knocked on the door, but we kept on working.

Wool prep

Spinning on a great wheel requires high quality fiber preparation. Since the spinning is done with one hand there is no room for fixing bumps or thin parts. The fiber needs to be very evenly carded to keep a steady rhythm in the spinning.

For this shoot we used the undercoat from the Klövsjö sheep Frida. You can see her outercoat as the green stripes in the Frida Chanel bag. When I separated the undercoat from the outercoat I was left with a fluff of teased undercoat that I carded at home. We also carded more during the shoot. It was a lovely wool to work with all the way through.

The Klövsjö sheep Frida provided her undercoat fibers for our spinning on the great wheel. The basket is a traditional saigkorg from Gotland – a basket made of hand carved juniper and pine to store carded wool in.

Great wheels

Great wheels were originally used to spin short fibers like cotton in India and China. This type of wheel was the first mechanized spinning tool after the hand spindle. It was probably invented as a faster way to spin. The great wheel is believed to have become common among peasants in northern Europe in the late 13th century. It was a popular tool in Sweden in the 18th and 19th centuries for spinning cotton and wool.

Details of the great wheel. The circular wooden piece is the tension knob that we realized we needed to use more often.

Other names are muckle wheel, long wheel and walking wheel in English speaking countries. In Sweden the great wheel is called långrock (long wheel) but also fabriksrock (factory wheel), bomullsrock (cotton wheel) and dukrock (cloth wheel). A common use for the yarn spun on a great wheel was weft yarn for the textile manufacturers (vantmakerier) in Sweden. Cecilia has tried to find out more about the great wheel we used, but she has found none.

The great wheel was a lovely acquaintance. We had some problems with her, though. There seemed to be a part missing – some sort of disc to stop the spun wool from coming into the leather loop that holds the spindle. We tried different solutions to varying results.

We also experienced that the spindle started sliding after a while (you can see this in some parts of the video). After a while we realized that there was a simple solution to this problem – we just needed to adjust the tension of the drive band more often.

Spinning on a great wheel

To prepare for the very special moment with the great wheel I watched Norman Kennedy spin on a great wheel in the video Spin flax and cotton: Traditional techniques with Norman Kennedy from Long thread media. You can get a glimpse of his technique in this promo video. I actually walked the steps in my living room to practice while at the same time pretending I was turning the wheel, drafting the fiber and changing the angle of the yarn. It was actually quite fun!

There are lots of cooperating sequences to keep track of when spinning on a great wheel – fiber, steps, wheel and angles.

Spinning on a great wheel is the same principle as spinning on a supported spindle or a floor supported Navajo style spindle. You build up twist in the rolag, make the draft at a narrow angle from the tip of the spindle, add twist and change the angle to roll the yarn onto the spindle. To that comes the walking. Spinning on a great wheel requires a lot of focus.

Spinning by colour

I have played with colours to sort things out in a simple description of the not-so-simple step sequence, changing of angles and direction of the wheel.

  1. To start with a new rolag I place the end of the spun yarn on top of the rolag and let the twist catch the fiber when I start spinning.
  2. I hold the rolag with my left hand at a 45 degree angle from the direction of the spindle.
  3. I set the wheel in motion clockwise with my right hand.
  4. While I take three steps back to lengthen the yarn I allow more fiber into the twist.
  5. When there is enough twist in the yarn I turn the wheel counter-clockwise for a short section. At the same time I change the angle of the thread to a 90 degree angle from the direction of the spindle and walk one step to the right.
  6. I turn the wheel clockwise again, walk two steps forward and let the spun yarn roll onto the spindle. After that I change the angle of the yarn again and start over from 2 (or 1 if I am pout of fiber).
Spinning on a great wheel is a slow juggle with steps, angles, wheel and fiber supply.

Dancing the great wheel

Spinning on a great wheel is an experience. There is a flow and a rhythm that is truly fascinating. As a spinner I need to trust the wool to do its job. If I have carded the wool evenly and listen to the wool as I draft, a long draw of almost two meters is actually possible.

When I hold the rolag gently I will be able to feel how the twist enters the fibers and how the fibers join into the twist. There is a constant communication between the fiber and my hand: The fiber tells the hand

  • when the twist enters the fiber
  • how long the fibers are
  • how quickly the fibers catch each other
  • the amount of fiber that is fed to the twist
  • how thick the yarn is.

The hand listens carefully and adapts to the information. With the adaptation the fiber sends new information that my hand will interpret again. Through listening to the wool the hand learns what works and what doesn’t. And some things did work. I produced a lovely skein!

The result of the day at Vallby is this lovely skein of singles yarn. I think I will keep it this way and use it as weft, just as most great wheel spun yarn was back in the days.

After three hours with the great wheel Cecilia and I were blissfully happy, yet exhausted like wrung out rags. It’s a wonder I got home on the train.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.