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.

Teaching at Sätergläntan

This week I have been teaching at Sätergläntan craft education center – a five-day course I call A spindle a day. The students learn four different spindle types and wool processing. On the fifth and final day I invite them to a wool tasting to make them realize how much they have actually learned. The course is also about the slowness of spindle spinning and how spinning can help you find peace of mind.

Sätergläntan craft education center in its midsummer prime.

Teaching at Sätergläntan

This is the third time I teach a five-day course at Sätergläntan – the first time was all about supported spindle spinning. Last summer I taught A spindle a day for the first time. It has been such a lovely experience every time. Inspiration oozes from every corner of every building at the center. Every handle, curtain, rug, hook and decoration is hand made. Teaching at Sätergläntan is – aside from the teaching experience itself – an experience mindfully wrapped in a handmade environment bursting with craft and creativity.

I stayed in the landscape house where all the rooms are named after Swedish landscapes. I got the Gotland room, which must have been the nicest of them all. It was filled with hand crafted things made with love and care by crafters and artists from Gotland in traditional techniques.

A spindle a day

The course was fully booked many months ago, but due to the corona crisis several people had had to cancel their reservations. But there were still enough students left for the center to go through with the course. We all missed the presence of the spinners who couldn’t make it and hope they will be able to take it another, safer time. As a teacher I felt privileged, though, for the opportunity to teach only five students and be able to give them all individual coaching when they needed it. The students were between 20 and 69,5 years old – my youngest group yet. Usually I’m the youngest at 47. The students had different spinning backgrounds and experiences from novice to intermediate but all with a profound interest in textiles and wool.

Suspended spindle

The first day was dedicated to wool knowledge, combing and suspended spindle spinning. We looked at what the wool preparation does not only for the spinning experience but also for the decisions you make through the process. Every time you handle the wool you learn something about it – how long the staples are, the elasticity, how it drafts and how it holds together. All these little pieces add together into a puzzle that gets more and more complete as you work with the wool. When you get to the spinning part you have gathered information that will help you make decisions about your yarn and your spinning technique. We worked with these thoughts as our guide throughout the whole course.

I encouraged the students to try different wools and reflect over how the wools are and behave differently and how the behavior of the wool influence the decisions they make for the yarn.

One students made thorough samples with notes for all her preparation, spinning techniques and spindle types.
One students made thorough samples with notes for all her preparation, spinning techniques and spindle types.

Navajo style spindles and carding

Day two was dedicated to carding and spinning on Navajo style spindles. As I wrote in last week’s post my wood turner Björn Peck had delivered a batch of beautiful Navajo style spindles for the course.

Navajo style spindles are risky to ship, especially between continents. If you are in North America, please buy from Navajo artists. Here is one. There are also other makers in the U.S.

Carding rolags

There is something about carding. Some people card the way they have learned many years ago, some don’t really like carding because they don’t get good result. But few have analyzed their carding or which properties to strive for in their rolags. In the course we talked about what we want the rolag to do and how to get there.

Rolag progression in Åsen wool from one student from bottom to top. The aim is a rolag with an even distribution of separated fibers throughout a rolag with an even and defined shape.

After the class one student said she had been carding for 35 years but had never got as round rolags as she had today. Another said that she now enjoyed the carding process in a way she hadn’t before. My heart bubbles of joy when I can guide my students to make new insights like these. They all made a remarkable progress in their carding similar to the one in the photo above.

Spinning on Navajo style spindles

Spinning on a Navajo style spindle is both slow and fast. You set the spindle in motion by rolling the shaft with your flat hand against your outer thigh. You don’t get much speed in that. However, you usually spin with quite low twist yarn and often bulky yarns.

The students felt more comfortable with the slow spinning style but did get results fast since the fiber spun up quickly. And they all loved the technique. The whole body is involved in the motion and there is something magic happening between the hands in the long draw that stretches from the spindle hand at the thigh and the fiber hand by the opposite shoulder.

We worked a lot with opening up the twist and finding the point of twist engagement. The point of twist engagement is the space in the distance between fiber and yarn where there is enough twist for the fibers to stick together but not enough to lock them. This was a revelation to the students. By keeping the twist close to that twist angle where the fibers just slide past each other without sliding apart they could manipulate the yarn by opening up the twist with just a light movement with their thumbs on each side of the point of twist engagement.

Double and consecutive drafting

We tried spinning with both a double draft and (in lack of better words) a consecutive draft.

With the double draft you

  • add twist to the rolag until you feel the rolag twisting slightly in your fiber hand
  • draft (the first draft) by moving your fiber hand outwards until you reach shoulder height
  • fine tune any bumps by opening up the twist
  • add more twist (second draft) when you are happy with the shape and thickness of the yarn.

In consecutive drafting (does anyone have a better term for this?) you

  • do only the first draft all through the wool for one skein. You end up with a fluffy cake of lightly twisted pencil roving or pre-draft.
  • Once finished you draft through the wool a second, third or even fourth time, each time drafting a bit until you get the thickness you want, still keeping the twist close to the point of twist engagement. At the final draft you add the twist you need for the finished yarn.

This is a more efficient way that can also lead to a more even yarn. I haven’t done this very much, but this day I tried it. I ended up making four consecutive drafts, starting with a bulky pre-draft and ending with a thin and even singles yarn.

I really liked this consecutive method of drafting and I will explore it further. Having one task for each turn with the wool made the yarn more even. I also had time to think about what I was doing and how I wanted to go through with the upcoming draft.

In-hand spindle and distaff

I always feel a bit nervous when I present the in-hand spindle and distaff technique. There are lots of things to focus on and it can be a bit overwhelming. But it can bring the students closer to textile history (from a European perspective). It can also bring them closer to the yarn and the spinning since the spinner has a lot of control over the yarn they spin.

Nice and orderly and good. Dressed distaffs for in-hand spinning. Värmland, finull and dalapäls wool.

The students dressed their distaffs and spun their yarns, all looking like the flemish paintings that give us the clues to the technique – a proud raised distaff hand, a twiddling spindle hand in hip-height and the yarn diagonally over the torso. And, as with all the previous spindle techniques they learned how to spin with both hands as spindle hands and fiber hands, just like I tell them to. They look at their technique, verbalize it and make lots of progress in both theory and practice – they talk about what they do and have the vocabulary to analyze the technique.

In-hand spinning with distaffs in the shade.

Supported spindle

The fourth spindle in the course was the supported spindle. This is the spindle I feel the most confident teaching because I have done it so many times. It was also the spindle some of the students had looked forward to the most.

Supported spindle spinning day was a success. Spindle in cherry by Björn Peck.

On a one- or two-day course I usually teach the technique in steps, beginning with an empty spindle, progressing to spinning with commercial yarn and then move on to fiber. But in this course the students have gradually learned the skills they need to spin on a supported spindle and they can skip these preparational steps. They have learned to change angles and spin over the upper tip of the spindle in both Navajo style spinning and in-hand spinning. Through all the previous spindle days they have learned to handle the wool, wool preparation and most importantly to listen to and trust the wool. They all loved the technique and quickly came to a mindful place when spinning.

My students learn to flick with three fingers and the thumb for more flicking oomph and less strain. Supported spindle in flame birch by Björn Peck.

Many of them had very high expectations of the Björn Peck spindles I had brought and they were not disappointed. I had spindles from several different renown spindle makers for them to try but most of them loved Björn’s spindles the best.

Wool tasting

Wool tasting is a concept I have developed to give the students an experience of one wool at a time and to allow them to practice what they have learned throughout the week. We do this on the fifth day that is dedicated to peace of mind and reflection.

They get five different wools, one at a time and get to handle each wool for 15 minutes. They analyze the wool, make notes of its characteristics, prepare and spin it and tie a sample to the wool tasting form. During these 15×5 minutes they go on a journey to discover each wool on their own, make decisions on preparation and spinning tools and how to prepare and spin it based on the skills they have learned during the week. When the wool tasting form is filled with all five wools in the tasting they have in front of them a map of what they have learned.

I enjoyed every second of watching them focused at their task. During the course I had seen them struggling with tools and spindles, making amazing progress and now handling wool, tools and thought process with confidence. I was so proud of them and thankful for having had the privilege of guiding them to their new skills.

Spinning meditation

The last thing we did before the course was over was to go inwards in a spinning meditation. To me spinning and meditation have a lot in common. Just like meditation, spinning can bring you into a flow where you can allow your thoughts to come and go and to find the space between your thoughts.

In the spinning meditation we allow ourselves to listen to the wool with no expectations on the yarn. For fifteen minutes we spin in silence. I do my best to guide them into noticing their surrounding, the experiences of the senses in the spinning and the inner process when they spin. Towards the end of the meditation I ask them to close their eyes if they want to to get the opportunity to come even closer to the inner process of spinning. Spinning with your eyes closed can seem scary, but all the students felt safe enough in the group and confident enough in their spinning to close their eyes, some for several minutes.

Through the filled-out form in the wool tasting the students got their map of what they had learned. During the spinning meditation I got mine. I saw them spin relaxed, focused and with knowledge in their hands and minds. Eventhough it was melancholic to leave Sätergläntan and the students my heart was singing as I walked over the meadow to the main building. For five days I had had the privilege of watching five spinners develop and grow in their spinning skills and wool preparation, but perhaps most of all in their inner spinning process. And I had been a part of that.

I will treasure these memories like sweets in a chrystal bowl. In the darkness of the winter months I will pick them, one by one, and think back on a lovely midsummer time spent at Sätergläntan. But befor that, I will come back. In October I teach the five-day course Spin the fleece’s best yarn. I can’t wait.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • 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 knowledge of the hand

“I have a Norwegian crossbred whole-year fleece of excellent quality. Do you want one or two kilos?” The phone call came a year ago from Kia, a wool classifier and the person who has taught me the most about wool. “Well, I really have no room for more wool, but I may be able to squeeze in one kilo” I answered. “Do you want one or two kilos?”, Kia persisted. I realized that she really wanted me to make this fleece justice. What Kia considers a high quality fleece is a high quality fleece, so I replied that I would love two kilos. “Great, I’ll send it straight away!”.

From grease to yes please

So I have two kilos of extra beautiful Norwegian crossbred wool. The staples are around 12 cm and creamy white. More than wavy, less than crimpy.

Raw fleece with greasy and almost solidified tips.
Raw fleece with greasy and almost solidified tips.

When I got the fleece the tips were solidified by greasy lanolin. I imagined the sheep having skipped about in a Norwegian mountain, coastal climate rain pushing the lanolin out into the tips, creating a concentrated paste of grease.

Clean fleece
Clean fleece after a fermented suint bath.

After having admired my new bundle of fluff I soaked it in a fermented suint bath. The grease in the tips disappeared like magic. Apart from the tips the fleece was actually quite clean from the beginning, just the odd seed or piece of grass. I saw no hay or straw so don’t think the sheep had been stabled over the winter.

Two staples of wool, the leftmost white and clean, the rightmost yellow and dirty.
Raw fleece to the right, soaked in fermented suint bath to the left.

The knowledge of the hand

I decided to make this wool a long time spinning project. I got the fleece around the time I started my fascination of Andean spinning and weaving, and I realized the fleece would be perfect for hand teasing and spinning on Andean pushkas. The technique is slow and gives me the opportunity to grasp the knowledge of the hand.

A minimum of tools

All through this project I use a minimum of tools. I tease the wool by hand and spin with a simple hand carved Andean pushka. The method is slow, at least the way I do it.

When I tease the wool I get to know it. I get to know how to tease it to its best advantage, the direction and angle of pulling the fibers apart. I feel the structure of the staples and the individual fibers. When I tease I feel how the fibers stick together and how they separate. I can spot every nepp, tangle and weak fiber. During the teasing phase I get a feeling of how how the wool drafts. My hands learn the length of the fibers and its bounce.

A handful of unprocessed wool, a hand teased top and spindle spun singles.
Three stages – a handful of unprocessed wool, a hand teased top and spindle spun singles.

Time is knowledge

In a project like this the wool goes through my hands many times. One handful of fiber takes between 20 and 30 minutes to hand tease into a top. This is 20 to 30 minutes of opportunity to get to know the fiber, in the preparation phase alone. I open up each staple, arrange the teased wool into a top, draft through the top, double it, draft again and so on until I have a top with decently aligned and fully separated fibers.

Every time my hands interact with the fiber they learn something new about it. The knowledge of the hand is one of my most important tools when I spin.

A suspended spindle with the sea in the background.
With a simple tool you have the opportunity to learn more – through your body and through time. The knowledge of the hand is my most important tool.

You can move lots of mechanics from your body to the tools – processing, speed, tension and twisting of the fiber. In a way it saves you time. But it also takes away time spent with the wool. Time is actually of the essence here – time spent with the wool in all its stages.

A bedtime story

Most of the time I spin this project in bed before I go to sleep. It is a lovely way to end the day. I either tease or spin, let my thoughts come and go and find balance at the end of the day.

A two kilo pile of wool is a lot. To avoid strain from spinning I spin half of it clockwise and half counterclockwise. That way both my hands will learn and get to know the wool and the spinning as spinning hand and as fiber hand.

I spin this wool with a very low twist. The simple reason for this is that that is how I have learned from watching the Andean spinning workshop. The singles for weaving yarns are spun very loosely and given a high ply twist. I haven’t figured out why yet. One reason can be that it is easier to handle the singles when they have a low twist (that is my experience and quite painful lesson).

Spinning with such a low twist requires a slow tool and a slow technique. I don’t think I would have been able to spin with such a low twist on a spinning wheel, or a faster spindle for that matter. And when I spin the low twist singles on the pushka I have time to test the yarn for strength for every stretch of yarn I spin.

A spindle full of plied yarn on a chopping block.
Around 50 grams of plied yarn on a 20 gram spindle

I feel lucky to be able to spend all this time with this wool. There are so many aspects in these evening moments that I am so grateful for. Practicing, learning and finding a peace of mind. When I am done for the night I shake the tiny bits of vegetable matter out of the duvet and go to sleep in balance and at peace. During the night my brain processes what my hands have learned.

Learning by doing

Someone can tell me the dos and don’ts of a craft. I can understand it intellectually. But I won’t truly get it until I feel it – the knowledge of the hand key here.

A recent example is when I took a course in backstrap weaving. The teacher said it was important to use a yarn that wouldn’t stick, preferably cotton. I wanted to learn backstrap weaving to weave with my handspun yarns. I knew some of the yarns I had chosen would be too sticky. But what did too sticky mean? How would it feel? What would too sticky lead to? Where was my stickiness limit?

I tried different yarns in different degrees of stickiness. I learned when it would be too much trouble to manually separate the warp threads for each shed. In some cases I learned that sticky wool would pull fibers out of the yarn, leading to thinning warp threads and eventually breakage. I understood this before, intellectually. But it wasn’t until my hands felt and experienced the effect that I truly understood. The knowledge of the hand teaches me so much more than understanding something I read or hear from someone. My hands need to feel experience and understand the cause and effect.

A skein of creamy white yarn on a flat stone surface.
Slow is my favourite way to quality.

The funny thing is that I can take this knowledge back to my brain again – by writing about this process I can verbalize it and understand it in more depth. So thank you dear readers for encouraging me to write!

Textile plans

I am spinning this yarn into a weaving yarn, half of the skeins z-plied and half s-plied. I plan to dye the skeins in a variety of colours and use in backstrap weaving projects.

One of my first projects will be a case for all the backstrap loom sticks I have carved lately. I suddenly got an urge to carve sticks and couldn’t stop. I carve in maple which is lovely to work with this time of year. The bark comes of and the knife moves through the wood like butter.

Hand carved sticks of different sizes on a pile of wood chips.
Some of the backstrap loom sticks I have been carving lately. Of course they need a backstrap woven case!

It will take a while before I get to that stage, though. I have spun six skeins thus far, around 250 grams. There is a lot of wool left. I will have many hours to deepen the knowledge of the hand.

Five skeins of white yarn and a spindle full of plied yarn.
Six skeins spun, plenty left to learn from.

In the end I did manage to squeeze the two kilo fleece into my fleece storage. I already knew there would be room in my heart for it. A big thank you goes from my heart and my hands to you Kia!


Next weekend I’m going on my annual wool journey with my wool traveling club. A bit more distanced than we are used to, though. I may not find the time to blog, but there will be a new blog post in two weeks, hopefully telling you about the wool journey (which I’ll be getting to by bike this year!).

Stay safe and happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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

A fleece meditation

“I have a fleece from my young ewe Elin that I think you should have”, said Claudia, a shepherdess of Swedish Gestrike sheep. This happens every now and then. One of the advantages of being known in the spinning world is that shepherdesses trust me with their fleeces and they are curious of what I make of them. In this post I dive deep into the fibers in a fleece meditation.

The ladies and the elements

Claudia and I have met a few times since then but life has happened and the fleece stayed with Claudia. A global crisis came in the way. Eventually and with a little (or a lot) help from a friend Claudia managed to get the fleece to me. Claudia’s friend Kristina – also a spinner – was going to Stockholm where she studies and Claudia asked me if I could meet Kristina outside her school. Of course, I said. The bike ride would do me good.

So, we settled on a Tuesday in the end of April. I imagined a lovely bike ride through town, crisp birch leaves and cherry blossom edging the bike path and the fresh spring air welcoming my face in its midst. As it turned out, it was one of the most dramatic days of spring, weather wise – grinning rain, hail and icy winds had Stockholm in a firm grip, playing with its tousled inhabitants. The birches and the cherry trees were still there of course, but not in the atmosphere I had imagined. Still, a fleece was waiting for me and there wasn’t much I could do.

Embracing the hail as good as I could muster I hopped on the bike and pedaled my way in to town in sheer determination. I met Kristina, chatted for a while and went home with the fleece in the bike bag. An hour and 17 kilometers after I had left home I was back again. A bit cold, a bit wet, but richer in fleece and fresh air.

A raw fleece in dirty black and white.
The raw fleece from the Gestrike ewe Elin forms the beginning of a fleece meditation.

A bath

The fleece of the Gestrike sheep Elin is now in our house, filling the house with the soft smell of sheep and the promise of hours of gentle touch, creative work and new experiences.

Before I put Elin in the washtub I balanced her on the scales. 1,7 kilos, quite a large fleece for a Swedish heritage breed. I assumed some of the weight would wash out with the soaking water.

Soak

I filled the washtub with warm water in the bathroom – it is still a bit too cold to soak wool outdoors. As I gently pressed the sticky fleece down into the tub the water streamed up from underneath, found its path between the fibers, pressing the abruptly awoken dirt out of the staples and into the gushing water, creating reddish brown whirls which slowly shaped echoes of the locks.

A girl should have her privacy in the bath, so I left her in the tub for around fifteen minutes. When I came back I could hardly see her anymore. Gone was the clear water and the brown whirls. All that was left was a luke warm sea the colour of yesterday’s coffee with a few floating islands of wet wool lurking by the surface like frogs waiting for juicy flies. Between the islands were accumulations of soapy foam created by the union of the salty suint and the warm water.

Rinse

I gently squeezed the water out of the heavy water-saturated wool mass and filled the tub with fresh water. I repeated the process three more times, brown whirls fading slightly for each new soak. By the third rinse the water was clear and the wet locks distinctly visible in the tub, black and white staples shining like herrings in a school.

Spin-dry

After another squeeze I moved the shapeless wad into the washing machine to spin-dry it. Fifteen minutes later I opened the drum and was presented a bursting cloud of wool all the way up to the edge. Gone was the pile of sticky staples. Instead I saw before me an airy muchness of creative prospectives, inviting me to explore them.

A clean fleece in black and white.
Elin’s fleece is now clean an a lot lighter.

When I weighed the fleece again I was shocked of the number the pointer stayed at – 1,2 kilos. Gone were 500 grams of lanolin, sweat salts and short bits of fiber. My fleece was freed of half a kilo of gunk that I happily donated to the garden beds as fertilizer. My heart sings of the prospect of a flax harvest invigourated by dirty wool soak.

The fibers

Most of the staples had proud, gently waved outercoat, collected like the straws in a paint brush and air-filled hoopskirt undercoat, ready to embrace anyone who needed their warmth.

Black and white wool staples.
A few members of the Elin dance company.

Outercoat

The fibers are bundled up together to bring protection to the sheep. Some of the strands are long, proud and glistening, aspiring for length to protect the sheep from rain. I close my eyes and imagine the clusters of outercoat almost taking aim at the falling drops, competing about being the team to lead the wet intruder away from the body they have been set to protect.

Separated wool staples.
Dissected staples of Elin’s fleece – a whole staple, outercoat and undercoat.

Undercoat

Other fibers are fine, winding their way through the fiber collective, changing directions unpredictably, forming a billowing multitude of soft warmth to keep the wind and cold at bay. Together with air they fulfill their task with gentle determination.

Kemp

A third kind of fiber can be seen occasionally. Black, brittle and sprawly. This is the kemp, the oddball in the family. The kemp works with the other fibers, keeping the staple upright for additional protection against the elements and allowing more air to enter their fibery togetherness.

A microscope picture of wool fibers.
Strong and straight outercoat, fine and winding undercoat and coarse and brittle kemp, all working together to create the best conditions possible for the sheep.

The fibers look and work differently, yet in cooperation to protect the sheep they once grew on.

A fleece meditation: If I were a sheep

If I think of myself as the sheep the fibers are assigned to protect, how would I arrange them to do the same for me? How would I take advantage of their respective characteristics to create a garment that is for me what the fleece was to the sheep?

A staple of wool.
A fleece meditation.

Look at this picture for a moment. Long and strong outercoat, soft and warm undercoat. That means something. These fibers can be prepared, spun and arranged to their advantage and to give me the best protection. Soft, winding undercoat carefully carded into a pillowy rolag, kemp occasionally peaking out. Long and strong outercoat combed parallel into a bird’s nest.

A combed top and a rolag.
The beginning of the journey to a new textile. Outercoat and undercoat separated and processed.

When I close my eyes and feel a staple of Elin’s carefully selected wool in my hands I sense the different characteristics of the fibers. I envision a woven textile. In my mind I see the strong outercoat fibers as warp and the soft undercoat as weft.

Two shuttles with yarn. One light and airy, one dark and sleek.
Warp and weft. Separated but still together.

A dream of twill

I see twill. Fine singles, winding their way across the fabric. On one side the outercoat dominates – three over, one under – protecting me from the falling rain. The other side soft from the undercoat, keeping me warm and safe, kemp making sure there is room for air. Perhaps the fabric is slightly fulled to protect me even further. The two sides have different superpowers and different colours.

A woven twill sample.
A baby swatch, full of possibilities, waiting to grow into a mature fabric.

Claudia tells me that one of her ewes has a lot less outercoat than the rest of the flock. This sheep prefers to stay protected under a spruce when it rains while the downpour doesn’t bother her sisters. I want to be able to stand in the rain like the sheep, protected from the elements by an ingenious design that has worked for millennia.

A white wool staple with tips pointing in different directions.
The processing of Elin’s fleece could go in many different directions.

Eventhough the fibers in my textile would be disassembled and put together again in just one of many fashions, they would still work together. Their novel composition for a two-legged creature would still serve the same purpose: To keep me protected.

Meanwhile, Elin is generously growing a new fleece that shields her and that can be harvested again.

Stay safe and happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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