Up close in the microscope

Wool fibers seen through a microscope

The other day I had a spinning date with my friend Anna and her cousin Helena. We had a great time spinning and chatting away. Anna also brought her microscope. I had brought staples from all my current fleeces and I went bananas with the microscope. Here are some examples.

First up is the Swedish finewool, one of my favourite breeds. I think the staple is from the neck, it is very short and fine. You can see the crimp in the microscope and how fine the fiber is. There is a lot of air trapped between the winding fibers. I want to keep this air when I spin it, to make a warm and soft yarn. Therefore I spin it with long draw from hand-carded rolags.

Three staples of white, crimpy wool
Swedish finewool
White wool seen through a microscope
Swedish finewool in the microscope

Next up is white superfine Shetland wool, long staples of fine and crimpy fibers. In this comparison, though, the finewool looks finer than the Shetland wool, and slightly crimpier. And I can see some peat between the Shetland fibers! It is appealing to spin it with long draw to keep the air in. However, these fibers are very long and they work better with the combs to make a strong and shiny yarn with short draw. Any shorter fibers or comb leftovers will be carded and spun with long draw, though.

Two staples of white crimpy wool
White Shetland
White wool seen through a microscope. There are pieces of peat in the wool.
White Shetland in the microscope

For comparison, here is a Leicester staple, with completely different characteristics. The fibers are long and shiny and with waves more than crimp. In the microscope you can see only straight fibers and they seem a bit coarser than the Shetland and finewool samples. It is easy to imagine these fibers organized parallel in a strong yarn. I have spun this yarn with short forward draw from hand- combed tops into a strong and shiny warp yarn.

A staple of wavy wool
Leicester wool
white wool seen through a microscope
Leicester wool in the microscope

This is so much fun!

The diversity of a fleece

In a previous post I wrote about fleece sorting and my fascination of the diversity within a breed and within a single fleece. I chose a few staples from my recent purchase to show you.

Staples from one single Shetland fleece, washed in warm water with a little organic shampoo and three rinses. Bought at Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers

The first fleece is a Shetland fleece in the colour Mooskit. As you can see, there is a variation in colour, staple length, crimp, fiber fineness and staple definition. The shortest fibers on the left are from the neck area, very short, crimpy and fine, they remind me more of Swedish finewool than Shetland wool. I would card this and spin with long draw on either a Navajo spindle or a supported spindle. I would probably treat the short fibers on the far right the same way. The two staples closest to the ruler are longer, darker and a bit coarser, perhaps from the rump area. I could either comb and spin these separately for a more sturdy yarn, or together with finer parts of the fleece to give the yarn strength and colour. The long light staples on the mid left (from the sides) look like they are dying to be combed and spun with short draw on a spinning wheel. On these staples you can also see the break in the fibers about 1 cm from the cut end, where the old fibers are thinned and new have started to grow out. This fleece had such breaks on some parts and they were easy enough to pull off. Combing would also remove these bits.

Another Shetland fleece, washed in warm water and three rinses. Bought at Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers

The second fleece is a white Shetland fleece. The variation is not as big as in the Mooskit fleece, but there are still differences. From very fine, crimpy and clean back and side wool to coarser and more wavy belly and rump wool. I could choose to comb it all together for several skeins of consistent yarn. I could also divide the fleece into different qualities for different purposes. I would love to use some of the finest parts to practice spinning extremely thin yarn.

Both of these fleeces are Shetland fleeces and graded as super fine, but they look quite different. I have another six Shetland fleeces and they have all varied quite a lot. Shetland sheep is a primitive breed, which I have written about in an earlier post. Among other things, they shed their wool as I showed in the Mooskit fleece above. All my other coloured Shetland fleeces have had breaks in the staples where new and old fibers meet. But much less the white fleeces. My theory is that there has been more pressure on the breeding of the white sheep than on the coloured ones and thus this feature has disappeared in some of the white sheep.

The advantage I have as a hand spinner is that I can dive into a fleece like this and plan how I want to use it. I can sort it in an endless amount of ways to fit my purposes or I could combine different parts of the fleece to get the most out of the different qualities of different parts of the fleece. I can play, experiment and above all, learn from what I see in one single fleece if I just look close enough.

Wool sorting

Two hands pulling a staple of white wool

I love wool sorting. Standing outside feeling through each staple of a beautiful fleece. The sensation in my hands when I touch the fiber – warm, rich and airy. The smell of the sheep. A few clues to where the sheep has been – lots of peat in Shetland fleeces and leaves, pines or moss in Swedish fleeces, or a bit of nylon string from fences or silage.

When I sort wool, I try to read the fleece. My mind goes to where the sheep might have been and done. It also goes to how the fleece is different on different parts of the body and how I can prepare and spin these sections differently to make the most out of the versatility of the wool. In some places long and sleek staples that part easily, in some places short, crimpy and fluffy. In yet other places a bit coarser but still promising. I am quite fascinated by the difference between fleeces of the same breed and within one individual.

Every time I sort a fleece I learn something new, about the breed, about how I can try new methods or combinations to make a yarn the way the fiber wants to be handled. I can make more subtle observations each time I stick my hands into a new fleece. At that moment I feel empowered by the wool and all that it gives me.

A crimpy fleece
A Mooskit Shetland fleece from Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers

Engla – a fleece of many uses

Last autumn, when I made a video at Överjärva gård, I happened to buy another fleece. I didn’t mean to, but I saw it in the wool shop and I immediately realized that it needed me. It was half a fleece from the Swedish finewool sheep Engla.

A raw fleece of crimpy finewool
Engla, a newly shorn fleece

When I sorted the fleece, I decided to divide it into different piles according to the quality of the wool. I ended up with three piles – the very short and fine (neck) staples, the medium length staples and the longer staples.

White crimpy wool on the left, carded rolags on the right
The shortest staples were carded

The fleece was a joy to work with – it was clean, easy to sort, wonderful to comb and card and dreamy to spin. I do love Swedish finewool. I can honestly say it has been one of my very favourite fleeces.

Hand holding up a staple of crimpy wool. Boxes of wool to the left.
Medium staples with lots of crimp

I bought 800 g of fleece and ended up with a total of about 440 g of yarn.

Hands holding up long and crimpy wool. Boxes of wool in the background.
The longest staples were combed

So, I carded the fine neck staples and spun them with long draw on a supported spindle and made a 3-ply yarn out of the singles and I was very happy with the result. A light, airy and even yarn with lots of bounce. I also made a video about the plying.

A skein of handspun white yarn in backlight.
3-ply yarn carded and spun with long draw on a supported spindle. 57 g, 203 m, 3581 m/kg

I carded the medium staples as well and spun them with long draw on a Navajo spindle. One of the yarns I made was a prize winner – The sheep, the chicken, the pig and the lion. I also spun several skeins of singles on a Navajo spindle.

Closeup of skeins of yarn in backlight
Thick singles spun with long draw on a Navajo spindle, and will probably be used as weft yarn. 434 m, 212 g with an average of 2000 m/kg.

I combed the longest staples and spun them with short draw on a supported spindle. I experimented with chain-plying “on the fly” and made two videos about it, a detailed video about how to ply-on-the-fly on a supported spindle and another one where I show how I start from an empty spindle with the ply-on-the-fly method.

A skein of handspun white yarn in a clog
Medium length staples combed and plied on the fly on a supported spindle.

I feel very fortunate as a hand spinner to be able to sort my fleeces to make different kinds of yarns, whether it is according to colour, structure or length. It can result in really unique yarns. And I learn so much from it.

Grey matters

I love grey wool. There are so many possible shades from just a combination of black and white fibers. And the combinations within combinations gives me a whole universe of sparkling silver. I can look at a grey yarn for ages and get mesmerized by the spiraling promise of everlasting variation.

Also, I have discovered the wonderful world of dyeing on grey. The colours turn out so deep and rich and gives the yarn a beautiful heathered effect from all the shades in the grey. Which, of course, puts me in a dilemma – I want to keep the beautiful grey and at the same time dye it for the wonderful  colour result.

A grey Trønder fleece

At Christmas, I bought a beautiful fleece from talented wool classifier Kia Gabrielsson of Ullsörvis. It was a grey Trønder fleece with lots of different shades in it. I separated the fleece and ended up with four piles of grey, from anthracite to very light grey. I carded the fiber and spun the colours separately and 3-plied them. The result was four squishy skeins of yummy greys.

Four skeins of grey handspun yarn
3-ply grey Trønder yarn spun woolen from hand-carded rolags

I also found the perfect knitting project for the skeins, where I could use all the shades and show the beautiful variation. It was the Slouchy shrug by 伊凡 陳, Yarn door on Ravelry.

Josefin Waltin wearing a grey slouchy shrug made of handspun yarn
The slouchy shrug in four shades of Trønder grey. Photo by Dan Waltin
Josefin Waltin wearing a grey slouchy shrug made of handspun yarn
A square knit in Brioche stitch, folded in half, sleeves knit on in the fold and a brim round the edges. Voilá, a slouchy shrug! Photo by Dan Waltin

Swedish fleece and spinning championships

This weekend I attended the Swedish fleece and spinning championships at Wålstedts textilverkstad in Dala-Floda. I was there as a visitor, but also as an instructor and a contestant.

Fleece championships

For the fleece championships, sheep owners sent in their best fleeces for judgment. The fleeces were judged by factors as evenness, crimp, fiber thickness, staple length, elasticity’s softness, silkiness etc. There were two basic categories, heritage breeds and crossbred.

Lots of fleeces of different breeds and colours on a big table
Fleeces competing in the Swedish wool championships 2017

Since there were so many fleeces, the jury had made more sub-categories so that the same kind of fleeces competed against each other – Rya, Finweool, Värmland, Crossbred, Gotland/Leicester etc. This competition is a very important part of Swedish wool production. It helps the sheep owners make good choices in breeding when it comes to fleece quality. There was a very high quality in the fleeces and I wanted to dive into all of them.

Wool auction

There were many proud winners and after the prize ceremony the winning fleeces were auctioned. I got my hands on two of my favourite fleeces.

A dark grey fleece
Cuddly Finewool/Rya gold medalist.

The first fleece I bought was a gold medalist in the heritage breed category. It is a beautiful Finewool/Rya ewe mix breed in a beautiful dark grey colour from Boda backe sheep farm. The overall quality the fleece is mainly soft and crimpy Finewool. The softness is very unusual for a ewe, that on top of that was shorn in the spring. The jury’s verdict was: “A very clean, soft and likable spring fleece. Easy to card, airy staple with mostly undercoat. An all-round fleece which is easy to manage and can be used for many purposes.”

A light grey fleece
Yummy Värmland bronze medalist

My second purchase was a bronze medalist in the heritage Värmland category. A wonderfully soft Värmland lamb fleece from Sussanne Sörensen’s flock in Löberöd. The jury’s verdict was “A beautiful fleece with an interesting colour, long undercoat and soft overcoat and a medieval touch”. The undercoat is 14 cm and the overcoat 22 cm.

The event also hosted the Swedish hand spinning championship, in which I got a bronze medal! More about that in an earlier post.

A row of skeins of yarn, all in the same colour combination of blue and dusty rose
Some of the competing yarns in the handspinning championships

I also taught a class in supported spindle spinning, which, as always, was a great experience and I got lots of inspiration from it.

On top of it all, my husband and I got a chance to see some beautiful autumn scenery.

Josefin Waltin sitting on a bench knitting. A river in the background.
Knitting away where Österdal river meets Västerdal river and form the Dal river. Yarn is my handspun from a Grey Trönder fleece.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend.

Wool fair and fair wool

I went to a wool fair today, Ullmarknad i Österbybruk. Lots of vendors, exhibitions and activities and lots of visitors, despite rain and 14 degrees.

Close-up of a nalbinding project by a train window.
Nalbinding on the train to the wool fair

Lots of vendors were selling raw fleece, which I think is a positive development. In earlier fairs, I have seen mostly sheep skins and sheep skin products and perhaps small amounts of washed and dyed fleece for felting.

Lots of bags of wool.
Raw fleece for sale

Sheep of different shapes, sizes and models were for sale in every stall.

Lots of carved sheep.
Focus of sheep
An embroidered needle case and a drawstring bag with buttons.
Needle case and buttons

I bought a proper needle case and some enamelled coconut buttons.

Close-up of white wool locks
Leicester fleece

And a Leicester fleece that I couldn’t resist. I am thinking warp yarn.

And oh, I got recognized! A spinner from the Swedish Facebook spinning forum asked if I was Josefin and told me that she had watched my videos on supported spindle spinning lots and lots of times. She was a little disappointed that I only had brought a Turkish spindle to the fair. I’ll remember to bring a supported spindle next time!

All in all it was a good day!

Swedish finewool (finull)

Close-up of crimpy wool.
Yummy Swedish finewool (scoured) from Solkustens spinnverkstad

The first ever fleece I bought was from the Swedish finewool sheep Pia-Lotta at Överjärva gård. She was a lamb back then and it was the wool I learned to spin with. I have managed to get hold of her fleece twice more (the last time I shore her myself). Finewool has become my house fiber. It is the fiber I feel most comfortable spinning and my hearts jumps a beat whenever I get my hands on finewool fluff.

At the wool traveling club‘s wool journey 2016 I bought some really yummy finewool at Solkustens spinnverkstad and a couple of days ago I started preparing it for spinning. I know it is a year later, but that’s my fleece queue at the moment – one year from purchase to process if I keep the queue order.

A good finewool fleece is really crimpy with superfine fibers. It is moderate in lanolin and usually only needs scouring in cold water before processing. It is wonderfully soft, silky to the touch and a very good candidate for carding for a warm and airy woolen yarn. The ends can be a bit brittle and break in the preparation. Therefore it’s a good idea to make sure that doesn’t happen, to avoid nepps and noils in your yarn.

A hand with crimpy wool in it. Wool in the background.
Crimly staples of finewool

I have spun my first yarn in this fiber from hand-carded rolags on my spinning wheel and I love the result.

Close-up of a skein of white handspun yarn.
Fingering weight finewool yarn spun with long draw from hand-carded rolags, 3-ply, 48 g, 113 m

I also plan to make a 3-ply yarn spun on a Navajo spindle. When I spun this yarn on the wheel, I realized that I have learned so much about long draw from spinning on a Navajo spindle. I wouldn’t have been able to spin singles this consistent if I hadn’t practiced long draw as much as I have on the Navajo spindle. At that insight, my heart skips a beat again.

Happy spinning!

Back in town

I just came home from vacations out of town. First we had a wonderful week in Austria, hiking and seeing my relatives. We flew to Vienna and then took the train to Salzburg. So, when it came to craft planning I didn’t want anything in my hand luggage that any security staff could take away from me. My standard in-flight craft is nalbinding. A blunt wooden needle (or, in this case, bone) and yarn. It doesn’t take much space either. And my loved ones are always in need of warm and wind-proof mittens. These particular mittens will be for my brother-in-law. They were also a perfect companion for hiking.

Close-up of a nalbinding project. Mountains in the background.
Nalbinding at Postalm, Austria. Bone needle from Birka. Yarn is my handspun 3-ply from finewool/rya crossed sheep from Åsebol sheep farm.

We had to stay overnight in Vienna, so I could rearrange my luggage and have access to both spindles and knitting projects for the train ride. And I do love spinning on the train.

Hands spinning on a support spindle on the train.
Spinning on the train between Vienna and Salzburg. Spindle from Neal Brand, spinning disk from John Rizzi. Fluff is merino/tussah silk from Vinterverkstan.

Lots of knitting was done also at the B&B we stayed at. I couldn’t not knit the 2017 Shetland wool week pattern, even though I’m not coming this year either.

Close-up of stranded knitting. Mountains in the background.
Knitting the Bousta beanie by Gudrun Johnston, the 2017 Shetland wool week pattern. Yarn is my handspun from Shetland fleece from Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers (greens) and Jämtland sheep (grey).

And, oh, I also found the house spinning wheel at the B&B! A little beauty that had been used for both flax and wool spinning by the owner’s mother in the early 1900’s.

An old spinning wheel.
A pretty spinning wheel, next to a flax distaff.

The second vacation was in a log cabin in Tiveden in Sweden at the Åsebol sheep farm. They have finewool, Texel and Rya sheep.

Two Rya sheep, one dark grey and one white.
Beautiful Rya sheep.

We came by car and I brought a lot more crafting stuff on this trip. The car was quite full. I had a basket of carders and combs between my feet on the floor. But it was worth it, this farm is one of my favourite places on earth.

A person nalbinding by a creek.
Nalbinding away by the creek.

We did some hiking there as well, and I brought the nalbinding.

Close-up of a nalbinding project by a lake.
Nalbinding again.

We spent a lot of time at the farm, just enjoying the silence and the occasional Baah. And i did a lot of spinning. I brought five spindles plus carders and wool combs and enjoyed them all.

A Turkish spindle with a country road in the background.
Spinning Finewool on a Jenkins Finch.

At the end of the week, I had spun quite a lot.

Several skeins and full spindles.
Wool production at Åsebol sheep farm: Dark grey singles (on Roosterick Navajo spindle and leftmost toilet roll), five skeins of thick singles finewool yarn spun on Navajo spindle (and all of the fluff for it combed and carded on the log cabin  porch), Shetland singles on drop spindle from Bosworth (I am planning to Navajo-ply it), Finewool on Jenkins Turkish spindle, merino/tussah silk on supported spindle from Malcolm Fielding, nalbinding mittens and some secret stuff on the rest of the toilet rolls. Photo by Dan Waltin

Two more weeks of vacation at home. And there will be spinning!