Washing fleece

Several people have asked me about how I scour my fleece. The truth is: I don’t. I do soak it, though. In this post of washing fleece I will dive deep into the washtub in search of clean fleece.

Scouring or soaking?

First of all, let’s get the terminology straight. I wash my fleece by soaking it. Usually in cold water from the tap, but preferably from the rain barrel. Scouring is a word that occurs a lot. In Swedish we only use the word for washing, so I was a bit unsure of what scouring actually means in a wool context. I asked in a spinning forum about people’s definition of scouring and it seems like scouring involves thorough cleaning, with a detergent of some sort. Someone also reminded me that the word also exists in Swedish: Skura, which means to thoroughly clean the floor with soap and water. The Encyclopedia of handspinning defines scouring as:

“The removal from fleece, cotton or other textile material of dirt, grease, suint, pectins etc. by thorough washing, to leave in it a clean and grease-free state ready for dyeing or spinning”.

Encyclopedia of handspinning by Mabel Ross

Similarly, The spinner’s encyclopedia states that scouring

” [r]emoves dirt and grease from a fleece by washing.”

The spinner’s encyclopedia by Enid Anderson

To scour thus means to remove all that isn’t the textile or fiber itself. That is not what I usually do.

Washing fleece by soaking

I wash my fleece to get the dirt out, and some lanolin. I want to keep enough lanolin to make the spinning smoother. Wool with no lanolin left is not a pleasure to spin for me.

I don’t use any detergent when I wash fleece from Swedish breeds. Swedish breeds are usually quite low in lanolin and after a cold water soak there is usually just the right amount of lanolin left for a smooth and pleasurable spin.

Cold water soak

I try to wash my fleece as soon as I can after having brought it home. I don’t want to attract moths or other wool–hostile creatures with the raw fleece.

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

When it is warm enough outdoors I just soak the fleece in cold water overnight. It can even stay longer than that, it can take care of itself. After that I rinse the fleece in cold water at least three times. Dirt out, lanolin in, just the way I want it.

I use the soak water and the rinsing waters as fertilization in the garden.

A person sinking a watering pot in a tub full of water.
I use the soaking water as fertilization in the garden. These are locks from a Dalapäls sheep.

Some breeds do require a detergent to get enough lanolin out, even for me. Merino is a breed with a lot of lanolin. The newest breed in Sweden, the Jämtland sheep, has some Merino in it and I usually use a detergent when I wash Jämtland. Sometimes also Shetland.

Warm water soak

If I get a fleece in the winter when it is too cold to soak outdoors I soak it in warm water indoors. I still don’t use any detergent. With a warm water soak, I leave the fleece in the water for just 15–20 minutes, not longer. When the temperature changes, which it will when I leave the fleece in the warm water soak for too long, the dirt can go back to the wool and create a waxy surface.

What is suint?

Raw fleece has a lot of dirt in it, plus suint and lanolin. Suint is the sheep’s sweat. It is composed of potassium salts and soapy organic acids that are soluble in cold water. It thus acts as a cleanser of the wool grease, the lanolin. In trying to understand this, the encyclopedia of handspinning comes to my rescue again:

“While the natural grease assists spinning, the suint attracts dirt and interferes with drafting. When fleece is soaked in cold or tepid water the suint dissolves in the bath and acts as a cleansing agent for the wool.”

Encyclopedia of handspinning by Mabel Ross
A tub of really dirty water and wool fleece.
You can see the suint as the soapy bubbles in the water.

This means that a washing method that dissolves the suint cleans the wool. The lanolin stays while the dirt is dissolved in the water. I get just what I want – a clean fleece with the lanolin still in it to assist the spinning process.

The fermented suint method

If I know I am going to wash several fleeces I make a soaking party of it – I use the fermented suint method.

A person pushing wool into a tub full of dirty water.
I soak my dirty Dalapäls fleece in really dirty water to get it wonderfully clean.

This means that I take advantage of the accumulated suint – the natural soap in the fleece – from several fleeces. I do this outdoors in the warm part of the year – this is not something you want to do indoors.

A fleece soaking in dirty water.
It is hard to imagine that this brew cleans the fleece, but it actually does!

This is how I wash fleece with the fermented suint method:

  • I fill a tub with either rain water or water from the hose. After filling the tub I soak the first fleece in the water. Ideally, the first fleece should be a really dirty one to bring as much suint and gunk as possible. I leave it for a week. I make sure I put a lid on the tub. This brew does not smell like raspberry pie.
  • After a week I fill a new tub with rinsing water, same temperature as the greasy water. I pick up the fleece from the suint water, using rubber gloves. This does still not smell like raspberry pie. I leave the fleece in the rinsing water for a while and rinse with another two waters. The third water should be reasonably transparent. I spin cycle the wool and let it dry outdoors on a grid. I use the rinsing waters as fertilizers in the garden.
  • After I have removed the first fleece from the greasy soak, I soak another fleece in it and leave it for a few days. Same rinsing procedure. I keep doing this until I’m out of fleeces. I now have a suint bath that is on its fifth fleece. The water is really gunky and smelly, but it gets the wool magically clean and my precious lanolin stays in the wool, just where I want it.
  • When I have no more fleeces to clean I use the gunky suint water as a fertilizer in the garden. This is a very potent fertilizer, though. I make sure I dilute the liquid to avoid overfeeding my plants.

When the fleece is dry I have a wonderfully clean wool with just enough lanolin for a smooth spin.

Two wool staples. The left white and clean, the right yellow-ish with a greasy tip.
A comparison between a raw staple and a staple washed with the fermented suint method. The right staple is visibly dirtier and has really greasy tips while the left staple is white and clean. The staples are from the same NKS fleece as the raw fleece above.

The NKS fleece that I started the fermented suint bath with had really greasy and somewhat solidified tips. After the washing process the tips were soft and clean.

After I have spun the yarn I wash it with a detergent, usually an organic perfume-free shampoo. That takes most of the lanolin away and makes it ready for whatever textile technique I want to use it for.

White wool.
Fleece washed with the fermented suint method. The wool is clean, including the once solidified tips. This is the same NKS fleece as the raw fleece above.

A word on vegetable matter

After washing – any kind of washing – the wool is clean. However, any vegetable matter that was in the fleece prior to washing will still be there after. A lot of it can fall out of the wool during the preparation of the wool (expecially combing), and some in spinning and plying. But when we look at a fleece we need to consider the amount of vegetable matter before we buy it. If it looks like a lot: Leave it. The will always be another fleece. No cleaning method will get the vegetable matter out. Removing vegetable matter is a purely mechanical process done by you. And my guess is there are other ways you want to spend your time with a fleece than to dissect it looking for twigs, seeds and pines.

I found a chestnut in my very first fleece.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

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

Record keeping

Record keeping may seem daunting and unappealing. I have always registered my spinning in numbers and tables, but I didn’t see the point of keeping physical record until just a year or two ago. Since I started keeping physical record of my spinning I have learned many things I wouldn’t have learned without sampling and swatching.

Tables, forms and boxes

Actually, I do love record keeping. If there is a form or a table to fill in, I will fill it in, even if I don’t have much to say. On Ravelty I keep track of every fleece I buy and every yarn I spin. All my spindles (lots) and wheels (3) are listed. My organized mind sighs of satisfaction when all the boxes are ticked.

Ravelry is a powerful tool that allows me to register and keep track of pretty much everything about my projects – fiber supplier, fiber content, prep method, spinning method, colour, spinning technique, plies, finishing etc.

Length and weight

Knowing the length and weight of a yarn helps me plan my project. If I am knitting or weaving I can calculate how much yarn I need or how much yarn I have left. With the weight of the fleece and waste I can also make an estimation of how much fiber I will need for a given amount of yarn.

Record keeping on Ravelry.
Record keeping on Ravelry.

Grist

The data I use the most is the grist. Grist is a calculation of length per weight unit – for me that is meters per kilo. I usually spin a whole fleece. Keeping track of the grist of the different skeins helps me achieve an even yarn throughout the whole spinning process. The satisfaction of managing to get the grist even over 10 skeins is unbeatable.

Other tools for consistency

  • The spinning angle is the angle of the spun yarn in relation to the direction of the yarn. Keeping track of the spinning angle helps me make a consistent yarn even if several days pass by between spinning sessions. Usually I also save a spun sample by the wheel to check my spinning against.
  • The ratio of the spinning wheel is a good thing to note. Sometimes it takes a while between spinning sessions and I have forgot which whorl I was using.
  • WPI, wraps per inch is a measurement used in commercial yarns. A given amount of wraps of yarn per inch will lead you to the yarn thickness needed for a specific project. Checking the wpi every now and then will help you keep track of the consistency of the yarn.
Wraps per inch, wpi, is a measurement used in commercial yarn. Knowing the wpi of your yarn will help you decide what pattern fits your yarn.
Wraps per inch, wpi, is a measurement used in commercial yarn. Knowing the wpi of your yarn will help you decide what pattern fits your yarn.

Sampling and swatching

I have kept record on Ravelry since I joined the community back in 2009. The information is useful, but I rarely do anything with the records. It is only recently that I have kept physical records – samples and swatches. This is where the real excitement begins.

Simple stockinette swatch of a handspun yarn from a Norwegian crossbred (NKS) whole-year fleece.
Simple stockinette swatch of a handspun yarn from a Norwegian crossbred (NKS) whole-year fleece.

I wasn’t aware of the superpowers of physical record keeping until just a couple of years ago. Actually, it was when I started writing articles for Spin-off magazine that I realized that I would have to make samples and swatches to be trustworthy as a writer. After my first serious attempt of sampling and swatching (and my first article), a new reality opened before my eyes.

Main characteristics: The superpowers

When I get my hands on a new fleece I feel like I have the world at my feet. I can explore this new acquaintance endlessly, investigating fiber length, strength, consistency, shine, fiber type, loftiness, spring etc. All these characteristics tell me something about the fleece that I can use when I make a yarn. I try to find the essence of the fleece – what are its main characteristics? When I have found these, I envision a yarn with these characteristics as superpowers. I make a plan for the yarn I envision and experiment with preparation and spinning methods.

Gotland wool: Strength, drape and shine

Using my recent Gotland fleece as an example, the main characters were strength, drape and shine. I played with preparation and spinning until I had found the right path to a yarn that signaled these main characteristics. Combing was the method I envisioned to keep the shine in the yarn. After having experimented with a few methods to achieve a smooth combing process that would also give me a sleek and drapey yarn I scaled up the method and prepared and spun the whole fleece that way.

When I keep physical records of a fleece I make samples of a staple, singles, plies, weaving and knitting. Sometimes also a felted woven sample.
When I keep physical records of a fleece I make samples of a staple, singles, plies, weaving and knitting. Sometimes also a felted woven sample.

I needed to try, compare and fail. I needed to see and feel what would work and what wouldn’t. Even if I liked the first or second try I continued to try different methods to be able to tell exactly why it was the winning concept. I carded, combed, flicked and teased. I spun singles, plies, bulky, thin, woolen and worsted. At the swatching stage I wove, knit and felted. By seeing the samples and swatches side by side I was able to distinguish which method that would give me the best of the main characteristics and why.

Gute wool: Strength, lightness and rusticity

With my Gute fleece I saw strength, lightness and rusticity as the main characteristics. I was dealing with a primitive breed and wanted to honour that in the way I presented the finished product. The fleece had three fiber types but I still wanted to keep them together to allow them to boost each other and show the rusticity I was after. I experimented until I had a yarn that gave me the same feeling the fleece had.

Physical record keeping of a Gute fleece.
Physical record keeping of a Gute fleece.

To come to the right path of carding and spinning with long draw I had to take a detour through combing and short forward draw. I needed to see and feel that it wouldn’t give me the yarn I was after and why. By felting a woven swatch – just for fun – I also realized that weaving and felting were the right options for this yarn instead of knitting, which was my original idea.


Trying ideas that I thought would be the right one might prove to be all wrong. Exploring options I wouldn’t think would lead anywhere could be spot on. I need to experiment physically with a fleece, not just theoretically, to find my right way to the superpowers I want to show as the stars of the finished product.

It took me a few swatches to find the right combination for this yarn, but I think this is the one.
It took me a few swatches to find the right cable combination for this yarn, but I think this is the one. It is not blocked, though, it will probably look better after blocking.

Happy spinning!



You can follow me on several social media:

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

Gute wool

2-ply yarn of Gute wool, spun with longdraw from hand-carded rolags.

In the spring 2019 issue of Spin-off magazine I wrote an article on sorting fleeces of Gute and Gotland wool. A few weeks ago I covered Gotland wool in a blog post and a live webinar. In this post I will look a bit closer at Gute wool.

This is the second part in a breed study series with live webinars. I look at Swedish breeds to start with and from the spinner’s point of view. A bit about the breed, the characteristics of the wool, how I prepare and spin it and what I want to do with the finished yarn.

Next Saturday, May 25th at 5 pm CET I will host a live webinar where I share my thoughts and experiences on Gute wool.

Gute sheep

Gute ewe at the Skansen outdoor museum
Gute ewe at the Skansen outdoor museum in Stockholm. I love how Gute sheep look almost like an oil painting in their faces.

History

The Gute sheep is a rustic breed and the oldest sheep breed in Sweden. It derives from the horn sheep or Gotland outdoor sheep in Gotland. In the 1920’s a breeding program started, aiming for a hornless sheep that was adapted to meat and pretty skins. This resulted in the Gotland sheep. Around 10 horned sheep were saved, though, and were used to restore the old horn sheep. Some of these sheep were moved to Skansen outdoor museum in Stockholm and their descendants are still at the museum today.

The name was changed to Gute sheep. Gute is an abbreviation of the Gotland outdoor sheep (Gotländskt utegångsfår), and it also refers to a person that has lived in Gotland for at least three generations.

Gute sheep today

A major part of the conservation program for Gute sheep was to keep the genetic variation of the breed. This means that the breed has not been improved. Gut sheep have a big genetic variation. The breeding standards emphasize breeding for all the breed specific characteristics and discourage breeding for or against specific characteristics.

There are around 1500 Gute ewes in Sweden today in 107 flocks (2018).

The Gute sheep is a symbol of the island of Gotland. Gute ram parking barriers are a common sight in the medieval city of Visby in Gotland. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Wool characteristics

Gute wool has a wide variety of qualities, from very fine undercoat to black kemp. There is a wide variation between individuals and also over the body of one individual. This makes Gute sheep ideal for a small household. Go back a hundred years and see yourself as a small farmer with lots of different kinds of wool for lots of purposes from only a small flock of Gute sheep.

Gute wool has a long outer coat of around 40 micron, a very fine undercoat of around 17 micron and kemp. All these fiber types are present all over the fleece, but to varying degrees. The long and strong outer coat protects the sheep from wind and rain and the fine undercoat keeps the sheep warm. Kemp keeps the staple open and perpendicular to the body of the sheep. This protects the sheep even further from wind and rain and lets even more air in to the staple to keep the sheep warm. There is basically no crimp in the wool. The colour can vary over the body and over the staple.

Gute wool from one individual. The sheep has long and strong overcoat, fine undercoat and kemp over the whole body, but to varying degrees.
Gute wool from one individual. The sheep has long and strong overcoat, fine undercoat and kemp over the whole body, but to varying degrees.

Gute sheep have some primitive characteristics left, one of which being rooing. This means that they naturally shed their wool once a year, usually in the spring or early summer. The fiber thins out and eventually breaks to pave the way for a new fiber. The different fiber types are rooed at different times. A shepherd who knows this can choose to shear the sheep at a specific time depending on which fiber type is being rooed.

Processing

I like to find the superpowers of a fleece and take advantage of these when I prepare and spin it. When I wrote the article for Spin-off I played with different preparation and spinning methods to find the best yarn for the Gute fleece I had.

Since the kemp keeps the staples open, Gute wool is light. I wanted to keep this lightness in the yarn that I spun. I could comb the fiber to make a strong yarn, but when I tried that I just enhanced the coarseness of the wool and it felt more like rope. That may have made a wonderfully strong and rustic rug yarn, but that was not what I was after.

Sampling and swatching

Since the three different fiber types are depending on each other for their respective characteristics, I wanted to keep them together. Therefore I wanted to card them and spin a woolen yarn. For extra lightness I wanted to spin with low twist and 2-ply it. This resulted in a very pleasant sample with a rustic feeling. Below are the samples I made for the Spin-off arcticle. The felted swatch comes from a 10×10 cm woven sample. I love how the yarn felted – very evenly and with a nice touch to it.

Samples and swatches of Gute wool.
Samples and swatches of Gute wool.

Flicking tips

To tease the wool before carding I flick carded the tip and cut ends. When I looked at the staples after flick carding I saw something interesting. I found a lot less kemp in the flicked staples, especially at the cut end. A lot of kemp was stuck in the flick card.

After flick carding the staples a lot of the kemp was left in the flick card.
After flick carding the staples a lot of the kemp was left in the flick card.

This means that the kemp alone had been shed. If you look at the picture above with all the staples in length order you can see the shedding point (the rise) at around 2 cm from the cut end.

In a previous blog post I used my combs to tease the locks before carding. I think using combs for teasing would take away too much of the fine undercoat. By using the flick card I only open up the staples and remove some of the kemp.

Rise and yield

So, the cut end of the kemp was now in the flick card. Left in the staple was the rooed end and the tip end, both thinly tapered rather than straight angle cut. This means that my yarn would be less itchy than a Gute yarn with the cut ends in the yarn. How come? Well, a yarn is itchy if it makes the skin yield to the fiber. If instead the fiber yields to the surface of the skin, the yarn doesn’t itch. Since the kemp ends are thinly tapered, the fibers will yield to the skin. By all means, this is still a rustic yarn that is more itchy than, say, a merino yarn, but the yarn I spun is surprisingly comfortable against my skin.

Carding

After having flicked the staples I carded rolags. Gute wool is wonderful to card, It feels light and airy, but still rustic. There is sort of a fudge-like feeling to carding Gute wool – slow but still smooth. I did use the wrong hand cards, though. Since I card mostly fine wools I have a pair of 108 tpi (teeth per square inch) cards. I contacted my supplier, but the 72 tpi cards were out of stock. The 108 tpi cards are not ideal for Gute wool, but they do a decent enough job.

I carded the flicked staples and made rolags. Photo by Isak Waltin.
I carded the flicked staples and made rolags.

There was a lot of kemp waste on the floor after I had carded the flicked staples. The kemp has quite a prominent medulla (the central core of the fiber, consisting of air-filled cells) and therefore breaks easily.

Ok, my 16-year-old just read this post over my shoulder and was convinced I had made half of the words up. He basically rofl-ed.

How I card

To load the stationary card, I just gently pull them onto the teeth of the card. I gently stroke the wool with the active card. I make 6 strokes for each pass, transfer the wool and make another two passes. I roll the carded batt off the stationary card and make a rolag with the help of the back of my hand. One final roll of between the cards and a baby rolag is born.

Newborn Gute rolags.
Newborn Gute rolags.

If you want to dive into carding, here is a video where I card rolags, start at 4:12.

Spinning

Spinning Gute wool in the morning sun. Photo by Isak Waltin.
Spinning Gute wool in the morning sun. Photo by Isak Waltin.

I wanted a yarn that had as much air as possible in it. I also wanted a yarn that would resemble the function of the wool on the sheep as much as possible – strong and durable, yet still light and airy. Therefore I spun the carded rolags with longdraw at a low ratio for a low twist yarn. The longdraw captures a lot of air between the fibers and the low twist makes sure the air isn’t squeezed out in a tight twist.

2-ply yarn of Gute wool, spun with longdraw from hand-carded rolags.
2-ply yarn of Gute wool, spun with longdraw from hand-carded rolags.

I got the result I wanted – a remarkably light and airy yarn that is still strong and has a really rustic feeling.

A quick comparison with Gotland wool

Let’s go back a few steps here. Remember I told you that Gute sheep and Gotland sheep have the same mother, the horn sheep? The breeding of Gotland sheep was aimed at pretty skins with lots of shiny outercoat and very little undercoat. This makes Gotland wool very dense. Aiming to find the superpowers of a wool, I spun the Gotland wool into a shiny, dense and thin yarn and the Gute wool into a light, strong and rustic yarn.

Below are the Gute and Gotland yarns side by side. They are the same length and the same weight. Gute wool has a lot more undercoat than Gotland wool, but still less undercoat than outercoat. The kemp helps keeping the Gute yarn open and airy.

Gute and Gotland yarn. Both are around 100 m and 45 g.
Gute and Gotland yarn. Both are around 100 m and 45 g.

Looking at these two skeins makes me wonder if the breeds have anything to do with each other at all. But they do. And the picture tells me that it is possible to find the superpowers of a fleece and make them truly shine in a yarn.

Use

I used the Gotland wool in a project that would show the shine and the drape of the yarn. With Gute wool I want to enhance the sturdiness, the lightness and the warmth.

Knitted swatch of Gute yarn.
Knitted swatch of Gute yarn.

While the Gute yarn knits up evenly and very appealing, I was really intrigued by its felting abilities.

A woven and felted swatch from Gute wool.
A woven and felted swatch from Gute wool.

The Gute fleece I bought consists of many qualities and lengths. Dividing the fleece to suit different purposes is appealing. But my plan now is to spin it all up like I have with this first skein and weave a simple tabby pattern. I want to take advantage of the splendid felting abilities and full the fabric into a vadmal material, hopefully in a fulling mill. I can’t imagine I will get enough fulled fabric for a jacket, but perhaps a vest! With handsewn buttonholes. Wouldn’t that be something?

Live webinar!

This Saturday, May 25th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Gute wool from a spinner’s perspective. I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Gute wool. I will use my Gute fleece as a case study and show you glimpses of how I process the wool.

This is a chance for me to meet you (in the chat at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The previous live breed study webinar I did was a great success. I can’t wait to see you again in this webinar.

You can register even if you can’t make it to the live event (I’m sorry Australia and New Zealand, I know it is in the middle of the night for you). I will send the replay link to everyone who registers for the webinar. So register now!

The event has passed


Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

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

Spinning on a viking spindle

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Viking style spinning with a distaff

The outdoor video recording season hasn’t begun yet, it is still a bit too cold. But I do have some material left from last season. Today I give you a video I shot in the beginning of August: Spinning on a Viking spindle.

Spinning on a Viking spindle

How did the vikings spin?

The tools

We know what tools the vikings used for spinning – the finds of spindle whorls from the viking city of Birka are endless. The soil hasn’t preserved organic material, so there are basically no finds of spindle shafts or distaffs from Birka.

Spindle whorls from Birka and Gotland
Spindle whorls at the museum of History in Stockholm: Finds from Birka (20 and 22) and Gotland (21). Whorl 22 was made of amber, the whorls 20 and 21 of burnt clay. To the right you can see a glimpse of whorls made of stone.

Finds of spindle shafts and distaffs have been made in another viking city, though – Haithabu, where the soil has ben more beneficial to preserving organic material. Similar items were also found in the Oseberg grave. There were also finds of weaving tablets, needles, looms and loom weights.

Textiles and context

From finds of textile tools and textiles we know that the vikings spun yarn for clothing, household textiles and sails. To provide a family with the necessary textiles people had to spin. All the time. Clothes, ribbons, carpets, bedding, blankets and sails. I can’t even imagine the amount of yarn needed to weave a sail for the boats. I imagine the whole village cooperated in preparing, spinning, weaving and sewing the giant woolen sails. They must have weighed a ton.

To be able to spin every second the hands weren’t occupied with children or household work you needed to bring the fiber with you. That was what the distaff was for. That way you could spin whenever time allowed without having to runtime to get new fiber.

The technique

We don’t know how the viking spun their yarn. There are no written sources or illustrations from this time period. We can only see a few pieces of a puzzle. The rest is just more or less qualified guesswork.

While we have information about the tools, the textiles and to some extent the way of living in this time period, we need to look into the future to learn about the spinning techniques.

Back to the future…

If we go to the European medieval times we can see the same models of whorls, shafts and distaffs in both illustrations and archeological finds. The illustrations can also give us a clue to how the spinners used their tools. In fact, the same spinning method has been used later on as well, all the way into the 20th century. Take a look at spinning on French or Portuguese spindles, just to take a few examples.

Several medieval spinning images can be found in the blog 15th century spinning by Cathelina di Alessandri (alter ego). She has also made substantial research about the spinning method in the European medieval times.

The typical medieval image of a spinner is a woman sitting or standing. She is holding a belt/floor/hand distaff in her left hand and a spindle in her right hand. the yarn goes diagonally over her body from the distaff down to the spindle. The spindle shaft has a bulk in the middle and is thinner towards the ends. The whorl is placed just beneath the bulk. The whorl has a cone-shaped hole to fit the shaft.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Viking style spinning with a distaff
The typical spinning position for spinning in the European medieval era. Perhaps also the Viking era.

… and back again to the past

As I wrote earlier, the tools look the same as the tools found in the Viking era. As I also wrote, there are no illustrations of spinning from the Viking era, only the tools and their context. With the finds of shafts, whorls and distaffs looking the same as in the medieval period, I have no reason to doubt that the spinning technique also looked the same: The yarn going diagonally across the torso from the distaff to the spindle and the spindle grasped in the hand.

Because of these pieces of the puzzle, I have chosen to interpret the Viking spinning method the way I have. It is up to you to agree or disagree.

A 21st century Viking spindle

I have a reenactor friend who spends a month each summer at Birka to show the visitors the way of living at Birka. She asked me to come and give a class on period spinning.

Just after she had asked me I saw a Viking style spindle in the NiddyNoddyUK shop , and I quickly bought it. The Viking spindle shaft and whorl I bought are reproductions of finds from the Oseberg grave.

A Viking style spindle and whorl
A Viking style spindle and whorl, reproductions of finds from the Oseberg grave.

I love going to Birka (it is just a boat trip from our home), and I was very excited about the opportunity to teach Birka reenactors spinning. I told the spindle maker Neil of NiddyNoddyUK about my excitement. Neil was as excited as I was and threw a few similar spindle shafts in the parcel. Such a sweet thing to do!

I had plans to make a video of the class, where the students at Birka would wear period costumes.

The day before we were going to Birka I got a message from my reeanctor friend saying that she had fel and got a concussion and we had the cancel the whole thing. Fortunately she is well now, but we both missed out on a longed for event.

The setting

So, the setting of this video is not a very Viking one. Instead it is a bench in a hidden corner of out allotment area. I shot it on a very hot day and I was happy to be quite still in the shadow.

Kent’s bench

The bench has a story, though. One of the founders of the allotment area was Kent. He was once an active gardener in the allotment, growing lots of potatoes and Japanese lanterns. Lately, though, he hasn’t been there for more than the spring and fall cleaning days. His allotment turned into a jungle. He kept very much to himself, but he seemed to love that garden bench. Every fall cleaning he removed the sitting boards to protect them from the winter and every spring cleaning he brought them back.

One year ago he passed away. His allotment was taken over by a new and enthusiastic gardener and someone else made sure the boards were taken care of during the winter. His Japanese lanterns have spread and shed some sweet orange light in the fall. And the bench is now called Kent’s bench. I’m sure he had something to do with the stubborn insect that bothered me in the video shoot: He didn’t want me to be there.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Viking spindle, ducking from an insect
Insect attack at Kent’s bench.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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!
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Gotland wool

In the spring 2019 issue of Spin-off magazine I wrote an article on sorting fleeces of Gute and Gotland wool. Some of you have asked for a breed study in Scandinavian sheep breeds. I think it’s a great idea and I will start today! I will look at Swedish breeds to start with and from the spinner’s point of view. A bit about the breed, the characteristics of the wool, how I prepare and spin it and what I want to do with the finished yarn. Today I will cover my thoughts on Gotland wool.

Next Saturday, April 13th at 5 pm CET I will host a live webinar where I share my thoughts and experiences on Gotland wool.

The Gotland sheep

The Gotland sheep is not one of the older Swedish sheep breeds. However, it is the most common breeds in Sweden.

The origin of the Gotland sheep is the Gute sheep. Gute sheep is a very old breed with a rustic fleece. I will cover the Gute sheep in more detail in a later post. In the 1920’s a program started to develop a breed that was good for meat and skins. The new breed was originally called Pälsfår (Fur sheep) to emphasize the use of the skins but was later changed to Gotland sheep to accommodate to a more international audience.

Today the Gotland sheep is the most common breed in Sweden. In 2018 there were 520 registered flocks of Gotland sheep with around 18000 ewes.

The breeding standards Gotland sheep include standards for meat production and skin quality. The goals for wool characteristics are primarily set for skin quality.

Wool characteristics

Newly shorn wool from a Gotland lamb

The first characteristic that comes to mind when looking at a Gotland fleece is the shine. Gotland wool has a beautiful shine in different shades of grey from medium to dark grey and black. The staples are shaped in a 3-dimensional curl. The wool has a uniformity across the fleece with a solid colour, lock characteristic and staple length. The fleece consists of mostly outercoat and very little undercoat.

Freakishly long Gotland wool. The staples are very dense.

These characteristics are very well suited for a beautiful skin. However, Gotland wool is not my favorite wool to spin. It is easy to be fooled by the beautiful silvery locks, but they can be deceptive.

  • Since there is so little undercoat and wave rather than crimp, the staples are very dense. This facilitates felting, especially at the cut end. Anyone who has shorn a Gotland sheep knows that this breed is a challenge to shear because of the dense fleece.
  • The shine in the locks makes a beautiful sheen in the finished yarn, but the fibers are also very slippery. You need to pay close attention to the fibers when you spin or you are running the risk of the fibers pulling apart. Swedish spinning mills have difficulties spinning pure Gotland wool for this reason. They usually blend Gotland wool with around 25% Swedish finewool.
  • The high percentage of outercoat makes the spinning less… cozy I would say. The fibers feel sort of coarse. The average Gotland fiber is around 40 micron.

With that said, this is my experience of Gotland wool in Sweden. As I understand it, Gotland wool in the U.K. and U.S. are usually softer.

Sounnie, a Gotland lamb

At the great sheep walk last year I suddenly saw her: A Gotland lamb with the sweetest curls: Sounnie. You can see a glimpse of her at 2:20 in this video about Överjärva farm where she lives with her flock. There are also purebred Gotland sheep in the video, the grey ones with black faces and legs.

Sounnie, a 75% Gotland, 25% Finewool lamb. Her overall characteristics is Gotland, though. The other three sheep are Swedish fine wool sheep.

She is 75% Gotland and 25% Swedish finewool, but the characteristics of her fleece is very Gotlandy, with unusually long staples (which doesn’t make sense at all since Finewool staples are around 5 cm/2 inches). I knew I needed her fleece when I saw her, even tough I am a bit reluctant towards Gotland wool. In September it was shearing day and I was there to harvest Sounnie’s sweet silver curls.

At the time I was writing the article for Spin-off and I only had time to make samples and swatches. It was wonderful to work with the newly shorn and freakishly long locks.

Samples and swatches from Sounnie’s fleece.

Processing

Just after Christmas I picked up where I had left Sounnie and started processing the locks. And I was shocked. Gone were the sweet curls and instead I found a tangled and very much felted mess. Just by being in a paper bag in my wool storage (aka the sofa bed) a lot of it had felted. But I wouldn’t let that stop me.

Gotland wool post sofa bed storage: More felted than shiny.

The natural way to attack the locks was to comb them. I had envisioned a thin yarn spun worsted from hand-combed tops. But since so much of the fleece had felted, combing was a big challenge. Combing straight off resulted in an uneven top that I had to struggle with. Even after five passes in the combs the top was uneven.

I tried flicking the staples and spin them individually from the cut end but that also resulted in an uneven yarn. So, as a middle step I flicked each individual staple and then combed them. This gave me the result I wanted. Ironically, a lot of the precious undercoat ended up in the flick card.

Since the locks are so dense I loaded the combs with only a few flicked locks. I landed at eight locks for my mini-combs. Anything more than that would require more muscle power than I had.

Flick-carding the staples before combing makes a much nicer combing experience.

The method with pre-flicking and then combing a limited number of flicked staples resulted in beautiful and even bird’s nests.

Flicked and combed Gotland top.

Spinning

Since Gotland wool is so dense, it also has lots of drape. I want to use that. But too much drape can get heavy. Therefore I wanted to spin a thin yarn that would give me drape without weighing a garment down. I spun the top with short forward draw with a low twist on my spinning wheel and 2-plied it. It resulted in a beautiful, shiny light fingering yarn with lots of drape.

A newborn skein of Gotland yarn

With such a long staple length I needed to keep my hands far apart. Also I needed to pay close attention to the fiber to prevent the slippery fibers from pulling apart.

Spinning the Gotland wool was not a smooth feeling, eventhough this was a lamb’s fleece. It felt like the fibers had a triangular shape rather than round. That is the only way I can explain it.

The two-step preparation took a lot of time and resulted in quite a lot of waste (50–55%). But the spinning was lovely and resulted in a beautiful yarn that was remarkably consistent.

A good preparation is the foundation of a consistent yarn.

Use

Because of the strength of the fiber, Gotland wool is a good choice for sturdy garments like socks. To keep the shine I would comb and spin worsted, but Gotland wool is definitely suited for carding and woolen spinning too.

Sounnie’s yarn is too pretty to be used for socks. I’m planning on a drapey top. I did spin a tailspun yarn from her short neck curls, but even if it turned out nicely, it is far too little to do anything with.

Gotland locks are the perfect choice for a tailspun yarn

Live webinar!

This Sunday, April 14th at 5 pm CET (world clock here) I will host a live breed study webinar about Gotland wool from a spinner’s perspective. I will talk briefly about the breed in Sweden, wool characteristics and how I process, spin and use Gotland wool. I will use Sounnie’s fleece as a case study and show you glimpses of how I process the wool.

This is a chance for me to meet you (in the chat at least, I won’t be able to see you) and for you to see me live and unedited. The last live webinar I did was a great success and since then I have been longing to host another webinar. So register now!

The event has passed

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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!
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Twist model

Twist model

You know when a baby thought is born. It grows and starts making itself heard, like an itch. Suddenly the itch is so vivid that you can’t ignore it anymore. You have to make something of it. This happened to me recently, and now the thought is ready to face the world. I call my thought the twist model. It is sort of a theory about twist and what happens between the unspun and spun parts of the yarn.

The basics

We know that it takes twist – enough twist – to make yarn out of fiber. To be able to spin we need to add twist to the fiber. The fiber is just individual pieces of fiber that are arranged around and beside each other. We add twist and draw to transform the fiber into yarn, that is, we spin. In the beginning of the spinning, we can still draft the fiber, but after a certain amount of twist, we can’t draft anymore. The yarn is fixed, or stable. This can be illustrated with a simple equation:

Fiber + twist = yarn
If we add twist to fiber we get yarn.

We can also reverse the equation – if there isn’t enough twist in the yarn it will pull apart. We have gone back to fiber again:

Yarn - twist = fiber
If we untwist yarn, we get fiber.

This is what happens when the spun yarn untwists itself and pulls apart. It has happened to all of us. One example is when we spin on a suspended (drop) spindle and we don’t pay enough attention. The spindle stops and turns in the other direction and – voilá – fiber re-happens. The yarn is untwisted, the fibers fall apart and the spindle drops to the ground.

A continuum

Even if this looks sensible, yarn and fiber aren’t on or off features. Rather, they are the opposite ends of a continuum. With added twist, we can go from unspun fiber to yarn. The continuum is governed by the amount of twist we add to the fiber, from no twist at all at the fiber end to enough twist to fix the yarn at the yarn end.

On a continuum from no twist to yarn, added twist will sooner or later fix the fibers.
When there is enough twist to fix the fibers, we get yarn.

The fiber at the left end of the continuum is unstable in that that the individual fibers can move in relation to each other. Thus, the yarn at the other end of the continuum is stable. The fibers are fixed in the twist and we can’t draft anymore.

The fiber to the left is unstable and the yarn to the right is stable.
The fiber is unstable and the yarn is stable.

We can still add more twist to the right of the rightmost part of the continuum to get the twist angle we want, but that is not the focus of the model.

Somewhere between the unstable and stable ends the yarn is semi-stable. There is some twist, enough for the yarn not to fall apart instantly but not enough to make the yarn stable. The fibers can still slide past each other.

A semi-stable middle between unstable (left) and stable (right)
Between unstable and stable the yarn is semi-stable.


If you look at a drafting triangle, the base of the triangle is at the fiber end with the legs pointing towards the yarn end of the graph. The area where the triangle meets the yarn is where the yarn is semi-stable.

Twist model
A drafting triangle with the fiber end to the left and the yarn end to there right.

The point of twist engagement

In the semi-stable part of the yarn there is a point where you can still draft but the fiber won’t pull apart. The fibers are still mobile but not free to fall apart. How wide that part of the spectrum is depends on the length of the fibers and the amount of twist in the semi-stable part. Let’s call this the point of twist engagement.

A description of the point of twist engagement
The point of twist engagement in the semi-stable part of the continuum

At the point of twist engagement I have the opportunity to steer my work towards more twist or less, depending on what I want to achieve. When I spin, I use this point all the time.

Opening up the twist: Theory

The most interesting part of the twist model is the fact that it is reversible. When the twist has come too close to the fiber the drafting triangle gets smaller. That also means that the semi-stable part gets shorter and perhaps so short that I can’t draft anymore. Too much of the staple length is engaged in the twist. The point of twist engagement is not available to me. If I don’t watch out at this point, twist can enter the fiber supply. A common solution to too much twist in the semi-stable part can be to force the twist out of the yarn by pulling. This may more often than not result in an uneven or, at worst, broken yarn.

However, there is a way to prevent twist from coming too close to the drafting triangle without pulling. In the beginning of this post I wrote that the twist model can be reversed. If I remove twist from the yarn I will get fiber. So if I remove enough twist to open up the semi-stable part I will get access to the point of twist engagement again. This way I can draft smoothly and without pulling.

Opening up the twist: Practice

I think most of you do open up the twist, but perhaps you haven’t thought about what it is that you are actually doing, let alone talked about it. The graphics above are a help to understand the twist model on a theoretical level. Let’s look at it in practice too.

The twist model
The twist model in practice.

The fiber to the left in the picture is unstable – the fibers have complete mobility. The yarn to the right is stable – the fibers can not move. Between unstable and stable is a semi-stable part. The fibers have the ability to move past each other without pulling apart. This is the point of twist engagement.

But, how do I remove twist, in practice? One way of removing twist is to add length to the yarn. If I draft out more fiber, the existing twist will spread over the length of yarn and we get a lower twist. This works perfectly fine, but is seldom my first choice.

Instead I turn the yarn in my spinning hand/front hand against the spinning direction. When I do this, the semi-stable part gets longer and I get access to the point of twist engagement again.

Example 1: Supported spindle, long fibers, short draw

In this video (at 1:15) I spin with a long fiber and my hands are far apart. The drafting triangle is also long. With the thumb and index finger of my spinning hand (right in this case) I turn the yarn against the spinning direction to give more mobility to the fibers. This opens up the twist and allows the fibers to rearrange themselves. It makes the drafting easier on my hands and I end up with a more even yarn. The motion is very subtle, but it gives the fibers enough mobility for a smooth draft. I need to listen to the wool to understand how much I need to open up and how wide apart my hands need to be.

Example 2: Spinning wheel, short fibers, longdraw

Here is another example (at 1:25). In this video I spin English longdraw on a spinning wheel. When spinning English longdraw I use a double draft that is more commonly found in spindle spinning: I build up twist, make the draw and add twist. I use both hands to open up the twist: With my front/spinning hand I turn the yarn against the spinning direction, just as I did in the previous example. With my fiber/back hand I turn my hand against the spinning direction. My hands work together to give the fibers enough mobility in the semi-stable part of the yarn. When I am satisfied, I allow the twist to re-enter to stabilize the yarn.

Example 3: Tahkli spindle, short fibers, longdraw

In this third example (at 1:30) I spin very short fibers (cotton). I use a double drafting method, which means that I already have twist in the fiber when I go back to do the second part of the double drafting. That means that it will take more effort to untwist the yarn. Therefore, I use both my hands to turn the yarn against the spinning direction. I use the thumb and index finger of my spinning hand, just as in the first and second examples. To even out the bumps between my hands I also pinch the yarn with my fiber hand. In this, my hands come closer together to target the bump I want to even out. I can also walk both my hands closer together to do this.

Example 4: Navajo spindle, short fibers, long draw

In the last example (at 2:34) I spin cotton on a Navajo spindle. When I see a bump in the second half of the double draft I pinch the yarn with both my hands and turn them against the spinning direction. Look at 2:34 and also at 4:09. Cotton is a difficult fiber to spin, but it is an excellent exercise to learn to listen to the fiber. Your hands will feel the exact moment when and which fibers are in the point of twist engagement.

In this example and the previous one I also add length to the part I’m spinning to open up the twist. This is done in the first half of the double draft.

Cooperation

No matter what fiber or tool I use, I listen to the wool to learn how it behaves. The fiber I work with at the moment tugs a bit. I have had it for around a year and the lanolin feels more waxy than oily. I need to pay close attention to the drafting to avoid thin spots, pigtails and potential yarn breakage. The problem with unintentional thick and thin spots can happen with commercially combed top as well – the fibers are dense and sometimes clumped. Instead of tugging to separate the fibers I open up the twist and work with the yarn in the twist.

I learn how to cooperate with the wool to get a smoother spin and a more even yarn. How long are the fibers? How does the crimp work in the draft? How well do the fibers catch on to one another? All these aspects are keys to how I work with opening up the twist. When I spin I trust my hands to really listen and adapt their motions to the characteristics of the fiber.

I give the fiber the space it needs to, in return, give me a semi-stable portion where the fibers are mobile. This tiny little stretch of fiber between my hands and what I do with it can be a key to a smoother and more even yarn.


I hope the twist model can help you understand what happens – and what can happen – in the continuum between spun and unspun.

Do you open up the twist when you spin? How do you do it? If you don’t open up the fiber or if you haven’t thought about it, try it now! Grab a spinning tool and some fiber and find that point of twist engagement. Let me know what you think.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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!
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Textile heritage

Flemish tapestry weave with a woman spinning on a spinning wheel.

Sometimes I envy spinners who have a textile heritage. Their mothers taught them how to spin, they spin on their grandmother’s spinning wheel, they learned because everybody did it, that kind of heritage. I have no textile heritage. In this post I will reflect over where our spinning genes come from.

Family

I have no spinners in my family. My mother used to sew a lot when I grew up and I inherited that from her, but I know of no one in the family who has had any kind of interest in spinning. My mother may have taught me how to knit (because that is what you did in the -80’s), but I wouldn’t call her a knitter.

Josefin Waltin knitting a pastel purple sweater in a garden chair 1985.
A 12 year old Josefin knitting. The year was 1985 and I was sitting in my aunt’s summer house garden in Austria.

Somepeople are fortunate enough to have a well defined textile heritage. They can point out a person in their life who taught them how to spin or who has in some other way been important to them when they learned how to spin. I have no inherited tools with a personal history, no treasured family textiles, no tales to tell of old hands showing the motions.

Tradition

Some cultures have a strong textile heritage. Perhaps especially cultures where sheep are an important part of the agriculture and the landscape. With the sheep comes crafting that becomes an important part of people’s cultural and personal history. Textile crafting is a natural part of the culture and anyone who doesn’t craft is the odd person.

Shetland textile heritage

In 2015 I visited Shetland with my wool traveling club for Shetland wool week. Sheep are everywhere in Shetland. I think there are about 10 times more sheep than two-legged inhabitants. The treeless landscape is shaped by the sheep and the infrastructure needs to accommodate for sheep and pastures. Shetland looks like a sheep planet with tiny villages scattered in the landscape for people visiting.

Sheep grazing by the Bressay lighthouse, Shetland. East coast of Mainland Shetland in the background.

It was of course a wonderful week that none of us will ever forget. But the one thing that made the biggest impression on me was the textile heritage. Every Shetlander knows their textile heritage. And I do mean everyone. Their mothers and grandmothers have knitted when walking and shepherding and whenever their hands were not occupied with something else. Because they had to. Knitted items were sold and used as an important means for trading.

Every Shetlander knows what a hap stretcher, jumper board or a knitting belt is. There is a beautiful flora of special knitting terminology with influences from the Norse language and Scots. Hentilagets=Tufts of wool found in the pastures. Sprettin=ripping back (Sprätta in Swedish means ripping up a sewn seam). Makkin=knitting.

A person standing behind a stretched Shetland Hap
The Moder Dy hap. Photo by Dan Waltin

The textile heritage is tightly woven into everyone’s cultural and personal history. Since oil happened in Shetland, women haven’t needed to knit to provide for their families anymore, but the heritage is still very strong.

Navajo spinning and weaving

After having read a review of the book Spider woman’s children in the latest issue of Spin-off magazine, I knew I needed to buy the book. I ordered it, and when it arrived it proved to be a beautiful book that warmly told the stories of Navajo women (and a few men) who spin yarn from the Churro sheep.

Spider woman's children by Lynda Teller Pete and Barbara Teller Ornelas
Spider woman’s children by Lynda Teller Pete and Barbara Teller Ornelas

The wool is spun on Navajo spindles and the yarn is used to weave traditional Navajo tapestry rugs. The tradition is passed down from mother to daughter (or son), as are the textile tools and specific patterns or styles. It is a strong matriarchal culture with a true and genuine respect for the craft and the crafter. Many Navajo have spent a lot of time at trading posts where they have sold their rugs. The rugs are well sought after today and sell for thousands of dollars on auctions.

Master Artist workshop: Navajo weaving

Spinning, knitting and weaving in the Andes

This week I bought the video Andean spinning from Interweave. It features the talented Nilda Callañaupa Alveraz in a gentle conversation with Linda Ligon. Nilda shows how the women of the Andes spin sheep’s wool, alpaca and llama on bottom whorl spindles, pushkas. They spin constantly, and usually very thin yarn for weaving. Hands are never idle and there is always some textile crafting going on. The women spin, ply, dye and weave together and create a textile treasure to take great pride in. Men spin bulkier yarn and often in llama wool for weaving potato sacks. Imagine that, storing your potatoes in handspun, hand woven llama sacks. What a potato feast!

Nilda Callañaupa Alveraz tells Linda Ligon about Andean spinning. Short clip from the downloadable video Andean spinning.

They spin the wool on simple hand-carved and very lightweight bottom whorl spindles. Just a stick and a whorl. No hook, you just secure the yarn with a couple of half-hitches and you are good to go. They don’t prepare the wool with any tools other than your hands. They just separate the fibers with their hands and turn them into clouds that they drafts from.

Another video that shows Andean spinning from unprocessed wool.

The process is mesmerizing and my heart was singing when I watched the video. The simplest of tools make the most beautiful, yet sturdy and useful textiles. I instantly felt a need for a pushka spindle. Even as we speak, two pushkas are on the way to me. I intend to get myself a fleece that I can tease and draft directly from without tools. I don’t know what breed they use, but since the Spanish brought the sheep, chances are that there is at least some amount of merino in today’s sheep grazing the Andean slopes. I’m thinking some Jämtland wool or Norwegian crossbred, NKS, will do the trick.

Abby Franquemont who grew up in the Andes as a daughter of anthropologists learned the technique from an early age (but shockingly late in the eyes of the locals). She is currently back in Cusco, Peru, and sends daily sweets in the shape of videos from her visit. It makes me want to go to Peru right now and spin with them. Anyone know of a decent train line from Europe to South America?

A Swedish textile community

There are places in Sweden with a cultural textile heritage. The county of Dalarna for example is a region where twined knitting has been the dominant textile technique for centuries. Women were knitting whenever their hands were free to knit. Idle hands were a sin. Many people in this region today can show a treasured vadmal jacket with twined knitted sleeves, safely stored in the attic. And they treasure it.

Future textile heritage

Next generation

My children don’t know how to spin and they don’t share my passion for textiles. But they do have a passive knowledge of spinning and wool. They can tell the difference between a Texel sheep and a Finewool sheep. Probably Rya and Gotland too. They know the names of quite a few of the spindle types I have and they enjoy the sound of the spinning wheel. How many city kids have this knowledge today? Every time I see a sign of this passive knowledge my heart smiles. I know that I have passed a treasured knowledge to them, even if they don’t share my passion.

Urban spinning

Recently I got a new supported spindle and bowl. The bowl had a metal piece underneath to fit a magnet so that the bowl doesn’t slide off my lap when I spin. The other day I went to the hardware store to get a strong magnet. I had brought the bowl to check if the magnet would be strong enough. When I waited in line I imagined what I would answer if the sales person would ask what the bowl was used for. I imagined answering “the line is too long for me to tell you what the bowl is used for”. I was a bit disappointed when he didn’t ask me. Not even after testing the function with my handspun hat between the magnet and the bowl! But he did get me a decent magnet.

Supported spindle and bowl by Björn Peck
Supported spindle and bowl by Björn Peck. Few people outside the spinning community know what they are used for, let alone why I would want a magnet for it.

In a culture with a strong textile heritage this situation wouldn’t have occurred. The hardware store would have exposed the magnets in the shop with a sign saying “Get your spindle bowl magnets for safe commuter spinning here!”. Wouldn’t that be something?

Metro crafting

I wouldn’t say that Stockholm has a textile heritage, at least not one that I know of. I don’t often see textile crafting in Stockholm. Whenever I see a person trying to untangle their earphones on the metro my heart jumps because I instantly think they are knitting. But they are not. The irony of this is that they wouldn’t have had to untangle their earphones in the first place had they only had the knowledge to knit them in!

No untangling necessary with knit-in headphones.
No untangling necessary with knit-in earphones. Picture from 2012. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The few times I don’t get around by bike I spin or knit on the metro. First and foremost because I want to, but also to make textile crafting visible. I want people to know that spinning exist. I want people to reflect over what it is that I do, perhaps dig out threads of memories of knitting grandmothers, weaving aunts or just old hands showing how it’s done. Some people are brave enough to ask me what I’m doing, or just seek eye contact and smile. Once I was standing in the metro, nalbinding away. A man in his 60’s was watching what I was doing. After a while he smiled at me and asked “Isn’t that that nalbinding?” I was so shocked I nearly forgot to get off at the next stop. Never have I experienced anyone outside the textile community recognizing nalbinding, let alone a man.

A pair of striped socks in backlight
Nalbinding socks. Photo by Dan Waltin

I treasure moments like these. They give me hope that I can be a part of passing at least a passive knowledge of textile tradition on.

Online heritage

Most of my you who follow me on my blog and YouTube channel are spinners. A few just appreciate the serenity of my videos and another group is fascinated by the textile techniques without an intention of crafting themselves. Recently one of my videos was spread in a non-spinning context. In one week the amount of viewers grew from 600 to 21000 (!) and is now up in around 36000 views. Spinners are my target group, but seeing so many other people appreciating my textile heritage makes my toes dance of joy.

Making my own history

I may not have a textile heritage. But I have made my own. The positive side of not having a textile heritage is that I don’t have a given thread to follow. I’m not expected to follow a pre-destined tradition. I make my own thread and my own discoveries based on my curiosity and love for the craft. That is a heritage I am proud of.

What is your textile heritage?


The featured image I chose for this post is a Flemish tapestry weave made by my sister-in-law’s grandmother Birgit. Birgit was a weaver and left tons of hand woven pieces when she passed away. My sister-in-law does have a textile heritage is by her grandmother and mother, but she is not a textile crafter herself. When she was sorting out her grandmother Birgit’s belongings she thought of me and gave me a whole bag with beautiful handwoven kitchen towels and a few tapestry weaves. This way I can say that I have adopted my sister-in-law’s textile heritage.


You can follow me on 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!
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Process

Handspun yarn from Gotland wool

I am a process spinner and I spin because I love the process of spinning. The rhythm, the motions, the feeling of the fiber in my hands and the crafting bubble I enter when I spin – all of these aspects are part of my love of spinning. I do spin for the project too, but I don’t make shortcuts to get faster to the project. In this post I will try to break down the process and investigate what it is that makes me feel so good when I spin.

For some cimematic inspiration connected to the theme of this post, watch my video For the love of spinning.

Rhythm

There is a rhythm in spinning, regardless of what tool I am using. I treadle with my feet, feed the yarn into the orifice and move my hands. Or I set a spindle in motion, draft the fiber and roll the yarn onto the shaft. You can see the rhythm in the preparation too – loading combs or cards, processing the fiber and arranging the fiber in spinnable chunks. From the first step to the last and back again. There is a rhythm and a predictability – if everything goes as it should, I know what is coming next.

I find a sort of security in the rhythm. I can focus on the steps in the process and and be here and now. Stress stays outside of the bubble and allows me to breathe and think more freely.

I have been under a lot of pressure lately with course launch, article and pattern deadlines and new courses to prepare for. But through this I have had one spinning project that was just for me. There was no deadline or pressure with that particular fleece and I made room for spinning for a little while every day. It helped me find peace when in the crafting bubble and balance when outside of it.

The rhythm of spinning helps me find the here and now
The rhythm of spinning helps me find the here and now

Dance

Sometimes I see spinning as a dance. The fibers and tools are the dancers and I am the choreographer (the fiber is also the artistic director). My hands follow each other, back and forth, towards and away from each other, leaving the fiber in a new shape. Fiber hand drafting the fiber for the spinning hand. Spinning hand introducing twist to the fiber and smoothing the newborn yarn, guiding it onto the bobbin or shaft. My eyes follow my hands, watching the fiber, assessing the result and planning the next step.

The combs or cards follow each other, allowing the length of the fiber to gently dictate the choreography. I make dramatic moves for combing long locks and gentle motions, gently caressing the fibers for carding short fibers. I listen to the music of my tools for guidance in the rhythm.

The moves in the dance are linear and simultaneous, gentle and bold, planned and spontaneous. Often in basic step but every now and then a new figure is introduced.

The dance works with the rhythm and helps me find my pace. I get lost in the moment while at the same time focusing deeply on my work.

Spinning on a supported spindle takes and makes focus. Photo by Dan Waltin
The rhythm and dance of spinning helps me find focus. Photo by Dan Waltin

Sometimes I feel disconnected from the spinning. Something is out of step and I can’t find my way in the spinning. Then I look for the dance and find it. I am the choreographer again and the steps fall into place.

How do you dance your spinning?

Memory

When I spin (or knit or weave or nalbind or… well, you get the picture), I spin the context into the yarn. If I listen to a podcast when I spin I can hear its echo the next time I spin that yarn. If I knit at a fika break at work I remember the conversations the next time I pick up the knitting. Spinning on the train can save the view from the landscape in the yarn. The sensation of the crafting enhances the auditive or visual memory of what happen when I craft.

If I have been happy, sad or emotional when spinning, my feelings are gently stored in a protective shield of wool. It feels safe, like my yarn protects my most secret thoughts and emotions. I can look at the yarn and reconnect with particular moments and contexts.

A collection of finished yarns from a fleece allows me to remember and cherish all the things going on in my life when it was created. Good things, bad, happy and sad. They are all there and part of me.

Handspun yarn from Gotland wool
I could tell you that this is Gotland wool spun worsted from hand combed top, but it is so much more than that. Countless emotions, memories and places have been gently spun into the yarn.

Creativity

Spinning is a creative activity. I need to be creative. My whole being needs to express itself creatively. When I spin I feel more balanced, I can ground myself and be at peace. When I am in the creative bubble all the white noise around me fizzles out and allows me to see the world more clearly.

I can also use spinning to ignite creative thinking. Sometimes I may be struggling to find words for a blog post or an article. I stop what I am doing and start spinning instead. After a while of spinning the doors to my creative thinking open and I can take a fresh creative breath again. The connection between the brain hemispheres is strengthened and I can think more efficiently.

Touch

One of my favourite parts of the spinning process is feeling the wool in my hands. The notion that every single fiber has gone through my fingers hundreds of times through sorting, picking, washing, preparing, spinning, plying and knitting warms my heart.

Touching wool gives me a sense of security. It will do me no harm. I will receive the gift of warmth, safety and kindness. It is like I was meant to feel the wool. I think we as humans need to feel natural materials.

Oxytocin

Recently I read a book about love, Kärlek. The author and therapist Eva Sanner writes about touch as an important part of a relationship. Touch releases the hormone oxytocin, which makes us calm and content. It has importance for bonding between partners and between mother and child during nursing. The release of oxytocin also strengthens our immune system.

Go cuddle your sheep, it is good for your immune system. Photo by Anna Herting.

One of the most effective ways to release oxytocin is through massage. When pace and pressure are right, it can give a lot of pleasure for both the giver and receiver of massage.

A spinning hormone?

The book also mentions the release of oxytocin when we pet our pets. Scientific studies show that people with pets have better health than people living alone and that oxytocin can very well be the cause of that. The author writes that we have lots of oxytocin receptors in our hands. When we stroke our pets we take pleasure in it, just like the masseur. At the same time our immune system is strengthened.

This made me stop and think. If oxytocin is released when we stroke our pets, could spinning also lead to the release of oxytocin? The warm wool – not on the hoof anymore but more often than not smelling faintly of sheep – goes through our hands in all the steps of the process. During spinning we handle the wool between our fingertips, one of the most sensitive parts of our bodies. Is the release of oxytocin during spinning part of the feeling of serenity when we spin?

I got so excited about this thought that I emailed the author. I described the spinning process and asked her if she thought that oxytocin was released when we spin. She replied after just a couple of hours and said that it was a very interesting concept. She thought it was very possible that oxytocin could be released during spinning.

Spinning Shetland wool on a spinning wheel
Can spinning wool actually be good for our immune system?

My next thought was, comparing to pace and pressure in massage, is the pace and pressure in the spinning when it feels the best the moment when the most oxytocin is released? Do we have a personal spinning pace that is the most beneficial for us?

The thought of oxytocin as a spinning hormone and beneficial for our immune system gives me goosebumps. And a warm and wooly heart.

Do share your thoughts about this!

Happy spinning indeed!


You can follow me on 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!
  • 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. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

The superpowers of a fleece

A sken of dark grey yarn with colored specks in it

For a long time I have wanted to spin a yarn and knit a project where I start from the characteristics of the fleece and make a yarn that highlights the superpowers of that particular fleece. I wanted all the decisions I made from preparing the wool to designing and knitting a garment to be made with consideration to the fleece I had started with.

This post is part of a new blog series. In four posts I will take you through preparing, spinning, designing and knitting a garment, looking at consistency and some calculations. I will use the wool from one sheep as a case study.

A finull/rya gold medalist

In the 2017 Swedish fleece championships I got my hands on a beautiful, dark grey finull/rya crossbred. It is very soft with airy staples and mostly undercoat.

From spring to autumn

The ewe who grew this winner fleece was shorn in the spring, which usually means a little coarser wool and shorter staples than the autumn shearing. This fleece, though, was wonderfully soft.

A finull/rya mix and gold medalist at the 2017 Swedish fleece championships, shorn in the spring. Sheperdess: Margau Wohlfart–Leijdström

The competition had taken place in September, and I realized that the ewe probably was still wearing her summer coat. I contacted the shepherdess, Margau, and I was right, she hadn’t done the autumn shearing yet. A couple of weeks later, I had the autumn shearing in my hands. A little longer staples and even softer than the spring shearing.

Same sheep, shorn in the autumn. The staples are a bit longer and the tips are slightly sun-bleached.

Finding the superpowers

For a long time I was thinking about what I wanted to do with the fleeces. The spring fleece was a gold medalist and I felt a responsibility to make the most out of it. I wanted to let the wool tell me how it wanted to be spun to become its best yarn.

To look for the superpowers in a fleece I need to examine the fleece itself. But I can also get some clues from considering the characteristics of the breed in general, in this case two breeds – Swedish finewool and Rya.

Swedish finewool and Rya

Wool from Swedish finull (closely related to Finn) is typically very fine and soft with a high crimp (2–10 waves per cm). It has well defined staples of up to 8 cm. It is a good choice for spinning a lofty yarn with longdraw from carded rolags.

Rya has very long staples (up to 30 cm) of strong and shiny fibers and about 60% overcoat. A worsted spun yarn from combed top would be a good choice for this kind of wool. Rya is often used in weaving. The combination of the two can make a winner.

A finewool/rya crossbred

The shepherdess Margau has a flock of 25 finewool and rya sheep and has also crossbred these for several years. This has resulted in wool with the best of the superpowers of both breeds – strong, shiny and soft. She has won several medals from the Swedish fleece championships.

The wool I got from Margau is truly magnificent. I am a sucker for grey. This wool has shades of medium to dark grey with a hint of brown. The wool shorn in the spring has the staple length of finewool sheep, up to 8 cm. It is very soft and airy. I would say it looks more like finewool than rya, but the staples are more open than finewool. Finewool can be tedious to prepare since the staples usually are very thin and defined. This wool is a lot easier to prepare.

The autumn shearing has longer staples and a bit lighter. The tips are slightly sun bleached. The overall feeling of the wool is soft, but it is also clear that the wool is strong and shiny.

A row of wool staples
Staples from the spring and autumn shearing of a finewool/rya ewe

This summer I had made a tweed experiment where I blended the autumn shearing with some sari silk. I really got a taste for the mixture between the dark wool and the colourful specks of sari silk. I decided that I wanted to use the spring and autumn fleeces together and blend them with the sari silk for a tweedy yarn.

Fiber preparation

I wanted to be really thorough and sample my way to the best yarn for this wool. I knew from the experiment I had done earlier that carded rolags was the best way to prepare this wool. Before that could happen, though, I needed to go through a few other steps.

Mixing the fleeces

The spring and autumn shearings were a bit different – the spring shearing was shorter because most of the nutrition had gone to the lamb during gestation and lambing period. The autumn shearing had longer staples and were also a bit sun-bleached. I wanted all of these characteristics in the yarn – the short staples for loftiness and the longer for strength – so I mixed the fleeces in a big basket.

Teasing and blending

I used my combing station to tease the wool. This is the way I usually tease before carding, it is a quite efficient method. In this step I could also blend the sari silk with the wool.

A braid of turquoise based sari silk
Sweet sari silk

I loaded the stationary comb with the wool, not considering staple ends or directions, I just loaded ruthlessly to about a third of the height of the tines. At the top I added the sari silk. I combed three passes and then removed the blended fiber from the stationary comb tuft by tuft. This left me with clouds of wool blended with sari silk.

Carding

I am quite used to carding and I have my way of doing it that I think works quite well. Still, after watching the Interweave downloadable video How to Card Wool: Four Spinners, Four Techniques, I made some adjustments. I used to load the whole width of the card with wool, but now I leave a one inch passepartout of the card empty on the sides and top of the carding pad. This way I make sure that all the fibers are actually on the carding pads and not escaping through the sides. I also pay more attention to rolling the rolag between the cards to make neater and more uniform rolags.

Carding is something I love doing, and with these adjustment it became even more satisfying to see the fluffy teased clouds turn into proper and uniform rolags.

Sweet hand-carded rolags with specks of recycled sari silk.

Spinning and plying

I wanted a soft and round yarn, so my idea was to spin a 3-ply yarn with long draw. I made lots of samples with long draw in different thicknesses, but I wasn’t really happy with the results. All the samples felt too dense and not soft enough.

Spinning

For a while, English longdraw had been lurking in the back of my mind, but I was a bit reluctant to try it. If I liked it it would mean that I would have to spin everything with english longdraw and I wasn’t sure I would be able to do that with the consistency I wanted. But I tried it and realized that I had found the best way to spin the rolags. The samples were soft and lofty, and it felt just right. I ended up with a sport weight thickness that seemed perfect for the wool.

yarn samples of different thicknesses
I sampled my way to the best 3-ply yarn for my fleece

Spinning longdraw requires really well carded rolags. With any unevenness in the carding there is a risk that the yarn will be uneven and/or break in the draw. This is even more true for English longdraw where you draw one arm’s length in one motion. Having little specks of short fibers in the rolags feels a bit counter productive here. I didn’t let that stop me, though, I just had to take extra care in examining the roving before setting the twist. I think the yarn broke just a handful of times during the whole spinning.

When I spun the yarn I could feel the amount of blending of the two fleeces. In some rolags the drafting was really easy, almost too easy. This meant that I had mostly shorter staples from the spring shearing in this rolag. In others, the drafting was a bit tougher due to a higher amount of longer staples from the autumn shearing. The longer staples were important to the durability of the yarn, but too much of the longer wool would make a denser yarn than I wanted. Had I done this preparation in the summer I would definitely have mixed the fleeces by willowing them.

A bobbin with dark grey yarn with specks of colour
A bobbin full of yum

Plying

When I ply I like to transfer the singles together to a new bobbin. This way I start plying from the same end as I started spinning. It also allows me to go through the singles one more time before plying. I don’t need to handle three individual singles when plying. Instead I ply them in a bundle straight off one bobbin.

A skein of dark grey wool with colored specks in it.
A finished skein of final/rya tweedy yarn, full of superpowers.

Getting to know a fleece

This wool has gone through my hands numerous times. From sorting, teasing, carding, spinning and plying. I try to read the fleece to find out what I need to do to let it shine. In handling the fiber I get to know know what it feels like, how it sounds, the staple length, the crimp, how well it drafts, how much lanolin is in the wool. Every time the fiber goes through my hands I get new pieces of the puzzle. It is like every step in the process gives me a deeper and broader knowledge and understanding of the wool.

A sken of dark grey yarn with colored specks in it
Some tweedy loveliness

Coming up: In the next part of this blog series I will dive into consistency in all the steps in the process and look at how I take measure – literally – to end up with a yarn that is even.


You can follow me on 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!
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. 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 posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

2018 in retrospect

A Navajo spindle. Photo by Dan Waltin

In the last few days of the year I get a little nostalgic. I browse through the months, looking at all the memories of blogging and youtubing. They are like sparkling candy in a pretty bowl. All different, all sweet and all part of the whole. In this post I look back at 2018 and forward to 2019. Here is 2018 in retrospect!

If you have been following me for a while, this might be a walk down memory lane for you too. If you are new to the blog – welcome – this post  will help you can catch up with what happened during 2018.

The stats

During 2018 I have published

  • 66 blog posts
  • 17 public youtube videos
  • 20 blog post specific videos.

That’s more than one post a week and one one video every three weeks. At the end of the summer I decided I wanted to aim at one post a week during the autumn, but I didn’t realize that I had made even more than that in the spring.

Blog statistics
The stats

I am very proud of the videos and posts I have published this year. I learn new things all the time and I have sharpened my articles and learned how to analyze and reflect to produce interesting content for you. If you have enjoyed my posts and videos during 2018 and look forward to 2019, do become a patron and support my work. This work takes up a lot of my time and I also need to finance editing software and video equipment.

I love writing the posts and making the videos. When I get home on Friday after a week of work I can’t wait for Saturday morning to publish my next post.

During the year I had most viewers in the U.S, followed by Sweden, U.K. Canada and Germany. Thank you all for following, commenting, asking questions and giving valuable feedback. You help me become a better spinner, blogger, youtuber and teacher and I couldn’t do it without you.

Popular posts

The post with the single most views was, quite surprisingly, Willowing wool. I hadn’t planned it at all, I just thought of it one morning, grabbed a fleece and a couple of sticks and started shooting. And over 2500 people have visited the post and even more people have watched the video. It was great fun to make the video and I am happy to have contributed to sharing this old technique and craft.

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

The second most viewed post was, even more surprisingly, Don’t waste your wool waste. This post didn’t even have a video attached to it, which makes it even more puzzling. But it was obviously interesting to both the spinning and the gardening community.

Third in line was Spinning in the 14th century and one of my favourite videos this year. I had such a great time with Maria, who provided the costumes and helped me with the shooting. There is a big difference in quality of the video when I have company (My daughter was with me in parts of the willowing video, which is also a favourite) compared to when I do it all myself. You can see and feel the interplay in the video which gives it different dimension than my solo videos. I hope to make more videos like that during 2019.

Josefin Waltin in medieval costume
Preparing for 14th century video shoot. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Blog series

During 2018 I have made four blog series where I have focused on a theme and looked at it from different perspectives:

They have been very popular and I have loved the opportunity to dig deep in a given topic. I have learned a lot from all four of them, but one of them in particular has totally changed the way I look at – and teach – spinning.

Spinning direction

The series about spinning direction started with an injury. I had started to practice spinning with in-hand spindles where you twiddle the spindle in your hand, basically without letting go of the spindle. A short while after I had started practicing this technique, I got  a cramp in the base of my thumb and I wanted to find out why.

I talked to a vocational therapist who told me that the muscles used for pulling are twice as many as the muscles used for pushing. Being a leftie, I had been pushing the spindle for a clockwise spin. When I changed hands so that the right hand was pulling the spindle for a clockwise spin, there was no more cramp.

A hand holding a spindle
Which is your spinning hand?

This made a huge impact on my own spinning and my teaching. I taught myself to spin with my right hand as spinning hand. It was difficult in the beginning, but with practice I managed to become as skilled with my right hand as I was with my left hand.

Now I teach spinning direction in spindle spinning in all my classes – I encourage them all to learn how to use both of their hands as spinning hands. I want them to have the opportunity to spin and ply with both hands without injuries.  Both my students and I are much more aware now of how the hands move and work.

The blog series was a combination of my own reflections about spinning direction, interviews with professionals in physiology and textile history and poll results from the spinning community. It was read and appreciated by many followers. Long after the series was published I have referred spinners to it who have had questions about pain or cramp in their spinning hand when spinning on spindles. And I am happy to help.

Twined knitting mittens

The blog series about twined knitting mittens was born out of the previous blog series about spinning direction. In the series you are invited to follow me on my path from fleece to a finished pair of mittens.

After having started practicing spinning with my right hand as spinning hand I wanted to give something back to my left hand that had been struggling for so long with pushing the spindle. I wanted to spin a yarn counter-clockwise so that my left hand could pull the spindle.

There is an old Swedish technique called twined knitting. You use two strands of yarn and twine them on the wrong side of the fabric. The technique takes very long to knit, but it results in  a fabric that is very dense and warm.

Close-up of the wrong side of a twined knitted mitten.
The two yarn ends are twined on wrong side of the fabric.

To compensate for the twining, you use a yarn that is Z-plied: Spun counter-clockwise and plied clockwise. So I spun a beautiful Värmland wool on a supported spindle counter-clockwise with my left hand as spinning hand. When the yarn was finished I made a pair of mittens in twined knitting. They weigh 60 g each and my heart sings every time I wear them.

A grey mitten with a venus symbol
Twined knitting mittens. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Flax

The autumn started with a series of processing and spinning flax. I have a tiny experimental flax patch at home. I started it in 2014 and learn new things about flax processing every year. The series includes a video where I process my flax from the 2017 harvest. I went to Skansen outdoor museum and borrowed their flax processing tools and got a lot of help from the friendly staff. The 2017 harvest was the first one I felt I can actually spin with ( I haven’t yet, though). In the series I also invite the viewer to follow the retting process on my lawn, with pictures of the flax straws in different stages of the process.

Retted flax
The flax fiber is easy to pull off the cellulose core. The retting is finished!

 

Cotton

The cotton blog series started with a gift. A fellow spinner gave me 130 g of newly harvested cotton from Stockholm. I am very reluctant to buying cotton clothes because of climate reasons – the fashion industry takes up a lot of farming ground for cotton farming. The industry also uses a lot of pesticides that are harmful for biodiversity and the people working in the business. But with small-scale and locally grown cotton I had the opportunity to try a fiber that I hadn’t spun before! In the series I prepare the cotton and spin it with Tahkli, Navajo and Akha spindles.

New grounds

During the year I have investigated grounds that were new to me. It has been a truly wonderful journey, but also required a lot of energy. In the end, I am very proud of what I have achieved.

Patron launch

In February I launched my Patreon site. This is where followers have the opportunity to support my work and get extra Patreon-only benefits like previews of upcoming videos, Q&A:s and their names in the credits of my videos.

Article in Spin-off

Last June I submitted a proposal to Spin-off magazine. It was accepted, and in March it was published. The link goes to a shorter version of the article. If you want to read the whole article you need to buy the magazine. I wrote about the process of the making of the video Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl (the video was published in August 2017), where I processed and spun yarn for a shawl that I wove on my rigid heddle loom.

I will be writing more articles for spinning magazines.

Business

Around the same time, I started my own business. It feels very grown-up and totally terrifying, but it also gives me a boost to ignite my entrepreneurial switch and acknowledge my work as something more than just a hobby.

Josefin Waltin wearing an apron with an embroidered sheep
My wool handling apron with sheep logo. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Teaching

2018 has been the year of teaching for me. I have been teaching supported spindle spinning in different parts of Sweden during the year. Every time I learn something new about teaching, spinning and analyzing, but most of all I have learned to see and listen what the students need and how they are most likely to understand and learn. There is a big difference between conveying a message and for the receiver to actually understand and make use of it. I’m still learning and I jump with joy every time I see a student make progress.

Online school

I have been planning and working with my online school for nearly a year now, and in December I finally launched it. The first course is a free course in How to pick a supported spindle and bowl. Over 120 people have already taken the course. Come to the school and take the course you too!

A spindle and puck
Supported spindle and bowl by Björn Peck.

I have received a lot of wonderful feedback. Many students have really enjoyed and appreciated the course and given me valuable suggestions for future courses. I am truly thankful for that, it helps me become a better teacher and course creator.

There will be more online courses in 2019!

Favourites

One of my personal favourite videos in 2018 was the one I shot in Austria about plying on the fly on a Turkish spindle. I had such a lovely time standing in the big meadow in the beautiful morning light. And a lot of you enjoyed the video as well.

A hand starting a spindle.
Plying on the fly on a Turkish spindle in Salzkammergut, Austria.

Another favourite, with some shots from Austria, was my craftivism project I choose to stay on the ground. It is a video and a theme that is very important to me: Reducing our carbon footprint by avoiding flying.

Josefin Waltin reading a book on a train
Image from I choose to stay on the ground

A third favourite was the supported spindle video A meditation that I shot by a fulling mill. A beautiful day with pale September light.

You

Even if I have published lots of videos and posts this year I couldn’t have done it without you, my followers and readers. The feedback, inspiration and love I get from you is invaluable. Keep commenting, asking questions and sharing your knowledge. It helps me make better content for you. You are my biggest inspiration!

Plans for 2019

As I write this, it is still winter, which means that I can’t shoot any videos outside. Well, I could, but not with spinning involved, my hands and the fiber won’t work in the cold. I will have to wait until spring to shoot new videos. But I do have a few unedited videos left from 2018, I will publish them until the weather permits new outdoor videos.

I will launch more online courses during the year. Hopefully I will be able to buy a better microphone, so that I can improve the audio quality in upcoming online courses. I will also offer in-person courses around Sweden, perhaps I will see you there.

Björn the wood turner and I talk regularly and we will have a workshop in his workshop (!) in January to look at new models and designs. He will open a web shop soon.

I create my videos out of a special idea I get or if I find a special location I fall in love with. I have a few plans up my sleeve, involving spindles of different kinds. My husband gave me a lightweight tripod for Christmas, so I will be able to get out and about easier. The old one weighs over 2 kg, this one was only 800 g.

If there is anything you would like me to cover in an upcoming post or video, do give me a holler.

These are some of my favorite sweets in the 2018 candy bowl. I hope you found some favourite sweets as well.

With all my heart I thank you for 2018 and wish you a happy new spinning year 2019!

Josefin Waltin spinning on a supported spindle. Photo by Dan Waltin.
Looking forward to spinning in 2019!


You can follow me on 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!
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. 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 posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!