Embroidery is not my strongest textile technique. Sometimes, though, an embroidery just needs to exist, and this was such a time. I needed to do some serious logo embroidery on a wool handling apron.
You may have noticed my logo, the sheep with the spiral fleece.
My retired father used to work as an art director and has made lots of logos and I asked him to make one for me. He presented several different ideas, but I fell for this one. It was finished in March and I am very fond of it.
Looking at it, I realized that it wouldn’t be very difficult to make an embroidery of it. I had the perfect wool for embroidery yarn – a strong and shiny white Rya. You have seen it in the Spinning around the world video I released in June. I spun it on a supported spindle and 2-plied it. In this blog post you can read more about the wool and the spinning.
The first step after spinning was getting the colour right. Dyeing is not my field of expertise, I dye when I need to. I use dyes from Greener Shades. I want to mix the colours myself, but I find it quite challenging. Sometimes I don’t see the colour until it’s all dyed. eventually I did get the colour right, but I dyed very little yarn, so it ended up very dark. On the second try I got it right.
Looking at the pictures now, though, I see that it has a bit too little red in it. I will have to live with that.
I borrowed an embroidery hoop from my friend Maria (who helped me with my medieval spinning video). My original plan was to use a stem stitch – I thought it would look nice on the moving wool spiral. But the yarn was far too thick for the fine linen on the apron and it just looked like croquet hoops. So I picked it up and started again, this time with a simple backstitch. It didn’t make the yarn any thinner of course, but it was easier to make the curves of the spiral look better.
The face was a bit tricky. Originally, I had planned to fill the face with embroidery, but then my friend Elaine suggested that I use a piece of felted wool instead. And that was av very good idea. The felted piece got a little thick, but I can live with that too.
My father suggested beads for the eyes, which was just right.
I love my new apron and I feel like a proud entrepreneur when I wear it.
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Willowing wool is an ancient technique where you use two willow sticks (or some other bendy wood) to whip the wool. This helps to open up the locks, get air in to the wool and vegetable matter out.
An ancient technique
There are illustrations from the European middle ages of people willowing wool, but I can imagine the technique has been used ever since wool has been used for spinning. In my book Ull – hemligheter, möjligheter, färdigheter by Kerstin Gustafsson and Alan Waller, it says that wool beating used to be an occupation. The wool beaters usually also traded in wool, whipped it and blended to get an even quality. The finished blends would then be sold to mitten producers. Also, people would of course beat the wool in rural homes as a first step of processing their own wool.
Five years ago I went to the west coast of Sweden together with my wool traveling friend Anna for a one-week spinning course. The teacher was Lena Köster, a Swedish master spinner. She taught us to whip the wool, and it was great fun.
The origin of a word
Since the technique has been performed with soft sticks, usually willow, it has been called willowing. This word root (!) has remained even after the start of the industrialism. A machine that was designated to open up the locks, remove vegetable matter and blend the wool was called a willowing machine, willy or willower. As a linguistic geek, I just love the substantial origin of the word.
Angels and devils
I was told that the flying locks used to be called angels. The higher the angels flew the more air had been let in to the wool and the better the wool was whipped. And they do look like angels – white, fuzzy and endlessly beautiful. And, oh, another word for the willowing machine was devil. If you have ever seen a willowing machine (or a wool picker for that matter) you will understand. It looks like your average Tudor era torture tool.
The origin of a video
As it happened, I had a bunch of willow sticks lying around the house. I had made a low hurdle for a flower bed and bought willow sticks for this purpose. Yes, I shouldn’t need to buy sticks when there are lots of them in the woods, but I have made this hurdle several times with maple saplings, and it just won’t last. But I digress.
It also happened that I had a fleece in the fleece storage (aka our sofa bed) that had a little too much vegetable matter in it. Recently, there has been lots of discussions on a facebook spinning forum about vegetable matter and the best way to get rid of it. I had suggested whipping the wool. so I had recently picked the thought up from deep within my memory storage.
Willowing wool – shooting
So, I picked a spot on our terrace to shoot a video of willowing wool, sat myself down on the floor and started willowing. It was a lot of fun. My daughter came by and helped me whip for a while. She said: ‘You look really happy, Mum, like a five-year-old who just got an ice-cream cone.’ Indeed. An ice-cream cone made of wool.
I shot the video from one angle unpaused. The whole uncut clip was about 50 minutes (I edited it down to four minutes). I spent a lot of that time gathering lost wool angels. There was a breeze, and I can vouch for that the time spent chasing wool increases proportionally to the increase of wind speed. This particular wind was a whimsical one, it had a hard time deciding where to blow.
I got the music from the free music archive. Using the search words ‘fly’ and ‘high’, I found this beautiful harp piece by Anne van Schotorst. It’s called Birds came flying. I think it suited my flying angels quite well.
One of my favourite sheep hang-outs is Överjärva farm just outside Stockholm. There has been a farm at Överjärva for centuries. In the beginning of the 20th century it was the biggest farm in the parish. Today it’s a city farm with sheep, horses, chickens and organic farming.
Kulturlandskaparna is the organization that looks after the sheep and works to maintain the farm and the biodiversity in the area. This is where I first learned how to spin, where I bought my first fleece (and a few more after that) and I took a course in small-scale sheep farming.
The Patron and head sheeprdess of Överjärva is Ulla. She knows all the sheep by name. If you present a fleece to her she can name the sheep just by smelling it. She is passionate about the sheep and the landscape management. She passes on the knowledge about the importance of sheep by teaching young and old as much as she can about sheep and why we need them.
At the farm, Ulla teaches kids to be helper shepherds and shepherdesses. For the moment there are only helper shepherdesses, and around 10–15 years old. They learn how to take care of the sheep and are a big help at the farm. It is also evident that the helper shepherdesses grow when they learn about how to take responsibility for the sheep.
With the sheep in the pasture
People come to the farm all year round to see the sheep. They are very used to humans and most of them love to be cuddled. During the lambing period in the spring they get privacy, though, but in the end of April it was the first day visitors were allowed to go in to the pasture and cuddle with ewes and lambs. Of course I was there.
The big sheep walk
Moving the sheep
When the lambs are big enough and the grass has grown a bit after the winter, it is time to move the sheep and their lambs to their summer pastures. This is done on the great sheep walk in late May. Visitors are invited to take part in the move and walk all the sheep families through the neighbourhood to the fresh grass in the new pasture. Of course I was there to take part in the big sheep move.
Organizing the walk
The sheep walk is a whole machinery. The sheep families are moved from the farm pasture one at a time and assigned to a human family, and they all stay around the farm until every sheep is out. Anna, her family and I were in charge of the Swedish finewool sheep Anemone (you have seen her before, in this video) and her lambs Tim, Linus and Vilda.
The sheep are a bit wild and difficult to handle at the beginning of the walk, but after a while they settle down. Since the walk goes through traffic, the sheep need to be led in in leashes. One human family family taking the responsibility for one sheep family. The sheep family must be held together with the ewe just in front of her lambs and you are not allowed to pass another sheep family. There can’t be a gap in the long row of sheep families. The herd strives to be together, and if there is a gap they will start to run to cover the gap. This can have chaotic consequences in a traffic environment.
One of the most difficult tasks on the sheep walk is to keep the sheep in the middle of the lane. If they go too far to either side, they will get close to the grass and all the work with keeping the sheep orderly is wasted.
Ulla, the head shepherdess, doesn’t walk with the sheep. She goes ahead in the car and organizes things at the pasture. Instead, the helper shepherdesses are in charge of the walk. And the y do it with great skill and pride. They watch all the families along the lines and make sure everything is in order, that the ewes is just in front of her lambs, that there is no gap in the lane and are always ready to give a hand when needed. The smaller children are in charge of stopping the traffic. When a car comes on the same road or when the caravan crosses a street, the kids stand broad-legged with their arms out to the sides to stop the cars and protect the caravan. They take their task very seriously.
Dancing in the streets
It is almost like a choreographed dance to keep all the sheep in the right place in relation to their families, other families and the road. But it is a dance I am happy to entertain the audience with. And there is an audience – all along the walk are happy citizens watching with their cameras ready. For some people watching the event is something they are looking forward to all spring. It certainly is for me as a participant.
Half-way through the walk the whole caravan stops at a big castle park for a mid-walk snack. This is vital if the sheep are going to arrive to the new pasture without sheep chaos. The walk is about 5 km, mostly on asphalt and straining for them. With a grazing break they will get enough energy to walk the last bit without trying to escape to the grass every chance they get.
After about 5 km and perhaps an hour’s walk, we are finally at the summer pastures. From this moment, everything goes very fast. When all the sheep are in the pasture, they go wild. At the same time, they have to be freed from their leash collars. When that is done, the whole event is over. But for the sheep, a whole summer of grazing awaits.
I made a video of the visitors in the pasture and the great sheep walk. In the photo above you can see how I have attached my phone camera with a gorilla pod wrung around my bag strap.
I published the video and blog post yesterday, but I had to unpost it due to copyright violations. I had chosen an old folk tune for the video, Hårgalåten, performed by a well known Swedish key harpist Åsa Jinder. Due to the copyright violation the video wouldn’t be able to be viewed in some countries, one of them being the U.S. So I removed the video and replaced the tune with a song by Josh Woodward, from the free music archive.
Time goes so fast – today is my one year blog anniversary. My first post was about how I started spinning. And so much has happened since then. At this moment there have been over 16600 views of the blog, which is truly mind-blowing. People from over 80 countries in all continents have visited my site and I have somehow managed to write over 90 posts.
The power of words
I started the blog to be able to write more. I have always loved shaping language with my hands and my mind. But it turned out to be so much more.
When I write, I mold new ideas, follow new paths and get the opportunity to follow my curiosity. Right now I have 15 drafts of ideas I would like to develop and blog about. Just thinking about something might get me somewhere, but writing forces me to finish a thought and develop it. When you read my posts and ask questions, comment or share your ideas it gives me the chance to investigate, develop and play with an idea even further. You help me shape new ideas and spark my curiosity. Many times your questions or comments have resulted in a whole new post or spinning study.
Since I have lots of readers I feel a responsibility to make thorough research before I write something. This teaches me so much and I am constantly trying to dig deeper and analyze more in a topic. I also get more and more comfortable to try new concepts without having a given answer. I feel that I can safely investigate a topic without knowing the outcome and still know that you are with me.
The beginning of a journey
Every time I write a blog post I am amazed at all the possibilities that lie in front of me, like a big bowl of candy in bright and shiny colours. I think of new ways I can explore, investigate, play and – above all – learn from all these little seeds of wooly wonders.
I feel that my blogging journey has just begun. So far it has been a wonderful ride and I look forward to what’s next.
After a discussion in a Facebook spinning group about solidified grease in the tips of a fleece, I decided to do a mini study of different ways to prepare a fleece for spinning. I have a fleece of my own that is wonderfully clean but has tips with solidified grease.
On the last wool journey with my wool traveling club, I bought a beautiful NKS fleece. NKS stands for Norsk kvit sau: Norwegian white sheep. This is basically what crossbreds are called in Norway. The fleece I chose had a full year’s growth.
In Sweden most sheep are shorn twice a year, which naturally makes the fleece shorter. This means that the fleece shorn in the early spring is of worse quality (since all the nutrients go straight to the lamb) and usually has more vegetable matter (because the sheep have spent much of the winter indoors). The fleece shorn in the autumn has better quality (since the sheep has no lamb to nourish) and less vegetable matter (since the sheep are out grazing). So: Twice a year gives a better but shorter autumn fleece. Once a year gives a longer fleece but can be more mixed in quality.
The fleece was wonderfully clean and shiny with staples of around 12 cm. The tips, though, were greasy. I think that the Norwegian rain had pushed all the lanolin out into the tips. I washed the fleece straight away by soaking it in rain water. It wasn’t until recently (one year after I bought the fleece) that I started processing, and by then the greasy tips had solidified.
Experiment: Flicked vs unflicked tips
I wanted to make an experiment and compare different preparation methods. First, I prepared the way I usually do with a fleece I want to comb: Loading the combs with the cut ends on the tines and combing three passes, then pulling the wool off the comb in one long top.
Combing this way was a struggle. It took a lot of muscle power to get the combs through the wool. And after three passes it was not nearly in a condition I could approve (I always do an uneven number of passes so that I pull the wool off the combs from the cut ends). So, I did five passes. Pulling the wool off the comb was also difficult, the wool was still uneven with bits of solidified gunk left. I picked as much of it out, but there was still stuff left when I spun the top, which of course interrupted my spinning flow.
When you play the videos, a captions symbol appears to the left of the settings symbol. Click or unclick the captions, depending on your preferences.
This was not a pleasant combing experience. So, I tried a different way. I flicked the solidified grease ends before combing. Combing the staples with the tip ends flick carded was a whole different experience.
A lot of gunk was left in the flicker and the floor was sprayed with gunk powder.
The combing was easy and pleasant after flick carding the tips and I was perfectly happy after my usual three passes. Pulling the wool off the combs was also nice and smooth and the spinning was uninterrupted and yummy.
I spun the skein above with both of the preparation techniques. Mostly the flicked version, though, since I only combed a couple of bird’s nests with the tips unflicked. I also knitted a swatch with the finished yarn.
Other ways to use a flick card
This was one example where flick carding the tips made a big difference for the preparation and spinning experience. I also use my flick card for several other purposes:
To remove brittle tips. If I have a fleece with fine fibers and brittle tips I can use the flick card on the tip ends. The brittle tips will end up in the card instead of the yarn (as nepps).
To flick both ends of a staple. Sometimes I want to spin from the lock. A flick card is a good tool to separate the fibers in individual staples and spin staple by staple.
To tease staples before carding. This might take time, but will give a good result. Fibers that are too short, brittle or dirty will stay in the flick card and the good stuff will go to carding.
Do you use your flick card for other purposes?
In these videos I have played with both narration and captions. As you may know, I want to shoot my videos outside if possible. But the area around our house is quite noisy. In the background on the other side of the lake you can see the most intense motorway in Sweden, and it makes a lot of noise. Also, we live close to a city airport and the planes fly just above our house, it’s almost like we can tickle the planes on the bellies if we stretch enough. This is why I wanted to try to narrate the clips. And I think it worked out.
In a previous video where I tested my makeshift studio, I added equally makeshift captions. Since then, my editing software has upgraded with a function for closed captioning. Yay! I think they work too.
Please let me know if there is anything of the technical stuff I can improve.
I’m taking part in Ply magazine‘s 51 yarns spinalong on Instagram. It is called 51 yarns after the book 51 yarns to spin before you cast off by Jacey Boggs Faulkner. The book is described as a list of spinning adventures that every spinner should embark on. The weekly spinalong has its foundation in one of the chapters in the book. I have participated in week 1 (your default yarn), 2 (while at a retreat or event) and 3 (from fiber you have processed) bookless, but today the book found its way across the pond and landed in my letterbox. Are you joining me? Check out my Instagram and spin along! Are you not joining me? Check out my Instagram and spin anyway!
I have finally finished my twined knitting mittens!
This is the fifth and final post in my wip series of spinning for and knitting a pair of twined knitting mittens. The previous posts are about preparing, spinning, plying and knitting.
A lot of joy
I am very happy with the result. They were a true joy to knit. But, as always, there is a melancholy and a sense of loss when finishing a project. There are so many thoughts in a project. Practical thoughts like the next step in the project, how to avoid mistakes, but also all the thoughts that float around in my mind in the making. Things I hear, think or experience while I make are things that are captured in the thread and, literally, woven in to the fabric. In this sense, the finished item is so much more than a pair of mittens. It is a sparkling weave of skill, experience, memories, thought processes, love and emotions. And I treasure them all in my wooly, twined knitted treasure box.
Even if I miss the process of making, I do get to relive all the emotions and sensations that are a part of the mittens. Every time I wear them.
A lot of time
Twined knitting does take a lot of time to make, but the reward is such a sturdy and strong fabric. And once I was over the initial novelty of the technique (which isn’t all new to me, but the last time I did twined knitting was in 2010), I found a nice rhythm of knitting, twining and untwisting.
A lot of yarn
I used 2 mm needles, which was perfect for this yarn. As you can see, the fabric is very dense on the surface. When you turn the mitten inside out you can see the beautiful ridges, caused by the twining. These also add to the density of the mittens.
When I first read the pattern I was a bit sceptical to the yarn requirements – 60 g per mitten seemed a lot to me. After a while I started worrying about having spun too little yarn! But when I had woven in the last yarn end I did have some yarn left, just enough to make a handful of pin loom squares.
I used a basic mitten pattern from Berit Westman’s booklet Tvåändsstickning. She has a lot of examples of charted chain path patterns. For the cuffs I made a simple xo pattern from the book. This doesn’t show very well even after blocking. For the back of the hands I wanted something special, so I made my own pattern. I wanted the mittens to represent all the strong and talented textile workers through history. When I had finished the chart, I realized that it was International women’s day, which was very suitable.
I struggled with the thought of felting the mittens for extra strength and durability. I had felted my first two pairs of twined knitting mittens. But already at the spinning stage I got a strong feeling of the wool being really prone to felting. It was quite sticky in all the parts of the process and I handled the yarn very carefully. I feared that if I felted the mittens, there was a strong risk of over felting. Also, since I had worked with the structure and colour of the yarn from the very beginning, I wanted the yarn to be the star of the show.
I do love the variegated colour of the yarn and it looks beautiful in the mittens. Especially in the pattern parts. The mixture of greys and the light golden brown gives the fabric a lovely depth. I am a sucker for greys!
As you can see in the pictures of the finished yarn, It was quite loosely spun and plied. This goes hand in hand with the wool, that was almost straight. I did over ply the yarn after it was balanced, to compensate for the unplying made by the twining. I don’t think it would have hurt to over ply a little more than I did.
I think this is the most even I have ever knit. I think it is easier to make a more even and tight fabric with twined knitting than with regular knitting, since it is easier to pull the thread after each stitch. Also, I love the mixture of plain twined knitting and the blocks of pattern knitting. The squiggly horizontals are well matched with the straight verticals.
When I was preparing the wool and saw the black guard hairs I was afraid that the mittens would be itchy. But they are not. It is just that silky feeling of the under coat. The guard hairs just add a strength bonus. That’s a well behaved yarn! When I wear the mittens I pet the silky ridged insides with my hands. I feel rich.
All in all, I think these mittens are in the top five of myfavourite hand spun projects and I smile every time I wear them. I feel proud and humbled to have the knowledge and skills to create something like this, like thousands of women (and a few men) have done before me.
The yarn is totally without bounce, which isn’t surprising, given the wavy, almost straight character of the staples. It is really silky and strong, which is a combination of the soft and silky undercoat and the long and strong outercoat. As you can see in the pictures, there are some guard hairs that are misbehaving, but I don’t see them as a problem. I really like the way the colour variations came out. I’m painting pictures in my head with the knitted fabric as the canvas in endless variations of grey. I think this will make a great yarn for my twined knitting mittens.
I used the same spindle for both singles, so each single was transfered onto an empty toilet paper roll when finished. That way I could start plying from the same end as I started spinning. I learned somewhere that the yarn will hold together better that way.
When it came to plying, I switched hands so that I plied clockwise with my right hand as the spinning hand, again pulling the spindle. I didn’t experience any pain in any hand. Well, to tell the truth, I did get a bit sore on the skin of the fingertip of my right index finger from two straight hours of plying, but that was just stupidity, don’t tell anyone.
Since I want to knit both mittens at the same time, I can’t start knitting until the second skein is finished. And I’ve already started spinning the third spindle. It’s a really nice project to work with. I comb a few locks, spin them, comb some more and so on.
As I have written in an earlier post, one of my favourite knitting designers is Kate Davies. In her book The book of Haps she has a pattern of a beautiful square Shetland hap, called Moder Dy. When I saw it, I immediately felt that it needed me. After months of knitting and spinning, it is finally finished!
A hap stretcher to match
Knitting a big shawl like a Shetland hap and making it justice requires proper blocking. And the Shetland way fo doing that is with a hap stretcher. These are very hard to come by and difficult to ship since they are quite large. As it turned out, the hap stretcher needed me too. Fortunately, Kate Davies has an excellent hap stretcher tutorial on her blog.
So, this fall I put on my best carpenter’s suit and started drilling.
Lots of holes.
Eventually I was done drilling, did a little sanding and varnishing and became the proud mother of a brand new hap stretcher.
Shetland all the way
Since the Moder Dy is a typical Shetland hap, I wanted to use Shetland wool for the yarn. After getting tired of spinning up my earlier Shetland fleeces as 2-ply fingering weight yarn, I had spun a few skeins as 3-ply sport weight yarn. I had white, Shaela (light gray), Yuglet and Eskit (dark grays), all from the treasure room for hand spinners at Jamieson & Smith Shetland woolbrokers. I have combed the fiber and spun with short draw to define the lace pattern. I planned this quality for the lace edge and shell border.
For the garter middle I used a Mooskit (light fawn) fleece that I carded and spun with long draw to make it soft and warm. One of the wonderful benefits of handspinning is that I can customize the yarn for my knitting needs.
Using what I have
I spun some more 3-ply and started knitting the lace edge in light gray. When I had finished half of the lace edging, I realized that I didn’t have enough light gray yarn. I also didn’t have any more light gray fluff. So I simply changed to a dark gray Shetland yarn. I mean, I can’t be the first one to have run out of fluff and I’m sure there are other creative solutions for this problem that have resulted in stunning designs. I read once that having limitations actually forces you to be more creative since you need to find a solution within certain boundaries.
Spinning as I run out of yarn
This Shetland hap is really huge and It ‘s amazing how much yarn is required. I have spun up more as I have run out of yarn. Since the rows of the shell border are about 500 stitches long in the beginning, one 50 g skein may last only for about 5 rows. Every time I have thought I didn’t need any more yarn, I have realized I was wrong. Way wrong.
Big and heavy knitting
Knitting this hap has been an adventure and it’s wonderful to be in the best seat to see the development. Naturally, the project has grown bigger and bigger and when I knit the last part (the garter middle) I was totally covered under a heavy hap monster.
Total weight: 1055 g
Total meterage: 1909 m
The pattern called for a sport weight yarn, but the my yarn is for the most part a bit thicker than that. Which also meant that the hap stretcher was a bit too small – had it been bigger I would have been able to stretch the fabric and define the pattern even more in the blocking.
As always, I have learned a lot from this project. All in all, I’m hap happy!
When I spin, I usually get a yield of around 55 % of the original weight of the fleece. The rest goes away as waste in either sorting or combing/carding. But I never throw any of the waste away. The most obvious use would be for toy stuffing, but I’m not a big toy maker. Instead, I use most of it in the garden. The wool waste has value even if it’s full of dirt, vegetable matter and poo. Or just because of that.
When I sow in pots I put some wool waste in the bottom to let the roots get some space. If I plan to keep the plants indoors in the winter, I also put wool on top of the soil. This has several benefits. First of all, it protects the surface of the soil so that it doesn’t dry so fast. The dirt in the wool will sink down into the soil when watering and will act as a fertilizer. If I use white wool on top of the soil, it also reflects the light, which is beneficial for the plant. Last, but not least, the wool will prevent the fungus gnats from laying their eggs in the soil.
For basically the same reason as the pots, we put wool waste on top of the garden beds at our allotment. It keeps the soil from drying out, it keeps weeds from growing and it fertilizes the soil when it rains. The wee workers in the soil will pull the fibers down into the depth and make the soil earthy and porous. The wool waste may also prevent slugs and roe deers from eating our crop. Not always, though, the bold city roe deers and the despicable Spanish slugs are nasty!
Sometimes the wool doesn’t stay in the garden beds, though. In the early spring I see lots of magpies pulling fibers to use in their nests. I can live with that.
Instant felted soles
I like to put wool waste in my shoes to make instant insulating soles. The more I use the shoes, the more the wool felts and makes excellent personalized soles.
Against visiting ants
Every March equinox, the ants come marching into our house. If we find their way in, we try to stuff the hole with a piece of wool. That usually helps and feels better than any chemical ant control.
Feeding the compost
Small pieces of wool waste from spinning I usually just put in the Bokashi compost. Or, if we have a bigger amount of wool waste that for some reason can’t be used elsewhere, we just put it in the compost. It may take a while to decompose, but eventually it will. And we use all our precious compost in the garden beds.
Wool waste water
Last, but not least, I use the water from wool rinsing. Swedish wool usually has a quite low amount of lanolin in it. I want some lanolin in the wool I spin, so I just rinse the wool in water. This gives me just the right amount of lanolin to spin. I preferably use rain water if the rain barrel is full. The used water has lots and lots of fertilizer and I use it to water the plants outside. It makes the whole garden smell like sheep, and for a little while I pretend I have my own flock.
Do you have more clever ideas for not letting the wool waste go to waste?