I usually buy fleece and do my own preparation. For that I use my mini combs and my carders. I try to use as much of the fiber as possible and make as little waste as possible.
I do love combing. The way the wool transforms from separated staples to a fluffy bundle is like magic. And drawing the fiber off the comb in a long, continuous piece is very satisfying.
The longer fibers align themselves into that long combed piece. But usually there is an amount of shorter fibers left in the combs. I pull these out, one pinch at time, and card. The nepps and noils stay in the combs and I use this waste in the garden.
I follow the same routine when I card, but without making the combed bird’s nests. I lightly comb the fleece I want to card, pull it off the combs one pinch at a time and then card. This way, I use the combs for teasing the wool. It is much faster and nicer than teasing each staple with a flicker, which I used to do. And now I love carding too!
I just came home from the Wool traveling club‘s 2017 Wool journey. We have had such a wonderful time – Anna, Ellinor, Boel and I. Kristin couldn’t make it this time.
We went to Åsebol sheep farm, one of my favourite places on earth. During our stay we mostly sat by the creek, spinning and knitting. We also sat on the back porch, knitting and spinning. Sometimes we sat in the front porch. Spinning and knitting. Every now and then we went for a walk to see the sheep. Sometimes spinning.
We also had three classes. On the first day I taught a class in supported spinning. My students were fast learners and I think they enjoyed the class. We also hired Kia Gabrielsson from Ullsörvis to teach two classes. Kia is Sweden’s only wool classifier and works at a wool station in Gol, Norway.
Wool knowledge is essential to a spinner. With knowledge of wool characteristics the spinner will know what to look for in a fleece to match the quality and the purpose of the yarn. Kia unloaded tons of fleeces from her van and provided us with a wool protocol on which to note characteristics of the wool – strength, shine, elasticity, crimp etc.
We looked at several fleeces and filled in a wool protocol for each fleece. They were all wonderful fleeces and very different from each other. As a spinner I have endless opportunities to choose a fleece – or parts of a fleece – to suit my preferences, whether I want to make a sheer shawl, a warm sweater, a sturdy rug or something else. As a final exam, we each got to fill in a protocol of a fleece from the sheep farm.
Uruahipi or Māori knitting
Kia’s second class was in Māori knitting, or Uruahipi. It is a very basic kind of knitting with minimal processing, which makes a very soft and airy fabric with a life of its own. You start by drafting straight off the staples to get kind of a rough sliver. The next step is to roll the sliver on your lap to make an even roll. After that you knit. This is usually an activity you do together – with the fleece in the middle you draft and roll for each other. Kia told us stories of how the Māori used to knit like this in the 60’s. She worked in New Zealand in the 80’s and saw lots of Uruahipi knitwear and asked around to find out more about the technique. She fell in love with it and, lucky for us, she brought it back to Sweden. It also turned out that the technique has been used in other parts of the world.
With the fleece warming our toes and the drafted sliver criss-crossing between us I felt very connected to it all – the wool, the stories and, above all, to Kia and my wool traveling friends.
If you know anything more about Māori knitting or Uruahipi (I think it’s also sometimes called Kiwicraft), please let me know! There is also a Swedish Facebook group for Uruahipi.
After four days of wooly adventures the 2017 wool journey came to an end. We went home and I think we all cherish the memories and long for our next wool journey in 2018.
In a previous post I talked about drafting on a Navajo spindle. I made a new video on Navajo spinning today, focusing on drafting.
So, as I described in the earlier post, I roll the shaft, keeping my fiber hand still until the fiber catches the twist. Then I draw in sections, hopefully ending up with a semi-thread of even thickness. Then I draw some more until I reach my target thickness, roll on to the shaft and repeat for the next section. I added a slow motion closeup to show the details.
Filming Navajo spindling is not easy, there are details I want to focus on, but the spinning has lots of parts at quite long distances from each other. I hope the video still makes sense. It was quite cold out when I filmed and the wool was fussy. I could literally hear the wool fat stiffen as I drafted and I had to be very careful not to snap the yarn. Also, the colour of the fiber makes it a little hard to see, but I hope you can see enough. The next fiber I Navajo spin will be white, I promise.
In september I bought an Interweave video showing different kinds of supported spindles. Among these was a Navajo spindle. I hadn’t paid Navajo spindles much attention before, but after seeing the video I suddenly felt I needed one. And in late november I finally received a beautiful Navajo spindle from Roosterick.
The beauty of the Navajo spindle
Spinning on a Navajo spindle is really lovely. The long draw can get amazingly long and is very satisfying. As any other spinning, it’s very soothing. The sound of the point spinning against the bowl, the rhythmic motion of the hands and the feeling of warm wool. Also, it is a spindle technique that involves the whole body. I do like the small movements when flicking a supported spindle, but it is a nice contrast with the long rolling movements and the extension of the other arm away from the body. I decided to learn with the right hand as my spinning hand, the opposite of my preferences regarding other spindles and the wheel. That way I will hopefully avoid muscular strain and give my brain an extra challenge.
How to spin on a Navajo spindle
When spinning on an Navajo spindle you use a long draw. The spinning hand rolls the shaft and the fiber hand controls the fiber, but none of the hands is on the thread (unless for evening out a bump). I roll the shaft several times without moving the fiber hand. When I see that the fiber (still fluffy and unspun) is beginning to catch the twist, I move the fiber hand outwards, letting the fiber catch the twist as my hand moves further out from the body. That gives me a semi-thread (or proto-yarn using Fleegle’s terms in her book about supported spinning) of even thickness. From this stage I can decide what thickness I want. If I want a thick thread I put in some more twist (double drafting) without moving my fiber hand. If I want a thinner thread I move my fiber hand outwards and roll some more. When my arm doesn’t get any longer, I butterfly the thread onto my fiber hand and double draft it in sections. I’ll try to make a video that shows this part more clearly, however, you can see it a bit in the video, starting at 38 seconds.
So, while you can play with any thickness you like, the Navajo spindle is a perfect tool for practicing spinning thick yarns. Especially thick singles, since you can get quite a low twist yarn with the Navajo spindle. This is a challenge for me, since my go-to thickness is quite thin, but suddenly I really enjoy making fat singles!
The importance of fiber preparation
The fact that you use a long draw also makes fiber preparation very important. The fiber needs to be carded, preferably by hand. Any nepps or noils will impair the result. Hence, I have practiced – and improved – hand carding in the last few months and the difference between good and not-so-good carding is really evident in the spinning and the finished yarn.
While making my first video on Navajo spindle spinning in December, it became very clear to me that wool grease, just like any other fat, stiffens in the cold. Hence, the yarn broke time and time again. And the beautiful process of learning goes on and on.
Since I started spinning, I have taken different spinning classes. But most of them have been on a beginner’s level and there weren’t much to choose from on a more advanced level. And so, the idea of the wool traveling club was born. The idea was to form a club of intermediate to advanced spinners and take courses adapted to the club members’ needs. I invited my spinning friends Anna and Kristin and they in turn invited one spinning friend each. And so, the wool traveling club, Ullreseklubben, was born. The five of us save money individually each month. Once a year we go on a wool journey together.
After having saved the first sum for 18 month, the premiere wool journey went to Shetland wool week. It was an amazing week. While the wool week arrangement with classes, events and wooly mingling was wonderful in every way, the thing that caught me the most was the ever present textile heritage. Every Shetlander knows the textile history of the island, and, especially, the women’s part in providing for the families with spinning, knitting and sheep husbandry.
The second year we were all a little short on clink, so we went to Anna’s country house and paid a visit to Solkustens spinnverkstad, a local spinning mill.
My biggest film project – so far – is Slow fashion.
The slow video project Slow fashion
It began as an idea of showing the whole process from sheep to sweater. As it happened, I did have a clip from when I was shearing a sheep at a course in small-scale sheep husbandry at Överjärva gård, so I was able to start the project even earlier in the process than I had originally planned. And when I saw Valérie Miller’s Fileuse pattern I just knew it was the right pattern for the project.
The white fleece is from the finewool sheep Pia-Lotta at Överjärva. Hers was actually the very first fleece I bought when I started learning how to spin and I was so happy to learn that I was going to shear her. Pia-Lotta was so calm when I shore her. The sheep just stood there while I was leaning my legs against her. She did pee a lot, and she was actually standing on my foot once while peeing, but it was still definitely worth it.
Slow getting slower
There was a minor setback in the production in the spring when I was waiting to get my hands on the second fleece, a grey fleece from a Jämtland sheep from Vemdalsfjällens alpackor. The sheep Gråan was their only grey sheep and I was very thankful to be able to buy so much of it. But the weather was really wet up there in shearing season, so the owner couldn’t shear the sheep for weeks. That is slow fashion, literally.
The leading fleeces
The two fleeces are quite different. The finewool fleece is springy and fluffy and perfect for carding and long draw spinning. The Jämtland fleece has a really long staple of very fine fibers and ideal for combing and short forward draft. The Jämtland sheep is a quite new Swedish breed, bred to be a domestic alternative to merino wool shipped from the other end of the world.
The shearing part was shot in a simple sheep shed, but the all the rest of the clips were filmed outdoors. There are so many possibilities when filming outside, and there’s no clutter to consider. Most of the shots were filmed around our home in Stockholm and at Åsebol sheep farm. Some shots are from Austria and the very last piece is from Bressay, Shetland at Shetland wool week. I shot the sheep parts and my family and a few friends patiently filmed all the parts with me in front of the camera, which were quite many. My brother-in-law arranged and played the beautiful piano piece.
One of the hardest parts of filming was the sheep shots at Åsebol. I wanted some closeups and preferably some cuddling shots. But the sheep were not interested at all, as soon as we, very gently, got into the pasture, they went in the other direction. On our last day we cheated and brought the owner with some sheep goodies and they came running and I could eventually leave happy.
Not just another video
I wrote in the beginning of this post that the project began as an idea of showing the whole process. But it ended up being so much more than that. It is a celebration of sustainability, serenity, the slow fashion movement, and, perhaps most of all, the love of spinning.
I have been knitting since forever. There is actually a picture of me knitting a sweater in my aunt’s summerhouse garden in Austria. I was twelve. After that, I have been knitting in periods. The latest period has lasted over 15 years so far.
In 2011 I was talking about knitting with my friend Anna. She told me that most of the wool in Sweden is wasted because no one wants it or knows how to take care of it. And I couldn’t have that. I found a weekly class at Överjärva gård in Stockholm and Anna and I started to learn how to spin on a drop spindle. A “beginner” spindle, weighing about 90 g and with a shaft not very unlike a broom handle. I wasn’t very good at it, Anna quickly got a nice and even thread but mine was mostly involuntarily thick-and-thin. But I practised.
After a few weeks I asked if I could try a spinning wheel. I could, and I really enjoyed it. After another few weeks, I dived into heaps of bunched-up Polish weekly magazine pages on the living room floor and delivered my very first spinning wheel, a Kromski Symphony. And we’ve the best of friends ever since.
A few years later, I started visioning a film featuring all the steps from fleece to sweater. While planning the film project, I started thinking about drop spindling again. It would look so good on camera. So I bought a few drop spindles and started practising again, and this time I really enjoyed it. And a video was eventually published, Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater (Swedish title Slow Fashion – från får till tröja).