This week I have been teaching at Sätergläntan craft education center – a five-day course I call A spindle a day. The students learn four different spindle types and wool processing. On the fifth and final day I invite them to a wool tasting to make them realize how much they have actually learned. The course is also about the slowness of spindle spinning and how spinning can help you find peace of mind.
Teaching at Sätergläntan
This is the third time I teach a five-day course at Sätergläntan – the first time was all about supported spindle spinning. Last summer I taught A spindle a day for the first time. It has been such a lovely experience every time. Inspiration oozes from every corner of every building at the center. Every handle, curtain, rug, hook and decoration is hand made. Teaching at Sätergläntan is – aside from the teaching experience itself – an experience mindfully wrapped in a handmade environment bursting with craft and creativity.
I stayed in the landscape house where all the rooms are named after Swedish landscapes. I got the Gotland room, which must have been the nicest of them all. It was filled with hand crafted things made with love and care by crafters and artists from Gotland in traditional techniques.
A spindle a day
The course was fully booked many months ago, but due to the corona crisis several people had had to cancel their reservations. But there were still enough students left for the center to go through with the course. We all missed the presence of the spinners who couldn’t make it and hope they will be able to take it another, safer time. As a teacher I felt privileged, though, for the opportunity to teach only five students and be able to give them all individual coaching when they needed it. The students were between 20 and 69,5 years old – my youngest group yet. Usually I’m the youngest at 47. The students had different spinning backgrounds and experiences from novice to intermediate but all with a profound interest in textiles and wool.
The first day was dedicated to wool knowledge, combing and suspended spindle spinning. We looked at what the wool preparation does not only for the spinning experience but also for the decisions you make through the process. Every time you handle the wool you learn something about it – how long the staples are, the elasticity, how it drafts and how it holds together. All these little pieces add together into a puzzle that gets more and more complete as you work with the wool. When you get to the spinning part you have gathered information that will help you make decisions about your yarn and your spinning technique. We worked with these thoughts as our guide throughout the whole course.
I encouraged the students to try different wools and reflect over how the wools are and behave differently and how the behavior of the wool influence the decisions they make for the yarn.
Navajo style spindles and carding
Day two was dedicated to carding and spinning on Navajo style spindles. As I wrote in last week’s post my wood turner Björn Peck had delivered a batch of beautiful Navajo style spindles for the course.
There is something about carding. Some people card the way they have learned many years ago, some don’t really like carding because they don’t get good result. But few have analyzed their carding or which properties to strive for in their rolags. In the course we talked about what we want the rolag to do and how to get there.
After the class one student said she had been carding for 35 years but had never got as round rolags as she had today. Another said that she now enjoyed the carding process in a way she hadn’t before. My heart bubbles of joy when I can guide my students to make new insights like these. They all made a remarkable progress in their carding similar to the one in the photo above.
Spinning on Navajo style spindles
Spinning on a Navajo style spindle is both slow and fast. You set the spindle in motion by rolling the shaft with your flat hand against your outer thigh. You don’t get much speed in that. However, you usually spin with quite low twist yarn and often bulky yarns.
The students felt more comfortable with the slow spinning style but did get results fast since the fiber spun up quickly. And they all loved the technique. The whole body is involved in the motion and there is something magic happening between the hands in the long draw that stretches from the spindle hand at the thigh and the fiber hand by the opposite shoulder.
We worked a lot with opening up the twist and finding the point of twist engagement. The point of twist engagement is the space in the distance between fiber and yarn where there is enough twist for the fibers to stick together but not enough to lock them. This was a revelation to the students. By keeping the twist close to that twist angle where the fibers just slide past each other without sliding apart they could manipulate the yarn by opening up the twist with just a light movement with their thumbs on each side of the point of twist engagement.
Double and consecutive drafting
We tried spinning with both a double draft and (in lack of better words) a consecutive draft.
With the double draft you
- add twist to the rolag until you feel the rolag twisting slightly in your fiber hand
- draft (the first draft) by moving your fiber hand outwards until you reach shoulder height
- fine tune any bumps by opening up the twist
- add more twist (second draft) when you are happy with the shape and thickness of the yarn.
In consecutive drafting (does anyone have a better term for this?) you
- do only the first draft all through the wool for one skein. You end up with a fluffy cake of lightly twisted pencil roving or pre-draft.
- Once finished you draft through the wool a second, third or even fourth time, each time drafting a bit until you get the thickness you want, still keeping the twist close to the point of twist engagement. At the final draft you add the twist you need for the finished yarn.
This is a more efficient way that can also lead to a more even yarn. I haven’t done this very much, but this day I tried it. I ended up making four consecutive drafts, starting with a bulky pre-draft and ending with a thin and even singles yarn.
I really liked this consecutive method of drafting and I will explore it further. Having one task for each turn with the wool made the yarn more even. I also had time to think about what I was doing and how I wanted to go through with the upcoming draft.
In-hand spindle and distaff
I always feel a bit nervous when I present the in-hand spindle and distaff technique. There are lots of things to focus on and it can be a bit overwhelming. But it can bring the students closer to textile history (from a European perspective). It can also bring them closer to the yarn and the spinning since the spinner has a lot of control over the yarn they spin.
The students dressed their distaffs and spun their yarns, all looking like the flemish paintings that give us the clues to the technique – a proud raised distaff hand, a twiddling spindle hand in hip-height and the yarn diagonally over the torso. And, as with all the previous spindle techniques they learned how to spin with both hands as spindle hands and fiber hands, just like I tell them to. They look at their technique, verbalize it and make lots of progress in both theory and practice – they talk about what they do and have the vocabulary to analyze the technique.
The fourth spindle in the course was the supported spindle. This is the spindle I feel the most confident teaching because I have done it so many times. It was also the spindle some of the students had looked forward to the most.
On a one- or two-day course I usually teach the technique in steps, beginning with an empty spindle, progressing to spinning with commercial yarn and then move on to fiber. But in this course the students have gradually learned the skills they need to spin on a supported spindle and they can skip these preparational steps. They have learned to change angles and spin over the upper tip of the spindle in both Navajo style spinning and in-hand spinning. Through all the previous spindle days they have learned to handle the wool, wool preparation and most importantly to listen to and trust the wool. They all loved the technique and quickly came to a mindful place when spinning.
Many of them had very high expectations of the Björn Peck spindles I had brought and they were not disappointed. I had spindles from several different renown spindle makers for them to try but most of them loved Björn’s spindles the best.
Wool tasting is a concept I have developed to give the students an experience of one wool at a time and to allow them to practice what they have learned throughout the week. We do this on the fifth day that is dedicated to peace of mind and reflection.
They get five different wools, one at a time and get to handle each wool for 15 minutes. They analyze the wool, make notes of its characteristics, prepare and spin it and tie a sample to the wool tasting form. During these 15×5 minutes they go on a journey to discover each wool on their own, make decisions on preparation and spinning tools and how to prepare and spin it based on the skills they have learned during the week. When the wool tasting form is filled with all five wools in the tasting they have in front of them a map of what they have learned.
I enjoyed every second of watching them focused at their task. During the course I had seen them struggling with tools and spindles, making amazing progress and now handling wool, tools and thought process with confidence. I was so proud of them and thankful for having had the privilege of guiding them to their new skills.
The last thing we did before the course was over was to go inwards in a spinning meditation. To me spinning and meditation have a lot in common. Just like meditation, spinning can bring you into a flow where you can allow your thoughts to come and go and to find the space between your thoughts.
In the spinning meditation we allow ourselves to listen to the wool with no expectations on the yarn. For fifteen minutes we spin in silence. I do my best to guide them into noticing their surrounding, the experiences of the senses in the spinning and the inner process when they spin. Towards the end of the meditation I ask them to close their eyes if they want to to get the opportunity to come even closer to the inner process of spinning. Spinning with your eyes closed can seem scary, but all the students felt safe enough in the group and confident enough in their spinning to close their eyes, some for several minutes.
Through the filled-out form in the wool tasting the students got their map of what they had learned. During the spinning meditation I got mine. I saw them spin relaxed, focused and with knowledge in their hands and minds. Eventhough it was melancholic to leave Sätergläntan and the students my heart was singing as I walked over the meadow to the main building. For five days I had had the privilege of watching five spinners develop and grow in their spinning skills and wool preparation, but perhaps most of all in their inner spinning process. And I had been a part of that.
I will treasure these memories like sweets in a chrystal bowl. In the darkness of the winter months I will pick them, one by one, and think back on a lovely midsummer time spent at Sätergläntan. But befor that, I will come back. In October I teach the five-day course Spin the fleece’s best yarn. I can’t wait.
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