Teaching spinning at Sätergläntan

This past week I have been teaching spinning at Sätergläntan – a five-day course in supported spindle spinning. Seven spinners have learned basic and intermediate techniques and developed new skills and perspectives on spinning.

Sätergläntan – a nordic center for craft education

Sätergläntan is a crafting institute that offers courses in different crafting techniques. The center is situated in the beautiful county of Dalarna, which has a very rich cultural and crafting heritage. Students at Sätergläntan can take one, two or three year courses in weaving, sewing, woodwork or forging. Sätergläntan also offers five-day courses in different crafting techniques.

A red house and a green field
Sätergläntan main building

Every corner of Sätergläntan is bursting with craft and creativity. From the creative minds of students and teachers to the littlest things like beautifully carved door knobs or embroidered flowers on armchairs. Inspiration is everywhere.

Teaching supported spindle spinning: Basics

We started the course in supported spindle spinning with getting to know the spindle and used yarn to learn the motions step by step. We also talked about the super powers of supported spindle spinning, spindle anatomy and differences in models and design. On day two we used the park and draft method and finally the students started spinning continuously.

Close-up of a person spinning on a supported spindle.
This student was basically a beginner spinner and the yarn on the spindle is her very first yarn on a supported spindle. A very smooth and well-spun first yarn! Spindle from Malcolm Fielding, spindle in the background from Texas Jeans,

Almost all of the students were experienced spinners, but most of them had never touched a supported spindle before. There was so much experience in the room and we had lots of very rewarding discussions about technique, wool preparation and the anatomy of the spindles.

Swedish spindles from Björn Peck

In earlier courses, I have had spindles for the students to borrow for the duration of the course. When the courses were over, I could only recommend them to buy their own spindles  from spindle makers from the U.S. or Australia or in some cases the U.K. That meant that they would need to wait for at least a couple of weeks before they could practice what they had learned on the course. By that time they would probably have forgotten a lot of what they had learned. And it bothered me a lot.

This time, I brought Swedish spindles for sale! I have a cooperation with wood turner Björn Peck from Stockholm. He has made beautiful and very well functioning supported spindles and bowls in local Swedish woods after my instructions. I am very happy and immensely proud of this cooperation.

When I teach, I am very strict and force my students to try all of the spindles from different makers. I don’t tell them who made what spindle until they have knowledge about what to look for in a spindle. Before I reveal the makers I ask the students which spindle they liked the most. Since I have had Björn’s spindles in my stash, a vast majority of the students have opted for his spindles over all the other brands.

I don’t sell the spindles outside of my spinning courses and Björn doesn’t have them on his web site. Yet.  If you are interested in buying them, he can open up a web shop. Just let me know.

Spindles and spinning bowls.
Eager students comparing spindles and bowls before making a decision on what to buy. Spindles and bowls in maple, apple, walnut, bird cherry and laburnum from Björn Peck Woodworking.

Intermediate

Day three we started the intermediate section with plying on our supported spindles. We looked at different methods of getting the singles off the spindles and arranging them for plying. Also, we made lazy kates from paper bags and shoe boxes, plied from toilet rolls, center-pull balls and tennis balls. We 2-plied, Andean plied and plied on the fly. Several of the students had been looking forward to learning how to ply on the fly on the supported spindle, and they all learned the technique and seemed to enjoy it very much.

Close-up of a person spinning outdoors on a supported spindle.
Students are making progress! Spindle and bowl from Björn Peck woodworking. China bowl is an Asian rice bowl.

We also pretended we were spinning seated on a rock in the forest (just like I like to do in my videos) and made skeins with arms and legs and yarn balls with our thumbs as nostepinnes. There is not much room to bring niddy-noddies or other tools to the rock in the forest, so learning how to use your body to take care of the yarn is very convenient.

Analysis

On day four we started digging deeper in analysis. So far, the students had applied their previous spinning knowledge and skills to this new tool and technique. Now we turned it all around and looked at what supported spindle spinning can do for our spinning with other tools.

Close-up of a person spinning on a supported spindle.
Deep concentration and lots of interesting theories in the analysis section

Spinning on a supported spindle gives us the opportunity to control the yarn in a way I don’t see in other spinning tools. This makes it possible to spin with a very high quality.

When you spin on a supported spindle you have control with your hands on both fiber end and yarn end. You hold the fiber with the thumb and index finger of the fiber hand and the yarn with the same fingers of your spindle hand.

Supported spindle spinning gives you the opportunity to have control of both the fiber end and the yarn end with your hands. Spindle and lap bowl from Forsnäs Hemman (private).

With most other spinning tools you have control of only the fiber end. Even if you can have both your hands on the yarn and fiber on a wheel, your hands never control the tension. In supported spindle spinning your hands have total control of the tension of the yarn in both ends. This is a super power we need to take advantage of! By having this amount of control we can fine tune the yarn and master it in more detail than with other spinning tools. For this reason, I usually experiment and try out fibers and yarn on a supported spindle before I scale the production up on a wheel. Now, that’s a super power! You can see an example of this in my video Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl.

Mindfulness

Another super power of spinning in general, and supported spindle spinning in particular, is the mindfulness it brings to the spinner (and to the people around them). Spinning on a supported spindle gives me the same sense of calm and peace that I get from meditation. I use the creative parts of my brain when I spin, but spinning also opens up my creative thinking. If I feel I’m in a jam, I take a break, spin for a while and  – voilá – my creative thinking is back on track. We talked about this in one of the last sessions of the course. We also did sort of a spinning meditation. I had never tried it before, but I think the students enjoyed it. In fact, one of them solved a problem during the spinning meditation that she had been struggling with all week.

Wool tasting

Finally, on day five we did some wool tasting! I came up with the idea earlier this year. Compare a wool tasting to a wine or chocolate tasting where you get to try different brands or products and compare them. In the wool tasting the students got five different fibers to prepare, spin and compare.

The fiber samples and charts for the wool tasting

They each got a chart where they noted characteristics of the fiber, what they wanted to do with it, how they prepared and spun it and how the result came out.

Close-up of a person spinning on a supported spindle.
Lots of activity in the wool tasting. Spindle and bowl from Björn Peck Woodworking.

They got ten minutes with each fiber. The spinners quickly entered the crafting bubble and the spinning energy was intense in the room. Everybody was deeply concentrated on the making.

Close-up of a person carding brown wool
Carding long Rya lamb locks

They got the opportunity to use all the new skills they had learned during the week and filled in their wool tasting charts with great enthusiasm.

A filled-in chart
A finished wool tasting chart

And the fibers in the wool tasting? Well, it was actually not just wool. We kicked off with Gute wool, turned sharply to heavenly soft alpaca, went straight ahead to mulberry silk, surprised with Leicester longwool with nepps and finished off with long lamb locks of Rya.

Yarn samples
The wool tasting results from one of the wool tasters. From above: Gute wool, alpaca, mulberry silk, Leicester wool with lost nepps and rya wool.

All in all it was a successful course where the students made great progress. I learned at least as much as they did and I got lots of new pedagogical tools for my teaching tool box.

Happy spinning!


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