Thursday, October 8, 2009

Spinning Icelandic Wool - from the lock

Here's a little information on spinning Icelandic wool from the lock as requested. I feel that i should preface this with a warning label - I am not an 'experienced' spinner and I don't always follow rules. ;)

That being said, the following is the way that I spin from the lock, and what has worked for me. However, I am always open for suggestions and trying new techniques, so if anyone has any suggestions, feel free to comment.

Just a little info about the icelandic wool: I had assumed that the Icelandic was considered a "longwool" because of the length. It can grow up to 18" in length in a year if not shorn in the fall! (ours, on average is around 8-9" for the fall shearing and less for the spring shearing) It is a dual coated wool, and actually classed a medium to fine wool.

The long wool, the Tog, is considered a medium wool. If separated from the tog, it is ideal for heavy use - such as for rugs, and warp yarn, embroidery thread, etc.

The undercoat, Thel, is considered a fine wool. If separated from the Tog, this wool is great for baby garments, socks, hats, etc.

Spun together, and spun with a light twist, the yarn is soft and makes a 'lopi' style yarn.

I spin the tog and thel together and I have only spun it as a 'single'.

Below is a picture of an Icelandic lock. The Thel (undercoat) on this particular lock is approx. 3" and the Tog is approx 9" These measurements will vary greatly from sheep to sheep, and even on the same fleece it will vary depending on what part of the fleece it is.

If the wool appears clean, and it is a good fleece, I have spun it "in the grease". Icelandics do not have a lot of lanolin in their wool and I have found that when I have washed it first, I end up spraying a bit of 'oil water' on it to ease in spinning, and to keep the static down. There's several different opinions on spinning in the grease, and I personally think that it depends on the condition/lanolin level in the wool, and the amount of the twist that it is spun in. If it is spun with a light twist, I feel that the yarn can be properly washed and the lanolin can be removed after spinning.
I generally prepare the fiber for spinning by combing with single row combs and pulling it into a slyver - making a combed top. This is a simple procedure, and is easy to spin from. However, combs can be quite an investment. I made the ones i use.. they're primitive looking, and i'm sure not near as nice as the ones you can buy, but the price was minimal.. like a few bucks. (If there's any interest in making combs out there, i'd be happy to pass on that info as well.) That is the method of prep that I prefer, but there's another method that requires even less in the line of 'tools', and that's to spin from the lock.
You can prepare the lock for spinning by 'flick carding' the lock, (with a flick carder, or dog brush) or combing, (I have used the wide tooth side of a dog comb as you see in the picture) or.... if the lock isn't twisted up, you can just use your fingers to straighten out the fibers. I start by holding the cut end and comb the tips. You want to hold onto the thel so that it doesn't separate the tog from the thel. I'll then turn it around and still holding the thel, I lightly comb the cut end to align the fibers. (If the fibers look lined up already, it's not necessary to comb, you can just tease apart with your fingers) The idea is to align the fibers without separating the thel from the tog.

Now your lock is ready to spin. It's quickest to get a lot of locks prepared then head to the wheel (that way you can keep your hand on the twist and hold it there as you join on new locks)
Join your lock on your leader. I spin from the cut end- holding the thel (the undercoat) and keeping a light twist, i use the 'short forward draw' method of spinning...

You can't see it in the picture, but I am holding the entire lock in my hand. Again, I am spinning from the cut end, and it is spinning - pulling the tog and the thel together evenly. When you get near the end of the lock,(a few inches from the tip) hold the twist with your twist hand and draft on another lock with your drafting hand.
That's all there is to it! When you have your skein complete, provided you have spun in the grease, just wash it as you would the raw fleece, using a gentle detergent and really hot water. (at least 120 up to 160 degrees) Generally, one wash and one rinse is sufficient. Then dry, hang and weight it as you normally would.

(the white yarn is handspun icelandic- spun from combed top. click to biggy-fy if you would like to see the texture of yarn)
** ok... can anyone tell me why some pictures can be clicked on and viewed larger and others, when you click on the picture, it does nothing? **


  1. First - if you have a decent size file and you upload it in "large" format, it *should* always be clickable...I think.

    Second - I'd like to buy some white wool and try separating out the two fibers. Do you have any for sale? And a yarn bowl :-).

  2. Hey Sara,
    Thanks for the suggestion on the picture format. That's what I thought too, so I saved the pic as "full size" and downloaded it. I noticed today that some of the other pictures that were saved "best for web" would let me click on them, and others wouldn't??? Seems to be without rhyme or reason. ??

    As far as wool.. I have 'some' nice wool from the last shearing, but if it were me, I would prefer this fall shearing. I have lambies' fleece that is nice, and also all the white girls out there still wearing their wool will be losing it soon. (Delilah, Carlie, Alice,) So there will be several to choose from. I could send a 'lambie wool sample if you think you might be interested in some of her wool. I will also be updating the blog here as the others are sheared.

    I will get some pictures of yarn bowls over to you tomorrow via email.

    Thanks. Hope all is well your way and a full recovery has been made from the big weekend at the festival!

  3. Cool! I'd love to know how you made the combs. That sound interesting.

  4. Hey Christine,
    I'll do a post on making the combs when I put together another set. It's actually one comb, and the other is more like a 'hackle' that gets clamped to the table. (just have to keep in mind they're pretty rustic and basic!) no laughing, ok? lol.

  5. Tonya,
    For the pictures, I do not resize the raw image from my camera, rather, I tell the blog to upload it at medium size. so when you click on it, it opens it a large size, but views it in the blog as medium size. I am looking forward to playing with my new bag of wool...