The Craftsmanship of Hand-spun Yarn

The craftsmanship of hand-spun yarn is an ancient, historic tradition. Our ancestors has first-hand experiences of carding and spinning the yarn with their family because it was a part of their everyday life and culture, in order to gain material for the production of textile and yarn. The cultural heritage is on its way to be forgotten, as there are few people left to convey the knowledge and art of hand-spun yarn.

My aim is to convey about the different processes through my work and seminars, as well as to teach people the art of hand-spun yarn. I use two types of sheep wool in the production of hand-spun yarn; the first one is from the Old Norwegian Short Tail Landrace, and the second one is from the Old Norwegian Sheep. I have chosen not to dye the hand-spun yarn, as the natural colors of the fleeces are nice and delicate. The fleece I have in stock has been offered to me by a few local sheep farmers, as they themself, do not have any use of it have nor they do not have any financial benefits of delivering the fleece to a factory. After I have acquired the fleece from the farmers, I sort the fleece by individual and color schemes by hand, before the wool is carded and hand-spun by spinning wheel.

Woolen fleece's from Old Norwegian Short Tail Landrace. Photographer: Marie Aadland.
Woolen fleece's from Old Norwegian Short Tail Landrace. Photographer: Marie Aadland.

The Old Norwegian Short Tail Landrace

The Spælsau  (Norwegian: Gamalnorsk spæl) is a breed of sheep from Norway. Many consider Spælsau to be the original breed of sheep in Norway, and it is one of the Northern European short-tailed sheep breeds. It is well adapted to the climate and was a domestic animal from the Iron Age. 

The wool is characterized by having two layers: An outer longhaired glossy undulating layer of wool protecting the underlying layer against wind and rain, and an underlying layer which keeps the sheep warm. The long protective wool which is used for weaving is traditionally spun into two-strand tightly-spun yarn instead of the usual three-strand type, resulting in a beautiful luster. 

The spælsau yarn was used in the Norwegian old tapestries from the Renaissance and Baroque times. The Viking ship sails were made from spælsau yarn. The wool was also in the old days used in clothing because it was light, stable and absorbed little moisture.

Old Norwegian Sheep

The Old Norwegian Sheep (Norwegian: Gammelnorsk sau) is likely the breed that most closely resembles the original Northern European short-tailed sheep in Norway. Although the breed almost went extinct at several points in the last century,[2] conservation efforts have succeeded in growing the population to around 30,000 animals and the breed is no longer considered threatened. The breed is particularly suited for being kept outside all year, a practice that stems back to the Viking Age.

The breed likely descends from bronze-age sheep from Western Norway. This was the most common breed in Norway until the end of the 19th century when it was overtaken by breeds that had been imported from England since the early 1700s. In the beginning 20th century, only small and scattered populations of Norwegian short-tailed sheep remained. Today, all Old Norwegian Sheep descend from Austevoll, Bergen.

Split from Spælsau

In 1912, two breeding programs were started to conserve what remained of this original Norwegian sheep stock. One of these breeding stations housed coastal sheep, which eventually gave rise to the Old Norwegian Sheep, whereas the other breeding station housed inland sheep, which eventually gave rise to the closely related Spælsau.

Old Norwegian Sheep is small and easy at the foot. The color scheme varies greatly. Unlike Spælsau, it is not desirable for the wool to grow to great length, as this can cause issues during winter. The breed naturally sheds its wool, and so there should be little or no need to shear.

The wool of the Old Norwegian Sheep has two layers with a fine, soft inner wool and coarse outer wool. The outer wool varies, hence the length of it is supposed to be short and straight, as a result, the yarn is thick and robust, hence surprisingly soft. The wool is known to be relatively waterproof and excess great warmth. The yarn is recommended to use for sweaters, mittens, and socks.