My close connections to the Swedish textile industry through my mother, aunt and grandmother, who all worked in the woollen mills with both weaving and spinning once upon a time, often makes me think about older textiles. How did a woollen fabric back then feel in your hands? What did it look like? What yarn was used? What kind of wool did they prefer?
All these thoughts are the basis for the project Swedish Tweed, which I started working on during the autumn of 2020 thanks to the generous support of The National Swedish Handicraft Council and in collaboration with Wålstedts Ullspinneri in Dala-Floda. I've later come to work on the project using my own funds. The goal is a tweed yarn spun from 100% Swedish wool, which I hope to be able to offer on the market, together with handwoven textiles from that same yarn.
As a hand spinner I have experienced working with wool from quite a lot of the Swedish sheep breeds. This has given me a pretty good insight into what qualities the different types of wool have and how they feel in your hands.
My vision for the project Swedish Tweed was to look back to a time when textiles where made to last. The coarse and classic tweed feeling was important, and also the wear and strength of the fabric. Even before the project was up and running, I had thought about what kind of wool I would choose for such a yarn. What properties did the yarn need? What feeling is it that I want? What should it look like?
The Gotland sheep might be the most common breed of sheep in Sweden today, and it has its origins in the breeding work that was done with the native "Gotland outdoor" sheep on the island of Gotland in the early 1900's. From the beginning they were called "fur sheep", but that was later changed to "Gotland sheep" since this was considered more internationally passable. The wool is long, lustrous and steel grey and quite silky to the touch and might be best known to the general public from the sheepskins used in the movie trilogy "The Lord of The Rings".
The Leicester sheep is an English breed of sheep, which was brought to Sweden by Jonas Alströmer as early as the 1760's. Since then, the breed has developed into a Swedish version, with a number of more "Scandinavian" qualities. Having been present for such a long time in Sweden and a breeding that has given such specific qualities, you may very well call it a "Swedish Leicester". Like the Gotland sheep, the wool is long, lustrous and silky and sometimes the wool from these two sheep go under the name "fur wool".
The Värmland sheep is one of the largest crofter's breeds in Sweden. The breed has its origins in the northern parts of the western province of Sweden called Värmland and used to be called "woodland sheep". The breed is preserved in the gene bank by The Swedish Crofter's Sheep Association since 1997. The wool is varied, with both long and lustrous qualities as well as shorter wool with more crimp structure, and comes in a variety of different colours.
The Gute sheep, in which both the females and the rams have horns, also has its origins in the "Gotland outdoor" sheep, just like the modern Gotland sheep. During the 1940's the Gute sheep was almost extinct, with only about 15 sheep left in all of Sweden, but thanks to hard work there were over 400 sheep in the 1970's. The fleece has a rustic feeling to it. It is double-coated and has lots of character with kemp and strong guard-hairs.
By mixing up wool from different sheep breeds a thread can be given completely different characteristics than the individual types of fleeces have, sort of like when you cook food or bake a cake or bread. Part of the reason why I ended up choosing to use wool from these four specific breeds were their characteristics, but also the availability. Both of these factors are important to think about when you want the production to be sustainable for a long period of time.