Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The last descent

Recently, one of my wife's college roommates gave me a big bump of Maine top.   It has  a spin count of around 55, and a nice luster.  The first thing I did is spin spin some 10s, and ply them up into 5-ply sport weight.  They used lanolin as combing oil, so there is residual oil on the fiber.  If it sits exposed to air, the lanolin will oxidize and turn to gunk. It (5#!) has to be spun and washed.  No time to dilly-dally around spinning 40s.

It spins fast and easy.  I like to wave the California flag and buy local wool, but this stuff comes all washed and combed at about the price I have been paying for raw fleece.  And, the resulting yarns are lustrous,  but much softer than the MacAusland yarns that I have used  for outdoor wear the past.  As a gansey yarn, this is much more lustrous than the mill spun gansey yarns.  Ok, you will have to dye it, but how hard is that?

Spun worsted, With 5-plies, these softer yarns are more durable than the harsher 2 and 3-ply MacAusland yarns.   And, they are much more durable than the mill spun 5-ply gansey yarns. Compared with the various Romney 5-ply sport yarns that I have spun over the last 5 years, this is much easier than washing and combing a fleece; and, less expensive than buying combed Romney top, but the final yarn/fabric is just as good.  

I swatched the 5-ply starting with 3 mm needles. I would knit an inch, knit a row of garter, switch to the next finer needle, and knit another inch. Then, I wash and block the swatch.  For myself, I like the fabric knit with 1.55 mm needles.  It is amazingly thin, light, weatherproof, warm, and durable.  My wife wants a cooler, more elastic and stretchy fabric, so for her we like the fabric knit on 1.9 mm needles.   It is smooth and comfortable for sustained wear against the skin. Even my wife does not complain that it is "itchy".  And, it can be treated very roughly and it does not shrink. 

I was a bit amused at this, as last fall almost all of my knitting was still being done on 2.4 mm needles. Now as I look through my knitting bag, and the WIP around my knitting chair, the only WIP  on 2.4 mm needles is a pair of sandal socks in eastern cross stitch using 6-strand cabled 800 ypp yarn.   Just now, my main project is a sweater for myself in worsted spun, 6-strand cabled fingering on 1.65 mm needles.

After 15 years of knitting, my default knitting needles are all smaller than 2 mm, and the yarns that I like are not found in knitting shops.  I am starting to identify with those old knitters using "knittn pins".  I like the fabrics. These days, I like yarns cabled up from mill spun warp, and I love my hand spun.  I would knit the sandal socks from hand spun (on smaller needles), but I have stash that needs to be knit. 

Halcyon sells the Maine top fiber at $16/lb, and it needs little additional prep for spinning.  With GUERNSEY 5-PLY WOOL at $26/lb, the question is, "Is hand spun worth the effort?". 

I spin 10s at ~350 yards per hour, so spinning while I watch the TV news (talking heads) produces  500 yards of  finished sport weight 5-ply per week.  That is enough 5-ply yarn for a sweater every month. I figure that spinning is free, so for all practical purposes, that yarn is free. If I had to pay for the fiber, it would cost me $16/lb.

Since I have moved to smaller knitting needles, my knitting time for a sweater has increased. Thus, using a better yarn seems more worth while. Over the last year, hand spun has moved from being reasonable to being ordinary.  Now, knitting mill spun is the exception. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The great disconnect

The best weavers in history were the professional hand weavers.
The best knitters in history were the professional knitters.
The best spinners in history were the professional spinners.

There are still a few professional hand weavers around, and they are very good, but we no longer have whole guilds of them where they can exchange ideas and compete.  And, they no longer have sources of fine hand spun yarns.  It is only by doing something everyday, in the company of other talented professionals, and in competition with those talented professionals that one can become the best. And, one produces the best product by working with the best materials.  Modern weavers are very limited by the lack of fine hand spun yarns.  Spinning has disconnected from its heritage of providing fine yarns for fine weaving.

First, the professional needs professional tools.  Tools used by professionals are different than the tools used by amateurs.   Professionals are always concerned about production rates and capital cost. Whatever else they are, a professional's tools are always cost effective.

Consider spinning. Good spinning is at the heart of any superior textile.  What modern spinning wheel is cost effective?  Babe - not expensive, but not highly productive.  Alden Amos's wheels are easy to spin on; but as built are limited to ~ around 2,400 rpm -- that imposes an absolute limit on how fast one can spin fine yarn.
If I am a good spinner, then I can draft fine yarns at 5 or 6 yards per minute, and I do not want a wheel that limits me to 3 or 4 yards per minute. No, because then I am only making half as much as I am capable, and that half capacity is likely the difference between possible and not possible projects.

I have been reading about weaving in the old days and the loom's web for a bolt (80 yd) of fine cloth required about 800 hanks of yarn, supplied by ~10 hand spinners.   That means the spinners averaged 80 hanks every 6 weeks or something over 2 hanks per day of  22,400 ypp singles.  Modern spinners cannot conceive of spinning that much yarn because they have been trained to spin slowly. And, they have been trained to use spinning wheels that spin slowly.

It has taken me 5 years to learn how to spin fine yarns fast. Why so long?  Because there were not other spinners that that spun fine yarns, fast.  Another reason is that there are no longer commercially available hand spinning wheels that will spin fast.

On paper, some wheels have a drive ratio that suggests that they are designed to insert twist at 4 or 5 thousand revolutions per minute.  Do they?  Check with your tachometer.  You don't have a tachometer? Then, get one!  Every serious spinner needs a tachometer and a small microscope.  Sell one of your wheels and buy some serious tools.  You can buy a tachometer mail order and have it in your hands in less than a week for less than $50.  Or, sit down at one of those fast wheels and see if the wheel will spin 140 yards of 40s (22,400 ypp)  in 48 minutes, because that is a minimum of how fast it must be to spin 80 hanks in 6 weeks.  That means those wheels were averaging 2,100 rpm, and sometimes they were going faster.   And, this is just for 40s. Fines require a third more twist.  If you are spinning fines, you will want a spinning wheel that goes a third faster.  If you want to average 2.4 hanks of  fines per day, you will want a wheel that will average 3,000 rpm. Such a wheel will let you spin 10s (5,600 ypp) pretty much as fast as you can draft. That is nice.  It is better than a video game. Suddenly, spinning is less boring.

All of a sudden the virtues of an accelerator wheel become very, very apparent.  In the old days when a spinner's income was depended on how fast the spinner could spin, accelerator wheels were more common.  In my case, where I spin because I want the yarn, the advantages of an accelerator wheel are obvious. An accelerator wheel lets me spin as fast as I can draft.

The great disconnect is that the best spinners were talented professionals that both exchanged ideas and competed. They produced quality yarns, and they worked fast.  Fine woven textiles require fine yarns. And fine woven textiles are more valuable than coarse textiles.  The coarse textiles of traditional subsistence cultures have their virtues, but these virtues are very different from the virtues of  luxury textiles made by professionals for an export market.

A professional spinner with the requisite skill, could make more more income by spinning finer yarns. A professional with the requisite skill, could make more more income by spinning faster.   The best spinners had faster wheels. And that was true from the first introduction of driven spindles.  Ok, you claim to be a better spinner with a faster wheel, can you spin 2 or 3 hanks of worsted shirting per day?  You want to earn my respect?  Spin  an ounce of shirting yarn in a day.  Look at that little bobbin of yarn. To somebody that has never spun such a bobbin of yarn, it is not very impressive. Wind that little single into a skein, and you will understand why I like little bobbins, tension boxes,  and sectional beams.  Spinners have disconnected from all of this, and no longer understand little bobbins, tension boxes, and sectional beams.

To say that one is a competent spinner is say that one can produce the yarn required for high-quality textiles. - including fine woven textiles.  And yet, spinning fine and fast has been lost from the definition of what is a competent spinner.  Many fiber festivals have spinning contests - who can spin with gloves on, who can spin while blind folded and etc.  Very few fiber festivals have contests on who can just spin fine and fast, e.g., how many hanks can you spin from 10 grams of fiber in an afternoon?  My  original definition of a competent spinner was someone that could spin wool at its spin count.  As a weaver, I have to add, that a competent spinner can spin wool at its spin count at a good commercial pace - otherwise I will never finish the yarn for my next weaving project.  Only being able to spin fine and fast makes that project remotely feasible.

Consider a master's spinning program (e.g., and they are talking about 6:1 ratio wheels.  If the student has a  - cadence of 90 treadles/minute, then the twist inserted is 540 rpm. If one is spinning yarn for weaving shirting, then that is less than 40 yards per hour - not what I would call the output of a master spinner. And, in the context of weaving project requiring half a million yards (800 hanks), not a useful yarn output at all. Their tpi chart goes up to 12 tpi, that will get you to 11,200 ypp worsted or 5,600 ypp woolen, but that is only the tip of the iceberg of what can be spun.  Shirting is 22,400 ypp, and wants about 20 tpi for warp and ~ 24 tpi for the woolen weft, so they are not even thinking about fine yarns for fine cloth. One expects a master spinner to be able to spin anything that a weaver might need, including fines for a lady's shawl. There is nothing in the syllabus that says, "Oh by the way, a master spinner can spin fine and fast."  The syllabus suggests that the mark of a master spinner is the ability to do a workbook.

No! No! No! The mark of a master spinner is ability and elan to make the yarns used to make great textiles. Competent spinners can make the yarns necessary to making any ordinary textile including shirting, suiting, underwear, and household linens. The competent spinner spins all of these with excellent quality, and spins them fast enough to make useful quantities.  The master spinner goes a step farther and finds a way to make their yarn exceptional.  The master spinner teaches, so that the next generation of competent spinners spin better yarn.  Then, the next generation of master spinners, must find some way to make their yarn exceptional. Being a master spinner is about always finding a way to spin better.

The  master spinner enables the master weaver.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

iron spindles


page 11 of the introduction.

Don't like it?  Argue with the Gilroy, not me.


I worked for various Bechtel companies.  Our stock in trade was doing things that had never been done before.  We would build things bigger than anyone else.  We would do things cheaper than anyone else.  We would do things safer than anyone else. And, we would do things better than anyone else.

So, consider hand weaving.  It is not dangerous to the weaver.  There are no public policy issues (e.g., release of hazardous or radioactive materials into densely populated areas). And, there are huge amounts of reference materials on the topic.  There are very few consequence for failure.  There is no reason to be afraid.   On the other hand, many of the practical skills for hand weaving, have been forgotten. People say that I do not have the experience, so I cannot do it. Nobody alive has the experience!  Does that mean it can not be done?   No! what has been done, can be done again. Why is that that people have not tried something spend so much effort telling me what I can't do?

I think it is worthwhile to try and rediscover some of the old weaving skills.  If you think those skills are still out there, then show me a recently made bolt of hand spun, hand woven wool shirting fabric.

Somebody needs the experience. It might as well be me.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Accelerator Revisited

It has been weeks since I made another version of the accelerator. With this version I have spun, plied, and cabled miles and miles of yarn.  It works.

With the accelerator, the Ashford Jumbo flier (ST) will run at between 1,000 and 1,600 rpm.  I was very pleasantly surprised at how well it works, running at over 1,200 rpm.   The Ashford Lace Flyer (ST) will run at just under 3,000 rpm. And the AA competition flier will run fast enough to spin woolen fines at 300+ yards per hour. This is all  much faster than I ever approached just using tiny whorls - even with elaborate bumpless drivebands and careful attention to whorl profiles.  All in all, everything runs about twice as fast as I could get it to go without an accelerator wheel. On the other hand, I do have a double treadle wheel and am willing to treadle hard.  I expect that a single treadle wheel would only go half as fast.  I also go through drivebands fairly rapidly and I use a lot of driveband dressing.  I keep an oil bottle of Royal Purple handy and I oil everything frequently.

This is not to say that driveband slip is always bad.  It can also act as a clutch in single drive systems to help avoid break off when spinning higher grist singles.  Another advantage of DRS DD is being able to come up to full spinning speed much faster without breaking the fine yarn.

I also have given up understanding why modern wheel makers have become so fixated on screw devices to control the tension of  drivebands.   Such devices make it hard to get reproducible levels of drive band tension, and almost ensure high loads on flyer bearings.

 The Ashford standard DD fliers will run at near 1,800 rpm with the accelerator.   Years ago, when I first tried to get the Ashford standard DD flyers to go faster, I thought the limiting factor was that the flyers were not balanced and that they had a high aerodynamic cross section. Now I think it more likely that the problem is that the Ashford DD axles flex at the joint with the flyer whorl and cause the vibration.

I took half of the heck array (hooks) out of the Ashford (ST)  Lace Flyer, and with ball bearings at each end, it runs twice as fast with an accelerator as it ever did without the accelerator. Without an accelerator, the drive ratio said it would go this fast, but it never did.    The new speed was a pleasant surprise.  I dislike having the whorls at the front so that there is a long barrel that the yarn must be threaded through.  

Somehow the net productivity of spinning on the Ashford Lace Flyer is not nearly as high as with the Alden Amos fliers.    Thus, these days, all the spinning of singles  is done on the AA fliers, 2-ply is made on the Lace Flyer which will hold full hank of  5,600 ypp 2-ply, and big stuff is assembled on the Jumbo.

Monday, March 24, 2014


I was told by "experts" that kitting sheaths are not useful.
I was told by "experts" that weatherproof  fabric could not be knit.
I was told by "experts" that what ever they knit firmly was a warm as warm could be.
I was told by "experts" that I could not spin fast and fine, and that I was silly and stupid to try and spin fast.
I was told by "experts" that differential rotation speed (DRS) controlled double drive systems do not work                                        without slipage.
I was told by "experts" that "gansey yarn" was never, and could not be hand spun.
I was told by  "experts" that real hand spun 10-ply Aran weight yarn could not be produced.
I was told by  "experts" that CPW were the fastest wheels available.
I was told by "experts" that swaving is not swaving.
I was told by  "experts" that twist insertion on a flyer/bobbin assembly wheel was by the flyer.
I was told by  "experts" that high speed steel (HSS) scrapers could be sharpened by "burnishing".  (It was                                          wood turning, but they were mostly spinners, making spindles.)
I was told by  "experts" that accelerators on spinning wheels were not useful.
I was told by  "experts" that flyer/bobbins are always slower than great wheels.
I was told by "experts" that sectional beams are not needed for fine weaving.

and etc.

All of the above expert opinions are wrong, but they are the conventional wisdom that is recited over and over again.  That first item about knitting sheaths has been in the echo chamber since before the days of Mary Thomas (1938).

Am I storing up "hurts" and resentment?  No, I track what works, and what others tell me works.  The above are mostly the result of people of limited breadth of experienced talking about things for which they have no direct experience.  There is a difference between having 30 years of experience and having 2 years of experience, 15 times.

I know! I know, I was warned,  Feynman warned us that anytime the assembled experts say anything, always do the math yourself.  However, the textile world has a problem with its experts.  They are frequently wrong, and they are rarely challenged by the community.   The community has a huge respect for the conventional wisdom, and the community rarely tests the conventional wisdom.

However, when I go against the "boss-cow" experts, I am challenged.  Authority in the recreational and academic textile world is by seniority rather than by merit and quality of information.  Yes, at this point I am not friendly towards the conventional wisdom of the modern recreational textile world.  I find that every time that I refute the conventional wisdom, many become rude.  I have been through this cycle more than a dozen times in the last 15 years.  I am wary, and I  might seem a bit hateful, but yes, I have reason.

I like my experts to know what they are talking about and get things correct. I claim to be a scientist, not an expert on textiles. Likely, I know more about knitting sheaths than anyone else in the world today, but I do not claim to be an "expert".  Any master knitter in the 16th century knew more about (some kinds) of knitting sheaths than I do.  

For example, people that have never worked with knitting-sheath knit fabrics assume that any hand knit fabric is as good.   This is false! That is like saying a thumb tack pushed in with bare fingers holds wooden beams together as well as a 16d framing nail driven in with a carpenter's hammer.  Both the knitting sheath and the carpenter's hammer provide leverage to multiply force. Smash your thumb with a carpenter's hammer and you know it provides more force than your bare fingers. However, somebody that has never worked with big carpenter's nails, does not know how strong they can be. And, I promise that for somebody that only knows about thumb tacks, real carpenter's nails driven with a hammer are a revelation.  Likewise, somebody that has never worn a fabric knit with a knitting sheath just does not know just how warm a "hand knit" garment can be. No amount of knitting tight with hand held needles can prepare one for what a knitting sheath can do. Wear a sweater knit with a knitting sheath in a storm, and you know that it is knit tighter.  Nobody can get that kind of tight with hand held needles.  Human tendons and muscle will not get you there, you need extra leverage. Knitting sheaths with "gansey needles" are the difference between knitting a fine, weatherproof fisherman's shirt in a few days, and it taking a full year to knit.  Knitting sheaths with curved, rotating needles are a game changer when it come to knitting fine gloves.  Unless you have a knitting sheath and have learned how to use it very well, such fabrics are outside of your experience.  No hand knitting without a knitting sheath comes close.  I know, I spent 5 or 6 years knitting as tight as possible without a knitting sheath.  In those days, I was a good rock climber, and  I kept my hands and arms very strong.  I know exactly how tight it is possible to knit without a knitting sheath.

I keep little lists of what people say works, but which I cannot get to work.  I keep lists of what works for me, but others tell me (do not, should not, could not, would not) work.  This blog is part of that system of lists, along with my knitting, spinning, and weaving journals.  I keep lists of the best way I know how to do something.  When I find a better way, I cross the old way out, and write in the new, better way.  These lists are never finished, because there is always, always, always a better way. Every work procedure is a compromise between quality, schedule, and resources.  Sometimes the better way is just a different compromise solution.  Sometime schedule is more important than quality.  Sometimes it is better to have poor mittens than no mittens!!

All of the different compromises work, they are not wrong.  What is wrong is when somebody says knitting sheaths are not useful to knitting.  Knitting sheaths may not be required for the current project, but in the long run, they allow knitting faster, knitting more ergonomically, and knitting fabrics that cannot realistically be hand knit without a knitting sheath.

When I published an account of my first hot rod wheel, I was told by a "boss-cow" spinner/ expert that I was stupid and silly to try such a thing.  A better response would have been a technical discussion of drive belt physics, swept areas, and whorl profiles, but this expert provided none of that.  She merely called me stupid and silly, and her style always includes scatological references.  A few years later she bragged about having about a wheel with a similar ratio from a big name wheel maker.  And, she apologized to me.

Most of the experts that told me stuff that was wrong have not apologized. One of the experts that first told me knitting sheaths were not useful, now writes on the history of knitting sheaths, and proclaims herself an expert on them. She also told me that "5-ply gansey yarn" had never been spun by hand, and could not be spun by hand.  She has since back tracked on that issue. However, she still jabs at me every time I say anything outside of the conventional wisdom. She also denies most of the history of English fishing.

Pretty much everything that I have fond most useful, are things that were outside of the conventional wisdom in recreational textiles.   Spinning faster facilitates spinning finer.  And, spinning finer facilitates better yarns- and with better yarns one's knitting and weaving improves.  Better textiles begin with better yarn.  I do not regret any time spent improving my spinning.

With better yarn comes better knitting.  The better my spinning, the more I enjoy knitting.  The better my spinning, the better my knit objects.  It is all about the yarn.  Hand spinning provided all kinds of wonderful yarns in the past, but which are no longer made as mill spun. If you want to replicate the look, feel, and quality of  some traditional knit objects, you need different yarns  than the mills are selling to recreational knitters these days. The only way to get those yarns is the spin them yourself.  However, you need a vision of the final object in mind as you plan the yarn.  Without that vision, your handspun will be no better than the mill spun you and everyone else have been using.

I will freely admit that setting up, using and maintaining a DRS controlled double drive system requires skill, and on-going attention to maintenance. However, the rewards in better spinning are also great. Most spinners even neglect to oil their wheels and cannot in any way be expected to understand or maintain a DRS system.  Many modern spinners even think that the flyer inserts twist.  With that world view it is not possible to manage a DRS system in any way, shape, or form.  With that world view, the spinner will never see the benefits of DRS.  There are advantages to learning physics and being able to do math.

Finally, if you go to a major fiber show, and talk to all the interesting people, you can be pretty sure that some of them have seen and admired my work.  If I am writing about something, it is because I have been working on it long enough to have a working prototype that shows advantages.  By the time I write about it, the local guild, and other textile people have seen it work.  Your saying that it (does not, should not, could not, would not) work only shows your lack of experience on the topic.

By the time I wrote about accelerators here,  I had made 8 or 9 prototypes and figured out how to make the concept work very well.  When I wrote here,  I had already demonstrated that the concept had large advantages.  AA reminded me of images I had seen as a child.  Then, I tested the concept.  It worked.  That was the only reference that I needed.  Anyone that doubted the concept could make one for themselves and find that;  Yes, it did work!   I had already seen that "Oh, My!!' moment when a much faster wheel made spinning fine much easier.  And, this was years past the time when I had moved to high ratio whorls to get more speed for spinning "lace weight" singles.  The power of the accelerator is that it changes swept area and reduces drive band slip.  This was another,  Oh, My!! moment.  A sudden understanding that even more speed makes spinning even finer, even easier!   It was another surprise.  By then, having people whining about lack of references was silly. The time to complain about lack of references is before the working model is perfected.  The accelerator works today on an Ashford.   "It works!" is the only reference that I need.  If you need more references or citations, you can find them yourself.  Your need for academic citations is not my problem.  My problem is only to have the best tools that I can have.

Why did not all the experts warn me of this effect?  Where in all of the advice on spinning fine is the very important fact that spinning faster, makes spinning finer easier?    Sure, there are other factors, but spinning fast helps --  a lot.

It has become clear that many of the skills that I need for weaving fine woolen cloth have been lost. I will have to rediscover the tools and techniques.  It will take hundreds of hours before I turn out a fine hand spun, hand woven, woolen fabric. Yes, I have a pile of problems in front of me.  My advantage is that I can just use any solution that works, without demanding academic citations for everything.  And, I am past worrying about what the experts say.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Crux of Sectional beams

The essence of a "sectional beam" is not the mechanical structure on the loom, but how the weaver uses it.

Any warp beam that rotates can be used as a sectional beam. And, any culture that understands carts, can construct beams that rotate.   For vertical, warp-weighted loom, all that is required is to scribe lines on the beam to delineate the sections of the beam.  The the warp can be wound on the beam, stored, and wound off as needed.   Looms designed for weaving long bolts of cloth do require pegs or pins in the beam to support the sections of warp as they are wound on, but it it is very easy to insert such pegs in a beam. Little "L" brackets held in place with duct tape work.  Nails work. These approaches will not satisfy some prissy recreational weaver, but they will allow winding wool singles onto the loom at hand, right now.  And, a very good tension box can be improvised from a bit of plywood and some wooden dowels from the hardware store. Two thousand years ago, making a tension box was no harder than making little stool - a easy morning's work.  I could drive to Jackson, buy any one of Stephenie's little looms, convert it to a sectional beam, and be winding warp on it, section by section, by night fall.  (Or I could use the sectional beam on my AVL as a warping mill, prepare a warp under tension and then wind it on the little loom.)  The crux of the idea is keeping wool singles (each and every one) under tension at all times as the loom is warped.

A sectional beam on a modern loom has additional features for recreational weavers, but these were not required for industrial weavers of the late Roman Era and Middle Ages. They would weave to the end of their warp, wind on another warp (section by section) tie the two warps together, and weave on with minimum waste, and very little effort. There is no reason why the 2-beam, horizontal loom of  the late Roman and early Middle Ages could not have used sectional warp beams.   The difference between an "ordinary" beam and a sectional beam is a hand full of wooden pegs that can be inserted or removed as the kind of cloth being made changes. (And, minor differences in how the warp is tied to the beam.)  Once you have thought about it the concept is easy and logical.  It is only hard if you think about a sectional beam as a device, rather than as a way of using a beam that rotates.  For the real weaver, "sectional beam" is a way of warping rather than a mechanical device.  It is a set of procedures and techniques for keeping warp singles under tension and under control at all times.

A second approach that works for industrial weaving  is to have a sectional warping mill that is warped section by section, and then the entire warp is wound on to the warp beam of the loom as required.  One such mill can support several looms and avoid down time of the looms and their weavers. It is the same concept, just moved off the loom to separate operation. For details see the old texts on industrial weaving.

Do I see such mills in modern weaving classrooms?  No. And, I bought the only loom with a sectional beam from the largest local weaving classroom.  50 weavers (many very advanced) and nobody was using sectional warping.) They gave me a good price on that loom, because nobody was using it. Sectional beams are not needed for mill spun (2-ply) wool warps, or silk, or linen, and few people weave with fine hand spun wool singles these days.  On the other hand, there is a large class of traditional  wool fabrics that can only be woven from the fine wool singles that are easier to handle when warped under tension (e.g., section by section).

The evidence for sectional beam looms is in the fabrics produce in the Late Roman and Early Middle Ages. To understand the evidence, one must understand working with fine wool singles. That means getting out your spinning wheel and spinning "fines".

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fine wool fabric from warp weighted looms

Those old timers made nice fabrics.  We see small samples of fabric where the were protected from decay by to toxic effects of metal buttons.

I see the fabrics, and I ask, "How did they make them?"  What tools and skills did they have?

The archaeology field reports say they had loom weights, and the published papers go on to conclude that they actually had the entire loom.  :  )

OK, but was that loom used for that sample of fabric, or some linen or hemp or nettle or other material that has been lost?  Hard to say.

The fabric was traded great distances, so they made a lot of that fabric, and were really good at it.  Did that sample of fabric come from that set of loom weights, or did that set of loom weights support another trade network, or was that loom used for a local product that was not traded?

So, I sit there and I look at the picture of that Bronze Age stone floor with its little piles of loom weights, and I note that no Bronze Age organic artifacts were found in the structure.  The user's manual for the loom was missing. There was no artwork, no jewelry, no potsherds, and no fabric samples. The fabric samples are from a grave of the same period, but many miles away.

And she wants me to prove that they had sectional beam and tension box.

I had spin some replica yarns.   I trie them on various approaches to warping, and I come away with a new appreciation for the skill of the weavers of that sample of fabric.  It is easier if I block the yarn, so I worked on blocking the yarn for a while (months),  but that changed the nature of the fabric. 

There are only so many ways to warp a loom.  One can take a sample of proposed warp and see how it behaves with each approach to warping.  If there are several approaches to warping that work with that single we cannot say, they likely did it this way or that way.  However, if there seems to be only one way that is plausible given the technologies of the time, we can say they likely did it this way.

Do I care how they made that fabric? No, I just want to make fabric that is as good or better.  Is this a scholarly journal? No!  Am I being paid for my research? No.  I just want to reverse engineer a way to make fabric as good or better.  Along the way, I am going to announce my conclusions and observations.  I am going to throw out any ideas that I have.  And I think like Sherlock Holmes.

By a process of reverse engineering and elimination, we get to warping the loom with a sectional beam, tension box, and bobbins.  This is for a fine wool warp, not silk, not linen, not hemp, and not nettles.  My understanding is that only way to get the fabric that I want is to use unblocked singles.  So, I need some way to keep the singles under tension at all times.  If they get loose for a minute, they are likely to tangle, and if they tangle, they are likely to break, or at least burn daylight as I untangle them.

Data and  lack thereof

Note discussion of  Body Wrapping 3 on page 26  et seq of  

And note the discussion on Roman and Greek art related to weaving on pg 33 of the same text.

Note that Roman looms do not survive, but that the Romans are presumed to have had 2-beam horizontal looms because of some of the fabrics that do survive.  However, these are not mentioned by any Roman authors, and the first depictions are in the middle ages.

Note discussion of Roman looms and lack of documentation at  page 552.  Note the problems with the draftsmanship on one of the depictions as finished cloth appears where we would expect the warp weights to be. This is pretty typical of art and technology. 

If we look in; The Cambridge History of Western Textiles, Volume 1, we see on page 121 that an advanced type of loom (horizontal, 2- beam) was in Germanic Europe as early as the Sixth century.

What we do not have; is good documentation of that South Asian loom that made Body Wrapping 3 above.  What we have is a very fine, very early fabric from some loom in Southern Asia for which we have no description or depiction. The depictions of Egyptian looms are all of weaving linen.

Let us return to the excellent depiction of Telemachus and Penelope in front of Penelope's loom. It was done 1,100 years after the Trojan war (and time of Telemachus and Penelope) . Hardly a depiction of current loom technology.  And, we note that the loom contains an extra beam to hold extra warp. That extra beam was a prototype of a sectional beam.  By its nature, the beam can be divided into sections and yarn wound on each section. They were making carts and know how to make axles, rotating wheels, and beams.  

 If it is the traditional loom that Penelope would have used in the Bronze Age, then it is not likely the loom in use in Classical Greece at the time of the depiction. If it is the loom in use in the Classical Greek Era, then it is not likely the loom used in the Bronze Age. This is not what I would call good contemporary documentation of a loom.  So it is with the other Greek art related to weaving.  Basically we have a gap in western loom documentation from the Middle Kingdom to the Middle Ages.

That is exactly how I would make a vertical, weighted-warp loom.  I would wind the warp on a back beam, and run each thread through a weight and  and tie it to the top beam.  Then, I set my beam holding the extra warp behind the loom with the weights hanging down to provide tension. Then, I could wind finished cloth onto the top beam, and unwind additional warp from the additional beam.  The weights do not even have to be tied to the warp, but can slide along the warp providing continuous tension to keep the warp on both sides of the weight from tangling. Do I need to make you a model of such a loom?  

There is no reason in the world why a sectional beam can not be used with warp weights on a vertical loom to manage long warps when weaving bolts of cloth.  And, it greatly speeds the work.  It is how a professional weaver would do it.  No, it is not in the record, but it has been a thousand years since an industrial weaver has used vertical, weighted-warp loom technology, and we may have forgotten some things.  I expect a weaver's  loom to be constructed with the same skill as a miller's water mill or a blacksmith's trip hammer.  I see a weaver's loom as a capital investment that was expected to generate income for a very long time, and some care would be taken so that the weaver could work as fast as possible to generate as much income as possible.  I am not talking about subsistence weaving.  I am talking about a tool for a talented professional weaver turning out cloth that appeals to the rich and powerful, thousands of miles away -- as in Body Wrapping 3 getting to Egypt from South Asia.