Monday, October 08, 2018


This last week, I spun about 25,000 yards of wool yarn, about half semi-worsted from flock run 56 count wool and half woolen from fine Rambouillet. All totaled, It was about 6.5 lb. All of that yarn has a grist of about 4,000 ypp and is for a  piece of weaving. It feels good to get it out of the way - scoured but not carded, it filled a couple of big plastic bins,

It is not what I planned to do, but all things considered, it was not a bad Spinzilla for me. And for me, it was not the end of this project. I have a few more bins of these fibers left to spin.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Cotton Cards

I like my drum carder - it is a Clemes and Clemes. I think hand cranked carders can be gentler on fine fibers than the motorized.

However, for very fine fibers spun woolen, hand cards are better.  I was told that my wool cards were well suited for carding fine wool. Well sort of!

I was told that my cotton cards were only suited for cotton, and not to use them on wool. No!  Use your wool cards on almost all wools, but when you have a very fine fleece, all sorted, graded, and perfectly scoured, use your cotton cards.  

Saturday, September 08, 2018


All of this talk about fine spinning has put me in the mood to do some spinning. My wife is off to a school reunion, so I am off to Spinzilla. (Her car will be out of the garage, so I can arrange my spinning gear in the air conditioned garage.)

My goal is to spin a pound of  Heinz 57 wool into 22,400 yards (40 hanks) of worsted single at 20 tpi in 7 days.

eta 9/9/18
The Heinz will have to be prepped; washed, oiled, combed, dized into bird's nests. . . . . the start is washing and oiling - here I begin the study a bit early, because I may be required to make a new flyer whorl to get the correct grist. I have whorls spin it at its spin count (30,800 ypp) or to spin knitting yarn at 22,400 ypp but this is somewhere in between.

Some Heinz 57  having been carded, washed, oiled, draining and drying. A day in the sun and it will be ready for combing etc.

Edited 9/10/18 to add:

Combed Heinz fiber as bird nests drying in the sun because the Aden Amos carding/spinning oil has water in it, a I added some more as I was combing. Each bird nest weighs about 4 grams, so 3 are required to spin a hank. The roving is very soft and has a tensile strength  ~4 grams.  About 15% or 20% of the fiber in the commercial fiber  product as received is left in the combs and is set aside to be carded and spun woolen. I could get a higher yield of the fiber for worsted spinning, but I need fiber for woolen spinning anyway.  Note that at this point, the Heinz is much whiter than as received. 

9/12/18 ETA 
My lawyer says it is a team "sport" where the goal is to spin a lot. It does not matter what I spin, as  I support my team by spinning a lot of yards.  My wheel spins fastest when spinning  woolen and semi-worsted yarns  at ~5,000 ypp. I guess I owe it to my team members so spin woolen  and semi-worsted at 5,000 ypp.


All the wheel makers indicate the "ratio" of  their wheels in various configurations. However, because of drive belt slip, it is not a very useful indicator of anything. In fact, I did not really begin to understand my wheel until I got my digital tachometer that told me how fast my flyers and bobbins were really spinning.

Higher ratios should indicate that more twist is being inserted to into the yarn.  IN THEORY, for any wheel, the diameter of the drive wheel is fixed,  so smaller whorls should mean more twist is being inserted?!?!?! NO! Smaller whorls mean there is more slippage. When you get down to the tiny whorls of "lace flyers", a lot more slippage!  My tachometer told me that my fancy lace kit did not spin any faster or insert any more twist than my standard bobbin, and the double drive kit inserted more twist than the lace flier, but when I tried  to speed up the double drive, by making smaller whorls, speed actually went DOWN, DOWN, DOWN. Deep thought indicated that there are good physical reasons for this related to vibration waves in the drive belt so smaller whorls have much less contact with the drive belt and much more slippage. This is an effect that dominates lace flyers in modern spinning wheel making.

You get a big wheel with fancy lace flyers, and lace production is -- disappointing.  First, they are Scotch Tension,  -- the drag of the tension system must be overcome before you can spin anything.  And, that fine lace yarn that you want to spin must absorb enough twist to become strong enough to overcome the drag of the Scotch Tension, and that is a huge hurdle. I often spin yarns that are so fine  (grist greater than 30,000 ypp) that they need more than 15 tpi to have any strength. Certainly some twist can be stored in the leader, and that can be transferred to the proto-yarn before the proto-yarn must overcome the drag of the tension system, so the proto-yarn can maintain yarn lock and receive twist from the spinning bobbin. I took my tachometer around, and most modern wheels with Scotch Tension insert twist at much less than 1,000  rpm.  I can do much better with a drop spindle, and I am not even very good with a drop spindle.

Modern DD wheels are a bit better in terms of  delivering twist to the proto-yarn, but are desperately tricky to adjust the drive belt tension so the bobbin spins faster than the flyer, but drag on the whorls does not slow the whole system to a crawl.  However, a lot of things can go wrong in a DD system that will slow the system way down: too much drive belt tension, too little drive belt tension, wear on the drive belts, wear on the whorls, lack of drive belt dressing, drive belt dressing accumulating on the  whorls, are all things to monitor every few hours of spinning.   DD systems have rightfully earned a reputation of being high maintenance.  Which is not to say that I did not LOVE my DD, when I got it.

The obvious solution is to design a clockwork system so the bobbin spins fast to insert twist, and the flyer spins slower to wind the yarn onto the bobbin, and to wind yarn onto the bobbin no faster than twist is inserted. Such a system was invented in Florence, Italy  in the 13th century for use in the silk production industry. It was the  size of a room, and required a man and a boy  to operate.  A century later it had been reduced in size so one person would use it for spinning worsted, and it remained one of the most valuable trade secrets in the world.

In essence, a DRS wheel is a double drive spinning wheel set up as a clockwork mechanism with the bobbin whorl just enough smaller than the flyer whorl, that the bobbin spins fast enough to insert twist as the flyer winds yarn on to the  bobbin at the proper rate so each segment of the yarn has the correct twist. This concept has THREE important advantages. 1) It relieves the spinner from having to control twist, so all spinner needs to do is draft to the correct grist. 2) It reduces drag and slippage in the spinning system, so much less labor is required to insert twist. 3) It can be true bobbin lead, so the bobbin can spin faster than the flyer, and some of the problems of a flyer spinning at high speed are reduced. The net results are that  one can easily spin 560 yards of  5,600 ypp (75 wpi) single with 9 tpi in an hour,  and spinning/plying a 500 yard entry for the longest thread contest is an easy day's work. (E.g., one can easily spin 45,000 ypp singles at 150 yards per hour.)

The downsides with DRS are:

  •  you need to know what yarn you want to spin
  • you need the correct whorls for the yarn you want to spin
  • you need to be able to draft to a consistent grist
  • you need to keep drafting as long as the drive wheel is moving or the yarn will break off
I have 5 whorls containing about a dozen "grooves" that I store on the wheel, and which allow me to spin almost any yarn I might want to spin, and I have more whorls in the spin chest. It takes me about 3 minutes to swap whorls.  I can spin the singles for all of the knitting yarns that I commonly spin with just 2 whorls containing 6 grooves.

Friday, September 07, 2018


Alden made me 2 DD flyers - a #1 and a #0, his "Competition" flyer.  The #1 Flyer has a capacity  of about 3 ounces of yarn and the Competition has a  capacity of  ~ 2 ounces.  The Competition, just looks elegant and fast, and like something that would be just right for frog hair yarns. When I first used it, before making DRS whorls for it, it certainly was better for fine singles. On the other hand, running DD (not DRS), spinning fine was difficult.

When I started making DRS whorls for those flyer/bobbin assemblies, the whorls for  the  #1 flyer were for 5,600 ypp (75 wpi) singles , then 11,000 ypp (105 wpi) singles then 22,000 ypp (150 wpi).  They worked and I spent months learning to use them. Then, I made DRS whorls for the #0, and yes it was wonderful for spinning fine. For a long time, If I wanted to spin 5,600 ypp I used the #1, and if I wanted to spin 30,000 ypp, I would use the #0. Later, I went back and made whorls for spinning fine with the #1.

AA never did much spinning of yarns with grists greater than 24,000 ypp. On pg 215 of the BBB (big blue book), he writes of spinning 58 count Targhee at 19,000 ypp, on a single drive, bobbin lead flyer/bobbin assembly the size of the  #1 flyer he made for me. I have spun dozens of  hanks of such yarn with that configuration.  I had to answer the question, "Do I need DRS for fine spinning on the #1?"  However, by switching whorls and using DRS I could take that same fiber and spin it at 30,000 ypp, and spin twice as many yards per hour.  Or, with DRS I could spin it at 20,000 ypp twice as fast as I could using single bobbin lead, single drive. That is the power of DRS.

When spinning 5,600 ypp singles, I would spin about a 1/3 oz of yarn, which would increase the effective diameter of the bobbin, then I would change flyer whorls, and  spin another 1/2 oz of yarn, which would increase effective diameter of the bobbin, then I would change flyer whorls again, and spin the final 5/6 oz of yarn to make just over 560 yd or a hank of yarn. I estimated weight based on guidelines that I marked on the ends of the bobbins. Much later, I moved to making flyer whorls with 3 grooves on them so I did not have to change whorls, but only slip the drive band from groove to groove. This was wonderful, so I made such flyer whorls for 20s, 40s , 60s, and 80s( ~200 wpi). In those days, I was spinning knitting yarns, so the whorl for 10s inserted 9 tpi for 3 different effective bobbin diameters, and the 80s whorl inserted 26 tpi,  and had only 1 groove because 560 yards is less than 7 grams and does not change the effective bobbin diameter significantly.

At that point, the big flyer was better than the Competition flyer for spinning fine singles. Alden used bronze bearings in his bobbins, and I had upgraded the bobbins for the big flyer to ball bearings.  Fine yarns want a lot of twist, so the bobbins for  spinning fine yarn, need to be able to spin very fast.  Ball bearings make this possible. In addition, the larger flyer has a thicker axle and is more stable when the bobbin is spinning at very high speed.

When spinning 80s, I sometimes spin the bobbin at over 4,000 rpm, while the flyer is rotating at about 155 rpm less. 

When the finished  yarn is less than 3 oz, I use the #1 flyer with the proper whorls to give the proper ply-twist.  For gansey yarn, I spin the singles hank by hank (1.6 oz each), wind off on to bobbins, steam block, and ply the 8 oz hank of 5-ply yarn on a standard Ashford Jumbo flyer using a weight and some fishing line for Scotch tension.


I spin at a reasonable speed. I did not learn to spin until I was old, my eyes dim, and my fingers stiff. My advantages were curiosity and a desire for better yarn so I could make better fabrics. This desire pushed me to use the lessons of history to make better spinning gear.

The engineering precepts are in Big Book of  Handspinning by Alden Amos. What is not in that big blue book are the skills to use equipment made to those precepts. The skills are somewhat different from those required by conventional Double Drive and Scotch Tension wheels. So any wheel maker that makes such wheels should set up a training organization.

Alden's big blue book is symbolic of how much of the hand spinning tradition has been lost.
The other day I went back to . That blog post is from the days I was learning to spin on stock Ashford equipment. My Traddy was still STSD.  I thought that was a fast wheel. However, upgrading to DTDD made it faster. Then, I bought a wood lath and began re-turning the whorls to make the flyer/bobbin assembly go faster.  Then, I had Alden make me new flyers. He did not make them to DRS specifications, he made them standard DD. However, those small, balanced, stable flyers were the first BIG step toward more speed. Then, I started making my own spinning bobbins. That was the second big step towards more speed. The new bobbins had whorls very slightly smaller than the flyer whorls, but that tiny change made a huge difference.  All of a sudden, I could spin much faster. (It was not "all of a sudden", I had to workout, and learn a block of skills! There were thousands of "breakoffs" in the learning process.)

In those days the goal was good, hand spun, 5-ply gansey yarn at 1,000 ypp. Thus, I focused on singles of 5,600 yards per pound (75 wpi). For knitting yarns, I spin them at ~9 tpi.  I learned to spin them fast enough that I could make useful quantities of  5-ply knitting yarn for knitting fisherman's sweaters.  For a while I was diverted  and waylaid by  .
However, that was not a path  of truth.

I thought about entering the Longest Thread contest. ( So I turned bobbins designed to work with the Alden's #0 flyer to insert 26 tpi, and put some thought into fiber and fiber prep. I bought a bunch of nice Rambouillet from Anna Harvey, and spent the summer learning to spin fine, and measuring what I was doing, so I could do better. I had an entry of 10 grams of fiber in ~ 500 yards of 2-ply yarn. I was working on packaging it, when I had to leave for Europe.  The package never got sent.

Under the streets of Bruges in a 500 year old textiles vault, I learned that there was no real purpose in spinning wool finer than its spin count. The useful goal was to spin wool competently at its spin count. I gave up on the Longest Thread competitions, and put some effort in to just spinning Rambouillet well, at its spin count. As a result, I can sit down at my wheel, and spin Rambouillet at 45,000 ypp (200 wpi), at 150 yards per hour.  That means today I can spin 1,000 yards of single and ply it into 500 yards of 2-ply  (20,000 ypp) in an easy day. Or, I can ply it into 270 yards of 13,000 ypp, very round, strong, and durable lace yarn in a day. This is nothing exceptional, this is a good day's work with good tools and good skills developed over 10 years (allowing time for my Lyme Disease.)

However, I still liked "gansey" yarn so I went back to spinning it. I learned to spin it at a hank (560 yards) per hour.  At that rate, I built up an inventory of those  10s (for 10 hanks per pound), so I bought a loom. The 9 tpi 10s are not firm enough for weaving warp, so I started spinning 10s at 12 tpi.  That is a third more twist, so it should slow everything down by 1/3.  However, part of the speed limit for spinning 9 tpi  singles is drafting.  To insert more twist, I can treadle faster, so  I find that I spin 12 tpi singles at about 500 yards per hour.  They are ~ 75 wpi when packed to refusal per the Alden Amos protocol, and they are STRONG enough to be weaving warp. For some weaving, singles can be spun harder and stronger.

 Singles at 20 hanks per pound (11,200 ypp, ~105 wpi )  need about 14 tpi for ordinary yarns or about 17 tpi for hosiery. (And, hosiery yarns are spun worsted.) Twist holds yarn together, and as 5-ply at ~2,000 ypp (44 wpi) this has enough twist to hold the sock together long enough to be worth the time to knit. Knit on fine needles, the fabric has the texture of very fine commercial men's socks --  the kind of hose that in the past one could buy at Needless Markup Department Stores, but which are no longer available. You will need a couple of ounces of yarn for a pair of socks, so it can be spun and plied in an easy day.

A tension box used for rapidly plying 5-ply yarn from singles on 4" bobbins.  

A DRS wheel makes spinning a 100 grams of fine, durable sock yarn a trivial task.  Spinning enough singles to warp a bolt of cloth (4.5 lb or 50,000 yards) is more effort, but doable with a fast DRS wheel.

There are wheel makers out there that can make such wheels - if they would just clear out the back of their shop and turn it into a classroom where clients could learn the skills of spinning. Heck, they might even run a University on carding in the same space. 

Thursday, September 06, 2018

How fast did professional hand spinners spin?

My normal single is 5,600 ypp  (75 wpi  @ pack to refusal) semi-woolen. At 9 tpi, I use that grist of single for making 2-ply jumper yarn (2,500 ypp), 5-ply “gansey” yarn (1,000 ypp),  or 10-ply Aran yarn (500 ypp),  and at 12 tpi, I use it for weaving warp.  With my Ashford Traditional equipped with an Alden Amos flyer/bobbin assembly, somewhat modified by myself for DRS spinning as described in Alden’s Big Book of Handspinning pgs 390 et seq. 

I spin the knitting singles at more than a hank (560 yards) per hour (wound onto bobbins). I spin the weaving singles at about 450 yards per hour (wound onto bobbins). 

Thus, the actual spinning time is about 45 or 48 minutes.  2,400 ypp singles take less twist, but are thicker and have to be wound off more often, so I can spin them at ~400 yards per hour.  Finer singles require more twist, and thus are produced more slowly, until well prepped fiber for 70 or 80 count singles (e.g., 42,000 ypp, 200 wpi) require about 26 tpi and can be spun at about 150 yards per hour even though I can spin for days without winding off.  For this, I need an accelerator on the spinning wheel. 

(see AA’s big blue book, pg 185) I run the spinning bobbin at 3,000 to 4,000 rpm (by actual tachometer measure) and the flyer slow enough to allow the appropriate amount of twist to accumulate. The flyer rpm is between 330 and 150 rpm.  The DRS clock work controls the relative speeds of the bobbin and the flyer.  Mostly, this allows the bobbin to spin much faster, and thereby insert twist much faster, while the flyer to spins slower causing less drag, and reducing total effort.

Right now there is ~32,000 yards of 12 tpi singles on 320 bobbins on the warping rack beside the loom.  Upstairs there are bins and bins full of hand spun and hand plied gansey yarn and Aran yarn for knitting, containing about another 60,000 yards of singles. I know how many yards of  this single I can spin in an hour. 

And, I cannot spin that fast with any commercial e-spinner, no way, no how.

Traditional professional hand spinners with training and professional grade tools spun faster. 

The easy check on grist, is to look at the thread with a linen tester and see that there are 20 staples in the cross section of the thread. Or cut a ¼” inch piece of the thread, and drop it in a few drops of water in a saucer, and verify that there are 20 little pieces of wool fiber in the water.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Vogue Knitting Live

The Vogue Knitting Live San Francisco will be at the Hilton the long weekend of  September 21. On the September 21, 2018, I will be in the Hilton Lobby with my Peggy's cove hat and  Red CRAFTSMAN  knitting bag from about 10 am to 5 pm.

I will have a lot of swatches of exceptional fabrics knit from ordinary yarns the traditional tools (knitting sheaths, gansey needles, knitting belts, and swaving needles) required to knit such fabrics.

You can touch and feel fabrics like nothing you have ever felt before. And, I will answer questions. This is a free master's class - or guild meeting. For example, I will show you how well and how fast, blunt needles knit. I am not selling stuff, so I can tell the truth.  ; )

Sunday, July 29, 2018

DRS Spinning wheels revisited

Is it DRS? 
Spin and maintain treadle pace, then draft faster.  If the wheel sucks all the yarn into the orifice faster than it can insert twist to make a competent yarn, it is not DRS.  If you get slack, it is likely DRS. A DRS wheel will insert the same twist all the time, so the grist must be adapted to the twist setting on the wheel. If you can spin thick or thin, without changing whorls, it is not DRS. Thin yarns need a lot more twist than thick yarns. Woolen yarns need more twist than worsted yarns of the same grist to have the same strength.

edited for clarity 9/11/18 because I had been calculating whorl ratios, and was thinking of all rotation relative to the bobbin, and here, that was pure nonsense.

The basic text on DRS is Alden Amos’s Big Book of Handspinning. It is not very mathematical, but it works.  First, how much twist do you need to insert to make a competent yarn?  That is critical. See the  Big Blue Book page 383.  Then, assuming bobbin lead, what is the effective diameter of the spinning bobbin. (I make my bobbins so their diameter is ~3π” to save math.) Thus, 1 rotation of the flyer (relative to the bobbin) winds  3 inches onto to the spinning bobbin, and for my standard single at 9 tpi, the bobbin must rotate just over 27 times every time the flyer rotates 26 times relative to you.   That is, the flier must make ~96% of a rotation or 346.3 degrees every time the bobbin rotates once (360 degrees). Thus, the ratio of the bobbin whorl to the flyer whorl is 1:1.037. The bobbin whorls are about 50 mm in diameter (sometimes I fall off the English system) and the whorl for the flier is 51.85 mm in diameter.  For 12 tpi, (or second layer of 9 tpi on a bobbin with one layer of single on it) the bobbin must rotate 36 times while the flier rotates 35 times. Therefor the bobbin whorl/flyer whorl ratio is 1: 1.027. I have a groove for that!   As the effective diameter of the spinning bobbin increases, the bobbin whorl/flyer whorl ratio must change to keep the twist consistent. Thus, my flier whorls have 2 or 3 grooves on them and I change grooves as the bobbin fills and the effective diameter increases. I spin woolen at about 25% higher twist than worsted of the same grist (e.g., 5,600 ypp worsted is spun at  ~9 tpi and the woolen of that grist is spun at ~12 tpi). The 5 grams of a fine single in a hank does not change the bobbin diameter much, so the whorls for fines have only 1 groove in them. In fact, fines are spun on a smaller flyer/bobbin assembly based on bobbin whorls of 100 mm and flier whorl diameters of 101.2 mm as this makes the wood working easier.  That should all be clear as mud. 

The deal is that I spin my spinning bobbin at something over 3,000 rpm, and my flier at about over 2,845 rpm, and that is good because fliers have much more wind resistance so this system spins them slower. Spinning bobbin lead is much faster than spinning flier lead. With “yarn lock” systems (e.g., Scotch Tension, or Double Drive systems with slippage), you end up spinning your flier as fast as your bobbin most of the time, so you put a lot of effort into overcoming the wind resistance of your flier most of the time. I see trying to spin a flier at 3,000 rpm as being a lot of work, I am lazy, I do not work that hard. I do a little math, and save myself a lot of work.

Carbon Steel needles

When I started all this, I was pleasantly surprised that my carbon steel (spring) steel needles did not rust nearly as much as I expected.  When I sold carbon steel needles, I included a bit of crocus cloth to polish corrosion off of the needles, but I find that I do not need it nearly as often as I would expect.

Recently I was sitting by a pool, knitting.  The ground under me was rocky, and I dropped a needle. It clattered and bounced some yards. And then I noticed that the needle was scratched until it was distinctly rough. At home, I would have gone into the shop and buffed it. On other trips, I would have swapped another needle out of the knitting bag, but all I had was a very limited sock kit. So I kept knitting with the scratched needle. In a couple of hours, the roughness disappeared, no buffing or polishing with crocus cloth. The yarn was certainly NOT harsh enough to polish steel that fast. What happened?

My yarns have lanolin on them, and it leaves a film after knitting. As the steel starts to rust, the lanolin gets into the rust, forming a patina that protects the metal.  However, sitting next to the pool, I was using hand lotion, suntan lotion, and a commercial yarn with no lanolin on it.  I think the hand lotion and suntan lotion was enough to allow the metal to form a patina that protected the metal, but was "soft enough" to be scratched on the rocks. In fact, I notice that the patina on those needles is soft enough to be polished off by a few hours of knitting, but will reform in a couple of days.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Sharpening HSS

I have been turning thread bobbins from solid blocks of maple and oak. Often the shavings are like long (hundreds of feet) strips of paper. This is the result of using very sharp tools. I do not see many wood turners use tools that produce those fine, continous ribbons of wood. Very sharp tools make the job much easier and faster.

Often, in the past,  I wanted to make specialized lathe tools, so I would buy inexpensive sets of  tools, use a couple of them to make the  tools that I wanted, leaving me with several medium quality tools of ordinary design.  I often use these spare turning chisels for anything that  does not require a very  high level of craftsmanship - such as singles bobbins. I grind these  to the same angles as my other higher grade tools and I use them for things like singles bobbins. Yes, I have to sharpen these inexpensive lathe chisels more frequently than my higher quality tools, but that is perhaps honing them with 400 grit paper every 45 minutes rather than every hour.  With a good grinder, honing takes only half a minute, and is not a big deal.  In contrast, for very high precision cuts, I will hone my best tools with a diamond hone by hand every few minutes.

I still have some carbon steel lathe tools with sentimental value, but I do not use them much.  In theory, they can be sharper and produce a better cut than even my best HSS.  In practice, they do not.  To produce the quality of cut that I get with my good HSS tools, I would have to hone the carbon steel tools almost continuously.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Bobbins and singles

I spin a lot of singles. Some get plied, some get woven, but I am moving to storing singles on bobbins.   I understand the advantages of storing singles as skeins or hanks, but I am finding storing singles on bobbins more convenient.

I  need between 60 and 120 bobbins to warp the loom, and that assumes more singles stored as skeins to refill the bobbins.  On the other hand, it is nice to have all the yarn for the project blocked, wound on bobbins and ready to go, so there are a couple hundred bobbins ready to go.

Then, an Aran sweater project starts off as about 64 singles each on its own bobbin. Thus, if there is a large knitting project and a weaving project at the  same time, I want to keep at least 300 bobbins. I want a lot of bobbins, and am always looking for more.

And, I drop and  break bobbins on a regular basis. So I always want more bobbins.

I have been making bobbins from wood for the last 5 or 6 years.  I made a bunch by turning the cores from rock maple and then gluing ends on them.  I made dozens from maple "turning blocks" that I bought when a local wood working shop sold maple turning blocks as loss leaders. I turned a bunch from solid blocks of dry red wood left over from a fencing project. (Alden said it could not  be done!)  I turned a bunch from solid green mountain ash.   I turned a bunch from solid blocks of black walnut that I bought from Royal Fibers. I did a big bunch from dry cherry wood by turning cores and gluing ends on them.

For historical reasons, most of the bobbins that I made in the past were 4".  I thought a 4" bobbin would hold all the yarn from my (4") spinning bobbin.  However, I find that my singles are much more even if I spin less than 200 yd before winding off.  And my  bobbin rack will only hold 72 x 4" bobbins.   A 2" bobbin will hold the full 200 yd of single from a typical spinning bobbin wind-off, and my bobbin rack will hold 144 x 2" bobbins.

These days, I make 2" thread storage bobbins. Now each spinning bobbin of thread goes to a storage bobbin. And, the singles on the storage bobbins are knot free and I do not waste time doing splices.  (With the singles on small bobbins, good twist splices can be made by using a mandrel in an electric drill to rotate one of the bobbins.)  Swapping bobbins as I ply is easy.  The math there is that ~25 bobbins of singles becomes a hank of  gansy yarn. Bobbins used for warping get known amounts of thread wound on to them, and a pound of cloth needs the singles off of ~100 bobbins.

Anyway, I recently had to prune my Japanese maples, - there were several branches in the 2" to 3" range and I cut them to appropriate lengths on the band saw and started turned them into bobbins. The wood is hard, but not too hard to turn. The wood  strong - less likely to break than some woods that I have used.  And, the wood is lighter in weight than some woods I use.  This has been a real winner.

Bottom line, as I have said before, I do not find it cost effective to turn bobbins from the blocks of wood sold for wood turning by lumber companies.  I find turning cores, and gluing ends on them to be cost effective but not very satisfying. However, turning bobbins from various tree prunings is both cost effective and very satisfying. Turning green wood is a wicked lot of fun, but it needs to be planned and carried out in planned stages, or the objects will warp and crack.  Turning bobbins from dead limbs pruned out of maples and olives seems to be the best of all worlds.  It reduces the volume of stuff going into the green bin, it feels good to use the wood, and turning bobbins from 3 or 4 inch prunings is very fast and easy.  I finish them with Perfect Pen Polish, which is a solid non-toxic wax that is applied to the object as it rotates on the lathe, and is then rubbed as the lathe rotates until the wax melts and forms a high gloss finish.

With a rack of freshly sharpened tools, it takes me 5 or 6 or minutes to turn a 2" maple bobbin that will hold 250 yd of 5,600 ypp single.

Turning blocks of hard maple into delicate bobbins is a very good way to release all of of one's aggression and frustration.

5/15/2018 ETA

A recent count of bobbins on yields more than 200 x 4" bobbins and larger bobbins and just over 100 x  2" bobbins. I need more. There are ~15 oak blanks on the work bench, but I need more.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Position with blunt needles

With pointy needles, one can slightly change position as one knits to reduce stress on particular muscles.

With blunt needles, the position must be precise.  Several positions work, but they are very different techniques, and they need need different positions.  One cannot just adjust position, rather one needs change to another precise technique and another precise position. the angles between the needles are critical.

Monday, April 30, 2018

lace yarn

With all the news about Russia these days I got to thinking again about Orenburg Lace.
Prices seem to be way down, which tells me things are rough for the knitters over there. $60 for a lace shawl makes spinning/knitting one seem like a waste of time - it is a little like the Merino jumpers I buy at Costco for $50.  I cannot knit one for that price, but the Costco jumpers are not like the jumpers I knit. You cannot knit a shawl for the price you can buy one from Orenburg.  On the other hand, today the right yarns are hard to find, so you may not be able to knit such shawls at any price. Unless you learn to spin good lace yarn!

Learning to spin good yarn is some effort but it is not impossible.

I have not bought one of those Orenburg, shawls, but I do not think the descriptions are quite accurate. First they claim that the 14 micron goat down is the finest animal product for spinning - not quite - the Guanco I get from Royal Fibers, is also 14 micron. And, 14 micron Merino is available, as is 14 micron cashmere. There are other very fine fibers available.

But, it is not how fine the fiber is, but what one does with it. I buy Rambouillet fleeces from Anna Harvey, ( and after sorting and grading, I get a pound or 2 of  80 count wool fiber out of each fleece. (Plus several pounds of lower spin count wool that can be spun as fine as 35 or 40 thousand yards per pound!) The better graded wool can be spun into singles at ~45,000 yards per pound.  It can be spun finer, but spinning finer is much slower and the thread is not as competent.  Thus, 2-ply lace yarn can be spun finer than 20,000 yards per pound at a "commercial rate".  (And, Anna's wool is spun into tons of such yarn in Italy for fine men's suits.)  My hand spinning is very ordinary by Italian commercial standards.

One can spin a single of Rambouillet and ply it with commercial silk, and have a lace yarn that is significantly finer than what is being used these days to produce commercial Orenburg lace.  And, I will cheerfully match the luster and softness of high grade Rambouillet against Orenburg down.  The Orenburg down yarns are very nice, but they are making marketing claims that are just puff and bluff.

A little research tells us that in the days when there was a lot of royalty around, (and more demand for fine lace) much of the fine Orenburg yarn was spun on "spinning wheels". Art tells us that many of those wheels were likely some kind of vertical charka. That is important because a spinning wheel or charka can put a lot more twist into a yarn, much faster than a supported spindle. I think that these days, Orenburg lace makers use supported spindles due to a combination of lack of capital, lack of work space, and a lack of training.  Now, there is no international community of hand spinners to keep a variety of fine spinning traditions and technologies alive. In the past, much hand spinning was devoted to spinning at the wool's spin count, and many people made the required tools These days, nobody is making spinning wheels designed to hand spin wool at its spin count. (The Russian spindles require less craftsmanship.) If my spinning wheel is damaged, there is nobody around that can repair or replace it. That community is gone.

If I did not have my super high speed spinning wheel, and wanted fine lace yarn, I would get a chakra, and mount it vertically to spin woolen singles. Then, I would use a standard flyer and bobbin wheel to ply the final yarn.  However, my flyer/bobbin wheel is fast enough to reasonably spin very high twist yarns quickly.

I estimate that the Orenburg down singles are  spun at ~ 25,000 ypp, are spun medium firm, and thereby require about 18 or 20 twists per inch. (That is what I put in my 11,200 ypp weaving warp.) While my 44,000 ypp knitting singles require ~ 24 tp.i., or about 30% more twist - that is a huge effort/cost for a craftsman using a supported spindle. A good rule of thumb is that for any spinning operation, the largest cost is energy to insert twist.  On the other hand, using a charkha or other high speed spinning wheel, such high twist yarns are much more feasible. If I were asked to produce that style of yarn, I would spin sorted/graded Rambouillet at its spin count (44,000 ypp), then I would ply the single with commercial silk to produce a lace yarn with a grist in the range of 30,000 ypp. I would  spin the wool at its spin count because there are real technical advantages to spinning wool at its spin count. There are useful reasons for why wool was graded by its spin count.  I do not know if goat down has a measurable spin count.

I do think we should have more spinners that can sit down and spin wool  at its spin count.  I also think we need better sorted and graded wool. Then people would not be so astonished by the Orenburg lace yarn, and its claims would be more closely examined for truthfulness. There would also be more good yarn around.

The flip side to all of this is that I think the super fine Merino is produced by abusing the sheep, and the finest wool from well treated sheep has a spin count of about 80, meaning it can be reasonably spun into 44,000 ypp singles (20,000 ypp 2-ply, 1,248 yd/oz. or 44.1 yards per gram of 2-ply).  Long ago, I put some effort into spinning higher grist yarns, and decided that they had no practical advantages, and many functional disadvantages.  I decided that the best display of spinning skill was spinning wool perfectly, at its spin count.

The old hand spinners of Shetland did spin wool at its spin count. Shetland wool has a spin count of 56 to 60, so it was spun at about 33,000 ypp  meaning 2-ply Shetland lace yarn at ~14,000 ypp or better, and 3-ply Shetland lace yarn at ~ 9,000 ypp or better.  Shetland lace yarn was strong and lustrous. Shetland lace was one of the glories of the Victorian age. Sure it was spun and knit by Shetlanders, but Victorian ladies paid good money  to make it possible.  We do not see commercial lace yarn of that quality around much these days.   I have a bin of wool very much like Shetland next to the wheel that I have been using to spin weaving warp.  I can change whorls on my wheel, and be spinning 30,000 ypp singles in minutes.   Of course, spinning a useful amount of such singles in a reasonable length of time would involve a change in the fiber prep, but without changing the yarn prep, I could spin a 150 yards of 30,000 ypp singles in a hour. Shetland can be spun at its spin count either worsted or woolen.

These days, I spin fine wools (60 count and higher) woolen, and I spin fiber with a spin count of less than 40 as worsted. This is a real conversion from the rule: "Worsted is the best way to spin".  In part, it is a recognition that woolen spinning bends fibers sharply, and finer fibers can tolerate sharper bends better.  And, worsted spinning does not bend fibers as sharply, and thicker fibers do not tolerate being bent sharply.  In part, it recognition that most "fine" wool has short staples, and is hard to comb, and I do not believe that "carded" wool produces real worsted thread. This is not an iron clad rule as I have a couple of 40 gallon bins of combing "waste" that I am about to card and spin semi-worsted. It is the "shorts" that I combed out of some Romney fleece that produced many miles of worsted spun, 5-ply gansey yarn at 1,000 yards per pound..

Most of those miles of  gansey yarn from this fleece were spun before I accelerated the wheel. In those days my wheel ran at a little over 1,000 rpm. These days, it runs more than 3 times faster. Now, the wheel runs fast enough that I can reasonably make 10-ply (5x2) 1,000 ypp gansey yarn. The extra twist in the extra plies gives the yarn more strength, to compensate for the lower quality of the fiber.  Some might consider 2-ply 5,600 ypp yarn to be lace weight. No, it is just the basis of some rather coarse sailing

While sick, I usually spun inside with artificial light. For various reasons, they produced a flat light.  Today, I am back, spinning in the sunshine. The fiber is Anna Harvey's Rambouillet. It is a mixed bag of fleece left over from sorting for very fine fiber, so its spin count is only  in the low 70s, but it is brilliantly white. It sparkles! Spun woolen near its spin count it, dazzles.  As 2-ply lace yarn at ~ 18,000 yyp, it is brilliant. As 3-ply at ~ 12,000 ypp, it is brilliant, durable, and unbelievably soft.

Such yarns can be spun on supported spindles, but it is very tedious.  Each inch of the produced yarn requires between 70 and 110 twists (singles + ply twist).  High speed twist makes it much easier to draft these yarns.  Fine woolen yarns are better produced on a chakra, or a very high speed DRS controlled bobbin/flyer assembly.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Knitting is hard work, use good yarn to make the product worthwhile

Somebody said “Shetland wool”, and the first thing I thought of was jumper yarn as in: (  This turns out to be about the grist of yarn called for in Gladys Thompson’s patterns for Sheringham & Norfolk ganseys.  She lists Paton’s 4-ply Beehive fingering in the pattern, but the grist is about the same as the above.  The 4-ply Beehive is a little rounder, firmer yarn than the 2-ply jumper yarn, so the 2-ply Jumper has more fill and is warmer than the (no longer available) Beehive (unless the 4-ply is more tightly knit).  The 4-ply allows the pattern to pop and is usually cooler to wear. (These days, the only way have a yarn like the old Beehive is to spin it yourself or have it custom spun.)

Either way. I knit such yarns for such fabrics on ~1.65 mm, long needles. I use pointed needles for patterns full of cables (or lace) and blunt needles for plainer knitting.  Gauge is ~ 12 spi by ~20 rpi.  The pointy needles are 14” long, work well with either a knitting belt or a knitting sheath, the blunt needles are 18” long and long want a knitting sheath.  However, this is not really about needles or knitting sheaths, this is about yarn.

This is not an “I am so smart rant”!  It is a “knitting is hard work, and therefore it deserves good yarn rant”. I repeat, this is a “knitting is more work than spinning, so knitting deserves good yarn!" rant.  
Spinning yarn for a fine jumper (sweater) takes about 20 hours for jumper weight or 40 hours for a 4-ply like Beehive at ~ 2,500 ypp (same weight yarn, but the 2 yarns have different virtues.  Knitting is the issue; a slow knitter like myself takes 250 to 300 hours to knit such an object. I am well aware that a good commercial knitter can knit that many stitches in a week. However, the objects knit by the commercial knitter will not be as warm or as durable as what I knit. I do not even bother with any stitch pattern with the 2-ply jumper yarn – the patterns are hardly visible and do not have much effect on performance/wear ability.  With a tight, worsted spun 4-ply, and high ply twist (very durable) something like a “plough and furrow” pattern adds to the stretch of the fabric, thereby making the garment more comfortable and more durable. And, with that firm, round (4-ply) yarn, the stitches in the pattern really pop, making the pattern clearly visible. Also, for weaving, I usually have kilos of handspun 5,600 and 11,200 ypp singles, so if I get inspired, I can ply-up handspun yarn for such a jumper very quickly.  But, those are weaving singles, and they have a lot more twist than most singles used for knitting yarns – even sock yarns.  Those high twist singles need more ply twist than softer spun singles and do result in harsher knit fabrics. On the other hand, fabrics from high twist yarns last much longer. Twist holds yarns together, and (within reason) more twist means more durable.  Most modern commercial yarns for recreational knitters are spun and plied very softly – this results in a very soft fabric, but also a fragile fabric. If I am going to put in the time and effort to knit a fine object, I want it to last.

In fact, I am likely to knit something myself, precisely because I want the object to last – e.g., I only want to carry one pair of socks, and I want them to endure the entire hike, or I only want to take one sweater, and I want it to endure a voyage across the Pacific.  (Iron men in wooden boats need firm fabrics to buff off the rust and all that.)

My point is that there is much more to yarn than some scale from 0 (lace) to 6 (bulky). 
We were talking about Shetland Jumper yarn, and I love Shetland wool.  I think it is a great compromise. It is fine enough to be very warm for its weight, it takes dye well, it has significant luster, spun woolen it is soft, and spun worsted it has a nice silky feel. On the other hand, Merino and Rambouillet can be softer and warmer for the weight. Rommey and Cotswold can have more luster, a more silken feel to the worsted threads, and take dye better, and be more durable.  Shetland wool was used for Hillary’s ascent of Everest because it was an excellent compromise between warmth and durability.  These are properties you may not need, but they are worth knowing about as you select a yarn, because knitting is a lot of work, and you should select the correct yarn spun from the correct fiber. These days climbers on Everest do not use wool except for frame knit Merino sock liners and Merino long underwear.  When we were there, they used local, loosely spun and loosely knit socks, which were very harsh, (and not very warm).

However, what fiber would I choose for a “jumper” to wear sailing on – San Francisco Bay?  I chose Romney. It is strong, very lustrous, easy to spin worsted, and easy to knit into a weatherproof garment that will withstand heavy use for years and still look good. Certainly, Shetland would work, but Romney is a better compromise for the use.  What fiber did I choose for a fisherman’s sweater for my wife? Rambouillet – it is soft, and my wife is very gentile to her clothes, and she does not go out on boats much. 

Wool fibers have 2 ends; the butt and the tip. In the old days, worsted spinners, were careful to feed wool fibers into the spinning draft butt-end first. This gave worsted thread a very smooth surface, very uniform diameter, and exceptional luster. With mechanical wool processing starting circa 1850, endwise orientation became random. It was still called "worsted" but it was a different kind of thread.  It had much less luster, and it lost a good bit of its silken feel. This was most important for the weaving of very fine twills, that can be tailored into garments that make royalty seem radiant.  A long time ago, I did some experiments on orientation of fibers in worsted spun threads and decided that worsted threads with random end orientation was actually stronger under wet conditions. I talked this over with some spinners that I trusted, and since then threads that I expect to get wet are spun like commercial worsted yarns with random fiber end orientation. If I am thinking about something like lace that really needs maximum luster, I do make sure that all the yarns are spun butt-end first. 

In the evening, my wife and I often watch the news and a DVD. I often knit as we watch.  If I do the tricky parts in the morning’s light, I can have a fine (12 spi by 20 rpi) sweater in 3 months of watching TV, and my only cost is a half a kilo of fiber and some time spinning. (I can spin 5,600 ypp singles in front of the TV, but not 11,200  ypp.) Sure, I can (and do) buy frame knit Merino sweaters for $50 from Costco, but my hand spun/ hand knit sweater will last 20 times as long, and the sweaters I knit, do not mind being washed in water. (An advantage in a time of global warming when one expects snow and gets mud.) While the commercial Merino jumpers are softer, my worsted spun fabrics have a smoother, more silken feel, and the worsted spun yarns are more lustrous. In 4-ply, with a pattern, they are even rather dressy. Also, the knitting helps me remember what Rachel Maddow said. Knitting is like taking notes or doodling.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Gansey Needles Revisited

I went to 18”, pointy gansey needles because that was the conventional wisdom on what was used to  knit fine ganseys, and I wanted very fine ganseys. It took me a long time to learn to make them really useful. Folks sold “gansey kits” of yarn and needles, but the long pointy needles are not useful without a knitting sheath that can be fastened over the right buttock.  The physics are strongly against hand held “gansey” needles.  And, long steel pointy needles have issues - I had to get bigger knitting bags to hold 18” knitting needles.  I had to make point guards to keep them from sliding right through the fabric of my knitting bags. And, pointy needles cause more wear on knitting sheaths.  On the other hand, the spring action of these needles driven in a vertical motion by the weight of my right hand, was the very fastest and easiest way I knew how to knit.

However, for the last few years, I have been making better knitting sheaths that can attach to a strong belt below the right elbow.  These sheaths can comfortably take the stress of flexing the 3/32” spring steel that I like for knitting cold weather gear.

Now that I am using blunt needles, less needle motion is required, and I can get the required motion from 12” needles.  The motion is still driven by the weight of my hand, so it is a very fast, low effort way of knitting.  I use 6+1 needles for a gansey to fit my ample girth, so the weight of a set of needles remains the same, but they fit in a much smaller bag, and because they are blunt, I do not have to worry about them going through the bag.  Overall, 18” needles are faster because there are fewer needle changes.  With long needles, if you have some space to spread out without poking someone with your needles, you can use vertical or horizontal motions that change the working muscle, without changing the fabric (with practice).  And, 18” US3 needles is the only way I know how to do good tight weatherproof Aran (10-ply/500 ypp) fabrics.
(If you are doing brioche stitch or lots of bobbles, stick with pointy needles and a not too splitty yarn.)

These days, I often use finer sock needles, so I can get almost the same motion from 9” needles, but the needles are soft enough to flex sideways (or vertically) with just the effort from the base of my thumb, opening up additional styles of knitting small objects. Since, I now use the same needle adapters for straight needles and swaving pricks, in a small knitting bag, I have the tools for a good variety of knitting styles that quickly produce good uniform knitting, for when I need to get a knit object finished quickly without over working one set of muscles/joints. If you are going to knit seriously, you need different knitting techniques that use different muscles, but which produce identical fabric. The shorter needles also allow knitting in the car or plane or boat.  Long gansy needles (even blunt needles) are not well suited to knitting on public transportation.

One can make a good pair of fine, warm socks in a couple of days. If you can get someone else to drive, you can get much of the work done on the ride up to camp.  And yes, I still think the motion of the longer needles is smoother. But swaving works very well even on rather rough roads.

In the old days, I often knit while walking and hiking – I saw the old pictures of people knitting as they walked and thought it was “cool”. After I discovered knitting sheaths and knitting belts, I found that knitting sheaths were not very good while walking, and I decided that hand-held needles could not produce the quality of knitting that I could make with knitting sheaths/knitting belts.  Thus, I gave up on knitting-while-walking. If I am going to knit, I sit or stand in one place. Knitting with a knitting sheath while standing does work fairly well.  In Jane Austin’s time (and before), women often had knitting sheaths in the form of jewelry stitched to the gowns they wore to social assemblies, so they could knit lace while they stood together and talked. The first time I went to the V&A, such knitting sheaths were only labeled as “jewelry”.  It is worth noting that Jane Austin did not knit.

Thursday, April 19, 2018


Swaving was the last knitting technique that I learned.
One way or another, knitting is a process of using levers to move loops of yarn though other loops of yarn. There are 3 classes of levers. see for example .
I do not distinguish between the various forms of hand held needles.  Hand held DPN, circular needles, and SPN, all have the same physics, (e.g., they act as class 1 levers), and are thereby all the same to me.  Straight DPN used with a knitting belt are class 3 levers. That is very different.  Different techniques using straight needles and knitting sheaths may be class 3 levers or springs and may  have very different physics. In contrast, swaving uses curved needles (Long known as “pricks”) that are rotated in the knitting sheath, and the rotation moves the tip of the needle into the working stitch and slides the new stitch off of the left needle while the motion of the right/shuttle hand, moves the new stitch up the right needle. Still levers, but the axis of rotation, is the fulcrum, and the load is at the tip of the needle.  The process is elegantly fast and simple.  My adding effort to the pricks with the side of my hand, results in compound leverage. I cannot be sure if the "Terrible Knitters" used such compound leverage.

Swaving the foot of the second sock

Mostly the swaving process is driven by both hands and the fabric being moved forward and back, so the fabric pulls the working needle, rotating it and causing the tip of the needle to pop into the next stitch as the fabric is under tension.  (When I need more leverage for tight fabrics, and am using pricks with a small curvature, I give the prick additional “effort” with the side of my right hand.)  The length of the forward and back motion is determined by the curve of the working needle which determines the radius of curvature of the motion. The curve of the prick is chosen depending on the grist of the yarn and the desired knitting gauge. One prick at the V&A has a 90 degree bend and the motion of the tip has a radius of curvature of ~10 cm. I use a ~30 degree bend in my pricks, giving a radius of motion on the close order of 2 cm. With my added effort, the back and forth motion is a fraction of an inch.
I have many old sock needles (short DPN) that I curved to fit my hand better.  These do work with my goose wing knitting sheaths, as class 3 levers, but are not suited for swaving. Long iron or bronze gansey needles will develop a “’J” curve when they are being used for their spring action. Just because someone is using curved needles with a knitting sheath, does not mean they are swaving.  Swaving is about rotating the prick in the knitting sheath.
Swaving is best where one is knitting the same kind stitch repeatedly, i. e., plain knit fabric or garter stitch. It took me a long time to learn to do increases and decreases. I still resort to subterfuge to pickup stitches.  I believe that small changes in technique allow swaving to produce knit fabric with “Eastern”, “Western”, or “Mixed” mounts, but have not studied this.  I am sure that blunt needles tend to enforce a particular stitch mount – it is harder to produce twisted stitches with blunt needles.
That said, swaving is best way I know to make small finely knit items. I often knit the legs of my socks with straight needles (and a knitting sheath), and switch to swaving to quickly knit the the foot. Swaving is without equal for knitting fine gloves.  Certainly, knitting belts are justly famous for the fine Shetland lace, jumpers, and Fair Isle objects produced on them. And, you would not want to try and swave a table cloth or jumper. (Long “pricks” tend to bind, and not rotate properly.) Nor would you want to knit a fine ladies glove from fine (finer than 3,000 ypp ) thread using a knitting belt. (I have never had good luck using needles finer than ~1.5 mm with a knitting belt.) However, swaving makes very fine fabrics on small objects very feasible. Traditional spinners did spin wool into 3-ply yarn at 10,000 ypp .    Shetland wool can be easily hand spun into 2-ply yarn at 15,000 ypp, to say nothing of Merino, camel, guanaco, and silk. My father’s mother loved her fine camel gloves.
I was already swaving with blunt pricks when I was spinning fine, but my knitting in those days was still with “pointy” needles. I have not used straight, “blunt” needles to knit any yarns finer than 5,600 ypp. On the other hand, a review of the old 0.5 mm needles that I was using for fine knitting suggests that they are not really all that “pointy”.  If I were making them today, I would call them “blunt”.  Proficiency in swaving has very much informed my  knitting with straight needles.
Learning to swave was hard. I read what I could find, and I made field trips to places that had collections of traditional knitting tools. However, it is worth noting that museum curators tend not to understand knitting sheath technology. Note the Rutt did not bother to learn to use a knitting sheath.
Making tools for swaving started as extreme trial and error because there was so much diversity in the literature and artifacts in collections such as the V&A.  Once, I had worked out the physics of swaving, it was possible to reverse engineer mechanics that could work for the kinds of fabrics that I wanted.
Same have asked how I know it is “swaving”.  The gross physical motion is right, the tools are right, and the speed is right, and the product is right.  I am going to take it as right, until someone shows me a better way, or I work out a better way myself. I do not claim anything in this blog was or is correct, only that it was or is the best information that I had, or have . There are mistakes, but they are not intentional lies.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Introduction to gansey needles.

I had heard that for real gansey knitting one needed real gansey needles.  (Pointy steel needles 18” long.) I made myself gansey needles, and found them no help. I could not control the needles, and the result was holes in my wife’s leather couch. Gansey needles without a knitting sheath are no help at all.  (Slightly shorter pointy needles used with knitting belt, are a powerful tool kit.)

My first experience with a knitting sheath was when I took my coping saw and made a crude wood replica of a “Yorkshire goose wing” knitting sheath that I saw on the Internet. For needles, I used cheap aluminum DPN.  

I had been knitting Continental style, so I had to learn to throw.  Still I was very soon, very impressed with how much knitting power the knitting sheath gave me.  It sat on my hip, and pivoted giving me more leverage on the needle allowing me to knit faster and tighter.
I made dozens of different kinds of knitting sheaths and experimented with them. Each wanted it's own kind of needles and excelled at a particular kind of knitting.

The magic came when I made a knitting sheath that fastened on to my belt over my right buttock. Then I could stick the working needle in the sheath and arch the needle forward,  under my  right arm, resting my right forearm and wrist on it.  The weight of my arm pushes the needle down into the stich, my hand moves forward a fraction of an inch, I loop yarn over the needle tip, and my hand moves back and up allowing the needle to spring up out of the stitch, and pulling the new stitch onto the working needle. Note that  this motion is the result of flex and spring action in the needle, and thus, both the physics of the motion and the skill of the stitch formation is different from that used with the goose wing sheath and sock needles.  Knitting sheaths support a variety of distinctly different techniques.

I like the spring action of 18” long, AGW 10 (2.4 mm, 3/32” dia.) needles made from music wire (spring steel) for knitting yarns in the range of 1,000 ypp. When I saw patterns for other yarns or other needles, I often adapted the pattern for the needles I liked. This is an ongoing process, as I have come to love finer needles and yarns, I moved to adapting patterns to the gauge that I like. The finer needles are not as stiff, and likely  require a different technique. Over all, knitting sheaths support about a dozen distinct knitting techniques. Nevertheless, if one must knit a good seaman’s sweater as fast as possible, the right tool kit for the job is a good knitting sheath and a set of spring steel gansey  needles.

I used pointy gansey needles for years, and they were the fastest way I knew to knit  very warm objects for cold weather wear. These days, I use flat ended gansey needles.  Many of them are only 17” long, because they lost length when I ground the tapered points flat. Still they are faster than the pointy gansey needles. They are the fastest way I know how to knit warm gear for cold weather activities. I also have very  stiff US#3 needles for 

Knitting with the flat ended and pointy gansey needles are different motions and different skills. The pointy needle is inserted into the working stitch, and the motion is much larger than the motion for flat ended needles. The flat end of the working needle rests against the left needle, and is “popped” into the working stitch, where it is trapped by the leg of the stitch.  Thus, the motions of working needle are very vigorous and do not have to be as precise or as large as the movements for pointy needles.  Vigorous, but very small motions, which do not have to be very precise, can be very fast.

Summary of knitting sheath technique as I understand it today

 Time to upgrade socks

The right socks for the coming storm.

Blunt 9" US1 needles using commercial worsted weight yarn.

Anything that can be made, can be made better!  Anything that can be done, can be done better!

I believe in those two principles. I also believe that everything is a compromise. Doing something better, or making something better may not be worth the resources. "Good enough" may  be good enough! Knitting is a prime example.  Knitting is a group of compromises that I have not addressed in this blog since September 2016.

If I knit a fine weatherproof fisherman's sweater from a 5-ply "gansey"  yarn that I spin from raw fleece; scouring the fleece and spinning the yarn is only perhaps 3 days work, while the knitting takes 3 or 4 times as long as making the yarn. If want my sweater faster, I should focus on faster knitting.  I did.

The paths to faster knitting are thicker yarns, looser fabric, and - knitting faster. I like fine, firmly knit fabrics. If I want a cooler garment, I will knit it (firmly) from a thinner yarn. Thus, I focus on faster knitting.

To reprise, a long time ago, I learned to knit "American", on SPN; then friends said I could knit faster if I learned to knit "continental"; and, faster still if I moved on to circular needles. I wore out several sets of circular needles. I read about how fast the old professional knitters knit, and moved on to knitting belts and knitting sheaths. These were faster than circular needles, and allowed making fabrics that cannot be knit on hand-held needles - and specifically cannot be knit on circular needles.

Knitting belts remain as part of older knitting traditions that have survived to the present day, and we have a good understanding of the technology.  We know that knitting belts are best used with DPN.

Knitting sheaths did not survive as an active knitting tradition, so I had to reinvent the whole technology. At first, I thought that knitting sheaths were just an wooden (or metal or ivory or ceramic . . .) analogue of knitting belts. My early tries told me that knitting sheaths had real advantages.  They allow knitting very fast, producing very tight fabrics, and knitting with a minimum of effort in a very ergonomic manner.  These advantages were very apparent in my early, crude attempts.

Since knitting belts use DPN, I assumed that knitting sheaths also used DPN, and all of my early trials used DPN with various pointy ends.  I put a lot of effort into making pointy needles, and  making the pointy needles work with knitting sheaths was a lot more effort.  For years, the idea that knitting required pointy needles was fixed in my head.  Years after I started working with knitting sheaths, I started considering "swaving", where a curved needle is rotated into the working stitch. I thought, "Wow, this is something else!", and went into it with fewer preconceived notions.

I made curved, pointy, needles and they did not work. I made a lot of different shapes of bent pointy needles and none of them worked.  After much trial, and many errors, it became clear that blunt or even flat ended swaving needles worked very well.  Then, my knitting sheaths had to be redesigned to work with flat tipped needles.  None of this came fast. It was years of benchmarking and validating.

Swaving involves "popping" the working needle into the working stitch. Could I do the same thing with long straight needles? Yes!, but the knitting needle  needs to be blunt or flat ended. It turns out to be easier and faster than poking pointy needles into the working stitch. Are flat ended needles authentic?  Everybody that has acquired many old steel needles has come up with flat ended needles. Were they  were just old pieces of wire that had found their way into the knitting basket?  Now, I think that some (or many) of those flat ended needles survived from the days of knitting sheaths.  And, we have an account of  a professional knitter in the 1840s where in he makes a new knitting "needle" from a piece of wire in a few minutes by grinding it against a stone in the garden path.  I can tell you that it takes hours to grind a pointy DPN like that, but flat ended needles can be ground like that in a few minutes. No, it is pretty clear that those old knitting pins had flat ends.

The bottom line is that having made and used thousands of different needles and hundreds of different knitting sheaths, I have settled on knitting/swaving with blunt or flat ended needles.
Fisherman's sweater on blunt 12" US#1 needles from
handspun 4-ply (~1,000 ypp) with knitting sheath/needle adapter
(the curved needles are for swaving)

Sock on blunt 12" by 1.5mm blunt needles from
6-ply cabled worsted wool yarn (3x2) at ~ 1,700 ypp

Sock on blunt 9" US#0 needles from 
Paton's Classic Wool (204 meters/100 gr.)

"Needle" tips typical of what I have been making and using for knitting and swaving for the last few few years.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Reasonable productivity of hand spinners.

Spinning for knitting, I spun "firm" yarns.  Mostly, I spun 5,600 ypp worsted, at a rate of ~ 560 yards per hour.  Allowing just over an hour for blocking and plying, I produce an 8 oz -  500 yard hank of  5-ply,worsted spun "gansy" yarn in ~6 hours.

For weaving, I want a firmer yarn, so I am spinning  5.600 ypp worsted  singles at 12 tpi rather than at the 9 tpi I use for knitting singles, so my production rate is slower. A hank of 12 tpi worsted spun takes about 1.5 golden hours for me to spin. For weaving, my 5,600 woolen singles get ~17 tpi, and take more than 2 golden hours/hank to spin.

I steam block my singles for knitting out of handling convenience and because they ply better.  The  high twist weaving singles really need steam blocking before they can be reasonably handled.

The need for extra twist for weaving singles has occasioned my going back and practicing my  "scales" again. Production for scales runs:

Remounting the AA #0, and replace all drive bands.
Wash, dry, card, oil, and make a couple of nice rolags (2 grams each).

Spin long draw woolen, at spin count, and 24 tpi =  ~800 m/ 4.5 gram in 3 days  =  ~ 36,000 ypp  (  , Rambouillet )

Too soft for weaving.  More than a week's work just to get to "Too soft for weaving."  Weaving singles at 36,000 ypp take the twist and effort of 44,000 ypp knitting yarns.  Or, am I missing something?  Anyway there are blanks for new high twist #1 spinning bobbin/whorl assembly drying on the workbench.

And, I find that all weaving singles work better when woven in the spinning oil - it is better than J&J's "No More Tears" that many weavers use.  Not sure what I will do when I need to dye yarn between spinning and weaving.

By spinning soft yarns for knitting, I had over estimated the productivity of traditional spinners.  If they were using weaving yarns for knitting, then I have also been underestimating the durability of the handspun yarns.

the Old Dye

3,000-year-old textiles are earliest evidence of chemical dyeing in the Levant

Discovery provides insight into society and copper production in the Timna region at the time of David and Solomon, researchers say

June 28, 2017
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Archaeologists have revealed that cloth samples found in the Israeli desert present the earliest evidence of plant-based textile dyeing in the region. They are estimated to date from the 13th-10th centuries BCE, the era of David and Solomon.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Worsted vs woolen

"They" say that a difference between woolen and worsted, is that worsted is finished when it is spun,  while woolen requires additional processing. 

Wrong.  Both woolen and worsted require additional processing to produce high quality finished products. Most weaving requires higher twist than knitting, and handling high twist yarns requires blocking the yarn.  Yes, even blocked fine, high twist yarns must be handled under tension. However, fine, high twist yarns  cannot  be handed without blocking.  These days, I put more time into blocking my worsted singles, than I do into spinning them.

And, likewise all my woolen singles get steam blocked.  These are fine, high-twist singles, and blocking allows reasonable handling. For knitting, it allows reasonable plying, and it allow reasonable handling of warp. Yes, if you know what you are doing, woolen makes very good warp.  Many traditional fabrics were woven using woolen warps.

AA tells us to use spinning oil, and to wash our singles before use - but he is not talking about hand spinning SINGLES for weaving. If you are spinning fine singles for weaving, then use Alden's soap/olive oil spinning mix for the spinning.  Then, steam block!  Weave, and  the spinning mix will act as sizing. And, the soap based spinning oil, helps clean the fabric during fulling.  If knitting, wash the yarns before knitting as AA suggests.  The soap oil mix can be messy and hard on the hands when knitting.  However, the spinning oil can also be a knitting oil to allow very tight, fast knitting, and again the soap can help in the final wash/blocking of the finished object. (In which case, you will need special knitting clothes and apron.)

A school of  modern spinning would have us believe that "Old School" spinning was worsted.  And, worsted or semi-worsted spun yarns show prominently in museum fabric collections.   However, contemporary documents, such as customs house records, suggest larger volumes of woolen spun woven fabrics. Today, we do not have such fabrics. Too bad! They are VERY nice.  Warm. Lightweight. Durable. Flame Retardant. Elastic. Good Drape. Nice Hand. Certainly, fine woolen fabric required high effort, but it was worth it, even if worsted spun provided  more  more durability under conditions of abrasion.

How did they spin woolen yarn for good woolen fabric?  Oh, Yes!, The classic drop spindle with a very fine (metal) blade, seated on a stool, doing thigh rolls with one hand while the other hand does long draw. Draw and spin on the forward roll, allow to accumulate twist with the spindle supported by the draw hand, then drop the draw hand and wind-on during the back roll.  I find a fine, small spindle can be faster and more convenient for spinning "fines"  than most modern spinning wheels. I find the greater rate of twist insertion resulting from the thigh rolls makes spinning fine, high twist yarns easier than using a supported spindle. Then, there are driven spindles.

A yard of fine woven cloth requires 5 to 10 thousand yards (100 grams) of fine single.  It will take a long time to spin that much high-twist single with a supported spindle.

Coarse yarns can be spun on great wheels. However, I do not find great wheels practical for grists of more than about 20,000 ypp (40 m/gram).  While standing and walking, it is hard to keep such fine, high twist threads taught, without breaking them. I think medium and fine woolen yarns (20,000 ypp to 40,000 ypp) were produced in the early medieval period using vertical charkhas mounted on legs and  operated while sitting on a stool. The stool and shorter draws allow more precise tension control. I think, various flyer/bobbin assemblies were introduced to northern Europe, after their development in Florence in the 12th century.  Thus, by the late medieval, in industrial practice,  both woolen and worsted threads for weaving were spun on double drive, DRS controlled flyer/bobbin assemblies.  The level of craftsmanship for such DRS spinning wheels is no higher than for carriages and wine barrels. Such craftsmanship and the tools to execute was available in Europe after the 13th century.

This is not the received wisdom from the Victorians, but I do not care, as they screwed and compressed all their technology timelines to fit their creation myth.