Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Wobble in the Arc

While there is a clear Arc in the western heritage of spinning, it is not a straightforward arc.  One example is the changes in Austrian textiles with the invasion and leaving of the Romans.  See for example:  Cloth Qualities from 800 BC-AD 800 in Austria: Context - Development - Hand craft by Karina Gromer; ATN no. 51, Fall 2010

A society can lose spinning and weaving skills as a result of an outside influence, and regain them as the influence is removed. 

We lost spinning skills as a result of  fossil fuel driven spinning mills.  However, if good spinning is inherently useful, we can asses our loss of spinning skills and recover them. It is a matter of  knowing our the issues, and planning evolutions to acquire greater competency. In fact, there is no reason why a modern spinner cannot be better than the professional spinners of the 17th century. 

We know what the old spinners could spin in 1750. We have benchmarks and samples of their work.  Once one knows what has be done, then one can figure out how to do better.  I do not care what it is,  anything that has been done, can be done better.

Early Midevial Spinning.

Early Medieval textile finds at South Moravia, Czech Republic show that they had fine spinning and weaving.

Early Medieval textiles, locally produced, in 59 different varieties, and woven to 16 to 20 threads per 10 mm (e.g., 50 threads per inch) were found. These were fine textiles.  Thus, many of the 244 samples reviewed were NOT the crude or coarse textiles that we associate with early the medieval period. Granted that 2,500 ypp is not what I would call fine spinning, but it was central Europe before central heating. It was cold, and they needed warm clothes.  And at 50 threads per inch, the fabrics are finer spun/ finer woven than any of the modern handspun/hand woven wool textiles that I see around.

That is, early medieval spinners spun weaving yarns finer than we see modern hand spinners spinning.

See Finds of Textile Fragments and Evidence of Textile Production at a Major Excavation Site of Great Moravia in Mokcice by Helena Brezinovo in NWSAT XI, The North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles XI, May 2011, Esslingen am Neckar.

Nomads in Europe -pre Charlemagne

Nomads in Europe before Charlemagne were using wool fabrics woven sometimes coarsely, and sometimes very fine. Nomads in the cold were spinning and weaving fine.

Nomads were spinning fine!  I can tell you for sure that it is harder to spin fine in the wind.

See Karina Gromer and Silvia Miiller
Textiles from the Avar
graveyard ZwOlfaxing 11,

Archeological Textiles Newsletter #46, 2008

Spinning fine and fast in the old world

I have pointed to spinning fine and fast as a spinning standard.  So, how fine and did the old spinners spin?  How fine were the yarns produced in the arc of western culture?  We know the Old Kingdom Egyptian Pharaohs were buried in shrouds of very fine linen produced locally, and cotton of similar fineness imported from India. Thus, 4,500 years ago, very fine textiles were being spun and woven in two different regions of the world.  Two different regions at that time had talented and professional spinners and weavers with long traditions.

What then is the arc of fine textiles moving forward?

Looking at A Fifth-century B.C. Grave-Group from Karabournaki in the British Museum as described by Catherine Morgan ( 2015), we see photos of two fragments of animal fiber textile with more detail in the:
Appendix: a preliminary study of the textile
fragment on GR 1919, 11-19.8
Joanne Cutler and Margarita Gleba
(Institute of Archaeology, University College
And, I quote: 
The textile remains were examined with a hand lens
and a digital microscope (Dino-Lite). The fabric is
a weft-faced tabby (tabby is the simplest form of
weave, in which the weft thread passes alternately
over and under one warp thread) with a count of
11-12 threads per centimeter in the warp and 48-52
threads per centimeter in the weft. Although no visible
edges are preserved, all unbalanced tabbies of
this period found in Greece are weft-faced. The warp
threads are z-twisted and tightly spun (with a twist
angle of more than 45°), with a thread diameter of
0.25-0.3 mm. The weft threads have a thread diameter
of 0.22-0.33 mm (a very similar range to the
warp threads)98, although unlike the warp threads
they have no clearly discernible spin99. The fibre in
both thread systems is also very similar in appearance
(ca 20-30 μm in diameter) and very uniform.
Both wool and linen textiles of this type dating to
the first millennium B.C. are known in Greece100.
Preliminary SEM analysis indicates that the fibre
is of animal origin101.
The fineness of the thread used is consistent with
the majority of published Classical textile remains
from Greece (mostly from Attica), which have a
thread diameter of 0.2-0.3 mm102. Many of the Classical
textile fragments analysed are balanced tabbies
(with approximately the same number of threads of
similar thickness in both the warp and the weft).
However, a number are weft-faced tabbies, with weft
thread counts that, as at Karabournaki, can reach
ca 60 threads per centimeter103. A few fragments
from Kamatero, Kalyvia, Marousi and Kerameikos
have even higher counts (the fragments from Kamatero
and Kerameikos have up to 120 weft threads
per centimeter) and are woven with extremely fine
threads, some less than 0.1 mm in diameter. Nearly
all of the Classical textiles analysed are made of plant
fibre, mostly linen, although this probably reflects
differential preservation factors since most were
found in association with bronze objects which generally
favour the preservation of plant fibres. The
vast majority of these Classical textiles are woven
with single z-twisted fibres in both the warp and the
weft. The lack of obvious spin in the weft of the
Karabournaki textile is unusual, but it is also evident
in the extremely weft-faced Classical textile fragments
from Kamatero and Kalyvia104.
The Karabournaki textile is an important addition
to the current corpus of Classical textile remains.
It provides a comparandum from a northern
Greek context to compare with the more numerous
textiles from southern Greece and with the Vergina
textiles of the second half of the fourth century B.C.
(which include a purple textile in the tapestry technique,
and a balanced tabby, possibly cotton, with
ca 25 threads per centimeter)105.

This tells us that the Classic Greeks were spinning combed wool at grists of 10,000 ypp (20 m/gram) to  22,400 ypp (45 m/g) for fabrics. We see that some of the wool was as fine as wool from modern fine wool breeds e.g., 20 micron, and that it had been well graded and sorted. Tools for such spinning are more sophisticated that what are typically used by Classcial Greece period en-actors.  And, the spinning skills of the period were higher then typically seen in Classcial Greece period en-actors.

Moreover, the looms were more sophisticated.  Nobody can weave on a warp of 120 wool warp threads per cm with a simple 1-beam vertical weighted loom.  If you think otherwise, show me useful quantities of wool cloth that you have woven at 120 warp threads per cm from handspun! -  using low twist weft!!  They wove  "himations", a very large rectangle of fabric OK, not as large as a Roman toga, but not something that can be woven on a single beam loom using the threads described above. We know the Greeks traded around the world, and 2-beam looms for weaving fine fabrics were known in Egypt, India, and the Fertile  Crescent.  The Greeks had them also.  We know this by reverse engineering the fabric.  

It is not just me. See for example ( ) 
They tried, and did not get the fabrics discussed above.  And they were not even using hand spun.  The kicker is the low twist weft - it is hard to handle in a single beam/ weft weight loom.

The loom on the urn?  Symbols in art persist for centuries after the technology has been superseded.  We teach the history of technology better than we teach current technology.  How many modern hand weavers cnd sit down and draw the mechanics of a modern Full Electronic High Speed Rapier Loom Machine with Mechanical Dobby?  Not many!  At Lambtown, 3 "dads" pointed to my spinning wheel and told their kids that I was using a "loom".  Artists do art for dads and their kids.

The timeline for textile technologies that has been shouted at me over and over is wrong.  Classic Greece had textile workers with great skill, and the tools to display those skills. In particular, they had good 2-beam looms.  These folks were not making the kind of coarse fabrics that can be made on the single beam loom w/ weft weights used by subsistence weavers in more recent times.  The Classic Greeks had talented professional spinners and weavers with traditions reaching back hundreds or thousands of years. 

I have said that "competent spinners" could spin wool at its spin count. I have said that "spinning fine and fast" was a skill highly  praised. I did not say everyone had to spin fine and fast. I did not say that everybody should learn to spin wool at its spin count.  

I  said that I like textiles made from yarns with fine singles.  I said, that judging by the fabrics and textiles in places like Target, Costco, and Needless Markup, others also like fabrics and textiles produced from fine yarns.  Catherine Morgan /Joanne Cutler and Margarita Gleba tell us that the Classic Greeks also liked fabrics and textiles produced from fine singles.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Spinning as a cultural heritage

The European craft of hand spinning is a cultural heritage just like art, literature, music, and architecture.  It was passed down to us and it is our responsibility to pass it on as good or better than we got it.

A group of modern spinners have taken a small part of  the craft of hand spinning, pronounced themselves "experts on the craft of spinning" and then gone on to say that their small part of hand spinning is all there is. 

They deny that that there is a larger craft of spinning.  They deny that within the larger craft of hand spinning, it is possible to spin finer than they do.  They deny that within the larger craft of hand spinning, it is impossible to spin faster than they do.

Are they really experts?  In 1600, school for spinning ran 2 years of full time instruction -- a total of more than 4,000 class room hours.  That would get an entry level spinner into an apprentice program.    How many of the exert spinners have 4,000 hours of classroom instruction and an apprenticeship program?

I do not claim to be an expert spinner.  I claim that I came to spinning and was told spinning faster and finer was not feasible. 

Ultimately, I found the Big Book of Handspinning, and the math that allowed me to design a spinning wheel that would spin finer and faster.  Now, I spin much finer and faster than the author of Big Book of Handspinning considered possible.  He never told me I could not spin finer and faster, he merely told me that he did not know how to do it with a manual spinning wheel.  However,  many other "expert" spinners told me it was impossible.   One of them told me so yesterday, after I had spent 6 hours sitting in the sun and wind, spinning more and  finer than she had ever spun in any 6 continuous hours in her life.   (I had switched from fine stuff to ordinary weft, and she told me it was a fine as what she could spin.  Except that it was 15,000 ypp coarser that what I had been spinning.  And she thought that in 6 hours she could spin as much as I had spun in 15 minutes.)  She was abusive, inarticulate, and got her dates wrong. Such is typical of a small class of spinners.  However, at one time I worked for a fellow who had been the US Marine Corp's Color Sargent; and, let us say that his articulate abuse puts any spinner I know to shame.  Nevertheless, my wife did take offense at her language.

However, in proclaiming themselves "experts" and denying the glories of European hand spinning, the experts are destroying an important body of world cultural heritage.  Over and over, they say it cannot be done. This lie has come to dominate the internet, and any search brings up the lie over and over, until the truth is buried deep.  By hiding the knowledge that there is such spinning and how it can be done, they are destroying the craft of spinning.  They want everyone to forget that such spinning can be done, and how it is done.

In destroying a world cultural heritage, these spinners are no better than the narrow minded fanatics that blow up statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan. In destroying a world cultural heritage, these spinners are no better than the imperialists that looted Greek Classical sculptures.  In destroying a world cultural heritage, these spinners are no better than the Nazi's that looted the are of Europe.

I do not care what little part of spinning, any particular spinner uses or does not use.  However, no spinner should call themselves expert, unless they are expert.  I consider myself  a "competent" spinner using a narrow definition from the British Wool Board. 

I am still very angry over the lies that many "expert" spinners have told - right up to and including yesterday.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Spinning in the Rain

Californian has been in a drought, so when it started raining this morning, I went out to spin on the porch.

Am I spinning skeins?  Not likely! At a rate of a hank an hour, that is a mile of  lace-weight worsted single every 3 hours.  I do not stop spinning and start plying every few hundred yards. 

When I need 5-ply, I pull 6 miles of  lace-weight worsted singles of the stash and I ply enough to make a sweater.  With the takeup from the ply twist, it comes out about right.

 If this weather keeps up, I might get a good bit of spinning done. 

Multi-ply Refined

I came to spinning for better gansey yarn. Gansey yarns were all worsted spun so worsted spun is what I did without thought.  And I loved the resulting multi-ply yarns as compared to various kinds of 2-ply yarns and the commercial gansey yarns spun from fine wool.

And then I find myself spinning a lot of woolen singles for weft, and I ask myself, "What about multi-ply woolen spun yarns?"  After a few trials, I am not impressed.  If you spin woolen, you will likely be happier with 3 or less plies, but you knew that!    If you want to spin multi-ply yarns, spin the singles worsted. 

Spun worsted, yarns with many plies or cabled with many strands are wonderful.  Spun woolen multi-ply yarns are not worth the effort.  This tells us that the old 5-ply "wassit", was worsted spun.

Spinning  inexpensive wassit meant that the professional spinners needed to spin worsted faster than an inch worm.  The way to spin worsted fast is differential rotation speed (DRS).  Without DRS,  the  ubiquitous wassit, was not worth the effort.  DRS was what allowed 5-ply wassit to be a reasonably priced commodity.

Whcih way to comb?.

There are 2 schools of combing.  One is to comb so all the tips point in the same direction.  The other is to comb so that the tips point in both directions more or less equally.

With all the tips pointing in the same directions, the yarn is easier to spin, has a smoother, more silken feel,  and is more lustrous.  This is the way to go for skeins going to competitions, lace, and other decorative objects.

With tips pointing in both directions, the yarn is stronger, more durable, and the finished yarn has more dimensional stability.  This is the way to go for fabric that likely to see hard use in wet conditions.

Wool Grades and Sheep breeds

A good wool grader can recognized more than 300 grades of wool. And, wool grades are important to spinners - more so than the breed.  Having a single grade of wool at the draft triangle produces a better yarn,  and a less itchy fabric.

Any particular fleece will contain 4 or 5 different grades of wool. Card the whole fleece together as is common in modern practice, and it will not spin as well as if the fleece was graded, and the different grades in the fleece were carded and spun separately.  Of course, this means that the fleece will produce 4 or 5 different yarns that theoretically have different appearances.  In fact, the difference between the yarns due to differences in the grades, is likely less than the differences introduced by the day to day variation of most  hand spinners. And, each grade from the fleece has the same characteristics as the fleece it total, so you are still getting all the good spinning characteristics from the fleece, it is just that by grading the fleece you can spin all of that fluffy joy it to its best advantage.

I do not care what breed the fibers in drafting triangle are, I care what grade they are! If they are all the same grade, I do not care if they came from one fleece or 20 fleece.  I do not care if they came from one breed or 20 different breeds. On the other hand, sometimes the only source of the wool of a particular grade is limited to a very small area of  a very special fleece.  That special grade of wool needs to be sorted out, protected, and kept special.

If you do need enough  special wool for a large object, and it must all be perfectly uniform, then buy (or raise) several fleeces that are very similar, grade them to  prep and spin each grade separately. Get enough fleeces that one of the grades is sufficient for the whole object.  I promise you, it is still the same lovely wool, only better.

A good bit of the itch of wool is fibers of differently thicknesses responding to motion in the fabric differently, flexing to a different extent, and creating a gap in the thread. A body hair pokes into that gap and gets tugged.  When all the wool fibers are the same size, the gaps do not form, hair does not get pulled, and there is less itch in the wool.  One reason that Merino is low itch is that it has been bred to have very uniform fleece and it is very well graded.  Very well graded wool of any breed is more comfortable to wear then wool of the same breed that has not been graded e.g., the whole fleece carded together.

If you have a fleece, and you take it to the mill for carding - it is going to get all carded together, and a bit of the last fleece that they carded is likely to get mixed in.  So, if you have one exceptional fleece, what do you do? You grade it yourself.You may not be perfect, but your grading will be better than throwing the whole thing into the mill.  Now, you have 4 or 5 bins of wool. You label them, and prep them, and spin them. It does not matter if one end of a hank is spun from one bin and the other end of the hank is spun from another bin. The bins are from the same fleece, and after spinning will be very similar in appearance. Now you blend the singles by plying singles spun from different bins.  Then the fabric will be perfectly uniform.

I like Anna Harvey's Rambouilett. I like the fleece.  I like the uniformity over every fleece, and I like the flock uniformity.   When I buy, I have her send me a few fleece, and I grade, and put each grade in its own bin.  There are very small differences between the grades, but each of the grades is better than a mix of the grades.  The fleece are fine and soft, and each grade is fine and soft. The fleece have good color, and each grade has - even more uniform color.  The fleece spin into very nice yarn.  The grades spin into better yarn.  This is wool that would otherwise get baled and go to Italy.  I pay more than the Italians.  I do not care,  I get it at a reasonable price.  Today, American Rambouilett is as good as any wool being produced anywhere in the world. 

The modern spinner's infatuation with working with individual whole fleece, and carding the whole fleece together means that they are actually working with a lower over all quality of wool.  Carding all the various grades found in one fleece together diminishes the over all quality and value of the wool. Keeping the grades separate enhances the value of the wool.

However, the modern spinner's infatuation with individual fleeces and specific breeds is good for me, because then I can by anonymous graded wool that  is much better for spinning, and much, much cheaper than buying individual fleeces.   I buy graded medium wool for socks and warp (also re-purposed as worsted sweater yarn), for half the price that fancy named fleeces next to cute pictures would cost me - and then I can have 10 pounds of one grade of wool, and I can make large and uniform objects. I do not care if the fibers in my drafting triangle are all the same fleece or even the same breed, I do care that they are all the same grade. Graded wool spins into better yarn.    I like better yarn.

If your hands will not deal with all that carding, then the best hobby-sized drum carder in the world is
the Clemes and Clemes.   I use, (and abuse!) one of their old manual carders, but their new electric ones are better.  Our guild has 2 of them.  We had other brands, we got rid of them and we bought Clemes and Clemes.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

More fibs

I fibbed when I said that I spin hanks.

In fact, I also put a lot of yarn on bobbins:
That is about 15,000 yards of my hand spun on bobbins. As 220 yard skeins of 2-ply it would be about 35 skeins.  On the other hand, it is only enough for about 5 hanks of gansey yarn. 

Gansey yarn is very nice, and it gives one a chance to practice spinning.  I encourage everyone to try it.

If I took all of my handspun singles in house, and turned it into 220 yard skeins of 2-ply, it would be about 130 skeins.  And, that is AFTER, I spent most of the last year knitting miles and miles of my own handspun 5-ply. 

All my handspun singles in house would come out to about 20 hanks of  5-ply gansey yarn or  enough for 4 good ganseys with matching hats, scarves, gloves, and socks.  Add in a bit of weaving and it seems like a reasonable stash to me.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fractured History

Ok, you have this model of history - does it inform your spinning and make you a better spinner? Or it just interesting?  Or, does it hold you back and keep you from being a better spinner?

First, I see spinning as an inherently economic activity. They spun to make clothes for the family which was an economic benefit.  Or, they spun to make money by selling the yarn.

You may enjoy spinning, and you may like spinning the yarn to clothe your family, but if they need new clothes, it is a chore, not spinning for fun. You may enjoy the chore, but it is still work, with an economic benefit.  You are only spinning for fun if the yarn is never used for any useful purpose. (In my case, the useful purpose is working out a different spinning technology. Solving technical problems is what I do.  It is work.)

Thus, for the great majority of hand spinners living in the industrial centers of Europe, India, China, Africa, and the Americas, spinning was a job. And often the customer was a weaver that wanted thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of hanks of fine yarn, all as consistent as possible.

Thus, from the very beginning, all of the spinning masters, owners, factors, and managers were looking for spinning equipment would allow them to spin faster and more consistently.  Certainly, this search was long underway in Italy in the 12th century.  Enter, DRS.  Then a room sized device used by a man and a boy for winding thrown silk.  Over the next couple of centuries, it was miniaturized to become a one person device for winding silk and then for spinning hemp and linen, and finally for the twist loving fine wools.

From the time of its development, DRS flyer/bobbin assemblies provided hand spinners with very high productivity, ability to spin very stable grists, and the ability to easily spin very fine.  Everywhere that it was available, DRS was the flyer/bobbin assembly of choice for professional hand spinners.  Think about it, if you are paid by the hank, and DRS will let you spin twice as much and get paid twice as much which kind of wheel are you going to choose?  If you are a factor and get paid a percentage of what all the spinners you work with are paid, then you will make twice as much if they use a DRS wheel.  Which wheel do you want them to use?  Economics tells us that DRS was the wheel that was used.

Alden Amos tells us that single drive, bobbin lead is the easiest flyer/bobbin assembly to design and fabricate.  He implies but does not state that DRS is far and away the hardest kind of flyer/bobbin assembly to fabricate. It is.

With the rise of yarn mills circa1800, not only were spinning skills lost, but spinning wheel making and repair skills were also lost.  By about 1820, subsistence spinners no longer had the skills to use a DRS wheel, and local craftsmen no longer had the skills to make or repair such wheels.  The concept of DRS was not lost.  All the textile equipment engineers knew about it.  All of the mill managers knew about it, but subsistence hand spinners had forgotten the technology.  And, the ladies of  Queen Victoria's court were not going to the mills for a lesson in old style spinning.

The technology did popup on some models of the Canadian Production Spinning wheel, which resulted in its reputation for being so fast. A CPW wheel I spun on had been "fixed" so the DRS no longer worked.  Thus, the wheel was slower than my Traddy that did have my implementation of DRS.  Good  photos of  other CPWs show them having been similarly fixed.  One wheel repairman who had fixed CPW said, "Fixing the wheel was easier than teaching them how to use it."

So, I look at modern yarns such as
 and I look at old yarns such as

And, I like the old yarns.  I want to spin like that! However, when you look at them up close, you see that none of the restoration yarns are as fine as the original.  When they were doing restoration, they did not know the right tools (they were influenced by the hand spinners at QV's court),  and they did not have the skills.

I am just now getting the tools right.  Now, I can start getting serious about developing some real skill.  But, history that tells me that DRS is the right tool for spinning fine, fast, and with great uniformity.

If one is going to spin like that, then one needs the right tools,  One needs the skills to fully utilize the tools.  Working with my wheel on a regular basis tells me that DRS makes spinning fine so much easier that nobody that has not tried it would believe it.  They do not know what they are missing.

DRS not only opens up spinning faster, it opens up spinning much finer, with much less effort.

On the other hand, setting up the wheel to spin the desired yarn is a matter of some skill.   It works in a factory environment, where an expert gets the wheel set up, and then the spinner can sit down and spin very fine and very fast, very easily.


Turns out I fibbed:  Not all my yarn is in hanks:
I seem to have 10,000 yards or so of woolen singles in big cakes. (right) The cakes in view range from ~800 to 1,200 yards with the 5 cakes in view totaling  ~5,500 yards.   It was just a test, about a year ago when I was first thinking about putting woolen singles up in cuts of 1,800 yards. I decided it was not worth it for the 5,600 ypp stuff I was spinning

Stuff on left is hanks of 10s /warp spun about the same time.  All together, it fills a 50 quart bin, there are a bunch more smaller cakes and another 6 or 7 pounds of the warp. 

As I said, it was a test. and then the Lyme Disease sort of took over.

Tying it all together.

From the early medieval until ~1780 the very profitable and competitive European textile industry depended on hand spinning.  It is reasonably clear that good spinning, more than local fiber or weaving was the competitive advantage that allowed a region to become a dominate player in the industry. If local fiber was the  primary competitive advantage, then England would have dominated the world's textile markets from the time the Romans left.

What can a hand spinner could spin, and how fast it can be spun is an important economic question in the medieval European textile industry history.

We know from the definition of "spin count" that a competent spinner was expected to be able to spin at the wool's spin count.  Modern (American) spinners dismiss this point because they do not spin wool at its spin count.  However with differential rotation speed controlled flyer/bobbin assemblies (DRS), spinning at the spin count is easy.  Designing the differential rotation speed controlled flyer/bobbin assemblies requires somebody who can do math (e.g., an engineer) and making the assemblies requires a good wood turner, but once the DRS assembly is designed and fabricated, spinning at the spin count is easy.

For example:

A prirn of 90 m/gram, woolen spun, weft.  It is more than 300 yards (just over 3 grams) of  continuous, knot free, competent single.  It was spun in about 2.5 hours, washed, blocked, and wound onto the pirn though a tension box.  Think about it.  How long would it take you to spin 300 yards of  such single?  These days, the folks that spin that fine, spin slowly.

One big advantage of spinning fine was that it removed vegetable matter  (VM) from from the fiber so there was less VM in the yarn and hence the cloth. Fine spinning compensated for a lack of  fiber preparation technologies that we now take for granted.

DRS is fast.  Weavers needed a lot of yarn, and DRS is much more productive than any other hand spinning technique.  Worsted 10s (5,600 ypp) for warp and knitting yarns can be easily spun at more than 560 yards per hour.  Worsted 40s (22,400 ypp, spin count for long wools such as Romney)   can be spun at more than 400 yards per hour. And, as I note above, 80s (~45,000 ypp, spin count for Merino) can be spun at more than 200 yards per hour.  I can demonstrate these production schedules as needed. They are very conservative. They are what a motivated spinner can produce in a sustained full time work schedule of 45 hours per week.

If any modern spinner cannot spin that fine or that fast it is not my fault, so do not be rude to me.  I have been talking about this and moving toward this for years.  Alden Amos recited the math in his big blue book in 1991. However, the math has been known and understood in western culture since the 11th century beginnings of the Italian silk spinning industry.

We have had good wood turners as long as we have had bungs in barrels.  The iron work for such a wheel could be made by any blacksmith accustomed to making wood turner's tools.  The required bronze bearings could be made by anyone that made bells.  In 1390, in Florence there textile industry provided employment for about 400,000 workers.  That would have included all of the above craftsmen as well as the spinners, dyers, weavers, merchants, and factors.  Textiles were big business, and had a supporting infrastructure for for the spinners, dyers, and weavers.  This included craftsmen that could work iron, turn wood and, in short, make industrial grade hand spinning benches.  DRS based spinning benches flourished in this environment.  Such benches for full time professional spinners were very different than the small wheels used by subsistence spinners in Scotland in the early 19th century and which were the model for the Victorian spinners.

Any model of spinning history that does not include the industrial spinning centers of  Europe is incomplete.  There are still houses in Bruges that show by their architecture  that they were spinning factories in the 16th century. They were by a canal so English wool could be brought in by boat. They have a special door so bales of English wool could brought into the lowest story where the wool was washed and dyed. There was a lift to the drying racks in the attic. The dried wool was dropped a floor to the combers. The combed wool was dropped another floor to a room lined with white marble and windows on 3 sides so the was enough light to spin fine. In the early 16th century the room was full of spinners spinning fine thread, and DRS ensured that the grist was correct and uniform. The next floor down was the office and showroom.  On the same block, there is another building that was a 16th century weaving factory.  This was industrialized textile production. The English system of contract spinners in their crofts and factors hauling fiber and spun yarn by horse train could not compete.

If a spinning wheel in Bruges broke, the wood worker around the corner could have it fixed in a few hours.  If an English spinning wheel broke it would have to be taken to town and back, and it might be a couple of days before it was fixed.  And, in Bruges there were many weavers, so the spinner had some choice in what kind of spinning he did and who he worked for.  And the Bruges weavers/factors had some choice in what spinners they used.  The competition encouraged excellence in spinning. In contrast, in England, the dispersed nature of the spinners, meant there were fewer factors/weavers working in the area, and the spinners had less choice of what kind of spinning they did.  And the factors/weavers had less choice in which spinners they used.  The combination of few spinners and fewer factors/weavers also meant there was less competition to innovate.  Thus, the industrial textile centers in Europe were able remain leaders in the technology and economics of textile production until the invention of the steam driven spinning frame.

The important thing is that the spinning factory in Bruges was spinning English wool.  The weaving factory in Bruges was weaving English wool.  If you want to know how English wool was spun and woven, do not look in England, look in Bruges.  Just as today, if you want to know how American wool is spun and woven, look in Italy and France. Sure there are a few hand spinners in Ameica, and even a few American mills, but the vast bulk of  the best American wool goes to the big mills in Europe. And the price paid to American shepherds for that wool is a pittance.  It is heartbreaking.

In the same way, in the early 16th century, English wool went to the industrialized textile centers in Europe.  England did not become an industrialized textile producer until after mechanization of spinning circa 1780.  Now, people think that industrialzaion means steam power, but in fact, textile production in Flanders was highly industrialized,  and producing textiles for export from imported English wool as early as Charlemagne. That textile industry supported a much higher population density than England had at the time. 

Hand spinning is labor intensive. The agrarian England did not have enough concentrated labor to become a textile center as long as textile production required the labor intensive hand spinning.  England's lack of labor was intensified by the Enclosures.

The bottom line is that looking to English history  and the spinning wheels used by subsistence spinners in the 19th century has given us a very poor model of what can be reasonably spun, and how fast it can be spun.  With a well made wheel, wool can be spun at its spin count at a commercial rate. 

Romney can be spun at at grists finer than 20,000 yards per pound (40 m/gram), Shetland can be spun at more then 30,000 ypp ( 60 m/g) and Rambouillet can be spun at grists finer than 40,000 ypp (80 m/g) with other fibers in proportion.  Production rates go down as grist increases but it is not a strict relationship, so production of high grist singles is greater and easier than expected.  

Production rates depend on the quality of fiber preparation, but less so on whether the single is woolen or worsted. Production of  5,600 ypp singles should easily exceed 600 yards for a working spinning hour of 48 minutes.  Production of grists in the range of  20,000 ypp to 30,000 ypp should easily be on the close order of 300 yards per working spinning hour of 48 minutes.

Remember I can demonstrate spinning these grists at these rates, anywhere, anytime including in front of a judge and jury at a libel trial. 

However the most important aspect of DRS is that it allows spinning consistently.   I have spun 10 consecutive hanks (560 yd each) of 10s the weighed within 5% of the desired 45 grams. They then formed 2 consecutive hanks (500 yards) of 5-ply knitting yarn that weighed within 5% of the desired 227 grams/ 8 oz.  DRS is the only way I know to do that in 2 consecutive days. This was the kind of consistent hand spinning made possible by DRS.  And, it was such consistent spinning across hundred of spinners that made the large scale industrialization of spinning possible. 

One can make many "story boards" from a DRS wheel.  Then every wood turner can use his story board to make wheels that produce the same grist as the first wheel.  Every (competent)  spinner that uses one of those wheels, can produce that same grist with ease.  DRS was an enabling technology for textile industrialization.

We can look at the spinning wheel drawings in The Big Book of Handspinning and see that there very different designs.  Each textile center had its own set of storyboards that allowed local wheel makers to make wheels that facilitated the spinners in the region to all spin similar yarns as required by the weavers to weave the specialty textiles of the region.  The astute reader will realize that DRS was the standardization tool that allowed  thousands of spinners to spin for hundreds of weavers to produce dozens of ship loads of fabrics typical of the region.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Spinning stools

I broke a pitman rod connector, so the wheel is in the shop. I fabricated a new connector and want to test it.  The stool at hand was a step stool with a top step at 24".  I sort of half sat, half leaned against it as I treadled. 

The position allowed me to deliver a good deal more power to the wheel - more speed.  A lot more speed.  Will the wheel tolerate the extra stress?  I mean a broken pitman rod connector says the wheel is already under stress (or the plastic connector did not like the synthetic oil I have been using, or the plastic only has a life time of 7 years, or there was a defect in the plastic).

Anyway, the stool is light, compact, with just enough back, so I added a pillow to the seat, and it is my new spinning stool. 

The new connector is stainless steel aircraft cable.  A temp fix is in place, and with 2 more trips to the hardware store, (any project that requires just one trip to the hardware store is too small to matter). . .. .
Now the thing will insert twist at over 5,000 rpm. That is a mile stone.

It also tells us that our concept of spinning stools is not very ergonomic, an is likely derived from what was available to the crofter doing subsistence spinning after 1800 rather than from the professional spinners prior to 1780.  My guess is that the spinning stools of the earlier professional spinners were more like what we would call a weaving bench.

"That Stuff Is Nasty!"

See:  "Here Come the Judge!"  below.
These days I go back to the bins of stuff that I set aside for felting, but did not use, and I am spinning it, because it turns out that it can be easily spun into fine threads  --   if one knows what one is doing  --  and today, I know more than I knew then.  And, I have better tools.  On the other hand,  without DRS no amount of modern fiber preparation tricks will make spinning wool super fine easy.  DRS is differential rotation speed per Alden Amos's, Big Book of Handspinning.  If you want to spin wool  very fine, DRS makes it ever so much easier.

As I was first getting into spinning fine, I read Northernlace's book, and the section on fiber preparation made a strong impression on me. I put in the effort, and learned to properly prepare wool fiber.  If you are spinning high grist singles and not using DRS, then fiber preparation is critical. 

However, if you are spinning with DRS at grists above 5,000 ypp (11 m/gm), then most of the veggy matter will just drop out, and if you are spinning at grists higher than 20,000 ypp (45 meters/gram), then essentially all of the VM will drop out at the point of drafting.  With DRS, fiber prep is less critical. These days, when I have fiber with some residual VM in it, I simply spin it fine enough that the last of the VM drops out or I can flick it out with my thumb nail.  Spinning very fine is the fast and essay way to get rid of VM.

These days,  I worry less about the carding and combing.  When my finest singles were 5.600 ypp, I was sure that I needed finer combs and a drum carder with a finer cloth. I even bought flea combs and cotton cards.  Now, I know that my standard 5-pitch English combs will produce top that spins well at 45,000 ypp (90 m/gr).  The top from Peter Teal's preparation is better than is needed to spin worsted at the wool's spin count (e.g. 90 m/g for fine wools), just use a smaller diz. If you have DRS, you do not need to go all the way to Northernlace's procedures to produce perfect Shetland lace singles.  If you do the Peter Teal wool prep  thing, and you have DRS, then you can very quickly spin miles and miles of fine worsted singles (e.g., 30,000 ypp, 66 m/gm) very well suited to high ply sock yarns.  

Now, I know that my standard Clemes and Clemes drum carder will produce fiber that can be easily spun at any grist. 

Watch Henry Clemes make rolags, from his drum carders or blending boards and then you can use the same technique with chop sticks or DPN, and you will have rolags for perfect, super-fine woolen singles.  (26 tpi produces a very soft, lofty woolen yarn from Rambouillet or similar.

I drum card Rambouillet (or similar) into rather thin batts, and diz off through a diz with an 1/8" hole to make roving that spins into semi-worsted at 45,000 ypp or  90 m/g.  Still at 26 tpi, this is a much firmer yarn than the woolen. 

Or, the batts from the drum carder can be loaded into standard English 5-pitch combs, combed, and dized off through the same 1/8" diz, to make top that can be spun full worsted at 26 tpi to make a strong, firm dense thread with 20 staples in the cross section and a grist of ~45,000 ypp (90 meters/gram).  Today, I use the same combs I bought from the Woolery years ago when I was first spinning worsted. 5 rows of tines on 10 mm centers is fine enough to comb fine wool so that it can be spun at its spin count (e.g., singles with 20 staples in the cross section).

Long ago, hand spinners were spinning at their wool's spin count. They did have DRS, but they did not have most of our other modern fiber preparation technologies.  DRS allowed them to produce fine, high-quality yarns, with a lower level of  fiber preparation technologies.

Northernlace works mostly with Shetland fleece, which is low lanolin and easy to prepare.  It is so low lanolin that some are tempted to just spin in the grease.  However, even tiny amounts of grease in a fleece will hold significant amounts of grit.  Grit makes uniform spinning impossible!!  Grit  reduces the durability of the yarn.  Fiber for spinning does need to be clean!  Not, "Almost Clean", but really clean.

And, I encourage folk to use Alden Amos' formula for spinning oil.  the only thing is that I find much of the imported olive oil is adulterated with soybean oil that gets sticky over time, so I use California olive oil.

The bottom line is that I take fleece that others would discard for various reasons and spin it fine, and produce a quality yarn.

Holin and I can spin the same grist and type of yarn,  then we can tie them together, pull on the ends and see whose single breaks!  All my warp yarn gets run through a tension box to make sure the yarn is competent.  It is better than having the yarn fail on the loom.  Having run 30 miles of warp through the tension box, I have confidence in my warp.  In making knitting yarns, every inch of  my  plies goes through a tension box and is tested for competence.   I have confidence in the competence of  all my yarn.  (Except the stuff that is spun with the intention of cutting it in to short little pieces to check its grist.)

Mostly this blog has been about trials and prototypes as I searched for a better way. It has been about learning things nobody wanted to teach.  Mostly, I did not post about the products resulting from proficiency in what I had learned.  Rather, I kept posting about the ongoing learning. Now,  you can see that I did actually develop some skill in the craft of spinning.  Look at the skills of who is talking.  Can they spin fine and fast, or do they make excuses for failing to develop the skills?  Musicians learn scales and learn notes that they do not need to preform every day.  Spinners should do the same.  Even if a spinner does not need to spin singles at 90 m/g every day, they should know how to do it.  Then, once you know how to do it, it is ridiculously easy. It is like riding a bicycle - it is not something you forget.  Ask Holin to sit in the light of day and show you how she spins 90 meter/gram singles.  Ask Holin if she has the basic skill of spinning wool at its spin count.

One final note on clean: First fleece that I scoured were Shetland and American Jacob.  These are low grease breeds, and I suggest using one of the modern high tech wool washes for them.  It is cost effective. However, as I have moved into finer, higher grease fleece, I have moved to scouring them with very cheap hand soap granules with borax.  I dissolve the soap in water.  I rinse/soak the fleece in several changes of cold water.  Then, I add a carefully add a measured amount of the soap/borax  solution depending on the grease in the wool, and SLOWLY heat to 135F.  I drain and rinse. A small amount of lanolin will be left in the fleece. Then, I use some  modern high tech wool wash.  It is better and safer than trying to get the wool really clean with just soap and heat as was done in the old days.

PS  At this point, "Holin" is a my name for all of the high status spinners that have been very rude to me, and have never apologized.  I know high status spinners that are among the politest and most diplomatic people in the world. I know high status spinners that have been rude to me and have expressed appropriate apologies. I know high status spinners that are never rude, but always tell the honest truth.  Holin is my name for the class of spinners that are rude, ignorant, and dishonest.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Resting On The Patio Between Tests

A few grams of 90 meter/gram weft, spun, washed, blocked, and waiting for its next competency test.

If you do not like it, then you should post a link to an image of your hand spun 90 meter/gram weft, that you do like.  I will take the hint, and do better.


For the last couple of years, I have not spun "skeins", rather I have spun "hanks" of 560 yards.

Both woolen and worsted were measured out into hanks. (I have a little mark on the inside of the spinning bobbin, and when I get to it, I know that I have ~55 grams / 700 yards of  5,600 ypp yarn on the spinning bobbin and I can wind off 560 yards.

However, woolen is more properly packaged as "cuts" of 1,800 yards, and 60 grams was about a much a load as I trusted on the spinning bobbins.  Recently, I could spin cuts of 22,400 ypp singles in one piece, but I was not really thinking about it.  However, the new whorl opens up a fantasy land where anything is possible and imagination runs rampant. In particular, it puts a new perspective on spinning 22,400 ypp singles of all kinds.

Now that I have better flyer whorls for "fines", I can start thinking about spinning continuous cuts of  woolen single on the #1 flyer.  Now that I have thought about it, I know that it can be done at 24,000 ypp or 34,000 ypp or 45,000 ypp.  That little spinning bobbin suddenly becomes huge.


Note the single runs over the torch.

1,800 yards of woolen single weighing 18 grams seems like a good goal for a day's spinning.  (Now that I know that I can keep the grist fairly constant.)

From here, the problem does not seem to be the spinning, but the handling of the yarn afterwards. I expect that I will need a new "skeiner" or is the term "cutter" : )

I may have to take this up, and show it to "The Judge".

Here Come The Judge!

Here is how I think the judge interview would go:

Enter Judge
Judge sees yarn.

Judge:  What is the purpose of this yarn!
Aaron:  To test the new flyer whorl for  that #1 flier.
Judge: Why is it all in little 1 foot pieces?
Aaron; I had to cut it to count staples to check consistency of grist.
Judge:  What is the grist?
Aaron:  Just under 45,000 ypp.
Judge:   Ok, OK, pretty fine.  What fiber did use?
Aaron - Points to waste bin full of combing waste.
Judge - Pokes through bin:  This stuff is nasty, you could not possibly spun good yarn from this stuff!
Aaron: I was not spinning "good yarn",  I was spinning fine yarn that I intended to cut into little pieces to check the consistency of the grist.  Its destiny was always to be cut into little pieces.
Judge:  Just so! OK, it is the finest yarn I have ever seen.  We will take a clue from the Oscars and give you a special prize for finest "shorts".