Friday, August 29, 2014


At one point, I was fully metric.

However, as I spin finer, the logic and simplicity of the old Bradford yarn terminology becomes more and more apparent. The Bradford system was based on the number of hanks that could be spun from a pound of the fleece. It assumes that one is spinning as fine as possible.

My "lace weight" singles now have 8 gradations by twist and grist. I know how long each will take to spin, and how many yards I can spin from various kinds of wool, and I can do all of that in my head.

Yes, I can do it in the metric system, but then I need to remember or calculate ~40 conversion factors. The sliding scale of "spin count" takes all the possible variations of  fiber diameter into consideration.  It is a very elegant solution.

On the other hand, if one is not spinning at the "spin count", the Bradford system is merely a clumsy anachronism.

Sticks and Stones

When I started spinning, I saw that traditional hand spinners had produced 80s (worsted 45,000 ypp / 90 m/gm) singles as a commercial product.

I asked, "Who will teach me to spin such things?"
Nobody stepped forward.  They had forgotten how to spin such things, and even forgotten that such things  could be hand spun.

So, I worked it out for myself.  The process works. In addition to letting one spin finer, it allows one to spin faster. I did not invent the process.  It was developed in 12th century Italy. Both Priestman and Alden Amos reference the technology and tell us that it is very important. I merely worked out some practical details.

Now, other spinners would rather stand in the back and call me names than come forward and see how it is done.

Shame on them.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Last night's guild meeting sorta became a celebration of Spinzilla.

This morning as I flip thorough some of the material, I have some comments.

At there is a discussion by Stephanie Flynn Sokolov on whorls.  However, she neglects to mention that as the whorl size gets smaller, it is more likely to slip against the drive band resulting in less speed of the flyer/bobbin assembly. I suggest a bit of drive band dressing will do more to give you more speed.  There is a recipe in Alden Amos.  It works.  It can double your spinning speed.  Get the powdered rosin from a sporting goods store - it is cheap.  Get a very small amount of turpentine from artist supply store (unless you use it on a regular basis),

Make some.  I put mine in the little 2 oz plastic containers that the local burrito place uses to package salsa. One of  Alden's recipes will make 5 or 6 cakes and a cake will last a busy spinner a long, long time.  The only excuse for not doing this is if you use plastic drive bands.  Otherwise have a project day at the spinning guild and make everybody a 1/2 oz cake of drive band dressing.  A dab will do ya!

Double drive is likely to be fractionally faster than any single drive wheel.  Modern DD wheels are made with a DRS that is about right for 1,600 ypp woolen, and that is likely to be the fastest yarn to produce.  Most (wheel) spinning contest winners end up producing ~1,600 ypp woolen,  For Spinzilla that means you will need a lot of fiber and will end up with a lot of worsted weight, 2-ply knitting yarns.  Not a bad thing if you like such yarns. 

Spinzilla is biased against spinners that produce fine yarns.  1,600 ypp woolen needs about 4 tpi, and 5,600 ypp worsted needs about 9 tpi, so somebody spinning the finer single must insert more than twice as much twist per inch as they make yarn.  That means that spinner doing lace weight either needs to treadle twice as fast, or work twice as long or have twice as fast a wheel.  And usually faster wheels have smaller whorls with less swept area resulting in more drive band slippage.   

You can reduce drive band slippage by increasing drive band tension, but that puts more stress on the bearings, increasing treadle effort.  It also means that you drive band will fail more frequently.  If you are going to be running at high drive band tension, have a spare drive band standing by, ready to go. 
Sara Lamb at   talks about spinning @ 2,000 ypp and it takes her 6.5 hours to spin a pound for a pace of just over 300 yards per hour which means she was inserting twist at ~800 rpm. Twist for 2,000 ypp is about 4.4 tpi.  

That likely sets standard for typical spinning pace, that is more realistic than the 90 yards in 15 minutes at SOAR  spinning competitions. For various reasons, I do not think spindle spinners will be competitive.  If there were divisions for finer yarns, it would be a different story.

Jacey Boggs says she finds thinner spinning faster, and likes the fact that bobbins do not fill as fast, but does not address the issue of finer singles requiring more twist. The truth is that fine yarns require a lot more twist, and twist is effort, and that effort has to come from somewhere.

Stephenie Gaustad recommends long draw woolen at low grist. 

Ergonomic factors will likely limit total spinning to around 8 hours per day, so even very dedicated spinners will likely spin no more than 50 hours for a total production on the order of 15,000 yards, call it 26 hanks. And, if you are spinning 1,600 ypp woolen, you will use almost 10 pounds of fiber.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How long to spin a yarn for a bolt of shirting?

A bolt of shirting is about 8 pounds, so it is 320 hanks.  At 22 hanks per week, it would take one spinner about 4 months to spin the yarn for a bolt of shirting. Not very convenient for the weaver, and not easy for a factor to maintain consistency and quality.  However, 4 spinners could do it in a month, and 16 spinners sitting together in a spinning room could turn out the the yarn for a bolt of shirting in a week.  Very convenient for the weaver. Very easy for the manager to maintain quality and consistency.

Thus, 16 spinners and a dozen support staff including talented professional combers and dyers, could spin the yarn required for 50 bolts of cloth per year (circa 1520).

It took me all fall to spin 7 lbs of wool as 6 hanks of loom warp/weft at 3,000 ypp. It only took me a couple of weeks to spin the 30 hanks of 5,600 ypp warp. That increased speed of spinning, allowed in part by the use of an accelerator wheel, so excited me that I put weaving and my new (to me) loom aside for months, to improve my spinning. It was very worthwhile.  Today, I can spin 3 hanks of 40s in a day. It can be done.  With modern ball bearings, it can be quietly. Spinning was the critical competitive advantage in textile production.

Modern spinners do not want to believe that a hand spinner can spin that fast.  That is ok, they should come watch me spin. (  I will have my wheel and some 40 count wool.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The end of another chapter in this blog

Using only bushing bearings of bronze-steel, wood-steel, and leather-steel available in 1500, a spinning wheel using DRS can run at 4,000 rpm on a sustained basis. This is based on multiple 6 and 8 hour trials.

In contrast, contestants using spinning wheels at SOAR spinning contests operated their spinning wheels at ~ 500 rpm for 15 minute race periods.

It is clear that a motivated spinner that understands the craft can spin 8 times faster than the average wheel spinner in a SOAR spinning contest. In the 2009 contest, the spindle spinners spun 2.4 times faster than the wheel spinners. However, a motivated spinner that understands the craft and has an appropriate wheel can spin 3.3 times faster than the spindle spinners can spin for 15 minutes, then the wheel spinner can continue spinning at that same rate for another 7.75 hours, so this is not at all a fair comparison.

Working with a wheel running at 4,000 rpm, a spinner circa 1500 could spin about a million yards per year of worsted single with a grist of 10,000 yards per pound.  That would be about 2 pounds of yarn or  40 hanks per week.  Many spinners would require between 44 and 48 hours of to spin 40 hanks, so it would be a long, hard week.  Twenty -two hanks of 40s or or 48 hanks of 10s would be a similar amount of labor.

With that, I am moving on to ball bearings, and other marvels of the 20th century.  With ball bearings the wheel is quieter at 4,500 rpm than it was with bronze bushings at 3,500 rpm.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

More on spin count

The distaff is dressed with 60 count flock-run long wool, and the task at hand is 40s (150 wpi) for weaving warp. I need a good bit of the warp, and I am working on it diligently.

However, spinning 60s from 60 count wool is so easy and so relaxing that I do find myself accumulating bobbins of 60s - and this is only with flock run fiber -  and not well graded fiber. After "working" on the 40s for a while, I flip the drive band over to the 20 tpi whorl and spin 60s for fun.  I may just change my mind, and just spin the warp from 40 count wool.  I had intended to spin the weft as 22,400 woolen singles from 80 count Rambouillet.  Samples of woolen singles of from 40 count fibers are not that soft, but they are faster and easier to spin.    Frankly, at this point, I find worsted singles in these grists easier to handle than woolen, and singles management is becoming a big deal.  

This rather upsets things as I have a lot of fine (80 count) wool ordered for this project- all based on the conventional wisdom that it would be easier to spin 22,000 ypp singles from finer wool. As I get into this, what I find is that it is easier to spin 22,000 ypp/150 wpi from 40 count wool (34 micron)  than from 80 count (20 micron) wool - - if you have the correct equipment.  And this goes for both worsted and woolen singles.

Let me say this over and over.  If you have a single drive wheel, then yes, it is easier to spin 40s/22,000ypp/150 wpi from finer fiber.  If you are working on a DRS controlled spinning wheel then is is easier to spin 40s from 40 count wool, and 80s from 80 count fiber.  And, a DRS wheel will let you spin 40s about 5 to 8 times faster than a single drive wheel.  NOT twice as fast, but more like 5 times faster -- or even more.  This is spinning.  Why do not the "experienced" spinners / teachers talk about it?  Because it takes some math and skill in setting up the wheel.  I think spinning 8 or 9 times faster is worth a little math.

The bobbin core on the AA#0 flier is 0.95", the bobbin whorl is 45.00 mm in diameter, and the flyer whorls for 40s, 60s and 80s are 45.9, 45.72, and 45.63 mm respectively..   These must be calculated, and not guessed. And then, a bit of dirt on whorl can spoil everything.  These combinations insert approximately 18, 20, and 23 twists per inch to produce 22,000, 30,000 and 45,000 ypp singles. That flier runs at over 4,000 rpm. The bobbin whorl on the AA#1 flier is 50.00 mm, and its flyer whorls produce 10s, 20s, and 40s. That flier runs at over 2,500 rpm.

I need a quarter million yards of 22,000 ypp (40s) singles.  I need easy!!  I need fast. Last winter, before the improvements on the wheel, I thought the path to fast and easy was finer wool.  Now, I know better. If I am going to write a check for $1,500 for the fiber for one project, I want to make sure I am buying the correct fiber.

The extra speed of from the new accelerator and the additional precision from the larger ~(50) mm DRS seem to facilitate the spinning.  Over all DRS as a technology resolves most of the difficulties enumerated by other authors discussing the spinning of fine singles. I am going to revisit this real soon.

However, watching the fine thread slipping through the fingers at 3 or 4 yards per minute does tire the eyes and ultimately bring on vertigo.  This can be avoided by spinning by feel.

I can watch DVDs while spinning.  The only thing is that I must limit wood working to retain sensitivity in the finger tips to allow spinning with minimal looking. However, with limited woodworking, I can spin even 80s (200 wpi) mostly by feel.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


I do not care if you are buying Italian designer suits or underwear at Target, the bulk of nice textiles are produced from thin yarns.  If you want to claim to be a spinner, you need to be able to produce thin yarns. And, if you want to be able to claim to be a spinner, you need to be able to produce a useful quantity of those yarns.

When I came to spinning 6 years ago the offered tools were various spindles, single drive wheels, and double drive wheels.  However, the whorl profile on the (commercially produced) DD  whorls had been corrupted, so that the DD wheels were actually single drive wheels in disguise.

There was a residual mythology about DD wheels being "better".  This was supported by the DD wheels with the corrupted whorl profiles being a few percent faster than single drive spinning wheels.  I was spinning 5-ply sport weight gansey yarn and the DD system was better.  Soon I was spinning those "lace weight" / 75 wpi singles at 150 yards per hour.

However, spinning finer was still difficult, and I went back to a Scotch Tension "Lace Flyer" to learn to spin 80s / 45,000 ypp / 200 wpi. Spinning those fine singles was slow and difficult.  Everything about it was hard.  Fiber preparation had to be perfect. Great care was required to prevent the single from burying itself. Mostly, it was slow - less than 100 yards per hour.

For the last couple of years, I have used double drive with differential rotation speed (DRS) exclusively.  DRS is the source of the myth that DD wheels are better. They are faster and allow spinning finer.

Now using DRS, I routinely spin the singles for gansey yarn at more than 500 yards per hour. A 500 yard hank of 5-ply is an easy day's task.  Last night while watching Pride and Prejudice, I spun an ounce/ 1,600 yards of shirting warp (22,000 ypp) from 60 count long wool.  And, I can spin 80s / 45,000 ypp / 200 wpi using fiber with only ordinary preparation. And, I do not have to worry about the single getting buried because, it is spun under much less tension. And it is faster.  My production rate with the Scotch Tension "Lace Flyer" is still less than 100 yards per hour, and my production rate with the DRS DD is about twice that.

DRS DD wheels are better for producing useful quantities of fine singles for high quality textiles.  Why DRS DD wheels are not sold is a mystery.  Why people do not learn to use such tools is a mystery.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Overview of Spinning at the Spin Count

  1. Select the desired grist and nature of the single.
  2. Select a wool with a spin count that is the desired grist, and which has a nature that will produce the desired single.
  3. Use differential rotation speed to set the flyer/bobbin assembly to insert the correct twist for that grist.
  4. Prepare the wool as combed top, dressed onto a distaff. Combing with 5 pitch combs is how they did it for years and years, and it works.
  5. Use a high bobbin/flyer rpm -- 2000 is good, 3,000 is better. Accelerator wheels work.
  6. The hands will be a good distance apart and a good distance from the orifice.  Hand motions are very small, and limited to advancing wool into the drafting triangle and bringing stray staples to the area when the single is forming.
  7. Yarn is wound off as when the effective circumference of the bobbin (and hence the inserted twist) changes. If you are spinning 60s, you can likely get 500 yards (8 grams) on a 3.5" bobbin before the twist changes more than 10%, and that is close enough for hand spinning.
The key to the whole process is that one needs to use DRS to insert the correct amount of twist for the takeup. Then, one needs to use a fiber with a spin count appropriate to the grist being inserted.   These two factors must work together.

Modern spinners find spinning these grists (20,000 ypp - 45,000 ypp, 140 to 200 wpi) difficult. This is because they either use spinning wheels with too much take-up or spindles which are slow. Then, modern spinners try to make the spinning easier by using the finest possible fibers.  In fact, the use of finer fibers changes the dynamics of the twisting process, and increases the requirements for drafting.  This is not noticed because these systems already require significant drafting effort.  In contrast, I set up my system to require minimal drafting effort.

I can spin 22,400 ypp single from Romney faster and easier than I can from Merino, and much, much easier than I can from that mix of silk, alpaca, and Merino that I was spinning over the weekend. All those fine fibers disrupt the system's ability to self-assemble the single. 

There is 60 count long wool on the distaff right now and I have been spinning it into 22,400 ypp singles. Spinning it at 30,000 ypp/60 count is just a matter of changing the flyer whorl, and Bingo, I am spinning at the spin count and everything is copesthetic.  The 22,400 ypp requires some drafting, The single at the wool's spin count just sort of self assembles with less attention. This is about small increments of faster and easier.

Get it all correct, and one can spin worsted grists of 20,000 ypp - 45,000 ypp at 350 to 200 yards per hour.  And the uniformity will be unbelievable in the context of modern hand spun.  A rather small investment in learning the physics of spinning brings huge rewards in easier spinning.  This has been my refrain for several years now.  The book that gets the physics of spinning correct is Alden Amos's, Big Book of Hand Spinning. Read it.  I know of two famous spinners that recommend it and still make mistakes about the content.  Learn it.  cf  Alden's analysis of spinning garment weight singles on the great wheel.  Flyer/bobbin systems are much easier, and much faster.

One can make much faster spindles that work very well for this technology, but I do not see many of them around.  

I have seen the larger spinning community deny that this is possible, and I see waves of anger.  No adult should ever get angry over a bobbin of lace  yarn.  A bobbin of lace is nothing, it a few grams of fiber and a couple hours of spinning. However, if you have a quarter of a million yards of 22,000 ypp singles, then you can weave a bolt of shirting. In the middle ages,  hundreds of bolts of shirting were being traded around Europe. That means that hand spinners were spinning tens of millions of yards of 22,000 ypp singles every year.  It was an industry that made families rich, and cities powerful.  And, that was in addition to what was being spun for other weaving.   That kind of money and power is something to get excited about.