Saturday, July 10, 2010

hand spun gansey yarn

I just passed a milestone and had something of an epiphany.
I am working with Cotswold, spinning and swatching for a gansey. I had been working toward finer singles, but had stalled at about 35 WPI due to lack of skill to spin the coarse wools finer.
However, when I did finally get to 40 WPI, I realized that gave me 10 hanks per pound, and 1,000 yards of 5-ply per pound. This all harkens back to a standard for cottage hand spinning on an industrial scale.
Coarse long wools such as Cotswold were an important industrial fiber. With hand spinners in different communities, using different equipment under different conditions, some kind of commercial standard for spinning coarse wools was necessary so weavers and knitters would know what to expect. When all spinning was still by hand, 40 WPI was about as fine as such a diverse group of spinners could consistently produce. It was an easy standard to enforce by giving each spinner a length of dowel with 2 marks on it and telling them the single must wrap so many times between the marks.
Certainly, any good spinner could spin that wool finer, but the standard was a commercial compromise between human variability, technology, and economics.
Then, 2-ply yarn was about 2,500 yarns per pound, 4-ply was about 1,250 yd/lb, and 5- ply was about 1,000 yards after tight plying – all a direct consequence of wrapping a single around a piece of dowel with two marks on it. Do those numbers ring a bell? They have the virtue of being easy math in a cottage industry where many can’t read / write, but can do commercial arithmetic, and make their mark.
After about 1770, factory spinning in England was so much cheaper and better than cottage spun yarns that industrial and domestic users both switched to factory spun yarns. The market for handspun yarn crashed, and hand spinning was no longer a viable commercial activity - except for a few niche markets.
The traditions of the cottage industry of spinning industrial yarns was lost. People bought their 5-ply. After families had bought their 5-ply for 4 generations (60 years) families assumed that they had always bought their 5-ply.
The factories produced yarns similar to those that had been previously produce by the cottage industry. They did not have mass media to teach weavers and knitters to use new kinds of yarn, so the spun yarns that were similar to the yarns that had been produced in cottages and homes for hundreds of years. In 1800, knitters and weavers bought yarns of the same thickness that they had bought 50 years earlier because those thicknesses of yarn produced textiles suited to the environment. A hundred years later in 1900, central heating and better windows was resulting in a warmer living environment for many. Thus, by 1920, very different kinds of textiles and yarns were required for the new living environments.
However, in 1820, clothing requirements were very similar to what they had been in 1720. Fashion changed, but the amount of insulation that the clothes were required to provide did not change much. Thus, the nature and types of yarn produced changed more between 1820 and 1920 than it did between 1720 and 1820 despite the fact that in the later period yarn production moved from hand spinning in cottages to the factory.


Anonymous said...

WPIs is a modern way of measuring grist - I only saw it from the late 1980s onwards but maybe someooone else saw it earlier?

Your theory about central heating changing the type of wool used is, I'm afraid, a nonsense. Most North Eastern English homes still had coal fires right into the 1960s/70s - central heating was a rare thing. It was a mining area. We all used coal! In fact I can recall the first homes that got central heating in our village, and that was around 1972 when the council installed it in the council housing. So your theory is seriously 'out'.

Maybe you have to be within a culture to write with any authority, about it? Shoots down the theory though.

Aaron said...

I have no doubt that WPI is modern, but the concept of wraps between two marks or to cover some object (part of a coin) is likely old.

I have heard exactly the same thing about Yorkshire. However, when I look at the actual numbers I see things like "1940s - Post-war nationalisation

The 1948 Gas Act is introduced. This creates a nationalised gas industry throughout England, Scotland and Wales, transforming the way the gas industry operates.
For over a hundred years, gas had been manufactured and supplied by a series of private and municipally operated companies. Under the Act, which came into effect in May 1949, over 1000 privately owned and municipal gas companies are merged into twelve area Gas Boards - each an autonomous body with its own chairman and board structure. The area boards became known simply as "the Gas Board", a term which is still often used when referring to British Gas.
The Gas Council is also set up to act as a link between the area boards and the Ministry of Fuel and Power, although the Council had no direct powers over the boards. The Gas Council is made up of the 12 area board chairmen and had a chairman of its own. Its first chairman was Sir Edgar Sylvester."

This tells me that gas became a home fuel in the UK after 1850, and that SOMEBODY in the UK was using enough gas to support a thousand companies. If it was not Yorkshire or NE England, then there must have been a gas company on every corner in London and Bath.

Bye the bye, both the Romans and Cistercians had central heat when they were in England.

Karen said...

Hi Aaron,

Certainly in the NW of England houses didn't have central heating as the norm until well after WW2. Rooms were individually heated by coal fires (my mother says you were really ill if you had a fire in your bedroom, and central heating wasn't installed in my home (built in the 1940s) until we did it in 1999. Gas was used for lighting in the late C19/early C20 before electric lighting came into use and also for domestic cooking.

Aaron said...

The Victorians were great ones for putting in central heat. They put it in churches, schools, public buildings such as train stations, government buildings, and even larger shops and post offices. (I have been in lovely little churches in the UK that are not heated, but most have been heated since Victorian times.)

Moreover, Victorians started burning coal in grates which puts out a lot more heat than a wood fire.

By the end of WWI, central heat in England was common. Perhaps not as common as in the US, but common enough that clothing habits had undergone a change. Even families that did not have central heat in their own house, would have adapted their clothing, because many public spaces were heated including trains and churches.

I stand by my assertion that over all, the living space in the UK warmed more between 1850 and 1950 than it did between 1750 and 1850.

woolcat said...

Gas does not mean central heating, of course. My grandparents had separate gas fires in their two ground-floor rooms, but not in the upstairs rooms. Central heat may have been common amongst some classes, but not for the working class by 1950.

I expect that more people could afford some kind of heating during the period you are talking about, than before; still, there are stories of women taking their infants to the music hall (heated) so they would not freeze at home, in the 1890s.

Aaron said...

I should not have said "central heat". What I meant was stoves rather than open flues. A stone hut with a smoke hole is very cold. A chimney is better, a chimney with a damper is better still. However, with a stove attached to the chimney, that hut starts to be comfortable. With a cast iron (cook) stove sitting far enough into the room that air can circulate around it, and that hut can be very comfortable. (Note that often the stove were built in with vents to circulate the warm air.

Such stoves and window glass got cheaper in the mid-1800s. More people began to live in better heated buildings.

Public buildings including churches, music halls, railway stations, and government offices started getting central steam heat in this same 1860 to 1900 period.

Even coal in a fireplace puts out a lot more heat when burned in an iron grate, and those grates got cheaper in the 1800s. The period after 1860 was one of more and cheaper heat.

A stone house with only a peat fire in a fire place to heat it, is a smoky, cold, and damp place to try and live.