Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Drop spindles do gansey yarn


Spindles for testing

A friend, who is a very experienced spinner with a large collection of good spinning equipment, "demanded" that I make her a better drop spindle.  I thought that very odd as there are lots and lots of drop spindles on the market and this woman attends all the wool shows, and I was not really making drop spindles.

A little experimentation showed why she made her demand.  Most drop spindles on the market are not really suitable for production spinning.  In fact, I had assumed that it was not possible to make any useful amount of worsted spun 5-ply gansey yarn on a drop spindle.   I thought that because drop spindle spinning was so slow, prior to around the year 1500 there would have been no worsted spun yarn.  Fishermen (and others) would have had to rely on semi-worsted yarns spun on a great wheel.  I had heard that the sails of Columbo's ships were woven form yarns that were drop spun.  However, the reality that drop spinning could be "fast" never crossed my mind.

The problem is that when spinning became fashionable, spindles started being made to be pretty rather than functional.  The other day, I had a student who owns 80 drop spindles.  They are all beautiful.  They are all jewelry - articles of personal adornment.  Not one those spindles is particularly functional for rapidly spinning high quality yarn

Moreover, I hear spindle makers spouting all kinds of  nonsense about their spindles and the new owners of those spindles reciting the same stupidity.  As I get deeper into this, I even see silly statements by experts, who really should know better.

For example, a bottom whorl drop spindle can be spun with an elegant "Princess Twinkle" flick in the drawing room.  Or, you can use a thigh roll with a bottom whorl spindle and it is is just as fast as any Egyptian drop spindle.  Or, you can use a two-handed toss on your bottom whorl spindle and it will be faster than an Egyptian drop spindle.  With a two-handed toss on your bottom whorl  drop spindle, you can spin very fast. It is not elegant, but it is fast.


In short, it was perfectly feasible to spin worsted 5-ply yarn for fine knitting on drop spindles. It is even feasible to ply 5-ply with the proper drop spindle (and lazy kate with singles guides from LK to plier. In addition, you need a spindle that is made for doing that sort of thing, rather than a spindle design that is made to be easy (cheap)  to produce, or a spindle design that is mostly for personal adornment.

And, Oh! yes, I like that spindle standing in front with the bit of white single on it.  Does it look like any commercially produced spindle you have seen recently?  Sadly, I think not.


Archaeologyknits said...

Maybe I am missing something here, what makes that spindle so important. I have seen tons like it, nice and plain and functional.

You might try throwing a hook on it though. Hochburg and others have noted that it can improve efficiency.

Aaron said...

Did you look at the Peruvian spinners? No hooks, and no half-hitch! This might just be something local to the Peruvians, but when we look at the Berber spinning traditions, again we see a spiral groove at the top end of a bottom whorl drop spindle.

That spiral grove works to hold the yarn very well, and is much faster/easier than any hook configuration that we could find or devise to test. I guess none of those hooked bottom whorl spindles made it into the picture. Sorry! That set of spindles had already been discarded.

With the Peruvian 2-handed toss, maximum spindle speeds go up to ~3,000 rpm which much higher than the ~2,000 rpm that can be achieved with a thigh roll. Hooks on the top of the spindle seem to interfere with the 2-handed toss. Thus, the spiral groove is not only faster to catch and release the yarn, but hooks reduce the max spindle speed by a third.

I have not seen tons of (modern) bottom whorl spindles with a spiral groove to hold the yarn.

Then, the over-all weight of the spindle is rather low (less than 2 oz), but much of that weight is concentrated on the outer rim of the very wide whorl. Thus, with a reasonable thigh roll, the spindle will carry enough momentum to twist more than six feet of single, but it never spins so fast that we get over-twist and breakage.

This spindle MIGHT be as functional as some of the Peruvian spindles in the videos.

SwimmingJne said...

I've been following your blog for about a year and I really want to try out some long steel needles. I know your probably too busy to make some for your etsy shop. Do you have suggestions for a supplier? I got my uncle to make me a basic knitting sheath and I'm itching to try it out.

Aaron said...

Frankly, the reason there is no stuff in my ETSY is that I taught a class last month that included a number of excellent knitters, that had bought my sheaths/needles, but had not been able to figure out how to use them from the videos. I felt very bad about that.

I do not want people laying down good money for thing they cannot use.

Anonymous said...

You might consider taking some classes with knowledgeable spinners. As anyone with sufficient experience knows, you can spin very good yarn with the simplest of tools extremely quickly if you know what you're doing -- and if you stop insisting on notches or any other silliness on your bottom whorl spindles. And yes, you can spin lots of yarn extremely quickly with any number of popular commercially-produced spindles on the market. Well, maybe not you, but watch some of the more experienced spinners sometime. Stop blaming the tools and get spinning more!

Anonymous said...

Forgot to mention: forget the "lazy kate with singles guides." That is utter ridiculousness. Hang out more with the real spinners, and you'll learn how to ply properly and quickly without a bunch of useless equipment. In the meantime, your grand pronouncements on something you know little about is making you look silly and ignorant.

Aaron said...

I got it wrong, and when I discovered that, I recanted. I can only move forward by taking risks. Nobody can know everything, and if I am going to learn new stuff, I have to risk looking silly and ignorant.

I went into "hand spinning" because half-a- dozen "spinning instructors" told me that it was not possible to hand spin and ply traditional 5-ply gansey yarn. In fact they said they said there was no reason to try. (They had not considered the advantages of producing a more supple and durable yarn of the same grist.) If they do not think it can be done, they are not going to teach me how to do it, are they?

On the other hand, the Berber spiral groove works, and I am glad I tried it. I now understand its problems, but I also see its virtues.

Now, would somebody like to give me a list of spinning instructors that offer classes on how to hand ply 10-ply "Aran weight" (800 ypp) yarn?