Saturday, July 30, 2011

The second generation of hand spun gansey yarn

I have stopped hand spinning 5-ply gansey yarn. (Mostly !)
These days, I spin 6-ply.  Construction is 3 x 2-ply.

I like knitting yarns constructed from 16 hank/pound singles (9,000 ypp).  The fine plies provide warmth, durability and a softer drape than 5-ply gansey yarn.

All of this was discovered by accident when I bought a trove of CHEAP wool yarn to use for stuff I did not want to waste good yarn on.  Then, I started knitting it, and discovered that I liked it.  I really liked it! More investigation showed that it was old stock Robison-Anton, worsted at 900 ypp constructed as 3 x 2-ply with ZSS twist.

Not a yarn construction that I had thought about.  It takes some care to get a balanced yarn, but it is worth the effort.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The trail to 9,000 ypp

Last year, I was making 5-ply gansey yarn from ~5,600 ypp singles.

Why that odd number?  Going back to England in the 15th century, yarn was measured in hanks of 560 yards.  If one spins a pound of fiber in to 10 hanks (10s), then it comes out to 5,600 ypp.  And, a good spinner can spin a hank of 10s every couple of hours. All of which made nice round numbers for professional spinners working in a cottage industry.  In a very long day of spinning, a spinner could produce 500 yards of 5-ply yarn. (Ply 5 hanks of 10s together, and the twist of the ply shortens the length to 500 yd plus something for grandmother.) This would also imply that there were other traditions for the spinning of finer singles from finer wools.

However, the Irish and Scots seem to have (hand) spun to a standard of 16 hanks per pound.  These finer singles were then plied up to produce yarns that were similar in weight to the English yarns, but they would have been warmer and more durable.  This would off set the fact that the more labor was required.  I wanted to investigate the trade off between the extra labor and the increased warmth and durability.

I started spinning such 16 hank /pound singles, but it was slow and hard.  I looked for a faster wheel to buy but ended up building the "hot rod".  That took a while.  However, it was worth it.  Now, I can produce such fine (and finer) yarns at a rapid pace.  I am spinning singles for multi- ply yarns at rates close to a hank per hour.  Singles for lace that must be very nice, smooth, and uniform are much slower.

Some of that speed comes from practice.  However, in spinning, tools matter.  My output using my DD bobbin/ flier assembly with controlled DRS is about twice my best output using the Ashford lace flier (with a similar ratio.  There is more to spinning than just ratios.

A bit of Jacob and Shetland singles,  plied together and wrapped  around a caliper. 
The two ply is in the 18-20 wpi range.  

Bobbins of singles in the 16 hanks per pound range.  Fibers include (clockwise from dark Jacob) Cotswold, 
Shetland, Romney (blue), grey Romney, blend (~~8,000 ypp), Shetland, Merino (blue) and CVM (10,000 ypp). edited to add:  A hank (560 yd) of the Natural Romney weighed 1.125 oz = 7,964 ypp. The others ran closer to an once per hank or 8,960 ypp. The CVM hank weighed .75 once for 11,947 ypp. I guess something about that bobbin is a little off. 

This was not a post about how fine I can spin, it was a post about learning to spin fast. Recently, I ended up with some nice Romney from Royal Fibers (  The spinning bobbin at hand was for finer singles. I just wound it off, and in comparison to any of the singles above, it is very fine.

Two spinning bobbins and their flier whorl.  The  different sized whorls on the two bobbins tend to produce different sized singles.  The one  on the right tends to produce singles that run about 16 hanks per pound and the bobbin on the left produces singles that run about 20 hanks per pound. The difference between the two is a few thousandths of an inch. I have another spinning bobbin that tends to spin at 50 hanks per pound.