Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Connecting the Dots

The Yorkshire textile industry went from local for local consumption to industrial scale for export in the period circa 1350 to 1370.  This is the period and region when and where the term "hank" (skein of 560 yards) came into English.  We can assume that the industrialization of the (wool sorting, combing, spinning, and weaving) industries included the count system.  The count system specified wool fineness in hanks per pound that could be spun from the wool by a competent spinner. The yarns from those wools were specified in hanks per pound.  With a common technical language the weavers, spinners, combers, wool sorters, wool growers, and all of the associated middle men and factors could specify needs, and products.  Thus, 16 count refers to a coarse wool, and 16s refers to a single spun so that a hank weighs one once.  Then, "20s" refers to singles spun to 20 hanks per pound.

Prior to 1350, it is hard to know what Yorkshire spinners were spinning.  However, by 1375, a lot of Yorkshire spinners were spinning worsted 16s,  20s, 40s, and etc.  These were standard yarns used by weavers to make cloth that was being produced by the ship load.  There were pack trains of such singles being carried across Yorkshire.  We know that some of these singles were dyed and plied, i.e., were not going to weavers.

The period of 1350 to 1375 is also the period during which the English navy was established, and had its first winter engagements with the (new) French navy.  It was also the beginning of British fishing in Icelandic waters. Thus, there was an increased demand for warmer clothing for sailors and fishermen.

The implication is that fine worsted singles were plied up to knitting yarns.  This makes sense.  In those days wool was valuable.  They wanted as much warmth as possible from the least weight of wool.  The way to do that is to work with yarns that have very fine plies.  If the sailor-boys were cold, it was easy to produce warmer garments by plying up thicker yarns from the fine plies that were being produced for the very large weaving industry, and then knitting the thicker yarns.

Hand spin worsted 16s (8,960 ypp) and ply them up into 3-ply (2,700 ypp), knit it on fine needles, and it will be warmer than modern mill spun sport weight (1,000 ypp) knit on # 4 needles.  Weird but true! The fabric knit from the modern mill spun will look thicker and warmer, but the eye is deceived. On the other hand, that hand spun, worsted spun, 3-ply is going to be very thin.  It will as thin as what we call "lace-weight".  My point is that those old hand spun Shetland shawls knit from "lace-weight" on "knitting pins" were warmer than a shawl that a modern knitter would knit from modern mill spun sport weight on the recommended needles. Modern mill spun gansey yarn (5-ply worsted sport weight) knit on #1 needles is warmer than hand spun 3-ply (worsted, 2,700 ypp).  The other side of this is that when I ply my hand spun worsted 20s up into a 16 wpi yarn, it is much denser, stronger, and warmer than any modern mill spun 16 wpi knitting yarn.  When that hand spun, fine ply, 16 wpi is knit on fine needles, it is much warmer than any modern mill spun knitting yarn knit on any needles.

Yes, the pre-mill-spun knit fabrics did tend to be made from thin yarns made from fine plies - because that was what worked.  If I need a warm sweater, I will spin fine singles and ply up to what ever yarn thickness I need, because a few extra hours of spinning will bring greater warmth and years of durability.  I can do this because  I can easily spin 16s. or 20s or even 24s.  So could the old spinners.  It is what they did, all day, day after day.

When mill spun made yarn cheap, we lost our professional hand spinners in the period of a generation. Yes, there were still hand spinners around the world, supplying family and local markets. However, hand spinning on a large scale was gone, and with it went a variety of skills and tools.

Some of these tools and skills are still known by a few, but are ignored by most hand spinners.  Consider differential rotation speed (DRS).  DRS is well documented in Amos's "Big Book of Handspinning", and yet DRS is ignored and even denied by a great many spinners.  Peter Teal was an engineer, who wrote an important book on Wool Combing and Worsted Spinning.  However, he never understood DRS.  Abby Franquemont wrote a well respected book on spinning, but judging from her posts on Ravelry, she does not understand DRS.

How do I know DRS works?  Because I use it to spin worsted  20s and 30s quickly and easily. Certainly, 20s,  30s and even 235s can be spun using a spindle or ST wheel or an Irish Tension/German Tension wheel, but not as quickly and easily.  The only tool that comes close to DRS is Great Wheel with a Miner's Head, and there quality problems tend to intrude at speed. The DD system with a precise DRS solution is likely to be 30% faster.  The other tool required for such spinning is a distaff. 


Einar Svensson said...

Could you kindly explain what your basis is for the dates you assert for the establishment of the English navy and the start of British fishing in Icelandic waters? By my reckoning (and what I learned when I read medieval history at the University in Lund) you've got the one event 150 or so years too early (a few ships is not the "establishment" of a navy - that is ordinarily credited to Henry VII and Henry VIII) and there was "international" (as reckoned today, the concept as such didn't really exist in the same way back then) fishing activity in Nordic waters as early as the Viking era. It would be interesting to read other sources that call my understanding into question.

Thank you for your time.

Aaron said...

Most history is that of social organizations. I am interested in the history of technology. My point is that they had the technology to fight winter engagements with the French. That tells us much about their ships and systems for keeping sailors warm and fed.

For all of your reading in History, do you know the differences in ship building and ship rigging between 1375 and 1500? How did navy ships differ from merchant ships? Did the navy reinvent the "ship?" What merchant ship systems did the navy adopt? In fact, seamen moved back and forth between navy ships and merchant ships, and the systems were similar.

WRT English fishing near Iceland and trading with Iceland, those rights belonged to the Hansa, and English ships were "poaching" at their peril. How did merchant shipping and fishing protect themselves from the Hanse?

Einar Svensson said...

I only asked where you were getting your historical information. You ask me a series of subsequent questions yet do not answer.

In fact, your questions verify my understandings. English ships before Henry VII constituted a merchant fleet, not a military force (ie a navy). I don't quite understand the relevance of rigging design to the question of whether ships which were used(regardless of type) for mercantile or military purposes. Could you explain that, please?

I refer to Viking times. The Hansa League came later and in fact didn't make their way to the far north until the 12th century. Also, London was not a member of the league but it was a Hansa factory, so trade took place through there as well. Also, the Hansa league didn't have a military force per se. Even if they did, they certainly wouldn't have wasted money maintaining a standing fleet to protect fishing rights in a remote area like Iceland. Also only certain cities (albeit many) were members of the League. It had no pretension or interest in governing all of Europe and was not at all a monolithic power. It was essentially a trade agreement, not at all a government.

As an amateur historian I am genuinely interested in your sources. I am always willing to challenge my own understanding. This is what makes history exciting.

Kind regards, Einar

Einar Svensson said...

I think I might not have made something clear about the Hansa League. The Hansa didn't have/confer fishing rights, they had/conferred trading rights. This meant that anyone could fish anywhere and trade as they wanted, they just couldn't trade that fish in a Hansa city or with merchants who had signed an exclusive agreement with a city in the league.

This is what I meant by the Hansa being a trade agreement and not a government.

Kind regards, Einar

Aaron said...

The first rule of fishing is that one does not go any further than one must. When there were fish around Britain, the British fished around Britain. By 1250, cod around Britain started to get scarce, and Britain looked north.

Cod was valuable. We know the circa 1500 Hansa and Brits were killing each other over fishing rights. In 1381, mobs in England, hunted down and killed Hanseatics. Should we then expect ships at sea both seeking the same high value cod to be friendly?

It is worth noting that the Basques violated the first rule of fishing to their greater profit. They had salt, and could make salt cod and sell it at a great profit. That was an even better business than their trade in salted whale meat. The Basques were sailing farther west then the British. However, Basque cod was landing in English ports, so English seamen must have known something of the Basque ship systems, eg clothing knit on the Channel Islands (from wool imported from England.)

A starting point is "Cod" by mark kurlansky. And, you should read everything about Geoffrey Chaucer's work for King Edward III.

Aaron said...

Look to material regarding http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Sluys

This shows that England had ships that carry large numbers of men and material, and patrol. Merchant ships had small crews. Battle of Sluys shows sophisticated naval operations and coordination that one would not expect from a merchant fleet. Communications was difficult. Look at the history of signal flags, and the development of maneuvering boards. Coordinating 200 sail is very difficult.