Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Alden's Fliers

There was a question about Alden's Fliers that I seem to have lost.

The flier sets I got from Alden had whorls with a DRS of  1.2 - which is about right for 1,600 ypp singles,  but the effective diameter of the bobbin changes quickly. And, I wanted to spin finer singles.

Anyway, talk to Alden, and if possible get Alden to make your whorls.  Mine work, his are beautiful. Ashford whorls will be the wrong DRS.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fine Hanks

I said that with DRS/DD. one could spin fines as fast as one could draft.

This is done by increasing the ratio between the drive wheel and the flyer/bobbin assembly. And this works up into the garment weight yarns (5,000 -15,000 ypp) but it falls apart at hosiery weights (22,400 ypp/  40s)
Yes, it still takes me a full 8 hours to spin a hank of  hosiery single.  And I would like to point out that at one time this was a very common product, and 8 hours work is a common pay unit.

I know there is a little contradiction between my thought of a 3 hour pay unit, and an 8 hour pay unit, but it does not bother me because we know that higher rates were paid for finer yarns.  It is a point that I can look over, while my critics make much of it. The unit of production could still be a hank, with higher rates for finer yarns.  A spinner could make still more money per day spinning finer yarns.

I do not really care whether this is historically accurate, I do care what the ratios of grist, twist, and total time of productivity tell me about spinning wheel design.  It tells me that if I get me wheel all tuned up, I should be able to spin a  hank of  hosiery single in 3 or 4 hours.  And, that is  a real lesson.   By not getting wound up in little contradictions, I can take useful lessons from history.

Here the lesson is that the problem is not in my drafting, but in the way my wheel is set up and tuned.
A couple of hours later,

However, I  actually made such bobbins and flier whorls last year, during my "Fines Evolution", but at the time I was focused on "how fine" and not "how fast".  I just never did time trials to see how fast they would spin.  A time trial this morning, says that a hank of  hosiery single in 4 hours is a reasonable pace of production.   It says I can walk into any spinning guild meeting or fiber festival or Stitches and spin a 230 yard bobbin of worsted 40s  in 20 minutes, and that translates into a hank in under 4 hours.  Or, I can sit down with a couple of 1 oz batts and 140 minutes later I have 1600 yd of woolen singles.I promise that everyone that says this cannot be done is going to look like a fool. This not is not a "race pace".  This is not wild flailing. In fact, to spin this fast, I have to keep wasted motion to a minimum.  Yarn quality must be excellent or nothing works at that speed.  This morning's time trial was with 36 count Cotswold. The bobbins are for the AA#1 flier.  The AA#0 flier should be faster, but the bobbins/whorls I made for it actually have a lower ratio.   Someday, I will make more sets of higher speed bobbins for the #0  flier, but right now the wood turning work bench is my wool combing bench as I finish the warp.

A bit of engineering says that there is just no reason why spinners in Flanders could not have been running flier/bobbin assembles at ~2,500 rpm by 1550 CE. Yes, one must drop some modern assumptions such as the use of "leathers".    It turns out that wood-metal bearings actually have a lower coefficient of friction than leather-metal bearings.  The use of leathers is to reduce vibration and problems with alignment.

A couple of weeks later

Is it easy to spin a hank in 4 hours?  No, it is is work, just like half a day of cutting stone for a  flying buttress on a Gothic cathedral , or half a day at the forge making fine armor, or half a day building a carriage.  It is not hard work like building stone fortifications or making hay.  It takes real skill, and the right tools.  The second advantage is that the combination of skill, good tools, and good fiber required to spin fast is also likely to produce a high quality thread.  If you spin a hank of thread per day, you will get very good at it, and spin a very high quality thread.  If you do not spin a hank of thread per day, you will not be as good a spinner as somebody who does spin a hank a day.  These days, I am spinning 2 hanks per day, and the quality is good.  
This post was about my evolving  from taking  8 hours to spin a worsted hosiery single to doing the same spinning in 4 hours.  I had the tools.  I had the skill. I had the fiber. All I needed was the idea. I was bound up in the conventions of  "experienced spinners". It was like Bannerman and the 4-minute mile.  Everyone said it could not be done, so nobody did it.

We do not need folks telling us what we cannot do.  If you are a good spinner, sit down and spin with us. We can share ideas, and everyone can come away spinning better. If you just want to say that nobody can spin that fast or that fine, you will be embarrassed.

I am ever so tired of people telling me that I cannot possibly spin as well as I do.  I spin this well because I understand the math and physics of my spinning wheel, so I can design better tools. I spin this well because I do build the tools that I design.  I spin this well because I put in the effort to get really good at fiber preparation.   I spin this well because I practice.  The gray bin in the corner of the family room has 26 miles of my hand spun in it.  That is for one spinning project.  One of my gansey sweaters has 6.5 miles of singles in it.  Compare that to the 2.3 miles of single in a 2-ply worsted weight sweater.  And, gansey singles have more than twice the twist so that gansey yarn  has 6 times the twist of  2-ply worsted yarn.  One result is that the gansey yarn is denser, warmer, and more durable. (Lofty yarn is only warm if it has a wind break layer on either side it.  Otherwise, the flow of air advects heat right through it.   In a hand spun world that means you need to spin yarn for two layers of woven cloth plus the yarn for the knitting.  It is easier to just spin gansey yarn in the first place. ) The other result is that a spinner that making 5-ply gansey yarn gets a lot more practice spinning.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Spinning more Hanks

I am in this for the yarn.  I want better yarn.  That means hand spun.

From the start, I wanted my yarn fast.  I was in this for the yarn, not as a way to pass time.  I was willing to put in the time that the chore of spinning demanded, but I did not want to put any extra time into spinning.

I came to spinning knowing how construction professionals worked. They had good tools, they knew how to use them, and they worked rapidly with no wasted motions. They did the job, and then they went on to the next job.  Spinners on the other hand seemed intent on slowing the work process.  Spindles were designed with large whorls so they spin slowly.  Spinning wheels were designed to spin slowly.

Spinners are in denial.  They say, "No, my wheel is fast."  However, they do not stop an think that flyer/bobbin speed is limited by power transfer through the drive band and Scotch Tension systems brake the flyer/bobbin assembly, and thereby reduce the over-all rate of twist insertion.  Then, they have double drive systems that inherently require drive band slippage.  If there is slippage, then the flyer/bobbin assembly is not going as fast as it would without slippage.  For the last 50 years, spinners have been favoring wheels that had SLOW built into them, and wheel makers built what the market demanded.

Spinners say, "These are traditional designs!"  Ok, traditional designs for what?  Linen! The long fibers of flax need a slower speed, and there were a lot of old linen wheels around.  People assumed that a spinning wheel was a spinning wheel, and used old linen wheels as the design prototype for wool wheels.  So what is the difference between the design of a good linen wheel and a good wool wheel?  The linen wheel wants less speed, and the wool wheel wants more speed.  Scotch Tension systems are a logical engineering choice for a wheel designed for linen. They are less logical for a wool wheel. They are not at all logical for spinning cotton.

A traditional wheel design for woolen spinning is Irish Tension. There is no additional braking to slow the flyer/bobbin assembly.  There is no drive band slippage to slow the the flyer/bobbin assembly. The mechanism is simple to make and inexpensive. If you wan to spin medium woolens (30,000 yd/lb and less), bobbin lead is a very good and traditional approach. It is simple and easy to set up. And yet, I remember the feeling of rebellion, when I first tried IT.  Everyone was telling me that most spinners were much happier with ST.  And, yes, IT with the big Ashford flyer does have a very strange feel to it. The sudden increase in take-up at higher speed is very disconcerting for the beginner who is not forewarned.   The beginner (with a big flyer) says WTF, and abandons the concept. The beginner with a small flier feels no take-up and says, WTF and abandons the concept. The ST friction brake provides a steady take-up pressure as speed increases that is easy for the beginner.  While the IT takeup is a cube function that is small at lower speeds, and then increases very rapidly at high speed.   With the big Ashford  fliers, IT does produce excessive take-up pull when one tries to spin fast (more than ~800 rpm).  However, a small flier such as AA's #1 flier produces very reasonable take-up tensions at speeds in the range of 1,800 - 2,200 rpm. On the other hand take-up at speeds less than 1,500 rpm is negligible. At slow speed, one can spin very fragile yarns or make pig tails. For conventional yarns, one either spins fast or it does not work. The AA #0 flier running in IT generates reasonable take-up at speeds in the range of  2,400 - 3,200 rpm.

For the expert with a flyer that has a low aerodynamic cross section,  that low take-up at low speed and high take-up at high speed is a very powerful tool.  The expert can adjust take-up by altering the bobbin rpm by treadling slower or faster. The take-up adjust is precise over a wide range, fast, and does not require the hands to leave the yarn.  All of which  is important when yarn is running through your fingers at 10 yards per minute. However, the spinner much be prepared spin fast, and know that slowing down will stop take-up before the bobbin stops.  This is a set of skills that have fallen out of spinning lore.

Now look at the literature.  Do the experienced spinners warn the beginners? Why not?

What if one wants to spin worsted fines (30,000 to 48,000 ypp)? Fines require some 20+ tpi. Scotch Tension systems will get you there, but it is clumsy and very, very slow.  IT is faster, but it gets very delicate as the flyer is pulled by a fresh yarn of only 20 fibers.  Modern double drive with slippage is a fraction better than ST. Differential Rotation Speed Double Drive is the best engineering design for spinning yarns in this class, but one must prepare and fabricate a specific engineering design for the grist. This is worthwhile if you plan on spinning many miles of a particular grist. Then, these yarns can be spun as fast as they can be drafted, and well prepared fiber can be drafted very fast.  Traditionally, hand spinners did spin fines as a commercial product.  Here, "commercial product" means the yarns were spun by hand rapidly.  Differential Rotation Speed Double Drive has no equal for hand spinning worsted fines.

I spin yarn as I need it. I benchmark how fast I spin, so that I can evolve and improve my spinning.  I do not care how fast you spin, but I do care how fast I spin. I want to make sure that I am spinning at a reasonable rate.  If others are mired in myth and cannot believe what I do, that is not my problem.

My problem is to make the yarn that I need, in the time that I have.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


I started spinning because I wanted better gansey yarn.  So, I spun worsted, and I spun as fast as I could.  i wondered how fast other spinners could spin but never got very good numbers.

I got to the point where half a day's spinning was ~560 yards of 5,600 ypp - a worsted hank. That made the math easy. This made me think that a "hank" was a unit of work for a professional spinner. It was likely the minimum amount of work for which a spinner would be paid. It was an easy half-day's work,a nd an expert spinner could do 3 or 4 per day. I still think of a worsted hank as between 3 and 4 hours work depending on the grist, twist, and fiber prep.

If we look at AA's calculation on how fast a spinner can spin, he gets 300 inch/ minute for spinning woolen on a great wheel and he indicates that is for an active spinner.  Extending that out it is 3.2 hours to spin the 1600 yards that was woolen hank.  Add in the 15 minutes per hour for winding and steaming and we have just under 4 hours to spin a woolen hank on an average great wheel. Is that fast!?

I have been spinning the woolen weft (2,800 ypp) using Irish Tension and AA's #0 flier  mounted on the DT Traddy, and a woolen hank takes me ~3 hours, wound and steamed.  That makes it a nice unit of work, with an expert spinner being able to do 4 in a very long day.  A #0  spinning bobbin holds 230 yards of yarn at this grist, so a woolen  hank is 7 bobbins worth, and I fill a bobbin in ~20 minutes.  Is that a problem?  Do I want a bigger bobbin?  Well a bigger bobbin would need a bigger flyer, and that would be slower. (A new generation of graphite fliers may change this.)  I like the small and fast.  For weft, I leave the yarn in skeins of 230 yards, and 7 of those skeins makes it look like I have done something useful. The weft bin has about 3 kilo of skeins in it, and I have some more to do. So, I am up the experience curve, and I am motivated to work fast.

Yes, a hank (worsted or woolen) is an easy half-day's work, for a good spinner.  No, you are not going to get there on most modern commercial wheels, but there are a couple of dozen hand spinners that spin at this rate on a routine basis.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

the literature

In 2002, I made some predictions about moulins on Greenland, and many, including RS said something to the effect of:

Nonsense, we have never seen anything like that!  It is not likely to happen. RS said "Read the literature!"  

Four years later, RS published the first eye witness account of moulin formation on Greenland in Science. The moulin formed just like I said it would.  Four years earlier, there had been NO discussion of phenomenon in the peer reviewed literature.  It was not considered "plausible".  The literature was wrong.   I had read the literature, and then I had done some thinking.

Also in 2002, I predicted that we would see a major Arctic sea ice decline within 10 years.  Many, including GS said, that is not possible, and told me to "read the literature",  and he used the strongest slurs available.  In 2007, we had the Arctic sea ice decline, and by 2010 GS admitted that I had been correct and the literature had been wrong.  It only took 8 years.  The truth is that I had read the literature, but I had also done some thinking.

One friend asked me, "Where do you get this stuff?" I told him that I walked around my garage, shouting and arguing with myself, and waving my arms  -- which is about how Richard Feynman answered the same question.

I am not interested in textile history -- except as it leads to a better textile future.  I got knitting sheaths out of history and they let me knit better.  I got swaving out of history, and it lets me knit better.  History pointed to the DD/DRS system that lets my spinning wheel go faster than any spinning wheel ever built by Alden Amos.

I do not get everything correct. I do  take large risks by standing up and making bold statements, and mostly they turn out to be correct. And, this drives most people crazy. I do not know if it is the boldness or the correctness that disturbs people. That is not my problem. My problem is that I want to know things that are not explicitly stated in the literature.   Feynman considered  moulins to be freshman physics, and not worth publishing. Those physics with RS's own data from Greenland said "moulins on Greenland; real soon now." GS's own data on Arctic sea ice plus industrial QA/QA statistics developed by Demming, said sea ice would soon melt.  It was just a matter of applying the correct analysis to data that was widely available.  It is like Sherlock Holmes knowing where you have been this morning by the mud on your shoe.  Everyone can see the mud, but only Sherlock thinks it through to figure out which train you took.  Anyone fixated on extant texts is going to miss the significance of the  mud, and fail to deduce which train.

There is a ton of stuff in the textile history literature that I do not know. Many people care about that stuff, and I will let them study it, know it, and be the textile history police. By and large police look back, not forward.  They follow patterns, do replicas,  and other "paint-by-number art".   As long as I follow dreams, I will be ahead of The Police, and they will be chasing me, (shouting that I should read the literature). However, they will be looking backwards, at their texts, and not really able to see where I am going.

I see the objects in Peck as a kind of textile "Everest" that must be climbed by any textile worker that wants to claim to be competent.  Everest cannot be climbed in baby steps. It requires bold strides, leaps, delicate balance, and hanging by one's finger tips. (see Reinhold Messner and his work on Everest). Modern textile handcraft cannot replicate the objects in Peck with only incremental  improvements in technique and tools.  It is going to require bold strides, leaps, delicate balance, and extraordinary finger work. If those skills and tools were explicit in the extant texts, we would be pouring out hand made objects as good or better as anything in Peck. We are not making such objects.  We need to read between the lines, see what is not written, make some deductions, and some inductions. With those clear thoughts firmly in our hands, we need to take bold steps.

Why? Because good, hand-made textiles are a good thing.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Peck - Interwoven Globe

I never actually watched  Bueller.  I could not identify with it. With a few notable exceptions,  I did not go to class in high school.  I would go to home-room for roll call, and then I was more or less free for the day.

On the other hand, calculus class was small (4 students), and the teacher both very smart and very well qualified, so calculus was a delight.  I never missed that class. There was no place I would rather be. There was nothing I would rather do. I did not aspire to be Bueller!

Peck edited  Interwoven Globe, a beautiful book on the history of textiles with chapters by Peck, Guy, Phipps, Denney, Sardar,  and Watt.  In a previous post, in this blog, I noted  that perhaps the most interesting thing in the book was a footnote to Phipps's chapter on the Iberian Globe. It is the "Black Swan" that tells us that circa 1500, textile production in Europe was undergoing a revolution.

And, then the next 6 chapters in the book is a superficial catalog of fabric objects. There is a long chapter on tapestries. (In the Louvre bookstore, the book is actually shelved with the books on tapestries.) This is all very interesting, but there was a revolution in textile production during that time period (1500 - 1800) that affected politics, economics, and social welfare; that the book completely ignores.  The authors are more interested in nuances of  dye print patterns, than in how the base fabric is made. However, understanding base fabric is essential to understanding dye print technology, which is essential to understanding  nuances of  dye print patterns patterns.

This book is like most textile history books; there are a lot of observations, but no thought about what they mean.  It is such a beautiful book.  I am sure that all the folks that love the Ferris Bueller movie will love the book.

I have a very different take away.  The book fascinates me for what it does not say; and, the questions that it fails to raise.  Every  object raises the questions, "How did they make that object?"  and "Could I make that object with the technology base and infrastructure that they had?"  If I can not answer those two questions, then I either do not understand the object or I do not understand their technology base and infrastructure.  Certainly, sometimes we do not understand the objects. However, sometimes it is clear that we have absolutely failed to understand the technology base. That is, they had tools we do not recognize.  Sometimes, we just have to say, that if they had these objects, they must have had those tools. And that logic is valid until someone shows us how to make such object, without those tools.

 Look at the photo of the sample book on page 283; and, we can know by the 1771 date that they are hand combed, hand spun, wool fabrics.  They are producing commercial volumes of  a variety of different fabrics, and they are offering to sell substantial volumes of these fabrics.  If they were able to spin like that (quality and volume), then every competent hand spinner should able to spin like that.  That page gives me a baseline for reasonable minimum skill for a hand spinner (and weaver.)  Moving on, objects such as the great tapestries were the result of industrial scale factories. Hundreds of  spinners, spun for their entire career to produce edition after edition of these works, all produced from the same cartoon and woven on the same looms for a period of ~120 years.  The yarns contained silk, silver, and gold.  If hundreds of spinners could spin like that for generation after generation, then I should be able to spin like that. Note the cottons from India and the silks from China.  If they could spin like that, then I should be able to spin like that. These materials were mostly produced in commercial quantities by professional production spinners.  
with respect to the cottons, we need to remember that printing is inherently a technology of mass production.  If they were printing, they were producing commercial quantities.  Let us call all spinners producing yarn for these commercial weavers  "competent spinners".  Individual spinners with talent and elan could be expected to produce small quantities that were at least 2 standard derivations better. Let us call these "expert spinners".

I see Interwoven Globe as an outline of the skills that a competent hand spinner should have.  I do not see why a hand spinner in 2013 should not be held to the same standards as spinner in 1770.  Looking at British Law, it appears that circa 1600, spinning schools were expected to produce a competent spinner in only 2 years - call it 5,000 or 6,000 hours of instruction and practice.  Does that number seem familiar?

The spinners that made the objects in Interwoven Globe set a standard.  If I am going to call myself a traditional spinner, I need to meet their standard.  What other modern spinners do is not my problem. My problem is to understand  the traditional standard and try to meet it.

Sunday, December 01, 2013


Spinning and the textiles it produced was essential to civilization.

The modern spinning community has divided into various fractions.  Most spin as a pastime.  Some spin as a form of political protest.  Some spin as ritual at social occasions. Some spin as an art form. Very few spin as the craft that has always been essential to civilization.

Is spinning still essential to civilization?  I think the spinning community should work very hard to make (and keep) spinning relevant to civilization.  Those who spin as a pastime often seem intent on being rude to those who do not accept the Victorian Lady school of spinning.  They tell us that we do not need to spin that fast, or we do not need to spin that fine.  They tell us we do not need those tools or those skills.

Machine made pottery is cheaper, but potters keep their craft alive and relevant. Good potters earn enough that they can afford to spend enough hours doing ceramics to keep their skills honed.  

Do you want to admit that potters are better a their craft than spinners are at theirs?

The Berkeley Potter's Guild

We go to their show every fall.  We might miss a "sit-down Thanksgiving", but we do not miss the Guild opening the Saturday after.

They were inspired this year. Very productive, with outstanding artistic quality and craftsmanship. Their best show in years. Certainly some of the potters have been distracted by things like child care for the last few years, but this show reminds us that they have great talent and great skill.

An artist cannot maintain such skill unless they put in a lot of hours. Only a professional can afford to put in those hours. And, the potters at BPG make a living making pottery.  They have the time to perfect their art and craft.

Now there are weavers that make a living by their weaving, but mostly they work with mill spun yarn.  However, a hand spinner can make yarns that mills cannot,and therefor hand weavers working with hand spun can make fabrics that hand weavers working with mill spun cannot.

When I started spinning, a lot of spinners told me that I could not spin 5-ply gansey yarn. They shouted that it had never been done. (Later, a few whispered to me, that they had actually done it.)  It took me 6 months from the time I got my wheel, until I had my first kilo of  gansey yarn, and it went pig tail on me as I tried to block it after dying it. This taught me not to trust the shouting crowd.

Hand spun gansey yarn from long wool is very different from modern mill spun gansey yarn. It does a better job of handling moisture and it is much more durable. One cannot estimate the performance of a sailor's sweater knit from hand-spun long wool from the performance of a sweater made of modern mill spun. To somebody doing historical research, this kind of thing is important.

Likewise, I expect that fabrics woven from handspun will be different from fabrics woven from mill spun. War en-actors frequently end up sleeping outdoors. The fabric used for the clothing can make this more or less comfortably. Fabrics woven from hand spun can make this more comfortable.  Fabrics woven from hand spun can make living in authentic older architecture more comfortable.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The loom web

Freed from the tyranny of bobbins and prins, the woolen weft soars past the 2 kilo mark     Then, there is a kilo++ of worsted warp at about the same grist. That is about 20,000 yards of fine, high twist, single for those of you that are counting.

 I am in new territory as far as yards of single spun for one project.  The warp was all washed and blocked on a reel.  I am going to go back and steam block it on a nid.  Steam blocked singles are better. Singles blocked under tension are better.

Previously, I had steam blocked worsted spun singles, but this weft is woolen. Steam blocking woolen singles make them much stronger ---and the steam makes the ends of the fibers stand out from the yarn so it is much softer.  It is giving me whole new respect for handspun woolen yarn. This is not yarn you get by "thwacking it!"   

Friday, November 29, 2013

Plying steam stabilized singles

I like working with steam stabilized singles.  I made a lot of them by passing singles through a steam chamber as I wound off the spinning wheel.  Steam stabilized singles are the only way I know of to make yarns with a large number (10) of very fine plies (23,000 ypp) without a big tangle.  Steamed singles are much stronger and better endure the stress of plying. And, steam stabilized singles can be handled under lower tension, because they are less likely to tangle.  Believe me,  5-ply is much easier easier if you tame the singles first.

It is only in the last few days that I thought of blocking yarn on with steam on the niddy.  This was an epiphany.  For a long time, I had wondered how cottage spinners produced hanks of  fine (23,000 ypp) singles that were stable enough to pack into saddle bags  and move by pack train to the dyer.  Now, I know.  All they needed was a niddy or two and a tea kettle.  It also gives new perspective into the tea kettles that gave Watt the idea for steam engines.  He may well have seen tea kettles putting out a blast of steam as they block yarn.

Even after the laws requiring yarn to be measured on a "weasel", the yarn could still be first blocked on a niddy. And, if you measured a hank on the niddy, the weasel would take more.

Plying twist for raw singles can be estimated by various intuitive methods.  However, estimating plying twist for steam stabilized singles must be calculated.  The math is discussed in AA's Big Book of Handspinning. The  intuitive methods will not suffice to ply steam stabilized singles into a balanced yarn.

The final yarn plied up from team stabilized singles must be steamed or it will be very unbalanced.

Or, the same DRS whorl combination used to make the singles can be used to ply the singles. This almost always works like magic.

Pig tails to skeins

I have bins full of skeins that never got properly blocked for one reason or another.  I call them, "My little shits."

Now, they are going on the squirrel cage swift, to be wound onto the new little niddy noddys. Then, they are steamed.  They finish drying on the rack in the patio, and bingo, I  have beautiful skeins.

It turns out that some of them look like weft for the weaving project. (Did I say it it was a stash buster.)

A good many of the little shits are hanks (560 yard) of singles with grist between 3,000 and 5,000  ypp that I made as I was working toward 5-ply gansey yarn.  Many were were high twist, worsted singles.  Some were woolen. Many were left over because they were too thick for those projects. I did not have a blocking reel, at that time, and  I made a good faith effort to make them into pretty skeins by blocking them wet under weight.  No matter how carefully I wound them or how much weight I hung on them, they dried into bundles of pig tails.  Then they went into bins, were they stayed as I worked with the singles that got wound onto bobbins.

Now, I take those bundles of pig tails and wind them onto a small niddy  noddy, hit them with a bit of steam (A tea kettle works), and I have a beautiful skeins of fine single.  Spinners need to be able to store singles.  I have been storing fine, high twist singles on bobbins.  This reduces my need for bobbins.  This little trick (steaming skeins while they are on the niddy should be in every book and blog on beginning spinning.  That it is not is stupid.  Do not try to tell me that I am the first to work this out.

Anyway,  steaming skeins while they are on the niddy works very well if you do not have a varnished or shellacked niddy noddy.  This can also be done by dipping the niddy with the yarn on it in water and microwaving, but it takes longer to dry. I use the microwave technique when the yarn needs have spinning oil rinsed off.

Pig tails from the bin get wound on niddys, steamed, and the result.  The dime is for scale.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A better edge

A good number of spinners turn their own wooden spindles with wood turning tools.  And in wood turning, very sharp tools are essential.

A group such spinners on Raverly were advocating "grinding and burnishing" as a way of getting a good cut with tools made of high speed steel. I did research on the topic, concluded that grinding, sharpening, and honing produced a much superior edge.

I reported my research, and was promptly bashed by big bunch of the spinners.  I gave peer reviewed citations that they did not bother to check.  I cited names of engineers /spokesmen at the tool making companies that other spinners did not bother to contact.  The spinners just talked to each other and bashed me.  I find this a typical MO for spinners.

In the old days, wood turning chisels were made of carbon steel (CS), which has good ductility and a fine grain size. Think of CS as having a grain the size of peas.  Modern wood turning tools are made of high speed steel (HSS). If CS has a grain the size of a pea, then HSS has a grain the size of tennis balls.  HSS has been used for industrial purposes since 1910, and is very well understood.  It came to the retail market as the hones needed to sharpen HSS became available in the 1970s.

A fine edge on CS does not last long when used for wood turning, so a common practice was to grind an edge, and  burnish it over resulting in an edge the thickness of a pea with a known cutting depth.  This can produce a good quality cut.   HSS that is ground and burnished results in a cutting edge the thickness of a tennis ball, but which is brittle and tends to shatter, resulting in a (microscopically) rough edge  that produces a poor quality cut. However, even such a poor quality cut is much better than "dull" HSS  that has not been recently ground or sharpened.  Grinding and burnishing is better than nothing.  And this seems to be where the myth of the spindle makers come from.

However, when HSS is ground to shape, properly sharpened, and honed, the grains are cleaved resulting in a strong, uniform edge that is only a fraction of a pea in thickness, and which produces a superior cut compared to CS.  I often make temporary tools from inexpensive HSS.  Ground, sharpened, and honed,  these very cheap tools can produce excellent quality cuts.

When I use a freshly sharpened and honed a wood chisel for a final cut, mostly, I do not even bother to sand.  Sand paper coarser than 600 grit will just roughen the wood.  Mostly I use sand paper when I am  fitting a tenon or snug box cover.

I grew up sharpening tools on bench grinders. I have an industrial tool grinder. However, I grind and sharpen my wood turning chisels on a Sorby Pro-Edge. Then, they are honed with a diamond hone. Yes, it is expensive, but it saves my chisels, it saves the cost sand paper, and not sanding reduces dust in the shop.  Special tools are ground to shape on the industrial grinder, but they are sharpened on the Sorby.  Then, they are honed by hand.

I also have CS scrapers that I grind on the industrial grinder and burnish. It is technique that I understand and use -- just not on HSS.

Five of the 10 best spinners that I know are also expert wood turners.  These 5, all hone their HSS wood turning chisels.

So why did that thread on Raverly  need to bash me?   Yes, I challenged them, but they should have done their homework and gotten their facts correct before I got there.  They were telling me that they had 20 years of expedience, and that I had less, so I should defer to their expertise. Twenty years is plenty of time to do one's homework.  Experts do their homework.

I know a limited number of  spinners, and most of them are so talented, and so competent, and so nice, that I do not understand how there could be a bunch of readers on a spinning thread at Ravelry without somebody saying, "Hey guys, honing HSS works!" or somebody backing me up on where twist is inserted in a flyer/bobbin assembly.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

The return of niddy-noddy

Look at the traditional and old designs for niddy-noddys.  They are STRONG, heavy, and clunky.


Modern designs of light weight PVC pipe or thin dowel, work very well  --- as long as you are working with dry yarn.

So, why are the traditional designs so strong?  I  think they were also used for blocking skeins of yarn.

I think the old spinners, wound off their bobbins onto niddy-noddys, washed the yarn or steamed the yarn on the niddy-noddy, then let the yarn dry on the niddy-noddy, so that the skein of yarn was blocked when it came off the niddy-noddy.  The yarn will try to shrink so the niddy-noddy must be strong to resist the contraction of the yarn.

That gives me a better blocked skein than taking the skeins off the niddy-noddys, washing the yarn, and trying to block the loose skein. I do not find that this works well.  The better alternative taught today is to put the WET skein on the squirrel cage swift and wind it on to a yarn reel for blocking and drying.  That does give a better product, but I am not sure that I need to work that hard.

One should not wet a niddy-noddy that has a varnished, or linseed oil  finish. One will ruin the finish or discolor the wood.

However, niddy-noddys are (or can be) small and inexpensive.  They can be made to disassembled for storage.  A niddy-noddy holds about a #1 bobbin of yarn for washing/drying. If  I am spinning 4 bobbins of yarn per day,  then 16 niddy-noddys will give the skeins 3 days to dry, and 16 niddy-noddys take up less space and cost less than one yarn reel.  The yarn reel is much better for dyed or sized yarn.  However, skeins on niddy noddys can be dried in the microwave, which makes the process wicked fast.

Working with green wood, a wood worker with Iron Age tools could make 16 functional niddy noddys in a day.  A 15th century wood worker with steel tools could make them in a couple of hours.  I can buy PVC pipe and  wood dowel at the hardware store around the corner and do the 16 in less than half an hour for a cost of less than $15.  (the prototypes were made of maple with oak limbs, the limbs can be pushed through to release the skein.  Thus the limbs can be either parallel for easy storage or the traditional orthogonal. )

For fines, I like my little reels.  However, for 3,000 ypp warp and weft, I am going to give the niddy-noddys another chance. I will wind off on to the niddy-noddy, and the wash, rinse, and dry batches of skeins on their niddy-noddys.

If I do not use spinning oil, then I will steam the skein on the niddy noddy with my little electric fabric steamer that was so inexpensive. This sets the twist and the yarn drys quickly.  I can imagine doing this with the steam from the spout of a large metal kettle hung over an open fire.

This would give a way for Old Time Spinners to set the twist of their product, and have it ready to pack and sell almost instantly even in damp weather, and to future archaeologists, it would look like a tea kettle. 

 Bronze Age textile workers were producing good cloth by the ship load. That tells me that they were blocking the yarn. They were blocking a lot of yarn.  Any archaeologist that does not address the issue, does not have a clew.  I think they had niddy noddys with a handle at one end ( see Alden Amos, Big Book of  Handspinning, pg 447,343) wound the yarn onto the niddy noddy, and dipped the niddy noddy of yarn into a big kettle of hot or boiling water. Metal kettles would have been another way that the Bronze Age improved textile production. And, to future archaeologists it looks like a soup kettle.  It was, but it may also have helped spinners earn their bread.

The reels are faster to wind onto, and dry faster, but after washing and drying, I have to wind off of the reels.  The skeins on  the niddy-noddys dry slower, but when they are dry, I have  a blocked skein.  I will use a squirrel cage swift to transfer the yarn to bobbins and pirns so that is extra effort.  On the other hand for a weaving project, the skeins are easier to store.  Managing the yarn as I spin the yarn  for a weaving a bolt of cloth is different than managing the yarn to knit a pair of socks. Managing the yarn for a boat load of cloth.

If this does not work as well as I hope, then I must make a bunch of yarn reels that are tapered so that I can slide skeins/ hanks off, or simply sit the reels on their end, and use them as an end delivery yarn package.

In England, there have been laws against using niddy-noddys to measure yarn for sale for 400 years.  In Chaucer's day, it really was a tool of the professional spinner.  However, it is easy to wind yarn onto a niddy noddy so tightly that it stretches, thus, a skeiner gives a better measure of the length of the yarn.  I think of the tons and tons of cloth that passed under Chaucer's nose, and the thousands of spinners that is took to spin the yarn for all that cloth. I think about the weavers being able to demand that the yarn be measured under less tension, and therefor that there be more yarn in a hank.

What I am saying is that textile historians really have not considered and discussed the practical details of how Old Time Textile Workers made boat loads of cloth.  I am not sure they used niddy noddys, but at least I am thinking about the holes in the story.

Finishing Yarn

Many modern spinning "teachers" say that yarn can be finished by winding a skein, wetting it,  and letting the skein dry under various conditions. I do not find that this works, I say so, and spinners bash me.

I like skeins for washing and dyeing.  Yarn in a skein can be washed with less water than yarn on a reel. However, I have never been happy with the quality of finish achieved by allowing yarn in a skein to dry in the skein. with, or without, weighting.

If you are going to wash or dye a skein of yarn then it needs to go onto a squirrel cage swift, and be wound off onto a reel.

Fine yarns need to be washed on a reel.  The old silk reels work well, as do AA's Shaker Rockets.

As an alternative, if the yarn does not need washing, steam works very well to set the twist.   See AA.

I have no doubt that Iron Age weavers routinely worked with blocked yarn.  If the yarn was dyed after spinning, the blocking might have been done by the dye, but I would guess that often the spinner finished the yarn. Truth is that if you have a horse trough or a barrel, you can wash the yarn on the niddy-noddy, then dry it in the sun or hang it in the rafters on a rainy day.  This is better than letting the skein dry loose or weighted.  This works,  and is inexpensive, why don't see this in the modern spinning texts?

Why do spinners bash me for honestly saying what works for me and what does not?  I think this says more about the spinners than about my testing.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Center pull balls

I love center pull balls. One of my favorite knitting yarns comes in skeins, so I bought a jumbo cake winder. I love it for knitting yarn, right down to lace weight.

However, last year I was thinking about thinner yarn, and a very experienced textile person said," Try winding it into CPB."  Wrong!! Very fine yarn does not like center pull balls. Wind fine yarn on cones, bobbins, prins, or Styrofoam balls.

I had some luck winding blocked worsted warp singles into center pull balls.

However, unblocked woolen singles are another story.  Trying to store unblocked woolen singles in center pull balls is a path to heartbreak.  Wind woolen singles on cones, bobbins, reels, as hanks, or on prins.

 Anything but center pull cakes.

The truth of the matter is that a spinner producing hand spun warp to go on a sectional beam needs more bobbins.  I do not care how many bobbins you have, you are going to need more.


I started making bobbin blanks, and then I though about historic spinning and weaving sites.  Did I see bobbins?  No!  Why not??!!

What does one see?


What is a prin? A recyclable cone core? A cone core that fits in a shuttle?

It takes me 1/6 the time to make a pirn as to make a bobbin.  The pirn will not hold as much as a bobbin of the same size, but there is not THAT much difference.

The logical thing is to spin weft, and wind it off onto the pirn that goes into the shuttle. When I spin warp, I wind off onto a pirn used as a cone core.  Will it work?

The clever readers are already saying, "That fool, pirns supply no drag for plying! And, any yarn that slips off the end can produce a tangle more heart wrenching than watching a shed full of bobbins go up in flames."

Yes, and yes.

There are many good reasons to wash and block yarn right after spinning.  Perhaps there is no alternative.  It maybe that I must wash and block the yarn immediately after spinning.

Those center pull cakes are a mess.

Oh, and by the way, the AVL pirns for their  flyshuttles just hold one of AA' s # 1 bobbin's full of yarn.  What a coincidence!  No, they are both traditional sized.  Spinners have been spinning for weavers for a long time.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Stone Whorls

My sister is a world class goldsmith.  Since he retired in 1980, my father has been doing lapidary work for my sister.  He does fine, one of  kind, gems for her small sculptures.

Fifteen yeas ago he bought a big lot of fine jade, and for the last couple of years we have talked about him making me some stone whorls from that jade. My sister has superb drawing skills and he is accustomed working from drawings. Along the way, I did a lot of calculations.   I made spindles that accepted interchangeable whorls, and tested various shapes of whorls.  I bought "whorl" beads of various kinds and tested them. At one point, I made a full set of  CAD files for the project.   And, I talked to folks like Stephenie that have collections of  real neolithic spindle whorls.

My conclusions were:

1. Stone spindle whorls are fragile and they tend to get lost. 

As a result, I expected production spinners to use the least expensive whorls available.  This is born out by the large number of crude stone and ceramic whorls that  have been found. My response was to use machine made whorl beads.  Today, a broad variety are available, and can easily be tested.

2.  "Carved" whorl beads tend not to be very well balanced so that substantial amounts of rotational energy goes into gyroscopic stabilization rather than into twist, and spindles with carved whorl beads tend to slow rapidly. The  goal of spinning is to insert twist quickly.   Energy going anywhere but to insert twist is BAD.

3,  Carved whorl beads tend to have more aerodynamic drag and hence tend to slow more rapidly.

4.  Production spinners, seeking to spin as fast as possible are very unlikely to use carved whorl beads  in their production spinning. Carved whorl beads are a store of value, rather than a functional tool for rapid yarn production.

5.  I preferred smaller, higher density whorls made of metal.  For example brass is ~ 2.5 times denser than jade. I quickly discovered that for fast (worsted) spinning, I liked small, well balanced brass whorls much better than even very well balanced jade whorls. And, the metal whorls were cheaper, and less fragile. In any industry, production workers who buy their own tools, like cheap and durable.  I made a lot of brass whorls to test.  I liked the way the worst of the brass whorls spun better than the way the best stone whorls spun.  I came to feel that better spindles and therefore cheaper textiles was one of the major contributions of the bronze age. I told my dad not to bother making those stone whorls for me.

The above was all done when I was mostly spinning and thinking about worsted 5-ply knitting yarn with singles running 5,600 ypp.

This summer, I have been thinking about woolen spun yarns for weaving.  Woolen is a different kind of drafting and it makes different demands on the spindle.  Why should I use the same spindle for woolen and for worsted spinning?  Why does a spindle used for woolen spinning need the large moment of inertia provided by a whorl?  

The way (with a hand spindle) to quickly spin a lot of woolen yarn  with a hand spindle is with a 'twisty stick'.  A whorl just slows things down.  Yes, you need a whorl for worsted spinning (wool or cotton).  Yes, you need a whorl for linen, hemp, and nettles.  Do your physics home work, and calculate the moment of inertia that you require for your current spinning project.  It may be smaller than you think.

Friday, November 15, 2013

More on Twisty Sticks

A twisty stick is a piece of wire 8-12" long with a hook at one end.  The Scandinavians make, big, tapered, wooden ones, but I am interested in the British tradition.

They were used for grading wool in the time of Chaucer, and it makes sense to me that a spinning tool was used to determine how fine a wool can be spun.  Anyway, Chaucer was hundreds of years after great wheels had been introduced for the fast spinning of woolen yarn, so twisty sticks are likely an old and deep tradition.

Alden Amos uses 1/8" wire and gives directions with drawings for making them in his Big Book of Handspinning. He likes them, and considers them an essential tool - the kind of thing that spinning guilds should make for every member as guild projects.  I like 2 mm steel wire and make them a bit longer (10.5" over all).  Mine weigh about 5 grams, and I use them for yarn grists that I would use a 5 gram spindle with whorl, e.g. ~30,000 ypp.  An iron hook from cheap, soft iron wire bound into the split end of a dogwood twig with a bit of linen thread and some glue makes a 2 gram twisty stick.  It works. With  half an inch of iron wire, linen thread, hide glue, and a sharp flake of chert, an iron age spinner could make one in a few minutes. It has about the same size shaft as AA's twisty sticks so it will be about as fast, but it only uses half an inch of thin iron wire. This gives us an idea as to why they are called "sticks".  A twisty stick is a drop spindle with a hook, but no whorl, and is often made entirely of metal.

I find that I can do a thigh roll with the twisty stick with one hand do a long draw draft with the other hand and quickly have a good make of yarn. The draft and the thigh roll can occur at the same time.  Then, I can drop the drafting hand, and the return thigh roll will wind on the yarn. The wind on is backwards.  There is almost no wasted motion.  Where a little more twist is required,  the twisty stick can be given an extra shove and released for a moment at the end of the forward thigh roll. Then the twisty stick will deliver a surge of twist to the yarn. The process is very fast. It is not something I have seen any other modern spinner do. It is not in the literature.  This is very odd.  The copp is built to wind off as an end feed package.

However, I do not know how to spin worsted with a twisty stick. So what I produce on twisty sticks are "weaving quality" woolen yarns. The quality would improve if I would practice. The problem is that even the best twisty stick is not as fast as my AA modified wheel, so my tendency is to spin any yarn on my wheel.   Thus, I am not likely to put the required practice time into twisty stick spinning, and I will not achieve and maintain professional competency with the tool.

Still, I have no doubt that Iron Age Brits used this method to produce woolen cloth for export.  I would not be surprised to discover that this was the "rolling on the thigh" method described for Bronze Age Greeks.  It is a concept that would allow a textile professional to produce less expensive woolen cloth.

The wire gets brittle and breaks. What the archaeologist would find a few hundred years later is a small piece of wire.  Any archaeologist ever see anything like that in a Bronze Age or Iron Age site?  Any chance that such an artifact has been found and incorrectly identified?

We have not really thought about hand spinning with a spindle on an industrial scale (e.g., ship-loads of cloth) for a long time.  Linen and hemp need a spindle with whorl because the long fibers and low twist per inch require slow insertion of twist. Thus, we see the spindles with whorls in the Egyptian drawings. Silk also has very low tpi, and want slow insertion of twist. Spinning worsted wool requires a whorl because both hands need to be free to draft, and therefore spindles for worsted spinning need whorls to store momentum and gradually transfer the twist to the yarn over a period of time . This is what we see depicted on Greek urns. Weaving wants worsted warp, so wool cloth production always set a demand for worsted thread, and we find  lots of whorls in every hand spinning culture.

However, woolen and cotton spinning just want lots of twist insertion. Woolen and cotton can absorb twist very rapidly. Drafting can be with one hand, so one hand can keep the spindle turning at a very high speed. If one hand is devoted to tending the spindle, there is no need to store momentum.  One can get the highest rotation speeds and therefore the fastest yarn production from a spindle with no whorl.  The spindle can be spun up very fast, and  all the twist energy transferred to the yarn almost instantly, rather than momentum stored in the whorl.  Over all, the process can be much  faster than modern spindle spinners using whorls think is possible.

This can be seen by the fact that the basic unit of woolen production was a hank of 1,600 yards, while the basic unit of worsted production was a hank of only 560 yards.  Yes, I think that in a world where all spinning was done by hand with a spindle, a yard of worsted was worth 3 yards of woolen. Wool yield, wool preparation, and spinning effort are all factors, but I would also say that in a given time, a woolen spinner would be expected to spin ~3 times the yardage of a worsted spinner.  We do not see this today because both woolen and worsted spinners use spindles with whorls that all rotate at the same slow speed.  Thus, woolen spinners spin at the speed of worsted spinners.   And the goal is better yarn, rather than  faster yarn.

Victorian ladies looked at the depiction of Egyptian linen spinners, Greek and Roman worsted spinners, and decided that all spindles need whorls.  Modern spinners (after 1960) took this as the wisdom of the ages. They felt that spindles needed whorls - everybody knows that, why would they stop and test this bit of folk wisdom? They did not think about spinning faster by using a spindle without a whorl.  They were spinning for a hobby, they did not care how fast they could spin.  In fact, showing off how fine and fast one can spin is considered rude.  When hobby spinners want to spin woolen faster they use a great wheel or charkha.   

I think spindles for worsted spinning need much higher moments of inertia than spindles for woolen spinning.  I find it amusing that this difference does not show up in the spindle market place.  It does not matter to me because I make my own spindles, and mostly I spin with my wheel.  

The above will raise some hackles  Any hand spinner that can sit down and spin wool at its spin count ( is very welcome to tell me that I am full of shit.  Any person that cannot hand spin wool at its spin count should be polite.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

2 Rules of Thumb

1.) One can expect a talented, careful production worker to make a serious mistake at least once in every million operations. 

Thsi means that a careful production spinner doing 3 operations per minute and working 3,000 hours per year is going to make a serious mistake at least once every 6 years.

If that mistake is dropping the stone spinning whorl onto the stone floor, then we can expect that mistake about 5 times in a 30 year spinning career.  Thus, we can presume that plain stone whorls were used for production spinning because they were very likely to be broken or lost every few years.  From this we can deduce that a spinning whorl found as grave goods was used for production spinning for less than 30,000 hours. This would be only about one-third of a production spinner's career.  A production spinner that has already broken a few stone whorls, knows they might break another whorl. Thus, they use a plain whorl for their production spinning. 

We can also deduce that a rich  lady spinning carefully for 2 hours a day, could use a single stone spindle whorl for all of her life without loss or damage - but that whorl could not be presumed to be the kind of tool used by commercial production spinners.  She could do that valuable whorl because she was less concerned with her production rate and thus could be more careful and protective of her whorl. She was a hobby spinner.

2.) It takes about 5,000 hours to learn a complex manual skill such as playing the piano, surgery, or spinning.

Practice the skill for 10 hours per day and it can be acquired in 1.5 years. Practice for only 2 hours per day and it takes 9 years.

Stretch the learning over 9 years, and old skills will be forgotten as fast as new skills are learned and true mastery will never be achieved.  A musician will practice 4 or 5 hours per day, part of which is learning new skills, and part of which is reviewing and renewing old skills.  A spinner that does not go back and  review and renew old skills on a regular basis will lose them. Two hours of spinning per day is not enough to maintain professional level competency in hand spinning. If you want to be a good spinner, you need to practice 800 or more hours per year.  

From this we can deduce that the spinner carefully using a valuable, highly decorated stone whorl for only a couple of hours per day is not a competent, professional spinner.  Valuable, highly decorated stone whorls were stores of wealth - jewerly - not the working tools of a competent, professional spinner.  They had to be treated with more care than the plain stone whorls of the professional spinner.

Prior to the the use of metal spinning tools we know that production spinners had sets of stone whorls for spinning different grist yarns, and that the typical dimensions/weight of  the various standard stone whorls in a community often remained fairly stable for hundreds of years.  Even in the stone age, professional spinners had professional tools.

And, the professional production spinner was likely to use metal spinning tools after 1,000 BC because they are much faster.  We do not see them for 2 reasons.  1) Metal was valuable and could be resmelted.  Any worn or damaged metal object would be resmelted.  If the valuable metal was going into a grave, it would be resmelted into jewerly.  2). We do not recognize them for what they are.  

I took my hand made knitting sheaths and  needles to some important archaeological sites where I thought knitting sheaths might be found.   None of the staff archaeologists on site recognized them for what they were.  All of these sites had an lot of "broken awl points" that they had not checked for the wear marks of a DPN used with a knitting sheath. A DPN used with a knitting sheath develops a curved wedge shaped point. And, eventually the needle fractures at the point where it is stressed by the knitting sheath. To the naked eye,  the broken piece looks like an awl point.  

I have no doubt that if I took my latest drop spindle to a bunch of staff archaeologists, they would not recognize it as a drop spindle. In fact, it is a "twisty stick". Alden Amos, supplies them with his wheels for testing the quality of fiber.  It is an old and common tool.

However, if you are seated and use your (metal wire)  twisty-stick with a thigh roll, it can insert a lot twist very fast. If you draft long draw with one hand and roll the twisty stick with the other hand, the thigh roll  forward can twist the make into competent yarn, the drafting hand can be dropped, and the thigh roll backwards can wind on the yarn. There is no wasted motion with either hand. This makes me think that some of the historical descriptions (Bronze Age Greece) of  spinning yarn by rolling it on one's knee or thigh may actually have been the high speed production of woolen yarn by use of a twisty stick, while drop spindles with whorls were being used for making worsted yarn.   A supported spindle will produce a finer, more consistent yarn, but the wire twisty-stick with thigh rolls using both the forward and backward motion is faster.  Nobody does this kind of spinning any more. It is very much like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, but it can be done. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Clean Wool

Good spinning requires clean wool. This is notice that I change my story, whenever, I find a better way.

I am back to something like what Alden Amos describes in the Big Blue Book.

I grade and sort the fleece, putting each grade in its own plastic bin. (Dirty fleece does not want to sit in a plastic bin for very long.  The lanolin will react with the plastic.) I turn the hot water heater up to 130 F.

Bin by bin, I  lay the grades of wool on a open wire rack and willow them to remove excess grit.

Hot water and "soap" is added to the bins of wool.  Soap may be either real soap or laundry detergent.

The wool is allowed to soak in the hot water/soap with minimum agitation untill the water starts to cool (15 minutes).  Then the bin is drained into a steel mesh strainer. (I use an elfa mesh drawer from the Container store).  The process is repeated a few times depending on how dirty the wool started.  Then the locks of wool are rinsed in tepid water. It is very important that the last rinse get all the soap out of the wool.

The locks go into a mesh bag and into the spin cycle in the washing machine.

The locks are dried in the sun. These "clean" locks are much easier to open and card than dirty locks. On some grades of wool, this means much less fiber breakage.  In any case, this first wash makes the rest of the job more pleasant.

The locks are oiled with a mix of olive oil, soap and water (AA's recipe for carding oil).  The locks are  opened using a wool card braced against the workbench and a "flicker" from the pet store designed for grooming dogs. The dog flicker is softer than a wool card.  I do not bother to maintain orientation of the locks. While retaining orientation of the locks makes the wool much easier to spin, I feel that random fiber orientation produces a much stronger yarn for a given grist/twist in both woolen and worsted preparations.  I am willing to put the extra effort into spinning to achieve a stronger yarn.

The opened locks are run through the drum carder twice.

The carded batts are washed again. (You will be amazed at how much more grit comes out of the wool after carding.)

I turn the hot water heater back down so I do not get scalded as I wash up after working with dirty fleece all day.  With a 40 gallon high-efficiency water heater, I can easily wash an entire Rambouillet fleece in half a day so that is dry by night fall. The next day, the locks are opened, carded, rewashed and dried.  Thus, a fleece takes ~8 hours over 2 days.

The batts are dried in the sun, and ready for storage. (Washing and drying the batts reduces bulk,) There are advantages to living in sunny California.  We have local Rambouillet and we have sun.

For woolen:
At time of use, the batts are oiled,  torn into short lengths and run through the drum carder sideways.  Those batts are torn length wise into thirds and passed through the drum carder a couple more times.  For woolen spinning, I tear the batts into rolags and spin from the rolags.  Each rolag weighs about 3 grams.  As the good fiber is drafted from each rolag, I am left with a small wad of neps, noils, & VM which I discard. I find that working with individual rolags and discarding the ends gives a better quality yarn.

For worsted:
The wool is oiled and passed through the drum carder with the grain. Then, the batts are combed, planked, combed and dized.  The sliver/ combed top  is wound onto my distaff for spinning.

Wool with AA's carding/spinning oil on it should be washed within 30 days.

I do not use long soaks, or any of the fermented processes.  I have in the past, but the above gives me better results.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The little python

Alden's #1 flier opens its jaws and swallows rolags, batts,  and then full bins of Rambouillet.  It is like a great snake unhinging its jaws and swallowing sheep whole. It is like magic.  It does like olive oil & soap much better then J&J NMT, so now there is a deadline to get everything spun, woven, and washed.  However, with the little python eating bins of fiber for breakfast, it seems feasible. I feared the weft would be boring, but it is rather like feeding bacon strips to a bear - you have to watch what you are doing, and the fingers must move faster than the maw..  It is better than video games.  I use the jumbo cake winder to wind off, so 3 bobbins  full  is a cake of almost 500 yards.  (Of course, this is woolen, so I should switch to hanks of 1,600 yards.)   A niddy-noddy would be a good, and better if the yarn was going to a dyer. There are heaps of VM around my spinning work station.

I have moved to sitting in a teak arm chair as I spin.  It helps support my arms at an SG approved distance apart, and that does seem to work very well. I hold the fiber as if for long draw, but I do not wave my drafting arm.  The process is continuous and fast  As necessary, I use the other hand for double extension.  This is only required where there is a fault in the fiber processing. This whorl is a bit small, so the grist is running a bit high, perhaps 3,200 ypp.

I am using 30 oz of drive band tension weight. This gives good traction for the driveband, and will result in breakoff if drafting is not continuous.  On the other hand, it means that spinning is FAST.  I have a bunch of brown  Rambouillet, so I may do a 24 yard long warp and spin weft for 12 yards of white and 12 yards of brown fabric.

For most of the history of spinning, spinners made sewing thread, tatting thread, twine, and other yarns, but mostly they made the warps and wefts (webs) for weavers. Thus, an experienced spinner was one that had prepared many, many, loom webs. Of course the thing is, that one does not get there unless one spins rather fast, and spends a rather a lot of time spinning. And, one needs a full set of spinning equipment.

Still history sets a bar on what an experienced spinner should have done.  You get the point.  I have always expected "experienced spinners" to spin much faster than I do.  

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Strategies for low grist woolens

In the past, I spun low grist woolens only in sample quantities to demonstrate that I could do it. Now, I find myself spinning pounds of such yarns.

Bobbins fill so fast that there is no time to think through issues.

Suddenly!,  the appeal of the big bobbins in most modern spinning wheels shines like a beacon.

However, while the ratio changes, the rate limiting step does not.  Spinning takes most of the time and effort. Wind-off is relatively fast.  For the loom, I am using J&J No Tangles as my carding oil, so there is less need to wash after spinning, and wind-off can be direct to the ball winder.  A larger flyer/bobbin assembly would slow the spinning process more than it speeds up the wind off process.   Thus, a larger /slower  flyer/bobbin assembly would slow my over-all production of yarn, regardless of the subjunctive feeling that I need a bigger bobbin.  I must steel myself, and impose rational thought over emotion.

That said, I do ply knitting yarns on lager flyer/bobbin assemblies so that I can make 500 yard hanks without knots.  Here, I put up with slower plying because for for knitting, I like half-pound cakes of knot free yarn.

On the other hand warp thread requires lengths only a little more than the length of the weaving project , and my fly-shuttle bobbin are limited to ~1 oz per winding.  Here, I want speed more than I want for knot free, 500 yard hanks.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Am I OK?

The short answer is, "No!"  The longer answer is that nobody is Ok!

Last spring, I made the SSA Master Death List.  Easy enough, but getting off it is harder.  About the same time, I had some thefts from the Etsy site, and I became acutely aware of some problems with the climate models used to calculate the effects and impacts of global warming. The issues with the global warming models affect everyone (7 billion people) as a life and death issue, so the issue of global warming popped to the top of my list.  

Traditionally I did science by walking around the garage waving my arms and shouting.  At Bechtel, I did it in the stairways. Spinning and weaving are sort of automatic activities and are a good substitute for walking around the garage waving my arms and shouting.  So I could see that there were problems with the IPCC models, but finding the errors was harder.  After all, a lot of very smart guys had gone over this work many, many times.  But smart guys do not make mistakes with the complex details, the errors are usually in unstated basic assumptions.  Errors in unstated basic assumption are the hardest to find.

In one case, a group of US DOE computer geeks, tried to express a discontinuous curve as a differential equation.  It was hard to find.  The work was based on a great pile of peer reviewed literature, but nowhere in the literature was there any hint that the curve was discontinuous.  The assumption of continuity is one of the most basic assumptions.  This is a big deal because it means that sea level can rise much faster than climate science community had considered plausible in the last 10 years. The problem is that the ice can undergo progressive structural collapse.  This results in large flows of broken ice into the ocean.  See Chasing Ice minutes 14 and 64 for video of ice already floating to under go progressive structural collapse. If there is as little as a 2% grade, the same thing can happen on land if there is a slightly higher Gibbs Energy.   (The boys at DOE seem not to have been chemistry or math majors, or mine engineers in Alaska.)

In the second case, carbon feedback and methane clathrate from sea floor has still not been included to the climate models used for the IPCC AR5 report.  Sea floor clathrates were deposited over the last 30 million years and more rapidly in the last 5 million years as the Earth tended toward cooling.  Clathrate was in equilibrium at a temperature near the 1800 global temperature with a partial pressure of methane near 700 ppbv. As the Earth warms, the vapor pressure of those clathrates increases and we can expect the partial pressure of methane in the atmosphere to increase.  These sinks and sources are large and likely to overwhlem all other sources and sinks. The bottom line is that as the Earth warms from anthropogenic CO2, very large amounts of methane will be released in a highly non-linear fashion.

Carbon feedback is a huge and imminent issue.

Today, I see the most pessimistic of the climate science community like priests in the middle of a Cholera epidemic telling everyone that they will be OK if they just keep their fast days and pray to God.  No! The priest should be telling them to boil their water, wash their hands, and cook their food.

I think people can survive 410 ppmv of CO2 in the atmosphere, but I expect that level of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere to trigger carbon feedbacks that will destroy modern society and technology.  Within a hundred years, I expect 95% of the textile mill capacity in the world to be flooded by sea level rise.

I say that then people will have to develop supplies of textiles with short supply chains.  And people laugh at me saying that there are lots of extra clothes around.  That is ok for the first hundred years, but CO2 and sea level rise are long term issues.  What are folks going to do for textiles a hundred years after Shanghai floods?  How are you going to rebuild organic chemical and fiber production facilities when the steel mills also flooded?  I have no doubt that we will see large, rapid sea level rise and the climate science community will say, "Wow, we sure did not see that coming!"

Anyway, they have been warned.  I do not think it will help, but I like to be able to say, "I told you so!"


The tool of choice for spinning the weft is the AA#1 fast flier with the big bobbin Alden supplied and the 1.05 DRS flier whorl that I made.  That whorl works best with a 2-handed drafting technique.  However, last night I wanted one hand free, so I used the stock flier whorl that Alden Amos supplied.  It has a DRS of 1.2. This DRS  (with drive band slip), works much, much better for one-handed long draw.

That flier/bobbin setup and long draw is a more pleasant way to spin than my normal rig. I admit it.   If I was just spinning as a pastime, I would use the flier/bobbin set as it come out of the box from Alden Amos. My whorl turns hand spinning into real work.

However, I spin because I want the yarn.   I am willing to work so that I get yarn faster.

With the AA stock rig,  my no-load bobbin speed was the same as always.  However, under load, the speed dropped to about half of the speed that I get with my DRS flier whorl. Both have ~ 20:1 drive-wheel to bobbin ratio. It turns out that the advertised drive-wheel to flier ratio means very little, because these ratios say nothing about how much drive band slip occurs.  What counts is actual flier/bobbin assembly speed. Actual flier/bobbin assembly speed can be easily determined with an inexpensive tachometer.  If you do not have a tachometer, you will not understand why you cannot spin as fine and as fast as I do.

If it takes me 70 hours to spin my weft with my DRS whorl,  it would take me ~140 hours to spin it with the stock Alden Amos High Speed  (#1) DD  Flyer. It would be a pleasant 140 hours, but I want my yarn faster. Then the AA HSF is ~15% faster than my Ashford  (ST) lace flyer, so it would take me 160 hours to spin this project on the  Ashford lace flyer, more than 200 hours to spin it on the stock Ashford DD flyer/bobbin, and on the close order of 250 hours to spin it on my standard Ashford Scotch Tension flyer. This is not to say anything against Ashford, because I do not know of another wheel that would have been as easy to modify to increase its speed. (And, I did spin 5# of 5,600 ypp worsted singles on the stock Ashford DD flyer/bobbin Assembly.  That was 28,000 yd.  Then, I spun  a lot more as I started modifying the whorls.)

This little weaving project only  requires 25,000 yd of  (warp+weft).  Thus, on this one project alone, the modifications to my Traddy stand to save me ~ 130 hours.  A faster wheel allows me to do 3 projects in the time it would have taken me just to spin one project.  Tools matter.   Today, I see that if I am starting with a stock Ashford Traddy,  it will save me time in the long run to have a good fast wheel.  I understand that it is worth putting in a hundred hours to make my wheel run faster because I will make it up in one project.  I understand that it is worth the effort to make a faster drop spindle is worth while because I will make it up in one project.  On the other hand, I never let "perfect" be the enemy of good.  I seek better tools, not perfect tools.

If I had started with an Louet or Majacraft  wheel, I would not have the kind of speed that I have today because they are harder to modify and customize.  This is not "sour grapes, this is understanding the engineering and performance compromises inherent in such power transfer systems.

I have done these kinds of  studies before, but every time I calculate drive belt slip on typical modern spinning configurations, it is a little scary.

We made it past Halloween, so Happy All Souls Day!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Princess is dead! Long live the Princess!

In the 4,000 years prior to 1750, there was global trade in hand-spun, hand-woven textiles.  The textiles were mostly made from fibers such as wool, flax, hemp, cotton, silk, alpaca, camel, nettles, ramie, goat, and yak.  From this period, we have many stories of the princess that could spin fast and fine.

A tribe that has the tools and skills for better spinning will have a comparative economic advantage in the textile trade, and that tribe will get rich.  Then, the daughters of the leaders of that tribe will be princesses. Thus, the girls with the best tools and skills to spin fast and fine were princesses.  Viewed through the lens of economics, the stories of  princesses that could spin fast and fine make sense, even when such things could not happen in history as written by Victorians. (Take off your Victorian glasses. Family businesses succeed because the family has a passion for the industry. When the family has a passion, everyone in the family becomes involved.)

The next element of these stories is that the princess is captured by an evil king or witch, and forced to spin a room full of straw into gold.  This is fairy tale language for "the captured business executive was forced to disclose her company's trade secrets." "Gold"  is the key word.  It tells everyone (except the Victorians) that the fairy tale  is really about trade and wealth. The princess was spinning for trade with distant (more than an hour's walk?) markets.

This whole line of thought about fairy tale princess started when I was thinking about hand-spun, hand woven fabrics that are planned for a particular garment. Some of these are very clever. Last year at CNCH, I must have spent an hour looking that red silk jacket by Stephenie Gaustad. The other day she was showing a nice little cotton blouse with her trademark invisible hand stitching along the selvage.  That is fine for haute couture, but  for trade, one must produce more generic bolts of cloth that can be used to make garments of various kinds that will fit people of various sizes. Tailors need to be able to make clothes with seam allowances, so the garment can be taken in and let out

So, for 4,000 years princesses hand spun (and supervised/managed the hand spinning of) the yarn for bolts of cloth.  Now, when was the last time you saw a bolt of high quality, hand-spun, hand-woven wool flannel cloth?  

Since I started spinning, several spinners have been telling me about their depth and breadth of spinning experience.  They tell me how they are connected to their historical roots. With all of these experienced spinners around, the countryside should be awash in bolts of hand-spun, hand-woven cloth, just as it was prior to 1750.  It is not. The spinning princess must be dead.

If the experienced spinners will not spin thread  for full bolts of cloth, then some of us newby spinners will have to step up and do it.  My next goal is spinning yarn for a bolt ( 32" wide by 12 yd long) of wool flannel.)  It should weigh about 10 lb. It should require ~25,000 yd of yarn.  And, since the fabric will be wider than my samples, I will spend a lot more time spinning than weaving  That 10:1 ratio of spinning to weaving may be about right, or even a little low.  This is the ultimate stash buster project. The warp will take most of my Cotswold, and for the weft all the Rambouillet  in the house is freshly washed and sitting beside the carder at this very minute.

I am using J&J No More Tangles for my carding/spinning oil so I do not have to wash the weft prior to weaving. I do not like it as well as the AA spinning oil mix for spinning, but since I am not spinning very fine, it works well enough.

We were in Needless Markup the other day, and there was this lovely lady's jacket trimmed with dove gray wool flannel.  Oh my, there are some nice wool fabrics this year, but $4,000!? for that little thing!!  Good thing my wife does not look good in dove gray. Yes, it is time to see if I can actually make flannel from hand spun.

Let's see if any of the experienced spinners turn out a bolt of wool flannel before I do. Let's see who can spin fast and fine.


Monday, October 14, 2013

The best fleece for a gansey.

I see a gansey as the right sweater for the job.

What is the job? Where is the job?  When is the job?

If the job is really cold, then you want a finer fleece, and more plies. If the job involves a lot of abrasion such as furling sails, then you want a coarser fiber. And, I like coarser fibers (eg. Romney) in sustained wet.

I do think that gansey stitches show up much better with worsted spun yarns, and I like the luster and lack of felting that long wool offers. I would not use Merino or any of the short downy wools.

Just make sure that you get a good fleece (Judith tells the truth, and here are good notes from one of her classes;  I think it is worth while taking her classes and reading her books.  Alden Amos also has much to say about wool in his Big Book of Handspinning, but he no longer teaches formal classes.

Then, it is a work garment, so the fiber should not be too expensive.

For a very traditional gansey, I like the finer long wools.  That includes Romney to Shetland, and all of the traditional long wools in between.  I have promised myself one from American Jacob, which is very much like Shetland.

However,  if a skier is going to wear it to slide down Gun Barrel, then Cotswold or Lincoln will help avert the hamburger effect as skin slides over ice at 60 mph.  (Romney only lasts for a few slides  : (

Really cold weather demands finer fibers.  If you are going to wear it skiing in Montana , or steelhead fishing in the upper Columbia River, I suggest Rambouillet.  It is about the finest wool with  long enough staples to comb and spin true worsted.

All that said, navy blue really is a bit warmer than white in the fog, but natural "Russet" is almost as warm. Natural colored fleeces will work.

Fiber that has not been acid treated to remove VM is easier to spin.  With a low grease wool like Shetland, the improved spinning speed will save you enough time in spinning, to wash and comb the wool. With Romney, you will need to budget some extra time to scour the wool.

Almost any handspun worsted from long wool will be much better that the best modern mill spin 5-ply.

5-ply gansey yarn at 1,000 ypp requires worsted singles of 5,600 ypp.  That comes out to ~9 tpi for each ply. 5 plies plus plying means a total of about 60 twists per inch of the finished yarn. Such twist provides great durability, but if you are not going to be working as a fisherman on the North Atlantic, you do not need that durability.

3 plies of 2,800 ypp handspun worsted will produce a beautiful round, dense yarn that makes stitches "pop" as well as any mill spun gansey yarn, and it only requires 24 twists per inch of finished yarn.  Energy wise it is less than half the work, and since most people spin 5s much faster than 10s, it takes a whole lot less spinning time.  Then, you will have the spinning budget for matching hat, comforter (scarf), mittens, and socks.  Everyone will be so impressed that they will not ask, " And, how many plies?"

I encourage you to do the first gansey as 3-ply.

On the other hand, a very round, smooth yarn can be produced by spinning 11,200 ypp singles and cabling them as 5x2. This is a lot of work.  Judith also told me that she has seen 3x2 cabled yarns in traditional ganseys, and I find this easier than straight 5-ply without a tension box.

Do it for love, and do it for fun. Use a long wool, spin worsted, and do not worry.

If you are a member of the Re-enacter Police, then ganseys must be spun from the coarse, long wool of the Scotch Blackface.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

DRS Revisited

Differential Rotation Speed (DRS) is a way of setting up a double drive spinning wheel.  I first came across it Alden Amos, Big Book of Handspinning.  It is also discussed in the introductory chapters in several of the books on industrial spinning published early in the 20th century but the technology is given other names.  Some of these are free on Google Books.  There is also some material and pictures from earlier in this blog.

Normally, in modern double drive spinning wheels, there is a 1:1.2 ratio between the flier whorl and the bobbin whorl. The drive band is kept loose enough to allow some slip and whorl profiles facilitate this slip.  "Yarn lock" causes the flyer and bobbin to rotate at the same speed. During yarn lock the drive band slips on the bobbin whorl.  When yarn lock is released, the bobbin speeds up and yarn is rapidly wound on to the bobbin. This set up allows the drive band to transfer power to the flyer/bobbin assembly through two whorls and allows slightly more power transfer, thereby driving the flyer bobbin assembly at speeds significantly higher than Scotch Tension. Thus, this arrangement is favored by lace spinners that need to insert a lot of twist.  However, total power transfer and thus top speed is limited by drive band slip. Moreover, continuous drive band slip causes wear on the drive band and the whorls.

In this arrangement, rapid take-up is always available and the spinners' tension on the yarn determines whether take-up occurs.  The feel of such a wheel is very like that of Scotch Tension or Irish Tension.  And, almost any yarn can be spun with very minor adjustments in the drive belt tension.

With DRS, the ratio of take up to inserted twist it controlled by the ratio between flier whorl and the bobbin whorl. This ratio is selected to produce a particular yarn.  The drive band tension and whorl profiles are selected to limit drive band slip, and the differential rotation speed between the flier whorl, the bobbin whorl with the effective diameter of the bobbin controlling the amount of inserted twist. If the spinner wants to produce a different yarn, then whorls with a different ratio must be selected or the effective diameter of the bobbin changed.  As the bobbin fills up the effective diameter of the bobbin changes, and it tends to wind yarn on faster, thereby reducing inserted twist. (With high grist yarns, this effect is trivial.)  Then, yarn must either be wound off, or a different whorl ratio selected, or a thicker/ lower twist yarn will be produced as the bobbin fills.  When producing low grist yarns, the effective diameter of the bobbin changes rapidly and the DRS approach is not useful.

With DRS, if the spinner drafts too thick for the set whorl ratio, the yarn breaks off.  If the spinner drafts too thin for the set whorl ratio, the yarn drifts apart.  If the yarn winds on, it is good competent yarn of the grist set by the effective diameter and the ratio of the whorls.   The system will not spin anything else, and  the spinner that tries to spin anything else will be frustrated.  No drive band slip is required, so power transfer by the dive band to the flier/bobbin assembly can be much greater and the flier/bobbin assembly can be driven at speeds 2 or 4 times greater than typical modern modern double drive spinning wheel.

The feel of the DRS  wheel is very different. Techniques such as long draw, that use twist accumulation followed by rapid take up do not work.  Both Alden Amos and Henry Clems have made such wheels, and all of those wheels were returned as "non-functional".  I agree that the approach is not useful for a recreational spinner that spins small batches of yarn.  And, here a small batch of yarn is 25,000 yards of the same grist single.

The concepts starts to be useful at grists of  ~ 5,600 ypp (9 tpi). By using a flier whorl with 4 different drive band slots allowing 4 different flier/bobbin differential rotation speeds, and bobbin length of just under 4" (Ashford) a full hank (560 yd/ 1.6 oz) can be spun with a twist/grist variance of  just about 10%, which I am told is not bad.  Spinning 11,200 ypp singles again using a flier whorl with 4 different drive band slots the twist/grist variance can be much less. By the time you get to 40s (22,400 ypp) The change in effective bobbin diameter for a hank (0.4 oz) is so small that a flier whorl with a single drive band slot can be used to produce a full hank with minimum twist/grist variance.

Sustained 2,400 rpm is as about as fast as a great wheel with an accelerator can insert twist.  However, with a flier/bobbin assembly both hands can be used to draft, and thereby produce worsted yarn.  Since, worsted yarn required 5 -10% less twist than woolen the  flier/bobbin assembly can produce  5 -10% more yarn at the same average rate of twist insertion.  Thus, I am no longer seeking a great wheel.  Also, I have made a driven spindle assembly for my Traddy that is very fast (twice as fast as the Ashford spindle).  Peter Teal was correct, one can easily spin worsted on a driven spindle.

That makes DRS seem perfect for spinning fines (60s - 80s).  However, at that point the ratio of the whorls is less than 1:1.01, so with a 1" whorl diameter, we are talking about a difference of  less than 1/100 of an inch between the diameters of the two whorls, and when I make whorls that are only 1/2" in diameter, the difference between the whorl diameters is less than 1/200".  I made some flier/bobbin assemblies for such spinning.  At that point, seasonal changes in humidity can change the diameter of wooden whorls enough to affect performance. For such whorls, details such as the kind of wood and the orientation of the grain of the wood matters a lot.  Or, the build up of a film of drive belt dressing on one whorl can cause the thing not to work, provoking much profanity. This summer I have not been spinning a lot of fines, so I have been using Irish Tension on the #0 flier or conventional DD with a DRS of 1.01 and belt slip when I needed to sample fines.

Tolerances for whorls designed for spinning 5,600 ypp are on the order of 1/32".    This is doable with no profanity. The 9 tpi of these singles needs the speed of a DRS system.  DRS is the only way that a spinner can spin 5,600 ypp singles as fast as they spin 1,800 ypp singles.  A man's sweater from 2-ply worseted requires about a million twists to make the yarn.  A sweater from 5-ply takes about 4 million twists.  If one is spinning gansey yarn, a faster wheel is better.  For singles in the range of 10s to 40s, DRS is worth the effort.  And, I admit that it is a lot of effort.

One other point is that the math for DRS is a bit counter intuitive, so one must do the algebra to select correct whorl diameters.  I made up little tables for different effective bobbin diameters and those tables are in both my shop journal and my spinning journal for reference. I check them frequently.