Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Real Hate

A lot of knitters and spinners hate me.  It is a good hate, but it is not a REAL HATE.  I have been the object of  REAL HATE.

A long time ago, I worked for Steve Weil, who had been Branch Chief at the US EPA responsible for writing the RCRA hazardous waste regulations.  So when ASQC was writing the environmental data quality standards  I was invited to join in.  The ASQC standards become part of the EPA RCRA regulations, which also applied to CERCLA.  A few years later, part of my job was to tell Program and Project Managers at the Hanford nuclear facility (US-DOE RL) that yes, they really did have to comply with data quality standards.  They had not budgeted for this, and they thought it was going to wreck their budgets. These were powerful men, who made a lot of money for Bechtel, and they were accustomed to getting their way.  They had REAL HATE for me, and the power and access to implement that hate.  It was only the direct intervention of  Dr. McHugh in US-DOE EM-63 that saved my ass.

While I was finishing up the manuals, Dr.  Tindal went around to the Program and Project Managers, and said, "Hey, data quality standards are a magical, double edged sword that can save your projects huge amounts of money." And sure enough, the Program and Project Managers, were able to save so much money for taxpayers that they got a $10 million performance bonus.  Then, they loved me.

Experienced  spinners spin and knit the way they were taught, and they have never seen anyone spin or knit differently, so that assume that they are spinning and knitting as well as humanly possible.

Then I come along and say,"No,15th - 18th century spinning and knitting was better." Experienced knitters and spinners just do not believe me.  The are experienced, and they have never such such work (actually produced), so I must be liar. They hate me for saying they are not the best that ever was. Don't these folks go to the Louvre and look at how well the threads in the tapestries were spun? It is amazing.  I spent 3 minutes looking at the Mona Lisa.  I spent 5 hours looking at a dozen tapestries.

For the last century, recreational spinners and knitters compared their output to that of other recreational spinners and knitters.They did not compare their work to to the work of professionals with the elan that separates the talented professional from the merely competent amateur.  Yes, an NFL professional football team is better than a bunch of guys that used to play in college that get together and play on the local high school field.  And professional spinners in the 18th century were better than modern recreational spinners.

And that word "competent" brings out the core of the antagonism. For a long time (centuries), it was assumed that any competent spinner could spin wool at its spinning count. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinning_count)

The whole British wool grading and pricing system was based on experienced spinners using their little twisty sticks to determine how many hanks (of 560 yards) per pound a competent spinner could spin from that wool.  So, I say a competent spinner can spin Cotswold at 40 hanks per pound (22,000 ypp), Shetland at  60 hpp (34,000 ypp), and Rambouillet or Merino at 70 hpp (40,000 ypp.)  This drives modern hand spinners up the wall.  They do not think it can be done.  They think I must be a liar.  In fact, spinners spun this fine at commercial speeds. By taking their time, spinners can spin much finer. A number of modern spinners spin wool at over 100,000 ypp.  However, the modern assumption is that it takes years and years to learn to spin that fine.

No, it takes a set of planned evolutions to build the skills.  Not a class here, and a class there, but planned and sequential training, with extended and focused exercises.   In 1600, British spinning schools trained spinners to spin a fine linen thread in each hand in two years.  It is not rocket science.

So last summer, I did a spinning evolution to learn to spin finer.  Part of it was spinning miles and miles of 30,000 ypp Shetland singles.  I spun that because there is an easy and  accurate way to gauge grist. One cuts a short piece of single off cleanly, and drops it into soapy water in a saucer.  If the single is at the spin count, there will be 18 -20 little fibers of wool in the water. So, anyway I spun miles of those singles.  It was my spinning homework.  If your spinning teachers do not assign you miles and miles of homework, they are not doing their job. My spinning teacher is known for doing a fine job. Not wanting to do lace, I turned the singles into 10-ply fingering @ 3,000 ypp.  It is nice sock yarn.

Experienced spinners do not believe that I did it and they hate me.  (Some of them claim to have also taken classes from my spinning teacher, but if so, they did not do their home work.)

 Go buy a pair of very fine socks at an excellent department store such as Saks or Nordstroms  and look at how finely the yarn is spun.  Fine plies is the right way to make yarn for really nice socks.  Now look at the yarn they sell for knitting socks your LYS.  Knitters get all wound up over color and softness, but there is more to excellent socks than color and softness.  When I say things like this, you can see why experienced spinners and knitters hate me.

But, it is a magical, double edged, sword.  I am also giving them a way to produce much higher quality textiles.  I am not saying that everyone should knit and spin like I do,  I am just saying that as community we should keep this repertoire of tools and skills alive. Better tools and skills put higher quality textiles within reach of  more spinners and knitters.

The motto over the door of my favorite library is:  "He who knows only his own generation remains always a child."  They wonder why I am patronizing and condescending. If someone thinks like a child, I treat them like a child. 


Anonymous said...

No, Aaron. I can't think of a single knitter/spinner who "hates" you - at least that I've seen. Their reactions range from amusement to irritation to flat-out contempt, but you flatter yourself to believe that anyone takes you seriously enough to hate you. Too much energy to waste, especially for those of us old enough to have encountered the blowhards and narcissists of the world already.

So you'll rant and rave, mangle history, bloviate and threaten, name-drop and backtrack, and in the end you'll just be... gone. Like your ridiculous self-aggrandizement, your amusement potential is fleeting at best. We'll get tired of you (in fact, you've already seen it happening; that's the real source of your anger).

But enjoy it while you can.

Aaron said...

No, there is real libel out there.

My lawyer (who is rich and skis, climbs, and hikes in socks that I knit) says that I can go to court and win - if they have enough assets to make a lawsuit worth while.

So, how many pairs of plain boot socks have you sold at $200 per pair? Bob says they are really good socks - better than anything else, and he has broad contacts in mountaineering community. So every few months, he is back for another pair.

The smart knitters and spinners simply add my techniques to their repertoire and use as needed.

The dumb knitters pretend I am wrong.

Aaron said...

If you talk to your legal beagle, they will say that as a rule, libel cases are very hard to win. Very hard!

However, all I have to do to win such a libel case to show my is faster or produces a different fabric. I can do both by walking into court and knitting as I do every day. If it was worth will to take to court, it would be the easiest possible case to win.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god. You think it is libel to tell you that you're wrong? If that's what your lawyer says, to paraphrase Dickens, your lawyer is an ass.

Anonymous said...

Do you honestly think that disagreeing with your opinion constitutes libel?

If your lawyer is encouraging this foolishness, he'd better not be charging you more than a pair of your Miracle Socks for a fee.

Anonymous said...

I'd LOVE to see some nice close up pictures of the yarn you spun!

Anonymous said...

I think, Aaron, like knitting and spinning of days past, you don't know as much as you think you do about the law either. Libel, huh? For what exactly? Telling you that your suppositions about the way things were done in the past are provably, indisputable incorrect and based off nothing at all scientific or historical? That libel? Oh and this:

"all I have to do to win such a libel case to show my is faster or produces a different fabric"

is so unbelievably incorrect and misinformed I can't stand it. Any first year law student could've told you that. Tell your 'lawyer' I wish him luck.

You are tiresome and not even funny and entertaining anymore. Now you're just pathetic. You don't dare post this stuff to Ravelry any longer do you? Not because you're 'hated' (really, what ego!) but because you're wrong and you know you'll get your ass handed to you because, as you've no doubt found out, us spinners and knitters are smarter than we look. Even if we do have boobs and vaginas.

Aaron said...

This is California, and we are awash in lawyers. There were 30 lawyers at the New years party I went to, and at some point over the last 30 years, I have skied, or climbed, or sailed with most of them. We have good ones and bad ones. The other night my wife took me to dinner to meet an aquatic biologist who has been doing interesting work in the Gulf of Mexico. His wife is a lawyer who likes to talk. Mostly we talked about property rights and Glyphosate. I worked on the FMC Superfund site cleanup, so it is a topic that is near to my heart, and I came away knowing more about the current state of the law on IP rights.

I find it amusing that the people that claim that I am in error or lying, tend not to make an effort to discover facts.

Aaron said...

Documenting fine spinning becomes its own career. It is hard to see the difference between 24k ypp and 30k ypp threads. Basically one needs some sort of a linen tester.

And I have fooled myself when I thought I was spinning 30 k and then I weighed a hank of 560 yd to find that it was 10 grams and not the 8 grams that I wanted. The difference between the MacMorran estimate and the trade legal jeweler's balance was a real blow to my ego. I understand how hard it was to maintain grist, and why the weavers complained about the spinners. I understand why niddy-noddys were outlawed for measuring yarn.

If I wanted to fudge documentation I could wind a skein of less than 560 yards, and take picture of it on the jeweler's scale weighing 6 grams, and say that it was a hank of 42,000 ypp and from the picture one could not tell the difference.

I do not think that a pix of 3 meters of single spun at its spin count (wrapped over a dime) says much of anything. It is fairly easy to find a thin spot in a thicker yarn.

A competent spinner can spin wool at its spin count. I respect spinners that can/could do that. I do not care if they are old or young, male or female. I do not care if they use an expensive wheel or a chopstick. I do not care if they are black or white or some mix. Being able to spin fine is not all there is to being a competent spinner, but it is a start.

Holin Kennen said...

Thank you, Aaron! If you are wrong, then I must be, too. I am one of those people who started life as a spinner and spun for 25 years before I learned to knit. Why? Because I liked spinning. I gave the yarn away; I sold it. I just wanted to spin. Knitting is something I do to take a break from spinning, but if I had to give up my knitting needles or my wheels - well, you can have my wheels when you pry them away from my cold, dead feet and hands.

I spin a very fine yarn. I would spin even finer, except that I can't find people who will buy my finished yarn for the price I would charge. My standard yarn, without any effort on my part, is a two-ply fine sock yarn that is best on size 1 needles. I could spin finer, but as I said...

Most people, perhaps even most people who would call themselves spinners, think of "handspun" as lumpy, bumpy, crude looking yarn with, as they put it, "a lot of texture," meaning that the yarn is badly spun. I'm one of those loonies who is trying to reclaim the word "handspun" to indicate the highest possible quality of yarn. I prefer to knit my own yarn to anything I've purchased in a yarn store thus far - and I don't buy cheap wool yarn and wouldn't touch acrylic with a barge pole. My yarn is evenly spun, doesn't separate when knit, doesn't pill, and is durable and soft.

I am also one of those people who prefers longwools such as English Leicester, Lincoln, BFL, Shetland, or Texel to Merino or Cormo. It is possible to find soft wools in these breeds if you look for them, and the resulting fabrics wear so much better than Merino. Merino/Cormo and the like are lovely wools, to be sure, but they aren't suitable for many garments they are currently being used for, socks in particular, and most knitters I've met don't know that. My friend who has been knitting for over 30 years, including loads and loads of socks, says that now that she has knit socks with my yarn - Lincoln, Border Leicester, BFL, she'll never do socks with commercial yarn again.

I was fortunate to see the dress Martha Washington wore to George Washington's Inguration as President. It was a dark brown handspun wool, very, very fine. I believe it was probably made from Tunis fleece, since that's what George was raising. It was simple yet elegant.

Let those who doubt you remember that England's wealth was based on the wool trade, and the kings and queens and nobilty of Europe wore clothing made of wool - the finest wool and yarns in the richest colors. They wouldn't have been caught dead in what we currently term "handspun" yarn, yet the fabrics worn by these monarchs and nobles were made from yarns spun on drop spindles or spinning wheels just as we do today. Much of the clothing was woven - yards and yards and yards and yards of it - just imagine only one of Anne Boleyn's gowns with its voluminous skirts. Someone had to spin that yarn, and lots of clothing was made from wool (not all gowns were of silk - who could afford that?).

So while most handspinners today spin a bulkier yarn than in days of yore (thereby allowing for near-instant gratification in moving on from spinning to knitting or weaving), super-fine yarns were, and are, being spun today.

MadCarlotta said...

I don't hate you, I find you amusing.

Anonymous said...

Holin, do you really think a 2-ply sock yarn is all that thin? I prefer my sock yarn to be three ply, so I spin finer singles than I would for a two-ply sock yarn. I have no problem spinning at that thickness, and I only consider myself an intermediate level spinner. I can spin finer if I like, or bulkier, depending on the desired yarn. The skill in knitting, despite what Aaron seems to believe, is in being able to produce the yarn you want to produce, not just spinning fine singles.

And I really meant it, Aaron, I'd like to see some of this yarn you allegedly spin.

Auntie Amy said...

Now there's a sign of your importance, Aaron -the only positive reply is from someone whose writing signature is identical to your own.
There is something sad and pathetic about someone who will go to the lengths of setting up a sock puppet in order to have someone agree with him

Anonymous said...

No, really, I really want to see this 10-ply sock yarn. Did you really not take pictures of a fingering-weight yarn you spun 10 singles for? Really?

Aaron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron said...

The singles for the 10-ply were just practice, for a more important project. I had made 10-ply before so there was nothing special about that.
There are miles more of those singles, so that story is not over.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit I found this post through a thread on Ravelry Rubberneckers, where your posts are a reliable source of entertainment. I am also a spinner. I am wondering how many spinners you actually know in real life. Lots of contemporary spinners can spin 30,000 ypp singles. Any slightly educated spinner knows what goes into making a good sock yarn and why typical yarn store sock yarns aren't functional. We understand the British wool grading system, and have long before you started your blog. Why do you think you're alone in having some basic spinning skills and knowledge? Do you think you're the only person who has read and understood Amos? I understand it's satisfying to your own ego to believe this, but it makes you look ridiculous. I think you have a sincere interest in fabric and spinning, and that's great. But you're not some lone voice of righteousness and truth. You're one random dude with a library card and some intermediate (wheel) spinning skills, just like lots of us. And I suspect you have lot of holes in your actual spinning skills, and have a lot you could learn from people if you took your head out of your ass.

Holin said...

For the record, Anonymous, I have spun a lace-weight three ply yarn on a drop spindle that won Best of Show at the Los Angeles County Fair. As I said in my post, I could spin much finer than a two-ply fine sock weight yarn, but I don't do it because I sell much of my yarn, and the cost to the buyer would be more than most folks would want to pay. I have to be at least somewhat competitive with commercially available yarns that people can find at yarn shops. Most people in my area seem to prefer to knit with DK or worsted yarn, unless they make socks, so spinning lace yarn would mean that I would have lots of skeins that would take ages to sell, so I don't do ultra-fine yarns unless someone asks for them. Personally, I don't care for bulky yarns, so I don't spin them, either, unless I'm commissioned to do so. I do agree with you that skill in spinning is a matter of getting the yarn you want for the project you have in mind, assuming that the fleece you have chosen is a breed which is suitable for the type of yarn you are trying to spin.

Anonymous said...

Nice Post.

I love http://youtube.com

Aaron said...


Let's get together and spin some wools at their spin count, and see who gets more done in a day.

In a large part, this blog is a digestion of what I am learning. In talking about spin count, I am simply voicing a keen perception of the obvious. In talking about the British wool grading system, I am elucidating the trivial. However, the results from linking the trivial with the obvious, when seasoned with DRS, turn out to be tasty.

The thing is not only to understand Amos, but to stand on his shoulders to see farther and do more.

Holin said...

Auntie Amy,

I certainly hope that you are not tarring me with the "sock puppet" epithet. I am, I assure you, a very real person who lives in Wisconsin, though I do hail from Southern California originally. I have been a spinner for some 27 years, and a knitter for just a little over two. I am also interested in the history and life of common people from the Middle Ages through the Victorian Era. Many things that used to be commonplace seem to have been nearly lost - perhaps because they were so common. As such, there isn't a lot of documentation about how certain things were done, and it's up to anthropologists and folk historians, like Aaron, to try to interpret and re-claim or re-invent these skills. I never knew about knitting sheaths or knitting pouches until about six months ago, but now that I have one, I wonder why everybody doesn't. I don't like circular needles - they've only been around since 1923 or so - but everybody I know says I "ought" to love them. Well, I'd prefer to knit a sweater on DPNs, but circular needles have replaced long DPNs, and as far as most knitters I know are concerned, circulars are "the only way to go." I respectfully disagree. That doesn't make me, or anybody who agrees with Aaron, a "sock puppet." I/we simply have a different perspective on knitting and spinning than you do. If your knitting or spinning method works for you, and you are getting the results you want, great! If I can get the results I want using a different method that works for me, (for example, I draft with my right hand in spinning, not my left, even though I'm right handed), that's fine, too. There were almost certainly regional differences in technique and between individuals. These days we have the luxury of experimenting with many different roads to the same destination. Because I do historic re-enactments, I can't use circular needles to knit a hat or sweater, so I'm grateful to folks like Aaron who can help me learn how to knit "old style."

RMD said...

Well, I find your blog very, very educational. It has certainly saved me $250 by illustrating pretty clearly that a lace flyer is not a good investment for me. Now, if only I could find me a set of lessons and/or a spinning mentor with homework like you describe. Meanwhile, I'll have to get the information where I can - books, mostly. And, of course, this blog.

Anonymous said...

"Don't these folks go to the Louvre and look at how well the threads in the tapestries were spun?"

Oh sure. Everyone is constantly going to the Louvre and oogles at tapestries with a microscope. Pretentious.