Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Back to the basics of plying

Soft and lofty woolen spun yarns present their own difficulties for plying, but the nature of the yarn hides the art of the plying.  If you want to show off your skill at plying, spin worsted.  Sure 4-ply woolen yarn takes skill, but 4-ply worsted  takes more skill.

If you want to know how good someone is at plying, look at one of their yarns plied up from fine, high twist singles.  In particular, 5-ply gansey yarn is a structure that is hard to get uniform, and the worsted singles make any and all faults in the plying clearly visible.  Because of its more stable structure, I feel that 7-ply is easier to ply into a uniform and consistent structure than 5-ply.

Making 5-ply gansey yarn is a evolution that every aspiring spinner should perform.  It is a good place to master Alden Amos's 4 principles of plying. (Tension, Distance, Re-wound bobbins, Constant Motion) With simpler yarns, one can get way with violating one or more of those principles.  However, a kilo of 5-ply will turn the Principles into habits, and thereby improve all of your yarns.  The lesson is worth the price of the fiber.  Sure it is a week of spinning, but we like to spin, right?

A kilo of 5-ply will also force you to acquire the tools (bobbins, lazy Kate, yarn guides or tension box)  for better plying.  These will stand you in good stead, when you want to make very high quality 2-ply woolen spun.

A kilo of 5-ply is enough for you to start thinking about blocking singles prior to plying. (If you go into one of mills producing high-end luxury yarns, you will note that they block the singles prior to plying.)  Alden talks about plying in Chapter 11.  In Chapter 10, he talks about ways to make yarn better.   I think one of the few glosses in the book is that on page 263,  he should have points 5 & 6 about washing and blocking the yarn.

Sometimes the extra effort to wash and block the singles will save a great deal of  time. I use spinning oil, so washing the single after it is spun means that I can store that yarn, and am no longer under pressure to use that yarn.  Thus, washing yarn immediately after spinning reduces my stress levels. Over all, it saves me time because the spinning oil lets me spin much faster. It produces a better yarn because the spinning oil lets me spin more uniform yarn.  Some singles are just much easier to ply after they have been blocked. One example is fine hosiery singles ( 23,000 ypp, 17 tpi).  And, yarns plied up from those singles will be much better when you do take the time to wash and block the singles.

This post was prompted when a spinner on Ravelry, who has never made any gansey yarn, tried to tell me that it is not important to rewind bobbins prior to plying.  It is this group that makes fun of me because I am only a beginner, but I have the "one right way to spin". They have this up-side-down.  I believe in different yarns for different purposes.  I believe in different tools and techniques for different yarns.   And, I believe that any set of  tools and techniques that has been invented, can be improved.  I always look for Better, Faster, Cheaper!  There is no one right way to spin!  Today's best way to spin is not good enough for tomorrow.  When I see a better way to spin, I adopt it. 


Teresa said...

I agree with you, why spend so much time spinning only to have the plying let you down? Why not take into account plying when planning how you will spin a yarn?

Thanks, it makes fascinating reading.


Badger said...

Aaron, the reason that the people on Ravelry seem to have difficulty with you stems, in large part, from your condescending language ("hobby spinners," "hobby knitters," "women of fashion," etc.) and your obvious view that you are the expert in all things related to knitting and spinning, despite the occasional statement from you to the contrary. I'm a beginning knitter (only three years), and I wouldn't dream of telling the experienced knitters I know that what they were doing was wrong. I seek out their advice at every opportunity and am grateful for their patience with my endless questions. On the other hand, I've been spinning for over 27 years and have a substantial number of first place and Best of Show ribbons that can attest to my skill in spinning. I am a PROFESSIONAL spinner and make a portion of my living from spinning. I have never seen a photo of a skein of your yarn, nor am I aware of any awards you have won based on your skills. You've never published in Spin Off, Handwoven, or any reputable magazine, nor have you published a book, but you insult people who have. I don't believe that anyone wants to dampen your enthusiasm for fiber, but as a beginner, you need to open your ears and eyes and listen to the voices of experience rather than assuming that you are the expert. You also need to earn some "street cred" in the fiber community before you will be respected by people (mostly women) who have been spinning for decades. I still learn things from other spinners, even after all this time, and I love to teach. Spouting complicated mathematical formulae while sneering at those who really do know better than you do does not endear you to anyone. Humility, on the other hand, will carry you a long, long way. As a wise man once said, "This is my way. What is your way? THE way doesn't exist." Think about it.

Aaron said...

Dear Badger,

As a knitter, I went to the fiber shows, guild meetings, and textile conferences. I looked at all the hand spun, and said, "That is not the yarn that I want. And, I set about to spin the yarn that I wanted.

I spin for myself. This blog/journal is my record of what I have learned. The only judges that I need to satisfy are my wife for color and appearance and myself for functionality.

Alden Amos and I argue all the time, but I never insult him. His is one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. He is one of the greatest craftsmen of his time. Not only are his textile tools excellent, his spinning, knitting, and weaving skills are among the very best of his generation. His breadth and depth of skill was one reason that he was a great textile judge. His, is the one book on hand spinning that gets everything correct. He claims that some other books handle certain topics better, and that may be, but over all, he gets more correct than any other author on spinning.

I like Judith MacKenzie, and I greatly respect her ability to grade fleece, but there are some real errors in her spinning books. Those errors do not matter for the yarns she teaches but they do matter for the yarns that I spin.

And, Abby Franquemont just did not understand the physics of flyer/bobbin assemblies. When somebody writes about something that they do not understand, yes I am going to insult them. One needs to understand the physics if one is to design/make/buy the tools needed for exceptional spinning. Abby's understanding is flawed, so she will never have the superior tools that allow Alden Amos to produce such excellent yarn.

In contrast, I take Alden's tools and I make them better, so I can spin the yarns that I want.

Anytime, I see a spinning technique that is better than what I use, I learn it. I got to where I am by learning and discarding a lot spinning techniques.

Anonymous said...

I can see that you are definitely a scientifically minded individual, and you seem to have experience with technical writing. Having this kind of mindset probably means that you are well aware that peer review is essential to validating your research. I would love to see the yarns produced by your techniques. There are some fairly bold assertions made on your blog and in your Ravelry posts. Why not subject your creations to a little peer review to add some indisputable validity to your claims.

Aaron said...

Dear Anonymous,

Yes, I have written great piles of technical documents, that have passed peer review or regulatory review at US-EPA and/or US-DOE and/or state/regional agencies in California, Idaho, and Washington.

What is "peer review" in spinning?
There are very good spinners in the local guilds, and they have all seen my work. These local guilds have friends that are rather exceptional spinners, and they have all seen my work. For me, that is peer review.

Why do you care? If you were the kind of spinner that was pushing the limits, you would have tried the things that I talk about and know that they work. Relative to the over all effort of hand spinning, once you have the idea, these production techniques are not much effort. In fact, these production techniques dramatically reduce the effort to produce these yarns. I have put the ideas out there, so anyone can try it, including you. However, you did not try them, or you would know that they do work, and you would have such yarns of your own making.

For me, the telling phrase is that you say (you) "would love to see the yarns produced by (my) techniques", and you do not say that you want to spin such yarns.

The bottom line is that even if you see my work in person, you are not likely to put in the effort to do this kind of spinning yourself, so it really does not matter.


Badger said...

Oh, please, Aaron! One does not have to understand how to build a car in order to drive one, even as a professional racer. I don't understand the "physics" of my spinning wheel, but I do know how to use it to get award winning yarn, consistently. Most of these "historic" spinners you are so fond of were women who were completely ignorant of the "physics" to which you refer (not being allowed an education had something to do with that), but they made incredibly fine yarns. Show us the awards you have won. Show us your finished skeins. When I hear respected spinners rave about your yarn, then I may be wiling to credit you with knowing a bit about spinning, but until then, have the grace to admit that some of us might know a bit more about spinning than you do.

Badger said...

I had vain hopes that the video you referred to would be a demonstration of you spinning these ultra-fine, multi-plied yarns you boast of, but, no, I found myself watching Gilbert and Sullivan. How, pray, does that demonstrate your ability as a spinner? You, sir, are a fraud.

Anonymous said...

I find the grounds covered by the previous five comments interesting. One, generic and positive. The second a response to your post topic (and at some points a downright pout), third your defense in which you name names specifically and continue to insult. Now the fourth caught my attention because someone seems to recognize both your skill and your apparent lack of social skills without addressing them directly- a veritable peacemaker. Your response to them is biting and condescending, confirming the accusations beyond any doubt of the number two comment, which clarified why you appear not to be warmly received by your peers. Thank you for showing better than she could point out.

This seems to me, to be the saddest part. While you appear to have skill and technical knowledge that would make you a leader, if not a pioneer, you lack the basic human kindness required to make you anything but a mean, skilled single individual. I bet there are a lot of people that would have benefitted greatly if you could have overcome your personal communication issues. Sadly, I don't expect that. After all, we don't remember Einstein for being an asshole, wonder who else we missed out on.

Anonymous said...

How in the world can you presume to know what I'm capable of spinning or what I'm willing to put in the effort to accomplish based upon my comment? You can't! You don't have the slightest idea what my skill level is, and if this is how you react to any and everyone that wants to see proof of your dubious claims, I can most certainly understand the level of intolerance your critics have developed.

Lisa said...

"And, Abby Franquemont just did not understand the physics of flyer/bobbin assemblies. When somebody writes about something that they do not understand, yes I am going to insult them. One needs to understand the physics if one is to design/make/buy the tools needed for exceptional spinning. Abby's understanding is flawed, so she will never have the superior tools that allow Alden Amos to produce such excellent yarn."

This made me laugh out loud. You do know that Alden built a custom wheel for Abby, right? So, since AA is the be-all, end-all genius of spinning (according to you), I guess Abby does have the "superior tools" to produce "excellent yarn." Even if it were true that she doesn't understand a flyer/bobbin assembly (which is one of your more ridiculous claims, BTW) she has a "superior tool."

The funny thing is, she can also produce excellent yarn with nothing more than a stick, which is apparently not part of your skill set. She can also produce excellent yarn on any type of wheel with any type of drive. If I were you, I wouldn't be tossing out such ridiculous insults. It only makes you look like an idiot.

Next time you talk to Alden Amos, you should mention this pet belief of yours re Abby. I'd love to hear what he has to say on the subject.

ThatLibraryMiss said...

If your local guilds have spinners that you consider good, and if they've seen your work, and if they consider your yarns to be better than the ones they spin themselves, I'd expect them to be adopting your methods.

If they're seen your work and they're not adopting your methods, there are two explanations: they don't think your yarn is significantly better than their own, or they're unwilling to change their hidebound ways. Out of all the spinners you've told about this marvellous yarn I'm surprised that there isn't one good, experienced spinner who's prosletizing about your technique by now.

Anonymous said...

Don't be so ridiculous, Aaron. You know perfectly well that what people are asking you for is photos of your yarn and knitting, which are very noticeable by their absence both here ad on Ravelry. You make all sorts of wild claims, you patronize people, you claim that you produce amazing yarns and garments and yet you never show us. As far as anyone her is concerned it could all be a lot of complete fantasy inside your head. Put up or shut up.

Aaron said...

Alden told me the whole story of the wheel he made for Abby, with Stephenie sitting there at her turning bench, smiling and nodding.

Alden has a memory like a bear trap.

Anonymous said...

Yes, and we're all in awe of your listening skills I'm sure...

Lisa said...

"Alden told me the whole story of the wheel he made for Abby, with Stephenie sitting there at her turning bench, smiling and nodding."

Aaaaaaand...?? Does he agree that she doesn't understand the physics of flyer/bobbin assemblies?

Aaron said...

I share ideas for free, but am called "mean" by ??

You want me to put the effort into photographing yarn that is only 1/180" thick? And, in return for that effort you are going to give me, what?

I assume that you can also spin 80s (44,000 ypp), so why do you need a picture of what I spin? Worsted 80s is 80s. And, 80s is not going to win you a prize at the Longest Thread Competition.

The only difference is that I spin faster, and I have shown you pix of the tools that allow me to spin faster.

I shared all I need to share for free.

Anonymous said...

"The bottom line is that even if you see my work in person, you are not likely to put in the effort to do this kind of spinning yourself, so it really does not matter. "

To sum it up, your response to the posters here and elsewhere is "you're not worthy"?

And you wonder why people take issue with your attitude and presentation.

Badger said...

Photographing yarn that is (really?) 1/180 inch thick (however did you measure it so precisely?) requires two things: 1. a camera 2. a macro lens for said camera. The two items in question have been around for quite some while. If you can take the time to photograph all your tools and make videos, I would think it would be a simple thing to photograph your skeins. Since you seem to spend a lot of energy on "superior tools," I would assume that you would have these laying about in order to photograph the results of your efforts.

We have asked you to show us your yarn. What we get instead is a photo of a LeClerc tension box (not even the one you say you use) with some fine yarn (but not your yarn) on it. What are we to make of that? If your yarn is that wonderful, I would think by now that someone, somewhere would have come forward and said, "Hey, guys, believe it or not, I've seen the yarn he makes, and it's for real." Instead, the silence is deafening, or you question what kind of yarn someone else makes, as if that has anything to do with it.

Those of us who actually know something about spinning are not afraid to post our yarns on-line, and we don't expect anything from anyone for it. Nice try at a deflection/distraction, but we're not going to give you anything for showing us your yarn (why would we do that?), and whether or not I can spin yarn as fine as you can does not mean that I can't ask you to back up your claims by showing proof. The correct response from you should have been, "Yup, I'll get right on that, and I can tell you the names of some locally recognized spinners who adore my yarn." Again, your silence speaks volumes.

BTW, according to the Coats and Clarks website (you know, the guys who make sewing thread - lots and lots of it), thread is measured by weight, not by diameter, so 1/180 of an inch is meaningless in terms of size comparison. With all of your claims of complex technical knowledge, I would think you would at least know that much. Spouting large (or extremely small) numbers with many digits and decimal points attached thereto is becoming tiresome.

You have gone over the edge of insulting, and now you are beginning to be amusing. Sad, but amusing. Might I suggest that you back yourself into the barn, slowly and quietly, and come out when you have something real to show the rest of your "peers?" We will be ready to see it when you are ready to show it to us. Until then, we are not amused.

ThatLibraryMiss said...

"in return for that effort you are going to give me, what?"

You will give yourself credibility. Right now you're a little boy bragging that he has the biggest and bestest toys - toys so wonderful that he can't show them to anyone else.

I will ask again: why have none of the spinners to whom you've shown this wonderful yarn adopted your methods?

Anonymous said...

Effort? You don't know much about modern cameras, do you? It's truly not that difficult.

People want to see what you spin for various reasons, I imagine: many for some evidence of your claims, a few because they're interested in the results of your experiments. It seems like such a small thing to ask - and such a natural thing to want to do. It's exciting to share what I'm working on with my peers. I get feedback, suggestions, praise, a sense of community... that's plenty of "pay" for me.

Actual profit happens when I sell what I make - and those process photos help sales, by the way. I don't sell tools, but if I did, I'd certainly include pictures of what could be made with them. Your mindset is just baffling to me.

Anonymous said...

Actually I want proof that you can spin at all. Or maybe it's all invented rather like some of the historical sources that you have claimed in the past that turned out to be untrue. You know, those obscure sources that you felt sure nopbody else would have access to and had a nasty shock when it turned out that some of us did.

So, let's have some photos, otherwise I shall just put all of your claimed craft works down to the fantasy of a raving loon who has far too beg an idea of his own importance.

LisaR said...

Aaron, I can show you a picture of a cloudbuster (look up William Reich on your favorite wikipedia), but I sure as hell can't make it rain with one.

Tools are awesome things. They're what elevates us, but only because they allow us to produce advanced objects using them. Tools, in themselves, aren't the goal. The finished product is.

Aaron said...

1) May I point out that all the folk that are so free with their advice on photography, have not posted pix of their own 80s singles.

And, there are videos in the blog of me spinning 10s, (5,600 ypp / 75 wpi.) Is there a video anywhere of Abby or Badger spinning 10s or finer?

I will produce pix, or have it done when somebody offers me money for such pix, as in a book deal. For now, it is not worth the effort. It is easier to just send/give samples to people who ask nicely (and, I have some reason to trust.) A smample says more about my spinning than a photo. For example Robin Lynde has the very first 40s that I spun on stock Ashford equipment.( At the time, she did not think that Jacob could be spun that fine. She has used the samples in some of her classes on wool and spinning. She finds the samples of academic interest, but much too fine for her weaving. Very few modern textile artists have the tools for working with such fine yarns. Beth Brown-Beinsel found my 6-ply gansey yarn academically interesting, but too firm to be of interest to her students. Of course, it was a yarn that was designed to be knit with a sheath and fine gansey needles to produce a light weight, tough fabric that that is warm enough to keep a sailor warm. Ask Beth about the fabrics that I knit.

I know the diameter of the singles because that is the number of wraps per inch. If I get 200 wraps per inch, then the thread has a diameter of 1/200". Wraps per inch works much better then trying to measure thickness with my micrometer. Micrometers tend to crush the bundle of staples and under-estimate the thickness of threads.

2) In a post on Ravelry, Abby told me that the "flyer" inserted twist. Wrong! Rotation of the bobbin (attached to the end of the thread) inserts twist, and the point of twist insertion is when the thread crosses the bobbin's axis of rotation. If one thinks that the flyer inserts twist, then one does not understand flyer/bobbin systems and cannot design DRS systems. I told Alden, that Abby told me to read his book, and then spouted that nonsense about the flyer inserting twist. We had a good laugh.

Flyer/bobbin twist insertion is clearly stated in Priestman, and Amos. Peter Teal gets it wrong.

3) Making better tools has always been the mark of the master craftsman. There were blacksmiths, but the heroic warrior forged his own sword, right down to the Jedi Knights that made their own light sabers - a message from master tool maker George Lucas. Look at why Industrial Light and Magic is so great. ILM makes new and better tools for every film that they work on. I become Senior Scientist at Bechtel because I made better tools (databases) first in Oracle SQL, and then faster and sharper tools in MS Access.

In art school, we were told that run of the mill artists buy their tools, but that great artists make (some of) their own tools. We were told that any artist that does not make tools, and/or invent new skills will get left behind. Master craftsman are those that invent new skills and build new kinds of tools.

Spinning and knitting are in a funny kind of place where first we have to remember skills and tools that have been forgotten, before we can invent new skills and build new tools. We still do not have the tools and skills that we had in 1750. In England, in 1750, a competent spinner could spin wool at its spin count. It was the law. It was how wool grades were defined, and wool was big business.

When a spinner says they are a "good spinner", I expect them to be able to spin worsted singles at a grist of 100 yards per gram.

So, when Badger tells me what a good spinner Badger is, I expect Badger to be able to spin 80s. Then, I do a search to find videos of Badger spinning. The results are not significantly different from unintelligible patter, so it really does not matter!

Bill Space said...

> Making better tools has always been the mark of the master craftsman. There were blacksmiths, but the heroic warrior forged his own sword, right down to the Jedi Knights that made their own light sabers - a message from master tool maker George Lucas.

Oh, my god. What a load of hooey.

First of all: I do not recall Luke forging his own lightsaber. Maybe I missed that scene.

Second: Star Wars is a work of fiction.

Third: In what way is a knight (even a Jedi knight) a craftsman?

Fourth: I can bet you money that a number of knights approaching zero actually made their own swords. Again, Siegfried is a work of fiction.

Fourth: Can you imagine the infinite regressivity of this? To be a master weaver, you must make your own loom. But to be a master loommaker, you must make the loommaking tools. But to be a master toolmaker, you must. . .

Really, Aaron, this is the silliest thing I've read here, and that's saying something.

Aaron said...

Who is the best spinner I know? That would be Alden Amos. Who is the best maker of spinning tools? Again, that would be Alden Amos. That is because he has designed and made tools that helped him spin better. Oh, and he did make a loom on which he produced a great deal of excellent cloth, which sold for top dollar. There is no infinite regression. There is a craftsman making and refining the tools that he needs to produce a better product.

He made tools that helped him get wool cleaner, at a lower cost. He took industrial carding machines and made them better. He made good spinning wheels. He is very proud of how well his bump roller worked. He made blocking reels. And, his modifications made looms work better. The result was that his tools allowed him to produce better product, faster, and cheaper. Look through his workshop, and there are all kinds of jigs and tools that he made to help him make better spinning and weaving tools. You think, he made my little competition flier by eye and freehand? No, there is a set of jigs and gauges for that. Those jigs and gauges are tools for making better spinning tools.

However, I do not like the spinning bobbins that he made for me, so I make my own. To do that, I made a set of jigs and specialized wood turning chisels so I can make the precise bobbins that I want. Thus, I also make tools so that I can make better spinning tools.

With the bobbins Alden sold me, I can spin 30,000+ ypp (175 wpi) singles at a good rate. With the bobbins that I make, I can spin 45,000 ypp at a good rate. Thus, my tool making lets me spin things that I could not otherwise spin.

I know that there are folk who use commercially produced spinning wheels to spin much finer than 45,000 ypp. However, those craftsman modify their wheels.

Knights were first of all warriors. Their craft was winning wars. Their tools were infantry, archers, castles, armor, and weapons. In battle, armor and weapons broke. If you want understand warfare as a craft read Pressfield's Gates of Fire.

We can assume that many of the good swords made before crucible steel were of meteor steel, and having come out of the sky were magical. see However, in the hands of real warriors, the blades of meteoric steel had to be cared for, and that called for real knowledge about steel. Knights and their squires had to have real knowledge about their steel weapons.

Circa 1,000 AD, crucible steel swords appeared in Europe. These were hugely valuable. Anything that valuable demands that those caring for it understand it.

Squires grew up taking care of their knight's armor and weapons. (Including those crucible steel swords.)

Their understanding iron/steel weapons and how to repair them was just as important to their craft of war as my understanding how to make a HSS wood turning chisel is to my spinning. I too, need to know when my tools are about to fracture.

LisaR said...

It's quite obvious that you don't understand the difference between strategy, tactics and/or logistics. Please stop embarrassing yourself.

Many good swords were made of meteor steel? Dude, this isn't The ONce & Future King, meteoric iron is extremely rare.

Good swords before crucibles were made using smelting. Damascus steel was well-known by the 3rd century.

Of COURSE they took care of the swords. They were expensive pieces of equipment. They didn't freaking make them themselves. If they'd learned to do that, they wouldn't have had time to learn to use them, or do the other things nobles did in order to be nobles and, ya know, afford them.

Seriously, keep talking. You're just getting more and more ridiculous.

Aaron said...

Look at early Swedish steel and the origins of the Viking tool kit.

Can you say, "octahedrite classe IVA"