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.


Susan Stewart said...

Curious -I wonder which older patterns of Niddy noddy you are referring to? -my modern niddy noddy is very heavy turned wood, with curved shaped ends, as are all the commercially available ones I have seen-not PVC or dowel. Maybe it's an Australian thing

I was really suprised when I saw illustrations of medieval spinners inbothpainting and illuminated manuscripts using what looked like fine fragile Niddy Noddies of straight timber (looking very much as though they had been cobbled together from hobby store dowelling!). With no shaping on the ends and much lighter weight looking than the ones I have seen (eg the Ashford ones or local craftsman produced)

Of course just about every single one of those spinners is using a distaff, for either wool or flax. I found it hard to get the hang of a distaff-I can't find a way of tying the top or roving on in a way that it feeds evenly

Aaron said...

re distaff - are you trying to spin worsted or woolen? I find a combed sliver can be wound onto a distaff and unwound as spinning progresses. Tension between the drafting hand and the distaff helps keep the fibers aligned. The distaff is a huge advantage for spinning worsted.

For woolen, the distaff is no help with long draw, so you need one of the other woolen drafting styles. And, these work better with a DRS controlled twist to takeup ratio (AA pg 390)and even better when a gang flier whorl reduces slip.) Mostly I would say these work better with longer wools.

I wind the roving on to the distaff, and unwind the distaff as I spin, so it is unlike a flax distaff.

The subjects of art, would be rich, so they would be NOT producing utilitarian goods - they showed that they had leisure by producing finer yarns. They might be producing a few ounces of yarn for making lace, while their maids used heavier niddy noddys to larger amounts of heavier yarn for weaving.