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.


kenneth Whitworth said...


I just saw a double flier wheel on Ebay and I noticed that the two fliers were different. Could the old double flier wheels have actually been used to make switching to a different yarn grist easier? Rather than for double handed drafting (which seems silly to me) or for two spinners to work together (which seems just as silly to me)??

Tony Eden said...

I have been reading your blog for a long time. I just don't get it. Do you spin for enjoyment? if so what's the need to to do it better faster cheaper. Surely the purpose is to enjoy what you do and not put yourself under significant pressure.

If you spin for the product and you want it better faster cheaper then why the need to write about it in such detail with the criticism of others? Just do it and use the yarn. It matters not what others do.

Aaron said...

I spin because I want better yarn.

I want yarns that the mills do not spin anymore.

Aaron said...

Many old spinning wheel been restored for the antique trade. They just want something that looks old.

Many wheel repair men did not understand older wheels and fixed them to conform with Victorian/modern spinning conventions. For example the whorls on CPW have mostly been altered to suit modern long draw spinning technique.

Double handed drafting seems silly to you because you are not trying to make a living by selling hand spun yarn by the hank. Linen was spun very fine, but required low twist and could be easily drafted with one hand. Thus, spinner drafting linen with each hand could make almost twice as much money per day. By 1600, there were laws in England to the effect that spinning schools had to teach students to spin with both hands, and schools were required to have double flyer wheels for their students to practice on.

Aaron said...

When I started spinning, I was told a lot of stuff that was just plain wrong.

I want other spinners to have a hint of how much incorrect information there is out there.

As I learn how to spin better, I want save others the effort. I want other spinner be able to spin better and faster.

kenneth Whitworth said...


Not having spun flax, it hadn't crossed my mind that flax would be spun with a woolen technique. I must plant some flax and learn.


Anonymous said...

So is there one post that sums up your advice for new spinners? That would be so useful. What to avoid, what to believe and what not to believe. It sounds like your experience has been rocky, but you hung in there and kept learning. I'm only just starting out and there seems to be so much contradictory information...

Aaron said...

I did not mean to say that linen could be spun "woolen". It may be possible but it is not something I have done.

Cotton can be spun with random orientation.