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.