Thursday, February 20, 2014

A hank per hour of worsted 10s

(e.g., 560 yards per hour of 5,600 ypp ) is not hard.  It just means spinning ~ 10 yards per minute.  (CF Alden Amos, page 241)   The truth of the matter is that a good flier/bobbing assembly will produce about twice as much yarn per hour as a great wheel with a driven spindle.  Flyer/bobbin wheels displaced great wheels because they were more productive.  Great wheels /driven spindles were easier to make and cheaper, but flyer/bobbin assemblies are faster.

It takes a wheel that goes fast enough, and then, is just a matter of drafting fast enough not break off.  That does take some skill, focus and, concentration.

This means that I am spinning about 8 times faster than was physically possible to spin on the stock, basic Ashford Traditional. The concept of a spinning wheel promises much more speed of spinning than is delivered in modern spinning wheels.  Alden Amos and I modified my Traddy for more speed.

The modifications that Alden Amos and I made to the Ashford design were very minor. We made the flier smaller so that it has less wind resistance, we changed the diameter of the whorls by a few millimeters, we changed the geometry slightly, and we put a pair of inexpensive ball bearings on the flier/bobbin assembly.  Note that we did not put ball bearings in the bobbins. Not  much change considering the very dramatic change in speed.  However, without those changes, you are not going to get that kind of speed out of a Traddy.

After Victorian times, people compared the productivity of great wheels to the productivity of flyer/bobbin assemblies that had devolved to become slower hobby machines. For example, even Alden Amos designed slip into his DD wheel systems.  The slip, and his preference for single treadle wheels that result in a surge of power and high drive belt slippage, tells us that his wheels were not designed to run much faster than other modern spinning wheels.  He had certainly explored the problems with high-speed flier/bobbin assemblies, but he did not harness the differential rotation speed math to engineer adequate power transfer to the  flies to sustain those high speeds.  Thus, people compared professional grade, great wheels to hobby grade flyers and found the professional grade went faster.  However, when one designs a flier/bobbin assembly for speed and productivity, it goes faster, much faster.

Some spinners will say that they want to do "ART" yarns, and therefore they need the big fliers, and do not need the speed. I understand that, but we (modern spinners) have forgotten how to spin fine and how to spin fast, and those are the traditional criteria for good spinning.

Look at the great ART textiles of history. Very few are based on thick, fluffy yarns because such yarns shed fibers while being worn and the textiles are hard to clean.  (Have a heart to heart talk with Stephenie  Gaustad before weaving such hand spun yarns . It will save much heart ache.)  What we call art yarns are mostly for the display case or single use, fancy wear. Fine textiles are almost always built on fine spinning. Fine spinning is more durable. A fine spun lace yarn is more durable than a fluffy ART yarn.  Lace knit from fine lace yarn on thin needles is more durable than the same stitches knit on larger needles from thicker yarns. To have useful amounts of fine yarn one must spin fast. Fine yarn is strong because it has a lot twist in it. If one is going to insert a lot of twist, then one needs a fast wheel. There are real reasons why spinning fast and fine was the mark of a good spinner. To have a spinning wheel designed to produce low grist, low twist ART yarns is the height of conspicuous consumption.  We have spinners making ART yarns because they do not have the skills to make quality yarn.

I am sure that some readers will claim that they do have the skills to spin quality yarn.  OK, show where you have hand spun the warp and weft for a bolt of shirting fabric - that would be 36 pounds of 22,400 ypp singles (~810,00 yards). Now, who among you have done that?

No, I am not moving the goal posts. The goal posts were always where they are!  What changes is our understanding of how far we are from the goal posts, and how difficult it is to score a goal.   Prior to mill spun, weavers did commonly place orders for 810,000 yards of single with a grist of 22,400 ypp with spinners.  Hand spinners in the UK, Flanders, Italy, India, China, Turkey, and Egypt spun huge orders for very fine yarns from wool, cotton, linen, and other fibers.  It was be done.  It can be done.  My next spinning project is 210,000 yards of 5,600 ypp white wool singles for a weaving project. I have ordered the wool.  I am taking baby steps toward my goals.  Yes, I need more bobbins.


Badger said...

Actually, Aaron, spindle wheels are very fast, indeed, particularly with a Minor's head assembly. The reason that treadle wheels became more prevalent than spindle wheels is, I believe a bit more complex than you assert.

Great wheels are BIG, and they take up a lot of room. They are also not terribly portable. If one is a pioneer in a small cabin on the Great Plains, a great wheel is going to take up more space than a smaller treadle wheel and is going to be more difficult to transport in a covered wagon, even broken down into the table, wheel, and flyer assembly. Whereas with a treadle wheel, a spinner can tuck herself/himself into a corner and spin away, the great wheel requires walking room as well. I wanted to take my great wheel to a recent fiber retreat, and I was told not to because there wouldn't be enough room in the common area for me to spin. As it was, I was crammed into a corner with my little castle wheel for the weekend. The great wheel would just have been a non-starter.

While great wheels are suitable for woolen spinning and cotton, and can produce quite fine yarns very quickly due to the ratio of the drive wheel to the spindle whorl, two hands are needed to spin flax - one for drafting and the other to dip into water to smooth the yarn. If a spinner has to choose only one wheel to bring along to her new home on the prairie, she's likely to choose the flax wheel - it's smaller, and it will spin both wool and flax. Plying is easier on a treadle wheel, too. I think this is the reason why you find more great wheels the further east you go and far fewer on the West Coast - nobody wanted to try to transport them that far.

I have both kinds of wheels, and I wasn't able to successfully spin cotton until I bought a great wheel. I have recently modified an antique treadle wheel into a spindle wheel, and I'm looking forward to having the advantages of the compact size of a treadle wheel with the faster speed afforded by the greater ratio of the spindle.

Have you tried spinning on a great wheel? I found it to be a real pleasure, and once it is mastered, it was and is possible to spin large quantities of very fine yarn very quickly since each draw is so long compared to a single draw on a treadle wheel. Remember that the fine cloth worn by the royalty of Europe was primarily spun on spindle wheels, and those folks were not going to settle for anything less than the very best.

As far as "art" yarn, I think people find it to be a fun and creative outlet to pull all kinds of things together to make a yarn. It seems to me that most of these yarns are turned into fiber jewelry to be worn as they are rather than used in textiles. I don't spin this kind of yarn, but I enjoy seeing what people come up with to create them. To each his/her own.

Aaron said...

The accelerator /miner's head for great wheels was invented/patented 30 years after mill spun yarns dominated the market for weaving yarn. By the time the miner's head was patented, essentially all commercial weavers were using mill spun. The miner's head was for the Amish market. If it was ever used in commercial production, then the patent examiner was not doing his job.

This is not to say that Amish spinners did not sell their yarn to other Amish, but they were not spinning on the industrial scale of Flanders and Florence in the 16th centuries.

With a miner's head, a great wheel can average some 2,250 rpm with a reasonably active spinner. That is faster than most authors say a flyer/bobbin array can be run.

However, these days, I routinely run my flier/bobbin assembly at sustained speeds of between 2,600 and 4,300 rpm depending on the grist that I am spinning. Inertial effects of starting and stopping the miner's head /driven spindle/ copp will prevent you from achieving those kinds of average speeds with a miner's head and human muscle power.

Charkhas are compact driven spindles for cotton and woolen. They are very good for spinning fine cotton. Alden Amos made very good ones and may still have a few for sale. As made and used in India, they are reasonably priced, compact, and portable.

Badger said...

Aaron, the Miner's head was not made exclusively for the Amish. The wheel heads were made initially in New Hampshire and New York and were patented for sale for great wheels of all kinds, and they are found all over the country, not just in areas settled by the Amish, and there are far too many of them to have been only sold to the Amish. There are innumerable photos of women standing at spinning wheels with Miner's head, and none of them that I have ever seen have depicted an Amish woman (the Amish do not like having photos taken of them, especially those showing faces).

Aaron said...


The Amish made, and sold to the public, all kinds of useful items.

However, in 1810 (when the Miner's head was invented) it was cost effective for farmers to sell their wool at market and use the money to buy cloth. That is, farm wages would buy more cloth than a person could spin and weave in the same number of hours. Thus, in 1810, there was a very limited market for hand spinning tools. Amish, and Mennonite preferences increased the market. However, there were still hand spinning tools left over from before mill cloth became cheap. Steel parts to make spinning wheels were the single largest import from England in the 3 years after the Revolutionary war. In 1786, North America was awash in spinning wheels made with English steel parts. Ten years later, Yankees were busy building spinning and weaving mills up and down New England's valleys.

Check the dates on your photos.

Prior to 1850, when Queen Victoria made spinning a fashionable court activity, how many Miner's heads had been made and sold? Not many. Most spinning wheels (and Miner's Heads) were made and sold after hand spinning became a fashionable activity circa 1850. And by 1850, most of the spinning tools from before mill cloth had been lost. And, professional level hand spinning skills had been lost in North America. In the period from 1810 to 1840 hand spinning was not cost effective in NA. Rather than spinning, it was better to use the time to raise a few extra sheep.

So, how long will it take for you to spin (on a great wheel) the yarn to weave a bolt of shirting?

In the period 1520 to 1780, I doubt if a great wheel could keep up with a small, fast flyer (even for woolen). Huge amounts of very fine cotton cloth was hand spun in this period on charkha in south Asia, but that was a result of the relative cost of labor v. capital.

The bottom line is that much of the glory of the great wheel comes from the Miner's head that was invented 20 years after spinning ceased to be a viable profession in NA. Even with a Miner's head, nobody could produce yarns as cheaply as with a mill.

Another point is, that it is one thing to spin fairly robust knitting yarns or threads for weaving thick towels on a great wheel and it is something altogether different to spin fine threads for weaving shirting on a great wheel. On a great wheel the fine threads require so much care, that everything slows down. How fast can you spin shirting (22,400 ypp/ 150 wpi) on a great wheel? I am clumsy, and I break off ever 6 feet. However, I can spin woolen at that grist on my flyer at about 200 yards per hour. For me, at that grist, the flyer is faster.

And, with a great wheel, once you have finished up the woolen weft, you still have to spin the worsted warp - and warp speed on a great wheel is not very fast.

Badger said...

Oh, dear. Aaron, you don't know much about great wheels, or you wouldn't write as you do.

Since the Miner's head was invented in 1810, there couldn't have been as many of them sold prior to 1850 as there would have been after that time because it had just recently been invented. Your logic is peculiar and equivalent to saying "how many Ford cars were made and sold prior to 1910 compared to 1970?" A new invention needs time to be distributed, particularly in an age where the horse is still the primary means of transportation. That doesn't mean that Queen Victoria had anything to do with it. The Miner's head was made and used in America, not England, and the Amish don't give a hoot about Queen Victoria or fashion.

Great wheels without Miner's heads are still incredibly fast. When I first learned to spin on a great wheel, I had to take the Miner's head off because it was just so darn fast. Even with the Miner's head off, I was still able to spin cotton without breakage or overtwist, quite rapidly.

Based on your prior posts it seems likely that you don't own a great wheel or have only tried to spin on one a few times, if that. Spinning worsted or woolen is a matter of how the fiber is prepared, not how fast the wheel is. Worsted yarn is made by combing the fiber, and woolen is made by carding it. Different types of sheep are especially suitable for worsted types of thread. These are the longwool sheep such as English Leicester, Wensleydale. They take no more time to spin as worsted than spinning a different breed of sheep, such as Tunisor Southdown for woolen yarn. How do I know this? I've done it. I have a great wheel in addition to two Rick Reeves wheels, an antique flyer wheel I have modified into a spindle wheel,and a little no-name castle wheel, all double drive. And that's just the current collection. In the past I have had two Ashford traditionals, but I wanted a better wheel, so I bought the Reeves wheels.

I don't understand what you mean by "shirting." If you are referring to the undergarments worn by men and women from the Middle Ages to the 18th century in Britain, they were made of linen, not wool, so a "shirt" to me is a reference to the linen garment worn under the doublet/bodice. Are you actually saying that nobody wore fine fabrics until the invention of the flyer wheel? Are you really saying that? Because if you are, the folks at the V & A would laugh at you, since they have textiles of very fine quality which long predate the existence of the flyer wheel.

Sure, flyer wheels are faster than a spindle, and modern spinning equipment is faster than the fastest hand spinning wheel. And modern machinery makes it possible to make cloth faster and cheaper (though "better" is debatable). And your point about that would be what? Is more better for you? If so, that's fine. I'm not sure that fits my own values, but if quantity is what you're after, then why not build a steam driven fiber mill or something nifty like that? There might even be a market for such things.

Aaron. I hear you go on and on about speed, RPMs, yards per hour, etc., etc. Where is the weaving? Where is the final cloth? You can have miles and miles of yarn that you have spun as fast as lightning, and if it doesn't hold up in the weaving or feels like a hair shirt when you're wearing it, all your efforts will have been wasted.

Really, Aaron, many of us have been trying to tell you that you need to slow down and listen to a few of us who have had experience in spinning the kinds of yarns you want to make. We honestly do know what we're doing, and some of us would be happy to encourage your efforts if you weren't so condescending. We might be able to help you avoid needless mistakes. You don't have to reinvent the (spinning) wheel.