Sunday, February 23, 2014

How fast can hand spinners, spin?

Long before mill spun, weavers were weaving ship loads of "shirting". The yarns used by the weavers were (hand spun)  "40s" or singles with a grist of 22,400 ypp  (150 wpi). Such yarns have ~15-17 tpi..  How fine are these yarns?

For one thing, a hank (560 yards), weighs just over 11 grams and can so can be spun on a small flyer/bobbin.  Seven of these plies make a yarn that we would call "lace weight".

Yarn for weaving shirting was a standard commercial product of traditional hand spinners.  Every competent spinner could spin it at a commercial rate.  How fast was that?

This morning, I was spinning shirting yarn singles on my slightly modified Ashford Traditional.  It has a flier made by Alden Amos. The geometry has been slightly modified.  The rate of spinning was between 200 and 330 yards per hour depending on whether I am using modern industrial ball bearings in the flier/bobbin assembly or bronze bearings. (Based on 48 minutes of spinning and 12 minutes of overhead.)  At this time, I see no technical reason why professional hand spinners in Flanders and Florence in the 16th century could not of have been spinning shirting at rate of 3 hanks per day on a sustained basis.  I can do it, and they could have had spinning wheels that operated at the same speed. Steel/bronze bearings lucubrated with lard oil are very low friction.

A coarser cloth was based on 5,600 ypp singles (10s) with ~9 tpi.  These days, I spin 10s at 450 yards per hour using modern industrial ball bearings,  and about 10% slower using bronze bearings. In the last couple of weeks, (during the Olympics), I spun thousands of yards of 10s.

2,800 ypp  with only 5 tpi can be spun much faster, and at this time,  I do not know where those limits are.  I know that I have no problem spinning 1,600 yards of woolen at that grist in well under 3 hours.

The bottom line is that my current best guess for the commercial rate of spinning in the 16th century is:

2,800 ypp      ==>  4,000 yards per day (I expect this is low, as it is based woolen loom weft spun last fall.)
5,600 ypp      ==>  3,200 yards per day (My favorite grist, and I frequently measure  rate of production.)
11,200 ypp    ==>  2,600 yards per day (Calculation, I have not spun 20s since upgrading the wheel.)
22,400 ypp    ==>  1,700 yards per day (Based on 2 hours of spinning this morning.)
30,000 ypp    ==>  1,300 yards per day (Calculation, I have not spun 60s since upgrading the wheel.  On the other hand, in the summer of 2012, I spun miles of 60s, learned the factors that affect production.)

These times include only spinning and wind-off onto bobbins, but they do include repair of  break-offs.   The times do not include skeining, blocking, washing,  fiber prep, or wheel setup and repair.

At this pace, a bolt of shirting cloth represents ~3,000 hours of spinning.

I think these rates are near the limit of traditional design, flyer/bobbin assemblies. Note that these rates are much higher than those cited in Alden Amos.   It is not my fault.  He made the fliers.  :- )  He should have known,  because he had sold similar fliers to others.  A significantly faster speed would require some change in the basic design of the system.  And, these speeds are workable and sustainable for a motivated worker. (I am old, and after a few days of working at this pace, sometimes I need Tiger Balm.)  A wheel running much faster would require too much effort.

Linen, nettles, and hemp required lower spinning speeds, and hence a commercial rate of spinning was achieved with a double flyer systems with a thread being produced with each hand.

I expect that this is the end of the "Wild West".   I am now pushing my wheel as fast as it is going to go. If I want to go faster, I will need another technology.  That is OK, because I am spinning much faster than I was told was possible when I started spinning. I am spinning faster than anyone else that I know.  If you do not believe  how fast I am spinning, that is not my problem. My problem is spinning fast enough so that I have the yarn that I want, with time left over for knitting, sailing, and playing in the snow.


Badger said...

I'd like to see the citations for your historical statements:

7-ply lace weight, ypp of fine shirting or "coarser" cloth, time to spin hanks for each of these.

Where did you get this information from? Most sources I have found indicate that weaving was primarily done from singles yarn (why spin seven times the length when one shot through would do the trick?). I'm curious as to where you are finding this information.

Even if you can do what you say, I'm not sure there's sufficient evidence for you to extrapolate from your own experience that "everybody" should have been able to do the same on historic wheels. Better technology makes for faster production, as you have stated many times. Your wheel is modified so that it performs differently than historic wheels, so I'm not sure if your conclusions can be retroactively applied to the extant technology of the 16th century. Just as the internal combustion engine was a leap forward from steam, your wheel has been changed so that it doesn't run in the same way that a period wheel would. I'm not sure the comparison is accurate.

Aaron said...

7-ply "lace" weight is just something I made-up to show how fine the yarns made for weaving shirting were.

The shirting yarns were 22,400 ypp. I make such singles up into 7-ply, that comes to a grist that you call "lace". Around here it is sock and glove yarn.

The truth of the matter is that 7-ply 3,000 ypp worsted spun makes very good sock and glove yarn. It has so much twist in it that even fine fibers wear well. I swave it on 1.4 mm pricks. It makes a fine, firm, dense fabric, that is very pleasant.

I have 22,400 ypp singles around, so to make up a 7-ply lace or glove or sock yarn is the work of a moment. I was making up 10-ply Aran, 6-ply worsted, and I thought I would try the new Lazy Kate on finer singles, so I made up some 7-ply lace and 10-ply sport weight. The new lazy Kate works. Before the new lazy Kate, I cheated and cabled all yarns with more than 5 plies, Thus, Then my sock yarn was cabled 4x2-ply. I like the 7-ply. It is softer, but not as durable. (However, I would guess that the Cistercians of a thousand years ago would recognize the lazy Kate design.)

See any of the old texts on weaving in Google Books. There will be some odd units, so you will have to do some unit conversion. You are a spinning teacher so you should be able to do unit conversions.

What makes my wheel different is that I built it to be fast, not pretty. I used old technologies. Very recently, I replaced some of the bronze bearings with ball bearings, but the difference is just a matter of how often I lubricate the flier assembly. Bronze bearings are an old technology. The primary reason that it runs fast and smooth is that the flyer is very small. Modern spinners want big flyers. My wheel works very well as Irish Tension, (likely the oldest style wheel.) It works very well ST. And, whether you believe it or not, spinning schools in England circa 1600 taught their students how to adjust double drive wheels. There is likely nothing about my wheel that was not available to professional spinners in Europe circa 1600. Note that the finish is beeswax and walnut oil.

Aaron said...

Anybody that disagrees with me is welcome to spin faster, or finer, or both.

My interest in antique textile production is solely to improve my knitting and spinning. And, it worked.

You do know that some major knitting museums use knitting sheath replicas and needles that I made for their knitting demonstrations? In some ways, that kinda makes me an authority on antique textile production.

K A Archer said...

"You do know that some major knitting museums use knitting sheath replicas and needles that I made for their knitting demonstrations? In some ways, that kinda makes me an authority on antique textile production."

I know you are always entertaining the idea that if we "hobby spinners/knitters/weavers" want to see your work, it is by invitation only. So, since I am certain that I couldn't afford you, I'd like to know which museum so that I may see your work "in the wild".

Aaron said...

Three years ago I sent a big package of sheaths and needles to the Dales Countryside Museum and they paid me with a package of wool from their flock. A year later, I got a note saying that the sheaths and needles were being used for demos, with a series of questions about technique.

My understanding is that, at the time, there was only one volunteer that had learned the technique. I have not heard anything since, so I do not know if those demos are still going on. I do not see them on the schedule.