Monday, March 24, 2014


I was told by "experts" that kitting sheaths are not useful.
I was told by "experts" that weatherproof  fabric could not be knit.
I was told by "experts" that what ever they knit firmly was a warm as warm could be.
I was told by "experts" that I could not spin fast and fine, and that I was silly and stupid to try and spin fast.
I was told by "experts" that differential rotation speed (DRS) controlled double drive systems do not work                                        without slipage.
I was told by "experts" that "gansey yarn" was never, and could not be hand spun.
I was told by  "experts" that real hand spun 10-ply Aran weight yarn could not be produced.
I was told by  "experts" that CPW were the fastest wheels available.
I was told by "experts" that swaving is not swaving.
I was told by  "experts" that twist insertion on a flyer/bobbin assembly wheel was by the flyer.
I was told by  "experts" that high speed steel (HSS) scrapers could be sharpened by "burnishing".  (It was                                          wood turning, but they were mostly spinners, making spindles.)
I was told by  "experts" that accelerators on spinning wheels were not useful.
I was told by  "experts" that flyer/bobbins are always slower than great wheels.
I was told by "experts" that sectional beams are not needed for fine weaving.

and etc.

All of the above expert opinions are wrong, but they are the conventional wisdom that is recited over and over again.  That first item about knitting sheaths has been in the echo chamber since before the days of Mary Thomas (1938).

Am I storing up "hurts" and resentment?  No, I track what works, and what others tell me works.  The above are mostly the result of people of limited breadth of experienced talking about things for which they have no direct experience.  There is a difference between having 30 years of experience and having 2 years of experience, 15 times.

I know! I know, I was warned,  Feynman warned us that anytime the assembled experts say anything, always do the math yourself.  However, the textile world has a problem with its experts.  They are frequently wrong, and they are rarely challenged by the community.   The community has a huge respect for the conventional wisdom, and the community rarely tests the conventional wisdom.

However, when I go against the "boss-cow" experts, I am challenged.  Authority in the recreational and academic textile world is by seniority rather than by merit and quality of information.  Yes, at this point I am not friendly towards the conventional wisdom of the modern recreational textile world.  I find that every time that I refute the conventional wisdom, many become rude.  I have been through this cycle more than a dozen times in the last 15 years.  I am wary, and I  might seem a bit hateful, but yes, I have reason.

I like my experts to know what they are talking about and get things correct. I claim to be a scientist, not an expert on textiles. Likely, I know more about knitting sheaths than anyone else in the world today, but I do not claim to be an "expert".  Any master knitter in the 16th century knew more about (some kinds) of knitting sheaths than I do.  

For example, people that have never worked with knitting-sheath knit fabrics assume that any hand knit fabric is as good.   This is false! That is like saying a thumb tack pushed in with bare fingers holds wooden beams together as well as a 16d framing nail driven in with a carpenter's hammer.  Both the knitting sheath and the carpenter's hammer provide leverage to multiply force. Smash your thumb with a carpenter's hammer and you know it provides more force than your bare fingers. However, somebody that has never worked with big carpenter's nails, does not know how strong they can be. And, I promise that for somebody that only knows about thumb tacks, real carpenter's nails driven with a hammer are a revelation.  Likewise, somebody that has never worn a fabric knit with a knitting sheath just does not know just how warm a "hand knit" garment can be. No amount of knitting tight with hand held needles can prepare one for what a knitting sheath can do. Wear a sweater knit with a knitting sheath in a storm, and you know that it is knit tighter.  Nobody can get that kind of tight with hand held needles.  Human tendons and muscle will not get you there, you need extra leverage. Knitting sheaths with "gansey needles" are the difference between knitting a fine, weatherproof fisherman's shirt in a few days, and it taking a full year to knit.  Knitting sheaths with curved, rotating needles are a game changer when it come to knitting fine gloves.  Unless you have a knitting sheath and have learned how to use it very well, such fabrics are outside of your experience.  No hand knitting without a knitting sheath comes close.  I know, I spent 5 or 6 years knitting as tight as possible without a knitting sheath.  In those days, I was a good rock climber, and  I kept my hands and arms very strong.  I know exactly how tight it is possible to knit without a knitting sheath.

I keep little lists of what people say works, but which I cannot get to work.  I keep lists of what works for me, but others tell me (do not, should not, could not, would not) work.  This blog is part of that system of lists, along with my knitting, spinning, and weaving journals.  I keep lists of the best way I know how to do something.  When I find a better way, I cross the old way out, and write in the new, better way.  These lists are never finished, because there is always, always, always a better way. Every work procedure is a compromise between quality, schedule, and resources.  Sometimes the better way is just a different compromise solution.  Sometime schedule is more important than quality.  Sometimes it is better to have poor mittens than no mittens!!

All of the different compromises work, they are not wrong.  What is wrong is when somebody says knitting sheaths are not useful to knitting.  Knitting sheaths may not be required for the current project, but in the long run, they allow knitting faster, knitting more ergonomically, and knitting fabrics that cannot realistically be hand knit without a knitting sheath.

When I published an account of my first hot rod wheel, I was told by a "boss-cow" spinner/ expert that I was stupid and silly to try such a thing.  A better response would have been a technical discussion of drive belt physics, swept areas, and whorl profiles, but this expert provided none of that.  She merely called me stupid and silly, and her style always includes scatological references.  A few years later she bragged about having about a wheel with a similar ratio from a big name wheel maker.  And, she apologized to me.

Most of the experts that told me stuff that was wrong have not apologized. One of the experts that first told me knitting sheaths were not useful, now writes on the history of knitting sheaths, and proclaims herself an expert on them. She also told me that "5-ply gansey yarn" had never been spun by hand, and could not be spun by hand.  She has since back tracked on that issue. However, she still jabs at me every time I say anything outside of the conventional wisdom. She also denies most of the history of English fishing.

Pretty much everything that I have fond most useful, are things that were outside of the conventional wisdom in recreational textiles.   Spinning faster facilitates spinning finer.  And, spinning finer facilitates better yarns- and with better yarns one's knitting and weaving improves.  Better textiles begin with better yarn.  I do not regret any time spent improving my spinning.

With better yarn comes better knitting.  The better my spinning, the more I enjoy knitting.  The better my spinning, the better my knit objects.  It is all about the yarn.  Hand spinning provided all kinds of wonderful yarns in the past, but which are no longer made as mill spun. If you want to replicate the look, feel, and quality of  some traditional knit objects, you need different yarns  than the mills are selling to recreational knitters these days. The only way to get those yarns is the spin them yourself.  However, you need a vision of the final object in mind as you plan the yarn.  Without that vision, your handspun will be no better than the mill spun you and everyone else have been using.

I will freely admit that setting up, using and maintaining a DRS controlled double drive system requires skill, and on-going attention to maintenance. However, the rewards in better spinning are also great. Most spinners even neglect to oil their wheels and cannot in any way be expected to understand or maintain a DRS system.  Many modern spinners even think that the flyer inserts twist.  With that world view it is not possible to manage a DRS system in any way, shape, or form.  With that world view, the spinner will never see the benefits of DRS.  There are advantages to learning physics and being able to do math.

Finally, if you go to a major fiber show, and talk to all the interesting people, you can be pretty sure that some of them have seen and admired my work.  If I am writing about something, it is because I have been working on it long enough to have a working prototype that shows advantages.  By the time I write about it, the local guild, and other textile people have seen it work.  Your saying that it (does not, should not, could not, would not) work only shows your lack of experience on the topic.

By the time I wrote about accelerators here,  I had made 8 or 9 prototypes and figured out how to make the concept work very well.  When I wrote here,  I had already demonstrated that the concept had large advantages.  AA reminded me of images I had seen as a child.  Then, I tested the concept.  It worked.  That was the only reference that I needed.  Anyone that doubted the concept could make one for themselves and find that;  Yes, it did work!   I had already seen that "Oh, My!!' moment when a much faster wheel made spinning fine much easier.  And, this was years past the time when I had moved to high ratio whorls to get more speed for spinning "lace weight" singles.  The power of the accelerator is that it changes swept area and reduces drive band slip.  This was another,  Oh, My!! moment.  A sudden understanding that even more speed makes spinning even finer, even easier!   It was another surprise.  By then, having people whining about lack of references was silly. The time to complain about lack of references is before the working model is perfected.  The accelerator works today on an Ashford.   "It works!" is the only reference that I need.  If you need more references or citations, you can find them yourself.  Your need for academic citations is not my problem.  My problem is only to have the best tools that I can have.

Why did not all the experts warn me of this effect?  Where in all of the advice on spinning fine is the very important fact that spinning faster, makes spinning finer easier?    Sure, there are other factors, but spinning fast helps --  a lot.

It has become clear that many of the skills that I need for weaving fine woolen cloth have been lost. I will have to rediscover the tools and techniques.  It will take hundreds of hours before I turn out a fine hand spun, hand woven, woolen fabric. Yes, I have a pile of problems in front of me.  My advantage is that I can just use any solution that works, without demanding academic citations for everything.  And, I am past worrying about what the experts say.



Einar Svensson said...

You say: "The above are mostly the result of people of limited breadth of experienced talking about things for which they have no direct experience. There is a difference between having 30 years of experience and having 2 years of experience, 15 times."

This can apply to you about weaving. You have a year of experience in weaving, and probably have not really been thinking about the technical details longer than that. I have also woven in the past, as anyone who grew up with a mother who teaches textiles would, although I haven't woven for many years, and I have studied and read much about textiles because I love them.

I dare to say that your "breadth of experience" of weaving is narrower than mine, even if I have never made the fabrics you aspire to. I say "aspire to" because you have not yet made this fabric. You don't even know with certainty if your technique will work, although it is clear that it has worked for others.

I don't claim expertise. You claim expertise when you say "this is the only way to make this kind of fabric". You are not entitled to claim expertise.

The point is not that you cannot do it your way. The point is that you cannot say that no one else can do it any other way than your way. You do not have the breadth of experience, or the historical knowledge, to make such a claim.

Aaron said...

Nothing in the above about how to warp fine singles without using the concept of a sectional loom.

No go back and watch your sister warp a commercial length of fine worsted singles. Commercial lengths of warp run hundreds of yards and are essentially always handled in sections. By late Roman times, ship loads of textiles were on the move and there were commercial/ industrial weaving in process. That tells us that people were innovating to weave fast. Commercial/ industrial looms either have sectional warping beams or are warped using a sectional warping mill.

Discussions of the European history of weaving written in the 19th and early 20th century look at the fabric and discuss what kinds of looms could have made such fabrics. By the late 20th century, historians were reduced to looking at pictures of old looms. What they saw sudden in the 10th and 11th century, there are pix of complete, horizontal, 2-beam looms, so the later historians assume that such looms appeared suddenly. No, if we look at the fabrics produced, we know there was an arc of development from late Roman times.

Let me know when you can warp a loom with 22,000 ypp hand spun singles. It is a great deal more difficult than you think it is. You do not have the experience to even understand the problems.

I, also, have never done it, but I know it was done, and therefore it can be done. However, I am working with the materials and looking at history for clues as to how it was, and can be done.

What you miss is that I grew up with a fascination with science an technology. Textiles were an important part of Yankee technology, so I learned it forwards and backwards. Certainly, in the last few years, I have had to go back and relearn the details. I think there are about 70 books on textiles and textile technology that I have read at least in part within the last year. I read very fast, but as you may have noticed in notes on Rutt, I tend to be a bit critical. Just because I read it, does not mean that I believe it.

I like technology and science because one can always do an experiment and test it. In that world, if somebody had such-and-such a fabric, then they had the tools to make that fabric. In your world, they can have that fabric by --- magic, because they do not have the tools to produce that fabric.

Einar Svensson said...

Again, you miss the point. No one is saying that you cannot do it your way. What I am saying is that your way is not the only way to do it.

You are, as you say in English, putting the cart before the horse. The existence of such textiles is proof that they were made, not proof of how they were made. They can be made with a sectional beam loom. It is not the only way to make them, since such looms did not exist as early as you claim.

You are in love with technology. This love blinds you to historic truth.

Why is this logic so hard for you to understand?

Anonymous said...

Oh honey. You just didn't get enough attention as a child, did you?

Anonymous said...

"Am I storing up "hurts" and resentment?"

For someone who doesn't, you do post a lot in your blog that you do. Kinda hypocritical, no?

Also... you dismiss experts a lot... but you also don't take criticism very well. What makes you so sure that "they" are purely wrong and you're so incredibly right?

It's one thing to have an opinion, but you've yet to back up anything you write with tangible proof. Your ranting isn't proof. Show us, fer chrissakes.