Monday, March 10, 2014

"Made up"

The fact that folks missed the accelerators in Alden Amos (and other sources)  is a good clue into how familiar they are with the literature on old spinning tools.  It  is an example of how well they do their home
work.  My Lazy Kate uses the concept of a tension box, and tension boxes are likely as old as sectional beam looms (e.g., Bronze Age).   In professional textiles, it is an old concept.  It is clearly something the  Cistercians would have known about.

"Made up" is a synonym for  "prepared", or "produced".  When I say, I "made up" 7-ply lace weight, it just means that I spun/plied a bobbin of the stuff   to  demonstrate just how easy to spinning very fine singles can be. (And to test my new Lazy Kate! )   Did the old professional handspinners spin that fine? Yes, handspinners spun tonnes of  "fines" (30,000 ypp - 45,000 ypp) for the weaving industry.   The truth is that any competent spinner can spin Merino or Rambouillet singles so fine that they can produce 10-ply lace weight. By those standards, my 7-ply lace weight was nothing special.  An expert spinner, willing to put some time and effort into it, can spin Merino or Rambouillet singles much finer.

The  Cistercians took vows to only wear white wool.  And, one of their missions was to teach domestic arts, including sheep husbandry, spinning, and weaving.  They produced their own robes. In Chaucer's day, there were 35,000 lay brothers working in  Cistercian controlled wool trade. Since the monks could not wear anything under the wool, they had a very strong incentive to produce produce wool with a low itch factor.  For a while, the  Cistercians were the richest organization in the world, and that wealth was based on wool.   They had the resources and the incentive to produce the softest wool.   They ran an international wool breeding program, bringing fine Spanish rams (Merino) into England.  (When Henry VIII, kicked them out of England, they slaughtered and ate their finest wool sheep. )

There was a time when the spinners were likely the very best mechanical engineers.  Women can do anything necessary to work faster, and produce a better product.  They can understand any process. They can improve any process that can be invented. They designed multiple versions of flyer/bobbin assemblies, and anybody that can do that has a deep knowledge of the physics and math of twist.  They may have expressed it differently than I do, but they understood the physics and could do the math. It was their craft.  Given the fractions in use at the time, we can expect that often the math was done geometrically with dividers and straight edge, rather than as an abstract calculation.  Nevertheless, they understood the physics of the situation, which is more than I can say for Majacraft ( )

I use a digital tachometer, but I know other ways to get the same data.  Tracking the number of hanks produced per day in a spinning journal is a much more sensitive measure of spinning speed. (Slower, but much more sensitive.) Women spinning for pence do track how fast they spin, and they work out how to spin faster.

Women with too much leisure time, work out how to do less in more time.  This was the case for ladies in Queen Victoria's Court.  They worked out how to make a tiny bit of spinning fill the day.  Spinners in the 1960s looked back to those Victorian ladies for their knowledge of spinning.  They learned to spin slowly.  If modern spinners had looked back to the professional spinners of 1760, they would have learned how to spin fine and fast.


=Tamar said...

Cisterns? I'm not familiar with the term as an order, just as plumbing. Is it a typo for Cistercians?

Einar Svensson said...

Hello again my friend! Long time no write. How is your weaving going - I would very much like to read a few posts about that and maybe even see some pictures.

You know I am a history teacher, so I want to ask you something about the sectional beam loom being in use since the bronze age. This is fascinating, since as I understand, the "modern" frame loom with warp stretched between two beams, high enough above the floor for the weaver to stand or sit on a bench, was invented in the Medieval period. In the bronze age, I have not read about anything other than a warp-weighted loom or other simple shedding device for a simply stretched warp. Do you have any historical reference to bronze age use of a two beam winding loom with the warp parallel to the floor?

Also, do you mean Cistercian when you say Cistern? Is that an English term for them that I do not know?
Kind regards, Einar Svensson

Anonymous said...

Cistercian. Not Cistern.

Stephen Harding said...

Cistercian, Aaron.

Aaron said...

Look at the cloth fragments and how far the cloth was being traded. Look at the (Frisian) Bronze Age archaeology and note how much has been recovered and what has not been recovered, and what has been assumed by modern textile historians.

Now, sit down and show me how to weave cloth that fine, in those volumes without a sectional beam and tension box???

Warp weighted looms work very well for coarser fabrics, but not so well for finer fabrics.

Thus, if you find a fine cloth that has been traded, then it was produced in quantity, and thus they were using a sectional beam.

If I take my loom out and bury it, the first thing to disappear will be the sectional beam. The evidence of the loom will be there for a long, long time, but the sectional beam will disappear rather quickly.

So we are reading history. Has the author ever warped a loom at 48 epi? Can we trust them to know what is a plausible weaving technology for the discovered fabrics of the period? Or, are they going to interpret the fragments that they find in context of modern recreational weaving where people do not weave at 48 epi?

To put that in context, Alden Amos is the expert on the history and function of spinning wheels. He made me a flyer for my spinning wheel. You can cite what he wrote in the year 2000 about the performance of spinning wheel flyers vs. great wheels, but if you are talking about that flyer as I use it, you would be 100% wrong. And, here we are talking about the author that made the artifact. For an author working with fragmentary artifacts, made by others, originally used to produce products unlike any the author has every produced, the margin of error is likely to be greater than 100%.

Bronze age people had "shirting" weight fabrics. I would need to see somebody weave a bolt of shirting weight fabric on the loom technology proposed for the Bronze Age by textile historians/ archaeologists before I would accept that sectional beams did not exist in the Bronze Age. And, I would add that textile historians/ archaeologists are not likely to recognizes all the form factors that would function as a sectional beam. I am easy to convince - just sit down at a hanging weight loom (with nothing that functions as a sectional beam) and weave a bolt of fabric as fine as the finest fabrics dated to the period. If the textile historian/ archaeologist cannot replicate all of the fabrics dated to the period, then they do not really understand the textile technologies of the period.

I am very slowly working through the practical issues of managing shirting weight warp (22,000 ypp, 512 meters/ 11 grams), and they are daunting. If has enough twist in it to be warp, then it tends to form pig tails and tangle. And, it is fine enough that it is hard to untangle. Many traditional, fulled fabrics were woven from unblocked singles, so blocking then to make them easier to handle is cheating. Hand spun, fine, unblocked singles are very hard to manage. Any commercial sized loom warped with hand spun 40s will have more than a thousand chances to tangle at any given time.

I understand that "most" will disagree with the above. That is OK! Most have NOT tried warping hand spun 40s.

At some point, it was "Cistercian", and my spelling program went through and changed it.

Einar Svensson said...

Yes, there is much evidence of how those fine cloths were woven. We find the evidence in grave paintings, on ancient vases, later in illustrated manuscripts. Many cultures showed weaving in their artwork because it was so important. But there is no picture of anything looking like the loom that you are weaving on until the middle ages, and then I don't know about the sectional beam, but I don't think so.

One way of weaving would be on a warp weighted loom. But that was not the only technology. Another would be a backstrap loom. Another would be the warp stretched out over the ground with the weaver working his way along. Or many other ways.

You say "Now, sit down and show me how to weave cloth that fine, in those volumes without a sectional beam and tension box???"

But you have never woven with anything else. You do not know what is possible, only what you can do and have done. There is documentary evidence in paintings of the beautiful fine silks of ancient China being woven, and there is no loom like you describe.

You have the benefit of modern technology. Saying that they must have had a sectional beam and tension box in the bronze age because they made fine fabrics is like saying that they must have had airplanes in the Renaissance because people travelled from Europe to the new world. Modern technology does not mean that there was no way to do it before, just that there's a faster way to do it now.

You must read a good history of textiles so that you can understand these things. Agnes Geijer "The History of Textile Art" (probably the English title) is very good; it is such an important book that it must be translated into English.

Aaron said...


I grew up in a world of Native American weavers with Joe Ben Wheat as a guide. My question to you, is what is the finest cloth you have every woven from hand spun? Are YOU familiar with the technical issues of producing fine fabrics? Not, what have you read, but what have you woven?

I say that folks went from Europe to China and China to Europe because we have found the trail, and the stone work steps have been dated to be 4,000 years old in some places. I have walked parts of that trail, and do not need to invoke airplanes, or even camels or mules.

Different kinds of textiles are used for different purposes and produced in different quantities on different looms in different places. In a pre-industrial culture, there were likely at least 10 looms producing heavy fabric for storage bags or sails for every loom producing fine fabric for the queen's court. Then, there would have been other looms producing ordinary garment weight fabrics in various qualities for laborers, craftsman, merchants, and etc. We have to look at the entire economic infrastructure of the culture. In short, you might have to sort through the wreckage of a hundred looms to find the one loom weaving fine cloth for the royal court. Now, is there a culture for which we are certain that we have pictures/documentation of every loom technology used by that culture? Even with the internet, you cannot do that today. And, the fact that there were other (documented) looms using other technologies, does not prohibit other loom technologies.

My challenge stands: Weave replicas of all the known fabrics on the known loom types of the period. There are a number of periods and cultures for which the known loom types are not likely to produce one or more of the known fabric types; therefore our knowledge of the loom inventory in those cultures is likely incomplete. I do not find textile historians /archaeologists consistently competent to judge whether known loom types can produce the known fabric types. And, yes, I expect it to be done with hand spun.

Show me that the known fabrics can be produced from the known looms.

Marlowe said...

Aaron why can't you admit that you can't do most of the things that you challenge others to do? I want to know why you will not accept that you are not right about everything. You have not been trained as a textile historian. Stop stating you opinion as fact or back it up.

Anonymous said...

You idiot. People do it all the time.

Your lack of imagination, skill and patience is the problem, not other people.

Aaron said...

Meet me at CNCH.

I will be the old guy, sitting in the corner spinning weft. I will have my little travel suitcase of samples.

If you cannot be there in person, you must know somebody in the SF Bay Area that can stop by to look touch, and feel.

I will be there most of 4/25.

Aaron said...

Dear Anonymous,
That is a long, long way from the shirting weight fabric I was talking about.

Think lace weight singles, then think of singles that are so fine that 4 of them would make a yarn the weight of one lace weight single. We are talking singles at ~150 wpi and weaving at ~ 50 epi.

Now think of weaving with those fine singles on that Viking loom. Show me how it is done! Show me how they would produce boat loads (tons) of such fabric.

And yet, there were shiploads of such shirting weight fabric being made and traded, long before "everyone" says there were looms capable of such weaving.

I am working with those kinds of single so that I see the problem. If you are not working with those kinds of singles, you may not see the problem.

Now, go look at the fabrics they have found at York during the Viking period. Are your folks in the video producing all of those kinds of fabrics?

Einar Svensson said...

There are weavers today making very fine fabrics on all types of looms, not just the sectional beam loom. People have made fine fabrics forever.

I know something of the technical issues with fine fabric from my family. I have not woven it, but my sister weaves with very fine silks on her Öxabäck and makes beautifully soft fabrics that are thin like magic.

There is no evidence of the loom you describe because it did not exist in ancient times. Such a technically wonderful loom would have been celebrated in art.

I challenge you now. Find me one piece of evidence, even the tiniest shred, that a sectional beam loom existed in China at the time of the Ming Dynasty, during the Edo period in Japan, and during the time of Charlemagne. Just one piece of evidence.

Aaron said...

The problem is the bedding of the yarns in some of the old fabrics indicates that they were woven from fine, high twist yarns that were not blocked prior to weaving.

Warping unblocked fine, high twist singles is difficult. Silk has less twist, and is more docile. Mill spun often is 2-ply and blocked, so it is more docile.

I expect that one reason that people do weave fine cloth from hand spun wool is that handling the 2,000 (or more) threads of the warp is difficult.

I can handle my hand spun singles if I block them, but that changes the character of the woven fabric.

OK, how were those fine woolen (not silk) fabrics made? What was the technology to handle a warp of 2,000 ends of unblocked singles more than 60 yards long? They had a tool or technique that is not in the archaeology or has been lost from the the weaving canon.

The easy way out is for you to spin 20 pounds of 40s and have your sister show you how to warp them as a 2,000 end warp without blocking them. : )

Then you can tell me how to do it.

When you have eliminated the impossible, then what remains, however improbable is the solution. You have more faith in art documenting all of the technologies of the culture than I do. Have you ever lived with an a artist? Not even LdV went through textile factories and documented all the tools - and textiles were the single largest industry in his favorite city. On the other hand I have known an artist to go to a horse race and draw every horse in every race.

Einar Svensson said...

Yes, I have lived with artists. My father is a painter and my mother was a teacher of textiles in the high school.

You are making some bad assumptions. 2000 ends at 50 ends per inch is 40 inches. This is more than twice as wide as fabrics made on looms from the period you are talking about. Also, why do you assume 60 yards?

You do not understand the economics of textiles in the Middle Ages and earlier. Boatloads of textiles were not shipped. Boatloads of a single product were almost never, if at all, shipped. It made no sense in the economy of the time to specialize like that.

You apply modern economics just as you apply modern textile technology to historical times. This is the historical equivalent of saying the earth is flat.

They were not making fabrics with the dimensions you imagine. You must prove that 40 inches by 60 yards was made. And then that it was made more than once, to justify the invention of thus technology that you claim has disappeared.

So that is your challenge now, since you couldn't prove the existence of such a loom. Prove the manufacture, in the Bronze Age, of a single piece of fabric, at that density, with the dimensions you claim.

Anonymous said...

The fact that you, or somebody you know, cannot reproduce this fine weaving in another way than with a sectional beam loom, and they were somehow able to do it back then, is no evidence that they must have had that particular technology. You must realize that there are always multiple solutions to a problem. If you are not aware that a certain solution exists, your "eliminating the impossible" approach is going to lead you to a possibly wrong solution if you are not careful, because you are unaware of part of the facts.

There could have been sectional beam looms back in those days, that are not documented, but we don't know that. There could have been another way to create that fine fabric with the existing (perhaps lost or other) technology back then. We don't know that either. That is the only conclusion that you can draw when you eliminate the impossible in this case.

The fact that you jump to the conclusion that there must have been sectional beam looms, because you cannot think of any other solution is one step too far, and frankly very arrogant. You overlook the possibility that you don't know everything. You want to believe, but you have no proof. That's fine with me, but please don't present it on the internet as being a fact, or the truth. That's what most people commenting on this post are worried about, I think.