Friday, May 02, 2014

The Arms Race and Edward Longshanks

When I started spinning, a large number of spinners told me that the spinning wisdom of the ages had been passed to them. They made fun of me for trying to spin finer and faster.  They said it could not be done; and it was not necessary.  Comments to me really have not changed in the last 4 years.

They were/are condescending, rude, and wrong. It can be done. If one is going to actually spin and finish objects that were the traditional job of spinners, it is necessary to spin faster.  I do not care how fast you spin, but I do care how well I spin.  I do care how fast I spin.  To that end, I measure and record my spinning.  It is called, "a spinning journal". Parts of that spinning journal will end up on this blog.

If you do not want to know about my spinning, then do not read this blog.

I do not say everyone must spin fine and fast, I merely point out that it is possible to spin fine and fast. I do not judge people (non-spinning) by their spinning skills, but I do judge "spinners" by how fast and how fine they spin. (And, I give real respect and deference to elite spinners.)  If you do not want to be judged by these standards, do not tell me that you are a "spinner",  instead say,  "I am a talker!"

For many, spinning is very much a social pastime with its roots in Queen Victoria's Court. They want to spin well enough to be accepted by the group, but not to spin as well as a "vulgar tradesman".  These are social spinners. I know some very nice social spinners.

In contrast, I spin because I want the yarn, and I want better yarn.  I want to spin as well as the vulgar spinster.  To get there, I have to figure out what parts of the modern spinning tradition are for better spinning, and which spinning traditions are social ritual developed so that all members of the group produce similar yarns, and thereby everyone can feel that they are like other spinners, and therefor belong to the group.

Such group ritual is disrupted when when anyone displays new skills or technology. The group then feels threatened and displays aggression toward the non-conformer.  Does that sound familiar?

There are many brands of spinning wheels - it is a big market. However, modern wheels all have a very narrow envelop of performance design standards.  Is that because they go as fast as is mechanically possible?  No, it is what the group wants, so everyone can spin the same yarns at the same rate.  Alden knew how to make faster wheels, but he only made single treadle wheels which are inherently slower.  He knew about accelerator wheels, but he also knew that his market would not tolerate wheels that went that fast.  He knew about DRS and gang whorls that allow much faster spinning but he also knew his market.

Alden knew how to make a much faster wheel, but he did NOT  bring any of that up when I came to him asking for a faster wheel.  Many spinners had tried to buy speed from him in the past.  However, spinning speed is not for sale, it must be earned.  And, those spinners who earn speed, will find speed, even if speed is not for sale. (The Gods of Speed demand sacrifices!)  And, the group makes sure that speed is not for sale. Selling real speed would trigger an "arms race."  The group does not want an arms race. The group likes the technology adopted by Queen Victoria's court - and that was not the technology of the (vulgar professional) spinster of 1750, or even 1500.  Rather it was a  romanticized technology from a mythical era.

Real handspun from real hand spinners was something altogether different:

Handspun wool with silk,
gold, and silver.
All Handspun

Does anything depicted above look like what is most often called "handspun"?  However, it is all handspun.

I want to spin handspun!  The textiles depicted above were made by vulgar professionals.  They had,  "the spinning wisdom of the ages".  Cottage spinners do not add silk, gold, and silver to their wool yarns.

I am not going to get there unless I spin fine and fast.  That requires real spinning tools and real spinning skills.  I am not going to get there with toys and romance.

The depictions above  prove that it was done. The "Boss Cows" of the spinning community are wrong.  Look at how wool was being moved and monetized in Edward's time  (circa 1295)  Yes, in Edward's time there was large scale, industrial, hand spinning in Italy. This is very different from the romanticized, cottage spinning of the Victorian myth. 


Edwards use of wool futures is not in the books on textile history, and yet Edward's wars helped Italian spinners (and weavers) get British wool cheap!  Why are not these kinds of financial incentives for the Florentine textile industry in the books on textile history?  Such omissions are why I do not trust textile historians. Our textile historians are steeped in the Victorian textile myth of cottage crafts.

See  on how crafts secrets were controlled and protected.  

The secrets of dyeing and weaving were carefully guarded, and the most skilled craftspeople were, at certain times, prohibited from leaving their native cities for fear they would share their expertise with rival manufacturers. The quality controls and strict oversight of the production of luxury textiles reflect their importance not only to their owners but to the entire society that contributed to their production.

 Modern academic standards of documenting historic textile technology are a large part of the Victorian Textile myth. One does not see a craft technology depicted in art until the technology was long outdated.   Academic standards of documenting historic textile technology are silly.  We know better.  Yet they are recited back to me over and over, again and again.  

However valuable silk was to Italy, wool was a larger net source of wealth.  They got there, by miniaturizing silk throwing equipment into the flyer/bobbin assembly which was used for wool - much earlier than it shows up in art, or even LDV's notebooks.   This gave Northern Italy a huge competitive advantage in spinning.  Spinning is the largest cost in wool textiles.  A large competition advantage in spinning, is a competitive advantage in textiles. 

Britain was selling wool (cheaply) because British spinners were not as good as Italian and later Flemish spinners.  Look at tapestries  produced circa 1500.  The spinning in the  British  tapestries is not as good as those from other parts of Europe.  The British cottage spinners taken as a model by the Victorian Court were not the best spinners n Europe. By and large modern English Speaking hand spinners do not recognize the Italian, French, and Flemish contributions to hand spinning.

Modern textile historians get all wound up in their academic standards so they cannot see what happened or figure out when it happened.  That is not my problem.  My problem, my worry,  is to make my next bobbin of thread a little more like the handspun depicted above. 

I am a hand spinner in an arms race with 14th century Italian hand spinners.


Anonymous said...

Aaron, you claim not to care about history, yet you attempt to cite history to justify your perceptions about handspinning. Do you care about history or not? Which is it? Because if you do care, then you will have to give some credence to those academics you so disdain who have actually studied textiles up close and personal and have countless years of research and science to support their conclusions, unlike your use of Wikipedia. In addition, please explain to us just why we should care what you think or how you judge other spinners? You have not studied textiles or art, you have not written a book, entered a competition, or even demonstrated any skill at either weaving or knitting beyond endless swatches and limp skeins. Who died and made you King of All Things Fiber? Why should anybody pay attention to you at all? Your bombastic proclamations only serve to distinguish you as a blowhard who knows nothing and does not have the humility to learn from others.

James Brudenell said...

Oh, this gets better and better. You seem to forget that many of the followers of this blog were there when you were supposedly told these things, and know perfectly well that the statements you attribute to various experts are just warped misrepresentations of what they actually said, distorted by being passed through the filter of your pathological need to delude yourself that you're an instant expert on everything. Of course, you'd have more of a leg to stand on if you'd ever produced anything more than self-aggrandizing bullshit. But there's never been any evidence that you have.

Purl Mary said...

What you descripe as handspun was the work of highly skilled guild members who trained for years to produce the finest yarns. Good for you that you are going all the way to achieve the same.
At the same time, however, there were also the home spinners, those who spun for utilitarian, unrefined uses. That was homespun and homespun is what most of us "spinners" of today come up with.
Hope to be able to admire some of your results in person some day. Sounds fascinating.

Aaron said...

So, "JB", what have you been doing with yourself since the "Charge of the Light Brigade?"

I see some have not been to kind to you:,_7th_Earl_of_Cardigan

Sorry about that. Better luck next time.

Anonymous said...

I love it when you let critical comments through. It means you're about to write another maniacal rant for us to pass around. See you soon.

Aaron said...

History has 3 parts. Data, model and interpretation.

Real textile historians ask, "What do we have a picture of?" Or, if there is a commitee, what do we have 2 pix of?"

I ask, given the tools, materials, economics and policy of the period, what would have worked? I reverse engineer to a set of options, then I test the options.

This very frequently raises options that are not commonly used today - for various reasons.

One master spinner recently told me it was because modern spinners do not have the skills. The old ways and the old products require skills that cannot be bought. Modern spinners do not have those skills and tools. Modern spinners tend not to make innovative tools. Rather, modern spinners tend to make tools like the ones they already have - only fancier or prettier.

I do not want another tool like the one I have - I want a better tool. I am always refining my tools so they work better. Better tools are how better spinners made better money.

Modern spinners get very rude when one reminds of depth and breadth of skills that the old spinners had. And, the modern textile historian do not have any concept of the level of skill that the old spinners had, so they denigrate the history as written by old school textile workers who did have those skills.

I am not going to pick new school or old school. That is, I do not care about history. I make a list of ways it could have been done, test them all, and then I use the way that works best for me.

Along the way, I have had to learn a lot of skills that I could not buy. Now, I have a suite of spinning technologies that others do not, and they resent it. It is not my fault. Most of them started spinning before I did, and had years and years to develop those technologies. The spinners that have been spinning for 30 yeas should have gotten busy 25 years ago and developed those skills.

Anonymous said...

"Dressing Renaissance Florence" by Carole Frick. Every topic you touch on is discussed with actual sources and real intelligence in this book. You have no idea what textile historians do or don't do because you haven't read any. You are an unread, uneducated, dishonest fool.

Ginger Hebbelthwaite said...

Is the master spinner who supposedly told you that one of the voices in your head?

Aaron said...

No, he is a fellow that made his money weaving fine woolens on a power loom.

He also made and sold a lot of hand spun yarn -- the kind of volume of hand spun that you cannot accept as possible.

Aaron said...

I always seek a path to better spinning. If I go to history, it is to find a path to better spinning.

OK, you have read "Dressing Renaissance Florence" - did that help you spin better? If you like Frick as a spinning teacher, fine!

My analysis of the Italian wool industry helps me spin better. My analysis serves my purpose.

My current benchmark in hand spinning is 4 hanks of 40s per day. What in "Dressing Renaissance Florence" will help me spin finer, faster, or better?

Frick is not my spinning teacher.

Aaron said...

There is an inbox full of condensation and disparagement.

Nobody suggests a better way to spin today and tomorrow.

Let me just say that if I had not looked at history, I would have simply been thrashing, and no amount of "just spinning" would have allowed me to get to where I am today. The folks who advocate just spinning did not learn to spin as fast and as fine as I do. Just spinning does not work as well as my approach.

And, all the folks who say that my analysis of history is wrong, did not manage to learn to spin as fast and as fine as I do.

My approach to learning to spin the impossible worked. Their criticism would only have validity if they were much better spinners than I am.

Show us the yarn. Show us that you can spin a full hank of 5-ply sport weight in 8 hours of spinning. If you can't do that, then you do not have the moral authority to criticize me. And like James Bond, I am a moving target. The afternoon that I spun only 400 yd in 8 hours, I had a problem with the drive band. That has been fixed. I have a solution, and it will not happen again. My current production standard is 500 yards of 10s per hour.

M said...

In one paragraph you claim the market won't bear spinning wheels that go faster than they currently do, then in the next you say that "many spinners have tried to buy speed from [Amos]". I don't see how both of those things could be true.

Aaron said...

People tried to buy speed from AA, then they returned the wheels because the wheels required too much skill.

AA had the skills, but preferred a variety of power driven spinning devices. That material is between the lines of his Big Blue Book.

People came to AA thinking a faster wheel would let them spin faster. In contrast, I could already spin faster, and was only seeking an easier way to spin fast. I got there because, mostly I read between the lines.

In contrast, most spinners tend only to read what is written and do not spend much time working the math of what is between the lines.

SG now focuses on teaching and does not keep such a wheel as her students do not have access to such wheels.

JM specialized in art yarns that did not need the speed, so she never developed the technology.

Sara Lamb bemoans the lack of speed from her wheel, does not solve the problem.

I read AA/Big Blue Book and came away with the technologies for spinning very fine and very fast. Most of the spinners that read AA come away without understanding DRS - which I consider the very core and essence of AA/BBB.

It is no wonder that I read history and come away with a different view than the spinners that do not understand DRS after reading AA/BBB. DRS is the stepping stone to real speed with a wheel.

My feeling is that accepted academic methodology of modern textile history inserts an inherent error of between 80 and 150 years into the timeline of medieval textile technology introduction. Do the numbers and it becomes obvious. If you cannot do the numbers, you will never see it. Most spinners cannot do the numbers, so I have no hope of their ever seeing it.

That is OK. There is a whole class of people that I do not expect to ever understand evolution. There is a whole class of people that I do not ever expect to understand global warming. Likewise, there is a whole class of spinners that will never bother to apply the the math in AA to medieval textiles.

Anonymous said...

I bet your wife loves it when you openly call women "boss cows." Have you even got a clue that you are offensive to women with your choice of language and name calling. This is a school yard tactic often invoked by bullies. You are a bully.

Aaron said...

My wife knows what "boss cows" are and also uses the term.

We know women that get things done. Some of them are very, very pushy, but they push to get something useful done. We admire these women. we call them managers.

Boss cows push to enforce their own status. We do not admire these women.

When a female spinner told me something that was factually wrong to enhance her own status, she was being a "boss cow". If she had reasonable care to be factually correct, then I would have said that she is a teacher; but if she gets it wrong, then she is a boss cow. If she was being pushy to get something done (e.g., get the guild's booth set up on time) then she is a manager. If she is being pushy just to remind everyone of her seniority in the spinning world, then she is a boss cow.

I admire teachers and managers. I call a spade, a spade; teacher, a teacher; a manager, a manager; and I know a boss cow when I see one. I report what I see. If that makes me a bully, then I guess I am one.

Bitsy said...

WoW! Why do so many of your readers and commenters spout such vitriol? If they want to spread the "Heresy, Heresy! Conform, Conform!" cry to the one person who actually dares to tell it like he finds it; so proud and content with their smug, "I know what is offical and I will smite thee for making me uncomfortable in my well seated beliefs." then I feel for you.

You aren't demeaning the slow ones at all just saying, "This is what I have done to get what I want." And sharing that to say "To anyone who is willing to earn the skills, It is possible."

People are idiots. Individuals are able to be really smart, but get a group together and Strange Things happen.

Your wheel is a real ugly duckling of a wheel, but I really want to make my own. It will probably be sworn at for months while I figure out the twiddly skills to make it work; but the practical applications!