Thursday, May 08, 2014

The History Mash

I started "mashing" history when I was looking for clues as to how seaman and fishermen on square rigged ships stayed warm.  Academic history had missed the importance of knitting sheaths and knitting belts. Knitting sheaths and knitting belts allow the knitting of warmer garments. Knitting sheaths and knitting belts were important tools in the day to day life of Europe and GB as furs became less common, and wool became the primary material for warm clothing.  Knitting sheaths and knitting belts allow knitting warmer fabrics than can be knit with only hand held needles.  This is a truth that can be easily proven.

I came to hand spinning in 2009 because I wanted better yarn for my knitting.  That means I wanted useful quantities of  better yarn in a reasonable time frame.

However, hand spinning was in the doldrums.  Everyone was spinning slow.  Sure, I know people that in 2008 hand spun enough yarn for 12 sweaters.   Still, everyone accepted the concept that hand spinning was inherently very slow. And, they were spinning fat 2-ply, which requires minimum twist. There were discussions about which was faster, a (drop) spindle or a wheel and  "slower by the hour and faster by the week" had currency.  Most of my ideas about better yarn include more twist.

As I tried out spinning wheels to buy, they all seemed like they had governors on them to keep them from going too fast.  So, I made a point of buying a wheel that would be easy to modify. It was something that I could modify into a 'hot rod".  However, there was no manual on how to turn a spinning wheel in to a hot rod, and the comments were, " Don't be silly, it can't be done!!"  I used that wheel to learn to spin. After a couple of years, I could spin, and I wanted more speed.  DRS gave me more speed, but I wanted more.

There were stories about CPW being fast. Will Taylor let me spin on his.  I had looked at a number of CPWs, and Will's was far and away in the best condition.  If any CPW was fast, it would be Will's.  My Ashford hot rod was already much faster.   So much for the myth of the CPW, and the people who believe in such myths lost credibility.

I made a series of trips up to Jackson to meet Alden Amos and Stephenie Gaustad, and spun on their wheels.  I ended up buying a pair of  high speed fliers from Alden.  The decision was based on a good bit of historical research into the traditions of spinning.

I was not doing research for an academic paper, so I was not bound by any academic standards in any way.  The sole standard for success or failure in my historical research was Better Spinning as I defined it.  If I become a better spinner the research was a success.  There was a ton of fine academic research out there, but it did not describe a Yellow Brick Road to spinning fine and fast. For example,  The academic researchers do not come out of their academic research on old textiles as great hand spinners.  They research history, not spinning.   I had to go off road. I was researching spinning, not history. I had to think outside of the academic history box. I had to think things that nobody else was thinking.  Many spinners like academic history.  Going "off road" infuriated spinners as a group.  It still infuriates spinners as a group.

Of course my mash of  historical research was only part of the process. The mash developed a set of options, each of which had to be tested. Options that did not test as well were dropped.  What you saw here were options that worked.  Modern textile historians are not good  hand spinners.  In contrast, some of the Victorian historians that my critics disparage were very, very good spinners. (Much, much better hand spinners than the folks who disparage them!)  If I am looking for lessons in spinning, the history written by a very good spinner is likely to be more useful.  My criteria is always, "Does it teach me something me something useful about the practical process of spinning? --  not will it be accepted by the modern academic community.  Remember that the paradigm of  "slower by the hour and faster by the week" came out of the academic community. Those researchers did not do their homework to understand how fast a full time professional spinner could work.

The truth from my mash of history is that it is very possible to spin 500 yards of  worsted 5,600 ypp yarn (10s) per hour on a wheel.  A talented professional might do much better.  Nobody can do that on a spindle.  The wheel/ spindle speed debate was nonsense based on a lack historical information.  If one uses a commercial wheel of the style used by the best commercial spinners circa 1500, the wheel is always faster.  That in 2009, there was still a discussion  as to whether a drop spindle could be faster than a wheel points to the absolute failure of academic historical research to resolve hand spinning questions.  The superiority of a wheel is even more apparent with hosiery and shirting yarns (22,400 ypp).  On these issues, I will not take the word of any historical researcher that has not spun such yarns in commercial quantities on both a wheel and a spindle.  This is not something one can understand unless one has actually tied leases in a a hank of  fresh shirting singles, dyed them, warped, and woven the result.  Actually doing it lends perspective.  

I know spinners that spend more time spinning than I do.  However, I produce more yarn than they do.  And by spinning faster, I have more time to knit, weave, and do other things. Also, at some grists, spinning faster is easier. Just spending more time spinning is not a path to spinning faster and finer. (Assuming you have put in the 4,000 hours needed to learn to spin.)    If one in going to learn to spin finer and faster, one must learn on an ongoing basis from those who have spun finer and faster.  However, they are dead.  If we want to spin finer and fast we have to take lessons from history.

The lessons from modern academic research did not lead to finer and faster spinning (as of 2009).  However, my mash of history did get me to spinning finer and faster.  By my standard, it was an outstanding success.  If you want to claim that academic research is better, then show me that you are a finer and faster spinner, and that you become such a spinner as a result of  historic research conforming to academic standards, and not by using my mash of history results.  I find that the folks that assert the virtues of academic work in spinning tend to recite from rote, rather than explaining logically from critical thinking.  The  comments critical of this blog often sound like the honking of  a flock of geese.  I can recognize the individuals, but they are all saying that I should not doubt the conventional wisdom of the group.   Some are the same individuals that said I should not doubt the conventional wisdom of the knitting group, and I should not use a knitting sheath.  Sorry, but without a knitting sheath it takes me much longer to knit a gansey.  The knitting sheath saves me time, and lets me knit objects that cannot be knit without a knitting sheath.  The group is wrong about knitting sheaths.

Now,  I have blazed a trail to finer and faster spinning.  It is a path that few others will  follow.  Most will  continue spinning thick yarn, slowly.  That is their way. It is not a bad thing.  Still, I expect there are one or two who seek to spin finer and faster.

Today, my Traddy runs many times faster than it did new out of the box. That is the primary result of my history mash. That is a testable result.  It means that this afternoon, I can spin better.  I care about that.

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