Monday, September 22, 2014

Hand Woolcombing and Spinning

Peter Teal did some very good work, but he makes a number of serious errors.  He holds opinions that I strongly agree with, and then sometimes he just sort of lapses into nonsense.  Such books are worth reading because they train us to keep our wits sharp.

At the core of Teal is the fact that worsted yarns do have extraordinary virtues, and good hand wool combing is the path to those virtues. Most other authors do not say this as strongly or discuss worsted in as much detail.  Worsted yarns are more expensive to produce and are more effort to produce, so they are much more expensive.  Worsted yarns are not as commonly produced by hand spinners.

On the other hand, added to all their other virtues, worsted yarns require less twist to be competent, and thus, a very smart hand spinner can ultimately produce a worsted yarn at a faster rate.

Any fiber can be spun worsted, it is just a matter of having the correct fiber preparation and drafting process.  the fibers easiest to spin worsted are the long wools.  The shorter, fine wools are more difficult.

The glory of worsted yarns is best displayed when they are spun into singles of 18,000 to 30,000 yards per pound.  These have a silken quality.  If the fibers are are consistently oriented butt to tip, the silken effect can be extraordinary.

However, worsted is most easily spun from longer wool which tends to be coarser. Spin at lower grist, such wools tend to be harsh.  Since, many hand spinners do not spin finer than 15,000 ypp, some think of worsted yarns as always harsh, unless they are spun from very fine wools such as Merino and Rambouillet.

Certainly one can spin worsted from Merino and Rambouillet.  However, if you try to comb Merino and Rambouillet with the combs that Teal suggests for fine wools most of the fiber will go off as waste.  Thus, if you follow Teal, you have the expense and effort of making (or buying) 8-pitch combs, and then the on-going cost of very low yields in combing rather expensive fine fibers.  The cost of such combs is greater than the cost of Teal's book.  The cost of a few grams of Merino waste is more than the cost of  Teal's book.

This was not fair to Teal's readers.

To prep fine wool for worsted spinning:
1) Buy fine wool top, oil it, comb it as necessary, diz, and spin.  If the top is good, then single pitch combs will be enough to loosen and realign the fibers with minimum waste.  If it is nice fresh top, that has not been dragged around to a a bunch of fiber shows, the combing may not be required if you are using DRS.

2) Buy a fine fleece, sort and grade, then wash it according to Alden Amos's instructions.  Oil the wool, and comb it with single pitch combs to remove all VM.  Then run it through the carder a couple of times.  Then, comb with 5-pitch combs, and plank.  The comb waste can be carded and spun woolen.  8-pitch combs are not needed.  I have been spinning Anna Harvey's Rambouillet at 45,000 ypp, and there is not an 8-pitch comb in the house.  The yarn is beautiful.  I made up some 15,000 ypp 2-ply (e.g., 30,000 ypp singles)  It makes gorgeous lace.

If I were spinning fine wool into worsted singles and woolen weft for the industrial production of very fine wool flannels, I would likely use 8-pitch combs as was done in the day of industrial scale, hand combing.  However, at this time, the finest warp on my project schedule is 22,000 ypp.  I do not need 8-pitch combs.

A good spray bottle will distribute oil just as accurately as PT's syringes.  It is just a matter of working consistently.

The second problem in Teal, is that he is blinded by Victorian recreational hand spinning and does not see the older professional traditions of hand spinning.  Moreover, he does not look at professional textile engineering references, such as Priestman.

On page 95, he provides Fig. 78,  a drawing of  yarn passing through a Saxony spindle purporting to show how twist is inserted. However, in reality, twist will be inserted on one side of the orifice and removed on the other side of the orifice so that the flyer inserts no net twist.  Twist is inserted into the yarn by the rotation of the bobbin - to which the yarn is attached.  It is that rotation of the attached end of the yarn that inserts the twist that makes the yarn.  My point is that Teal never worked out how a flyer/bobbin assembly spinning wheel actually  works.

Granted that when he wrote that, the Big Blue Book had not yet been published, but there are many older references that do get it correct, and if he was looking at Leo's note books, he should have seen other references that do get it correct.

As a result, all of his twist and take-up math is nonsense, because he neglects the concept of yarn lock and twist accumulation during yarn lock.  He misses the point that most of the time while spinning on his wheel setups, the flyer and the bobbin rotate together, and no wind on occurs. Then, with his very high DRS setups, wind-on occurs rapidly, thereby trapping the previously accumulated twist. That whole discussion in Chapter 7 is not useful. It is an intellectual briar patch, without the rewards of fruit or flowers.

He did not understand DRS.  He did not do the grist/twist math.  He  wants the bobbin whorl much smaller than the flyer/spindle whorl - in my terms, he want a very large DRS (e.g., ~1.6).  Certainly that will ensure fast take-up, but it also ensures continuous slippage that will slow the wheel down and reduce self regulation.  For example Fig. 86 is a Shadowgram that he says ,"will produce over twisted yarn on an empty bobbin and that the two diameters on the spindle whorl are so close as to be pointless."  In fact, it looks remarkably similar to the ratios of the flyer/bobbin assembly that I used to spin 16,000 yards of fine worsted wool warp last fall.  It worked very well.  He did not understand the design of that flyer/bobbin assembly.  It is worth noting that the flyer in Fig. 86 that he does not like is from an old wool wheel, while the flyer in Fig 87 that he likes is from an old flax wheel.  I expect that the wheel in Fig 86 would be very well suited for spinning worsted singles in the 7s to 8s range.

However, I would strongly agree with his comment on pg 113 that, "no one wheel of fixed ratio can cope with and infinitely variable range of fibers and yarns, but that it is a relatively easy matter, once you know the twist requirements of your yarns to have another whorl made so that your wheel is able to produce those you require most of with the minimum effort."  That is a sentiment with plenty clauses that comes out of the fight with another verb in its teeth. However, he is correct - whorls are cheap.

In the additional material (Chapter 11)  entitled,  25 Years On , he has drunk the Kool-Aid, and bought a modern, mass produced, scotch tension spinning wheel.  It is a good wheel for a teacher, because that is the kind of wheel many students have.  However, it is not particularly fast and it is not particularly suited to spinning fine. And, while in the early days, he makes a big deal of consistency and excellence in hand spinning, a ST spinning wheel will not produce near the consistency of a DRS controlled wheel.  I am not saying that DRS is the only way to produce consistency, I am saying that it helps.

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