Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Truth About Spinning Finer

There is a story in the spinning world that the very fine threads are spun by assembling bundles of only 5 fibers.  I know you have heard this story.

In truth, the finest bundle of (wool/goat/camelid) fibers that can be spun at commercial rates is ~20 fibers, and results in the traditional spin count singles.  The finest bundle of fibers that can be hand spun is ~10 fibers.  With any fine wool, a bundle of 10 fibers produces a grist that is far, far beyond the world record.   If someone is not spinning far, far, far beyond the world record, then they are not spinning a bundle of only 5 fibers.

I pointed out that my singles composed of ~20 fibers of Rambouillet were finer than a particular spinner’s threads that she claimed had a cross section of only 5 fibers.  I exposed the fib that was the basis of much of her status in the lace spinning community.  She was very unhappy.

She made a point of seeking out one of my suppliers out, and talking about me.  I expect that there was a lack of truthfulness, and possibly slander.  In any case, their accounts of the conversation differ markedly.

Her lace designs are wonderful.  The yarns she spins are wonderful and fit the styles of lace that she makes much better than they would if the yarns were much thinner. I looked at her stuff because I admire fine textiles, and hers are excellent. Her yarns do not need to be thinner.  So, why is she pretending that they are bundles of only 5 fibers? 

An aspiring lace spinner would read her posts on Ravelry, and simply sit down and try to spin 5 fibers together, and be frustrated.   The aspiring spinner would think that anybody that could spin 5 fibers together, must be a genus spinner.   Thus, the story of 5 fibers keeps others from learning to spin fine.  Thus, her story is restraint of competition by  -  fraud.

I certainly went down that path - worsted spinning best Rambouillet into a bundle of 14 fibers to make yarns in the 100,000 ypp range.  However, it was not real spinning; it was too slow, and the yarns were too weak and too fragile. 

I went back to my knitting.  Later,  I set out to learn to spin at the spin count (a bundle of 20 fibers), and then noticed that my spin count yarns were (often) much finer than the yarns which some were claiming had only 5 fibers in the cross section.  That was physically impossible. Then, rather than posting a rational rebuttal, they got indigent, and told me that I should not bother with spinning because there is no money in it.

If you want to win the “Longest Thread Competition”, you can spend a thousand hours spinning a bundle of 14 fibers of wool as found at your local fiber supplier.  Or, we can get some 11.75 micron Merino from commercial channels that can be spun into a bundle of 20 fibers that will result in 1,500 yards of 2-ply yarn that weighs 10 grams (e.g., singles @ 150,000 ypp).  That would be a world record and  likely a winner.  Your DRS will need to insert 36 tpi.  With a wheel running at 2,000 rpm, it is 50 or 60 hours of spinning.  Fiber available at local fiber stores (Merino 15.5 micron) will get you to singles @ 95,000 ypp, which when all plied up will get you into the honorable mention class.  I have gone far enough down this road to know that it can be done.  In some cases, I used Guanaco from Dana over at Royal fiber rather than wool. Sometimes, I just used the best few grams of the best fleece Anna Harvey could sell me.  It is a matter of craft, not an Olympic challange.  I have no doubt that some Longest Thread competitors do choose the small bundle path.  However, it is clear from the analysis referenced above that that some winners have not been honest about their approach. The grist of their entries proves that the yarn singles have a cross section of more than 5 fibers.  The numbers do not lie.

I stay busy, so these days, I do not bother to spin anything finer than its spin count, and with the fine Rambouillet that I am getting from Anna Harvey, that is sometimes pushing 60,000 ypp.  That is about the grist of the singles from which men's fine tropical wool suits are woven.  (Take you linen tester down to the mens section of the local Needless Markup Department store and tell them you want to look at Super 110 tropical suits.)  The best suits are woven from even finer yarns.  From here, I do not see any reason to go there. So why bother with spinning the 60,000 ypp?  That is just part of my evolution to improve my skill with a twisty stick to grade fine wool.

twisty stick

With some practice (take it to fiber shows), your trusty twisty stick will always give you the spin count of the fiber. For all the virtues of micron analysis, just being able to quickly estimate the spin count of a fiber with a cheap, portable, tool is very nice.  And, a spin count will allow you to estimate micron count.  It is not exact, but it is close enough for hand spinning.

For example, Merino is generally classed as our finest wool.  However, 3 minutes with my trusty twisty stick tells me that the best of the Anna Harvey Rambouillet is finer than any of the Merino in the house.  It also reminds me that the most expensive Merino in the house, has lowest spin count (e.g., highest micron count.)  I admit it.  On the day I bought that pricey Merino, I did not have my trusty twisty stick.  There is a lesson there.

With my trusty twisty stick close at hand, I have a big bin of Anna Harvey Rambouillet on order and none of the pricey Merino on order.

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