Wednesday, October 29, 2014

More DRS Twist and Grist

It would seem that one would require a whole drawer full of whorls to spin all the yarns that a spinner needs to spin.  However, I find that 3 gang whorls with 3 different ratios on each is more than enough to produce a wide range of yarns.

I use a whorl that inserts 9 tpi to spin soft woolen at 2,800 ypp, firm woolen at 3,200 ypp, and worsted at 5,600 ypp.

I use a 12 tpi whorl to spin worsted at 11,200 ypp and woolen at 5,600 ypp.

I use 18 tpi whorl to spin worsted at 22,400 ypp and woolen at 11,200 ypp.

I use 20 tpi whorl for worsted 30,000 ypp.  Woolen at 30,000 ypp needs about 31 tpi, and I have not made that size whorl to work with the accelerator at this time.

I use 25 tpi whorls to spin woolen at 22,400 ypp and worsted at 44,000 ypp.  Woolen at 44,000 ypp needs ~36 tpi, and and I have not made that size whorl to work with the accelerator at this time.

Thus, 3 gang whorls is enough to spin the yarns that I want from soft woolen at 2,800 ypp, to both the worsted and woolen at 22,400.  If I need softer yarns, I spin a bit thinner, With the controlled takeup, that is easy.

I mostly measure grist by spinning 560 yards and weighing it to the nearest gram.  That is close enough for hand spinning.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

True woolen from a drun carder

Recently, I mentioned Henry Clemes neat diz for using a drum carder to make roving to spin semi-woolen.

It occurs to me that I see lots of people spinning semi-woolen from drum carder batts, that I see few but folks that I see spinning true  woolen.  Those that do spin true woolen use spinning from the fold or similar technique. Usually, people tear the batts lengthwise and spin from the tips to produce  a semi- worsted or semi-wool product.

There is an easier way to produce true woolen yarns from drum carder batts.

see for example

For woolen, one can simply put a thin layer of fiber on the drum carder, and then roll the layer up around a piece of dowel, then slide the dowel out - just like Henry Clemes makes a rolag from fiber on a blending board.  This produces a giant "rolag" - a cylinder of carded fiber.   I use each rolag to spin hundreds of yards of  yarn, so there is more drafting, and the attenuation takes more attention.  However, it is real woolen spun.

My value added here is a suggestion that you  adjust the size of the rolags to the grist and twist of the yarn you are spinning.  When I make thinner rolags in the form factor that Clemes and Clemes use on fiber from their blending board, it spins faster, but the yarn tends not to be as uniform.  I have no idea why this could be.  It may be variation in the fleece I was using.

My rolags off the carder are 8" long, 2,5" in diameter, and weigh ~ 12 gr, so it is shorter, fatter, and heavier than rolags off the blending board.  Using DRS controlled takeup/twist, I can simply rest the cylinder of fiber in my lap,  and draft off of one end.

Rabett Run: Confident Idiots

Rabett Run: Confident Idiots

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why 5,600 ypp?

The old knitting yarns were constructed of many fine plies.  Lace was 2 or 3-ply. Sport weight was 5-ply.  Worsted weight was 6-ply.  Aran weight was 10-ply.

Why?  Why not just go 2 or 3-ply as in the modern mill spun?

Because at about 5,600 ypp, vegetable matter (VM) drops out.

Latter, mills learned to take out VM with acid.  Then they did not need to drop out the VM, and went to 2-ply for everything, because acid treatment and 2-ply was cheaper than spinning fine plies.

If you are spinning acid treated fiber, you can spin any grist at 2-ply because you do not have to deal with VM.  The 2-ply will not be as elastic, but that is a different issue.  (Do you like the texture of mill prepared fiber?  Some do, some do not!!)

However, if you are prepping your own fiber, then spinning fine singles is a part of the easy way to deal with VM -- if you can spin fine and fast.

And, there is the rub.  This approach is only useful if you can spin fine and fast.

The bottom line here is that I come to this as a knitter seeking better yarn at a reasonable price. By and large, I think the mill treated fibers are not as good as the less treated fibers that I prepare myself, so I buy fleece and scour it myself.  I card it myself, and if necessary, I comb it myself.

From prepared fiber to high quality yarn, the easy path is to spin a lot of fine singles and then ply up the grist yarn that I need.  And, I like these yarn better than 2 or 3-ply yarns.

I spin what I like.

Good ideas and better ideas

Good ideas tend to crowd out better ideas.  If one has a good solution to a problem, then better solutions to the problem tend to be rejected.

One cannot consider the better solution to the problem until the faults in the good idea have been realized.

Thus, conventional wisdom wins over and over.

5-ply revisited

I came to spinning as a knitter seeking better "gansey" yarn.  Everyone said that gansey yarn was worsted spun, so I spun worsted.  I liked the yarn better than mill spun. Thus, I started spinning 5-ply worsted.

I spun a lot of worsted 5-ply, then I started spinning worsted warp for spinning, and the 5-ply knitting yarn became a by-product of what I was spinning for the loom.

Then, I started spinning woolen weft of about the same grist.  There was a basket of it by the lazy kate.  Plying up a ball of woolen 5-ply was easier than going up stairs to get some worsted.  I liked the 5-ply woolen.

As I spin more woolen weft, it becomes a source for singles to be plied into knitting yarns.  After all, I have a big basket of weft singles sitting there, so when I want some knitting yarn, I just ply some up.

I like knitting yarns plied up from lace weight (6,000 ypp) woolen singles.  They are more elastic that any mill spun.  They are more elastic that any 2-ply.  They are more elastic than my 5-ply gansey yarns.  I like elastic knitting yarns.

They are durable.  More durable than any mill spun or any 2-ply.  They are almost as durable as my 5-ply gansey yarns.

They are warm.  Perhaps too warm for modern centrally heated environments.

The yarn is less splitty and more elastic than 5-ply worsted, so it knits faster. And, I tend to knit it on bigger needles than I use for worsted. I am still using blunt needles for all woolen knitting.

The yarn is much rounder than 2 or even 3-ply, so it shows stitch patterns almost as well as 5-ply worsted, Since the fiber is not combed, I can add something to give a halo and hide the stitch pattern.

Carding and fine spinning drops out the veggy matter. If one spins 1,800 ypp woolen singles, most of the VM stays in the single, thus, getting the VM out become a large effort in fiber prep.  Spinning fine, drops the VM. Dropping VM remains a worth while reason to spin fine.

Combing for worsted spinning rejects much fiber.  Spinning woolen conserves fiber.

Woolen is easy to spin from short fibers.  Some days I get tired of spinning Merino worsted.

It is soft.  I can spin it from fine wool and it is always skin soft.

Why did I not do this before?  I had the idea that the right way to make 5-ply was to spin worsted.  Nobody was making 5-ply/sport weight woolen yarns. I was a captive of the conventional wisdom.

Net time to spin 5-ply woolen yarn is about 100 yards/ hour for me. A sweater is ~2,000 yd, so it takes me about 20 hours to spin the yarn for a sweater.  Having DRS lets me afford better yarns.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A heavy heart

Some say that one cannot spin very high quality fine yarns when one has " a heavy heart".


If one is trained so that one believes that cannot spin very high quality fine yarns when one has  a heavy heart, then a heavy heart becomes an excuse not to spin well.  Having an excuse not to spin well,  allows one not to spin well.

If one is trained that one should be able to spin very high quality fine yarns any where, any time, no exceptions, no excuses, then one tends to be able to spin very high quality fine yarns any where, any time.

If you want to train people to spin well and consistently, then you do not give them any excuse for spinning poorly. One encourages spinners to spin well under all conditions. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

the evolution of a yarn

I started spinning because I wanted better gansey yarn.  Worsted spun 5-ply sport weight was my very first goal and my first spinning project.  I cannot tell a lie, handspun gansey yarn is better than mill spun.

However, more recently I have been spinning woolen weft, so I have those singles around and -- they get plied up into various knitting yarns, including 5-ply.

The woolen spun 5-ply is softer, but not as smooth as the gansey yarn.  It is stronger and much more elastic than 2-ply (woolen or semi-worsted) sport weight.  The additional elasticity gives fabrics/objects a wonderful drape.

Is it worth the additional effort?  The objects are nicer.  Are we doing this for fast objects?  Or, for nicer objects? And, I have the singles around.  Lazy Kate is beside the wheel, and can make me a ball of  knitting yarn faster than I can bike into town and back.

(Perhaps this is just a reaction to doing 10-ply cable yarns.  They had virtues, but were less elastic, and took a lot of attention to knit to fit.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Luster in fine wool

A couple of years ago, our guild had THE expert on wool come in for a lesson on how to buy a fleece.

At one point she said that the "fine wools" were never "lustrous".

I asked a couple of questions on this point, to make sure I had heard her correctly and had properly understood her  She is the expert, so I accepted the point, and have restated it here.  I took some flack on the point from "Anonymous".

However, the Rambouillet fleece that Anna Harvey just sent me is fine and lustrous.  The trusty twisty stick says the fiber is fine - mid 80s count - call it 18 or 19 microns, and it is lustrous.  It gleams. It sparkles. There is no oil on it, no resins, no dyes, it is just clean, white lustrous wool.  If I did not know better, I would say it was synthetic, or had been treated.

However, the fleece came to me, just as it came off the sheep, and I washed 3 samples from 3 different fleece with things like Ivory soap or Kirkland dishwashing detergent that do not leave oil residues or optical brighteners as in laundry detergents.  The expert was wrong.  When fine wool is coated to protect it from the sun, it can be very lustrous.

All of a sudden, I have no interest in spinning anything but Rambouillet.  I like the sparkle!

Anyway, for once "Anonymous" was correct.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Better accelerator bearings

Spinning has been a series of sacrifices to the gods of speed.

I settled into double drive and differential rotation speed (DRS) controlled flyer/bobbin assemblies in the pursuit of speed.  I went to smaller fliers from Alden Amos in pursuit of speed. I went to an accelerator in the pursuit of speed.  By the time I had spun my first fine warp (5 lb of lace weight worsted singles) I expect that my wheel was one of the very fastest in the world. Production of 5,600 ypp worsted at sustained rates of more than 8 yards per minute with peak production rates of more than 10 yd/min is easy.

Nevertheless, I spent a good part of today making better bearings for the accelerator from graphite/Delrin provided by Henry Clemes.  The result is another 800 rpm in the flyer/bobbin assemblies.  And the wheel runs quieter, with less vibration.

This raises the production rate of higher twist yarns. Every time, I thought that my wheel was going as fast as possible, I have found rather straightforward ways to it make go faster. I cannot believe that I am the only one.  Between the invention of DRS by silk throwers in Italy during the 12th century and the advent of  powered spinning frames circa 1780, millions people had a strong financial incentive to improve the spinning wheel in various ways.  It was a very large, very competitive industry, with huge incentives for very small increases in spinner productivity.  The competitive nature of the industry ensured that useful improvements were kept very secret, until they were obsolete. Thus, textiles were generally unique to a locality, because other localities did not know the details of how those fabrics were produced.

The way to determine what tools and technologies were used, is to become expert in textile production technology and reverse engineer the technology from found textile samples.  Proof is in my spinning wheel.  No historian viewing history through the prism of modern commercially produced and sold hand spinning wheels could conceive that a 16 th century hand spinner could have a production rate of  8 yards per hour. And, yet this afternoon as I tested the the new bearings, anything less is silly.  It shakes and rattles, but it spins faster than any wheel you have ever seen or heard. I have no doubt that wheel makers in Flanders were making faster wheels by the end of the 15th century. There is nothing in my wheel that they could not do with the tools and materials that they had.  Yes, the materials they had might have resulted in a bit more lard-oil splatter, but in a commercial spinning factory, that does not matter. Any historian who says that 16th century professional spinners that did not spin that fast, simply does not not know the craft of spinning.

As Ed Deming told us over and over, "You get what you measure.  If you do not measure it, you do not get it".  Professional spinners measured production - it was called income.  Modern spinners do not measure it, and do not get it. Modern historians do not have a clue about the productivity of traditional hand spinners. Since spinning  was the base of textiles, and textiles was major item of trade and a base of the economy,  modern historians do not have a clue about the economy of the period.

And it solves that great question: Why 5-ply? A) Because they had DRS wheels set for 10s, and 5 plies of 10s knit into a fabric that was warm enough to keep a sailor from going hypothermic.

Now that I am spinning a lot of warp, hand spun 5-ply has become my go to yarn.  I always have pounds of 10s around and plying up some 5-ply is just natural.  It is a way of using up left overs.  It is a stash buster.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

More on Diz your roving

You can use a length of dowel to wind the roving/pull the fiber off the drum carder through the diz.  Now the roving is wound around a nice dowel, rather than being juggled above the carder cylinder.

I use my distaff, as my dowel.  thus, the fiber from the diz is wound directly onto my distaff and is ready for spinning. It then unwinds nicely, except for the bottom layer - that gets slid off the distaff and treated like a rolag.

 Sometimes I put 1 tpi Z twist into the roving to stabilize it.   This takes care of the bottom layer issue.  Once you get accustomed t the motion, it is fast and easy.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Using a diz to strip roving off the drum carder

Folks are using a diz to take a strip of batt off the drum carder as continuous roving.

It is fast and easy, and it works very well -- to get carded roving.  However, carded roving going to spin up as semi-worsted or semi-woolen.  I like both  semi-worsted and semi-woolen yarns for many things, but not for everything.

This approach is great for most knitting yarns that do not need great durability or warmth.  I would say it is very well suited for 95% of the spinning that I see.  And it is how I intend to prepare the fiber for a sweater for my wife.

I have made my own diz for a long time.  They were not the best for this technique.  Clemes & Clemes worked out diz that work for this technique -  they make better ones.  Get one, or get a set for spinning different grists.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Pix of 20 fiber bundles

You have seen them. Every serious spinner drafted out super fine as they added lots of twist and the result is a few inches or a few feet of a spin count thread - a bundle of 20 fibers.  It is the natural result, you just did not recognize it for what it was.  There are lots of photographs of such fine threads on the internet. See for example by li12345 on Ravelery and

What is less common is folks that spin miles of such threads in a reasonable time.  

I do not seem to have a teacher, so I am still working out the process.  It is slow work.  As I explain it, I get a lot of push back.  I would rather spend my time working forward, than dealing with the same pushback attitudes over and over.  I have a few students, and do not worry about the public.

In 1400, spinners did spin  spin miles and miles of such threads very quickly.  Most modern spinners cannot do what spinners in 1400 could do.  Why is that?  Taking pix of the threads is not a big deal.  Taking pix of how to do it quickly is hard.  At internet resolutions, the moving thread just disappears.  It looks like I am making new clothes for the emperor out of frog hair, so I just post pix of the equipment. Smart ones will figure it out.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

How to use a twisty stick

It is simple.  It takes a fair amount of skill, but it is simple.

First learn to spin worsted singles that are a bundle of only 20 fibers (e.g., spin count yarn).  Practice with with different kinds of wool, so that you can spin a single of 20 fibers regardless of the kind of wool.  In the old days, this skill was expected of all competent spinners. Wool buyers and wool inspectors (such as G. Chaucer), were all competent spinners.  In England, circa 1600, spinners were expected to be competent after 2 years of training.

As you draft spin count yarn watch your drafting triangle so that you can easily recognize when 20 fibers are feeding into the yarn.

Now, you can take your  twisty stick and spin a 20 fiber yarn from any wool sample. By eye and experience you can then easily estimate the spin count of the wool, and the chart below will translate the spin count to microns.

The chart below makes it clear that micron count can be estimated from the traditional spin count. Is it as accurate as the modern lab micron count?  Not at all, but it was good enough for wool trade, and a textile industry producing fine cloth from hand spun yarns for a thousand years.  Some of those yarns were were much better than anything hand spinners produce today.  Fancy lab analysis of my wool does not make me a better spinner.  A cheap twisty stick will provide enough information about a bin of wool for even the best hand spinner to work their best skill on the wool.

USDA Standard Wool Specifications
Type of WoolOld Blood GradeNumerical Count GradeLimits for Average Fiber Diameter (microns)Variability Limit for Standard Deviation Maximum (microns)
FineFineFiner than 80’s<17 .70="" td="">3.59
Medium1/2 Blood62's22.05-23.495.89
Medium1/2 Blood60's23.50-24.946.49
Medium3/8 Blood58's24.95-26.397.09
Medium3/8 Blood56's26.40-27.847.59
Medium1/4 Blood54's27.85-29.298.19
Medium1/4 Blood50's29.30-30.998.69
CoarseLow 1/448's31.00-32.699.09
CoarseLow 1/446's32.70-34.399.59
Very coarseBraid40's36.20-38.0910.69
Very coarseBraid36's38.10-40.2011.19
Very coarseBraidCoarser than 36's>40.20--
1The blood system for most all useful purposes is outdated and has not been recognized by USDA since 1955.

The idea is that the difference in thickness between the fibers in two different wools will be no more than about 20 microns and may only be a few microns. That difference is hard to see with the naked eye and may be obscured by the variability in the fibers.  However, the spun yarns provide a statistical sampling that averages out the variability; and, the difference between the thickness of an 80 count yarn and  a 40 count yarn is about 50 microns, which is clearly and easily visible to the human eye.  Discrimination of rather fine increments in spin count (e.g., 42's v. 44's) can be achieved by having a reference collection and comparing the wool being tested to those standards. (A reference collection is otherwise known as a stash with labels.)

As you go down this lane, you will find that the better sorted and graded a wool is, the finer and easier it spins. Blends of fibers are harder to spin.  The blend may be desirable for the final textile, but it requires more effort from the spinner.  This is less of an issue, if you are spinning at grists of less than 20,000 ypp  (40/1 Nm). 

Historic wool garment fabric ran 20 to 70 epi  and when we do the math  (Look in Alden Amos) we know that many of the  yarns (warp  and weft) were in the 40 to 80 count range.  Hosiery was traditionally knit from yarns based on 40 count singles.  Spinning fine yarns for weaving is what competent spinners did.  If you can do it, you are a spinner. 

If you must blend, blend fibers of the same spin count. I spin a lot of warp from a commercial blend of 56 count wools; and, it spins well. Everybody that sees the hanks asks, "What kind of wool is this?" In this case, the blending is to produce a uniform top and the fiber sizing is more uniform than is found in roving from individual flocks or even individual fleece. In fact it spins so well that I am starting to think of 56 count weaving singles.  As tabby that would be, Ouch . . .6,000 yds of single per yd^2 of fabric - 20 hours of spinning for every yd of fabric.  Perhaps, I need a 20 dent reed.

I will freely admit that while I have been able to spin at the spin count for a few years, mostly the samples were small,  in the range of a few hundred to a few thousand yards. (And yes, I called those early 560 yard hanks weighing only 6 grams, "My little shits". There was good reason, the first ones were not properly blocked - they were not pretty.  A lot of people that cannot spin 80s laughed at me.  The joke is on them.  They still cannot spin 80s, but I can spin pretty 80s.   All it takes is thousands of yards of practice and learning to block hanks of fine singles.)  Now, I am coming to grips with spinning pounds and pounds of wool at its spin count. Am I a spinner? Not sure yet.  I will know when I have woven a bolt of shirting from my hand spun.

The craft is broken.  We will rebuild it thread by thread, my friends, thread by thread.