Friday, February 28, 2014


4.  Spinning woolen too fast causes the yarn to collapse and become fuzzy worsted, rather than fluffy woolen.

Weirder and Weirder

It seems that I can sum up everything that I know about spinning as:

  1. Spinning  faster makes spinning fine much easier.
  2. Spinning fine makes spinning  faster much easier.
  3. Spinning faster results in better warp.

With the correct bobbin, AA's #0 flier will spin worsted using Irish / German Tension at the wool's spin count.

This is a leap that I did not expect.

It seems that some of the advantage of the DD/DRS system was that it simply allowed me to spin faster.  On the other hand, it does help spin the grist that I want instead of just spinning at the spin count.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

My weirdest post ever

The other day, I was spinning some carded, medium long wool, loosely drafting inch worm to produce a decent semi-worsted medium (22,000 ypp) single.  It was the AA #0 flier, set up with Scotch tension running under 3,000 rpm.

For some reason, I treadled harder and faster.  Suddenly, the yarn began to "self assemble" into a "super worsted".  The "super worsted" was smoother, denser, stronger, and more elastic than any wool  that I had ever spun.  It is amazing.

It turns out that it also works with carefully combed Shetland, fine Merino/Tussah silk blends, combed Rambouillet, Romney, Jacob, and CVM. What is required is twist insertion at well over 3,000 rpm.  Mostly the resulting yarn is at about the spin count, particularly with the long wools.

At first, I thought it was just high twist or over twisted worsted.  However, it is not like the high twist or over twisted yarn that I spin a lower speed.  Nor, is it like any modern hand spun that I have ever seen.  On the other hand, I do not see a lot of modern hand spun yarns spun near their spin count.  And, I am still not getting it consistently, so a certain knack/technique does seem to be required. When I do get it, it ts what I want for fine loom warp.  It does not really show up at internet resolution, so if you want to see it, I will have my wheel at CNCH.

If I could spin it at 2,800 ypp I would retask all my loom warp, and spin new, in the new style, but the new style seems to want finer grist.  This changes my take on shirting and how it was spun, and how to spin it.  Suddenly spinning hanks of 10 or 12 grams on little tiny fliers going very fast makes a lot of sense.  (And for all of you who do not know, a 10 gram /560 yard hank  of CVM looks just like "a little shit".   Dana gave me a good price on several pounds of CVM, and I practiced spinning 40 hanks per pound.

I have also told people that I will have the new Lazy Kate there if they want to see it making 10-ply.  (I an not selling them, I am just showing people the concept, so they can make a better one.)

In the mean time, my working hypothesis 1 is that the higher spin speed simply requires more concentration, so I put more focus into my worsted.

Working alternative hypothesis 2 is that there is a vibration or flex in the single that compacts and smoothes the single.

Working alternative hypothesis 3 is that twist is moving up into drafting zone and the rate of twist is so high that the moving fibers are able to "grab" the stationary fibers in ways that do not occur at slower speed.

Working alternative hypothesis 4 is that I have just gone crazy.

I would consider AH 3 to be the least plausible, but the most consistent with current observations.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Maths, physics, and logics

I hate it when somebody talks down to me, so I try not to do it.

However, it seems that I must talk "baby talk" for Gorden to understand me.

Here goes:

I have a Ashford Traditonal with double treadle and  ~550 mm drive wheel.  On this wheel, I use custom "fliers" (as opposed to generic flyers).  The whorls on the fliers are approximately  19 mm (plus or minus 3 mm).  Thus, my ratio is ~29.  As an old bicycle racer, my normal cadence is 90 strokes / min,, but I can sustain a cadence of 180.  Thus, if there is no slip in the drive band, the bobbin speed is in the range of  2,600 to 5,200 revolutions per minute (rpm).

My first real lesson in spinning was that drive band slip with spinning wheels is huge, and much, much larger than indicated by the literature. This lesson was rudely delivered by my digital tachometer.   In particular, I discovered that the Ashford  lace flier had huge belt slip and did not go nearly as fast as predicted by ratio (near 30) times cadence.  In fact, it did not matter how fast I treadled or how tight I cranked up the tension, it did not go faster than ~1,600 rpm.  Despite this low rpm, I spun a great many miles of lace weight singles on that flyer.

The first flyer on which  I was able to sustain a flyer/bobbin speed of over 2,000 rpm, was the Ashford double drive flyer with the flyer whorls turned down so that the flyer/bobbin assembly had a differential rotation speed (DRS) of 1.06 and thus, no drive band slip was required.   This setup was some 25% faster than the Ashford lace flyer at the same treadle cadence.  It has been 4 years since I first  broke the 300 yards per hour barrier for 9 tpi  lace singles using the DD/DRS.  Calculation of DRS is described in Alden Amos' Big Book of Handspinning in detail, and in all of the early 20th century manuals for professional spinners. The latter are available on the internet.   DRS is part of the traditional knowledge that every competent spinner knows well.  I accept that one can be a good spinner without math skills, but math skills are absolutely required to become an excellent spinner. When you can do this math, then you know that twist is inserted by the rotation of the bobbin, not the flyer. The flyer inserts some twist, but not enough to make a competent yarn.  It is the bobbin that inserts enough twist to make yarn instead of a dust bunny.

Three years ago, I had Alden Amos make me a couple of small, high speed fliers. For these fliers, I turned additional bobbins and flier whorls, as noted above. About this time, and critical to my success, I switched to a drive belt tension using 2 weights connected by a spring.  This device keeps drive belt tension very uniform and helps dampen vibration. These fliers and drive belt tension device allowed me to spin more than 400 yards per hour on a sustained basis.

Sometimes, I spin single drive, bobbin lead (Irish or German Tension)  The AA#1 flier, starts to have significant windage and hence take up at around 2,800 rpm. This about the speed that I spin 11,200 ypp (20s) singles.  Lower grist (e.g., 5,600 ypp, 10s) singles need more take up, and thus must be spun faster.  At about 3,000 rpm, take up is enough for 2,800 ypp singles.   I used this setup to spin 17,000 yards of woolen loom weft last fall.  Irish Tension on this flier works for grists in the range of 2,800  to 11,200 yppp.  Another 17,000 yards of loom warp was spun last fall using a  double drive with differential rotation speed control ( DD/DRS) set up. Thus, I have a direct comparison between the  Irish Tension and DD/DRS.  

(When was the last time that Gorden spun 20 miles of single for a project? Perhaps the truth of the matter is that Gorden does not really spin very much. )

Sometimes I spin single drive, flier lead (Scotch Tension, ST). The brake band is a piece of  heavy nylon fishing line, tensioned with  small weights.  This set up allows changing grist very quickly. On the other hand, using  Scotch Tension, it is hard to maintain consistency.  Mostly I use ST for grists in the range of  22,400 to 45,000 ypp.  Note that with my double treadle, drive belt tensioning, and cadence, I am spinning the flier/bobbin assembly in the range of 3,000 to 4,000 rpm.  This works because I have put a lot of time and effort, to make it so.  It is a fast way to spin at the spin count.

That leaves double drive.  This is where it gets interesting. When Alden Amos or Henry Clems  or Robert Ashford set up double drive systems, they design in some slippage between the drive band and the flyer/bobbin assembly. (See Alden Amos for details.)   I avoid such slippage.  DD/DRS was the first system that I made that avoided substantial slippage. As a result, it was 25% faster than either IT or ST. At the time, this was a very big deal, and I loved it.  Now, I have other ways to go fast.   In DD, rather than the slippage discussed in AA, I either spin a bit (10 grams) of thread and wind off before the effective diameter of the bobbin changes, or I make flier whorls with different drive band grooves so the DRS ratio can be changed as the bobbin fills. This seems like a lot of effort.  Why do I bother?

My  DD system inserts a consistent twist. I can use that constant twist as a feed back to produce more consistent yarn.  Some spinners want to make spinning as difficult as possible, but I want to make spinning as easy as possible.  I want tools that help me produce better yarn.  I know that if I put this whorl with that bobbin, I will get 9 tpi, which can help me draft a 5,600 ypp (plus or minus 10%) single.  DRS helps me draft the correct grist, and to keep it consistent.  And, since there is no need for slip between drive band and the flier/bobbin assembly, the bobbin inserts twist wicked fast. I have bobbin and whorl combinations for every grist (e.g., tpi) that I commonly spin.  To make the system work, you do need to know the math. You either need a little cheat sheet in your spinning journal, or you need to do the math every time you select a flier/bobbin assembly for a project.

Also, using DRS, I can draft at a low grist for the inserted twist, and produce yarns that would drift apart if I tried to spin them using either Irish Tension or Scotch tension.  The only other way to spin such soft yarns is on a supported (or driven) spindle.

For a few minutes of spinning, DRS takes longer to set up, and provides no real advantage.  However, if you need to spin miles of consistent yarn, DRS is the easy path.

So, if I am spinner and I need to spin a hank of 56s from Shetland or Suffolk, I would likely just use Scotch Tension because I can just spin a thread of 20 fibers, and I will have the correct grist. However, if I need to spin 40s hosiery singles (17 tpi/ 22,400 ypp) from Rambouillet, then I can set up a DD/DRS system that will give me the correct twist per inch, and all I have to do is draft.  If I set my DD/DRS system to 9 tpi, then I can spin 10s  from Rambouillet, Shetland, Suffolk, Romney, or Lincoln and I know that I will get about the correct grist (5,600 ypp).

That said, if I am spinning 56s (31,000 ypp)  from Shetland using Scotch Tension, there is some likely-hood of the single burying in the spool and breaking off. This is a major pain in the neck, and spinners like Northrenlights avoid this by laying straws or slips of paper across the bobbin to keep the thread from burying.  However, DD/DRS can solve the problem by winding the yarn on at a much lower tension.  The lower tension makes burying/break off much less likely.  If I have to spin a significant amount of fines (34,000 - 45,000 ypp), it is well worth making up a DD/DRS bobbin/whorl for that grist. This is a non-trivial effort as difference between the two drive band grooves is likely to be less than 0.2 mm and this is difference tends to affected by changes in humidity, build up of drive band dressing, and knots in the drive band.  On the other hand, getting the DRS correct for a fine spinning project makes the project much easier and faster. And, at this point, I have the bobbin/whorl combination for dozens of different grists on hand.  All in all, I would say that DRS increases my productivity by ~10% over Scotch Tension or Irish Tension, and maybe a bit more for fines. When you are spinning miles and miles of singles, that 10% adds up into useful and valuable blocks of time.

Fine yarns need a lot of twist to hold them together.  Wool is easy to pull out in very thin strands, but having been pulled out, it needs twist promptly or it falls apart. Fine singles are easier to spin fast than to spin slowly.  DD/DRS is ideal for for fines because it does not tension the single before the twist is inserted.  In retrospect, I would say that DD/DRs was my training wheels for spinning fine. There is no slip so it inserts a lot of twist, and take up is always proportional to twist inserted.

One final point, at high speed, the yarn tends to get blown out of the heck array.  And, take up needs to be kept as high as possible to avoid the pig tails that can form instantly at high speed, but the fines that require the high speed spinning are delicate, and do not tolerate too much take up. DD/DRS controls take up, so there is no slack to get blown out of the heck array.  If your yarn gets blown out of the heck array, there will be a tangle and a break-off, and that will slow you down.

Spinning fast and fine is the mark of a good spinner. If one can spin fast and fine, then one can spin other yarns well.   For Gorden to get any respect from me, he needs to report how many hanks of  what grist he can spin in a day.  I think a man's man can spin a pound of wool into 5,600 yards of single in a day.  Using Irish Tension, that is 11 hours work. Using  DD/DRS it is only 10 hours work, so I get a lunch break.  I like lunch.  The moral of the post is:  Spinners that cannot do the math for DD/DRS, do not get lunch.

I do not spin fast for the sake of spinning fast, I spin fast so that I can reasonably take on larger and more interesting projects, and finish them with time to do other things.  I spin fast so that I can have a lunch break
  :  )

Actually, the bobbin whorl on the wheel right now is a large DD/DRS bobbin set to insert 12 tpi, but the ratio is only 18, e.g. the wheel is only running at about 2,200 rpm because I am working on a mix of commercial Merino that is very difficult to draft. So I am only  spinning about 300 yards per hour.  I am actually reasonably proud of this, because just after buying the fiber some 3 years ago, I thought it was impossible to spin.  It is one of those things that put me off of "Fiber of the Month" clubs.  I am sure that the report back to Ravelry will be;" Like any beginning spinner, Aaron has trouble spinning Merino."  And, that report will be made by someone that never in their life has spun that fine, that fast.  Ah, Yes, How fine is it? What is the grist of worsted at 12 tpi?  Gorden?  Anybody?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

How fast can hand spinners, spin?

Long before mill spun, weavers were weaving ship loads of "shirting". The yarns used by the weavers were (hand spun)  "40s" or singles with a grist of 22,400 ypp  (150 wpi). Such yarns have ~15-17 tpi..  How fine are these yarns?

For one thing, a hank (560 yards), weighs just over 11 grams and can so can be spun on a small flyer/bobbin.  Seven of these plies make a yarn that we would call "lace weight".

Yarn for weaving shirting was a standard commercial product of traditional hand spinners.  Every competent spinner could spin it at a commercial rate.  How fast was that?

This morning, I was spinning shirting yarn singles on my slightly modified Ashford Traditional.  It has a flier made by Alden Amos. The geometry has been slightly modified.  The rate of spinning was between 200 and 330 yards per hour depending on whether I am using modern industrial ball bearings in the flier/bobbin assembly or bronze bearings. (Based on 48 minutes of spinning and 12 minutes of overhead.)  At this time, I see no technical reason why professional hand spinners in Flanders and Florence in the 16th century could not of have been spinning shirting at rate of 3 hanks per day on a sustained basis.  I can do it, and they could have had spinning wheels that operated at the same speed. Steel/bronze bearings lucubrated with lard oil are very low friction.

A coarser cloth was based on 5,600 ypp singles (10s) with ~9 tpi.  These days, I spin 10s at 450 yards per hour using modern industrial ball bearings,  and about 10% slower using bronze bearings. In the last couple of weeks, (during the Olympics), I spun thousands of yards of 10s.

2,800 ypp  with only 5 tpi can be spun much faster, and at this time,  I do not know where those limits are.  I know that I have no problem spinning 1,600 yards of woolen at that grist in well under 3 hours.

The bottom line is that my current best guess for the commercial rate of spinning in the 16th century is:

2,800 ypp      ==>  4,000 yards per day (I expect this is low, as it is based woolen loom weft spun last fall.)
5,600 ypp      ==>  3,200 yards per day (My favorite grist, and I frequently measure  rate of production.)
11,200 ypp    ==>  2,600 yards per day (Calculation, I have not spun 20s since upgrading the wheel.)
22,400 ypp    ==>  1,700 yards per day (Based on 2 hours of spinning this morning.)
30,000 ypp    ==>  1,300 yards per day (Calculation, I have not spun 60s since upgrading the wheel.  On the other hand, in the summer of 2012, I spun miles of 60s, learned the factors that affect production.)

These times include only spinning and wind-off onto bobbins, but they do include repair of  break-offs.   The times do not include skeining, blocking, washing,  fiber prep, or wheel setup and repair.

At this pace, a bolt of shirting cloth represents ~3,000 hours of spinning.

I think these rates are near the limit of traditional design, flyer/bobbin assemblies. Note that these rates are much higher than those cited in Alden Amos.   It is not my fault.  He made the fliers.  :- )  He should have known,  because he had sold similar fliers to others.  A significantly faster speed would require some change in the basic design of the system.  And, these speeds are workable and sustainable for a motivated worker. (I am old, and after a few days of working at this pace, sometimes I need Tiger Balm.)  A wheel running much faster would require too much effort.

Linen, nettles, and hemp required lower spinning speeds, and hence a commercial rate of spinning was achieved with a double flyer systems with a thread being produced with each hand.

I expect that this is the end of the "Wild West".   I am now pushing my wheel as fast as it is going to go. If I want to go faster, I will need another technology.  That is OK, because I am spinning much faster than I was told was possible when I started spinning. I am spinning faster than anyone else that I know.  If you do not believe  how fast I am spinning, that is not my problem. My problem is spinning fast enough so that I have the yarn that I want, with time left over for knitting, sailing, and playing in the snow.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A hank per hour of worsted 10s

(e.g., 560 yards per hour of 5,600 ypp ) is not hard.  It just means spinning ~ 10 yards per minute.  (CF Alden Amos, page 241)   The truth of the matter is that a good flier/bobbing assembly will produce about twice as much yarn per hour as a great wheel with a driven spindle.  Flyer/bobbin wheels displaced great wheels because they were more productive.  Great wheels /driven spindles were easier to make and cheaper, but flyer/bobbin assemblies are faster.

It takes a wheel that goes fast enough, and then, is just a matter of drafting fast enough not break off.  That does take some skill, focus and, concentration.

This means that I am spinning about 8 times faster than was physically possible to spin on the stock, basic Ashford Traditional. The concept of a spinning wheel promises much more speed of spinning than is delivered in modern spinning wheels.  Alden Amos and I modified my Traddy for more speed.

The modifications that Alden Amos and I made to the Ashford design were very minor. We made the flier smaller so that it has less wind resistance, we changed the diameter of the whorls by a few millimeters, we changed the geometry slightly, and we put a pair of inexpensive ball bearings on the flier/bobbin assembly.  Note that we did not put ball bearings in the bobbins. Not  much change considering the very dramatic change in speed.  However, without those changes, you are not going to get that kind of speed out of a Traddy.

After Victorian times, people compared the productivity of great wheels to the productivity of flyer/bobbin assemblies that had devolved to become slower hobby machines. For example, even Alden Amos designed slip into his DD wheel systems.  The slip, and his preference for single treadle wheels that result in a surge of power and high drive belt slippage, tells us that his wheels were not designed to run much faster than other modern spinning wheels.  He had certainly explored the problems with high-speed flier/bobbin assemblies, but he did not harness the differential rotation speed math to engineer adequate power transfer to the  flies to sustain those high speeds.  Thus, people compared professional grade, great wheels to hobby grade flyers and found the professional grade went faster.  However, when one designs a flier/bobbin assembly for speed and productivity, it goes faster, much faster.

Some spinners will say that they want to do "ART" yarns, and therefore they need the big fliers, and do not need the speed. I understand that, but we (modern spinners) have forgotten how to spin fine and how to spin fast, and those are the traditional criteria for good spinning.

Look at the great ART textiles of history. Very few are based on thick, fluffy yarns because such yarns shed fibers while being worn and the textiles are hard to clean.  (Have a heart to heart talk with Stephenie  Gaustad before weaving such hand spun yarns . It will save much heart ache.)  What we call art yarns are mostly for the display case or single use, fancy wear. Fine textiles are almost always built on fine spinning. Fine spinning is more durable. A fine spun lace yarn is more durable than a fluffy ART yarn.  Lace knit from fine lace yarn on thin needles is more durable than the same stitches knit on larger needles from thicker yarns. To have useful amounts of fine yarn one must spin fast. Fine yarn is strong because it has a lot twist in it. If one is going to insert a lot of twist, then one needs a fast wheel. There are real reasons why spinning fast and fine was the mark of a good spinner. To have a spinning wheel designed to produce low grist, low twist ART yarns is the height of conspicuous consumption.  We have spinners making ART yarns because they do not have the skills to make quality yarn.

I am sure that some readers will claim that they do have the skills to spin quality yarn.  OK, show where you have hand spun the warp and weft for a bolt of shirting fabric - that would be 36 pounds of 22,400 ypp singles (~810,00 yards). Now, who among you have done that?

No, I am not moving the goal posts. The goal posts were always where they are!  What changes is our understanding of how far we are from the goal posts, and how difficult it is to score a goal.   Prior to mill spun, weavers did commonly place orders for 810,000 yards of single with a grist of 22,400 ypp with spinners.  Hand spinners in the UK, Flanders, Italy, India, China, Turkey, and Egypt spun huge orders for very fine yarns from wool, cotton, linen, and other fibers.  It was be done.  It can be done.  My next spinning project is 210,000 yards of 5,600 ypp white wool singles for a weaving project. I have ordered the wool.  I am taking baby steps toward my goals.  Yes, I need more bobbins.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Great Question

Which is faster, Spindle or Wheel?

This afternoon,  I am spinning semi-worsted, 5,600 ypp from Romney.  It is accumulating on bobbins at ~400 yards per hour.  This is with the #1 flier running at 2,600 to 2,800 rpm.

This is not race conditions, this is sitting in the sunbeam, drinking red wine,  listening to Mozart, and contemplating.  The new setup opens new horizons.

If your spinning teacher still thinks that a spindle might be faster, then have her call me and we will set up an "educational situation."  With the new setup, the competition flier will easily spin continuously and sustainable at over 4,200 rpm.

With this setup, I am hopeful of spinning more than 560 yards of 10s per hour.  This has been the goal for the last 3 years and now it is in sight.

I was wrong

About the increase in speed resulting from putting ball bearings on the AA #1 flier.

I expected, perhaps a 10% increase in speed.  Actual increase in speed was closer to 25%.
That includes changes in geometry to the Mother of All, changes to maidens to increase vibration damping, but still it made the effort worth while.  Really worth while. The cost was almost nothing - (new) bearings left over from other projects, bits of scrap wood, a couple of nights thinking about it, and a day in the shop, doing it.

When I first measured the bobbin speed, it was only 1600 rpm, and I could not understand it, and it took 5 minutes to remember that I had changed the geometry, thereby changing the drive tension, thereby allowing drive belt slip - you cannot see drive belt slip - that is why I have a tachometer.  I increased drivebelt tension and I had the 2,600 rpm that I had expected.  However, with some tweaking and run in, rpm drifted up to 3,000.  The bearing must have needed a bit of run-in, or maybe it is taking a while for the Royal Purple to penetrate into the sealed bearings.

The bottom line is that the working speed of this flier/bobbin assembly has gone from 2,200 rpm to 2,800 rpm without changing either the ratio or the DRS.

If you are buying a wheel, you need to ask your wheel maker some intelligent questions. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


I am surprised when knitters and spinners do not accept what I say. There are simple tests for everything that I say. I do tests on what others say, and I expect others to test what I say. What always surprises me is when people reject things without testing them.

It should not. I see that a quarter of all Americans do not accept that the Earth orbits the sun. ( ) This, of course, can be easily tested by watching and recording which constellations are near where the sun rises and sets in different seasons. It was well known in classical times, but somebody writing the Bible got it wrong and the church spouted nonsense for centuries.  Copernicus reminded them of what could be seen if they would just pay attention to what was in the sky, rather than what was in the Bible.

I look a the polls on evolution (e.g., , , and see that only a minority of people accept the Darwin/ gene model that I consider most useful.

I look at polls on climate science e.g., ) and again see that my views are in the minority.

Now really, why should I expect folks to be any better at spinning and knitting than they are at biology or atmospheric physics? On the other hand, almost every professional biologist accepts the Darwin/ biochemical model and almost every professional climate scientists accepts global warming.  It is only the people that are not familiar with details of these fields that reject evolution and global warming.

And, of course there is always,


Many times, I have said that flyer bearings were not very important.

Well, I put high-quality ball bearings on the Alden Amos #1 flier and raised its top speed with the 5 tpi whorl/bobbin from ~2,200 to 2,500 rpm. With the fines whorl/bobbin, it peaks at ~3,800 rpm  However, the new bearings with their heavy duty maidens, some changes in angles, and architecture allow the wheel to run much more quietly, despite going ~14% faster.  I did not change the ratio, I just captured energy that was going to friction.

It is not a lot more speed.  A recreational spinner might not notice it, but it is easily perceptible to somebody that pays attention to their production rate.  

Mostly I like the quiet.  I do  not know how much of that is the new bearings and how much of that is changes in the maidens.  At this point, the it is ugly, but I like to make things work before I try to make them pretty.

Why do I keep going back to bobbin speed?  

Because speed is critical to fun spinning.  If the wheel is too slow then spinning becomes tedious.

A while back, a local guild passed out 20 g samples of cotton and asked us to spin a couple of hundred yards (long draw) of cotton yarn. The other day a spinner from that guild said she was not enjoying spinning that cotton.  I can see why.  Her wheel is too slow.  It is taking her forever spin that bit of cotton. And spinning long draw has a rhythm, if your wheel is too slow (or too fast) you lose rhythm and it is much harder.  Two hundred yard of long draw @ 5 tpi  is (or should be) half an hour's spinning.   I had it done by the time I got up from my wheel at the end of the meeting. When I got home, I wound it on a reel and boiled it while I had a cup of  tea with my wife.  

I am not bragging about how fast I spin, I am pointing out that modern wheels are made to spin slowly.  Wheels can be made to spin faster.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Swaving again, and what it looks like

Swaved fabric looks like knit fabric - because it is knit fabric. 

Fabric that is swaved has a 'row out' horizontal rib on the purled side when knit back and forth as the yarn tension is controlled by spring of the fabric, and knit fabric has different spring on the knit and purl sides. Fabric swaved in the round tends to be more consistent than fabric knit with hand held needles. Thus, the tension of swaved socks and gloves is excellent.

As for what swaving looks like as an activity, both the knitting sheath and swaving pricks (needles) are small and not likely to be noticed. The knitting sheath holds the right prick on a fixed axis, and that prick rotates on the axis of the knitting sheath. 

The prick is bent so that one end is ~20 mm off the axis.   Length from the bend in the prick  to the tip of the prick is  about 3 cm. In use, the tip of the prick moves in an arc about 4 times the diameter of the prick in length. Thus, the tip of the 2 mm prick I am using at this time only moves about 8 mm, while the left prick moves much less.  Thus, all motions are very small.

If the yarn is held in the left hand, then all an observer sees is a small rapid downward-inward  push and return with both hands that is repeated with each stitch.

If the yarn is held in the right, then what is seen is a small motion as the right hand moves a few mm forward to loop yarn over the tip of the prick after the downward- inward push and before the return.  This motion is larger than if the yarn is held with the left hand.  

Swaving just looks like very discrete knitting. However, it produces a characteristic soft "popping" sound with each stitch. If  I am using a Yorkshire goosewing knitting sheath, it is done right in the lap, with my hands over the needles.  The needles are ~6" so the tips of the needles are are visible,   People often notice and comment when I am knitting in public. Very few people comment when I am swaving in public. 

Spinning wheel oil

For the last couple of years, I have been using a variety of lubricants for my spinning wheel.

Now, I seem to be settling firmly on Royal Purple synthetic oil.  It is sold in auto parts stores as a high performance motor oil grade SAE 0W-40, API service SM. I had been thinking of ball bearings for the flyer/bobbin assembly but the synthetic oil is easier.

The price is just under $10/ quart, so get the whole guild together and buy enough for everyone.

I put a small magnet in my oil bottle.  The magnet holds the bottle handy against a steel bolt in the frame of the wheel.

VM and grist

I have been experimenting with singles of different grist.

One thing I notice is that that there are several kinds of vegetable matter that tend to drop out when singles are drafted to a grist in the rang of 4,000 to 5,000 ypp (depending on humidity and oil in the wool).  Thus, drafting to 5,600 ypp (10s) ensures most of this VM drops out and the yarn is a higher quality because it has less VM in it.

This is an argument for hand spinners building low grist yarn from fine plies.

In long wool, all that VM can certainly be combed out, but that entails work and waste.

However, if one wants a woolen yarn, carding (even diligent and careful carding) will leave some VM in the wool.  Spinning fine helps allow that VM to drop out.

I have observed this before, but now I am bewildered as to why it is not taught as a basic principle of hand spinning.  Every basic text on spinning should have a sentence in it, to the effect that spinning finer singles will allow more VM to drop out.

I think this is a truth that modern spinners do not want to hear, and the authors know better than to say things that modern spinners do not want to hear.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

The Wild West

Spinning is the new Wild West for me.  It does not matter, which direction I go, there are always opportunities to spin faster.

I made my Lazy Kate to solve the problem of  handling 10 singles.  However, it provided such good tension control of singles being plied, that I no longer have to steam block singles prior to blocking them.

I think blocking singles prior to plying produces a better final yarn, but not blocking prior to plying is faster.

Recently most tensioning Lazy Kates used some sort of a brake band.  This slowed swapping bobbins, required use of similar bobbins, and generates uneven tension if one bobbin is full and another nearly empty.

However for practical and ordinary yarns that do not need to be of "ART" quality,
This kind of a lazy kate allows quick change of bobbins, even tension as the bobbin empties, use of full and empty bobbins, and it tames even fresh, high twist singles.  This speeds the handling of singles and gives you a few more minutes of actual spinning per hour.

And it is cheap.  You can get the necessary from Michaels or any hardware or lumber store.  If you are only working with 3-ply, you do not need anything this big.  One-fourth that size will work just fine.  

So why don't "experienced spinners pass this kind of knowledge on to beginning spinners?

The topic came in in Henry Clems' office the other day, and he said, "Of course, tension boxes are the the way to tension singles for plying.   (The above is just a kind of tension box.)

So, here is where I am.  Most spinners are not very good with technology and math.  Spinners that are good with technology and math do not bring it up because they do not want to offend the spinners that are not very good with technology and math. 

As a result, there are a lot of romantic misconceptions and myths that go round and round the spinning world and anyone that accepts any of these loses their chance of spinning fine and fast.  

The posts on Ravelry are full of misconceptions and myths that go on and on.  I have given up on them.  That community does not have the political will to root out stupidity and rudeness.  On a spinning wheel/ flyer-bobbin assemblybly, the rotating bobbin inserts the twist that makes the yarn.  The twist inserted by the flyer is only ~ 1 tpi which is never enough to make a competent yarn.  However,  a rotating bobbin can insert any amount of twist desired by the spinner from low twist roving to hosiery yarns to high - twist fines of more than 25 tpi.  A spinner that does not understand where and how twist is inserted, cannot be an intelligent buyer of spinning equipment, and cannot be an intelligent user of spinning equipment.

So these folks that do not know how their spinning wheel works, assume that I cannot possibly know how my spinning wheel works, and therefor, I cannot possibly spin faster than they do.  

Twist is energy, thus spinning is physics, and good physics leads to better spinning.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Knitting 10-ply

It is "gansey yarn" on steroids.

The thing that jumped out at me was that the fabric is more elastic than fabric knit from other any wool yarn that I have ever knit before. 10-ply has a different look and feel than the commercial mill spun yarns.  My hand spun gansey yarn looks just like mill spun gansey yarn, but there is no commercial equivalent of this stuff.

Otherwise, "gansey yarn" can be knit into a  "commercial  duty" textile -  and able to stand up to hard use, while 10-ply is for industrial duty textiles to stand up to harder use, or for use in colder weather.

What this project really taught me is that I can easily use 5,600 ypp singles as building blocks to make what ever yarn that I need, ranging from 2-ply to 10-ply or more.  While cabling is good, it changes the feel of the yarn. Now, I no longer have to resort to cabling to easily prepare a 6-ply or 8-ply yarn.  This was a worthwhile evolution.

Why do we not see these high ply yarns any more?  Because they are expensive.  The power to run machinery costs money, and a 10-ply Aran weight yarn takes more than 6 times as much twist as a 3-py of the same grist. Modern hand spinners have not needed heavy duty yarn and hence did not put the effort into inserting the twist.  It is like building a palace of stone or lath and plaster.  The plaster looks good and is cheaper, but the stone endures.   Likewise, 3-ply Aran yarn looks good and is inexpensive, but the 10-ply is warmer and it endures.

It takes time and effort for fancy knitting. I think it is worth spinning the best yarn I can get or make.  Sometimes that will be 10-ply.  I do expect to make more 10-ply, 8-ply, 6-ply and of course 5-ply because some knitting projects are worth spinning better yarn.  Despite the yarn mills promotion of yarn forms that they can produce more cheaply ( fewer plies, core spun, etc.), sometimes more plies are simply better.  However, modern mills do not offer such yarns any more.  And slow hand spinning does not the allow the practical production of such yarns, so the only way to get such yarns is to put in the effort to learn to spin fast.

None of this changes my feeling about mill spun warp yarns cabled up into knitting -cabling produces a different class of yarns that produce a different class of fabrics - also worth putting a lot of effort into knitting.

Real, hand spun, 10-ply Aran yarn

Plied up from worsted singles that I spun over the last 4 years. It is it 211 yards of hand spun 10-ply weighing 196 grams (504 yards per pound.)  It can be done.

Plying was done on an Ashford Jumbo flier running about 300 - 400 rpm, so plying took a couple of hours.

The singles were on bobbins held by a new Lazy Kate:

In use, it was clamped to a foot stool.

Most of the effort in this project was adjusting the LK. The concept was designed for 5-ply and 10 ply required some thought so the yarn paths did not cross and interfere.  And the original design was for smaller bobbins. Thus, a second set of taller dowels had to be made and finished.  And, I had to compensate for the differing twist in the various singles being used.  This is done by putting in 2 or 3 dowels, and weaving the single between them to provide tension. All in all, these were all lessons that would have be learned sometime.

Over all there are ~4 hanks of 10s in the project, so hence forth the time from fiber to finished 10-ply is about 12 hours of spinning and 2 hours of plying per 200 yard skein.  Time to spin/ply the 1500 yards of  full worsted, 10-ply yarn for an Aran sweater would be ~100 hours.  This time can be dramatically reduced by not producing true worsted singles.  Some of these singles were spun before I got the Alden Amos fliers, and thus they took longer to spin.

Fibers in the various plies include Cotswold, Romney, Suffolk, Merino, and Rambouillet. There are 2-plies of navy blue, 2 plies of light blue and 6-plies of natural white. This was as we say, "A stash buster."

I can get a full hank of  5-ply on the Jumbo Bobbin, so a lot of my 10s are on larger bobbins that will hold a full hand of single.  However, since the Jumbo Bobbin will only hold ~ 1/2 hank of Aran, in an 10-ply project, I would just work with smaller bobbins.

It is now a cake ready to knit.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Combing waste as 10-ply

I had a big bin of  combing waste. It is left over from combing Romney and some Rambouillet.  I had thought to felt it, but I carded it on the drum carder, and am spinning it semi-worsted into ~ 5,600 ypp/ ~ 9 tpi semi-worsted singles.  These are being plied up into 10-ply/ 500 ypp Aran weight yarn.

The singles are not up to my standards for 2 or 3 ply, but make a nice 5-ply.  However, they make a very nice 10-ply.  More plies tend to average out defects in the singles.  And they can be spun very fast -- almost like woolen -- 5 or 6 hundred yards per hour.

At that rate, the 10-ply yarn for a sweater is only 30 or 40 hours work. This yarn is ALMOST FREE.  Free yarn, who can pass up free yarn?!  It will not be as durable as full worsted, but it  is much more durable (and warmer) than ANY mill spun Aran yarn. (e.g.,  It is a softer and less durable than a full worsted yarn, but it is likely to last me for the rest of my life.  And, these yarns are soft enough for my wife.

Forty hours of spinning and 60 hours of knitting - I can have a real hand spun 10-ply /hand knit Aran sweater in ~ 100 hours.  On the other hand, the finished yarn does have more than 100 tpi in it - and therefore is only really practical if your wheel spins fairly fast.  I am running my bobbin faster than 3,500 rpm to produce single at a rate of  8 or 10 yards per minute. (I figure 48 minutes of actual spinning per hour.) This actually faster than I was producing the loom web which was only 2,800 ypp/ 5 tpi, and opens up new options for finer loom yarns. (You know that I am still learning to spin!!)   I know spinners who spin faster, but I do not know any that spin singles this fine, this fast,  on a sustained basis.  However, I have no doubt that generations of nimble fingered spinsters spun finer singles faster. For example, I see no technical reason why the spinners of Flanders circa 1520 could not have spun faster -- they had the tools, and more skills than I will ever acquire.

One advantage of spinning the 5,600 ypp singles is that most of the veggy material drops out.  These singles are fairly clean, but if I was spinning 2 or 3-ply Aran weight (e.g., 1,000 or 1,500 ypp singles) , they would be full of VM.  The finer singles allow more VM to drop out and allow a better yarn with less effort.

At these speeds, when spinning Irish Tension, there is enough take up that the yarn will tend to bury (even with the tiny AA #0 flier), thus DD with a fixed differential rotation speed results in higher productivity, despite the tendency to break off  at any hesitation in the drafting process. Spinning at this speed is rather like hand feeding a hungry dragon; it always wants more, without pause.  I could spin slower, but that would raise the time commitment for the yarn, and that would make it less like free yarn.: - (

This does nothing to diminish my love of yarns plied up from commercial warp yarn, but it offers options.

Monday, February 03, 2014

There is nothing worse than being cold

I have been told many, many times that it was not plausible for hand spinners to make 5-ply knitting yarn, and that 5-ply yarn was a product that came after spinning mills were established.

However, fine worsted singles have been hand spun for use by weavers for more than 2,000 years - so such singles were available -in bulk.  And multi-ply yarns are stronger, more durable, and warmer than yarns with fewer plies, which is why they were produced by mills in 1800, and are produced by mills today. This has been well understood by textile workers and sailors since Roman times.  You know that 2-ply is stronger than a single of the same grist. It does not stop there.

The truth is that a competent spinner that can easily produce 5,600 ypp worsted singles at commercial rates (a couple of hanks per day) would use such singles as a basis for warm, durable, clothing for her loved seamen. A competent spinner can hand spin 5-ply /1,000 ypp worsted spun yarn ("gansey yarn")  for a seaman's sweater in under 70 hours and then it takes about 100 hours to knit it tight enough to be weatherproof.

But what if your loved sailor is going somewhere colder?  Aran weight yarn was called 10-ply in the old days.  And, 10-ply /500 ypp is warmer than 5-ply.  Really!  Could it have been hand spun?  Come on, those spinners were spinning 10 or 15 hanks per week of such singles for weavers -- since Roman times!  Thus, hand spun Aran weight,  real 10-ply yarn for a seaman's sweater is about 140 hours work.  On the other hand, the yarn is fatter so the knitting goes faster and the total time to hand spin and knit a 10-ply Aran weight sweater is similar to the total time to spin and knit a 5-ply gansey sweater.  The total time is on the order of 200 hours, or 4 hours per evening for less than 2 months.

 I have enough hanks of hand spun 10s around that, I can just ply up 10-ply anytime I need it. I expect that was the case for any spinner in a time when spinners could earn money by selling yarn to a local weaver or factor.

Yes, it is very possible to hand spin real 10-ply Aran weight yarn.  It is just a matter of having a good Lazy Kate to make the plying process fast and easy. Well plied 10-ply is a matter of good tools, not magic. And, you will want well blocked singles to save tangles and tears in the plying process. Blocking the singles on a niddy noddy with a tea kettle works very well, but you will still want a squirrel cage swift (or a compliant skein holder.)   I suggest a slight soft ply twist.  It will make the yarn splity to knit, but over all will be warmer. and the fabric will be softer.  The finished yarn will have to be blocked prior to knitting.  A niddy noddy with a tea kettle works very well. :-)   The yarn will still be denser than modern 2 or 3-ply mill spun Aran.

Is hand spun 10-ply warmer than mill spun 10-ply?  I do not know.  I haven't found 10-ply mill spun for sale. However, hand spun 10-ply is warmer than any 2 or 3-ply mill spun that I have found.  At this time, 10-ply Aran is the warmest yarn that I have spun.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

My New Favorite Mill Spun "Gansey"' Yarns

Last year I bought several cones of  2-ply 5,600 ypp warp yarns from Mitzi's yarns ( ) and used them to learn how to warp a sectional beam on the loom.

At the end of the year, with miles of hand-spun to warp onto the loom I was in a frantic search for bobbins, and there were 48 bobbins with commercial warp material on them . . . .

I cabled the warp yarns into knitting weight yarns, blocked them and wound them into cakes. At some point over the holidays, I needed some gansey yarn and . . . there were those cakes, so I sampled them.

And I love them. These are the best "gansey" yarns that I have ever used. (Here by "gansey" I mean the modern decorative sweaters with decorative stitches that "pop", and not garments to keep real seamen warm in polar conditions.)

These are commercial yarns that handle and ply/cable more uniformly than anything else you have ever plied. The are consistent and I have only found one knot in many thousands of yards, they seem to be fairly color fast, and they are inexpensive.  Mostly they are much stronger, much more lustrous than singles used in Frangipani, and thus the cabled yarns are much stronger and more lustrous than Frangipani.  And, you can cable up to the grist that you need.

What has my attention right now is a 6-ply (1,400 ypp) knit on 1.6 mm gansey needles with a leather knitting pouch to produce a Sheringham Guernsey fabric.  It is 9 spi and ~ 12 rpi.   I have started these before with various mill spun sock yarns and each time I would get 5 or 6 inches into it and decide that I did not like the fabric enough to wear it for the rest of my life.  As I compare the swatches from past/failed to the current swatches, yes, I think I could put this on every morning for the rest of my life.  It is a little thinner than an LL Bean fleece shell,  but warmer and much more durable.

Even the soft tubular gansey needles produce a tighter fabric than swaving wtih 1.5 mm pricks, which produces a tighter fabric than any hand-held needles, so this fabric is at least 2 notches tighter than I can produce with hand-held needles.

As 10-ply, and knit tight, the fabric starts to get stiff and  more suited to a real sailor on a real ship. The 8-ply is still soft enough for most usage, and warm enough for anything but working in polar conditions.

The cabling twist is about 9 tpi, and the resulting yarn must be steam blocked or the knitting will bias.  It is an interesting effect with the stitches spiraling up, but not something we have been trained to appreciate.  Block it! or, think you are feeling the effects of last night's bender.

A better Lazy Kate

These days, my Lazy Kate  is a piece of 3/4" inch plywood about 10" square with about 60-1/4" holes drilled  1/2" deep every inch or so; and, a bag of 24 pieces of 1/4" dowel. The pieces of dowel fit in the holes, and my bobbins will fit on the dowels.  Soon, it will have some rubber feet on it, but for now, it sits on some packing foam.

If I am making 2-ply from high twist singles, I put 2 dowels in the board to hold the bobbins and a line of dowels that the singles can be threaded through and which form an ad hoc tension box. For this use, a couple of dollars worth of  dowel work as well as a $500 AVL tension box - and are lighter and easier to haul around. If you are working with fines, you will want to sand and finish your dowels.

If I am making 4-ply from balanced 2-ply, I put on two dowels to hold bobbins and a dowel or two to act as guides.  Note that in this configuration, it will hold big bobbins.

If I am making 5-ply from high twist singles, then there are 5 dowels to hold bobbins, 5 dowels to act as yarn guides, and a line of 4 or 5 or even 6 dowels to act as a tension box.  This Lazy Kate is outstanding for such yarns.

If I am making 10-ply from balanced 2-ply there are 5 dowels to hold the bobbins and 5 dowels to act as yarn guides.

If I am making 10-ply Aran from high twist singles, there are 10 dowels to hold bobbins, 10 dowels to act as yarn guides, and a line of 4 or 5 dowels to act as a tension box.  Easy Peasy.

If I am making 20-ply Aran from balanced 2-ply, there are 10 dowels to hold bobbins, 10 dowels to act as yarn guides, and 3 dowels to act as a tension box.  With this setup, 20-ply cable is trivial.  Yesterday, it took me less than half an hour to ply up 20 yards of 20-ply Aran including winding the bobbins, plying, blocking, and winding into a small cake.  That is faster than going to the yarn store.

The setup will hold any bobbin with a 1/4" or larger axle.

The Mark II version will measure length of yarn spooled off - which is the real purpose of this tool. There will be pix when the whole thing works.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Happy New Year

It is Chinese New Year, and that is a big deal for my wife.

Last night, we got back from my niece's funeral, complete with 2 hours of blizzard conditions after her funeral there in Frostburg. I am not very spiritual, but that snow squall was likely Mother Nature's comment on the state of things.  (  Even Thursday, it took 22 hours for us to get home from Philadelphia.  On the way, I almost finished a rather finely knit sock.

Last month was supposed to be warping the loom with handspun, and yet the handspun sits in a tub under the loom. First it was finding bobbins, then it was emptying the bobbins that I did find. What did I want to do with all those bits of yarn???? Not skeins of  warp yarn with knots or splices in it --  plied or cabled would be better, but would plied or cabled be good for knitting????

Yes, Yes, Yes!  Warp yarn plies and cables into the gansey and sock yarns that I have been seeking for years.  This is why I learned to spin.  I did not actually need learn to spin -- I only needed to learn to ply and cable commercially available warp yarns.  I wanted better knitting yarns, and here they are.

I encourage everyone to try cabling up weaving yarns to make knitting yarn.  See for example And every weaving shop and studio carries weaving yarns.

However, I can still see Alden looking up and asking, "Why not hand spun?"

Why not hand spun? It was a lesson in what hand spun yarns really can and should be.  Plying commercial warp yarn was a lesson in what plying can be and how fast it can go.  Plying combs are not just because it is hard to hold 5 singles as the spinner plies, they also keep the singles from burning and cutting the spinner's hands as a competent spinner works at a workman like pace.

Weaving uses capital (a loom) to allow one worker to produce more fabric per "man-hour" than any hand knitter can produce. Thus, woven cloth was always a more profitable and a larger industry than hand knitting (even in subsistence households.) Weaving yarns would always have been a larger market for spinning than knitting (even  in a subsistence household where the weaving was for household use.)

This last month of making knitting yarns from weaving yarns convinces me that what we call "gansey yarn" or wasset is the result of making knitting yarns from warp yarns.  Then, "gansey yarn"  has 5 plies because 5,600 ypp singles (10s) were a good grist for weaving warp; and, 5 of those made a very good weight yarn for knitting outer wear in a climate somewhat colder than our own. Four-ply made a nice under garment.   This answers the question of, " Why 5-ply?" to my complete satisfaction.  That is, 10s work for weaving and 5-ply works for knitting garments for people who live and work in a cold environment.

This works if one knits tight.  If one uses the warmth of fabric knit on 2.38 mm needles as a baseline, then knitting with 2.75 mm needles is the same as leaving a 1 inch gap in the fabric every 4 inches.  Air molecules are so small that they do not care if there are 28 small gaps or one big gap -- they go through and carry body heat with them.. In contrast,  knitting on 1.6 mm needles means that the gaps between the wool fibers will be smaller and the fabric will be much warmer than fabric knit with 2.38 mm needles. Finer needles means much more warmth from much less wool.  See Gladys Thompson on Sheringham and Norfolk Guernseys.  Oh, yes they were knit on UK17 needles, and those are 1.5 mm.  They were using 4-ply, yarn but the gaps between the yarns were smaller. They did that because it works.  It makes a wonderfully light, warm fabric.  They did know what they were doing.  If wool is precious and spinning time at a premium, then fine knitting needles are well worth while.

I was so impressed by the fabrics that I was producing with 2.4 mm needles and  gansey yarn that I stalled and did not move on to the more wonderful fabrics that I could have been producing with finer needles. I certainly did swatches, but I never really tested them because they seemed like a lot of work to knit.  Now they seem very much worth the effort.  Yes, I use blunt or ball point 1.5 mm needles with 5-ply 1,000 ypp rather than "lace point"  needles but that is not a big deal.  The fabric in a WIP Guernsey is cabled 6-ply @ 1,400 ypp  knit on long 1.6 mm needles, so it is a bit softer, but it is still a very warm, light, dense fabric.

It has taken me about 3 years to really come to grips  with this fabric.  There were a large number of false starts, but always the lure of the Sheringham Guernseys to lure me forward.

Or, one really can knit Aran weight yarn on 2.5 mm needles to produce a weatherproof fabric. This afternoon, I ran up some 500 ypp /20 ply Aran and knit a swatch on 2.5 mm needles. It is bomb proof.