Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Myth and certainty

I find that I must spin a few hundred yards of  fine thread to be certain that I am spinning that wool at at its spin count. A picture really does not not say anything about over all grist. A control card is not certain because different yarns have different loft, and hence different thicknesses for the same grist. A short length of thread can differ from the average of the hank.  No! Spin count is spin count.  You know you are spinning at the spin count, when a hank (560 yards) has about the correct weight for that spin count. And, a full hank of 560 only needs weighting to the nearest gram.  6 grams and it is an 80s (or maybe a 76s. Who cares? close enough for hand spinning).  10 grams and it is a 45s. 45 grams and it is a 10s.

Weighting hanks of a full 560 yards is no extra work, because, without spinning many, many hanks of about that grist you are not going to be a good enough spinner to spin wool at its spin count.  So really, all you need to be certain of your grist is a skeiner and a kitchen gram scale.

I spin and weigh many hanks,  I am certain of the grist that I spin, and I frequently spin wool at its Bradford system spin count.

And, still the myth in the modern hand spinning world is that wool cannot be hand spun at its Bradford spin count. (Or, at least that I cannot spin wool at its Bradford count!)  I get this myth spit at me over and over by people that do not have the elan to try and spin fine.  It is a myth perpetuated by laziness and ignorance.

If other spinners would only try, they also could spin wool at its Bradford spin count. Along the way they will spin many, many hanks that miss their target grist, but with a skeiner and a kitchen scale they can be sure of when they have arrived, and are spinning wool at its Bradford spin count. However, modern spinners are so wound up in the myth that it is impossible to spin so fine that they do not even try.  In fact, they do know from the results of spinning contests such as the Longest Thread that it is very possible to spin at the spin count and even finer.  It really comes down to a question of how fine a yarn can be spun at a useful rate. And, that is a matter of tools and skills.

Wool singles spun at their Bradford spin count are not particularly fine compared to say yarns spun for competitions.  Bradford spin count singles are robust enough for handling in a commercial weaving environment.  Bradford spin count singles were the standard product of  commercial hand spinners, whose customers were weavers.  It was a commercial product that was produced at commercial rates -- hand spinners spun Bradford spin count singles at a rapid pace.  This is what professional spinners did for a living for hundreds of years.

Modern spinners have abandoned these tools and skills, and the myth is that they cannot be reclaimed.  You may not want to use the tools of a professional spinner or acquire the skills of a traditional professional spinner, but reciting the myth will not keep others from using those very useful tools and skills, and you will look like a fool.

2 comments:

Gaby M said...

You are right about fine spinning. I would refer you (and your naysayers!) to the 1788 Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts which is easily found via Google Books. Volume 9 includes a survey, "Notes on Spinning," in which the author surveys representatives of different English counties as to the spinning done there.

Basically, spinners were paid by the pound and it appears that one-half pound of wool spun a day was the average. One pound could yield 11,520 yards of single yarn. Rates varied depending on the county, but it looks like 7 pence for one pound, or 3.5 pence per day, if you were spinning a half-pound a day.

Weightwise, if one pound (16 ounces) of wool equalled 11,520 yards, then one ounce would be 720 yards, or 1,440 for 2 ounces.

If anyone is fainting from the thought of that-fine a yarn, it was not the finest weight. A spinner could earn 15 pence per pound for spinning her pound of wool into 20,160 yards of yarn.

You can also search for Vol. 10 of the same publication; Page 217 contains the story of the celebrated Miss Ives and her fine-spinning accomplishments. And, no, there are no photographs of her or her spinning!

Aaron said...


I have some problem with the account on V9 pg 280. That seems a bit fast - perhaps the spinner was using a new spinning frame, or day and week as the interval of work were confused.

However, I see no problem with spinning 150,000 yards per pound from fine Spanish (Merino) wool. That is very similar to results from the Longest Thread competition.