Monday, April 13, 2015

The Best

One of my sculpture professors was friends with a world class silversmith/artist. The silversmith would come up and visit several times a year, and we would gather to hear his wisdom.

Once, he told us about how lonely it was being the best. He said, that when you are the best, there is no teacher.  The best must develop their own skills and likely design/make their own tools.  He said if you want to stay the best, one needs to spend 20% of one's time developing new techniques, learning new skills, and making new tools.

In the past, craftsman spinners spun for craftsman weavers. Most of the spinner's products were threads in the 5,600 ypp to the 45,000 ypp range. (This s the range of the Bradford system of  fiber/yarn measure.)  Such threads were used (or plied into yarns) for garments, upholstery, and even tapestries and sails.  Look at the old master paintings and (and tapestries) remember that every bit of cloth in them was woven from hand spun yarn.  Spinning for weaving is an old tradition.
There was a lot of spinning in a senator's toga.

Today, most hand spinners do not produce singles in that range of grists, and many who do are focused on entries into spinning competitions such as Longest Thread.  Thus, very few hand spinners are producing such threads primarily to be used in making other objects.  And, in fact, when I set about to make my first 5-ply sport-weight gansey yarn, I was told by "experienced" hand spinning historical enactors that it had not been done and could not be done.  Such advice conflicted with both history and science.  I find that many spinners have a poor grasp of history / science.  This is not to say that they will not try to floor you with dates.

Thus, spinning singles suited to weaving (and plying into very high quality knitting yarn) is a lonely place.  However, the yarns constructed from fine plies are nice - better than what the pack of spinners are spinning. While we have become accustomed to the fragility of knitwear made up of loosely knit 2-ply, many retailers offer knitwear of rather firmly knit 4-ply yarns that are much better. And, when I say better, I mean warmer for the weight, more durable, better drape, and nicer hand. Why would any spinner/knitter allow LL Bean and Costco to sell better sweaters than what the spinner/knitter is producing? NO!  If it worth making by hand, it is worth making as good or better - that is the craftsman's way.  And, like it or not, that means more and finer plies.  (If you wanted your toga to drape properly, you had it woven from fine, multi-ply yarns. Look at the Roman spindles! Many were highly optimized for spinning rather fine singles.  Those spindles will produce fine singles faster than most modern spinners can produce such singles on their wheels.

And, higher grist yarns are thinner and have a smaller tolerance for errors and defects.  Thinner yarns must be made to higher quality standards.When 560 yards of yarn weighs only 20 grams, there is not much room for slubs.  And a thin yarn without enough twist is more likely to drift apart.  A thin single must be more consistent. Again, thinner yarns are better.

This morning, I dug out the 20 tpi whorl and am spinning ~30,000 ypp (67 meters/ gram) singles from 56 count (25 micron) medium wool. The wool is lustrous, and strong. The single is a bundle of ~20 wool fibers. The hand-dandy electronic micrometer says the single is 0.005" in diameter - about 1/200"; that makes them a comfortable 175 wpi. The tachometer says the flyer is running at 2,400 rpm, so the bobbin is running at ~2,500 rpm, and the single is being spun at 124 inches per minute or ~ 160 yards per hour (145 m/h).  Not bad for someone that has not spun that grist since before Christmas.  I will spin 10 grams/ 670 yards and stop. (Then I must spade the tomato bed, and that will spoil my hands for such spinning for a few days.) These are soft singles, suited to a senator's toga or a lady's robe.  I do not need such singles just now. It is practice to maintain skills.  It must be measured as a test of my current skills.  I did not bother to re-comb and diz the roving I am using to spin 10s (worsted 5,600 ypp singles) that I do want now.  10s, I can spin after gardening.)

The trick is to spin such high  grist singles fast enough to make them useful.  Frankly, I do not know of any other hand spinners that spin garment weight yarns as fast as I do.   I do not even know of any hand spinners that come close to my speed.  And yet, I am certain that 300 years ago many spinners in Bruges could spin much, much faster than I do.  If all those spinners that claim to have the wisdom of ages actually had that wisdom, they would spin much faster than I do.  

Because fine singles do produce better fabrics and objects, I do expect other spinners to eventually follow me. I do believe in merit of product. By then I will have developed new techniques, new skills, new tools, and I will have moved forward.

What I am saying is that I am an Autodidact, and snide remarks and insults from the pack do not affect my spinning.  If you are a craftsman spinner, I am happy to exchange hints with you so that we both may become better spinners. And just as many folks play football, but there are not many NFL quarterbacks around, we should not expect that there are too many craftsman spinners around.  
Edited to add that the grist of the first 625 yd was only 52 m/g or (24,000 ypp, 150 wpi).  I guess that is what happens when I do not spin mediums for 4 months.

Edited to add: after soaking my hands in hand lotion all night, removing the film of belt dressing from the bobbin whorl, and  combing/dizing the fiber,this morning I was spinning 30,000+ ypp/  8 grams per hank.  It takes competence, but spinning wool at its spin count is not that difficult.  Wool fiber can be spun much thinner - 9 fibers in the single can be spun. For 56 count wool that would produce a single on the order of 60,000 ypp (250 wpi), but that is a very fragile yarn - OK for contests, but not for commercial weaving. Spinners spin a few feet of that, take a pix, and say, "Look how fine I am spinning!" 

People compare my singles to those pix and say, "You are not spinning as fine as XYZ!"  No, I am not, I am spinning miles of usable yarn.  On the other hand, my usable yarn can be spun from 56 count wool spun at 175 wpi. Part of its usability is that it is well measured.  If I have not been doing it on a regular basis, sometimes it takes some warm up to get back in the groove.  However, once I am  back in groove, it is every so easy.  I guess, I need to go get back in the fines groove.  Where is that that 24 tpi flier whorl?  (The oil finish that I put on them before storage last fall took the labels off
  :  ( 

The 20 fiber bundle was a grist that could be spun at a commercial rate (quickly) and it made a yarn that was robust enough to be handled in commercial weaving operations and when woven, made a good fabric.  

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