Monday, September 28, 2015

Tying it all together.

From the early medieval until ~1780 the very profitable and competitive European textile industry depended on hand spinning.  It is reasonably clear that good spinning, more than local fiber or weaving was the competitive advantage that allowed a region to become a dominate player in the industry. If local fiber was the  primary competitive advantage, then England would have dominated the world's textile markets from the time the Romans left.

What can a hand spinner could spin, and how fast it can be spun is an important economic question in the medieval European textile industry history.

We know from the definition of "spin count" that a competent spinner was expected to be able to spin at the wool's spin count.  Modern (American) spinners dismiss this point because they do not spin wool at its spin count.  However with differential rotation speed controlled flyer/bobbin assemblies (DRS), spinning at the spin count is easy.  Designing the differential rotation speed controlled flyer/bobbin assemblies requires somebody who can do math (e.g., an engineer) and making the assemblies requires a good wood turner, but once the DRS assembly is designed and fabricated, spinning at the spin count is easy.

For example:

A prirn of 90 m/gram, woolen spun, weft.  It is more than 300 yards (just over 3 grams) of  continuous, knot free, competent single.  It was spun in about 2.5 hours, washed, blocked, and wound onto the pirn though a tension box.  Think about it.  How long would it take you to spin 300 yards of  such single?  These days, the folks that spin that fine, spin slowly.

One big advantage of spinning fine was that it removed vegetable matter  (VM) from from the fiber so there was less VM in the yarn and hence the cloth. Fine spinning compensated for a lack of  fiber preparation technologies that we now take for granted.

DRS is fast.  Weavers needed a lot of yarn, and DRS is much more productive than any other hand spinning technique.  Worsted 10s (5,600 ypp) for warp and knitting yarns can be easily spun at more than 560 yards per hour.  Worsted 40s (22,400 ypp, spin count for long wools such as Romney)   can be spun at more than 400 yards per hour. And, as I note above, 80s (~45,000 ypp, spin count for Merino) can be spun at more than 200 yards per hour.  I can demonstrate these production schedules as needed. They are very conservative. They are what a motivated spinner can produce in a sustained full time work schedule of 45 hours per week.

If any modern spinner cannot spin that fine or that fast it is not my fault, so do not be rude to me.  I have been talking about this and moving toward this for years.  Alden Amos recited the math in his big blue book in 1991. However, the math has been known and understood in western culture since the 11th century beginnings of the Italian silk spinning industry.

We have had good wood turners as long as we have had bungs in barrels.  The iron work for such a wheel could be made by any blacksmith accustomed to making wood turner's tools.  The required bronze bearings could be made by anyone that made bells.  In 1390, in Florence there textile industry provided employment for about 400,000 workers.  That would have included all of the above craftsmen as well as the spinners, dyers, weavers, merchants, and factors.  Textiles were big business, and had a supporting infrastructure for for the spinners, dyers, and weavers.  This included craftsmen that could work iron, turn wood and, in short, make industrial grade hand spinning benches.  DRS based spinning benches flourished in this environment.  Such benches for full time professional spinners were very different than the small wheels used by subsistence spinners in Scotland in the early 19th century and which were the model for the Victorian spinners.

Any model of spinning history that does not include the industrial spinning centers of  Europe is incomplete.  There are still houses in Bruges that show by their architecture  that they were spinning factories in the 16th century. They were by a canal so English wool could be brought in by boat. They have a special door so bales of English wool could brought into the lowest story where the wool was washed and dyed. There was a lift to the drying racks in the attic. The dried wool was dropped a floor to the combers. The combed wool was dropped another floor to a room lined with white marble and windows on 3 sides so the was enough light to spin fine. In the early 16th century the room was full of spinners spinning fine thread, and DRS ensured that the grist was correct and uniform. The next floor down was the office and showroom.  On the same block, there is another building that was a 16th century weaving factory.  This was industrialized textile production. The English system of contract spinners in their crofts and factors hauling fiber and spun yarn by horse train could not compete.

If a spinning wheel in Bruges broke, the wood worker around the corner could have it fixed in a few hours.  If an English spinning wheel broke it would have to be taken to town and back, and it might be a couple of days before it was fixed.  And, in Bruges there were many weavers, so the spinner had some choice in what kind of spinning he did and who he worked for.  And the Bruges weavers/factors had some choice in what spinners they used.  The competition encouraged excellence in spinning. In contrast, in England, the dispersed nature of the spinners, meant there were fewer factors/weavers working in the area, and the spinners had less choice of what kind of spinning they did.  And the factors/weavers had less choice in which spinners they used.  The combination of few spinners and fewer factors/weavers also meant there was less competition to innovate.  Thus, the industrial textile centers in Europe were able remain leaders in the technology and economics of textile production until the invention of the steam driven spinning frame.

The important thing is that the spinning factory in Bruges was spinning English wool.  The weaving factory in Bruges was weaving English wool.  If you want to know how English wool was spun and woven, do not look in England, look in Bruges.  Just as today, if you want to know how American wool is spun and woven, look in Italy and France. Sure there are a few hand spinners in Ameica, and even a few American mills, but the vast bulk of  the best American wool goes to the big mills in Europe. And the price paid to American shepherds for that wool is a pittance.  It is heartbreaking.

In the same way, in the early 16th century, English wool went to the industrialized textile centers in Europe.  England did not become an industrialized textile producer until after mechanization of spinning circa 1780.  Now, people think that industrialzaion means steam power, but in fact, textile production in Flanders was highly industrialized,  and producing textiles for export from imported English wool as early as Charlemagne. That textile industry supported a much higher population density than England had at the time. 

Hand spinning is labor intensive. The agrarian England did not have enough concentrated labor to become a textile center as long as textile production required the labor intensive hand spinning.  England's lack of labor was intensified by the Enclosures.

The bottom line is that looking to English history  and the spinning wheels used by subsistence spinners in the 19th century has given us a very poor model of what can be reasonably spun, and how fast it can be spun.  With a well made wheel, wool can be spun at its spin count at a commercial rate. 

Romney can be spun at at grists finer than 20,000 yards per pound (40 m/gram), Shetland can be spun at more then 30,000 ypp ( 60 m/g) and Rambouillet can be spun at grists finer than 40,000 ypp (80 m/g) with other fibers in proportion.  Production rates go down as grist increases but it is not a strict relationship, so production of high grist singles is greater and easier than expected.  

Production rates depend on the quality of fiber preparation, but less so on whether the single is woolen or worsted. Production of  5,600 ypp singles should easily exceed 600 yards for a working spinning hour of 48 minutes.  Production of grists in the range of  20,000 ypp to 30,000 ypp should easily be on the close order of 300 yards per working spinning hour of 48 minutes.

Remember I can demonstrate spinning these grists at these rates, anywhere, anytime including in front of a judge and jury at a libel trial. 

However the most important aspect of DRS is that it allows spinning consistently.   I have spun 10 consecutive hanks (560 yd each) of 10s the weighed within 5% of the desired 45 grams. They then formed 2 consecutive hanks (500 yards) of 5-ply knitting yarn that weighed within 5% of the desired 227 grams/ 8 oz.  DRS is the only way I know to do that in 2 consecutive days. This was the kind of consistent hand spinning made possible by DRS.  And, it was such consistent spinning across hundred of spinners that made the large scale industrialization of spinning possible. 

One can make many "story boards" from a DRS wheel.  Then every wood turner can use his story board to make wheels that produce the same grist as the first wheel.  Every (competent)  spinner that uses one of those wheels, can produce that same grist with ease.  DRS was an enabling technology for textile industrialization.

We can look at the spinning wheel drawings in The Big Book of Handspinning and see that there very different designs.  Each textile center had its own set of storyboards that allowed local wheel makers to make wheels that facilitated the spinners in the region to all spin similar yarns as required by the weavers to weave the specialty textiles of the region.  The astute reader will realize that DRS was the standardization tool that allowed  thousands of spinners to spin for hundreds of weavers to produce dozens of ship loads of fabrics typical of the region.


Holin Kennen said...

"Storyboard?" Really??? I grew up in the film and television industry (my dad was a screenwriter), and I have a theater degree and film work in my CV. I know what that word means and how it is used in practice.

From the Oxford Dictionary, the CORRECT definition of "storyboard:"

1. a sequence of drawings, typically with some directions and dialogue, representing the shots planned for a movie or television production

Unless you are asserting that the textile mills of Medieval Europe also made television shows and movies, this word doesn't mean what you think it means. Or are you offering yet another example of your peculiar revisionist history of Europe and the textile industry such as spinning benches based on your collapsible stepladder?

Aaron said...

A story board is a plank with all the required dimensions for an object scribed a with a very sharp bench knife along its edges. The dimensions for the object are either taken off with dividers (e.g., for whorls) or can be scribed directly onto the part being made.

It is a very old wood working technique that allows a wood shop to preserve the critical dimensions for products that it makes. By laying a new plank alongside the story board, dimensions can be copied very accurately.

Masons also used the technique for setting the size for stones.

When I was a kid it was still pretty common, particularly in Amish and Mennonite furniture shops. The last time I saw it being used was in Nova Scotia in about 10 years ago.

I do not think anyone can understand history, without understanding the history of the crafts. Knowing how 15th century blacksmiths, masons, and cabinet makers worked can supply hints as to how spinners and weavers worked.

Holin Kennen said...

And your proof of the mass production of spinning wheels using these "story boards," as you call them, during the 13th century is what? Please cite specific academic findings and studies to prove your assertions.

Aaron said...

None! I assert that good economics suggests that the conventional wisdom of textile history based on Victorian hand spinning production rates is wrong, because Victorian hand spinners spun at a rate that was a tiny fraction of commercial production rate of the old professional spinners.

My evidence is that you spin at about the same rate as the Victorian hand spinners, and using old professional wheel designs (eg DRS and Accelerators) I spin 2 or 3 or 4 times faster than you do.