Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Spinning fine and fast in the old world

I have pointed to spinning fine and fast as a spinning standard.  So, how fine and did the old spinners spin?  How fine were the yarns produced in the arc of western culture?  We know the Old Kingdom Egyptian Pharaohs were buried in shrouds of very fine linen produced locally, and cotton of similar fineness imported from India. Thus, 4,500 years ago, very fine textiles were being spun and woven in two different regions of the world.  Two different regions at that time had talented and professional spinners and weavers with long traditions.

What then is the arc of fine textiles moving forward?

Looking at A Fifth-century B.C. Grave-Group from Karabournaki in the British Museum as described by Catherine Morgan ( 2015), we see photos of two fragments of animal fiber textile with more detail in the:
Appendix: a preliminary study of the textile
fragment on GR 1919, 11-19.8
Joanne Cutler and Margarita Gleba
(Institute of Archaeology, University College
And, I quote: 
The textile remains were examined with a hand lens
and a digital microscope (Dino-Lite). The fabric is
a weft-faced tabby (tabby is the simplest form of
weave, in which the weft thread passes alternately
over and under one warp thread) with a count of
11-12 threads per centimeter in the warp and 48-52
threads per centimeter in the weft. Although no visible
edges are preserved, all unbalanced tabbies of
this period found in Greece are weft-faced. The warp
threads are z-twisted and tightly spun (with a twist
angle of more than 45°), with a thread diameter of
0.25-0.3 mm. The weft threads have a thread diameter
of 0.22-0.33 mm (a very similar range to the
warp threads)98, although unlike the warp threads
they have no clearly discernible spin99. The fibre in
both thread systems is also very similar in appearance
(ca 20-30 μm in diameter) and very uniform.
Both wool and linen textiles of this type dating to
the first millennium B.C. are known in Greece100.
Preliminary SEM analysis indicates that the fibre
is of animal origin101.
The fineness of the thread used is consistent with
the majority of published Classical textile remains
from Greece (mostly from Attica), which have a
thread diameter of 0.2-0.3 mm102. Many of the Classical
textile fragments analysed are balanced tabbies
(with approximately the same number of threads of
similar thickness in both the warp and the weft).
However, a number are weft-faced tabbies, with weft
thread counts that, as at Karabournaki, can reach
ca 60 threads per centimeter103. A few fragments
from Kamatero, Kalyvia, Marousi and Kerameikos
have even higher counts (the fragments from Kamatero
and Kerameikos have up to 120 weft threads
per centimeter) and are woven with extremely fine
threads, some less than 0.1 mm in diameter. Nearly
all of the Classical textiles analysed are made of plant
fibre, mostly linen, although this probably reflects
differential preservation factors since most were
found in association with bronze objects which generally
favour the preservation of plant fibres. The
vast majority of these Classical textiles are woven
with single z-twisted fibres in both the warp and the
weft. The lack of obvious spin in the weft of the
Karabournaki textile is unusual, but it is also evident
in the extremely weft-faced Classical textile fragments
from Kamatero and Kalyvia104.
The Karabournaki textile is an important addition
to the current corpus of Classical textile remains.
It provides a comparandum from a northern
Greek context to compare with the more numerous
textiles from southern Greece and with the Vergina
textiles of the second half of the fourth century B.C.
(which include a purple textile in the tapestry technique,
and a balanced tabby, possibly cotton, with
ca 25 threads per centimeter)105.

This tells us that the Classic Greeks were spinning combed wool at grists of 10,000 ypp (20 m/gram) to  22,400 ypp (45 m/g) for fabrics. We see that some of the wool was as fine as wool from modern fine wool breeds e.g., 20 micron, and that it had been well graded and sorted. Tools for such spinning are more sophisticated that what are typically used by Classcial Greece period en-actors.  And, the spinning skills of the period were higher then typically seen in Classcial Greece period en-actors.

Moreover, the looms were more sophisticated.  Nobody can weave on a warp of 120 wool warp threads per cm with a simple 1-beam vertical weighted loom.  If you think otherwise, show me useful quantities of wool cloth that you have woven at 120 warp threads per cm from handspun! -  using low twist weft!!  They wove  "himations", a very large rectangle of fabric OK, not as large as a Roman toga, but not something that can be woven on a single beam loom using the threads described above. We know the Greeks traded around the world, and 2-beam looms for weaving fine fabrics were known in Egypt, India, and the Fertile  Crescent.  The Greeks had them also.  We know this by reverse engineering the fabric.  

It is not just me. See for example ( ) 
They tried, and did not get the fabrics discussed above.  And they were not even using hand spun.  The kicker is the low twist weft - it is hard to handle in a single beam/ weft weight loom.

The loom on the urn?  Symbols in art persist for centuries after the technology has been superseded.  We teach the history of technology better than we teach current technology.  How many modern hand weavers cnd sit down and draw the mechanics of a modern Full Electronic High Speed Rapier Loom Machine with Mechanical Dobby?  Not many!  At Lambtown, 3 "dads" pointed to my spinning wheel and told their kids that I was using a "loom".  Artists do art for dads and their kids.

The timeline for textile technologies that has been shouted at me over and over is wrong.  Classic Greece had textile workers with great skill, and the tools to display those skills. In particular, they had good 2-beam looms.  These folks were not making the kind of coarse fabrics that can be made on the single beam loom w/ weft weights used by subsistence weavers in more recent times.  The Classic Greeks had talented professional spinners and weavers with traditions reaching back hundreds or thousands of years. 

I have said that "competent spinners" could spin wool at its spin count. I have said that "spinning fine and fast" was a skill highly  praised. I did not say everyone had to spin fine and fast. I did not say that everybody should learn to spin wool at its spin count.  

I  said that I like textiles made from yarns with fine singles.  I said, that judging by the fabrics and textiles in places like Target, Costco, and Needless Markup, others also like fabrics and textiles produced from fine yarns.  Catherine Morgan /Joanne Cutler and Margarita Gleba tell us that the Classic Greeks also liked fabrics and textiles produced from fine singles.

1 comment:

Sheri said...

That was an interesting article, thanks for the link. Now, I'm finding myself wondering about the ancient breeds of sheep and how the quality of their wool played a part in the production of thread. There must have been more to raising the sheep than just leaving it to chance that the wool would be of suitable quality...