Friday, June 17, 2016

The Truth

Feynman was famous for getting to the truth.  Like Feynman, I find that many "experts" get wound up in refinements that lead them into error.  Often these refinements are from problems with defining or bounding the system under study.

In modern hand spinning and knitting, the problem is often a failure to take enough measurements to establish a baseline. The result is pile of myth and misconceptions that constitute a set of lies. People accept the lies, and pass them around until the lies become accepted as the truth.  And, nobody stops to check the math.  I am tired of those lies.  I campaign for truth and accuracy in hand made textiles.  

I measure, and check all the math.  I get different answers from what circulate in craft circles.  I get the truth. However, everyone is so mired in the lies that few believe me.  That is not my problem.  My problem is to find the truth in a sea of mud.

The system is wool yarn.  I know the diameter of the wool staples. I can easily count the number of wool staples in the yarn's cross section.  I know the old "Spin Count" system - a  professional truth that is beyond doubt. I have a accurate gram scale and an accurate skeiner.  I know my grist as calculated from length and weight is the same as calculated by Spin Count. I have these measurements in dated contemporaneous log books that would be accepted as evidence by either US or English libel courts.  And, I can always take my wheel into court and spin a sample.  The grists that I spin are beyond dispute.

I have good clocks.  I measure how long it takes for me to spin a batch of yarn. I log my rate of spinning in contemporaneous log books that would be accepted as evidence by either US or English libel courts.  And, I can always take my wheel into court and spin a sample.  My rate of spinning is beyond dispute.

Ask a modern spinner how fine a particular single is and the term "fine as frog hair", may be invoked. That implies that the yarn is as fine as can be practically hand spun, which is generally a lie. It it the lie of diminished expectations.  Generally, singles described as "fine as frog hair" have a grist of less than 25,000 ypp. Even Alden Amos never got around to spinning much finer than 25,000 ypp.  However, traditionally professional hand spun singles were classed as "fine" only for grists of  33,600 ypp and higher.   Today, most modern hand spinners have never "seen" hand spun yarns finer than 25,000 ypp.  Oh, they walked past such yarns in the Louvre, Victoria and Albert,  St-Janshospitaal, Getty, and etc, but they never really saw the yarns as a standard for modern hand spinning.  Modern spinners assume that we can no longer spin that fine. That is very wrong.  It is "foolish".

I know the grists of the yarns that I knit with, and I know the diameter of the needles that  I use to knit. The combination of yarn grists and needle sizes that I use were common among fine expert knitters at one time. Now people look at these stitch gauges and do not believe them.  These combinations of yarn grists and needle sizes were used because they produce lovely fabrics.  Fabrics that were/are warm and durable. Fabrics that had/have wonderful drape and hand. These fine fabrics are not commonly hand knit these days.  Most modern knitters tend to knit looser. Modern knitters tend not to use knitting belts and knitting sheaths, which makes finer knitting easier and faster, much faster!  

One of the lies that I really hate is that one can knit very fine fabrics on big (US2) needles, just by knitting tighter.  No!, not even if you are  knitting so tight that the yarn is breaking in your hands.  And, fabrics knit with highly tensioned yarns do not have the nice hand and drape of fabrics knit at the same number of stitches per inch, but achieved by knitting more loosely with smaller needles.  

I really do not care how you spin or knit.  I do care that the crafts of fine hand spinning and fine hand knitting are preserved.  I care that someone does fine hand spinning and fine hand knitting.  I teach how wonderful yarns can be spun. I know that it is more effort than many amateurs are willing to expend.  That is not my problem.  My problem is to elucidate the tools, methods, and materials that allow the reasonable production of fine yarns and fine fabrics.

I have gone where most modern spinners have not. Even spinners like Alden Amos did not explore the speed of DRS to allow spinning finer singles. I had to balance  precariously on his shoulders to look beyond what AA did. And, he was a giant among spinners.  I have made a lot of mistakes, but as I go forward I find better solutions, and I report them. Whenever I find a different way, I test the new way against the best way that I knew previously, and then use whichever way proves better. Details matter. Often, one approach is better for a particular application, while another approach is better for other applications.  Likewise, one approach will be worse for a particular application. There is no best way, there are only better ways to do particular applications.  And, there is always a better way for every application. 

The problem is always finding the most appropriate way for this application with the budget, scope, and schedule available.

The truths:

  • Higher grist singles are worth the effort, because finer singles lead to fabrics with nicer hand and drape. (Go into your "Needless Markup Department Store" and look at the grist of the yarns in the fabrics with nicer hand and nicer drape.)
  • High grist singles are much easier to spin with higher speed flyer/bobbin assemblies. Higher speed (RPM) is most easily achieved with double drive set so there is little slip in the system.  Therefore, to achieve higher speed, differential rotation speed control must be built into the system or the single will simply break off.  
  • DRS controlled flyer/bobbin systems will run 2 or 3 times faster than bobbin lead systems, flyer lead systems, or double drive systems that allow slippage. These days, RPM is easily measured with a digital tachometer or strobe system.  These are now available and inexpensive. There is no excuse for not understanding this issue.  As an old bicycle racer, my normal cadence is ~90, which yields ~3,200 RPM with the the AA #1 /flyer/bobbin assembly, and ~ 3,600 RPM with the AA #0 /flyer/bobbin assembly. None of Alden Amos' treadle wheels were every designed to go that fast.  Alden never expected me to run those flyer/bobbin assemblies faster than 2,000 RPM.  SG's wheels do not go that fast.
  • To run at speeds of more than 3,000 RPM, wheels must be double treadle to spread the stress of the power delivery through the full rotation of the wheel. Drive belts must be designed to deliver more power, and if cotton or linen, must have belt dressing. And, belt dressing will build up on the flyer/bobbin assembly whorls.  Whorls should be board cut, despite the fact that the end grain accumulates belt dressing. Belt dressing accumulating in the whorls changes the DRS!  Drive belts must be dressed and whorls cleaned on a regular basis. Oiling is critical. Service the wheel every time you take a "bio-break".
  • With a DRS controlled wheel, wool can be spun at its spin count. ( )
  • Fine wool can be easily spun at 10 or 20 or 30 hanks of 560 yards per pound rather quickly.   Almost any wool can be spun at 10 hanks per pound (5,600 ypp, 12.3 m/gram, e.g., 9 twists /inch) at about a hank per hour.  Fine wool can be spun into 45,000 ypp (~100 m/gm) singles at a rate of about a hank per day. Ten grams of 2-ply, 20,000 ypp yarn takes 3 long days to prepare. A hank of 80s single weighs just under 5.7 grams.  I call them "little shits" because of the difficulty I had in managing the first few hanks that I made.  Henry Clemes is developing a reel that makes managing such singles easier. 
  • Fine singles need to be blocked.
  • Quality of singles is highly dependent on quality of fiber preparation. 
  • A good spinner can keep 2 or 3 good knitters busy.
  • A good weaver can keep 2 or 3 good spinners busy.

  • Finely knit fabrics, knit using fine yarns and fine needles have superior hand and drape. Such fabrics can be cool or very warm. 
  •  Finely knit fabrics have superior durability. If you want socks that last, choose yarns with more plies or strands and finer needles. The finer spinning will affect the time to produce much less than the extra knitting effort resulting from using finer yarns.
  • If you want warmer or more weatherproof fabrics, finer needles are the best path.
  • Knitting belts are a great general purpose tool.  Knitting belts are to knitters, what pliers are to mechanics.
  • Knitting sheaths are more specialized tools which allow knitting things that cannot be practically knit using circular needles or even DPN with a knitting belt. Knitting sheaths are to a knitter what a rachet and socket set, and an air impact wrench, and an electric impact driver are to a mechanic.  
The bottom line is that you may not understand how the Hutchinson 3G access technology in your cell phone works, but that does not mean that somebody at the phone company has fooled himself.  The fact that the technology works is proof that nobody was fooled.  DRS spinning technology has functioned perfectly for centuries. It works.  Knitting sheaths have functioned perfectly for centuries.  It works.  It is simply a matter that you may not have been paying close attention to each of these technologies.   

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