Monday, September 26, 2016


I get teased and chided on for using the traditional spinner's measures.  In  particular, measuring grist by stating the number of "hanks" of 560 yards that can be spun from a pound of yarn.

My ordinary grist is "10s". That is 5,600 ypp yarn spun worsted. Thus, I know how many pounds of wool I have, I know how much yarn I can spin. Easy.  And, when wrapped to refusal, 10s measure ~75 wpi.  A 75 wpi single can be sleyed to produce plain weave at 68 epi/68ppi, which weighs about 1 pound/ square yard.  Likewise, 20 hanks per pound produce 2 yards of cloth per pound of wool.

Thus, using hanks, I can easily calculate how much yarn I can spin from a given batch of wool, and how much cloth I can weave from that wool.  The more weaving I do, the more useful the old English system of yarn measure is.

This also tells us that the stories we were told in grade school were just that -- stories.  The yard and the inch may have been related to some king's reach and size of hand/toe/foot, but he would have lived before the very fine weavers of Classic Greece.  They had wool, yarn, and cloth trading, so they had measures that extended from Greece to what is now Turkey and Egypt, to say nothing of the silk road with textiles moving east.

Sorry, Love; but the fine fabrics of Classical Greece were not woven on single beam, warp weighted looms.  Oh, I am sure they had such looms, but I doubt if that is what they used to weave 12 meter lengths of 68 epi (and finer) wool fabrics.  No, by Classical Greek times, it was an industry, and they were using  rather sophisticated horizontal double beam looms.  And there was trade.  With trade, there were terms to define the various aspects of textiles.  You may not name your yarns, but merchants do; now and in the past. They give them names like  "45 grams / meter, white worsted single" or white "40s".

I expect that the definitions of (or other words that indicate the same quantity): hank, yard, inch, pound, wool fineness in hanks per pound, ends per inch, pricks per inch, woolen, and worsted, were all set, and known among textile traders by the end of the Greek Classical era.   In particular, the elegance of the hanks of yarn at 560 yards tied to fineness wool and the math of  wraps per inch suggests the mathamatical acumen of Syracuse in classic times.

The fact that we have variations such as the el as a measure of length, suggests that textile measures have been around long enough for dialects to develop.  For the larger, and well nourished Greeks, 36 inches was a reasonable width for a warp. During some periods in the textile centers of  Europe, there was famine, and people were smaller, so a narrower warp allowed much easier weaving.  Thus, during periods of famine, Europeans needed a name for narrower cloth, e.g., the el.

Yards, inches, pounds, and hanks were not isolated measures, but part of an intricate system of measure, essential to a large, profitable, international industry and  systems  of trade.  In systems that goes all the way from from wool fiber to yarn to finished cloth, the old English system with grist and wool fineness in hanks per pound  is the easy way to do the math  and make sure you get correctly paid.


Dianne Stucki said...

As someone who studies historical textiles, I'd love to see your sources for the Greek horizontal, double back beam looms.

Ruth B said...

Please cite your archaeological sources for the existence of double beam looms during the period of Classical Greece.

kingstonman said...

oh dear you are at it again, using words that don't mean what you think they do, one example is "el" it was a measurement of length, not of the width of cloth and roughly was the same as a cubit, but many countries had different understandings of it and often very different, in Scotland it was 37" and an in England it was "45"
Even today when I order cloth one of my weavers still warps up in ells

Aaron said...

Think! The width of a piece of cloth is a measure of length! It can be in inches, yards, meters, millimeters, mils, lines, rods, fathoms, poles, or even ells -- all of which are directly convertible to "els".

Aaron said...

Dear Ruth,
In freshman biology with S. Magee-Russell, we had to submit written questions on the lectures. Then, we had to list 100 places where we had looked for an answer. If then ALL of Magee-Russell's grad students could not find an answer, and the question was considered substantive, then the student was promoted from "bug" to "critter" and was allowed to actually talk to S. Magee-Russell.

Look at the recent finds of Classic Greek sculpture (not Roman copies), and look at the depicted fabrics. Try to replicate them. A while back, I was reading an old Roman history text written circa 1880, and it said that during the First Century AD, the Romans had horizontal double beam looms. And there was an illustration. I do not remember the author or title. Anyway, Classic Greek is only 500 years earlier, and given what we now know about Bronze Age tool making, that is not much.

If you want to refute my deduction, then pick a fine classic Greek statue, and replicate the clothing using a single beam. weighted warp loom. : )

Dr Gan Sei said...

That's beyond idiotic. To replicate that artistic depiction of imaginary cloth, one would need marble and a chisel.

Unknown said...

Can you explain why you would sley at 68 epi when your yarn is 75 epi? The sett for balanced plain weave is roughly wpi/2, as that leaves space for weft interlacement. The cloth you'd get from such a dense sett would be corrugated, like a rep weave, and not at all balanced.

kingstonman said...

of course cloth can be measured with any system, but the width of cloth was not measured in el(l)s, most of the time it was either single width,(roughly 26"-28") or double (about 54").
Saying that it "could" be measured in el(l)s isn't realistic, or verifiable

Ruth B said...

Look at the remains from Pompeii, which includes at least one vertical, warp weighted loom. Not a horizontal double beam loom to be seen anywhere, and somehow, I don't think the weavers had time to scuttle them all out of the city before it was buried in volcanic ash. For a guy who thinks the Victorians had it all wrong about pretty much everything, the fact that you are citing a book written in 1880 (which you can't recall the title or author of) to support your theory of the existence of horizontal looms in either Ancient Rome or Classical Greece is a bit disingenuous, don't you think?