Friday, March 17, 2017

Worsted vs woolen

"They" say that a difference between woolen and worsted, is that worsted is finished when it is spun,  while woolen requires additional processing. 

Wrong.  Both woolen and worsted require additional processing to produce high quality finished products. Most weaving requires higher twist than knitting, and handling high twist yarns requires blocking the yarn.  Yes, even blocked fine, high twist yarns must be handled under tension. However, fine, high twist yarns  cannot  be handed without blocking.  These days, I put more time into blocking my worsted singles, than I do into spinning them.

And, likewise all my woolen singles get steam blocked.  These are fine, high-twist singles, and blocking allows reasonable handling. For knitting, it allows reasonable plying, and it allow reasonable handling of warp. Yes, if you know what you are doing, woolen makes very good warp.  Many traditional fabrics were woven using woolen warps.

AA tells us to use spinning oil, and to wash our singles before use - but he is not talking about hand spinning SINGLES for weaving. If you are spinning fine singles for weaving, then use Alden's soap/olive oil spinning mix for the spinning.  Then, steam block!  Weave, and  the spinning mix will act as sizing. And, the soap based spinning oil, helps clean the fabric during fulling.  If knitting, wash the yarns before knitting as AA suggests.  The soap oil mix can be messy and hard on the hands when knitting.  However, the spinning oil can also be a knitting oil to allow very tight, fast knitting, and again the soap can help in the final wash/blocking of the finished object. (In which case, you will need special knitting clothes and apron.)

A school of  modern spinning would have us believe that "Old School" spinning was worsted.  And, worsted or semi-worsted spun yarns show prominently in museum fabric collections.   However, contemporary documents, such as customs house records, suggest larger volumes of woolen spun woven fabrics. Today, we do not have such fabrics. Too bad! They are VERY nice.  Warm. Lightweight. Durable. Flame Retardant. Elastic. Good Drape. Nice Hand. Certainly, fine woolen fabric required high effort, but it was worth it, even if worsted spun provided  more  more durability under conditions of abrasion.

How did they spin woolen yarn for good woolen fabric?  Oh, Yes!, The classic drop spindle with a very fine (metal) blade, seated on a stool, doing thigh rolls with one hand while the other hand does long draw. Draw and spin on the forward roll, allow to accumulate twist with the spindle supported by the draw hand, then drop the draw hand and wind-on during the back roll.  I find a fine, small spindle can be faster and more convenient for spinning "fines"  than most modern spinning wheels. I find the greater rate of twist insertion resulting from the thigh rolls makes spinning fine, high twist yarns easier than using a supported spindle. Then, there are driven spindles.

A yard of fine woven cloth requires 5 to 10 thousand yards (100 grams) of fine single.  It will take a long time to spin that much high-twist single with a supported spindle.

Coarse yarns can be spun on great wheels. However, I do not find great wheels practical for grists of more than about 20,000 ypp (40 m/gram).  While standing and walking, it is hard to keep such fine, high twist threads taught, without breaking them. I think medium and fine woolen yarns (20,000 ypp to 40,000 ypp) were produced in the early medieval period using vertical charkhas mounted on legs and  operated while sitting on a stool. The stool and shorter draws allow more precise tension control. I think, various flyer/bobbin assemblies were introduced to northern Europe, after their development in Florence in the 12th century.  Thus, by the late medieval, in industrial practice,  both woolen and worsted threads for weaving were spun on double drive, DRS controlled flyer/bobbin assemblies.  The level of craftsmanship for such DRS spinning wheels is no higher than for carriages and wine barrels. Such craftsmanship and the tools to execute was available in Europe after the 13th century.

This is not the received wisdom from the Victorians, but I do not care, as they screwed and compressed all their technology timelines to fit their creation myth.





Monday, February 06, 2017

Deconstructing commercial multi-ply yarn into singles

Alden shows how do do this with spinning wheel, yarn reel, and custom tools.

It can also be done with a spinning wheel, raddle (or tension box),  and the sectional beam on your loom.   Some of us do not have space for an extra yarn reel.  I did have that space, but now there is a loom there.  And, some extra yarn.  And, maybe a few fleece. Textiles is about making huge piles of fiber into tiny piles of fabric.  Or, vice-a-versa.

You can change your mind about how that yarn was plied.

Lou Grantham at SF Fiber in Oakland, Ca got me some new toys for the loom. They let me move forward. Texsolv heddles on the tension box work much better with hand spun wool than the original 6" aluminium heddles.  This is reasonable, as 250 years ago, they were tying heddles from waxed linen thread.  Hooper gives instructions on how to tie heddles.

Current warp is 40 epi of handspun wool singles.  That means 80 bobbins of handspun on the bobbin rack for my 2" sectional beam. I have developed a true love/hate relationship with yarn yardage counter.   The warp is 10s (5,600 ypp, 75 wpi).  It is not the fabric I dream of, but I move forward. Singles bed differently, so it is not the fabric that somebody familiar with commercial 2-ply weaving yarns would expect either. There is a box with another 80 bobbins in the workshop for warping at 80 epi, and chips and sawdust everywhere. I know I can buy bobbins, but I need to practice my wood turing to stay sharp.  It is like spinning,  I need to practice.

Current reed on the loom is 20 dpi, which also seems to work at 80 epi weaving with 40s (22,000 ypp, 45 m/g,  150 wpi).  At one time 40s were the top end of "course spinning".  Mediums were 41s to 60s. and fine spinning was 61s to ~ 90s.  By late Victorian times power spinning produced much finer singles.  From here, my goal is good cloth based on 40s at 80 epi.  I expect it to weight about 4 oz per yard. Note I use the Bradford system with hanks of 560 yd, which is different from the cotton system, where hanks are 840 yd.

Warping fine handspun wool is more interesting than easy-peasy plying 10-ply Aran knitting yarn. For anybody familiar with weaving bolts of wool cloth, making 5-ply or 10-ply knitting yarns would have been trivial.  It is a set of skills that we have mostly lost.  A yard of wool cloth woven from 40s takes about 6, 000 yards, which at 17 tpi, is more than a couple of days of spinning.

I do think loom waste would have been plied up into knitting yarns.  Yes, those weavers were very frugal with their yarn, but they were also careful not to start with a single that that had knots in it. Better to ply that little piece of single into knitting yarns than tie it onto a warp and start with a knot.   On the other hand, I have read that weavers cursed their spinners for the poor quality of their spinning, so I suspect that there were some knots in the warp by the end of the day.  LIke I said, I need to stay in practice.

Broken or cut wool singles have a disturbance in the twist, which for weaving, is worse than a disturbance in the "Force".