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.





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