Monday, April 26, 2021

Handspun Sock Yarn

 I returned to knitting in 1999. I started working on how to hand knit objects well suited to keeping fisherman warm on a square-rigged ship, wooden ship.  My path included learning to hand spin the kind of yarns used to hand knit objects which could supply the exceptional warmth needed to sail then through storms rather than around storms. I skipped a lot of other basic skills, including socks/sock  yarns for urban environments.

 In pursuit of warmth, I tried all kinds of yarns, and settled on "gansey" yarn as being a very good yarn for activites away from centrally heated environments.  Sailing, snow camping, sheep herding, duck hunting, skiing, and pruning fruit trees in the winter are all activities that can be better enjoyed wearing objects well knit from a good gansey yarn.

The best gansey yarns that I found were the British worsted spun 5-ply, 1,000 ypp yarns made in old mills. By 2004, it was clear that those old mills were disapearing, and I needed to find alternate yarns.  I set about learning to spin. It took me 4 or 5 years before I could produce yarns that experienced knitters and spinners could not tell from the commercial products from Britain. It took me a couple more years before I could produce those yarns fast enough that they could be a useful knitting yarn rather than a spinning tour de force. 

In the period 2011 to 2020, my normal knitting yarn was some hand spun variation of those yarns. My favorite needles were 2.3 mm spring steel. Certainly, there was a lot of experimentation with finer yarns, often toward 6-ply (3x2-ply cable) 1,700 ypp yarns. These competed with various yarns such as   4-ply Lion Brand Beehive and British Breeds Goosewing yarns, various Blauband, and my hand spun replicas of those yarns. Over the last couple of years, my  projects have moved from gansey yarns to finer yarns knit on 1.6 mm needles.   While the winter socks I knit fall in 2020 were still 5 and 6-ply yarns at 1,000 and 840 ypp knit on 2.3 mm needles, today all my knitting projects seem to be 6-ply cabled 1,700 ypp knit on 1.63 mm steel needles. I have fallen in love with this 6-ply cabled sock yarn for everything. However, I still pronounce "swatch" as "sock". 

Stuff related to Sock yarn project; socks, finished and tested, socks in progress with tools, and more yarn in progress.  Sometimes, I need a magnifier for this project. Gauge on the socks is 12-spi x 14-rpi. Needles are all 1.6 mm = ~US 000. 

Lion Brand Beehive and British Breeds Goosewing have more 'fill', so objects knit from my 6-ply sock yarn have very different behavior and performance.  I am struggling with which yarn structures are better for which purposes. I am working this out prior to sampling a lot of 12-ply sock yarn. (e.g., I am knitting my stash  of 6-ply cabled 1,700 ypp yarns, ) The knitting bag now holds 1.5mm  needles and their knitting sheathes, and cakes of 6-ply sock yarn, before I spin a bunch of 22,000 ypp singles. A bunch of  exotic sock and glove yarns have been banished to file drawer with a layer of bay leaves.  That hand-spun Irish glove yarn that seems so fine and sophisticated when I bought it in Scotland circa 2004, now seems coarse and pretentious.  Bobbins of 11,200 ypp singles are queued up on the  tension box - I have some knitting to do.

The grist of  my sock yarn is not really that different from "Jumper yarn" used in Fair Isle knitting so knitting a sweater from "sock yarn" is not that outrageous. I knit ~120 to 140 stitches per square inch.  And speaking of yarn from the Islands, let us remember that in 1790, Shetland wool was [hand] spun and knitted fine enough that both (together) of the knee-high socks hand knit from hand-spun Shetland wool produced as a gift for the English King would pass through a lady's wedding ring. In this context, what I spin is only coarse stuff, but I practice in hope of doing better. I have been to his Castle, and it is a cold and drafty place (even with modern central heat), and I would rather wear my socks - even in summer, and even if they are thicker.

 I find that my handspun yarn produces warmer and more durable fabrics, than  commercial sock yarn sold retail,  or BeeHive, or Goosewing yarns I can buy.   Sock yarns and jumper yarns from commercial mills sold through retail yarn shops ARE likely to produce softer objects than I knit from my hand spun yarns, but I do not find the commercial yarns durable enough to be worth putting the effort into knitting those yarns on fine needles.  I find fine spinning is faster and more rewarding than re-knitting - fine objects.

Twist holds yarn together, and fine plies can take more twist than coarse plies. Twist is expensive. Energy to produce twist is traditionally the largest single cost of a wool yarn mill. Putting less twist into yarn means lower cost of production, and making a yarn that can be sold cheaper. On the other hand, it is faster for me to put more twist into my yarns than to reknit the objects.

I can produce a 2-ply, worsted spun yarn at 2,500 ypp or 3-ply at 1,700 ypp, but by the time they are spun and knit tight enough (on US 000 needles) to be a good durable sock yarn, the fabric is unpleasant.  However, I find that if I spin 11,200 ypp singles, ply into 2-ply, then make 3x2-ply cable, at ~ 1,700 ypp)  I can knit that on those 1.5 mm needles to make dense, cushioning, durable sock yarn. I love it.  I do not say it is fast or easy, I say it is a nice sock yarn. 

Yes, knitting at 12 spi and 14 rpi  may seem a bit tedious, but that is why I put 19-years into learning to use a knitting sheath. And, no, I am not done learning how to use a knitting sheath. In the last few months, I have learned a good bit about the shaping of knitting needle tips for different kinds of knitting. Horses for courses. 

Yes, my current sock yarn takes passing 8 yards of yarn through the wheel for every yard of  finished yarn.   Yes, I block 2 yards of  yarn for every yard of finished yarn. Moving to a 12-ply based on 22,400 ypp singles does not change the final grist. The final texture really depends on the ply configuration, ply twist, and cable twist. Knitting effort should not change. These are things to cogitate on and sample as I knit my current sock yarn. Spinning twice as many singles raises spinning effort by ~40%.  Considering total effort on the object including knitting effort, that does not significantly change the total effort to produce the object.  It is worth while to expend 4% more effort to get 10% ?? more quality.  


Friday, April 16, 2021

Lazy Kate

 Nothing is more indicative of the loss of traditional technologies for  hand spinning is the loss of  using a "tension box" to control tension when plying. It is an old technology, and it works so much better than any of the modern "Lazy Kate" designs.

The concept is simple; the tension of singles or yarns to be plied is controled by a tension box.  Failure to discuss is on one of the deep errors in The Big Blue Book.  Tension box technology is simple and OLD. With this technology you can ply 2 or 5 or 10 or how ever many plies you need for the yarn you want.  I have used either the tension box from my AVL loom or tension boxes that I made to ply miles and miles of 2-ply, 5-ply, and 10-ply. There are bins of 10-ply Aran yarn and 10-ply sock yarn in my stash. There are bins of 6-ply sock yarn that I made. 

With a tension box, you can ply from side delivery or end delivery yarn packages. Yes, you can ply that fine, woolen weft single that you wound on all those pirns when you  want to repurpose all those singles.  I wind 5,600 ypp worsted singles ( steam blocked) into center pull cakes, and ply it into 5-ply gansey yarn.  I do not have to worry about changes in tension as the effective diameter of bobbins change.

You can make a good tension box by drilling some 1/4th inch holes in a piece of plywood, and sticking lengths of 1/4th" wood dowel in the holes. Some of my tension boxes have been upgraded with pieces of steel rod to act as axels with  less friction. However this did not become an issue, until I was working with a lot (more than 10) of very fine plies (e.g., 30s, 17,000 ypp).  My bobbin rack will hold 144 bobbins on steel axels. The steel axels on my tension box is for convivence and  portability, it is not a necessity,

Alden says use some distance between the yarn sources supplying the plies and the spinning wheel doing the plying. I agree.  However, if you are working with several fine plies, it is well worth steam blocking them first, and it is in the steam blocking step, where the distance really counts. 

I do not write for folks that are happy with the quality of textiles produced by the dilatants in Queen Victoria's Court. I write for folks that want to produce better textiles than anyone else.  

I do not have all the answers. The best I can say  is that I sometimes see paths worth exploring.  

Regarding Footnote 7 in The Big Blue Book, the difference between a silk winding machine, and power driven plying machine, and a DRS clockwork controlled spinning wheel that will allow easy spinning of  45,000 ypp fine singles is a fraction of a silly millimeter. Such measurements can be stored as fine knife cuts on a hardwood  "story board", and transferred from storyboard to storyboard or to a piece of work with fine pointed dividers. LdV was sketching freehand, and such measurements would not be visible - and such would be a closely held trade secret. LdV was not going to let his client's/patron's competitors learn trade secrets.  

Also, wraps of  fine spun singles can act as a standard of measure between various textile working locations. Any location with a spinner that can spin "fines" has a way to measure to the closest 1/8th of a millimeter.  That is all the precision that I need to make the whorls/clockwork that I use to insert 26 tpi which will let me build the (DRS) clockwork I need to rapidly spin fines.

The more I spin fine, the more I think that our (English) system of measure (inches, yards, hanks, pounds) was based on the textile industry and wool. What does a square yard of tightly twill woven from 10s weigh?  I think "rods" and "chains" came out of the needs of land survey. 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

A Troll

 I have been declared "a troll" on Ravelry. That says more about their culture than my nature.

They do not like people that read a lot, but are skeptical of what they read. They do not like people that test what others write by doing experiments, building math models, and comparing the assertions of various authors. They do not like people that spend weeks and weeks considering Leonardo Da Vinci's notebooks.  They do not like people that go to Europe and look for old buildings where textile work was done. Most of all, they do not like people that do the above, and come to conclusions that are different from the ideas of Queen Victoria's Court.

The ladies of  Queen Victoria's Court believed that the Earth was created by God some 6,000 years ago, and in contrast, I accept most of what is in The Feynman Lectures.  However, I accept new discoveries in science.

I liked Alden Amos, and I trust his writing and statements more than I trust the work of other writers on hand  spinning, and yet he did make errors, and his errors in the Big Blue Book are noted and annotated in my copy. Likewise, Judith McKenzie McCuin is one of the foremost experts on wool. Her errors are likewise annotated in my copy.

As in any journal, there are a multitude of errors in this blog. 

It took me years to work out virtues of different kinds of  knitting needle tips. Now, I sit down to knit with 3 sets of needles, each with a  different style of tip. I knit ribbing, and  knit flat with needles that have round tips. Round tips are also nice for Lizard Lattice.  I knit lace and substantial areas of decreases with pointy needles.  And, I knit plain knitting, in the round with flat tips. Knitting in the round with flat tips is the fast way to knit plain. By switching needle types, I can save 6 or 8 hours on a pair of socks, and I can save days knitting a fine gansey. When I was using pointy needles, it took me about 2 weeks to knit a good weatherproof gansey, With smarter use of different needle tip shapes, it only takes me 8 or 9 days.  In the last 4 months, I have saved about 10 days of knitting time, by using the needles with the correct tip for that particular kind of stitch.  

Everybody that has been following along,  and doing their own experiments on needle tips, likely worked this out long ago.  I may be the slowpoke here.  The key point here is that knitting sheaths work, and they allow knitting better, faster. 

These days I have 3 or 4 knitting sheaths that I use on a regular basis depending on where I am knitting, what I am knitting, what I am wearing, and the needles I am using.   If I am out and about, I use a knitting sheath that slides onto my belt, so it does not fall into the briny deep. Some knitting sheaths work better with some pant/belt combos - the jeans and belt I am wearing today work perfectly with a goose wing, while the dressier pants I wore on Sunday worked better with my favorite Durham style sheath. There is a sock in progress on 12" long, US 000 needles.  Those needles like the "slide-on" sheath, but that knitting wants excellent light, no vibration or bumping, and no interruptions, so sometimes that knitting sheath gets used here in the studio.  If I was a commercial knitter, I would mostly knit the same kind of objects, with the same needles, in the same location, and I would use the same knitting sheath, day after day.

I find that that the people that call me a troll for posting about DRS spinning, are the same people that did not like me posting about knitting sheaths and different tip on my needles.

I have spun in public at Lambtown and Stitches West. anyone and everyone who want to watch me, could.  I have offered to meet them so they can see (film) and measure the full spinning and knitting process. 

Now, I have my revenge. I spin yarns they cannot. I knit things they cannot. 

These are not the actions of a troll.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Gansey Yarn

 Gansey Yarn is one of the glories of knitting. When knit on thin steel needles, supported in a knitting sheath, it results in a fabric that is remarkably warm, comfortable, and durable. Sorry Love, but no woolen spun yarn can compete.  Woolen sweaters that are as warm and comfortable are not as durable. Woolen sweaters that are as warm and durable are not as comfortable. If you are s shepherd or seaman out in all weather for long periods of time, you want a knit gansey. If you live in a stone hut with a thatched roof warmed by a peat fire, you want a knit gansey. If you have to work (or play) in cold, damp weather, knit fabrics will give more freedom of motion than woven garments. I prefer wool fabrics to most synthetics because the wool is less flammable. 

I tested the good gansey yarns I got from Britain against the good woolen yarns I was getting mostly from Canada, and found the the gansey yarns to be inherently better. More expensive per pound, but they produced warmer, more comfortable objects that lasted much longer.  I used 20 pounds of woolen yarn in testing the relative virtues of  woolen and worsted virtues. Before I stopped testing, I was spinning very good worsted 5-ply, 1,000 yard/pound yarns.  

Spinning gansey yarn was the goal that drove me to buy a spinning wheel in 2006.   Then, it took me 10,000 hours of work and study to learn how to spin useful quantities of gansey yarn. I had to  figure out the traditional tools, make them, and learn to use those tools. I certainly had all kinds of help from folks like Alden Amos, Stephenie Gaustad, Henry Clemes, and Will Taylor. AVL looms showed me how to ply high quality yarn.   By circa 2011, I could spin 560 yards of gansey single in an hour, and make a good hank of  5-ply gansey yarn in a day. In 3 easy days, I could make the 5 hanks of 5-ply gansey yarn needed for a sweater that would fit me. I spun a lot.

The best wools for gansey yarns are long staple and a rather coarse. I use wools with a spin count in the 40s to 55s range. I wash, oil, comb, and plank the wool.  Mostly, I spin wool at ~5,600 ypp (75 wpi, 10s) at ~ 9 tpi. More twist, and the yarn does not "fill" as well making the fabric much less warm.  Less twist and the yarn loses durability and it does not have the density to stop air flow through it and the yarn/ resulting objects are not as warm. Many modern woolen yarns simply do not have the density to stop air flow through the yarn. Woolen yarns that do have the required density tend not to be skin friendly.  Most woolen yarns are warm only in the context of structures with central heat.

Differential Rotation Speed (DRS) set for the desired twist insertion results in a clockwork effect that allows much faster drafting than can be achieved with single drive with either bobbin or flyer lead. This is a concept that modern spinners have forgotten. Their forgetfulness is not my fault.   My job is physics (knowing what works).

Using DRS clockwork, changes in inserted twist can be minimized either by spinning small amounts of  yarn and then winding off or using a flyer whorl with band grooves of differing diameter, and changing the drive band from groove to groove as the effective diameter of the bobbin increases. Depending on what I am spinning, I use the appropriate approach.  I think spinning 7 times faster is worth this little effort.  Using DRS clockwork is the only way I know to spin a good hank of  5-ply gansey yarn in an easy day. 

Spinning /plying a hank of 5-ply yarn in a day, requires tools, skill, and a significant level of fitness.  I consider wool combing to be one of the very best exercises for developing core strength. Then, with knitting sheath and steel needles, I could knit myself a good gansey in a couple of weeks.  Again, knitting fast requires real skill, tools, and a significant level of fitness. When I have been doing a lot of knitting, rock climbers admire my arm and shoulder strength. Only by spending a lot of time spinning and knitting can one have such productivity.

However, we have good reports of professional gansey knitters, knitting a gansey in "a couple of days" and "herring girls" knitting a fancy gansey for a favored fisherman in a couple of weeks while keeping their jobs of cutting fish during the day.  So they were knitting by candle and fire light after working all day. By these standards, I am not much of a knitter.  Likewise, compared to the professional hand spinners of  Florence or Bruges, I am not much of a spinner.

I think the traditional spin twist/ply twist allowed stitch patterns that protected seamen by padding contact with railings, spars and deck on a rolling ship.   Stitch patterns such as Lizard Lattice also provided additional stretch for activities like rowing, while remaining warm and weatherproof.

Yarns like Frangipani are spun for decorative knitting and are spun from finer wools with more twist,  so the stitch patterns "pop" and are more visible. However these yarns have less fill are are not as warm or weatherproof. On the other hand, objects knitting from these wools are more comfortable in modern heated environments.  


Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Spin Tec

 I spin because I want yarns that I cannot buy commercially.   The best of the British 5-ply worsted spun yarns are no longer produced. The demise of these yarn mills is why I started spinning. To make the decision whether to buy or spin a yarn, I need to know what is available and what I can spin. I need to be able to measure things other than just skin feel and appearance. I put some effort into learning to what and how to measure various characteristics of  yarn.   

Science is the systematic collection and organization of information. Science is what is what is recorded on how things work. Technology is the allocation of science to a particular industrial process, whether that process is concentrated in commercial facilities or distributed across society. Thus, physics is the science of how electronics work, and technology is how Apple makes cell phones and the function of those cell phones in people’s hands.

Some times technology gets buried in detail and misses phenomena at its edge. Hand spinning is one of these technologies.  Prior to spinning mills, spinning was done by hand. The various technologies included supported spindles, drop spindles, driven spindles, Scotch Tension, Irish tension, double drive with slippage, and double drive without slippage.  Each has its virtues, and each has its drawbacks. Supported spindles and drop spindles required little capital, but were labor intensive.   Driven spindles were less labor intensive, but were better for woolen yarn which had a lower value. Spinning wheels with Scotch Tension, Irish tension, double drive with slippage technologies had a higher capital cost, but were more productive. Scotch Tension, Irish tension, double drive with slippage are also not well suited for spinning grist wool at grist above 24,000 ypp. And the pricing of wool was based on its "spin count, right up to more that 45,000 ypp, with finer wools being more valuable. The only way recover the higher price of finer wools was to spin it finer. Double drive without slippage can easily spin wool at 45,000 ypp and spin coarser wools at rates 6 to 8 times faster than Scotch Tension, Irish tension, or double drive with slippage. There are 2 solutions to the DRS issue of decreasing twist per inch as the bobbin fills: 1) spinning fine yarns such that a hank of yarn on the bobbin does not practically change the effective diameter of the bobbin and hence the inserted twist, and/or  2) multiple grooves on the flyer whorl so the drive band can be easily moved to keep inserted twist constant as the effective diameter of the bobbin changes. I use both methods as needed.

The real virtue of DRS/double drive without slippage is that it changes the nature of the drafting process. I started working toward double drive without slippage because I thought it would give me more speed. It does. However, there are other ways to get that raw speed. The real virtue of  Double Drive without slippage is that it forms a clockwork that automates the drafting process.  I can run my flyer/bobbin assembly at 3,000 rpm with Irish tension. However,  I can not control my draft at that speed with Irish tension or Scotch tension or double drive with slip.  With the clockwork of double drive without slip, I can spin what ever I want at 3,000 rpm. It took me 10-years to understand and harness the process.  It was worth the effort.  Recently, I spun a worsted hank of Shetland at  ~7 grams - it took me ~75 minutes, so the wheel was turning about 3,000 rpm. Yes, I could have spun it Irish tension, but that would have taken me all day, and I mean a very long day.  Friday, I was spinning a coarser fiber at ~ 16,000 ypp, again at about 75 minutes per hank. DRS clockwork is the only way to draft at that speed, and high speed is the only way to get the clockwork effect. The other glory of the clockwork is that it provides real time quality control of twist. Control of twist helps control grist. The clockwork sets controls on my yarn. This is very helpful if I want to produce consistent yarn, and a pain in the neck, if I just want to just play at producing all kinds of different yarns. 

Alden Amos did not spin fine. And, it is with fine singles which need a lot of twist that the virtues of double drive with no slip shine. For a long time, my standard spinning products were based on 5,600 ypp, worsted-spun singles. A 5-ply yarn from those singles remains the best yarn that I know for knitting  comfortable, durable, warm objects.  Those singles need about twice as much twist as Alden's typical singles.  More recently, I have moved to finer and finer singles that want more and more twist. Some of these yarns are exceptionally cool in warm weather.  This is a great adventure. My wife plans road trips for adventure, I plan new yarns. These yarns make the advantages of double drive no slip more valuable.   I find it very sad that I seem to be the last spinner that knows and uses this very useful technique.

At one time, I was Senior Scientist at one of the largest engineering firms. It was my job to do things nobody had ever done before.  My job was to know what worked and what did not.  In the case of my spinning, I am doing what thousands of people did for hundreds of years. From this background, I say if  the members of Spin Tec, did any "tec" thinking, they would have either come and watched me spin, or would have spent a couple of hours making their own flyer whorls and used those whorls to investigate the technology in their own studios. That is what I did.

Two of the clients of the Engineering Firm demanded that everyone on their projects take Ed Deming’s course on Quality.  Both clients wanted original transcripts proving that we had taken the course. To get an original transcript for each client, we had to take the course twice. I encourage all spinners to read all of Ed Deming’s books and lectures.  Science and technology is only useful if it really does work. At a technology level, that means knowing how many faults of all kinds are in the product or in a process.   I do not believe in much, but I accept that quality in a process, organization, or product, requires ongoing quality assurance/ quality control (QA/QC), and smart interpretation of the measurements taken. The QA/QC of spinning is not that different from the QA/QC of microprocessors and related electronics. Social media of all kinds has real problems with QA/QC. This results from social attitudes rather than from the underlying electronics of the system.

Spinning technology is about detail. Yarn color, appearance, and feel is developed by process decisions on grist, twist, fiber fineness and length, carding and combing, spinning method, additives, dye, and coatings on the staples, ratchet, and a host of other details. The important details are grist, twist, spinning method/ fiber preparation.  How fast the yarn can be spun is important for schedule and economics. Can I get the yarn spun; and the socks knit before snow flies? Does the spinning take too much time, so I would be better just buying a yarn that is not as good as what I can spin? If the yarn is only about skin feel and appearance, then it is mere fashion, which is conspicuous consumption. Not something I do in a time of AGW.

Or, one might be just spinning this yarn for bragging rights on social media? Does one simply want to brag about conspicuous consumption? If the object of the social media is conspicuous consumption, then one wants their spinning to be slow, their fiber expensive, technical details vague, and their finished yarn fragile. I want fast spinning, and good fiber to make good yarn. DRS is a way I control grist and twist. DRS is a clockwork system that helps me control the spinning process to produce better and more consistent yarn.  I get to the yarns I want with clear technical detail.  I have been accused of being a troll. No, I stand in sunlight without turning to stone. I am not a troll. I use numbers. Many spinners are more scared of numbers than they are scared of trolls. Some spinners assert "Video or It Did Not Happen". Most video does not expose the details needed to reproduce the process or the yarn. The real test of a spinning process is the finished yarn, and the objects made from that yarn.  

The “Spin Tec” group on Ravelry does not talk about the detail of spinning technology.  On Spin Tec, hand spun is discussed in non-specific generalities.  They want soft! It is in the nature of soft yarn to be fragile, and to be spun from expensive fibers.  That smacks of conspicuous consumption. 

I talk about grist and twist, because those are paramount in making a particular fiber into a yarn for a particular use. Grist and twist are at the core of spinning technology, and yet the Spin Tech group abhors these terms. They  do not spin "fines" (grist 60s count, and above; ~33,600 ypp), so they assume nobody can.  

Some years ago, Judith Mackenzie McCuin told my spinning guild a story about being told that there were 2-ways to spin; Worsted and Wrong. She went on to tell us the glories of woolen spinning. And, on the basis her reciting the glories of woolen spun yarn, I did a lot of woolen spinning. Now, I look back at years of objects that I made and used, and I like the worsted spun objects best.  For all of the glories of woolen spinning, I think I wasted a lot of time spinning woolen and knitting woolen yarns.  For effort to spin, worsted is warmer for the weight, and more durable. And, worsted requires less twist, so it can be spun faster; much faster if you use DRS.  I regret the time I spent knitting woolen, because I always had to knit replacements. If I had always knit worsted, I would have had lighter weight, but warmer in the cold, and they would have been much more durable than the woolen objects. Worsted can also be fabricated into objects that are cooler in warm environments than woolen objects.  Judith Mackenzie McCuin understands, and appeals to the spinners in Spin Tec. In particular, Judith Mackenzie McCuin, does not use a lot of numbers.

Judith Mackenzie McCuin in her book, the intentional spinner points out that with Scotch Tension, rather small changes in the adjustment of the wheel can make significant changes in the grist and twist. (She does this without numbers.)  She does not note that as the bobbin fills, its effective diameter changes and this is a significant change that requires repeated adjustment of the wheel to maintain consistent grist and twist of the yarn.  Anytime one considers filling a bobbin, twist and grist emerge as critical factors.

I solve the problem of changing effective diameter of the spinning bobbin by spinning finer, and I work hank (560 yards) by hank. My spinning bobbin will hold ~100 grams of thread, but a hank of 16,000 ypp single is only 15 grams. I spin a hank and wind off. It takes just over an hour to spin a hank of 16,000 ypp single, so I wind off about every 75 minutes, and with DRS, my grist and twist remain fairly stable.

Then, when I ply, any small variations in a particular ply are averaged out, and the final yarn is very consistent. That is: I know my grist and twist. I know my spinning method. I know my fiber. I know my yarn. I know my yarn well enough to talk about it intelligently. And, I have plans to spin better yarn. These plans are updated and changed as I experiment with alternative spinning techniques ranging from the shape of the diz to how I block the yarn.  I use the best practice that I know, but I always have hope of finding a better practice.

Do you know your yarn well enough to talk intelligently about it? No? Why not?  Do you know my yarn well enough to comment intelligently on it?  I have offered to let people see it being spun so they can make intellegent comments.  Nobody at Spin Tec has accepted this offer.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

DRS Overview


I started into differential rotation speed (DRS) spinning with the simple goal of using 2 drive bands to get the flyer/bobbin assembly to spin faster – thus I did not want either drive band to slip. Physics and Alden Amos’s Big Book of Handspinning,(page 390 and seq.) told me that if there was no slip, yarn had to be wound on to the bobbin as fast as it was twisted, and it had to be twisted continuously as fast as it was wound on to the bobbin. DRS is a kind of clockwork.

This was very different from Scotch tension, Irish tension, or double drive with slip, which all have two phases; “yarn lock” and “wind on”. This two-phase process slows the spinning process down – a lot.  I have and sometimes still use Scotch tension and more commonly Irish tension flyer/bobbin assemblies.  My DRS (and accelerator) allows me to spin several times more yards per hour.  The DRS makes the accelerator worth while.  Without DRS, I cannot draft fast enough to make the accelerator worth while.

A single continuous yarn formation phase that combines twist insertion and wind-on, allows a change in the physics of the draft triangle. The yarn “self-assembles”. It is physics, but when one does it, it seems like magic. It seems as powerful as anything in Harry Potter. Suddenly, every spinner that does not use the technology seems like a “muggle”. Those muggle spinners seem to hate all of us that learned our physics and math. Those muggles call us trolls and worse.

Physics and math are learned by paying attention to what is going on. Spinning demands focus, and paying attention to what is going on. Thus, it does not surprise me that the spinners of old discovered DRS. It astonishes me that most modern spinners cannot see DRS. 

Today, with my “accelerator”, I can spin an Irish Tension flyer/bobbin assembly much faster than I can draft – my spinning speed is not limited by the speed of my flyer/bobbin assembly, but by the speed at which I can draft. With DRS and yarn self-assembly, I can spin 4-times faster. It is that yarn self-assembly that allows me to spin 560 yards 9 tpi yarn in one of Alden’s “Golden Hours” of 48- minutes.

The self-assembly of the yarn is an interaction of the rapidly rotating yarn as it is withdrawn from the drafting triangle. My experience with low crimp commercially processed wool tells me that the crimp in the wool fiber is important. However, when Stephenie Gaustad came over, and repositioned my hands so that my DRS system really worked for me, I was spinning cotton. I know my DRS system works for flax as well as any wheel in the local guild. My 2-flyer linen wheel has DRS, but it has some corrosion issues.  Crimp may be more important at the twist/grist ratios of wool.

The mechanics of the system are not new. There are drawings of similar devices in Leonardo de Vinci’s notebooks, along with sketches of treadle systems. The woodworkers and metal workers of LdV’s time, made all kinds of spinning tools and they used various treadle devices in their own tools. If needed, they would have put treadles on the spinning tools that they made.  Sewing machine treadles were not the first treadles used in industry.

You can be sure that both the silk threads and the wool threads in fabrics worn by LdV’s patrons were produced using some kind of a DRS mechanism driven by treadles.  While art uses symbols of heritage and tradition, LdV’s sketchbooks document then current technology. When you look at the sketch books, note that historical objects (from other’s old sketch books) are drawn in one perspective, current technology is drawn in another perspective, and ideas for the future are drawn in another perspective. Devices that are trade secrets are framed by a window or door.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

DRS v. single drive

I started spinning because I wanted good “gansey yarn”. Sweater yarn spun from long staple, lustrous wool, with 5 worsted spun plies, with a total grist of 1,000 ypp. I wanted that yarn because, with my favorite knitting needles, it produced my favorite fabric. I had knit hundreds of swatches from scores of yarns, and I knew what I wanted.

The British mills that produced such yarns had old equipment and were either going out of business or producing other kinds of yarn. The writing was on the wall; If I wanted this kind of yarn, I would have to spin it myself.

However, I was told by senior knitters that, “Nobody hand spun Gansey Yarn!  Gansey Yarn was never hand spun!” That would be news to Chaucer as he wrote between the years1387 and 1400. That would be news to Leonardo da Vinci who sketched the tools. It had been hand spun, so I knew it could be hand spun.

The problem was not the spinning – gansey yarn is based on worsted singles of 5,600 ypp. Very easy to hand spin.

The problem is economics. Spinning wheels since the Victorian era are single drive, (or double drive with one drive slipping) and can insert twist at ~ 700 rpm. A gansey sweater requires about 5-hanks of gansey yarn plied up from 25-hanks (14,000 yards) of singles. The singles need about 9-tpi. Thus, the yarn for a real gansey takes almost 200-hours to hand spin on the typical modern spinning wheel. 

Yes, spending 200 hours hand spinning yarn for one sweater is a rare thing!

So, I did my homework, and learned about different spinning technologies.  It was clear that DRS was faster.  With DRS, I could spin the yarn for a gansey in 70-hours. And, I did.

However, the continuous insertion of twist and continuous take-up, changes the nature of the drafting process, and I was sure that with DRS, I could spin much faster. I went back my wheel and experimented until it ran much faster.  Today, it can easily insert twist at over 4,000 rpm, and a lot of my spinning is done at between 3,000 and 3,500 rpm. 

I insert about 9 tpi into my gansey yarn singles. Thus, I can spin a hank of gansey single in 48-minutes, and can have it all wound off, the wheel oiled, a sip of tea, and a trip to the washroom in less than an hour. It is a piece of cake to spin 8 or 10 hanks per day. I can make 5-hanks of gansey yarn in 29-manhours.

It takes me close to 100 hours to knit a gansey, so ~30-hours to spin the yarn is not an unreasonable investment in a better sweater.  The yarn I spin is much more durable than the yarns I can buy today, so by investing 30 hours of spinning, I save myself 100 hours knitting a replacement, and all the aggravation of knitting a sweater from yarn that I do not really like.

Because spinning is for me is fast and easy, I spin a lot.  I get more practice than most. There are many weeks where I have spin 14,000 yards of 5,600 ypp single. This week amongst other things, I have spun ~4,000 yards of 16,000 ypp worsted singles.  In comparison, Rowan Lace Yarn is 3,568 ypp. I can ply the 16,000 ypp singles into a 3,600 ypp, 4-ply, worsted spun. My 4-ply is more elastic and more durable than the Rowan Lace Yarn of about the same grist.  

I like fine plies.  I like worsted. I am coming to  believe that there are two ways to spin wool; worsted and wrong.  Worsted takes less twist, and thus, can be spun faster. Worsted is more durable for the amount of inserted twist. And, truth be told, worsted is warmer for the weight of the wool. 

As an 8-ply, at 1,800 ypp those 16,000 ypp singles make a nice sock yarn. I like DRS for spinning sock yarn.  And, this is part of my practice/evolution to making 12-ply sock yarn from 25,000 ypp singles.

So? What are other sock knitters doing to perfect their sock yarn?

My #1 flier/bobbin assembly has a spinning bobbin barrel diameter of 25.4 mm (1 inch)

My #1 flier/bobbin assembly has a spinning bobbin barrel circumference of 79.8 mm.

My #1 flier/bobbin assembly spinning bobbin has a whorl circumference of 157 mm.

My # flier/bobbin assembly has flyer whorl “A” circumference of ~51.75 mm to insert 9 tpi

My # flier/bobbin assembly has flyer whorl “B” circumference of ~51.325 mm to insert 12 tpi

My # flier/bobbin assembly has flyer whorl “C” circumference of ~50.935 mm to insert 17 tpi

My # flier/bobbin assembly has flyer whorl “D” circumference of ~50.75 mm to insert 20 tpi

My # flier/bobbin assembly has flyer whorl “E” circumference of ~50.5 mm to insert 25 tpi

My #0 (Racing) flier/bobbin assembly is based on a bobbin barrel circumference of 88 mm, whorl circumference of  141.37 mm, with flyer whorls of 46.35 mm, 45.9 mm, 45.76 mm, and 45.63 mm.  This assembly is scheduled for upgrading.

All whorl grooves are assumed to be non-slip.

The tpi for fine yarns can be estimated from info on page 383 of Alden’s Big Blue Book.

Yes, that takes some wood turning, but the whorls are easier to turn than wine cask spigots.









Tuesday, March 30, 2021

DRS v. Scotch Tension


Are there really threads that cannot be spun with Scotch tension, but can be spun with DRS?

I have been challenged for my statements that DRS can spin things that cannot be spun with Scotch or Irish tension or Double Drive with slippage.

I can spin some fibers at grist twice their spin count with Scotch or Irish tension; still, I stand by my statement that DRS can spin things that cannot be spun with Scotch or Irish tension or Double Drive with slippage.  Here are my reasons:

  1. Early in my spinning, I bought a digital tachometer, and kept records of how fast my wheel inserted twist. My Ashford Traditional with double drive and double treadles, straight out of the box would insert twist at about 700 rpm. This was about as fast as the wheels Alden Amos had in his living room (all single treadle, single drive) that we measured with his strobe. The fancy flyers Alden made for me changed the rate of twist insertion very little.  I made DRS bobbins/ flyer whorls at about the same diameter as Alden had used, and twist insertion about doubled.  Larger whorls gave me 30% faster twist insertion, e.g., 2,100 rpm.  This was counter intuitive, because I had a lower ratio, but was spinning much faster. It was clear that the ratio between the drive wheel and the flyer/bobbin whorls was not determinative.
  2. I made a series of “accelerators”, and got a lot faster twist insertion, because I could use much larger bobbin/ flyer whorls so vibrations in the drive bands did not propagate around the whorls allowing slippage. This is general wheel design, and not directly related to DRS, but faster twist insertion facilitates spinning fine threads when using DRS.
  3. My wheel, as currently configured, is 6 to 8 times faster than it was out of the box in 2006.  With DRS, the nature of drafting changes.  I cannot inch worm draft at 500 yards per hour. The continuous twist insertion and continuous take-up allow well prepped fiber with good crimp, to flow through one’s hands and the drafting triangle rapidly. Both hands must stay busy, one regulating flow of twist into the drafting triangle and testing grist. The other regulates flow of fiber into the drafting triangle and positions the fiber.  However, both processes are very fast. And any pause in the actions of either hand result in instant breakoff.  For anyone accustomed to Scotch or Irish tension, these breakoffs are – infuriating. On the other hand, I could never form thread this fast with Scotch or Irish tension. Physics and physiology suggest that nobody could draft thread this fast with Scotch or Irish tension.
  4. That speed means if I want a special yarn for a pair of mittens, I can spin it in a day, rather than a week. A yarn that costs me only a day, maybe possible when a yarn that costs me a week may be impossible. Worsted spun, 5-ply gansey yarn for a sweater can be spun/plied in ~25 man-hours. That may be possible when I cannot invest 175 man-hours in a sweater that will take me only 90 man-hours to knit. A 175-man-hour project requires more storage, record keeping, and cleanup than a project that can be done on the patio in a long weekend. It is easier to maintain consistency over a 25-hour project than over a 175-hour project.

The realities of production spinning mean that threads/projects that my DRS system will spin easily,  cannot be spun with Scotch or Irish tension or Double Drive with slippage.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Revisited Heiz 57 at spin count


Here is a pix of this fiber at spin count and 2x spin count (twice spin count grist).

With only 10 fibers in cross section of singe, the 2x spin count is only good for “Longest Thread” competitions. Yes, I could use it to make 2-ply that would last through being measured, but knit, woven, or tatted into an object, it would not tolerate use – even with careful handling by trained ladies maids. This is not the fiber I would use for a Longest Thread entry, not even for a county fair competition.

The thicker segments are spun at spin count and can be fabricated into objects that will withstand regular use.

Having worked out a fiber prep. that allowed spinning it at spin count, I went back and spun this fiber at spin count and higher using Scotch Tension and Irish Tension. I have not used these techniques for a long, long time because I found them slow, and it was harder to maintain consistency.

Today, for this fiber, I would say DRS is about five times faster, and produces better consistency.  If I was limited to Scotch Tension and Irish Tension, my projects would be impossible.  Things that I do in a few hours would take days and weeks. I do not have that kind of time.  It is already hard enough to allocate months and months to spinning a loom warp.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Heinz 57 at its spin count


Once again, I come to the conclusion, that good yarn is the result the practice of good spinning craft.

Ok, I can spin the Heinz 57 at 30,000 ypp. How?  Worsted. 

It is not any one thing. I was spinning miles and miles of the fiber at ~16,000 ypp, and with each beard of this fiber, I was refining all my techniques for this fiber. I practice.

Then, one afternoon spinning the recalcitrant Heinz at its micron based spin count is – easy.

It is:

·      Clean fiber

·      Good spinning oil in the right amount, spread through the fiber

·      Good combing (with 4-pitch combs)

·      Good planking

·      Good diz technique

·      Wheel set for 20 tpi and running fast, ~3,500 rpm.

I have a lot of stuff to spin.

Craftspeople are known by their tools.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

seeking very fine singles for socks and hose


Within the last couple of weeks, I have spun 3 different fibers in the range of 25,000 to 35,000 ypp. This fiber is different; it does not want to spin anywhere close to the 30,000 ypp spin count that its micron measure would indicate. This project has become a search for why it does not want to spin anywhere near its spin count.

Current generation of singles for weaving and sweater yarns from the recalcitrant fiber.


More of this fiber intended for spinning into singles for sweaters and weaving. Practice makes perfect.


More of same fiber intended for fine sock yarns, sweaters, and weaving.  Again, enough to practice.

Spinning is making order out of the chaos of fiber.

Knitting and weaving is making order out of the chaos of  yarn.

Spin, knit, and weave well, and both Dumbledore and Zeus will be jealous.  

Friday, January 29, 2021

The math and physics of knitting

I know this wanders around a bit, but the bottom line is in the last paragraph.

 I would put good knitting up; not just with Knot Theory, but with advanced multidimensional  Manifold Theory.  Instead of a thousand page mathematical proof, the competent knitter produces a better and more useful object, likely a garment.


Moreover, folks doing knot theory/manifold theory, deal with continuous sets of numbers, while knitters deal with quantum stitches, that have sizes and locations that depend on a large number of variables. Quantum physics is more difficult than knot theory.


Mathematical knots and manifolds have abstract forms, such that a line has zero width and a plane has zero thickness. Yarns on the other hand  have real thickness which may not be constant during use, and yarns may change its length in use.  Some yarns material stretch in use and some shrink in the wash, or when you dry your wool socks too close to the campfire  : (   Some yarns (hemp, cotton) get shorter as they absorb water and many yarns get heavier as they absorb moisture, which changes their fit and drape.  And, some yarns tend to untwist and fall apart when they get wet.


Then, there is the nature of the yarn. Twist holds yarn together.  More twist, and the yarn is more durable, more elastic, and more stable. However, put a lot of twist in a thick yarn ply and you get “barbed wire”. Yarns designed to be durable have more and finer plies (with high twist), that are then plied together or plied and cabled  (plied yarns twisted together).  Twist is very expensive – mills competing on cost put less twist in their yarns. (And try to disguise their motive by bragging about how fluffy and soft their yarns are.)


Wool has scales that tend to lock the fibers together giving the fabric great durability. “Washable” wool yarns have the scales chemically removed, and have less durability.  Nylon is cheap, slippery, and strong. Wool does not grab on to nylon and nylon does not hold wool, so the addition of nylon reduces the durability of wool fabrics – the wool abrades off and you are left with a net of  nylon fibers, so you assume that nylon must add to the durability of the (sock).  No, it is a cheap filler that facilitates wear, so that you buy more socks.


All of that is theory before we get into practicality. I have 2 men’s sock patterns, one by a London fashion editor (Mary Thomas), and the other from a yarn mill (Briggs & Little) that caters to people knitting serviceable objects for people working in the cold. The patterns differ by 4 stitches in the heel. The slightly wider heel in the pattern from B&L  is MUCH, much more durable than the narrower heel from Mary Thomas. Small changes in a knitting pattern can result in large differences in the object’s serviceability and durability.


The use of different yarns can affect durability and comfort the as much as the stitch pattern.

Yarns with low twist plies tend to be soft and weak. They produce fabrics that are not particularly warm. They are for fashion. Fashion is not expected to endure. If one wants a sweater that is very warm and durable, knit it from a yarn built up from fine plies. If you want a sweater for a dramatic sportive look to wear in a centrally heated pub use a softer spun, more bulky yarn. The real sailor’s sweater will be too warm to wear in a (heated) pub.  (A weatherproof sweater can be designed to vent when the wearer is warm and not vent when the wearer’s skin is cold. These designs only work with weatherproof fabrics. Such venting can reduce the need to layer garments.)


 On the other hand, the less dramatic stitch-work in the real seaman’s sweater will be more effective padding when you are storm tossed against spars and rails at sea (or in the “slot” on SF Bay). And, the real fisherman’s sweater will be “weatherproof”.  You can wear it in the rain, and it will be warm and it will feel warm and comfortable. (If vented, the venting may allow a cold stream of water to run down your back.)  In heavy or wind blown rain, you may feel the rain, but such storms do not last long, and when the deluge diminishes to an ordinary rain, then within 15 minutes, you will feel warm and comfortable. Likewise a “garage sale” fall while skiing may allow snow under the sweater, but once the snow has been scraped out, a few minutes later the sweater is comfortable.   That is; a thin layer of fabric next to the skin has dried, and the garment again is warm and comfortable.


Such fabrics require wool fibers to be densely packed (e.g., ~spacing between wool fibers less than 40 microns). This slows air flow through the fabric and stops most liquid water.  If we think of a knitting needle as a lever for moving loops of yarn,  and  calculate the leverage available, and the muscles available to provide power; then, hand held needles (cable needles or single point needle or DPN)  have very limited leverage (e.g., 1:3) and are driven the small muscles of the hand via the fragile tendons of the wrist. However, if one end of the working needle is supported, than the available leverage is much higher (1:10).  In the picture of Elisabetta Matsumoto knitting, her working needle is supported by a knitting belt (not visible) and the work is driven by her shoulder muscles.  A knitting belt is the fastest proven technique for hand knitting.


The Fair Isle stitch pattern she is knitting has a second strand of yarn carried behind the fabric, which greatly increases warmth of the fabric, which advantage is offset by less stretch.  Traditional Shetland Fair Isle knitting was done with rather fine 2-ply yarns, and the fabrics were warm, light weight, very low bulk, and  well suited for the climate.  A similar knitting technique was used for “weaving” vests which produces a similarly warm fabric/weight with slightly more stretch.


The invention of the square rigged ship, some where in the vicinity of the Channel Islands circa 1,000 AD, demanded some way to keep active sailors warm above deck, even in foul weather.  Hence, what we know today as “fisherman’s sweaters”.  Production of such sweaters require the use of knitting sheaths to support the working needle. Knitting sheaths give the knitter more leverage, and allow tighter knitting.


Many of the traditional fisherman’s designs make use of the different properties of different stitch patterns used next to one another, to improve the over all characteristics of the object. For example basket stitch used between bands of purling to make a sweater that well suited to rowing or hauling a line.  It is also fast and easy to knit, so it was very popular and was known as “Lizard Lattice”. When such combinations are considered, there are a very large number of useful knitting stiches.


Such hand knit sweaters, kept Shackleton’s men warm in their year (1914 -1917) on the Antarctic ice.  And, they have enough stretch to allow sailors to preform acrobatic work. Objects hand knit with a knitting sheath can be truly “weatherproof”. The last large group of people to knit using knitting sheaths were men on British destroyers in the Pacific during WWII. They knit to pass the time while on battle stations. They hated that knitting because someone was about to try and kill them. They  loved it because, if they were still knitting, nobody was actually shooting at them.


In the period 2005 -2010, several of the old British mills producing the dense yarns used for the traditional fisherman’s sweater had failures of their 100-year old spinning equipment and they stopped producing such yarns.  When I started hand spinning such yarns, I was told it was impossible and had never been done.  In fact, such yarns had been spun in the past, and they can be seen in any museum with a good textile collection.


The standard text on modern knitting techniques is (The Principles of Knitting) , and the author teaches the history of knitting sheaths, but does not know how to use knitting sheaths. 


I think that from 1,000 AD, until ~ 1840 AD thousands of bright eyed, nimble fingered knitters somewhere between the Shetlands and Lisbon were doing what Elisabetta Matsumoto and her advisors would consider graduate level, university physics. Those knitters could run their hands over a departing fisherman, and when the fisherman returned, he would have a fisherman’s sweater well suited to his duties on board, the climate where his ship fished, durable enough to last a fishing season; and that sweater was knit to fit.  These are a set of skills we have lost.  Elisabetta Matsumoto does not even know that weatherproof wool fabrics can be knit.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Good sock yarn

 I like good socks.  Good socks require good yarn. I do not like the commercial yarns that I see in retail yarn shops or fiber festivals.  Thus, often I spin my own sock yarn.

However, sometimes I buy 2-ply/ 5,600 ypp weaving warp, and ply (cable) it up into sock yarn.

Weaving warp in various grist is often available very inexpensively as "mill ends".  

For the last 10 years, this has been my source of "commercial" sock yarn. I buy 2-ply warp, and cable it up into sock yarn.  Today, I think this is the easy approach to a Sheringham gansey. A Sheringham is enough knitting effort, that you may as well use a very good yarn. 

Mostly, I get such yarn from :

(I am her customer - no other relationship.)

Better yarn

 I started spinning circa 2006, because the venders that sold me the "gansey" yarns that I loved were closing. It took me years to get/make the spinning equipment that I needed, and more years to learn how to use it. I assure you that having the right spinning gear is half the battle. 

With the right gear, I can sit down with a bin of wool, and quickly spin the yarn needed for a good British Seaman's sweater. Those knitting yarns were based on 5,600 yards per pound worsted spun singles as a 5-ply. Or, I can spin 6,000 ypp singles and make a 1,200 ypp like most modern "gansey" yarns such as Frangipani. Or, I can ply up those 5,600 ypp singles as 4-ply to make a nice yarn at 1,260 ypp.

I do not need fancy wool.  After much comparison and testing, I think buying raw fleece and scouring it, oiling it, and combing it myself produces the best fiber for hand spinning. Much of the commercial fiber is treated to reduce crimp.  However, the Heinz-57 wool sold by the Woolery, can produce an excellent produce if I wash it, oil it, and comb it.   It really can be spun into fine lace yarn, and it makes good yarns for socks, hats, sweaters, and whatever.  I have spun a thousands yards of "good" singles in ~5,6000 ypp range from it right as it comes out of the bag.  It does not spin as nicely as fiber I process from the raw fleece, 

Key to this is that: Mostly, I spin worsted.  One of our famous spinning teacher tells how when she was a girl, there were 2 ways to spin. There was worsted, and the wrong way.  Woolen, semi-woolen, and semi-worsted were not acceptable. The the famous teacher goes on to tell how wonderful it was to learn all the other spinning techniques.

I accepted her wisdom, and learned all of the different spinning techniques.  I used those techniques to spin different kinds of yarns, and I knit the resulting yarns. I used the resulting objects. And, I relentlessly moved toward spinning worsted.

There are 4 reasons:

1) Speed of Spinning: A double drive spinning wheel with differential rotation speed between the spinning bobbin and the flier, allows spinning worsted as fast as it can be drafted. And worsted can be drafted as fast as the wheel can insert twist. A  double drive spinning wheel with differential rotation speed between the spinning bobbin and the flier can insert twist much faster than any other kind of  wheel or spindle. Worsted needs less twist than woolen or the "semis" and thus over all can be spun faster.  On my modified Ashford Traditional, I can spin a hank (560 yards) of 5,600ypp worsted single in Alden's golden hour of 48 minutes. In 5 hours by the clock, I can spin the 5-hanks of worsted single needed to ply into 500-yards of real gansey yarn.  Woolen spun yarns need 30% more twist, so it takes  me 6.5 hours by the clock to spin woolen singles of the same grist.

2) Durability: Twist holds yarn together. Twist a fine single, and you have a strong, elastic thread.  Put the same twist into a thicker single, and you have barbed wire. Put the twist necessary to make the thicker single a competent yarn, and there is not enough twist to make the object as durable as one fabricated from fine singles (plied together). Yes, spinning high twist yarns and plying them together is a lot of effort, but not as much effort as spinning twice and knitting twice because the object was not durable.

3) Drape of the Fabric: Woolen spun yarns do not lend themselves to fabrics with graceful drape. Woolen fabrics tend to hang.  

4) Warmth:  Fabrics from woolen spun yarns tend to have more bulk and less warmth. Many, including famous spinning instructors, confuse bulk with warmth.  Woolen objects that have been tightly woven or knit, then fulled (related to felting) can provided great warmth, but fulling takes away much of the elasticity, and comfort of the fabric.  If you want elasticity and wearing comfort, and warmth, use a worsted spun thread to make the  fabric.  

Friday, January 22, 2021



Here is a photo of a sock in progress, being knit at a gauge of 12 spi x 20 rpi:

The needles are 12” US 000; the yarn is 6-ply (cabled 3 x 2) 1680 ypp, with light ply  twist so it is very  splitty, but gives great fill.  There is lots of twist in the yarn plies so it does not need nylon. This yarn is a bit more durable than the 4-ply Behive that was traditional for Sheringham ganseys, but the Behive produces a softer fabric on these needles. (Mills put nylon in socks, because nylon is cheaper than wool and the extra twist that makes wool more durable.)


Note the blunt needles. These make the knitting motions much smaller; and thus, much faster. However, knitting this tight, if I drop a stitch, I need a crochet hook (that green thing) to fix it. This is not knitting I can do in a dark movie theater.


This is one of my favorite fabrics. It is NOT “weatherproof” but is very warm, light, elastic, with a lot of  cushion.

The knitting sheath for this project is on the left. It is not a traditional design, but with adapters, it works for any size or length of needle, and thus allows many different knitting techniques.


 My knitting diary is  on the right.

 This is the second sock of  the pair, but the first sock was not handy to photograph.


Thursday, November 12, 2020

 The Victorian Court reinvented hand knitting without great attention to historical facts. One of their myths was that most knitting was done by amateurs  - e.g., some woman in the household.

In fact, in various periods, England had robust guilds of professional knitters. Even after the guilds of professional knitters had declined, there were collectives of contract knitters, that would spend part of most days knitting objects for sale through commercial channels.  Regions developed particular skills for knitting certain kinds of objects. Those skills represented a comparitive economic advantage, and factors would come to those regions to buy knit objects for sale elsewhere.

Part of the comparative advantage of a region would be a specialized knitting toolkit for knitting certain kinds of objects. We have forgotten that knitting toolkits can be specialized - today everyone has very generalized knitting needles. In most strata of the knitting community, most people use circular needles for socks, baby clothes, and sweaters. 

However, if my family made most of their cash income from knitting ganseys for sailors and your family  made most of its cash income from knitting socks for royalty, then we might have different tool kits. 

Certainly, a knitting toolkit optimized for ganseys or fine socks can be used for knitting anything needed by anyone in the extended family. Still, toolkits for knitting can be optimized for a particular kind of knitting.

There were a lot of different styles of knitting sheaths produced by various regions in different periods of history. I have long wondered if the differences were just regional and/or temporal variance or whether they indicated different knitting techniques which were useful for knitting different kinds of objects.

There is a bunch of yarn sitting on bobbins waiting for the twist to relax, so I have been finishing up a bunch of old knitting works in progress.  This has involved abrupt transitions between objects with different needs. None of the gentile approaches, where one starts knitting swatches, and gradualy falls in love with the style of the fabric, and accustomed to the technique used to produce that fabric.  No! I pick up a KIP, and with the knitting sheath at hand, I start knitting. 

My conclusion is that Durham Sheaths are better for the technique that I call "gansey knitting", and Yorkshire Goose Wings are much better for what I call "swaving.  I have settled on using the Durham Sheath for knitting anything a fisherman might use - anything knit from 5-ply worsted spun 1,000 ypp yarns. For such knitting, I use blunt "needles" (aka "pricks") , about 30 cm long and between 1.5 mm and 2.3 mm in diameter. I have stopped using 16" and 18" long "gansey needles".  The skills learned from swaving have informed and refined my gansey knitting skills, so now the shorter pricks are are faster and more convenient. I have knit swatches (pronounced as "socks")  from 4-ply equivalent to the  4-ply Beehive listed by Gladys Thompson for the fine Norfolk - Sheringham ganseys, knit at 12 spi and 20 rpi on 1.65 mm needles.  For these fabrics I prefer the Durham Sheath with spring steel blunt spring steel pricks.  However, the first time I strapped on a Yorkshire goose wing, I was struck with the absolute brilliance of the design for general purpose knitting. (It took me a long, long time to come to appreciate the virtues of  Durham sheaths.)

I am not saying one kind of knitting is better than the other. A well knit gansey has saved many a British seaman from hypothermia - and allowed Britain to rule the seas, and Britain to become very rich.  I am very partial to objects knit from 5-ply worsted spun 1,000 ypp yarns.  My wife is generally partial to objects knit  more softly; and; such objects are quickly and easily produced with a Yorkshire goose wing. (However, I have swaved wicked hard fabrics from fine cotton crochet thread.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Posture while knitting - Or a Perch for knitting.

Over the years, I have used several favorite knitting chairs. Each seemed to work best with a particular kind of knitting sheath. (Airline seats like leather knitting pouches!)

A review of old depictions of knitters suggested that while Victorian and modern knitters were often depicted in various armchairs (often padded or stuffed) older depictions tended to put the knitters on low benches or stools.

After some trials, I have settled on a little Ottoman stool as my new favorite knitting “chair”.   It is low enough that I can easily reach down and touch the floor, and this is my first knitting chair where the top of my thighs are approximately level, and I can set my feet flat on the floor.   It is not a place to lounge at one’s leisure. However, I am not perched there to lounge at my leisure – I set there to knit.

The first thing that I notice is that most of my various styles of knitting sheaths work very well; and all allow very fast knitting. The perch involves a bit of athleticism that encourages fast knitting.

All of a sudden, a small goose-wing I made 10-years ago with needle hole lined with brass and epoxy is a favored knitting sheath for use with 18” long gansey needles. I never knew it could work so well with long needles. It can be tucked over my right hip and used with short needles for knitting socks, or with curved needles to allow swaving fine gloves or hose; or, tucked into my belt over my right gluteus to firmly anchor long needles for fast knitting of ganseys.

While I love sitting in the benches along the San Francisco waterfront and knitting, I expect that the low stone benches along the quays in the UK, provided seating more conducive to fast knitting than the more comfortable park benches along the SF water front. In a bench with a back that slants back, I knit much slower.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

About 20 years ago, I started my exploration of how durable, weatherproof wool seaman’s garments could have been expeditiously produced prior to 1840.

Early on, it became clear that the style of knitting had to be very ergonomic so rapid knitting could be sustained for a very long time. 

I had to discard the modern conventional wisdom.  Traditional knitters used knitting sheaths, knitting sticks, and knitting belts.  Few modern knitters use these tools. There were at least 3 classes of “needles” used with these tools, and much of the knowledge of these needles has been lost.  Early on, I discovered the virtues of long “gansey” needles, and later I discovered the virtues of long blunt needles.

The above tools allowed me to knit a bunch of weatherproof, durable sweaters, and great piles of good warm socks (pronounced “swatches”).

Early in the process, I had started spinning my own yarns, which I knit while they still had (Alden Amos’s recipe) spinning oil on them. The oil was washed out during blocking. Then the finished objects were “oiled” with lanolin A recent knitting project reminds me that commercial (not oiled) yarns are not pleasant to knit on gansey needles. I did not mention this issue before, and I am sure people that ran into it think I must be crazy.

Also, for a very long time, my favorite knitting chair was one of our folding deck chairs. They are certainly comfortable for a couple of hours knitting. However, if I have a gansey to knit and a short time to knit it, I use one of our little Ottoman stools. The Ottoman is not as comfortable to just sit on, but, that position allows me to knit longer and faster.  Now, I see that Ottoman forces me into a posture like what I see in old drawings and tapestries depicting knitters.

Some while back, I read an account of professional knitters who were each able to produce a good seaman’s gansey every 3 days. At the time I dismissed the account as impossible. However, today, I could replicate my “Rose Garden” gansey in less than a week. That sweater took me more than a month to knit; it protected me while I did essential work in some terrible storms, and it saved my life when I got caught in a fire. It is a good gansey.

My point in this post is that it is not a single tool or skill that allows very rapid finishing of a gansey or other large knitting project. Expeditiously knitting large objects is the of pulling together several sets of tools, skills and insights that are no longer commonly found among knitters.

For example, I consider long steel needles to be essential to rapidly hand knitting good seaman’s sweaters, but they are so much faster and easier to use with oiled yarn.  On the other hand, I consider yarn hand spun “in the grease” to be of intrinsically low quality. One cannot control grist while spinning in the grease, and accurate twist and grist is essential to high quality yarn.  Fleece should be scoured, dyed, then oiled prior to being carded/combed, and spun.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Learning advance knitting

Carson Demers ( ) and I met on the SF quay the other day and had a little master’s class on swaving. I gave him the Durham style knitting sheath that I originally made for Alden Amos, and we worked on his swaving technique.  He is a better teacher than I am; and, now he can offer/ teach more techniques for ergonomic knitting.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Knitting needles - revisited yet again

I had not been doing much knitting, but looking around I saw that there were a number of WIP, some commercial yarn, and a good bit of hand spun 5-ply/ 1,000 ypp gansey yarn.  My Guernsey/gansey yarn has more twist in the plies and less ply twist, so it is splity to knit, but has much better "fill".  And at 1,000 ypp, it produces a tighter, warmer fabric than the 1,110 or 1,200 ypp commercial yarns. And with more twist in it, it wears better.  Anyway, I have a lot of it and it was time to do some knitting.

I sat down to a WIP, and started knitting. ACK! I did not like the needles, not one bit. I have dozens of needles that I have made over a period of years, and different WIP have different generations of needles in them. These particular needles were made well into my migration toward flat ended needles, but the ends were slightly tapered and rounded. After a couple of hours of knitting, I went out to the shop and squared up the ends of the needles. They are now cylinders with flat ends. Yes, I buffed the burrs off, but they are cylinders with flat ends. 

They are music wire - spring steel. They fit into cylindrical needle adapters (mostly lined with brass).  Yes, at this time, my favorite sock (and hat) needles are 12" long pieces of music wire. (And by using 6 of them, I can knit a gansey for a big guy. However, by using real 18" long gansey needles (with flat ends) I can knit faster than I can with the 12" needles, so sweaters still get knit on the longer needles (now with flat ends). 

I freely admit that flat tipped needles require a knitting sheath! And, I admit that many lace stitches are better done with pointy needles used with a leather  knitting belt. Nevertheless, if you need to hand knit weatherproof garments quickly, then a knitting sheath and needles with flat ends produces the better product, quicker. For some products, the technique of choice is to use "bent" needles with a knitting sheath, rotating the needle into and out of  the stitch. That is a two-handed motion that some call swaving.

I wish someone had taught me all this back when I first asked, "How did sailors keep warm?"  

The rules are:

  1. Rather coarse long wool, spun worsted, dyed blue, with high twist singles, but the yarn plied up with low ply twist. It will be splitty, and the stitches will NOT "pop", but it will be durable and warm.
  2. Knit very tight, and block well.  (I can knit fabrics from Rambouillet fleece,that will pass through the cotton cycles on our washer and dryer without damage or shrinking. That requires high twist yarns that are well blocked, and tight knitting and good blocking. Long coarse wools are easier to stabilize.)
  3. To dye one must scour the wool, so it must be re-oiled.,
  4. Some stitches provided extra warmth (e.g., Lizard) , some provide padding as one gets knocked around the boat, and some provided ventilation (e.g., bobbles) between the sweater and the oil skin. Sweaters intended to be worn under oil skins  do not need to be dyed.