Thursday, November 20, 2014

Under Spun ?


It is soft, fluffy, carded Rambouillet woolen spun at 5,600 ypp @ 12 tpi. It is soft and lofty.

The current batts were scoured with a potassium-lanolin soap, and have a particularly soft texture, but something of a sheepy smell.

It will be woven as weft, fulled, teased to a nap, and clipped to make nice wool flannel. (I hope!)  If it has more twist, it will not tease up properly.  It takes a while to work out just how all this is best done.

As a sport weight, the woolen spun 5-ply is is very knitable (after fulling), but that is a by-product, a diversion, and not the goal. In dry cold, it is perhaps the warmest, softest, most elastic yarn that I have ever produced.   And, it can be brushed to a soft nap.  In the rain, well! Weatherproofing a pile of swatches produced the discussions on baby oil.  In the beginning is Spinning.  

If you are interested in knitting such yarns, spin some up yourself. In the past, I have given the required details. It is easy. I even showed you the best lazy Kate for making 5-ply. Did you think I would cover the topic again?  No!  We did knitting!  We did plying. Why should I waste time putting such stuff in the Blog again and again?   I took 3 swings at lanolin because some are bigoted against baby oil.

Knitting, and even weaving are sideshows.  The base of great textiles is great spinning.  On the path to great spinning, details matter.  A small comparative advantage in spinning is better than a large comparative advantage in weaving, or even a huge comparative advantage in knitting.  With the TV off, production of 5,600 ypp woolen singles is something over 9 yards per minute.  With a better wind-off procedure, total production is over 500 yards per hour.

These days, knitting is something that goes on in the background. I do not expect to have anything interesting to say about it in the foreseeable future.

To a certain extent, spinning is very much like a video game.  Spinning finer, or spinning faster, or spinning more consistantly is just as addictive as seeking higher scores in a video game.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Drive Belt Tension

Before I bought a spinning wheel, I wanted a nice wooden screw tension on the drive band.  The wheel that I bought had a steel screw, so I bought the tools and jigs, and learned to make wooden screws.  It took a while.

While I was learning to make wooden screws, the issue of vibration in spinning wheels/ flyer/bobbin assemblies came up, and I put a lot of effort into damping vibration.  I learned that I really like gravity based drive belt tensioning systems.

Springs can work very well, but ultimately, gravity is simpler and easier to use. Being easier to use, ultimately, gravity results in higher productivity.

Some will say that vibration is not a problem in their spinning wheels/flyer/bobbin assemblies.  To which I reply, "Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, . . . . .. .."

As you spin faster, at some point, vibration will be a problem.

Until recently, I had been using a system of weights and springs to damp vibration, but the change in geometry allowed me to do away with the springs and weights.  Or, rather the waxed cotton drives  bands become the springs, and the accelerator wheel and the flyer/bobbin assemblies are the weights.  Under static load cotton is not much of a spring, but under dynamic conditions where it is vibrating, it does act as a spring. 

Revised Geometry

Last spring, as I started using accelerator wheels, the advances came fast and furious.  And then things stabilized for months.  It was a time of learning to use the tool.  After all, while I have seen drawings of such tools, I have never seen such tools actually being used by any other spinner.

Anyway, for the last month, I have had thoughts that the geometry could be better. First trials of first prototype are very promising.  What I had thought to be a reasonable rate of production is clearly the bottom end of the reasonable rates of production that can be easily achieved when the tools are properly adjusted.

In this version, it is about 30" or 36" from the orifice to the drafting hand.  The longer distance between drafting and bobbin allow more distance for the single to "settle", allowing the production of a more uniform yarn.  And, there is slightly more tension in both sets of drive bands, limiting drive band  slippage.  Top  flier speeds did not change much, but speeds of 3,500 rpm are quieter and less effort, so that I am routinely able to spin much faster.  Now, I can hear the movie while spinning 5.600 ypp/ 12 tpi woolen singles at more than 7 yards per minute.  Worsted at that grist goes at ~10 yd/min.

I am surprised at how much a 6" change in geometry changes the system.  I know I should not have been surprised given that even very tiny changes in whorl diameters dramatically change the system.

My two take away lessons from this experiment are 1) the importance of wheel/spinner geometry to yarn quality; and, 2) that a loose and self-adjusting system can run smoother and with less vibration than a system built to feel solid and well built when it is not running, but where vibration generated by the knot in the driveband can propagate through the system.

A system using relatively crude bearing technology can run at flyer/bobbin speeds in excess of 4,000 rpm. It is a matter of isolating and damping vibration.

I am sure that the rubberneckers will take this post to mean that I have not known how to adjust my wheel - despite that fact that I have been spinning twice or 3-times as fast as they have been. Now, if they want to keep up with me, they will need to spin much faster.  Good luck to them.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Grist quality assurance and quality control

I have been spinning weft from Rambouillet. The goal is a woolen single at about 5,600 ypp

I spin, and wind off into cakes.  A recent grist check was to wind a hank and check its weight.

At 46 grams per 562 yards, it is well within 2% of the desired grist.  The cake on the left contains ~ 700 yards.  I check grist on about every fourth cake.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

SIP, KIP, lanolin, and baby oil

Lots of folk get all riled up about baby oil, and they call me names.

However, do you notice how few of them offer to meet me a public place and prove that they can knit faster, or tighter?  Do you notice how few of them offer to meet me in a public space to prove that they can spin faster or finer?

I spin and knit in public on a regular basis, and am perfectly willing to make a point of being at a particular Stitches or fiber fair on a particular day.  We can meet up, and knit or spin face to face.

I would love to have somebody show me how to spin 5-ply gansey yarn faster.  I would love to have somebody show me how to knit ganseys better.  If you do not like the way I spin or knit, then show me a better way! And, how many of the folks who got all wound up about baby oil actually do oil and reoil their woolens with lanolin?  They do not.  Wool fat stains an uneven, ugly pee yellow, and they want pretty.

Show me better tools and I will upgrade in a flash. Think about it.  Somebody brings ups "skate boards" and the next day, I have incorporated skateboard bearings into my wheel. When somebody gives me graphite impregnated Delrin, the next day I have bearings from graphite impregnated Delrin. I am always willing to upgrade my tools.  Show me better skills and I will undertake to learn them as soon as possible.  I always expect my students to surpass me, so that I can learn from them.

 I believe that each generation should stand on the last generation's shoulders to see farther, and to reach higher. And, I believe that teachers are entitled to stand on their students shoulders to see farther, and to reach higher.

I spin because I want better yarn. People tell me, "Oh, I make prettier yarn!"  OK, but the folks who do make prettier yarn, do not make useful quantities of it.  And, I want useful quantities of better yarn. I want to make 8 pounds of prettier yarn as a project, not a career.  And, I always want better yarn, not just prettier yarn.

Mostly, I find that making better yarn involves inserting more twist into the yarn - that mostly means spinning finer, and finer. Spinning useful amounts of finer yarn mean inserting twist faster.  

Boiling Fleece

If you just toss a bit of fleece in a pot, you do not know how much potassium salts there are to react with the lanolin and potentially the wool fiber.  Thus, one must watch the temperature, and keep it to no more than 140F, and the time ( no more than 20 minutes) to avoid damage to the wool.

If one rinsed the wool in cold water prior to heating it in water, then some or all of the alkaline salts will be removed and there is much less potential for damaging the wool, but some other cleaning agent will have to be added to clean the wool.

The cleaning trick that I offered the other day of cleaning unrinsed fleece by heating it in water will not work if the alkaline salts have been rinsed out of the wool.  And, if there is any excess of alkaline salts in the wool, they WILL react with the wool if the temperature goes over 140F more more than 20 minutes.  This is not felting, this is alkaline digestion.  Since the worker does not know the amounts of alkaline salts or lanolin in the fleece, temperature and time are the only safety factors.

Baby OIl III

I wash wool objects with soap.  So does Alden Amos.  He said so in his Big, Blue Book.  It works.
I tried a lot of other things, but soap works with a minimum potential to damage the wool.

Soap must be rinsed out of the wool. Given the nature of baby oil and water, there will be enough shear forces generated by the rinse process to disperse the baby oil through the water.  And, the water forms a hydrophilic film on the wool.

Baby oil is not like wool fat in many ways.  That is OK, the liquid lanolin in my cupboard is not like wool fat in many ways.  I have put all three on woolens and tested the results time after time.

The wool fat will provided better water proofing,  but these days, I put baby oil and not wool fat or liquid lanolin in the wool rinse water.

Now, what have you actually MEASURED?

Lanolin in spinning and knitting is like Santa Clause for children in the US circa 1900.  It has some truth, but it is also a myth. There was a Santa Clause, but in 1900, much of what was attributed to Santa Clause was the actions of others.  In the same way, at one time much wool was water proofed with lanolin. And, spinners/knitters remember that and forget that today, much of that water proofing is performed with or by other agents.

As a chemical engineering student,  I worked with reagents.  Lanolin was a reagent.  Wool fat was the technical grade of lanolin. Technical grade materials were still reagents. Today, we can buy wool fat from Now Foods labeled 100% pure lanolin.

 Those of you who have taken chemistry know that it is really only a pharmaceutical grade of perhaps 99% pure.  But, such are the lies of commerce.

Many health food stores carry it at a price of $10-$12 for 7 oz..  If you think lanolin is so magical, buy some!  Rub it between your fingers.  Smell it.  Do you want to put it on your fine new, just knit woolens?  Just how are you going to apply it? Will it stain?  (Oh, yes!!)  And, in a few months it will start to smell like a sheep.  And, when it smells like sheep, it will attract moths. Lets see - that would be next spring! , about the time moths will be looking to start a new generation. And it will attract, and hold dirt and grit.

It takes real courage to put wool fat on your fine woolens.  I have that courage, but most modern spinners and knitters do not.

I mix it with beeswax, olive oil, lavender oil and other things to make a hand lotion for knitting. All of my knits come off the needles well oiled. (My hand lotion also leaves a film on all the door knobs in the house, so if I have been knitting, I need to go around and wash the door knobs before my wife gets home. This is serious hand lotion, that puts Bag Balm by Dairy Association Co to shame. ) Then, I wash my just knit woolens with real soap and hot water, and put baby oil in the rinse water.

I encourage everyone to put a little pure "lanolin" on their hands and then go hug all the "rubberneckers" who claim to like lanolin on their woolens.  Then, at least the backs of the rubbernecker's sweaters will be water proof -- at least until the moths get to them   : )

Saturday, November 08, 2014

More on Lanolin III

Yes, Virginia, there is a "soap-like" suint in sheep fleece.  It can be removed with cold water, including rain, so there is less of it in wet places and wet years.

However, I live in a dry place, and last year was a dry year.

I have some fine, local, Rambouillet fleece.  (They wore their little sheep suits all year, so the fleece are very clean). I can take a steamer basket, and fill it with the fleece (more than a pound), put it in a pot of cold water with a weighted screen over the top to keep the wool under water.  The result is a pot full of wool, but with space for water to circulate on every side of the wool. I do not add any "soap", detergent, or other chemical cleaning aids.  It is a pot of  raw fleece and water.

I put that on the stove and gently heat it to ~ 130F.  At that point there is a thin layer of white foam across the top of the pot.  Then  I let it sit for 10 minutes.  I lift the basket out, and I have ~6 oz of the cleanest, nicest wool.  Yes the dirty, soapy water needs to be drained and the wool needs to be rinsed, but this is a way to get wool very clean with minimum water, minimum effort,  and minimum agitation (potential for felting).  Every so often, I have to say this, "It is like magic!"

It turns out that  the price of the fleece includes all the ingredients for a potassium/lanolin soap - just the thing to gently clean fine wool fibers and leave them soft and perfectly conditioned.  All I need to do is add some soft water and heat.  And  this is a very good demonstration that there is more than just lanolin, VM, and grit in fleece.

Heating much above 140F may damage the wool!  I use a thermometer. I am not going to advocate this system of cleaning fleece until I have done some more testing.  For example, there is a real potential for some parts of the pot to get too hot and some of the wool being damaged.

Will it work in wet years in wet places?  I doubt it,  but I find it the easiest way to scour the fleece that I have on hand.  This is perhaps the only advantage to the great California Drought.  The conventional wisdom on scouring wool is in Alden Amos, pg 57 et seq. It works very well but uses more water, and requires more movement of the fiber.  However, the AA method is more predictable.

It also tells me that it was very easy to scour fleece by putting them in a big (iron) pot, covering them with water, and gently warming it.  In wet, years or wet places, a small amount of lye from leaching wood ash could have been added to the pot to help make the lanolin soap.

And if the lanolin was needed, then the fleece could be rinsed in cold water first to remove the potassium salts, and the lanolin could be skimmed off as the pot warmed.  This would leave more lanolin on the wool unless another cleaning agent was used

Friday, November 07, 2014

More on Lanolin II

Sheep produce lanolin and suint, and together they keep the sheep's fleece oiled without the grooming required by animals like beaver.  Oiled fleece can repel water, so the fleece can trap the sheep's body heat and keep the sheep warm.

When we shear the fleece, everything changes.  The wool is soaked in cold water to remove the soap-like suint and hot water to remove the lanolin (and grit).

When we treat the wool to felt less, the wool become less water repellent. When we dye wool  (particularly deep blues and reds), the wool fibers become more water repellent. Long wool (e.g., Romney) dyed deep blue is fairly water repellent.  Fine, undyed wools are less water repellent.

Then, in the old days many mills used the lanolin produced in the scouring process as a cheap spinning oil.  It gave the wool water repellency and a certain aroma.  However, lanolin is a waxy material, and if you are wearing wool oiled with lanolin, the lanolin will come off (a little bit at a time) on everything it touches. If you go commando - it will come off on you. Pick up a child and some lanolin comes off on the child and the child's clothes.  Every time you go out in the rain, some small amount of lanolin will be washed out of the fabric.  Over time wool fabrics loose lanolin.

And, lanolin oxidizes, becomes sticky, becomes brittle, and flakes off.  The sticky lanolin attracts and holds dirt, meaning the garment must be washed more often, and the washing takes the lanolin out of the fabric.  And, lanolin attracts moths.  Lanolin is not magic.  It is goopy stuff that helps keep wool dry for a brief period.  Like everything on a sailing ship, it requires constant attention and maintenance.

I wear my woolens places where they get dirty, and I wash my woolens.  If you also wash your lanolin coated woolens, then soon, there will be much less lanolin on the wool.

Sea water contains plankton that is strained out of the water by well knit woolens.  In certain seasons, if you get doused by breaking waves, your sweater will pick up enough plankton that in a few hours it will smell like every dead thing that ever came out of the sea.  I do not care if you live in a sheep barn, sometimes your fisherman's sweater must be washed with soap before it can be taken into the house/barn.  At that time, any and all lanolin in the sweater will be scoured out.

(If it is a real fisherman's sweater, that must be waterproof, the lanolin can be replaced by melting some wool fat (lanolin) in a big pot of 125F water and raising the sweater through the film of lanolin on the surface of the water.  This will work for fisherman's garments (already stained) but is likely to stain other garments.)  And, garments firmly knit from worsted spun, long wools will tolerate this treatment,  but any fine wools, or loosely knit objects, or woolen spun objects, are likely to felt in the worst way. 

As I said, I wash my woolens on a regular basis, and reoil by putting a drop or two of baby oil in the rinse water.  It is not as good as lanolin for water repellency, but it is much less effort, and much better than nothing,   It keeps me from smelling like a wet sheep when I go into the yacht club for a pint.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

More on Lanolin

I was doing forestry research for the American Chestnut project back in the days when it was run by Lou Ismay.  We went out in all weather, and we always seemed to be wet.  The only time it was dry was when everything was frozen.

I found some US Army infantry uniforms that had been made at the end of WWI to protect the troops from gas attacks.  The war ended, and by WWII they had better materials so the gas-tight wool sat in a warehouse.  Anyway, they were fine, thick wool with flaps that buttoned over the openings.  Oh, My!! They sopped up water and got wet.

My mother, who understood such things said, "They have to be oiled with lanolin."   I went to the library and found the old manuals and figured out how to do it. I bought the best quality reagents, and followed the instructions.  Then,  I had oiled wool that kept me warm and dry in any weather.

A few weeks after oiling, the lanolin would start to oxidize, and then when it got wet it would smell like sheep.  This was not bad in the forest with a camp fire, with the smell of the wet forest around us.

Then, I was drafted, and ordered to an inductee meeting one evening. It was a cold, rainy night, an hour's bicycle ride away, so I wore one of my oiled wool shirts. I arrived soaking wet, but comfortable.

The sergeant in charge took exception to my "lamby smell", and said things the way only a sergeant can say them. He used me as an excuse to display his command of the Army vernacular. It did not really bother me. I knew there was no way in the world he could have completed the bike ride I had just already ridden, and I had another longer, colder, uphill bike ride to do after the meeting. Nevertheless, 28 years later, when Jan from Frangipani yarns  ( brought up the topic, I was all ears. She told me about baby oil to oil wool.

I like lanolin.  I make my own hand lotion for knitting and it is mostly beeswax, lanolin, olive oil, and lavender oil.  However, when lanolin is applied to wool, it forms a thin layer on the wool fibers.  That thin layer has a huge surface area allowing oxidation.  (And the oxidation helps the lanolin to bond to polar regions on the wool.)  The oxidation products and water produce the sheepy smell that raised the ire of the sergeant.  When you put lanolin on wool it will oxidize, and when the oxidized lanolin gets gets wet, it will have a sheepy smell. I do not mind the sheepy smell too much.  My wife has several sweaters that have lanolin on them, but when it rains, she always wears a parka over them so they do not get wet. Nevertheless, the last time we were coming back from Pt Reyes, it was her sweater, not mine, that perfumed the car with a sheep smell. I wear my sweaters in the rain and salt spray, and they do not smell of sheep.  They may smell of fish, but they do not smell of sheep.

If you wash or dry clean your wool, and remove all the oils, then in the next rain, the wool will sop up water, and will not keep you dry (or warm). Thus, you need a rain coat or parka or umbrella to keep your wool dry. Or, you can just wear your wool in the house and not take your fine gansey out into the weather.

So, your options in the rain are wet wool, or a silicon product such as Scotchguard, or lanolin and smell like a sheep in the wet, or baby oil and run the risk of stains.

A drop or two of baby oil in the rinse water (after washing with real soap)  will form a film over every fiber, so the change in color is very uniform and there is no visible stain. None! I have been using baby oil on all of my outdoor woolens for about 12 years now.  It keeps me comfortable in the rain.  It lets me wear my ganseys when I am splashing in the water, and  then lets them dry quickly afterwards.   Lanolin also works, but it is properly applied by dissolving the lanolin in enough benzene to submerge the garment.  Benzine is hazardous, toxic, carcinogenic, and any residual is a solvent waste that requires special handling under RCRA (40 CFR 260 et seq.). Other methods of applying lanolin to wool fabrics do run a real risk of staining.   The wool must be re-oiled whenever the wool is washed or cleaned.

Oh! Wet wool is a different color than dry wool. Freshly cleaned woolens shows splashes of water.

Much wool from the commercial  channels will not tolerate washing with soap and water.

Baby oil is easier.  Jan sells good yarn and dispenses very good advice. I like venders that give smart advice on how to use their products.