Saturday, August 01, 2015


There are  people who say I should be "nicer".

Should an elementary school teacher be nicer to students that do not do their homework and lie about it?  No, there are consequences for ignorance and deceit.

Students that do not do their arithmetic homework,  do not become competent in math, and are cheated by merchants.  In society, deceit is punished under the law. The  elementary school teacher  merely tries to instill a respect for the consequences of ignorance and deceit.

I do not know about your freshman professor in your major, but mine were absolutely cruel in their demands.  They set a standard for rigor in thinking and diligence in effort that has served me well.  Not too long ago, a fellow wanted to show me how to prove the formula for the volume of a sphere.  Forty-five years after taking  calculus, off the top of my head, I could show him another 5  equally valid techniques for deriving the formula for the volume of a sphere.  The moral of the story is that there is very rarely a single path to the truth.  Every truth will be supported by several lines of evidence, and contradicted by no good evidence. Having followed one line of good evidence, one can look back and find other lines of evidence.

I like honest searches for the truth.  I like good questions. Good questions are always the most important part of doing one's homework.  Feynman like to teach lower level students, because " They have the good questions."

Folks at advanced levels tend to forget about the unspoken assumptions of the field. The questions of beginners force us to reconsider and justify all assumptions.  Good questions lead to "Pure Wisdom".

However, if people want me to be nice to them, they must do their homework.  My bio professor demanded written questions on every lecture - along with the answer we had found or -- a list of at least 100 journal papers where we had looked for the answer.  I thought he was a nice guy.

GW 2

These days, I do not keep a great wheel.  I do have 2 motor driven spindles and 2 spindles that fit onto my treadle wheel.  None of these are as impressive to look at as a GW, but they are faster. And, they all allow me more use of both hands for drafting true worsted.

The motor driven spindles are easy to pause or stop, but hard to reverse.  Therefore, I had to learn how to wind-on with the spindle going in the same direction as when spinning.  It can be done, the answer is "out there", and I have no interest in teaching driven spindle technique.

If one does not have to reverse the spindle, then one does not have to stop, or pause the spindle, and the spindle can rotate continuously in the same direction.  One CAN spin a entire hank of single on a great wheel without ever reversing the wheel to wind on.  This can be much faster/easier than reversing rotation to wind-on depending on the inertia of the rotating system.

Nevertheless, the spindle must be slowed at various points in the spinning/drafting/wind-on process. Even though the spindle/wheel always rotates in the same direction, the slowdown/speedup cycle wastes energy. And, the wind-on cycle slows production of yarn. 

A spindle on my treadle wheel can insert twist many times faster than the flyer/bobbin assembly,  but the DD flyer bobbin assembly will spin and wind-on much more yarn in a minute or an hour or a day.  One of the motor driven spindles can insert twist many times faster than either spindle on my treadle wheel, but net production of single is not much different. Net production of spun yarn by a spindle is limited by the nature of its cycle, rather than by its peak speed.

A DRS flyer/bobbin assembly is the fastest hand spinning device for most natural fibers. Ring spinning can be faster for silk, but that is a specialized application.  Yes, those old double drive spinning wheels were the fastest way to spin.  They used the two loops of the drive band to synchronize the rotation of the bobbin and flyer to insert just the right amount of twist as the yarn was wound in at just the correct rate for the inserted twist. They did not have the drive band slip that is built into modern double drive wheels.  The result is that a double drive wheel without drive band slip that can produce singles much faster than a great wheel.  This is a truth that you have heard before.  It is just that all  modern DD wheels do have drive band slip and thus, spin more slowly than a GW.   In fact, a DRS flyer/bobbin assembly can produce true worsted spun yarn 5 times faster than a great wheel.  Every sock knitter should think about that.

And, since DRS is faster, sock yarns of more and finer (true worsted spun)  plies are possible.  These are very nice yarns that are simply out of reach of even the best spinners using a GW.  The use of DRS opens up spinning true worsted 5-ply gansey or even 10-ply Aran yarns.  And, it makes spinning true worsted warp for the loom much more feasible.

 On the other hand, a DRS flyer/bobbin assembly requires real skill to setup and maintain. I have seen two old DRS double drive wheels where the original DRS ratios had been "repaired", and the wheel converted to  modern standards.   As a result of the repairs, they could spin lower grist yarns, but could only do so --- slowly. These had been true collector's items and the owners were very proud of how fast they could spin -- if they only know how fast those wheels had been originally designed to spin, they would have been agast!   The difference between these wheels as designed and these wheels as "repaired" was only millimeters, and yet it made a huge difference in their performance. If one can teach the basics of using a GW in a 4-day workshop, then I would say that one could teach the basics of using DRS in a 4-week workshop.

Yes, Holin, my old Ashford can spin/ply a 500 yd hank of sport weight, worsted spun, 5-ply (gansey yarn) in an easy day.  How long does it take your GW?  In less than 14 hours, I can spin/ply a 500 yd hank of  worsted spun, 3x2-ply cabled, 1,600 ypp "sock yarn".  How long does that take your GW?  Shall we set up a demonstration in front of a judge and jury?  I want spinners like Judith MacKenzie and Stephenie Gaustad who know, and appreciate,  worsted spun yarns involved.

I have only been spinning for 6 years. (And, I was sick with Lyme Disease for much of that time!)  How long have you been spinning?  What will I be spinning when I have spun as long as you have been spinning?

Friday, July 31, 2015


When  did people start using numbers?

Neanderthal pursued a number of advanced tool making  activities for a very long time, then interbred with modern humans to produce fertile progeny (definition of same species).

see for example :

These kinds of technical activities require planning; and, planning requires numeric competence.  Understanding this connection requires thinking and deduction.

Our ancestors were counting when they were still making stone tools and wearing skins rather than spinning and weaving.  Our ancestors were counting 150,000 years ago, and possibly 250,000 years ago.  The opening paragraphs in many texts on origins of human numeric competence are silly.  

Even if you studied anthropology a long, long time ago, Google is your friend.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Great Wheels

Making yarn is about inserting twist into fiber.  Twist is energy. The essence of making yarn is using energy to organize fiber.  And, energy for twist  has traditionally been the largest single cost for a mill making natural fiber yarns.

With a great wheel, if the spinner wishes to work very efficiently, the  spinner will turn the wheel rather slowly so that most of the energy goes into twisting the yarn, and very little braking is required. However, this produces yarn slowly.  A motivated spinner spins the wheel rapidly so twist is inserted quickly, but then the wheel must be braked and stopped before the yarn over twists.

Braking and stopping the wheel wastes the energy already added to the wheel, and the braking/stopping process requires additional energy from the spinner.

Spinning yarn on a great wheel is energetically very inefficient.

A great wheel is like an old Ferrari - it goes very fast, but it uses a lot gas.

In contrast, a  flyer /bobbin assembly does not have to be stopped and CAN be  energetically  more efficient.  Note, the single drive flier-lead assemblies do require continuous braking, which wastes energy.. With flier-lead there is an adjustable brake band device (Scotch Tension) and with bobbin lead, the braking usually comes from the aerodynamic drag of the flyer (Irish Tension, sometimes with an additional brake band on the flyer).

A double drive flyer /bobbin assembly designed to insert twist as required for the desired grist does not require any braking. These are the energetically, the most efficient spinning wheels. 

In a double drive flyer /bobbin assembly not designed to insert twist as required for the desired grist, one loop of the drive band will act as a brake. Because such systems require drive belt slip, their energetic efficiency is noticeably LESS than a single drive  flyer /bobbin assembly. Thus, a few  millimeters difference in a whorl diameter can dramatically change the energetic efficiency of a double drive flyer/bobbin assembly for the production of a particular grist.

That said, if great quantities of thick woolen singles are wanted in continuous lengths, then a great wheel may well be the tool of choice because it offers the leverage to spin those big copps.  If  I want to produce an 1,800 yd cuts  of 3,000 ypp singles on my wheel, I have to splice short ones into long ones.   On the other hand,  if we are spinning 23,000 ypp, then 1,800 yards is only a little over an ounce, and I do not have to splice at all.  On my wheel, spinning fresh rolags, (from the drum carder), 1,800 yd of  woolen 23,000 ypp is about 6 hours work.

Folks with great wheels should let us know how fast they spin  23,000 ypp singles on their great wheel.  I do not seem to have any GW production numbers for that grist.  In theory , it should depend on the motivation and fitness of the spinner, and a spinner willing to put in a lot of  energy should be able to do it very fast indeed.

Monday, July 20, 2015

My Knitting Pins

In the last couple of years I have made myself a full set of blunt ended knitting pins.   At this point, I have decided that I do not need the "pointies" any more and have packed them up and  . . . . .

At this juncture, I knit with steel knitting pins that flex and  curved steel "pricks" that rotate in the knitting sheath.  The pricks are better for small objects such as gloves and socks, while the pins are better for large objects.

This is everything that I think I need to knit anything I want to knit from any yarn I want to knit:
 The whole kit

  18 " long Gansey needles in 2 mm and 2.3 mm
(not shown are 8 more in WIP)

A few favorite knitting sheaths and a crochet hook

B--> T; 1.3 mm pins and pricks, 1 mm pins, 1.5 mm pins and swaving pricks

 B--> T; 2 mm swaving pricks & clew, 2 mm pins, 2.3 mm swaving pricks and notions, 2.3 mm pins

Many of these needles/pricks have been used for 300,000 stitches. Prototypes were used here in the house, and prototype needles got trips to the shop until I had needles that worked the way I wanted them to work.  Mostly the pins cost me between $0.10 and $0.60 each to make.  I have the tools and skills to make them quickly and accurately. So I can afford to have what I think is just the right needles for the project.  My knitting tool selection is not limited to what is available at LYS, Stitches, TNNA or even the internet. Thus,  the problem is deciding what IS the right needle or pin.  

The criteria are:
  1. Must work for yarn between 850 and 2,000 ypp.
  2. Must allow fast knitting with minimum stress on hands/wrists.
  3. Must produce very uniform fabric.
  4. Must allow production of dense fabric.
  5. Must be very durable.
The needles and knitting sheaths that I use are the best compromise on the above criteria that I have ever seen, heard about, or read about. It took me about 2 years to switch from circular needles to DPN/ knitting sheaths.  It has taken me about 2 years to switch from pointy needles to blunt pins. When I find something better, I will move to something better.

A needle for every yarn

I started with pointed needles because EVERYONE said that is how one knits.  I started with hand hand-held needles because that was how everyone knit.

Then, there was this hint that old knitters used long needles, and I tried that, and it did not work

Except there was this hint in Mary Thomas that in the old days, when everyone did knit, they used knitting sheaths. and it turned out that yes, a knitting sheath did tame the long needles.

Much experimentation resulted in the discovery that long (pointy) steel  needles with diameter of ~2.25 mm really did produce lovely fabrics from soft worsted weight and firm sport weight yarns.  And the spring constant of that size of music wire allowed a spring action that allowed fast knitting.

I experimented with finer needles, right down to 0.5 mm, but never got that nice combination of  wonderful fabric and fast knitting. Thus, I spent several years knitting mostly with pointy US 1 size needles and sport weight to worsted weight yarns ( 1,000 ypp to 850 ypp).  It was not so bad, the combination produced a class of fabrics very well  suited to many of the outdoor activities that I like.

A couple of years ago, I had some splitty sport weight yarn and tried knitting it with blunt size UK 13 needles.  It worked very well. Then, I made blunt ~2 mm needles for knitting softer spun sport weight. The result was better than I expected.  First, it was clear that the knitting motion was smaller, so even the reduced spring constant of the thinner needle could produce more stitches per minute.  So while the stitches were smaller, the actual area of fabric knit per unit time was similar.  I had found a way to knit fabrics that I liked on finer needles at a reasonable rate.

More recently, have been making and experimenting with blunt needles in the sizes of  1.3 mm and 1.5 mm.  These produce nice warm, firm fabrics from 3-ply and 6-strand "sock yarns" in the 1700 ypp range.  And, the knitting motion is so small that it can be performed very fast, resulting in reasonable production rates.  Counter intuitively, I can knit much faster with flat tipped needles than with pointy needles. Adopting flat ended needles seems to be the last technical requirement to knitting Jerseys and Sheringham ganseys.  I had produced samples of the fabric before, but it was always as a tour de force, and it was never as a convenient and practical fabric. The effort of making such fabrics on pointy needles was too high to make such fabrics practical.

Flat tipped, flexible steel needles allows me to knit large objects from the same fine, dense fabric that I had previously only been able to reasonably produce in smaller objects such as gloves and socks by swaving.

Belaying "pin" for sail boats. 
Shear  "pin"
Taper "pin"

Yes, "knitting pins" included blunt rods and wires.  These days I have knitting pins with blunt or flat ends in sizes from 1.3 mm to 2.38 mm and in lengths from 10 to 18 inches.  They are an old school tool for making old school fabrics.  I make them all of spring steel from the local hardware store.  I find that a knitting sheath works better than a Shetland knitting pouch for blunt tipped knitting pins.

Blunt points work well on cable crosses and  bobbles. If it works for nice bobbles, it will work for nupps etc. It is a different technique, but the equipment works.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


She, who thinks she is SWMBO, says: "No pix, then it did not happen".

She is critical of all that I do.  It is time to, point to the lack of photographs on her page as evidence that she does not have the technical expertise to judge my work.  Hoist by her own petard!

Photos are important, if one is making objects whose sole purpose is decorative. My sister is a goldsmith, and she has staff whose primary duties include photographing and maintaining the archive of thousands and thousands of photographs that comprise her full portfolio. People buy jewelry on the basis of how it looks.

I knit socks for my friends, and NONE of them care how the socks look.  They care about how the socks function. (And, if the socks function perfectly they will have a very attractive functional aesthetic.)  If you are putting a lot of effort into how your socks look, then you are putting less effort into how your socks function. I finish the socks and hand them over and they wear them for a while. Then, they tell me how well the socks functioned.  I think about it for a while, and try to make better socks.

My materials, patterns, and tools change, not just to be different, but to make better objects. When, I think I am making the most functional objects possible, then I will start trying to make them "prettier".

Handspun is just one approach to better objects.  At this point, it is clear that the best objects from hand spun yarn can be much warmer and more durable than objects from mill spun.

5,600 ypp singles, on hand, that have not been allocated 
to any particular project.
All-in-all there is about 70,000 yards of singles there.
(The purple yarn with knitting in front is 6-strand, 1680 ypp sock yarn 
on 1.65 mm needles for scale. I am testing its functionality as sock yarn. The yarn is nice, 
but is it worth all the effort?)

It took me about 3 years to be able to tell by touch and feel whether a particular fabric was warm, or just looked warm.  Knit wool fools the eye!  I do not think anyone can reliably make that judgement from a photograph - not even from a high resolution picture, and certainly not from an internet resolution pix.  On the other hand, it is easy to make the judgement from a numeric description of the fabric, such as fiber, twist and grist of the singles, ply structure, and gauge for a knit fabric. Numbers can tell us clearly and precisely how warm the fabric is.  If you do not know the numbers, then you do not know how warm the fabric is.  (Numbers were developed in the days when "spinning" was used to make cord to hold stone tools on handles to kill animals so the skins could be used for garments.)

Numbers can name and convey information about textiles that cannot be conveyed by pix.  If you know textiles, you know what a 65 meter/gram worsted thread is, and you do not need a pix. ( e.g., Suffolk fleece spun at its spin count, the traditional single for hosiery yarns.)  If you do not know the difference between a 65 meter/gram worsted thread and a 65 meter/gram woolen thread, then a pix is not going to convey that information. (The woolen yarn will require more twist to hold it together.)

One way or another, the way to convey detailed information about yarns and fabric structure is with numbers.  If one cannot understand the numbers and do the math, then one cannot understand yarns and fabric.

A spinner controls the process.  A spinner sets a budget - how long a piece of yarn will be spun from a given amount of fiber.  The spinner sets the budget on how much twist will be inserted to hold the yarn together. It is the spinner who determines grist and twist.  If the spinner is very good, the twist and grist will be determined very precisely and produced accurately. The only way to name any aspect of these processes very precisely is with numbers.  That is, every competent spinner names their yarns with numbers.   Then, competent weavers and knitters know the precise nature of that yarn. And, competent spinners who understand the numbers for their yarns, understand the yarn produced by other spinners that name their yarns with numbers e.g., meters/gram or yards per pound or hanks per pound.

I do not care if you speak English, Hungarian or Chinese, you can not discuss yarn and fabric in precise detail without using numbers. Numbers describe yarns and fabrics more precisely than pictures.  It may also be necessary to have a picture, but for the essential character of the yarn, a picture will not be as precise.  And, better spinners need more precision.

By-the-bye, naming yarns by number also allows budgeting time. I know how fast my wheel runs, and I know how much twist is in 5,600 ypp worsted singles so I know that it takes me a little under 175 hours to spin 100,000 yards of 5,600 ypp worsted, and that I will use ~18 pounds of fiber. Allowing time to block hanks rather than simply winding onto bobbins or pirns, it is an easy month of spinning.  And, it is enough yarn for 2.5 months of knitting or 2 weeks of weaving.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Jealousy and Delusion

"Wow! You make an awful lot of assumptions about me, Aaron. You clearly have a very active, if completely inaccurate, imagination. I don't need a wheel like yours. I outgrew my Ashford Traditional years ago and moved onto different wheels with features that allowed me to spin faster and more consistent yarns. I do have an accelerated wheel - it's a Great Wheel - but I wouldn't build a wheel like yours for love nor money. It would be superfluous.

If the finished product is nothing, as you say, then you're going to be very, very cold in your non-existent gansey because there will be no finished product to wear. I hope you can stitch your numerous samples into a blanket, because it seems that you will have nothing else to wear unless you take a trip to Neimann Marcus."

The above is a comment from a reader. Let us see what we can deduce from it.

There are no measurements, numbers, or objective criteria anywhere in the comment.  Thus, this is a person that does not do objective quality control, engineering, science, or math. She says she spins faster.  I can spin and ply 560 yards of worsted spun, 5-ply sport weight in less than 7 hours. That is more than 3,000 yards of  5,600 ypp worsted singles and 560 yards of plying in less than 7 hours. I can do it anywhere, any time. I can do it in front of a judge and jury if you want. Knit on 2 mm long needles with a knitting sheath it makes a lovely, light, warm garment.  It is remarkably durable, and can be worn around the campfire without any fear of sparks burning a hole in it.

Now, how long does it take my reader to spin a good hank of "gansey yarn", and has she posted any pix of it? She has one standard for me, and a very different standard for herself. Do we see rulers on her blog/web pages? My educated guess is that she can spin woolen @3,000 ypp at a rate of under 300 yards per hour on her great wheel, and spin worsted at @3,000 ypp at a rate of under 100 yards per hour.

And she says she spins more consistent. The last pound of 10s (worsted spun hanks of 560 yards at  5,600 ypp ) that I spun were all within 5% of the desired weight of  45.4 grams. Can my reader spin skeins of singles that are consistently within 5% of the desired grist?  I think not.

So not only do I spin much faster, I likely spin more consistently.  This is because I do understand objective quality control, engineering, science, and math.  I report testable results.  She claims vague fantasies.

I have half a dozen very good ganseys that I have knit from various yarns over the years.  Some of these are from hand spun.  I have knit hundreds of socks over the years.  Socks, that I knit were worn on over 300 man days of  downhill skiing this year, and it was low snow year. (e.g., my socks are worn by several, dedicated skiers, some of whom would have to be classed as "powder hounds".)  If I put my friends off, and stop knitting for them, I can knit a good gansey in less than 10 days. I have enough 5-ply on hand for several sweaters and I have plenty of singles (5,600 ypp) spun for the loom that can be re-tasked, and plied for knitting yarn.  Knitting a gansey to a conventional design is trivial.

The hard part, the interesting part, is finding better textile designs, and better technologies to produce the designs.  Spinning is easy.  Spinning fine is harder.  Finding a better way to consistently spin fine and fast is very hard.  Knitting is easy. Finding a way to knit better is hard.  My reader is clearly not interested in finding a better ways of producing textiles by hand.  This blog was started to record my search for finding ways to hand knit warmer fabrics.  After I had advanced knitting, I needed warmer yarns, so I added the search for how to hand spin warmer yarns to the blog.  More recently, I realized that I had erred in my interpretation of knitting sheath technology and blunt or flat tips on needles used with knitting sheaths result in faster and better knitting.

Lots of people write about pretty knitting and pretty spinning.  There is no need for me to write about pretty.  I write about warm and durable. These days, many write vague fantasies about warm and durable hand spun and hand knit objects, but very, very few have done objective quality control on the objects/fabrics that they write about.

We cannot say that my reader is "stuck in the past", because the professional hand spinners and hand knitters of  the past (e.g, 16th century)  were very, very good.  And, since I do not own anything that was ever purchased at Neimann-Marcus, she is not very well informed and does not read carefully.

I really do not care how anyone knits or spins or how fast they do it.  I merely point out that there are options. I point out that one can ALWAYS seek to spin and knit faster and better.

Monday, July 06, 2015


A swatch/prototype in progress.  The stitch is eastern crossed stitch.  The yarn is Paton's Classic Wool.  The gauge is 8 stitches per inch or 32 stitches per 4".  The object is the torso for a knit in the round Jersey.

This object is out of my bin of ECS WIP.  Today, I knit the same stitch at the same gauge - I just knit it at a practical rate. The fabric is lovely.  Now, I know how to finish it off in a reasonable time.  The scale is marked in inches. 


After some additional swatching, and reflection, I expect that eastern cross stitch was the stitch used in the classic "Jersey" shirts produced in the Channel Islands for seamen and fishermen.  Perhaps ECS was also used in the heavier Guernsey shirts, but it makes a glorious fabric for general outdoor wear.

Eighty years ago we could buy knit wool sport shirts! Today, they have been replaced by knit cotton and polyester.  And while I love my knit cotton rugby shirts, when cotton (and linen) are wet, the are not nearly as warm as a knit wool.  And, knit synthetics are not safe around open flames.  No, knit wool is the right fabric for working and playing away from central heat.  And, ECS is the best stitch that I know for finely knit shirt fabrics.

And eastern cross stitch produces a warmer and more weatherproof (keeps out wind and wet) fabric than modern Weldon's stockinette.  (Knit with hand held, pointy needles)  At the very least, there are many little stitches in a finely knit shirt, and Weldon's methods are a lot of effort for a few stitches.

I do not expect anyone to accept anything that I say.  I expect everyone to THINK and test everything.  Swatch, and test heat flow though the fabrics. Swatch, and stitch the swatches into garments and test how they perform.  I expect my students to be adventurous and creative.  I expect my students to never accept the current technology as the end point.  If you are EVER satisfied with the current technology (spinning, knitting, weaving) then you do not belong here.

Our current hand made textiles are not as fine or produced as quickly as the hand made textiles of times past. That proves that we do not need power equipment to work faster.  That proves that we do not need computers to work better.  We can do better than we are doing by improving our skills and refining our tools.  It is not easy, but my students are not lazy.  If you think it is too much work, you do not belong here.