Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Spinning in the Rain

Californian has been in a drought, so when it started raining this morning, I went out to spin on the porch.

Am I spinning skeins?  Not likely! At a rate of a hank an hour, that is a mile of  lace-weight worsted single every 3 hours.  I do not stop spinning and start plying every few hundred yards. 

When I need 5-ply, I pull 6 miles of  lace-weight worsted singles of the stash and I ply enough to make a sweater.  With the takeup from the ply twist, it comes out about right.

 If this weather keeps up, I might get a good bit of spinning done. 

Multi-ply Refined

I came to spinning for better gansey yarn. Gansey yarns were all worsted spun so worsted spun is what I did without thought.  And I loved the resulting multi-ply yarns as compared to various kinds of 2-ply yarns and the commercial gansey yarns spun from fine wool.

And then I find myself spinning a lot of woolen singles for weft, and I ask myself, "What about multi-ply woolen spun yarns?"  After a few trials, I am not impressed.  If you spin woolen, you will likely be happier with 3 or less plies, but you knew that!    If you want to spin multi-ply yarns, spin the singles worsted. 

Spun worsted, yarns with many plies or cabled with many strands are wonderful.  Spun woolen multi-ply yarns are not worth the effort.  This tells us that the old 5-ply "wassit", was worsted spun.

Spinning  inexpensive wassit meant that the professional spinners needed to spin worsted faster than an inch worm.  The way to spin worsted fast is differential rotation speed (DRS).  Without DRS,  the  ubiquitous wassit, was not worth the effort.  DRS was what allowed 5-ply wassit to be a reasonably priced commodity.

Whcih way to comb?.

There are 2 schools of combing.  One is to comb so all the tips point in the same direction.  The other is to comb so that the tips point in both directions more or less equally.

With all the tips pointing in the same directions, the yarn is easier to spin, has a smoother, more silken feel,  and is more lustrous.  This is the way to go for skeins going to competitions, lace, and other decorative objects.

With tips pointing in both directions, the yarn is stronger, more durable, and the finished yarn has more dimensional stability.  This is the way to go for fabric that likely to see hard use in wet conditions.

Wool Grades and Sheep breeds

A good wool grader can recognized more than 300 grades of wool. And, wool grades are important to spinners - more so than the breed.  Having a single grade of wool at the draft triangle produces a better yarn,  and a less itchy fabric.

Any particular fleece will contain 4 or 5 different grades of wool. Card the whole fleece together as is common in modern practice, and it will not spin as well as if the fleece was graded, and the different grades in the fleece were carded and spun separately.  Of course, this means that the fleece will produce 4 or 5 different yarns that theoretically have different appearances.  In fact, the difference between the yarns due to differences in the grades, is likely less than the differences introduced by the day to day variation of most  hand spinners. And, each grade from the fleece has the same characteristics as the fleece it total, so you are still getting all the good spinning characteristics from the fleece, it is just that by grading the fleece you can spin all of that fluffy joy it to its best advantage.

I do not care what breed the fibers in drafting triangle are, I care what grade they are! If they are all the same grade, I do not care if they came from one fleece or 20 fleece.  I do not care if they came from one breed or 20 different breeds. On the other hand, sometimes the only source of the wool of a particular grade is limited to a very small area of  a very special fleece.  That special grade of wool needs to be sorted out, protected, and kept special.

If you do need enough  special wool for a large object, and it must all be perfectly uniform, then buy (or raise) several fleeces that are very similar, grade them to  prep and spin each grade separately. Get enough fleeces that one of the grades is sufficient for the whole object.  I promise you, it is still the same lovely wool, only better.

A good bit of the itch of wool is fibers of differently thicknesses responding to motion in the fabric differently, flexing to a different extent, and creating a gap in the thread. A body hair pokes into that gap and gets tugged.  When all the wool fibers are the same size, the gaps do not form, hair does not get pulled, and there is less itch in the wool.  One reason that Merino is low itch is that it has been bred to have very uniform fleece and it is very well graded.  Very well graded wool of any breed is more comfortable to wear then wool of the same breed that has not been graded e.g., the whole fleece carded together.

If you have a fleece, and you take it to the mill for carding - it is going to get all carded together, and a bit of the last fleece that they carded is likely to get mixed in.  So, if you have one exceptional fleece, what do you do? You grade it yourself.You may not be perfect, but your grading will be better than throwing the whole thing into the mill.  Now, you have 4 or 5 bins of wool. You label them, and prep them, and spin them. It does not matter if one end of a hank is spun from one bin and the other end of the hank is spun from another bin. The bins are from the same fleece, and after spinning will be very similar in appearance. Now you blend the singles by plying singles spun from different bins.  Then the fabric will be perfectly uniform.

I like Anna Harvey's Rambouilett. I like the fleece.  I like the uniformity over every fleece, and I like the flock uniformity.   When I buy, I have her send me a few fleece, and I grade, and put each grade in its own bin.  There are very small differences between the grades, but each of the grades is better than a mix of the grades.  The fleece are fine and soft, and each grade is fine and soft. The fleece have good color, and each grade has - even more uniform color.  The fleece spin into very nice yarn.  The grades spin into better yarn.  This is wool that would otherwise get baled and go to Italy.  I pay more than the Italians.  I do not care,  I get it at a reasonable price.  Today, American Rambouilett is as good as any wool being produced anywhere in the world. 

The modern spinner's infatuation with working with individual whole fleece, and carding the whole fleece together means that they are actually working with a lower over all quality of wool.  Carding all the various grades found in one fleece together diminishes the over all quality and value of the wool. Keeping the grades separate enhances the value of the wool.

However, the modern spinner's infatuation with individual fleeces and specific breeds is good for me, because then I can by anonymous graded wool that  is much better for spinning, and much, much cheaper than buying individual fleeces.   I buy graded medium wool for socks and warp (also re-purposed as worsted sweater yarn), for half the price that fancy named fleeces next to cute pictures would cost me - and then I can have 10 pounds of one grade of wool, and I can make large and uniform objects. I do not care if the fibers in my drafting triangle are all the same fleece or even the same breed, I do care that they are all the same grade. Graded wool spins into better yarn.    I like better yarn.

If your hands will not deal with all that carding, then the best hobby-sized drum carder in the world is
the Clemes and Clemes.   I use, (and abuse!) one of their old manual carders, but their new electric ones are better.  Our guild has 2 of them.  We had other brands, we got rid of them and we bought Clemes and Clemes.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

More fibs

I fibbed when I said that I spin hanks.

In fact, I also put a lot of yarn on bobbins:
That is about 15,000 yards of my hand spun on bobbins. As 220 yard skeins of 2-ply it would be about 35 skeins.  On the other hand, it is only enough for about 5 hanks of gansey yarn. 

Gansey yarn is very nice, and it gives one a chance to practice spinning.  I encourage everyone to try it.

If I took all of my handspun singles in house, and turned it into 220 yard skeins of 2-ply, it would be about 130 skeins.  And, that is AFTER, I spent most of the last year knitting miles and miles of my own handspun 5-ply. 

All my handspun singles in house would come out to about 20 hanks of  5-ply gansey yarn or  enough for 4 good ganseys with matching hats, scarves, gloves, and socks.  Add in a bit of weaving and it seems like a reasonable stash to me.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fractured History

Ok, you have this model of history - does it inform your spinning and make you a better spinner? Or it just interesting?  Or, does it hold you back and keep you from being a better spinner?

First, I see spinning as an inherently economic activity. They spun to make clothes for the family which was an economic benefit.  Or, they spun to make money by selling the yarn.

You may enjoy spinning, and you may like spinning the yarn to clothe your family, but if they need new clothes, it is a chore, not spinning for fun. You may enjoy the chore, but it is still work, with an economic benefit.  You are only spinning for fun if the yarn is never used for any useful purpose. (In my case, the useful purpose is working out a different spinning technology. Solving technical problems is what I do.  It is work.)

Thus, for the great majority of hand spinners living in the industrial centers of Europe, India, China, Africa, and the Americas, spinning was a job. And often the customer was a weaver that wanted thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of hanks of fine yarn, all as consistent as possible.

Thus, from the very beginning, all of the spinning masters, owners, factors, and managers were looking for spinning equipment would allow them to spin faster and more consistently.  Certainly, this search was long underway in Italy in the 12th century.  Enter, DRS.  Then a room sized device used by a man and a boy for winding thrown silk.  Over the next couple of centuries, it was miniaturized to become a one person device for winding silk and then for spinning hemp and linen, and finally for the twist loving fine wools.

From the time of its development, DRS flyer/bobbin assemblies provided hand spinners with very high productivity, ability to spin very stable grists, and the ability to easily spin very fine.  Everywhere that it was available, DRS was the flyer/bobbin assembly of choice for professional hand spinners.  Think about it, if you are paid by the hank, and DRS will let you spin twice as much and get paid twice as much which kind of wheel are you going to choose?  If you are a factor and get paid a percentage of what all the spinners you work with are paid, then you will make twice as much if they use a DRS wheel.  Which wheel do you want them to use?  Economics tells us that DRS was the wheel that was used.

Alden Amos tells us that single drive, bobbin lead is the easiest flyer/bobbin assembly to design and fabricate.  He implies but does not state that DRS is far and away the hardest kind of flyer/bobbin assembly to fabricate. It is.

With the rise of yarn mills circa1800, not only were spinning skills lost, but spinning wheel making and repair skills were also lost.  By about 1820, subsistence spinners no longer had the skills to use a DRS wheel, and local craftsmen no longer had the skills to make or repair such wheels.  The concept of DRS was not lost.  All the textile equipment engineers knew about it.  All of the mill managers knew about it, but subsistence hand spinners had forgotten the technology.  And, the ladies of  Queen Victoria's court were not going to the mills for a lesson in old style spinning.

The technology did popup on some models of the Canadian Production Spinning wheel, which resulted in its reputation for being so fast. A CPW wheel I spun on had been "fixed" so the DRS no longer worked.  Thus, the wheel was slower than my Traddy that did have my implementation of DRS.  Good  photos of  other CPWs show them having been similarly fixed.  One wheel repairman who had fixed CPW said, "Fixing the wheel was easier than teaching them how to use it."

So, I look at modern yarns such as
 and I look at old yarns such as

And, I like the old yarns.  I want to spin like that! However, when you look at them up close, you see that none of the restoration yarns are as fine as the original.  When they were doing restoration, they did not know the right tools (they were influenced by the hand spinners at QV's court),  and they did not have the skills.

I am just now getting the tools right.  Now, I can start getting serious about developing some real skill.  But, history that tells me that DRS is the right tool for spinning fine, fast, and with great uniformity.

If one is going to spin like that, then one needs the right tools,  One needs the skills to fully utilize the tools.  Working with my wheel on a regular basis tells me that DRS makes spinning fine so much easier that nobody that has not tried it would believe it.  They do not know what they are missing.

DRS not only opens up spinning faster, it opens up spinning much finer, with much less effort.

On the other hand, setting up the wheel to spin the desired yarn is a matter of some skill.   It works in a factory environment, where an expert gets the wheel set up, and then the spinner can sit down and spin very fine and very fast, very easily.


Turns out I fibbed:  Not all my yarn is in hanks:
I seem to have 10,000 yards or so of woolen singles in big cakes. (right) The cakes in view range from ~800 to 1,200 yards with the 5 cakes in view totaling  ~5,500 yards.   It was just a test, about a year ago when I was first thinking about putting woolen singles up in cuts of 1,800 yards. I decided it was not worth it for the 5,600 ypp stuff I was spinning

Stuff on left is hanks of 10s /warp spun about the same time.  All together, it fills a 50 quart bin, there are a bunch more smaller cakes and another 6 or 7 pounds of the warp. 

As I said, it was a test. and then the Lyme Disease sort of took over.

Tying it all together.

From the early medieval until ~1780 the very profitable and competitive European textile industry depended on hand spinning.  It is reasonably clear that good spinning, more than local fiber or weaving was the competitive advantage that allowed a region to become a dominate player in the industry. If local fiber was the  primary competitive advantage, then England would have dominated the world's textile markets from the time the Romans left.

What can a hand spinner could spin, and how fast it can be spun is an important economic question in the medieval European textile industry history.

We know from the definition of "spin count" that a competent spinner was expected to be able to spin at the wool's spin count.  Modern (American) spinners dismiss this point because they do not spin wool at its spin count.  However with differential rotation speed controlled flyer/bobbin assemblies (DRS), spinning at the spin count is easy.  Designing the differential rotation speed controlled flyer/bobbin assemblies requires somebody who can do math (e.g., an engineer) and making the assemblies requires a good wood turner, but once the DRS assembly is designed and fabricated, spinning at the spin count is easy.

For example:

A prirn of 90 m/gram, woolen spun, weft.  It is more than 300 yards (just over 3 grams) of  continuous, knot free, competent single.  It was spun in about 2.5 hours, washed, blocked, and wound onto the pirn though a tension box.  Think about it.  How long would it take you to spin 300 yards of  such single?  These days, the folks that spin that fine, spin slowly.

One big advantage of spinning fine was that it removed vegetable matter  (VM) from from the fiber so there was less VM in the yarn and hence the cloth. Fine spinning compensated for a lack of  fiber preparation technologies that we now take for granted.

DRS is fast.  Weavers needed a lot of yarn, and DRS is much more productive than any other hand spinning technique.  Worsted 10s (5,600 ypp) for warp and knitting yarns can be easily spun at more than 560 yards per hour.  Worsted 40s (22,400 ypp, spin count for long wools such as Romney)   can be spun at more than 400 yards per hour. And, as I note above, 80s (~45,000 ypp, spin count for Merino) can be spun at more than 200 yards per hour.  I can demonstrate these production schedules as needed. They are very conservative. They are what a motivated spinner can produce in a sustained full time work schedule of 45 hours per week.

If any modern spinner cannot spin that fine or that fast it is not my fault, so do not be rude to me.  I have been talking about this and moving toward this for years.  Alden Amos recited the math in his big blue book in 1991. However, the math has been known and understood in western culture since the 11th century beginnings of the Italian silk spinning industry.

We have had good wood turners as long as we have had bungs in barrels.  The iron work for such a wheel could be made by any blacksmith accustomed to making wood turner's tools.  The required bronze bearings could be made by anyone that made bells.  In 1390, in Florence there textile industry provided employment for about 400,000 workers.  That would have included all of the above craftsmen as well as the spinners, dyers, weavers, merchants, and factors.  Textiles were big business, and had a supporting infrastructure for for the spinners, dyers, and weavers.  This included craftsmen that could work iron, turn wood and, in short, make industrial grade hand spinning benches.  DRS based spinning benches flourished in this environment.  Such benches for full time professional spinners were very different than the small wheels used by subsistence spinners in Scotland in the early 19th century and which were the model for the Victorian spinners.

Any model of spinning history that does not include the industrial spinning centers of  Europe is incomplete.  There are still houses in Bruges that show by their architecture  that they were spinning factories in the 16th century. They were by a canal so English wool could be brought in by boat. They have a special door so bales of English wool could brought into the lowest story where the wool was washed and dyed. There was a lift to the drying racks in the attic. The dried wool was dropped a floor to the combers. The combed wool was dropped another floor to a room lined with white marble and windows on 3 sides so the was enough light to spin fine. In the early 16th century the room was full of spinners spinning fine thread, and DRS ensured that the grist was correct and uniform. The next floor down was the office and showroom.  On the same block, there is another building that was a 16th century weaving factory.  This was industrialized textile production. The English system of contract spinners in their crofts and factors hauling fiber and spun yarn by horse train could not compete.

If a spinning wheel in Bruges broke, the wood worker around the corner could have it fixed in a few hours.  If an English spinning wheel broke it would have to be taken to town and back, and it might be a couple of days before it was fixed.  And, in Bruges there were many weavers, so the spinner had some choice in what kind of spinning he did and who he worked for.  And the Bruges weavers/factors had some choice in what spinners they used.  The competition encouraged excellence in spinning. In contrast, in England, the dispersed nature of the spinners, meant there were fewer factors/weavers working in the area, and the spinners had less choice of what kind of spinning they did.  And the factors/weavers had less choice in which spinners they used.  The combination of few spinners and fewer factors/weavers also meant there was less competition to innovate.  Thus, the industrial textile centers in Europe were able remain leaders in the technology and economics of textile production until the invention of the steam driven spinning frame.

The important thing is that the spinning factory in Bruges was spinning English wool.  The weaving factory in Bruges was weaving English wool.  If you want to know how English wool was spun and woven, do not look in England, look in Bruges.  Just as today, if you want to know how American wool is spun and woven, look in Italy and France. Sure there are a few hand spinners in Ameica, and even a few American mills, but the vast bulk of  the best American wool goes to the big mills in Europe. And the price paid to American shepherds for that wool is a pittance.  It is heartbreaking.

In the same way, in the early 16th century, English wool went to the industrialized textile centers in Europe.  England did not become an industrialized textile producer until after mechanization of spinning circa 1780.  Now, people think that industrialzaion means steam power, but in fact, textile production in Flanders was highly industrialized,  and producing textiles for export from imported English wool as early as Charlemagne. That textile industry supported a much higher population density than England had at the time. 

Hand spinning is labor intensive. The agrarian England did not have enough concentrated labor to become a textile center as long as textile production required the labor intensive hand spinning.  England's lack of labor was intensified by the Enclosures.

The bottom line is that looking to English history  and the spinning wheels used by subsistence spinners in the 19th century has given us a very poor model of what can be reasonably spun, and how fast it can be spun.  With a well made wheel, wool can be spun at its spin count at a commercial rate. 

Romney can be spun at at grists finer than 20,000 yards per pound (40 m/gram), Shetland can be spun at more then 30,000 ypp ( 60 m/g) and Rambouillet can be spun at grists finer than 40,000 ypp (80 m/g) with other fibers in proportion.  Production rates go down as grist increases but it is not a strict relationship, so production of high grist singles is greater and easier than expected.  

Production rates depend on the quality of fiber preparation, but less so on whether the single is woolen or worsted. Production of  5,600 ypp singles should easily exceed 600 yards for a working spinning hour of 48 minutes.  Production of grists in the range of  20,000 ypp to 30,000 ypp should easily be on the close order of 300 yards per working spinning hour of 48 minutes.

Remember I can demonstrate spinning these grists at these rates, anywhere, anytime including in front of a judge and jury at a libel trial. 

However the most important aspect of DRS is that it allows spinning consistently.   I have spun 10 consecutive hanks (560 yd each) of 10s the weighed within 5% of the desired 45 grams. They then formed 2 consecutive hanks (500 yards) of 5-ply knitting yarn that weighed within 5% of the desired 227 grams/ 8 oz.  DRS is the only way I know to do that in 2 consecutive days. This was the kind of consistent hand spinning made possible by DRS.  And, it was such consistent spinning across hundred of spinners that made the large scale industrialization of spinning possible. 

One can make many "story boards" from a DRS wheel.  Then every wood turner can use his story board to make wheels that produce the same grist as the first wheel.  Every (competent)  spinner that uses one of those wheels, can produce that same grist with ease.  DRS was an enabling technology for textile industrialization.

We can look at the spinning wheel drawings in The Big Book of Handspinning and see that there very different designs.  Each textile center had its own set of storyboards that allowed local wheel makers to make wheels that facilitated the spinners in the region to all spin similar yarns as required by the weavers to weave the specialty textiles of the region.  The astute reader will realize that DRS was the standardization tool that allowed  thousands of spinners to spin for hundreds of weavers to produce dozens of ship loads of fabrics typical of the region.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Spinning stools

I broke a pitman rod connector, so the wheel is in the shop. I fabricated a new connector and want to test it.  The stool at hand was a step stool with a top step at 24".  I sort of half sat, half leaned against it as I treadled. 

The position allowed me to deliver a good deal more power to the wheel - more speed.  A lot more speed.  Will the wheel tolerate the extra stress?  I mean a broken pitman rod connector says the wheel is already under stress (or the plastic connector did not like the synthetic oil I have been using, or the plastic only has a life time of 7 years, or there was a defect in the plastic).

Anyway, the stool is light, compact, with just enough back, so I added a pillow to the seat, and it is my new spinning stool. 

The new connector is stainless steel aircraft cable.  A temp fix is in place, and with 2 more trips to the hardware store, (any project that requires just one trip to the hardware store is too small to matter). . .. .
Now the thing will insert twist at over 5,000 rpm. That is a mile stone.

It also tells us that our concept of spinning stools is not very ergonomic, an is likely derived from what was available to the crofter doing subsistence spinning after 1800 rather than from the professional spinners prior to 1780.  My guess is that the spinning stools of the earlier professional spinners were more like what we would call a weaving bench.

"That Stuff Is Nasty!"

See:  "Here Come the Judge!"  below.
These days I go back to the bins of stuff that I set aside for felting, but did not use, and I am spinning it, because it turns out that it can be easily spun into fine threads  --   if one knows what one is doing  --  and today, I know more than I knew then.  And, I have better tools.  On the other hand,  without DRS no amount of modern fiber preparation tricks will make spinning wool super fine easy.  DRS is differential rotation speed per Alden Amos's, Big Book of Handspinning.  If you want to spin wool  very fine, DRS makes it ever so much easier.

As I was first getting into spinning fine, I read Northernlace's book, and the section on fiber preparation made a strong impression on me. I put in the effort, and learned to properly prepare wool fiber.  If you are spinning high grist singles and not using DRS, then fiber preparation is critical. 

However, if you are spinning with DRS at grists above 5,000 ypp (11 m/gm), then most of the veggy matter will just drop out, and if you are spinning at grists higher than 20,000 ypp (45 meters/gram), then essentially all of the VM will drop out at the point of drafting.  With DRS, fiber prep is less critical. These days, when I have fiber with some residual VM in it, I simply spin it fine enough that the last of the VM drops out or I can flick it out with my thumb nail.  Spinning very fine is the fast and essay way to get rid of VM.

These days,  I worry less about the carding and combing.  When my finest singles were 5.600 ypp, I was sure that I needed finer combs and a drum carder with a finer cloth. I even bought flea combs and cotton cards.  Now, I know that my standard 5-pitch English combs will produce top that spins well at 45,000 ypp (90 m/gr).  The top from Peter Teal's preparation is better than is needed to spin worsted at the wool's spin count (e.g. 90 m/g for fine wools), just use a smaller diz. If you have DRS, you do not need to go all the way to Northernlace's procedures to produce perfect Shetland lace singles.  If you do the Peter Teal wool prep  thing, and you have DRS, then you can very quickly spin miles and miles of fine worsted singles (e.g., 30,000 ypp, 66 m/gm) very well suited to high ply sock yarns.  

Now, I know that my standard Clemes and Clemes drum carder will produce fiber that can be easily spun at any grist. 

Watch Henry Clemes make rolags, from his drum carders or blending boards and then you can use the same technique with chop sticks or DPN, and you will have rolags for perfect, super-fine woolen singles.  (26 tpi produces a very soft, lofty woolen yarn from Rambouillet or similar.

I drum card Rambouillet (or similar) into rather thin batts, and diz off through a diz with an 1/8" hole to make roving that spins into semi-worsted at 45,000 ypp or  90 m/g.  Still at 26 tpi, this is a much firmer yarn than the woolen. 

Or, the batts from the drum carder can be loaded into standard English 5-pitch combs, combed, and dized off through the same 1/8" diz, to make top that can be spun full worsted at 26 tpi to make a strong, firm dense thread with 20 staples in the cross section and a grist of ~45,000 ypp (90 meters/gram).  Today, I use the same combs I bought from the Woolery years ago when I was first spinning worsted. 5 rows of tines on 10 mm centers is fine enough to comb fine wool so that it can be spun at its spin count (e.g., singles with 20 staples in the cross section).

Long ago, hand spinners were spinning at their wool's spin count. They did have DRS, but they did not have most of our other modern fiber preparation technologies.  DRS allowed them to produce fine, high-quality yarns, with a lower level of  fiber preparation technologies.

Northernlace works mostly with Shetland fleece, which is low lanolin and easy to prepare.  It is so low lanolin that some are tempted to just spin in the grease.  However, even tiny amounts of grease in a fleece will hold significant amounts of grit.  Grit makes uniform spinning impossible!!  Grit  reduces the durability of the yarn.  Fiber for spinning does need to be clean!  Not, "Almost Clean", but really clean.

And, I encourage folk to use Alden Amos' formula for spinning oil.  the only thing is that I find much of the imported olive oil is adulterated with soybean oil that gets sticky over time, so I use California olive oil.

The bottom line is that I take fleece that others would discard for various reasons and spin it fine, and produce a quality yarn.

Holin and I can spin the same grist and type of yarn,  then we can tie them together, pull on the ends and see whose single breaks!  All my warp yarn gets run through a tension box to make sure the yarn is competent.  It is better than having the yarn fail on the loom.  Having run 30 miles of warp through the tension box, I have confidence in my warp.  In making knitting yarns, every inch of  my  plies goes through a tension box and is tested for competence.   I have confidence in the competence of  all my yarn.  (Except the stuff that is spun with the intention of cutting it in to short little pieces to check its grist.)

Mostly this blog has been about trials and prototypes as I searched for a better way. It has been about learning things nobody wanted to teach.  Mostly, I did not post about the products resulting from proficiency in what I had learned.  Rather, I kept posting about the ongoing learning. Now,  you can see that I did actually develop some skill in the craft of spinning.  Look at the skills of who is talking.  Can they spin fine and fast, or do they make excuses for failing to develop the skills?  Musicians learn scales and learn notes that they do not need to preform every day.  Spinners should do the same.  Even if a spinner does not need to spin singles at 90 m/g every day, they should know how to do it.  Then, once you know how to do it, it is ridiculously easy. It is like riding a bicycle - it is not something you forget.  Ask Holin to sit in the light of day and show you how she spins 90 meter/gram singles.  Ask Holin if she has the basic skill of spinning wool at its spin count.

One final note on clean: First fleece that I scoured were Shetland and American Jacob.  These are low grease breeds, and I suggest using one of the modern high tech wool washes for them.  It is cost effective. However, as I have moved into finer, higher grease fleece, I have moved to scouring them with very cheap hand soap granules with borax.  I dissolve the soap in water.  I rinse/soak the fleece in several changes of cold water.  Then, I add a carefully add a measured amount of the soap/borax  solution depending on the grease in the wool, and SLOWLY heat to 135F.  I drain and rinse. A small amount of lanolin will be left in the fleece. Then, I use some  modern high tech wool wash.  It is better and safer than trying to get the wool really clean with just soap and heat as was done in the old days.

PS  At this point, "Holin" is a my name for all of the high status spinners that have been very rude to me, and have never apologized.  I know high status spinners that are among the politest and most diplomatic people in the world. I know high status spinners that have been rude to me and have expressed appropriate apologies. I know high status spinners that are never rude, but always tell the honest truth.  Holin is my name for the class of spinners that are rude, ignorant, and dishonest.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Resting On The Patio Between Tests

A few grams of 90 meter/gram weft, spun, washed, blocked, and waiting for its next competency test.

If you do not like it, then you should post a link to an image of your hand spun 90 meter/gram weft, that you do like.  I will take the hint, and do better.


For the last couple of years, I have not spun "skeins", rather I have spun "hanks" of 560 yards.

Both woolen and worsted were measured out into hanks. (I have a little mark on the inside of the spinning bobbin, and when I get to it, I know that I have ~55 grams / 700 yards of  5,600 ypp yarn on the spinning bobbin and I can wind off 560 yards.

However, woolen is more properly packaged as "cuts" of 1,800 yards, and 60 grams was about a much a load as I trusted on the spinning bobbins.  Recently, I could spin cuts of 22,400 ypp singles in one piece, but I was not really thinking about it.  However, the new whorl opens up a fantasy land where anything is possible and imagination runs rampant. In particular, it puts a new perspective on spinning 22,400 ypp singles of all kinds.

Now that I have better flyer whorls for "fines", I can start thinking about spinning continuous cuts of  woolen single on the #1 flyer.  Now that I have thought about it, I know that it can be done at 24,000 ypp or 34,000 ypp or 45,000 ypp.  That little spinning bobbin suddenly becomes huge.


Note the single runs over the torch.

1,800 yards of woolen single weighing 18 grams seems like a good goal for a day's spinning.  (Now that I know that I can keep the grist fairly constant.)

From here, the problem does not seem to be the spinning, but the handling of the yarn afterwards. I expect that I will need a new "skeiner" or is the term "cutter" : )

I may have to take this up, and show it to "The Judge".

Here Come The Judge!

Here is how I think the judge interview would go:

Enter Judge
Judge sees yarn.

Judge:  What is the purpose of this yarn!
Aaron:  To test the new flyer whorl for  that #1 flier.
Judge: Why is it all in little 1 foot pieces?
Aaron; I had to cut it to count staples to check consistency of grist.
Judge:  What is the grist?
Aaron:  Just under 45,000 ypp.
Judge:   Ok, OK, pretty fine.  What fiber did use?
Aaron - Points to waste bin full of combing waste.
Judge - Pokes through bin:  This stuff is nasty, you could not possibly spun good yarn from this stuff!
Aaron: I was not spinning "good yarn",  I was spinning fine yarn that I intended to cut into little pieces to check the consistency of the grist.  Its destiny was always to be cut into little pieces.
Judge:  Just so! OK, it is the finest yarn I have ever seen.  We will take a clue from the Oscars and give you a special prize for finest "shorts".

Friday, September 25, 2015

An apology

I owe Holin an apology.  I should not have tried to push her away, she seems to be really helping my readership numbers. 

Heck, I think we might even be able to sell tickets to our little "Yarn Competence Contest"?

35 minutes

I issued a challenge to Holin, that we meet up, spin 100 yards of warp from 1 gram of wool fiber in a states time of 35 minutes, and we then test each warp for strength.

Some wonder about the 35 minutes. 

Everyone knows that I feel that competent spinners should be able to spin at the spin count at a commercial rate, which for 80s is about 200 yards /per hour.  So why do I want the extra time??

Well everyone knows I have been sick, and I am just a fat old man with palsy - I deserve a few extra minutes.  It is fair, I will give her the extra minutes also.

Fines on the Internet

There are two established groups of fine spinners on the internet.  One of them spins lace, the other spin for Longest Thread competitions. DRS  spinners such as myself, are the new third group.

Among the lace makers, there are two primary tribes, one does Shetland lace and the other does Orenburg lace.

Northernlace has been making and teaching Shetland style lace making for a very long time.  She uses small Shetland style spinning wheels, very careful fiber preparation, and a variety of tricks to facilitate fine spinning.  If you want to spin fine on a Scotch Tension wheel, get her book!

All in all, you are not likely to find a lace spinner, spinning on wheel that spins much finer than Northernlace, and her finest yarns have grist on the close order of 30,000 ypp.  They are beautiful. As 2-ply they have grist of about 13,000 ypp.

Northrenlace sold a good number of her books, and has taught classes around the world, so there are a good number of spinners out there that in theory can spin 30,000 ypp singles.  Regardless of what some say, I do not see much of such yarn on the internet.  The little tricks end up being tedious, and not using the little tricks ends up spoiling a bobbin of singles.

The Orenburg spinners use a very fine goat fiber (very high spin count), which they spin on a supported spindle, and then ply with silk to produce a very soft lustrous yarn.  The Orenburg singles mostly have grists in the range of 20,000 ypp range, and the final yarn has a grist on the order of 15,000 ypp. The yarn is as thin as it needs to be, and is still durable enough. If the yarn is spun much finer, then the owner of the shawl needs a lady's maid to carefully place and remove the shawl before and after wearing.  The folks who make these shawls say that is not true, the shawls are always very strong and durable. Yes, at the lower grists as they are spun today, they are always very strong and durable.  In Tsarist times, some Orenburg shawls were worn by women with lady's maids, and they can still be found in collections.  They were spun much finer than the modern shawls.  How fine?  I do not know.  They looked very fine to me and I had recently been working on an entry to the 2013 Bothwell, and so I had been spinning singles in the 60 to 70 thousand ypp range and plying them into 30,000 ypp 2-ply.   That vault under the street in Bruges held the two best examples of spinning that I have ever seen. 

Truth is that the supported Russian spindles of the Orenburg spinners provide  similar productivity (yards per hour) as the ST wheels of the Shetland lace spinners.  However, the wheels allow production of both worsted and woolen, while the Russian spindles are a poor choice for spinning worsted.  On the other hand the spindles are cheaper and more portable.

I expect that circa 1700, Shetland spinners were using DRS controlled wheels to improve their productivity.  Likewise, I expect that when there was a large hand spinning industry supporting many wheel makers, the elite professional spinners around Orenburg also used DRS controlled wheels. 

The Longest Thread spinners tend to be competitive, and are are not inclined to divulge their production setups.  Many of the descriptions of their work process are non-sense. The only thing I have heard (that I believe) is that some of the Lendrum spinners use small fishing weights to control the tension on the brake band.  This does work very well, but it does not solve all the problems addressed by Northernlace.

At this time I do not see many spinners that can sit down and spin wool at its spin count.  I do not see many spinners that can spin "fines" - 60 or more hanks of 560 yards per pound.  At this time, the only images on the internet of hand spun 45,000 ypp singles that I am aware of  are on this blog.  I have wasted a lot of time on the internet looking for such images. I say "waste" because I have found more errors and misdirection than good information.  I know what different the high grist yarns look like when laid across a dime.  And, I know how closely it must be photographed to show the difference between a 22,400 ypp and a 34,000 ypp single.  Then, there is much less difference between a 34,000 ypp single and a 45,000 ypp single.  Unless you work with these grists every day, it is not something one can estimate by eye.  And, the central torch on the back of a dime is 16 times !! too large to use as an accurate reference for high grist yarns.

At these grists, know the fiber, clip the yarn, fray the end, count the staples with a linen tester, and do the math.   That will give accurate grist. Or, have your favorite machinist make you up a set of wpi gauges, and do the math.  Wpi gauges (packed to refusal) tend to be more reliable than just measuring the thickness of the yarn with a micrometer.

If spinners like Holin are able to keep grist as a nebulous myth, then whatever they spin is just as fine as whatever we spin and there can be no meritocracy in spinning.  Then, the most status will always accrue to the most senior spinner.  And, as the high status, senior spinner, then whatever lie she tells us must be true!  No, I come out of a meritocracy, where status was acquired by identifying the mistakes of others.  I like a meritocracy where status is acquired by doing things better, faster, cheaper.

In learning to spin, I tried everything that spinning teachers told us, and I made a lot of crap-yarn.  On the other hand, every batch of crap-yarn that I made had some significant virtue.  However, I learned to put all the virtues together, and now I make better yarn.  I would not have learned to make better yarn without taking the risks that resulted in the crap-yarn.  Holin never took the risks that resulted in crap-yarn, so she never learned to make better yarn.  

Holin, in particular has NEVER given this site good numerical information about grist, so I see no reason to grant credibility to her last comment until we have done due diligence on all of her references and citations.  Until completion of due diligence, her last little rant is merely more myth from the internet.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Romney and medium wools

Below is an image of fine thread spun from Romney wool spun with only 5 to 7 staples/wool fibers in cross section. Its twist is about 25 tpi, and it not too over spun, so its grist is also in the 40+ thousand ypp range. 

However yarns with so few staples in the cross section are not durable enough to have ever been of commercial interest. Nevertheless, it shows that fine threads can be spun from rather coarse wools.  Thus, spinning at the spin count is trivial. 

Below is Romney spin at  17 tpi to produce a single with just under 20 staples in the cross section
and which has a grist of close to the fleece's spin count of ~40 hanks per pound (22,400 ypp).  Such singles from long wool  and particularly the finer Suffolk were the traditional basis for hosiery yarns.  Every spinner knew how to spin such yarns because they were in demand by weavers.  Spinning 40s from Suffolk is faster and easier than spinning them from a 40 count wool.

Plied up into a 2,200 ypp knitting yarn, it is smooth, flexible, and durable- a very nice sock sock yarn.

It was not a very good Romney fleece, but it was right for the miles and miles of 5,600 ypp worsted singles (10s)  that I spun from it.  10s are very easy to spin from 40 count fleece.  Coarse wool does very well in wet weather, and it is very durable.  Objects spun and knit from this rather coarse fleece are the objects that endured.

 Above is similar twist/grist spun from flock run 57 count medium wool similar to Suffolk.  It is softer,  less durable, but warmer.   Spun at its spin count, the single would be about  32,000 ypp. or about 16% thinner than the yarn pictured above.

Below we see the 57 count wool spun at near its spin count.

This was about the grist and twist of traditional Shetland lace singles ( pre-1780!).  The fine Shetland wools were spun at their spin count for weaving and some of the singles were then plied up into 3-ply for lace yarn that was just under 10,000 yd/lb, but was strong, durable, elastic, and lustrous.   There was a demand for lace which decorated and protected the fabric of many garments at the neck and cuffs. These singles were also plied up into hosiery yarns to become the hose of kings and queens. 

Alden Amos used a bobbin lead wheel to spin 58 count wool at 19,000 ypp (pg 215).  Using the DRS also in that book, I can easily and quickly spin Targhee fleece at any grist for which I can find my flyer whorl. 

(On the other hand, when I started this series of posts, I put my coarse whorl somewhere very safe, and now I cannot find it.  The fine whorl is on the wheel now.  There is a couple of kilo of fine white wool on the drying rack. At some 90 m/gram, that would be --- a good year's spinning!  Think about it, even spinning fast,  8,000 meters of finished sock yarn would be a year's production. ) 

Sitting at a DRS wheel changes one's view of history.  The best spinners had them, because DRS is the most productive wheel.  The most money could be made by spinning as fine as possible - therefor the best professional spinners had their wheels set to spin the best available wool at its spin count.  Once the wheel was set, changing it was an effort.  Then, the tendency is to spin everything at the same twist/grist.  If you want to make a knitting yarn, it is easier to spin the singles at whatever grist you sell to the weavers  (and your wheel is set to spin), and then ply it up to make a knitting yarn.

This is not bad, because knitting yarns with a large number of plies are very nice.  We do not do it today, because most have forgotten the over wheliming speed of DRS. We think that we do not have the time to spin all those plies.  No, we do not have the skill to use DRS, and spin fast.

On the  other hand, a spinner working with coarse wool will have their wheels set to spin lower grist yarns.  The coarse cloth made from lower grist singles was less expensive, more durable,  and made up the vast majority of the produced cloth, and hence most of the produced yarn.  Spinning coarse yarns was most of the income for most spinners.  And subsistence spinners produced coarse yarns for the Victorians to see.

 If you know what you are doing,  the time to spin and ply traditional hosiery knitting yarns is about the same as the time as to knit the objects. Time to spin/ply 5-ply sweater yarns is about half the time to knit the object.  I am an equal opportunity crafter.  If I am going to put the time into knitting, I am going the use the right yarn.  Sometimes that is mill spun.

The bottom line is that modern fleece are graded by laser, which gives a precise measure of the spin count.  Linen testers do not lie.  If you know the spin count of the fleece, and the single is a bundle of 20 fibers, then you have a very good estimate of the grist of the single.

Pix of Rambouilett at Spin Count

Here is one of my old rusted iron squares with 6 wraps of Rambouilett at Spin count:

 Note the slub on the left-most wrap to help you find the thread.  Otherwise, it just looks like little scratches on the ruler.  Contrast on this ruler is better than on my newer stainless steel rulers.  On my screen, it shows at 5.5 times actual size.

Another ruler with scales marked in 1/16" on top and mm on the bottom. On my screen it is about 5 times actual size.

Here is a greater close up of the untwisted end of the thread, so fibers can be counted:

Those are ~ 18 to 20 micron fibers, and you can see that there are only about 20 of them in the thread.  On my screen it shows at about 10x actual size.

I can spin this grist as worsted at ~130 yards per hour and  a third slower for woolen and semi-worsted.

If Holin wants to complain, then she should post a photo of how this grist should be spun!  And, I want to see all those folk who say that one can accurately measure wpi with a ruler send me a photo of them getting correct wpi of yarns spun at spin count.