Friday, August 22, 2014

The end of another chapter in this blog

Using only bushing bearings of bronze-steel, wood-steel, and leather-steel available in 1500, a spinning wheel using DRS can run at 4,000 rpm on a sustained basis. This is based on multiple 6 and 8 hour trials.

In contrast, contestants using spinning wheels at SOAR spinning contests operated their spinning wheels at ~ 500 rpm for 15 minute race periods.

It is clear that a motivated spinner that understands the craft can spin 8 times faster than the average wheel spinner in a SOAR spinning contest. In the 2009 contest, the spindle spinners spun 2.4 times faster than the wheel spinners. However, a motivated spinner that understands the craft and has an appropriate wheel can spin 3.3 times faster than the spindle spinners can spin for 15 minutes, then the wheel spinner can continue spinning at that same rate for another 7.75 hours, so this is not at all a fair comparison.

Working with a wheel running at 4,000 rpm, a spinner circa 1500 could spin about a million yards per year of worsted single with a grist of 10,000 yards per pound.  That would be about 2 pounds => 40 hanks per week.  Many spinners would require between 44 and 48 hours of to spin 40 hanks, so it would be a long, hard week.  Twenty -two hanks of 40s or or 48 hanks of 10s would be a similar amount of labor.

With that, I am moving on to ball bearings, and other marvels of the 20th century.  With ball bearings the wheel is quieter at 4,500 rpm than it was with bronze bushings at 3,500 rpm.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

More on spin count

The distaff is dressed with 60 count flock-run long wool, and the task at hand is 40s (150 wpi) for weaving warp. I need a good bit of the warp, and I am working on it diligently.

However, spinning 60s from 60 count wool is so easy and so relaxing that I do find myself accumulating bobbins of 60s - and this is only with flock run fiber -  and not well graded fiber. After "working" on the 40s for a while, I flip the drive band over to the 20 tpi whorl and spin 60s for fun.  I may just change my mind, and just spin the warp from 40 count wool.  I had intended to spin the weft as 22,400 woolen singles from 80 count Rambouillet.  Samples of woolen singles of from 40 count fibers are not that soft, but they are faster and easier to spin.    Frankly, at this point, I find worsted singles in these grists easier to handle than woolen, and singles management is becoming a big deal.  

This rather upsets things as I have a lot of fine (80 count) wool ordered for this project- all based on the conventional wisdom that it would be easier to spin 22,000 ypp singles from finer wool. As I get into this, what I find is that it is easier to spin 22,000 ypp/150 wpi from 40 count wool (34 micron)  than from 80 count (20 micron) wool - - if you have the correct equipment.  And this goes for both worsted and woolen singles.

Let me say this over and over.  If you have a single drive wheel, then yes, it is easier to spin 40s/22,000ypp/150 wpi from finer fiber.  If you are working on a DRS controlled spinning wheel then is is easier to spin 40s from 40 count wool, and 80s from 80 count fiber.  And, a DRS wheel will let you spin 40s about 5 to 8 times faster than a single drive wheel.  NOT twice as fast, but more like 5 times faster -- or even more.  This is spinning.  Why do not the "experienced" spinners / teachers talk about it?  Because it takes some math and skill in setting up the wheel.  I think spinning 8 or 9 times faster is worth a little math.

The bobbin core on the AA#0 flier is 0.95", the bobbin whorl is 45.00 mm in diameter, and the flyer whorls for 40s, 60s and 80s are 45.9, 45.72, and 45.63 mm respectively..   These must be calculated, and not guessed. And then, a bit of dirt on whorl can spoil everything.  These combinations insert approximately 18, 20, and 23 twists per inch to produce 22,000, 30,000 and 45,000 ypp singles. That flier runs at over 4,000 rpm. The bobbin whorl on the AA#1 flier is 50.00 mm, and its flyer whorls produce 10s, 20s, and 40s. That flier runs at over 2,500 rpm.

I need a quarter million yards of 22,000 ypp (40s) singles.  I need easy!!  I need fast. Last winter, before the improvements on the wheel, I thought the path to fast and easy was finer wool.  Now, I know better. If I am going to write a check for $1,500 for the fiber for one project, I want to make sure I am buying the correct fiber.

The extra speed of from the new accelerator and the additional precision from the larger ~(50) mm DRS seem to facilitate the spinning.  Over all DRS as a technology resolves most of the difficulties enumerated by other authors discussing the spinning of fine singles. I am going to revisit this real soon.

However, watching the fine thread slipping through the fingers at 3 or 4 yards per minute does tire the eyes and ultimately bring on vertigo.  This can be avoided by spinning by feel.

I can watch DVDs while spinning.  The only thing is that I must limit wood working to retain sensitivity in the finger tips to allow spinning with minimal looking. However, with limited woodworking, I can spin even 80s (200 wpi) mostly by feel.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


I do not care if you are buying Italian designer suits or underwear at Target, the bulk of nice textiles are produced from thin yarns.  If you want to claim to be a spinner, you need to be able to produce thin yarns. And, if you want to be able to claim to be a spinner, you need to be able to produce a useful quantity of those yarns.

When I came to spinning 6 years ago the offered tools were various spindles, single drive wheels, and double drive wheels.  However, the whorl profile on the (commercially produced) DD  whorls had been corrupted, so that the DD wheels were actually single drive wheels in disguise.

There was a residual mythology about DD wheels being "better".  This was supported by the DD wheels with the corrupted whorl profiles being a few percent faster than single drive spinning wheels.  I was spinning 5-ply sport weight gansey yarn and the DD system was better.  Soon I was spinning those "lace weight" / 75 wpi singles at 150 yards per hour.

However, spinning finer was still difficult, and I went back to a Scotch Tension "Lace Flyer" to learn to spin 80s / 45,000 ypp / 200 wpi. Spinning those fine singles was slow and difficult.  Everything about it was hard.  Fiber preparation had to be perfect. Great care was required to prevent the single from burying itself. Mostly, it was slow - less than 100 yards per hour.

For the last couple of years, I have used double drive with differential rotation speed (DRS) exclusively.  DRS is the source of the myth that DD wheels are better. They are faster and allow spinning finer.

Now using DRS, I routinely spin the singles for gansey yarn at more than 500 yards per hour. A 500 yard hank of 5-ply is an easy day's task.  Last night while watching Pride and Prejudice, I spun an ounce/ 1,600 yards of shirting warp (22,000 ypp) from 60 count long wool.  And, I can spin 80s / 45,000 ypp / 200 wpi using fiber with only ordinary preparation. And, I do not have to worry about the single getting buried because, it is spun under much less tension. And it is faster.  My production rate with the Scotch Tension "Lace Flyer" is still less than 100 yards per hour, and my production rate with the DRS DD is about twice that.

DRS DD wheels are better for producing useful quantities of fine singles for high quality textiles.  Why DRS DD wheels are not sold is a mystery.  Why people do not learn to use such tools is a mystery.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Overview of Spinning at the Spin Count

  1. Select the desired grist and nature of the single.
  2. Select a wool with a spin count that is the desired grist, and which has a nature that will produce the desired single.
  3. Use differential rotation speed to set the flyer/bobbin assembly to insert the correct twist for that grist.
  4. Prepare the wool as combed top, dressed onto a distaff. Combing with 5 pitch combs is how they did it for years and years, and it works.
  5. Use a high bobbin/flyer rpm -- 2000 is good, 3,000 is better. Accelerator wheels work.
  6. The hands will be a good distance apart and a good distance from the orifice.  Hand motions are very small, and limited to advancing wool into the drafting triangle and bringing stray staples to the area when the single is forming.
  7. Yarn is wound off as when the effective circumference of the bobbin (and hence the inserted twist) changes. If you are spinning 60s, you can likely get 500 yards (8 grams) on a 3.5" bobbin before the twist changes more than 10%, and that is close enough for hand spinning.
The key to the whole process is that one needs to use DRS to insert the correct amount of twist for the takeup. Then, one needs to use a fiber with a spin count appropriate to the grist being inserted.   These two factors must work together.

Modern spinners find spinning these grists (20,000 ypp - 45,000 ypp, 140 to 200 wpi) difficult. This is because they either use spinning wheels with too much take-up or spindles which are slow. Then, modern spinners try to make the spinning easier by using the finest possible fibers.  In fact, the use of finer fibers changes the dynamics of the twisting process, and increases the requirements for drafting.  This is not noticed because these systems already require significant drafting effort.  In contrast, I set up my system to require minimal drafting effort.

I can spin 22,400 ypp single from Romney faster and easier than I can from Merino, and much, much easier than I can from that mix of silk, alpaca, and Merino that I was spinning over the weekend. All those fine fibers disrupt the system's ability to self-assemble the single. 

There is 60 count long wool on the distaff right now and I have been spinning it into 22,400 ypp singles. Spinning it at 30,000 ypp/60 count is just a matter of changing the flyer whorl, and Bingo, I am spinning at the spin count and everything is copesthetic.  The 22,400 ypp requires some drafting, The single at the wool's spin count just sort of self assembles with less attention. This is about small increments of faster and easier.

Get it all correct, and one can spin worsted grists of 20,000 ypp - 45,000 ypp at 350 to 200 yards per hour.  And the uniformity will be unbelievable in the context of modern hand spun.  A rather small investment in learning the physics of spinning brings huge rewards in easier spinning.  This has been my refrain for several years now.  The book that gets the physics of spinning correct is Alden Amos's, Big Book of Hand Spinning. Read it.  I know of two famous spinners that recommend it and still make mistakes about the content.  Learn it.  cf  Alden's analysis of spinning garment weight singles on the great wheel.  Flyer/bobbin systems are much easier, and much faster.

One can make much faster spindles that work very well for this technology, but I do not see many of them around.  

I have seen the larger spinning community deny that this is possible, and I see waves of anger.  No adult should ever get angry over a bobbin of lace  yarn.  A bobbin of lace is nothing, it a few grams of fiber and a couple hours of spinning. However, if you have a quarter of a million yards of 22,000 ypp singles, then you can weave a bolt of shirting. In the middle ages,  hundreds of bolts of shirting were being traded around Europe. That means that hand spinners were spinning tens of millions of yards of 22,000 ypp singles every year.  It was an industry that made families rich, and cities powerful.  And, that was in addition to what was being spun for other weaving.   That kind of money and power is something to get excited about.



Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Collorary

The corollary to the Great Propositions is that I like to spin a single from a single grade of wool.

Not some blend of a whole fleece; not not some flock run blend, but a single grade grade selected by the trained and skilled eyes and fingers of a wool sorter.  Such batches of wool are rare these days.

Great yarns are spun from silk, alpaca, cashmere,and angora, but I am only thinking about wool today.

From a spinning view point, I do not see any reason what-so-ever for deliberate blends of different breeds of sheep. I see these blends as salesmanship to spinners that do not know any better. A fiber mix, may give the final fabric additional virtue, but they do not improve spinning.  By and large, uniform fibers with good fiber preparation improves spinning.

Similarly, I do not see any reason to add silk, alpaca, cashmere, or angora.  They may improve the final fabric, but they do not aid spinning.

I do not think that any type of  wool is harder or easier than any other wool to spin.  Each type, and perhaps each fiber preparation does require different techniques, and the use of the wrong technique(s) may make it appear that a particular wool is impossible to spin.  However, with the fiber prep and correct technique, it will spin easily.  In particular, fiber from commercial processes may have to be washed and carded/combed despite its being "combed top". What ever kind of wool it is, it needs to be grit free prior to spinning. One cannot spin a fine, consistent single from gritty fiber.

The orientation (butt/tip) of the fibers does make a difference to the hand spinner, but I like a random orientation in my finished yarns, and that is how I process my fiber. I think having the scales oppose each other results in a more stable yarn.

The above, with plenty of twist from a fast wheel with DRS controlled takeup gets us to the point where spinning wool at its spin count is reasonable.

Spinning wool singles of 45,000 ypp (100 yards per gram/ 200 wpi) is not mythical or magical.  It is just a set of spinning skills that were common in 1700, but are not common today.

The Great Proposition

I assert that spinning worsted singles can be divided into drafting and inserting twist.  I assert that the wool most naturally and easily assembles into bundles of about 20 fibers. A single of 20 staples is the spin count of the wool.  At 20 staples a 70 count will spin to 70 hanks per pound and a 40 count wool will spin to 40 hanks per pound.

Thus, if you need 30,000 ypp singles,  I think it is easier to spin them from 54 count wool than from a 70 count wool such as Merino.  I think that it is easier to spin 22,400 ypp singles from 40 count wool than from 50 or 70 count wools such as Suffolk or Merino.

Using either the right spin count wool or the finer wool, the required twist is the same. The only thing different is the drafting effort.  And, I think that a smooth, uniform single is more easily drafted when the spin count of the wool matches the spin count of the desired single.

This goes directly against the current conventional wisdom.  However, mostly that wisdom is recited by folks without much experience in spinning various wools at their spin count.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Only in California

Wind, gusting to 40 knots, on the starboard beam.  Triple reefed, and the lee rail awash. And, in shirt sleeves.  Only in California.

On the other hand it was a reminder that I must get the new gansey finished before it turns cold.  I have a couple of pounds of hand-spun 5-ply yarn in the project bin and another couple pounds of worsted long wool of singles ready to ply.  I guess the question was whether I wanted to add a ply or two of woolen Rambouillet to the yarn for extra softness.  I have pounds of the Rambouillet singles, it is just a matter of plying. Time to quit pondering and knit like a demon.

I was spinning, and spinning, as I worked out details of better spinning gear.

I have an new accelerator:

 Oh, Yeah!

There were several issues to solve, so it took many tries to make it work. (And, a few extra singles were spun along the way as gear was tested, fixed, and retested.  And, there were some skills to learn, resulting in more singles.)   They are not all great singles, but there is no such thing as a bad lace weight single.  They will do just fine as sport weight 5-ply singles.

However, now the AA #0 flier runs at well over 4,000 rpm on a continuous and sustained basis. The bobbin core is .95" the bobbin whorl is 48 mm, and the flier whorls are set for 9, 12, and 18 tpi. This pretty close to the twist required for 10s (75 wpi) , 20s (100 wpi), and 40s (150 wpi). The only ball bearing is the one at the orifice.  Most of the bearings are graphite impregnated Delrin, from Henry Clemes.  It is very nice stuff.  Production of 10s from 60 count combed top seems to be about 650 yd/hr.

This morning I did the calcs, and early next week will make up new flier whorl(s) for 60s and 80s (200 wpi).  In theory, I should be able to spin 60s and 80s at better than 200 yards per hour - enough to be useful.  However, it would be more of a demo thing than a matter that I want to make fabric that fine - and all of my guild as already seen me spin fines.  Still, I do believe that a competent spinner should always be ready to spin fine wool at spin count,  so maybe I need whorls for 50s  (hosiery singles from Suffolk)  and 70s (from that cheap, flock-run, Merino).  However, my big projects are loom tissue from 10s and  40s.  40s were the traditional weight of shirting, and bolt of shirting requires a quarter million yards of single.  That is real spinning!

I love the big "50 mm" whorls because they give me much more precision with the differential rotation speed.  In addition to the 10s, there are hanks and bobbins of 20s and 40s around.

In the past, I did not finish whorls. Now, I finish them with Danish oil because I get a more uniform layer of  belt dressing adhering to the whorl.  Belt dressing tends to form clumps and lumps on whorls without the oil finish. 

The sweaters are being knit  from sport weight 5-ply with a soft ply twist on 14" hollow SS 1.65 mm needles with a Shetland knitting belt. These needles tend to collapse when used with a wooden knitting sheath. It is a good, fast, inexpensive system.  It works.

I got left at home to make dinner so:
 New flyer whorl for 50s, 60s, and 70s.  It really is amazing, I hook it up to some moderate grade Merino and let it rip, and there are 20 to 24 fibers in resulting thread.  That is the yarn that combination of takeup and twist insertion favors.  The spin count of the Merino likely in the 75-77 range so 22 fibers would give me a grist of just under 40,000 ypp, and the whorl works.  There are still some geometry issues (drive bands coming off), but right now I do not know a faster and easier way to spin 38,000 ypp singles. I have to dig around and find 60 and 50 count fiber to test the other grooves.  (Actually, I know where they are, but I have to get the sawdust out of my hair and bake a cake.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


We should have a real spinner's "Rodeo" or Exhibition

Yesterday the wheel went into the shop, for some touchups and tuning.

This morning, it spins lace weight singles at 600 yards per hour -- not bad for an old man that has not run a marathon since 1980.  And, even at that rate, it is fairly low effort. It is low enough effort that I can keep it up all day without a problem.  I think I could keep the pace up all week. 600 x 40 hr/ wk = 24,000 yd/week => ~1.2 million yd/year.

Do I think the old time spinners worked that fast?  Hard to tell.  As is, the flyer/bobbin assembly has one ball bearing in it.    I do not think that one ball bearing makes that much difference, still ball bearings are an 18th century technology.

I think that even in 1500, professional spinners kept their wheels tuned up.