Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why 5,600 ypp?

The old knitting yarns were constructed of many fine plies.  Lace was 2 or 3-ply. Sport weight was 5-ply.  Worsted weight was 6-ply.  Aran weight was 10-ply.

Why?  Why not just go 2 or 3-ply as in the modern mill spun?

Because at about 5,600 ypp, vegetable matter (VM) drops out.

Latter, mills learned to take out VM with acid.  Then they did not need to drop out the VM, and went to 2-ply for everything, because acid treatment and 2-ply was cheaper than spinning fine plies.

If you are spinning acid treated fiber, you can spin any grist at 2-ply because you do not have to deal with VM.  The 2-ply will not be as elastic, but that is a different issue.  (Do you like the texture of mill prepared fiber?  Some do, some do not!!)

However, if you are prepping your own fiber, then spinning fine singles is a part of the easy way to deal with VM -- if you can spin fine and fast.

And, there is the rub.  This approach is only useful if you can spin fine and fast.

The bottom line here is that I come to this as a knitter seeking better yarn at a reasonable price. By and large, I think the mill treated fibers are not as good as the less treated fibers that I prepare myself, so I buy fleece and scour it myself.  I card it myself, and if necessary, I comb it myself.

From prepared fiber to high quality yarn, the easy path is to spin a lot of fine singles and then ply up the grist yarn that I need.  And, I like these yarn better than 2 or 3-ply yarns.

I spin what I like.



Good ideas and better ideas

Good ideas tend to crowd out better ideas.  If one has a good solution to a problem, then better solutions to the problem tend to be rejected.

One cannot consider the better solution to the problem until the faults in the good idea have been realized.

Thus, conventional wisdom wins over and over.

5-ply revisited

I came to spinning as a knitter seeking better "gansey" yarn.  Everyone said that gansey yarn was worsted spun, so I spun worsted.  I liked the yarn better than mill spun. Thus, I started spinning 5-ply worsted.

I spun a lot of worsted 5-ply, then I started spinning worsted warp for spinning, and the 5-ply knitting yarn became a by-product of what I was spinning for the loom.

Then, I started spinning woolen weft of about the same grist.  There was a basket of it by the lazy kate.  Plying up a ball of woolen 5-ply was easier than going up stairs to get some worsted.  I liked the 5-ply woolen.

As I spin more woolen weft, it becomes a source for singles to be plied into knitting yarns.  After all, I have a big basket of weft singles sitting there, so when I want some knitting yarn, I just ply some up.

I like knitting yarns plied up from lace weight (6,000 ypp) woolen singles.  They are more elastic that any mill spun.  They are more elastic that any 2-ply.  They are more elastic than my 5-ply gansey yarns.  I like elastic knitting yarns.

They are durable.  More durable than any mill spun or any 2-ply.  They are almost as durable as my 5-ply gansey yarns.

They are warm.  Perhaps too warm for modern centrally heated environments.

The yarn is less splitty and more elastic than 5-ply worsted, so it knits faster. And, I tend to knit it on bigger needles than I use for worsted. I am still using blunt needles for all woolen knitting.

The yarn is much rounder than 2 or even 3-ply, so it shows stitch patterns almost as well as 5-ply worsted, Since the fiber is not combed, I can add something to give a halo and hide the stitch pattern.

Carding and fine spinning drops out the veggy matter. If one spins 1,800 ypp woolen singles, most of the VM stays in the single, thus, getting the VM out become a large effort in fiber prep.  Spinning fine, drops the VM. Dropping VM remains a worth while reason to spin fine.

Combing for worsted spinning rejects much fiber.  Spinning woolen conserves fiber.

Woolen is easy to spin from short fibers.  Some days I get tired of spinning Merino worsted.

It is soft.  I can spin it from fine wool and it is always skin soft.

Why did I not do this before?  I had the idea that the right way to make 5-ply was to spin worsted.  Nobody was making 5-ply/sport weight woolen yarns. I was a captive of the conventional wisdom.

Net time to spin 5-ply woolen yarn is about 100 yards/ hour for me. A sweater is ~2,000 yd, so it takes me about 20 hours to spin the yarn for a sweater.  Having DRS lets me afford better yarns.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

A heavy heart

Some say that one cannot spin very high quality fine yarns when one has " a heavy heart".

Rubbish!!

If one is trained so that one believes that cannot spin very high quality fine yarns when one has  a heavy heart, then a heavy heart becomes an excuse not to spin well.  Having an excuse not to spin well,  allows one not to spin well.

If one is trained that one should be able to spin very high quality fine yarns any where, any time, no exceptions, no excuses, then one tends to be able to spin very high quality fine yarns any where, any time.

If you want to train people to spin well and consistently, then you do not give them any excuse for spinning poorly. One encourages spinners to spin well under all conditions. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

the evolution of a yarn

I started spinning because I wanted better gansey yarn.  Worsted spun 5-ply sport weight was my very first goal and my first spinning project.  I cannot tell a lie, handspun gansey yarn is better than mill spun.

However, more recently I have been spinning woolen weft, so I have those singles around and -- they get plied up into various knitting yarns, including 5-ply.

The woolen spun 5-ply is softer, but not as smooth as the gansey yarn.  It is stronger and much more elastic than 2-ply (woolen or semi-worsted) sport weight.  The additional elasticity gives fabrics/objects a wonderful drape.

Is it worth the additional effort?  The objects are nicer.  Are we doing this for fast objects?  Or, for nicer objects? And, I have the singles around.  Lazy Kate is beside the wheel, and can make me a ball of  knitting yarn faster than I can bike into town and back.

(Perhaps this is just a reaction to doing 10-ply cable yarns.  They had virtues, but were less elastic, and took a lot of attention to knit to fit.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Luster in fine wool

A couple of years ago, our guild had THE expert on wool come in for a lesson on how to buy a fleece.

At one point she said that the "fine wools" were never "lustrous".

I asked a couple of questions on this point, to make sure I had heard her correctly and had properly understood her  She is the expert, so I accepted the point, and have restated it here.  I took some flack on the point from "Anonymous".

However, the Rambouillet fleece that Anna Harvey just sent me is fine and lustrous.  The trusty twisty stick says the fiber is fine - mid 80s count - call it 18 or 19 microns, and it is lustrous.  It gleams. It sparkles. There is no oil on it, no resins, no dyes, it is just clean, white lustrous wool.  If I did not know better, I would say it was synthetic, or had been treated.

However, the fleece came to me, just as it came off the sheep, and I washed 3 samples from 3 different fleece with things like Ivory soap or Kirkland dishwashing detergent that do not leave oil residues or optical brighteners as in laundry detergents.  The expert was wrong.  When fine wool is coated to protect it from the sun, it can be very lustrous.

All of a sudden, I have no interest in spinning anything but Rambouillet.  I like the sparkle!


Anyway, for once "Anonymous" was correct.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Better accelerator bearings

Spinning has been a series of sacrifices to the gods of speed.

I settled into double drive and differential rotation speed (DRS) controlled flyer/bobbin assemblies in the pursuit of speed.  I went to smaller fliers from Alden Amos in pursuit of speed. I went to an accelerator in the pursuit of speed.  By the time I had spun my first fine warp (5 lb of lace weight worsted singles) I expect that my wheel was one of the very fastest in the world. Production of 5,600 ypp worsted at sustained rates of more than 8 yards per minute with peak production rates of more than 10 yd/min is easy.

Nevertheless, I spent a good part of today making better bearings for the accelerator from graphite/Delrin provided by Henry Clemes.  The result is another 800 rpm in the flyer/bobbin assemblies.  And the wheel runs quieter, with less vibration.

This raises the production rate of higher twist yarns. Every time, I thought that my wheel was going as fast as possible, I have found rather straightforward ways to it make go faster. I cannot believe that I am the only one.  Between the invention of DRS by silk throwers in Italy during the 12th century and the advent of  powered spinning frames circa 1780, millions people had a strong financial incentive to improve the spinning wheel in various ways.  It was a very large, very competitive industry, with huge incentives for very small increases in spinner productivity.  The competitive nature of the industry ensured that useful improvements were kept very secret, until they were obsolete. Thus, textiles were generally unique to a locality, because other localities did not know the details of how those fabrics were produced.

The way to determine what tools and technologies were used, is to become expert in textile production technology and reverse engineer the technology from found textile samples.  Proof is in my spinning wheel.  No historian viewing history through the prism of modern commercially produced and sold hand spinning wheels could conceive that a 16 th century hand spinner could have a production rate of  8 yards per hour. And, yet this afternoon as I tested the the new bearings, anything less is silly.  It shakes and rattles, but it spins faster than any wheel you have ever seen or heard. I have no doubt that wheel makers in Flanders were making faster wheels by the end of the 15th century. There is nothing in my wheel that they could not do with the tools and materials that they had.  Yes, the materials they had might have resulted in a bit more lard-oil splatter, but in a commercial spinning factory, that does not matter. Any historian who says that 16th century professional spinners that did not spin that fast, simply does not not know the craft of spinning.

As Ed Deming told us over and over, "You get what you measure.  If you do not measure it, you do not get it".  Professional spinners measured production - it was called income.  Modern spinners do not measure it, and do not get it. Modern historians do not have a clue about the productivity of traditional hand spinners. Since spinning  was the base of textiles, and textiles was major item of trade and a base of the economy,  modern historians do not have a clue about the economy of the period.

And it solves that great question: Why 5-ply? A) Because they had DRS wheels set for 10s, and 5 plies of 10s knit into a fabric that was warm enough to keep a sailor from going hypothermic.

Now that I am spinning a lot of warp, hand spun 5-ply has become my go to yarn.  I always have pounds of 10s around and plying up some 5-ply is just natural.  It is a way of using up left overs.  It is a stash buster.


Tuesday, October 07, 2014

More on Diz your roving

You can use a length of dowel to wind the roving/pull the fiber off the drum carder through the diz.  Now the roving is wound around a nice dowel, rather than being juggled above the carder cylinder.

I use my distaff, as my dowel.  thus, the fiber from the diz is wound directly onto my distaff and is ready for spinning. It then unwinds nicely, except for the bottom layer - that gets slid off the distaff and treated like a rolag.

 Sometimes I put 1 tpi Z twist into the roving to stabilize it.   This takes care of the bottom layer issue.  Once you get accustomed t the motion, it is fast and easy.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Using a diz to strip roving off the drum carder

Folks are using a diz to take a strip of batt off the drum carder as continuous roving.

It is fast and easy, and it works very well -- to get carded roving.  However, carded roving going to spin up as semi-worsted or semi-woolen.  I like both  semi-worsted and semi-woolen yarns for many things, but not for everything.

This approach is great for most knitting yarns that do not need great durability or warmth.  I would say it is very well suited for 95% of the spinning that I see.  And it is how I intend to prepare the fiber for a sweater for my wife.

I have made my own diz for a long time.  They were not the best for this technique.  Clemes & Clemes worked out diz that work for this technique -  they make better ones.  Get one, or get a set for spinning different grists.