Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Nor-Easter Juno has reminded New England that as global warming warms the bottom of the atmosphere, it also cools the top of the atmosphere - setting up conditions for a good snow storm every so often.

While Juno pounded New England, another bigger storm pounded the North Pacific. Juno was not unique, or the last of her kind.

Global warming and even ubiquitous centrally heated structures and transportation does not mean that we no longer need very warm clothing.

The last time that I HAD to be outside working in blizzard conditions, the warmest yarns that I knew about were from MacAusland  ( ). A gansey knit from MacAusland yarn kept me warm, dry, and safe while working for extended periods of time in nasty, nasty conditions.

However, I now know that hand spun hi-ply yarns can produce fabrics that are just as warm, but that have less weight and less bulk. Now, I know that hand spun hi-ply yarns can be just as durable, but more comfortable. Yes, garments knit from hand spun, hi-ply yarns can be better.

Hand spun hi-ply yarns are likely to require 2 or 3 times more spinning effort than the yarns commonly spun by modern spinners. All in all, many of my 5-ply finished yarns contain 50 or more twists per inch. More twist gives the yarn warmth and strength.  When I started spinning, spinning teachers told such yarns had never been hand spun. And, they told me that such yarns could not be hand spun.  That was incorrect.  Sometimes spinning teachers are just plain wrong. And, even when a teacher is correct, sometimes one must stand on their shoulders to see and understand more.

On the other hand, if I was not going to spend the effort or did not have the time to hand spin hi-ply yarns, I would use MacAusland. One can knit very warm, very durable fabrics from MacAusland, at a very reasonable price.  This is not a yarn for knitting objects that you intend to wear to a ladies's tea party.  This is a yarn for objects that must endure the worst weather. I keep bins of it on hand.

The warmest mill spun yarn that I have ever used was the old Lion's Brand Fisherman's Wool.  This is no longer available, as production was moved to China and the style of the yarn changed. The old LBFW, I hated to knit (splitty). but loved the fabric.  The new yarn, I love to knit, but hate the fabric.

Modern "gansey" yarns have too much ply-twist, which reduces the "fill" of the yarn so there are gaps between the individual yarns in the knit fabric. The gaps are large enough that air can carry heat through them.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Make it work, then make it pretty

"Make it work, then make it pretty", is always how I work.

When something works, I get excited, and I take pix. Then improving anesthetics is a longer evolution that has no single point that inspires taking pix.  You saw the first few hanks to come off the new geometry, but not not later hanks. Some of those early hanks became knitting yarn that is very warm and durable - which is the intent.

I would rather knit with ugly yarn that is warm and durable than knit with pretty yarn that cold and fragile.  Warmth and durability are testable qualities.  Pretty is subjective.  In my world, Warmth and durability defines "pretty".

Anybody that wants to argue about this should have spun, knit, and tested miles and miles of 5-ply, 6-ply, 8-ply and 10-ply yarns.  Some of you brag about your fancy wheels, that should make spinning such yarns fast and easy.  If you have not prepared and tested such yarns, then you are not qualified to talk about the properties of these yarns or the relative merits of 2-ply and 3-ply to these yarns.  If you have not prepared and tested a full range such high-ply yarns, then you are talking from a position of ignorance.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Warmth, again and again

If you want real warmth in clothing, it needs to block air flow like a fine bed sheet.

With knit wool that means lots of twist in the yarn, and yarns knit tightly together.

Lots of twist means very fine plies. For most things, I like singles of ~5,600 ypp.

Then I do not ply yarn very tightly, so that as yarn is knit, the yarn deforms and "fills" all gaps.

The commercial yarn that this concept is built on is the old Lions Brand Fisherman's Wool.  This yarn is no longer made. Production was moved to China, and the new  Lions Brand Fisherman's Wool is different.  The new Fisherman's Wool is much more pleasant to knit, but the resulting fabric is not as warm or durable.

To block air flow through the yarn, the wool fibers must be between 20 and 40 microns apart.  Closer and they tend to conduct heat. Farther apart and air flows between the fibers carrying heat.  Keeping fibers that close together takes a lot of twist.

For wet weather, I like long wool, spun worsted at 5,600 ypp.  Twist is about 9 tpi. These singles get loosely plied up into a sport weight (1,000 ypp) yarn.

Once you get below freezing, things can get really cold.  There, I like fine wool, spun woolen at 5,600 ypp and 12 tpi. These get plied up into 5-ply at 1,000 ypp or Aran weight at 500 ypp for Arctic  (or Antarctic) conditions.

Ok, these yarns are a bit of extra work, but they are warm, and nothing is worse that being really cold.

The the yarn needs to be knit so tightly with fine needles, so there are no gaps in the fabric.

If you knit with 2 or 3-ply yarns there will not be enough twist to hold the individual wool fibers close together and the wind will blow right through the yarn.

If you use a 5-ply with enough ply twist to hold the yarn round, then there will be gaps between the yarn and the wind will blow through the fabric carrying heat away from the body.

Hand spun, hand knit fabrics can be so warm that they feel like magic.  Most do not make the cut.

Power 2

When I started spinning, one teacher loved drop spindles that would spin for a long time.  My first drop spindles were designed in this school of thought.  And, I would still say that a CD on a dowel is a good drop spindle for teaching spinning to kids.

However, rotation is twist, and spinning is about converting rotation in the spindle into twist in the yarn. If the rotation stays in the spindle, then twist is not going into the yarn.  A drop spindle that spins for a long time is making yarn slowly.

I like a spindle that makes yarn quickly.  That is, I like a spindle that spins fast, and quickly transfers its rotational energy to the yarn. Such a spindle is faster than almost any modern wheel.

I like  small diameter, dense whorls, and/or whorls that can be taken off to let the copp act as the whorl.

And for woolen, where you can thigh rolls with one hand as you draft long draw with the other, and then wind on with  reverse thigh rolls. a spindle can be wicked fast.  A spindle with a 2.25 mm thick shaft powered by a thigh roll against a heavy leather apron, with a little rosin can spin woolen yarn at very close to the speed offered by Alden Amos for an active spinner with a common great wheel (without a miner head). However, this is a lot of not very ergonomic work.

Better is a Charkha.  Most folk these days do not use a Charkha for wool because the low grist wool singles that most spin does not need or want as much twist as a Charkha will supply. If you need to put a lot of twist in a fine woolen yarn, a Charkha is a very reasonable option.  And they are not in fashion now, so they are reasonably priced.

On the other hand, while a Charkha is fast, making a lot of fine yarn takes a lot of twist which is energy that must come from one arm.  I think that a double treadle wheel is better because it allows both legs to deliver energy.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Somebody said they wanted a wheel that was fast and easy to treadle.

However, on a high ratio wheel that will insert twist at thousands of rpm, each stroke of the treadle must deliver as much energy as 3 or 4 strokes of a lower ratio wheel.  Thus, the force behind each stroke of the treadle must 3 or 4 times greater than the force required for a wheel inserting only a 1,000 rpm of twist.

If your wheel produces 200 yards per hour of a yarn, and  my wheel puts out 600 yards per hour of the same yarn, then I have to treadle 3 times as hard as you, to twist 3 times as much yarn in the same time.  It can be done, it is like bicycling at a good pace up a gentile incline - just that one does not get to coast down back down the hill.  All that energy of the "climb" is captured as twist in yarn, rather than as potential energy on a hill.

Folks sit down at my wheel and say, "Oh, my god, that is hard to treadle!" Yes, it is ~3-times as hard to treadle because it is making yarn 3-times as fast.

There are good lunches, and there are fast lunches, but there is no such thing as a free lunch. Twist is energy, and it must come from somewhere. There is no such thing as "free energy".

The closest thing is :

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Spinning Demo

I will be at Carson Demers presentation on Wed night.  see

I will have new gear for the show and tell, that I have not  demonstrated in public.  It is not new, it is right out of Alden's Big Blue Book, but it is not stuff you are likely to often see. And, you are not likely to see others spinning that fast.  

Make it work, then make it pretty. This gear is still at the "Ugly, but works stage".

I find having thousands of yards of good yarn is better than having a few yards of very pretty yarn and thousands of yards of imaginary yarn that you would spin if you had the time, tools, and skill. I find that real, good yarn is more useful than imaginary perfect yarn. 

Except that having real, good  yarn at hand when you need it, makes it perfect.

Friday, January 23, 2015

RPM update

The new geometry is faster, and it took me months to learn to use it.  Net drive ratio is on the order of just over 58. so with my normal treadle cadence of 90, I should get just over 5200 rpm of spin insertion. I have not even come close.

Drive band(s) slip was on the order of 20%, meaning actual twist insertion was only about 4,200 rpm.

However, 4200 was as fast as I could spin for months.  Now, I am more comfortable with that kind of speed.

Thus, last night, some more tension on the drive bands, (using a pair of 8 oz weights with a spring between them), and this morning twist insertion is up around 4,800 rpm.

For 9 tpi worsted, that is ~14 yards per minute, which is faster than I can pull fiber off the distaff, so I am working on a new distaff design and geometry.

On the other hand it will do 17 tpi shirting singles at ~ 8 yards per minute, which is a nice pace.

When I first sat down at the Traddy some years ago, it felt like a race car that wanted to go faster. Now, it feels like a race car that is running near its design speed. It is like an old Ferrari,  tuned by the factory race team, running time trials at Sebring.  It is going almost as fast as it can go.

Spinning oil
(applied frequently)

Commercial cap  and later ring spinning frames ran at about 5,000 rpm.  My best guess is that 5,000 rpm is about the maximum speed for flyer/bobbin spinning to run on a routine and sustained basis.

Do I  think Scotch tension systems can run this fast - not likely.  Single drive, bobbin lead (Irish Tension) is mechanically more like the  cap spinning devices.  On the other hand there were hundreds and hundreds of patents for bearings and geometries before the commercial cap spinners were able to run that fast,  and then the technology was only used for a few years, before better spinning devices came along.  I think an Irish tension is a hard way to get to 5,000 rpm.  That said, I do use Irish Tension for plying with jumbo bobbins, and it runs at - 3,000 rpm using a ratio of 33:1.  Irish Tension at 3,000 rpm is easy.

A note on ergonomics.  If you do not have to spin as long to get a project done, then there is less  total stress on the body.  And, DRS hugely reduces the stress of spinning - particularly on the drafting hand, drafting hand wrist, and drafting hand forearm. I could not spin as much as I do, if my drafting hand had to resist the ongoing tension of Scotch tension.

My lazy kate has a tension box so there is essentially no stress on my hands while plying.  I just sit there and treadle, pausing every so often to move the flyer heck, and place new bobbins of singles on the lazy kate. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Contract

What would I expect to see in a contract for spinning services? A checklist might include:

  1. A plain text description of the situation where Weaver seeks spinning services from Spinner and Spinner  agrees within  the limits of the contract.
  2. Place of contract formation/  jurisdiction for laws under which the contract will be interpreted.
  3. The nature of the relationship between Weaver and Spinner, whether employee or contractor, and the responsibility for reporting income.
  4. Statement as to whether contract is for one task, or an ongoing task order agreement is intended.
  5. Scope of the task(s)
  6. fiber for yarn: material, source, preparation
  7. grist of yarn to be produced
  8. twist of  yarn
  9. fiber rachet
  10. style of yarn (woolen, worsted, other, other other)
  11. Spinning process, and spinning tools to be used/ place where work will be performed/ appropriate permits to be obtained and maintained
  12. Spinning technique to be used, and designated spinner if appropriate.
  13. Use of subcontractors.
  14. Verification of performance, eg lab measurement of yarn, and tests to be used.
  15. Disposition of off-specification materials including liquidated damages for fiber owned by Weaver and damaged by spinner.
  16. Additional fiber prep services such as washing, combing, carding, dying, oiling included, or excluded
  17. All hazardous materials used by Spinner remain property of spinner. Good faith RCRA waste minimization  and pollution prevention efforts by all parties.
  18. OSHA compliance and good faith use of ergonomic practices by all parties. 
  19. Yarn finishing operations services such as blocking, washing, dying included, or excluded
  20. Yarn  packaging and shipping services included, or excluded
  21. Procurement and shipping of fiber, responsibility for scope and payment to 3d parties
  22. How all services are priced, eg by man hour, unit of production, flat price, cost plus and etc.
  23. Detailed schedule of production 
  24. Detailed schedule of  payment
  25. Performance bonds and insurance by Spinner including liquidated damages where Weaver misses contractual deadline due to delay by Spinner.
  26. Payment bonds and letters of credit by Weaver
  27. How disagreements will be resolved (arbitration, court action)
  28. Authority of both signatories to sign contract
  29. Signature block 


The purpose of this blog over the last couple of years is to show people a way to spin faster and easier.  I do not say that that they have to spin fast, I merely blaze a trail to faster spinning.  Nobody has to follow me.

In her last comment, Ruth B seems to be trying to "con" me into sending her a big package of  fine fiber that she can do with as she pleases. The contract she proposes has big gaps in it, all in her favor. Now, cons are funny when Newman and Redford act them out in The Sting, but in real life. they are criminal.

 In spinning, grist and twist count.  Ruth B does not seem to be able to measure and understand grist and twist. She seems to have just enough knowledge of spinning to make her pedantic - like a sophomore.   She needs to get off her high horse, and learn spinning as a craft, or huddle with her Victorian Lady friends who are impressed by her dogmatic tone.