Saturday, April 21, 2018

Gansey Needles Revisited

I went to 18”, pointy gansey needles because that was the conventional wisdom on what was used to  knit fine ganseys, and I wanted very fine ganseys. It took me a long time to learn to make them really useful. Folks sold “gansey kits” of yarn and needles, but the long pointy needles are not useful without a knitting sheath that can be fastened over the right buttock.  The physics are strongly against hand held “gansey” needles.  And, long steel pointy needles have issues - I had to get bigger knitting bags to hold 18” knitting needles.  I had to make point guards to keep them from sliding right through the fabric of my knitting bags. And, pointy needles cause more wear on knitting sheaths.  On the other hand, the spring action of these needles driven in a vertical motion by the weight of my right hand, was the very fastest and easiest way I knew how to knit.

However, for the last few years, I have been making better knitting sheaths that can attach to a strong belt below the right elbow.  These sheaths can comfortably take the stress of flexing the 3/32” spring steel that I like for knitting cold weather gear.

Now that I am using blunt needles, less needle motion is required, and I can get the required motion from 12” needles.  The motion is still driven by the weight of my hand, so it is a very fast, low effort way of knitting.  I use 6+1 needles for a gansey to fit my ample girth, so the weight of a set of needles remains the same, but they fit in a much smaller bag, and because they are blunt, I do not have to worry about them going through the bag.  Overall, 18” needles are faster because there are fewer needle changes.  With long needles, if you have some space to spread out without poking someone with your needles, you can use vertical or horizontal motions that change the working muscle, without changing the fabric (with practice).  And, 18” US3 needles is the only way I know how to do good tight weatherproof Aran (10-ply/500 ypp) fabrics.
(If you are doing brioche stitch or lots of bobbles, stick with pointy needles and a not too splitty yarn.)

These days, I often use finer sock needles, so I can get almost the same motion from 9” needles, but the needles are soft enough to flex sideways (or vertically) with just the effort from the base of my thumb, opening up additional styles of knitting small objects. Since, I now use the same needle adapters for straight needles and swaving pricks, in a small knitting bag, I have the tools for a good variety of knitting styles that quickly produce good uniform knitting, for when I need to get a knit object finished quickly without over working one set of muscles/joints. If you are going to knit seriously, you need different knitting techniques that use different muscles, but which produce identical fabric. The shorter needles also allow knitting in the car or plane or boat.  Long gansy needles (even blunt needles) are not well suited to knitting on public transportation.

One can make a good pair of fine, warm socks in a couple of days. If you can get someone else to drive, you can get much of the work done on the ride up to camp.  And yes, I still think the motion of the longer needles is smoother. But swaving works very well even on rather rough roads.

In the old days, I often knit while walking and hiking – I saw the old pictures of people knitting as they walked and thought it was “cool”. After I discovered knitting sheaths and knitting belts, I found that knitting sheaths were not very good while walking, and I decided that hand-held needles could not produce the quality of knitting that I could make with knitting sheaths/knitting belts.  Thus, I gave up on knitting-while-walking. If I am going to knit, I sit or stand in one place. Knitting with a knitting sheath while standing does work fairly well.  In Jane Austin’s time (and before), women often had knitting sheaths in the form of jewelry stitched to the gowns they wore to social assemblies, so they could knit lace while they stood together and talked. The first time I went to the V&A, such knitting sheaths were only labeled as “jewelry”.  It is worth noting that Jane Austin did not knit.

Thursday, April 19, 2018


Swaving was the last knitting technique that I learned.
One way or another, knitting is a process of using levers to move loops of yarn though other loops of yarn. There are 3 classes of levers. see for example .
I do not distinguish between the various forms of hand held needles.  Hand held DPN, circular needles, and SPN, all have the same physics, (e.g., they act as class 1 levers), and are thereby all the same to me.  Straight DPN used with a knitting belt are class 3 levers. That is very different.  Different techniques using straight needles and knitting sheaths may be class 3 levers or springs and may  have very different physics. In contrast, swaving uses curved needles (Long known as “pricks”) that are rotated in the knitting sheath, and the rotation moves the tip of the needle into the working stitch and slides the new stitch off of the left needle while the motion of the right/shuttle hand, moves the new stitch up the right needle. Still levers, but the axis of rotation, is the fulcrum, and the load is at the tip of the needle.  The process is elegantly fast and simple.  My adding effort to the pricks with the side of my hand, results in compound leverage. I cannot be sure if the "Terrible Knitters" used such compound leverage.

Swaving the foot of the second sock

Mostly the swaving process is driven by both hands and the fabric being moved forward and back, so the fabric pulls the working needle, rotating it and causing the tip of the needle to pop into the next stitch as the fabric is under tension.  (When I need more leverage for tight fabrics, and am using pricks with a small curvature, I give the prick additional “effort” with the side of my right hand.)  The length of the forward and back motion is determined by the curve of the working needle which determines the radius of curvature of the motion. The curve of the prick is chosen depending on the grist of the yarn and the desired knitting gauge. One prick at the V&A has a 90 degree bend and the motion of the tip has a radius of curvature of ~10 cm. I use a ~30 degree bend in my pricks, giving a radius of motion on the close order of 2 cm. With my added effort, the back and forth motion is a fraction of an inch.
I have many old sock needles (short DPN) that I curved to fit my hand better.  These do work with my goose wing knitting sheaths, as class 3 levers, but are not suited for swaving. Long iron or bronze gansey needles will develop a “’J” curve when they are being used for their spring action. Just because someone is using curved needles with a knitting sheath, does not mean they are swaving.  Swaving is about rotating the prick in the knitting sheath.
Swaving is best where one is knitting the same kind stitch repeatedly, i. e., plain knit fabric or garter stitch. It took me a long time to learn to do increases and decreases. I still resort to subterfuge to pickup stitches.  I believe that small changes in technique allow swaving to produce knit fabric with “Eastern”, “Western”, or “Mixed” mounts, but have not studied this.  I am sure that blunt needles tend to enforce a particular stitch mount – it is harder to produce twisted stitches with blunt needles.
That said, swaving is best way I know to make small finely knit items. I often knit the legs of my socks with straight needles (and a knitting sheath), and switch to swaving to quickly knit the the foot. Swaving is without equal for knitting fine gloves.  Certainly, knitting belts are justly famous for the fine Shetland lace, jumpers, and Fair Isle objects produced on them. And, you would not want to try and swave a table cloth or jumper. (Long “pricks” tend to bind, and not rotate properly.) Nor would you want to knit a fine ladies glove from fine (finer than 3,000 ypp ) thread using a knitting belt. (I have never had good luck using needles finer than ~1.5 mm with a knitting belt.) However, swaving makes very fine fabrics on small objects very feasible. Traditional spinners did spin wool into 3-ply yarn at 10,000 ypp .    Shetland wool can be easily hand spun into 2-ply yarn at 15,000 ypp, to say nothing of Merino, camel, guanaco, and silk. My father’s mother loved her fine camel gloves.
I was already swaving with blunt pricks when I was spinning fine, but my knitting in those days was still with “pointy” needles. I have not used straight, “blunt” needles to knit any yarns finer than 5,600 ypp. On the other hand, a review of the old 0.5 mm needles that I was using for fine knitting suggests that they are not really all that “pointy”.  If I were making them today, I would call them “blunt”.  Proficiency in swaving has very much informed my  knitting with straight needles.
Learning to swave was hard. I read what I could find, and I made field trips to places that had collections of traditional knitting tools. However, it is worth noting that museum curators tend not to understand knitting sheath technology. Note the Rutt did not bother to learn to use a knitting sheath.
Making tools for swaving started as extreme trial and error because there was so much diversity in the literature and artifacts in collections such as the V&A.  Once, I had worked out the physics of swaving, it was possible to reverse engineer mechanics that could work for the kinds of fabrics that I wanted.
Same have asked how I know it is “swaving”.  The gross physical motion is right, the tools are right, and the speed is right, and the product is right.  I am going to take it as right, until someone shows me a better way, or I work out a better way myself. I do not claim anything in this blog was or is correct, only that it was or is the best information that I had, or have . There are mistakes, but they are not intentional lies.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Introduction to gansey needles.

I had heard that for real gansey knitting one needed real gansey needles.  (Pointy steel needles 18” long.) I made myself gansey needles, and found them no help. I could not control the needles, and the result was holes in my wife’s leather couch. Gansey needles without a knitting sheath are no help at all.  (Slightly shorter pointy needles used with knitting belt, are a powerful tool kit.)

My first experience with a knitting sheath was when I took my coping saw and made a crude wood replica of a “Yorkshire goose wing” knitting sheath that I saw on the Internet. For needles, I used cheap aluminum DPN.  

I had been knitting Continental style, so I had to learn to throw.  Still I was very soon, very impressed with how much knitting power the knitting sheath gave me.  It sat on my hip, and pivoted giving me more leverage on the needle allowing me to knit faster and tighter.
I made dozens of different kinds of knitting sheaths and experimented with them. Each wanted it's own kind of needles and excelled at a particular kind of knitting.

The magic came when I made a knitting sheath that fastened on to my belt over my right buttock. Then I could stick the working needle in the sheath and arch the needle forward,  under my  right arm, resting my right forearm and wrist on it.  The weight of my arm pushes the needle down into the stich, my hand moves forward a fraction of an inch, I loop yarn over the needle tip, and my hand moves back and up allowing the needle to spring up out of the stitch, and pulling the new stitch onto the working needle. Note that  this motion is the result of flex and spring action in the needle, and thus, both the physics of the motion and the skill of the stitch formation is different from that used with the goose wing sheath and sock needles.  Knitting sheaths support a variety of distinctly different techniques.

I like the spring action of 18” long, AGW 10 (2.4 mm, 3/32” dia.) needles made from music wire (spring steel) for knitting yarns in the range of 1,000 ypp. When I saw patterns for other yarns or other needles, I often adapted the pattern for the needles I liked. This is an ongoing process, as I have come to love finer needles and yarns, I moved to adapting patterns to the gauge that I like. The finer needles are not as stiff, and likely  require a different technique. Over all, knitting sheaths support about a dozen distinct knitting techniques. Nevertheless, if one must knit a good seaman’s sweater as fast as possible, the right tool kit for the job is a good knitting sheath and a set of spring steel gansey  needles.

I used pointy gansey needles for years, and they were the fastest way I knew to knit  very warm objects for cold weather wear. These days, I use flat ended gansey needles.  Many of them are only 17” long, because they lost length when I ground the tapered points flat. Still they are faster than the pointy gansey needles. They are the fastest way I know how to knit warm gear for cold weather activities. I also have very  stiff US#3 needles for 

Knitting with the flat ended and pointy gansey needles are different motions and different skills. The pointy needle is inserted into the working stitch, and the motion is much larger than the motion for flat ended needles. The flat end of the working needle rests against the left needle, and is “popped” into the working stitch, where it is trapped by the leg of the stitch.  Thus, the motions of working needle are very vigorous and do not have to be as precise or as large as the movements for pointy needles.  Vigorous, but very small motions, which do not have to be very precise, can be very fast.

Summary of knitting sheath technique as I understand it today

 Time to upgrade socks

The right socks for the coming storm.

Blunt 9" US1 needles using commercial worsted weight yarn.

Anything that can be made, can be made better!  Anything that can be done, can be done better!

I believe in those two principles. I also believe that everything is a compromise. Doing something better, or making something better may not be worth the resources. "Good enough" may  be good enough! Knitting is a prime example.  Knitting is a group of compromises that I have not addressed in this blog since September 2016.

If I knit a fine weatherproof fisherman's sweater from a 5-ply "gansey"  yarn that I spin from raw fleece; scouring the fleece and spinning the yarn is only perhaps 3 days work, while the knitting takes 3 or 4 times as long as making the yarn. If want my sweater faster, I should focus on faster knitting.  I did.

The paths to faster knitting are thicker yarns, looser fabric, and - knitting faster. I like fine, firmly knit fabrics. If I want a cooler garment, I will knit it (firmly) from a thinner yarn. Thus, I focus on faster knitting.

To reprise, a long time ago, I learned to knit "American", on SPN; then friends said I could knit faster if I learned to knit "continental"; and, faster still if I moved on to circular needles. I wore out several sets of circular needles. I read about how fast the old professional knitters knit, and moved on to knitting belts and knitting sheaths. These were faster than circular needles, and allowed making fabrics that cannot be knit on hand-held needles - and specifically cannot be knit on circular needles.

Knitting belts remain as part of older knitting traditions that have survived to the present day, and we have a good understanding of the technology.  We know that knitting belts are best used with DPN.

Knitting sheaths did not survive as an active knitting tradition, so I had to reinvent the whole technology. At first, I thought that knitting sheaths were just an wooden (or metal or ivory or ceramic . . .) analogue of knitting belts. My early tries told me that knitting sheaths had real advantages.  They allow knitting very fast, producing very tight fabrics, and knitting with a minimum of effort in a very ergonomic manner.  These advantages were very apparent in my early, crude attempts.

Since knitting belts use DPN, I assumed that knitting sheaths also used DPN, and all of my early trials used DPN with various pointy ends.  I put a lot of effort into making pointy needles, and  making the pointy needles work with knitting sheaths was a lot more effort.  For years, the idea that knitting required pointy needles was fixed in my head.  Years after I started working with knitting sheaths, I started considering "swaving", where a curved needle is rotated into the working stitch. I thought, "Wow, this is something else!", and went into it with fewer preconceived notions.

I made curved, pointy, needles and they did not work. I made a lot of different shapes of bent pointy needles and none of them worked.  After much trial, and many errors, it became clear that blunt or even flat ended swaving needles worked very well.  Then, my knitting sheaths had to be redesigned to work with flat tipped needles.  None of this came fast. It was years of benchmarking and validating.

Swaving involves "popping" the working needle into the working stitch. Could I do the same thing with long straight needles? Yes!, but the knitting needle  needs to be blunt or flat ended. It turns out to be easier and faster than poking pointy needles into the working stitch. Are flat ended needles authentic?  Everybody that has acquired many old steel needles has come up with flat ended needles. Were they  were just old pieces of wire that had found their way into the knitting basket?  Now, I think that some (or many) of those flat ended needles survived from the days of knitting sheaths.  And, we have an account of  a professional knitter in the 1840s where in he makes a new knitting "needle" from a piece of wire in a few minutes by grinding it against a stone in the garden path.  I can tell you that it takes hours to grind a pointy DPN like that, but flat ended needles can be ground like that in a few minutes. No, it is pretty clear that those old knitting pins had flat ends.

The bottom line is that having made and used thousands of different needles and hundreds of different knitting sheaths, I have settled on knitting/swaving with blunt or flat ended needles.
Fisherman's sweater on blunt 12" US#1 needles from
handspun 4-ply (~1,000 ypp) with knitting sheath/needle adapter
(the curved needles are for swaving)

Sock on blunt 12" by 1.5mm blunt needles from
6-ply cabled worsted wool yarn (3x2) at ~ 1,700 ypp

Sock on blunt 9" US#0 needles from 
Paton's Classic Wool (204 meters/100 gr.)

"Needle" tips typical of what I have been making and using for knitting and swaving for the last few few years.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Reasonable productivity of hand spinners.

Spinning for knitting, I spun "firm" yarns.  Mostly, I spun 5,600 ypp worsted, at a rate of ~ 560 yards per hour.  Allowing just over an hour for blocking and plying, I produce an 8 oz -  500 yard hank of  5-ply,worsted spun "gansy" yarn in ~6 hours.

For weaving, I want a firmer yarn, so I am spinning  5.600 ypp worsted  singles at 12 tpi rather than at the 9 tpi I use for knitting singles, so my production rate is slower. A hank of 12 tpi worsted spun takes about 1.5 golden hours for me to spin. For weaving, my 5,600 woolen singles get ~17 tpi, and take more than 2 golden hours/hank to spin.

I steam block my singles for knitting out of handling convenience and because they ply better.  The  high twist weaving singles really need steam blocking before they can be reasonably handled.

The need for extra twist for weaving singles has occasioned my going back and practicing my  "scales" again. Production for scales runs:

Remounting the AA #0, and replace all drive bands.
Wash, dry, card, oil, and make a couple of nice rolags (2 grams each).

Spin long draw woolen, at spin count, and 24 tpi =  ~800 m/ 4.5 gram in 3 days  =  ~ 36,000 ypp  (  , Rambouillet )

Too soft for weaving.  More than a week's work just to get to "Too soft for weaving."  Weaving singles at 36,000 ypp take the twist and effort of 44,000 ypp knitting yarns.  Or, am I missing something?  Anyway there are blanks for new high twist #1 spinning bobbin/whorl assembly drying on the workbench.

And, I find that all weaving singles work better when woven in the spinning oil - it is better than J&J's "No More Tears" that many weavers use.  Not sure what I will do when I need to dye yarn between spinning and weaving.

By spinning soft yarns for knitting, I had over estimated the productivity of traditional spinners.  If they were using weaving yarns for knitting, then I have also been underestimating the durability of the handspun yarns.

the Old Dye

3,000-year-old textiles are earliest evidence of chemical dyeing in the Levant

Discovery provides insight into society and copper production in the Timna region at the time of David and Solomon, researchers say

June 28, 2017
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Archaeologists have revealed that cloth samples found in the Israeli desert present the earliest evidence of plant-based textile dyeing in the region. They are estimated to date from the 13th-10th centuries BCE, the era of David and Solomon.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Worsted vs woolen

"They" say that a difference between woolen and worsted, is that worsted is finished when it is spun,  while woolen requires additional processing. 

Wrong.  Both woolen and worsted require additional processing to produce high quality finished products. Most weaving requires higher twist than knitting, and handling high twist yarns requires blocking the yarn.  Yes, even blocked fine, high twist yarns must be handled under tension. However, fine, high twist yarns  cannot  be handed without blocking.  These days, I put more time into blocking my worsted singles, than I do into spinning them.

And, likewise all my woolen singles get steam blocked.  These are fine, high-twist singles, and blocking allows reasonable handling. For knitting, it allows reasonable plying, and it allow reasonable handling of warp. Yes, if you know what you are doing, woolen makes very good warp.  Many traditional fabrics were woven using woolen warps.

AA tells us to use spinning oil, and to wash our singles before use - but he is not talking about hand spinning SINGLES for weaving. If you are spinning fine singles for weaving, then use Alden's soap/olive oil spinning mix for the spinning.  Then, steam block!  Weave, and  the spinning mix will act as sizing. And, the soap based spinning oil, helps clean the fabric during fulling.  If knitting, wash the yarns before knitting as AA suggests.  The soap oil mix can be messy and hard on the hands when knitting.  However, the spinning oil can also be a knitting oil to allow very tight, fast knitting, and again the soap can help in the final wash/blocking of the finished object. (In which case, you will need special knitting clothes and apron.)

A school of  modern spinning would have us believe that "Old School" spinning was worsted.  And, worsted or semi-worsted spun yarns show prominently in museum fabric collections.   However, contemporary documents, such as customs house records, suggest larger volumes of woolen spun woven fabrics. Today, we do not have such fabrics. Too bad! They are VERY nice.  Warm. Lightweight. Durable. Flame Retardant. Elastic. Good Drape. Nice Hand. Certainly, fine woolen fabric required high effort, but it was worth it, even if worsted spun provided  more  more durability under conditions of abrasion.

How did they spin woolen yarn for good woolen fabric?  Oh, Yes!, The classic drop spindle with a very fine (metal) blade, seated on a stool, doing thigh rolls with one hand while the other hand does long draw. Draw and spin on the forward roll, allow to accumulate twist with the spindle supported by the draw hand, then drop the draw hand and wind-on during the back roll.  I find a fine, small spindle can be faster and more convenient for spinning "fines"  than most modern spinning wheels. I find the greater rate of twist insertion resulting from the thigh rolls makes spinning fine, high twist yarns easier than using a supported spindle. Then, there are driven spindles.

A yard of fine woven cloth requires 5 to 10 thousand yards (100 grams) of fine single.  It will take a long time to spin that much high-twist single with a supported spindle.

Coarse yarns can be spun on great wheels. However, I do not find great wheels practical for grists of more than about 20,000 ypp (40 m/gram).  While standing and walking, it is hard to keep such fine, high twist threads taught, without breaking them. I think medium and fine woolen yarns (20,000 ypp to 40,000 ypp) were produced in the early medieval period using vertical charkhas mounted on legs and  operated while sitting on a stool. The stool and shorter draws allow more precise tension control. I think, various flyer/bobbin assemblies were introduced to northern Europe, after their development in Florence in the 12th century.  Thus, by the late medieval, in industrial practice,  both woolen and worsted threads for weaving were spun on double drive, DRS controlled flyer/bobbin assemblies.  The level of craftsmanship for such DRS spinning wheels is no higher than for carriages and wine barrels. Such craftsmanship and the tools to execute was available in Europe after the 13th century.

This is not the received wisdom from the Victorians, but I do not care, as they screwed and compressed all their technology timelines to fit their creation myth.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Deconstructing commercial multi-ply yarn into singles

Alden shows how do do this with spinning wheel, yarn reel, and custom tools.

It can also be done with a spinning wheel, raddle (or tension box),  and the sectional beam on your loom.   Some of us do not have space for an extra yarn reel.  I did have that space, but now there is a loom there.  And, some extra yarn.  And, maybe a few fleece. Textiles is about making huge piles of fiber into tiny piles of fabric.  Or, vice-a-versa.

You can change your mind about how that yarn was plied.

Lou Grantham at SF Fiber in Oakland, Ca got me some new toys for the loom. They let me move forward. Texsolv heddles on the tension box work much better with hand spun wool than the original 6" aluminium heddles.  This is reasonable, as 250 years ago, they were tying heddles from waxed linen thread.  Hooper gives instructions on how to tie heddles.

Current warp is 40 epi of handspun wool singles.  That means 80 bobbins of handspun on the bobbin rack for my 2" sectional beam. I have developed a true love/hate relationship with yarn yardage counter.   The warp is 10s (5,600 ypp, 75 wpi).  It is not the fabric I dream of, but I move forward. Singles bed differently, so it is not the fabric that somebody familiar with commercial 2-ply weaving yarns would expect either. There is a box with another 80 bobbins in the workshop for warping at 80 epi, and chips and sawdust everywhere. I know I can buy bobbins, but I need to practice my wood turing to stay sharp.  It is like spinning,  I need to practice.

Current reed on the loom is 20 dpi, which also seems to work at 80 epi weaving with 40s (22,000 ypp, 45 m/g,  150 wpi).  At one time 40s were the top end of "course spinning".  Mediums were 41s to 60s. and fine spinning was 61s to ~ 90s.  By late Victorian times power spinning produced much finer singles.  From here, my goal is good cloth based on 40s at 80 epi.  I expect it to weight about 4 oz per yard. Note I use the Bradford system with hanks of 560 yd, which is different from the cotton system, where hanks are 840 yd.

Warping fine handspun wool is more interesting than easy-peasy plying 10-ply Aran knitting yarn. For anybody familiar with weaving bolts of wool cloth, making 5-ply or 10-ply knitting yarns would have been trivial.  It is a set of skills that we have mostly lost.  A yard of wool cloth woven from 40s takes about 6, 000 yards, which at 17 tpi, is more than a couple of days of spinning.

I do think loom waste would have been plied up into knitting yarns.  Yes, those weavers were very frugal with their yarn, but they were also careful not to start with a single that that had knots in it. Better to ply that little piece of single into knitting yarns than tie it onto a warp and start with a knot.   On the other hand, I have read that weavers cursed their spinners for the poor quality of their spinning, so I suspect that there were some knots in the warp by the end of the day.  LIke I said, I need to stay in practice.

Broken or cut wool singles have a disturbance in the twist, which for weaving, is worse than a disturbance in the "Force".

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Jersey, the center of the world

Some of you have thought and likely still think that I was/am  "possessed" by the idea of  Jersey and Guernsey being the home of certain knitting technologies.

Well not only that but for a while, (100, 000 years) it was something like the center of the the world or Europe at least!  : )
Coastal cave site was a must-see tourist destination for Neanderthals for over 100,000 years

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Intentional Baker-

My grandfather was a diversified farmer with a thousand acres of wheat. All summer long, he had a large farm crew, and he made sure they were well fed. Every meal had "bread" in some form on the table. My mother grew up baking yeast bread 2 or 3 times a week. She made very good bread, biscuits, and soda bread.  And, she could bake in a wood fired oven, an oil fired oven, a gas oven or an electric oven.  She never made a baguette in her life.

I was learning to bake baguettes about the time Julia Child was writing her book on French cooking with its recipe for baguettes.  In those days, my parents had a huge gas oven, and Julia's recipe worked just fine.  Since then, everybody has copied it, without really thinking about it.  As a reminder, Julia's baguette recipe involved high oven heat  (450F or 475F) and pouring boiling water (or putting ice) into a hot skillet to generate steam at the start of the bake.  This approach still echos through most of the baguette recipes that I see written by, or for "foodies".

However, these days, many pretentious foodies have moved to electric ovens.  We have.  Along the way we even tried one of those pretentious steam injection ovens. (It failed within weeks.) Now, we have a good, but simple electric oven. It  works very well.  It bakes  baguettes, "SF Sourdough", and etc. as good as any I have had in Paris, New York, Dijon, Berkeley,  or SF.

The approach is to use the fact that these ovens do not vent, and thereby trap the steam produced by the water in the bread dough.  It is necessary to bake batches that are large  enough to generate enough steam.  For our oven that means baking between 1 and 3 pounds of dough at a time.  It also means opening the oven door (or changing the oven setting) halfway through the  bake.

I bake breads at between 350F and 425F depending on the desired style and the form factor of the loaf(s).

For most hearth breads, I start by weighing ~370 grams of water and 500 grams of flour. If I want a very bland, light, crisp, baguettes, I use a high-protein professional baker's flour.  If I want a crustier bread I use a lower protein flour, such as all purpose.

If I want the bland, crisp baguettes that one finds at many high-end restaurants, I use a straight yeast process, using commercial yeast (10 gram for 500 grams flour). If I want more flavor, I use a pre-ferment process where I add a small amount of yeast (0.5 gm) to the water, then stir in about half of the flour, let the pre-ferment sit on the kitchen counter for between 4 and 6 hours. If I want more flavor I let the pre-ferment sit on the counter for a a couple of hours , then it sits in the refrigerator for 12 hours or so. When the pre-ferment is ready, I add the rest of the flour, stir to mix, let it sit for 20 minutes, knead, and proof, shape, final rise, and bake.  The straight yeast method needs a good knead, but the longer the pre-ferment, the less kneading  is necessary.  Long pre-ferments need little more than a couple of punch-downs and careful loaf shaping. In any case, I mix in 10 grams of salt at the end of the kneading.

The whole process takes no more than 15 minutes (spread over between 4 hours and 16 hours.) It is hard to get to the bakery, buy bread, and get back in only 15 minutes. Most of my bread making chores happen when I  am in the kitchen anyway.

The ratio of flour to water above is a high hydration dough, and for low protein flours, some additional flour may be required to shape the loaves, or to produce the finer crumb desired for sandwich breads.  Nevertheless, working with baker's flour, it is possible to make up 6 nice 3" wide by 15" long baguettes, and have a few grams of flour left over. High hydration doughs give more volume of bread for the weight of flour.

And, I have moved away from pizza stones and such. Mostly, I just arrange on cookie sheets and quickly slip them into the oven.

Long pre-ferments with some whole wheat and/rye flour and slightly lower hydration ratios (more flour) produce doughs that work well for "pain de campagne".  With the large loaves doing well with lower bake temperatures in the range of 350F to  375F.

The whole point is that modern high efficiency electric ovens allow producing great hearth style breads simply by taking advantage of the steam that is retained in such ovens. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sleying the big one

I had been looking for hooks for threading finer reeds and heddles.  I was not happy with the tools in the shops, and did not seen anything that seemed suitable. But, I am an old one, and thus I have old files, with old hanging file folders that are falling apart.  It turns out the steel hangers in the file folders are thinner than the brass sleying hooks, soft enough to work easily with a bench grinder and file, but hard enough to make good tools. And they are cheap; and well it is a virtue to reuse and recycle.

Yes, I have a sleyer, but it does not work for finer reeds.

I also find the hooks make tieing weaver's knots on fine threads easier.  Make a loop around the tool, use the hook to pull a bight of  the standing end through the loop.  Now you have a loose slipknot around the tool. Use the hook of the tool to pull the other thread into the loop of the slipknot, and sliding your fingers over the loose slipknot, tighten it.  The loose knot will easily convert from a loose slipknot around a thread into a weaver's knot.  It is good for lace weight and finer, and I can easily tie a sheet bend on anything thicker without a tool.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


I spun a few thousand yards of lace weight warp, some worsted, and more woolen. Every blinking bobbin that will fit on my bobbin rack is full. Thus, there is a bin of  4" bobbins in process by the lathe.

Why would I turn bobbins, when I can buy them for cheap? Because wood turning is like spinning, one must routinely practice, to stay proficient. My turning bobbins is like a musician doing their scales.

And yes, about a third of the bobbins in process are of green olive wood.  Why not? Of the 60 or so that I turned from green olive wood, very few have cracked or warped.

PVOH sizing

(More likely to be needed with
modern mill spun, than with
well spun, hand spun.)

I did loom trials with mill spun - and that convinced me to investigate sizing.  All of this put me in a dither for a long time.  For various reasons, I do not think the Greeks and Romans used sizing.  My warp singles are stronger and more durable than any of the mill spun 5,600 ypp, 2-ply wool warp that I bought for loom trials. I should have just done the loom trials with hand spun.  If you are a mill, less twist and sizing is cheaper.  For a hand spinner, a little more twist is less bother.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Some are a little deaf in their greek ears.

Hear is a an aid to Translating the greek;

Google  "classic greek sculpture discovery", select images, and study them until you can recognize the drape of  clothing in each period.

Then, take your linen tester to the mall (with branch of Needless Markup Department Stores) and do thread counts on wool and linen fabrics that have drape similar to that seen in the fabrics of various periods of Greek Sculpture.

Now, hand spin/hand weave fabrics with that thread count and which have the drape of the fabrics produced in the various periods.   (It is hard to find such nuanced yarns on the commercial market, and ordering spun yarns from a spinner gets expensive.)  However, now you know how fine those hand spun/hand woven Classic Greek fabrics were.  And by now, you will have moved from your single beam warp weighted loom to a double beam loom with (linen) heddles.

With the appropriate use of warp extensions, aprons, lease sticks w/ crosses substituting for warp sticks, and DRS spinning technology,  a fabric sample large to see its drape can be spun, warped, and woven in a few hours.

Now that you know the specifications of Classic Greek Weaving, I expect to shortly see pix of the fine wool Greek and Roman togas that you have hand/ spun and  hand/ woven.

What comes after bragging rights:

The toga originated from an Etruscan garment called the “tebenna.” The word toga comes from Latin “tegere,” which means “to cover.”
This means that the  Etruscan civilization also had fine weaving, not likely produced on single beam/ warp weighted looms.

Then, there was the Old Kingdom Egyptians weaving their very fine linen on what kind of a loom?For that we look to Roth, noting Figure 37.  It is a 2-beam horizontal loom that uses warp weights. And we note the caption of Figure 9.  We also consider that we do not know the fineness of the fabric produced on the loom illustrated in Figure 36.  Moreover, since Roth had to bring in a textile professional to produce the fabric, we know that Roth does not have a high competence on textile production.

For context on the age of old looms see:

 And look to: The Book of Looms: A History of the Handloom from Ancient Times to the Present by Broudy pg 13 for discussion of  weaving wool at 30 by 38 threads per inch, circa 6,000 years ago.   On page 26, he touches on the Greek loom, and on pg 38, he gets to the horizontal loom.

7,000 year old loom  in Bulgaria;

see also ; 
Prehistoric Textiles: The Development of Cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze ...
By E. J. W. Barber pg 271

Do you really think that as metallurgy improved, people did weaving the same way for 3,000 years?


Good Old S. McGee-Russel would have accepted my deductions from the drape of fabric on Greek sculpture to be adequate to demonstrate my point Classic Greek weaving technologies.  He expected his "critters" to go out, and measure stuff, and make deductions that could not be taken from direct observations.  He expected us to know our physics, and chemistry, and calculus.  He expected us to know the world.  He expected us to take risks, and sometimes make mistakes and errors.  If we were not taking the  risks necessary to move the science, we  could not be promoted from "bugs" to "critters".

If you expect to prove everything from step to step without leaps of insight, then you will never move your science or technology forward.  Tomorrow, I intend to make better textiles. I will hand spin Better, Faster, Cheaper.  I will hand weave Better, Faster, Cheaper.  I am not content to stagnate.  I will take risks. I will seek to leap forward. I will advance more than I fall back.

Thursday, October 06, 2016



Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Fiber from the mill

Some experimentation tells me that much of my objections to fiber prepared in commercial mills is substantially caused by the use tension with steam to straighten the fibers for commercial spinning frames

For warp singles that must be very strong, I relax mill-prepped fiber with a gentle breath of steam. I lay the commercial top or roving on a wire rack and use a garment steamer to gently steam top and bottom. Then, I spin my threads, and block the threads with steam.  The steam blocking of threads  is easy - I wind off onto a reel, steam with my garment steamer, then wind the thread onto bobbins that fit onto my bobbin rack. I find the double steaming to be faster and easier than sizing or massively increasing inserted twist.    Thus, my final threads only have a firm twist factor.

Looking again at AA, BBB, pg 240, we see that he talks about spinning 5,400 ypp at between 12 and 16 tpi on a great wheel.  Since the great wheels with the spinning technique AA discusses for GW's use, produce woolen yarn, and  12 to 16 tpi is way more twist than is needed for knitting yarns; we have to assume this is for weaving.  And in fact, woolen yarn spun at 5,400 ypp and 15 tpi, then steam blocked works very well for warp.  It is very possible to produce "woolen" cloth using woolen singles for both warp and weft.  The woolen singles "bed" to form a unique fabric. Then, when when the cloth is milled or waulked (see for example one has a very warm, durable fabric.

Some may assert that the commercial top, straight from the "bump", produces a more perfect worsted thread.  I am not ready to argue this.  However, folks were spinning true worsted threads of very high quality, long before mills were straightening fiber with steam. Then, those handspun threads were hand woven in to fine cloth.  I think commercial top relaxed with a breath of steam  is more like the traditional  fiber prep, and for hand spinning, the relaxed (crimpy) fiber produces a stronger, more elastic thread.  That is my story until someone shows me different (or, buys me another beer.)

AA suggests on pg 241, that a traditional great wheel (without an accelerator can produce 255 yards of 5.3 tpi woolen thread per hour.   On the other hand, the AA flier/ with DRS and an accelerator will easily produce 600 yards per hour at 9 tpi of either worsted or woolen singles.  In fact, one can easily spin 600 yards per hour of good 5,200 ypp woolen singles with a single drive bobbin lead  flyer/bobbin assembly (German Tension/ Irish Tension).  If you want to weave without the hassle of  spinning a worsted warp, weave woolen cloth.  If you want to spin a fine worsted warp at a reasonable pace, use differential rotation speed (DRS).

It is Spinzilla!  Spin at "warp" speed.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016


The Victorians depreciated the technical knowledge of earlier cultures, and this prejudice continues.
See for example the tone of :

When University of Cincinnati researchers uncovered the tomb of a Bronze Age warrior—left untouched for more than 3,500 years and packed with a spectacular array of precious jewelry, weapons and riches—the discovery was hailed by experts as "the find of a lifetime."

Read more at:

The find tells us that Bronze Age craftsmen producing luxury goods had access to excellent tools, and had deep skills.  We can expect  their craftsmen producing textiles to have similar access to excellent tools and skills.

Nobody wears fine jewelry with a gunny sack.  A culture that produces fine personal adornment does not neglect textiles.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Phase 3

Phase 1 was spinning for knitting.  Phase 2 was learning to spin fast and fine. Phase 3 is spinning for weaving.

The new guild season has started, and last night I had a heart to heart talk with the best weaver around, and we decided that the real problem with my weaving is that I need more twist in the warp thread.  This morning I am back to one of the old bobbins that I made for spinning very fine, along with a more precise flier whorl, all in all, resulting in easier spinning of 5,600 ypp singles at 13 or 14 tpi compared to the mere 9 tpi that I have been spinning knitting singles.  

I think the truth of the matter is that the tighter spun singles will ply up into better knitting yarns- e.g., stronger, more durable, and yes, warmer.

More work, but that is in the nature of textiles.  Sometimes better is more work.

I still have not worked out the best logistics for warping the loom at 68 epi with 2" wide sections on the warping beam ( e.g., 136 ends per section).  And, the tension box only holds 100 ends.  And, the bobbin rack only holds 72 bobbins. Still I am getting to the point where I can reasonably start thinking about these issues.

Monday, September 26, 2016


I get teased and chided on for using the traditional spinner's measures.  In  particular, measuring grist by stating the number of "hanks" of 560 yards that can be spun from a pound of yarn.

My ordinary grist is "10s". That is 5,600 ypp yarn spun worsted. Thus, I know how many pounds of wool I have, I know how much yarn I can spin. Easy.  And, when wrapped to refusal, 10s measure ~75 wpi.  A 75 wpi single can be sleyed to produce plain weave at 68 epi/68ppi, which weighs about 1 pound/ square yard.  Likewise, 20 hanks per pound produce 2 yards of cloth per pound of wool.

Thus, using hanks, I can easily calculate how much yarn I can spin from a given batch of wool, and how much cloth I can weave from that wool.  The more weaving I do, the more useful the old English system of yarn measure is.

This also tells us that the stories we were told in grade school were just that -- stories.  The yard and the inch may have been related to some king's reach and size of hand/toe/foot, but he would have lived before the very fine weavers of Classic Greece.  They had wool, yarn, and cloth trading, so they had measures that extended from Greece to what is now Turkey and Egypt, to say nothing of the silk road with textiles moving east.

Sorry, Love; but the fine fabrics of Classical Greece were not woven on single beam, warp weighted looms.  Oh, I am sure they had such looms, but I doubt if that is what they used to weave 12 meter lengths of 68 epi (and finer) wool fabrics.  No, by Classical Greek times, it was an industry, and they were using  rather sophisticated horizontal double beam looms.  And there was trade.  With trade, there were terms to define the various aspects of textiles.  You may not name your yarns, but merchants do; now and in the past. They give them names like  "45 grams / meter, white worsted single" or white "40s".

I expect that the definitions of (or other words that indicate the same quantity): hank, yard, inch, pound, wool fineness in hanks per pound, ends per inch, pricks per inch, woolen, and worsted, were all set, and known among textile traders by the end of the Greek Classical era.   In particular, the elegance of the hanks of yarn at 560 yards tied to fineness wool and the math of  wraps per inch suggests the mathamatical acumen of Syracuse in classic times.

The fact that we have variations such as the el as a measure of length, suggests that textile measures have been around long enough for dialects to develop.  For the larger, and well nourished Greeks, 36 inches was a reasonable width for a warp. During some periods in the textile centers of  Europe, there was famine, and people were smaller, so a narrower warp allowed much easier weaving.  Thus, during periods of famine, Europeans needed a name for narrower cloth, e.g., the el.

Yards, inches, pounds, and hanks were not isolated measures, but part of an intricate system of measure, essential to a large, profitable, international industry and  systems  of trade.  In systems that goes all the way from from wool fiber to yarn to finished cloth, the old English system with grist and wool fineness in hanks per pound  is the easy way to do the math  and make sure you get correctly paid.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Wool Warp that works.

Easy! More twist!  With enough twist, you are less likely to need sizing.

So, I spin worsted 10s, @ 9 tpi, and it gets plied up into various knitting yarns, and that works very well.

However, that yarn tends to be a bit fragile to use as warp without sizing.  (Perhaps someday, I will be a good enough weaver to adjust my loom so that I can weave with such a soft warp yarn, but not today.)

What works is worsted spun 10s (5,600 ypp) spun "hard" at ~ 14 tpi. Shit!! I was only putting 17 tpi into 40s (22,000 ypp) and calling them "hoisery singles".   The hard 10s come off the spinning bobbin like barbed wire, and must be promptly steam blocked.  Then, when plied as knitting yarns they are more tractable, but you may want to consider blocking them again before knitting.  As warp, they are  stronger, are stiffer, and easier to sley.

This is another case where the ANSWER was in The Big Blue Book (pg 383), but between the lines.  I swear the really good stuff in AA is between the lines.  He was a little like Dumbledore - he points one in the correct direction, and lets one discover the details on their own.

With my twist requirements going up about 50%, I need all the flyer/bobbin speed that I can get.  Thus, I am back on the  Alden Amos #0 competition flyer running at about 4,000 rpm, and am still producing less than 400 yards per hour. It seems a little mean to stuff 45 grams onto it, but with a 3-gang flyer-whorl, it  works. On the other hand, the drafting seems relaxed compared to the hustle of  the 600 yards per hour of the 9 tpt medium 10s that I have been spinning for years.

Look, and read on

Costco also sold The New Ivy Brand Vintage Classics with packaging stating that it was hand spun, hand woven.

Later, Costco  also did sell "Original, Weatherproof  Vintage" brand (made in Vietnam, not China!!)

I own some of both, and did not keep the packaging, from either.

Go to India, and look at their hand spinning frames.  You will need it for the next post!!

Friday, September 23, 2016

More spinning bobbins

Alden really did tell me very emphaticly, several times that whorls, flyer and bobbin should be have  "board cut grain".  That did not stop him from making spindle turned bobbins as in

where he supplied me with bobbins with board cut grain and that were spindle turned. 

  Thus, since then, I ( mostly) made my spinning bobbins form glued up blanks so that the ends of the bobbins (the whorls)  had board cut end grain.

This summer, I did some spinning on the patio, and noticed that over a period of weeks, the spinning bobbin which had been turned from old red oak salvaged from a kitchen remodel, had warped! I never had any problems with Alden's, or Ashford's board cut grain bobbin whorl's warping when I used them for spinning on the patio.  I expect that I could have prevented the problem with a different finish. (The red oak had a Danish Oil finish.)  (Also thicker whorls tend warp less.)  (Also, black walnut tends to be more dimensionally stable than the red oak. )

This was not the first time that whorls had warped on me, but this time, I took action. 

The new spinning bobbin for the AA#1 flier was spindle turned from a solid block of olive wood.

The bobbin above the flier is the oak bobbin that warped, The bobbin in the flyer is one turned in a few minutes.  No making the parts, and gluing up a blank. Certainly it is too wasteful of wood for a commercial operation, but it can be done quickly, without planning.  It good for repairs where a fast fix is needed.  It is just a matter of having a big (2.5" x 2.5"x 4.2"), dry,  block of wood around.

In the sun for a while, the diameter of the spindle turned whorls will change.  For single drive, or DD with slippage that does not matter.  For DRS, inserted twist can be adjusted by changing the flyer whorl. I have a graduated set of flyer whorls, so likewise change in bobbin whorl diameter is not a big problem.  Nevertheless, the groove in this whorl is a little different than that of the old red oak whorl, and it took about 3 hours to get the new olive bobbin spinning 63 m/gram from fine long wool at about 200 m/hr (3+ gr/hr).

It works well, but it sure sounds like an old industrial sewing machine.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Space Cloth

Just when you think you have seen everything!

'Space cloth' to revolutionise textiles industry

A designer and researcher has pioneered a new form of fabric which promises to revolutionise the textiles industry.Sonia Reynolds invented 'space cloth' – the first non-woven material made from yarn. It has a strong potential for use as a smart textile due to its unique structure with space to encase copper wiring, light emitting diodes (LEDs) and more.
Ms Reynolds brought the idea to Nottingham Trent University's Advanced Textile Research Group and is now undertaking a PhD in the subject to further develop the fabric's novel manufacturing process under the direction of Professor Tilak Dias and Dr Amanda Briggs-Goode, of the School of Art and Design.
Scientifically named Zephlinear, unlike traditional woven or knitted materials which are made by the interloping or interlacing of yarns, it is made by a newly established technique known as yarn surface entanglement.
Research shows that it is strongest and most efficient when created from natural yarns such as one hundred per cent wool, hair and wool/silk mixtures, though it can also be made from synthetic yarns.

Read more at:

Um; you know this stuff!  You have likely made this stuff - it is felting with yarn --it happens by accident in sloppy skeins, and on purpose in felting projects. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Old cotton cloth

Oldest textile dyed indigo blue found

A George Washington University researcher has identified a 6,200-year-old indigo-blue fabric from Huaca, Peru, making it one of the oldest-known cotton textiles in the world and the oldest known textile decorated with indigo blue.

Read more at:

Indigo dye requires chemistry!

In context:    
Earth Temperature Timeline

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Costco had several styles of men's shirts made by The New Ivy Brand:
All had prominent packaging stating they were hand spun and hand woven.

I trust Costco to require accurate labeling.  Unless you want to accuse Costco as an accessory to fraud,  accept the above, as labeled.

I would not have accepted the material as hand spun without having tried to buy such a spinning "frame", and run into the export tariff.  And, remember that Shetland Harris Tweed is also hand woven.