Monday, March 24, 2014


I was told by "experts" that kitting sheaths are not useful.
I was told by "experts" that weatherproof  fabric could not be knit.
I was told by "experts" that what ever they knit firmly was a warm as warm could be.
I was told by "experts" that I could not spin fast and fine, and that I was silly and stupid to try and spin fast.
I was told by "experts" that differential rotation speed (DRS) controlled double drive systems do not work                                        without slipage.
I was told by "experts" that "gansey yarn" was never, and could not be hand spun.
I was told by  "experts" that real hand spun 10-ply Aran weight yarn could not be produced.
I was told by  "experts" that CPW were the fastest wheels available.
I was told by "experts" that swaving is not swaving.
I was told by  "experts" that twist insertion on a flyer/bobbin assembly wheel was by the flyer.
I was told by  "experts" that high speed steel (HSS) scrapers could be sharpened by "burnishing".  (It was                                          wood turning, but they were mostly spinners, making spindles.)
I was told by  "experts" that accelerators on spinning wheels were not useful.
I was told by  "experts" that flyer/bobbins are always slower than great wheels.
I was told by "experts" that sectional beams are not needed for fine weaving.

and etc.

All of the above expert opinions are wrong, but they are the conventional wisdom that is recited over and over again.  That first item about knitting sheaths has been in the echo chamber since before the days of Mary Thomas (1938).

Am I storing up "hurts" and resentment?  No, I track what works, and what others tell me works.  The above are mostly the result of people of limited breadth of experienced talking about things for which they have no direct experience.  There is a difference between having 30 years of experience and having 2 years of experience, 15 times.

I know! I know, I was warned,  Feynman warned us that anytime the assembled experts say anything, always do the math yourself.  However, the textile world has a problem with its experts.  They are frequently wrong, and they are rarely challenged by the community.   The community has a huge respect for the conventional wisdom, and the community rarely tests the conventional wisdom.

However, when I go against the "boss-cow" experts, I am challenged.  Authority in the recreational and academic textile world is by seniority rather than by merit and quality of information.  Yes, at this point I am not friendly towards the conventional wisdom of the modern recreational textile world.  I find that every time that I refute the conventional wisdom, many become rude.  I have been through this cycle more than a dozen times in the last 15 years.  I am wary, and I  might seem a bit hateful, but yes, I have reason.

I like my experts to know what they are talking about and get things correct. I claim to be a scientist, not an expert on textiles. Likely, I know more about knitting sheaths than anyone else in the world today, but I do not claim to be an "expert".  Any master knitter in the 16th century knew more about (some kinds) of knitting sheaths than I do.  

For example, people that have never worked with knitting-sheath knit fabrics assume that any hand knit fabric is as good.   This is false! That is like saying a thumb tack pushed in with bare fingers holds wooden beams together as well as a 16d framing nail driven in with a carpenter's hammer.  Both the knitting sheath and the carpenter's hammer provide leverage to multiply force. Smash your thumb with a carpenter's hammer and you know it provides more force than your bare fingers. However, somebody that has never worked with big carpenter's nails, does not know how strong they can be. And, I promise that for somebody that only knows about thumb tacks, real carpenter's nails driven with a hammer are a revelation.  Likewise, somebody that has never worn a fabric knit with a knitting sheath just does not know just how warm a "hand knit" garment can be. No amount of knitting tight with hand held needles can prepare one for what a knitting sheath can do. Wear a sweater knit with a knitting sheath in a storm, and you know that it is knit tighter.  Nobody can get that kind of tight with hand held needles.  Human tendons and muscle will not get you there, you need extra leverage. Knitting sheaths with "gansey needles" are the difference between knitting a fine, weatherproof fisherman's shirt in a few days, and it taking a full year to knit.  Knitting sheaths with curved, rotating needles are a game changer when it come to knitting fine gloves.  Unless you have a knitting sheath and have learned how to use it very well, such fabrics are outside of your experience.  No hand knitting without a knitting sheath comes close.  I know, I spent 5 or 6 years knitting as tight as possible without a knitting sheath.  In those days, I was a good rock climber, and  I kept my hands and arms very strong.  I know exactly how tight it is possible to knit without a knitting sheath.

I keep little lists of what people say works, but which I cannot get to work.  I keep lists of what works for me, but others tell me (do not, should not, could not, would not) work.  This blog is part of that system of lists, along with my knitting, spinning, and weaving journals.  I keep lists of the best way I know how to do something.  When I find a better way, I cross the old way out, and write in the new, better way.  These lists are never finished, because there is always, always, always a better way. Every work procedure is a compromise between quality, schedule, and resources.  Sometimes the better way is just a different compromise solution.  Sometime schedule is more important than quality.  Sometimes it is better to have poor mittens than no mittens!!

All of the different compromises work, they are not wrong.  What is wrong is when somebody says knitting sheaths are not useful to knitting.  Knitting sheaths may not be required for the current project, but in the long run, they allow knitting faster, knitting more ergonomically, and knitting fabrics that cannot realistically be hand knit without a knitting sheath.

When I published an account of my first hot rod wheel, I was told by a "boss-cow" spinner/ expert that I was stupid and silly to try such a thing.  A better response would have been a technical discussion of drive belt physics, swept areas, and whorl profiles, but this expert provided none of that.  She merely called me stupid and silly, and her style always includes scatological references.  A few years later she bragged about having about a wheel with a similar ratio from a big name wheel maker.  And, she apologized to me.

Most of the experts that told me stuff that was wrong have not apologized. One of the experts that first told me knitting sheaths were not useful, now writes on the history of knitting sheaths, and proclaims herself an expert on them. She also told me that "5-ply gansey yarn" had never been spun by hand, and could not be spun by hand.  She has since back tracked on that issue. However, she still jabs at me every time I say anything outside of the conventional wisdom. She also denies most of the history of English fishing.

Pretty much everything that I have fond most useful, are things that were outside of the conventional wisdom in recreational textiles.   Spinning faster facilitates spinning finer.  And, spinning finer facilitates better yarns- and with better yarns one's knitting and weaving improves.  Better textiles begin with better yarn.  I do not regret any time spent improving my spinning.

With better yarn comes better knitting.  The better my spinning, the more I enjoy knitting.  The better my spinning, the better my knit objects.  It is all about the yarn.  Hand spinning provided all kinds of wonderful yarns in the past, but which are no longer made as mill spun. If you want to replicate the look, feel, and quality of  some traditional knit objects, you need different yarns  than the mills are selling to recreational knitters these days. The only way to get those yarns is the spin them yourself.  However, you need a vision of the final object in mind as you plan the yarn.  Without that vision, your handspun will be no better than the mill spun you and everyone else have been using.

I will freely admit that setting up, using and maintaining a DRS controlled double drive system requires skill, and on-going attention to maintenance. However, the rewards in better spinning are also great. Most spinners even neglect to oil their wheels and cannot in any way be expected to understand or maintain a DRS system.  Many modern spinners even think that the flyer inserts twist.  With that world view it is not possible to manage a DRS system in any way, shape, or form.  With that world view, the spinner will never see the benefits of DRS.  There are advantages to learning physics and being able to do math.

Finally, if you go to a major fiber show, and talk to all the interesting people, you can be pretty sure that some of them have seen and admired my work.  If I am writing about something, it is because I have been working on it long enough to have a working prototype that shows advantages.  By the time I write about it, the local guild, and other textile people have seen it work.  Your saying that it (does not, should not, could not, would not) work only shows your lack of experience on the topic.

By the time I wrote about accelerators here,  I had made 8 or 9 prototypes and figured out how to make the concept work very well.  When I wrote here,  I had already demonstrated that the concept had large advantages.  AA reminded me of images I had seen as a child.  Then, I tested the concept.  It worked.  That was the only reference that I needed.  Anyone that doubted the concept could make one for themselves and find that;  Yes, it did work!   I had already seen that "Oh, My!!' moment when a much faster wheel made spinning fine much easier.  And, this was years past the time when I had moved to high ratio whorls to get more speed for spinning "lace weight" singles.  The power of the accelerator is that it changes swept area and reduces drive band slip.  This was another,  Oh, My!! moment.  A sudden understanding that even more speed makes spinning even finer, even easier!   It was another surprise.  By then, having people whining about lack of references was silly. The time to complain about lack of references is before the working model is perfected.  The accelerator works today on an Ashford.   "It works!" is the only reference that I need.  If you need more references or citations, you can find them yourself.  Your need for academic citations is not my problem.  My problem is only to have the best tools that I can have.

Why did not all the experts warn me of this effect?  Where in all of the advice on spinning fine is the very important fact that spinning faster, makes spinning finer easier?    Sure, there are other factors, but spinning fast helps --  a lot.

It has become clear that many of the skills that I need for weaving fine woolen cloth have been lost. I will have to rediscover the tools and techniques.  It will take hundreds of hours before I turn out a fine hand spun, hand woven, woolen fabric. Yes, I have a pile of problems in front of me.  My advantage is that I can just use any solution that works, without demanding academic citations for everything.  And, I am past worrying about what the experts say.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Crux of Sectional beams

The essence of a "sectional beam" is not the mechanical structure on the loom, but how the weaver uses it.

Any warp beam that rotates can be used as a sectional beam. And, any culture that understands carts, can construct beams that rotate.   For vertical, warp-weighted loom, all that is required is to scribe lines on the beam to delineate the sections of the beam.  The the warp can be wound on the beam, stored, and wound off as needed.   Looms designed for weaving long bolts of cloth do require pegs or pins in the beam to support the sections of warp as they are wound on, but it it is very easy to insert such pegs in a beam. Little "L" brackets held in place with duct tape work.  Nails work. These approaches will not satisfy some prissy recreational weaver, but they will allow winding wool singles onto the loom at hand, right now.  And, a very good tension box can be improvised from a bit of plywood and some wooden dowels from the hardware store. Two thousand years ago, making a tension box was no harder than making little stool - a easy morning's work.  I could drive to Jackson, buy any one of Stephenie's little looms, convert it to a sectional beam, and be winding warp on it, section by section, by night fall.  (Or I could use the sectional beam on my AVL as a warping mill, prepare a warp under tension and then wind it on the little loom.)  The crux of the idea is keeping wool singles (each and every one) under tension at all times as the loom is warped.

A sectional beam on a modern loom has additional features for recreational weavers, but these were not required for industrial weavers of the late Roman Era and Middle Ages. They would weave to the end of their warp, wind on another warp (section by section) tie the two warps together, and weave on with minimum waste, and very little effort. There is no reason why the 2-beam, horizontal loom of  the late Roman and early Middle Ages could not have used sectional warp beams.   The difference between an "ordinary" beam and a sectional beam is a hand full of wooden pegs that can be inserted or removed as the kind of cloth being made changes. (And, minor differences in how the warp is tied to the beam.)  Once you have thought about it the concept is easy and logical.  It is only hard if you think about a sectional beam as a device, rather than as a way of using a beam that rotates.  For the real weaver, "sectional beam" is a way of warping rather than a mechanical device.  It is a set of procedures and techniques for keeping warp singles under tension and under control at all times.

A second approach that works for industrial weaving  is to have a sectional warping mill that is warped section by section, and then the entire warp is wound on to the warp beam of the loom as required.  One such mill can support several looms and avoid down time of the looms and their weavers. It is the same concept, just moved off the loom to separate operation. For details see the old texts on industrial weaving.

Do I see such mills in modern weaving classrooms?  No. And, I bought the only loom with a sectional beam from the largest local weaving classroom.  50 weavers (many very advanced) and nobody was using sectional warping.) They gave me a good price on that loom, because nobody was using it. Sectional beams are not needed for mill spun (2-ply) wool warps, or silk, or linen, and few people weave with fine hand spun wool singles these days.  On the other hand, there is a large class of traditional  wool fabrics that can only be woven from the fine wool singles that are easier to handle when warped under tension (e.g., section by section).

The evidence for sectional beam looms is in the fabrics produce in the Late Roman and Early Middle Ages. To understand the evidence, one must understand working with fine wool singles. That means getting out your spinning wheel and spinning "fines".

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fine wool fabric from warp weighted looms

Those old timers made nice fabrics.  We see small samples of fabric where the were protected from decay by to toxic effects of metal buttons.

I see the fabrics, and I ask, "How did they make them?"  What tools and skills did they have?

The archaeology field reports say they had loom weights, and the published papers go on to conclude that they actually had the entire loom.  :  )

OK, but was that loom used for that sample of fabric, or some linen or hemp or nettle or other material that has been lost?  Hard to say.

The fabric was traded great distances, so they made a lot of that fabric, and were really good at it.  Did that sample of fabric come from that set of loom weights, or did that set of loom weights support another trade network, or was that loom used for a local product that was not traded?

So, I sit there and I look at the picture of that Bronze Age stone floor with its little piles of loom weights, and I note that no Bronze Age organic artifacts were found in the structure.  The user's manual for the loom was missing. There was no artwork, no jewelry, no potsherds, and no fabric samples. The fabric samples are from a grave of the same period, but many miles away.

And she wants me to prove that they had sectional beam and tension box.

I had spin some replica yarns.   I trie them on various approaches to warping, and I come away with a new appreciation for the skill of the weavers of that sample of fabric.  It is easier if I block the yarn, so I worked on blocking the yarn for a while (months),  but that changed the nature of the fabric. 

There are only so many ways to warp a loom.  One can take a sample of proposed warp and see how it behaves with each approach to warping.  If there are several approaches to warping that work with that single we cannot say, they likely did it this way or that way.  However, if there seems to be only one way that is plausible given the technologies of the time, we can say they likely did it this way.

Do I care how they made that fabric? No, I just want to make fabric that is as good or better.  Is this a scholarly journal? No!  Am I being paid for my research? No.  I just want to reverse engineer a way to make fabric as good or better.  Along the way, I am going to announce my conclusions and observations.  I am going to throw out any ideas that I have.  And I think like Sherlock Holmes.

By a process of reverse engineering and elimination, we get to warping the loom with a sectional beam, tension box, and bobbins.  This is for a fine wool warp, not silk, not linen, not hemp, and not nettles.  My understanding is that only way to get the fabric that I want is to use unblocked singles.  So, I need some way to keep the singles under tension at all times.  If they get loose for a minute, they are likely to tangle, and if they tangle, they are likely to break, or at least burn daylight as I untangle them.

Data and  lack thereof

Note discussion of  Body Wrapping 3 on page 26  et seq of  

And note the discussion on Roman and Greek art related to weaving on pg 33 of the same text.

Note that Roman looms do not survive, but that the Romans are presumed to have had 2-beam horizontal looms because of some of the fabrics that do survive.  However, these are not mentioned by any Roman authors, and the first depictions are in the middle ages.

Note discussion of Roman looms and lack of documentation at  page 552.  Note the problems with the draftsmanship on one of the depictions as finished cloth appears where we would expect the warp weights to be. This is pretty typical of art and technology. 

If we look in; The Cambridge History of Western Textiles, Volume 1, we see on page 121 that an advanced type of loom (horizontal, 2- beam) was in Germanic Europe as early as the Sixth century.

What we do not have; is good documentation of that South Asian loom that made Body Wrapping 3 above.  What we have is a very fine, very early fabric from some loom in Southern Asia for which we have no description or depiction. The depictions of Egyptian looms are all of weaving linen.

Let us return to the excellent depiction of Telemachus and Penelope in front of Penelope's loom. It was done 1,100 years after the Trojan war (and time of Telemachus and Penelope) . Hardly a depiction of current loom technology.  And, we note that the loom contains an extra beam to hold extra warp. That extra beam was a prototype of a sectional beam.  By its nature, the beam can be divided into sections and yarn wound on each section. They were making carts and know how to make axles, rotating wheels, and beams.  

 If it is the traditional loom that Penelope would have used in the Bronze Age, then it is not likely the loom in use in Classical Greece at the time of the depiction. If it is the loom in use in the Classical Greek Era, then it is not likely the loom used in the Bronze Age. This is not what I would call good contemporary documentation of a loom.  So it is with the other Greek art related to weaving.  Basically we have a gap in western loom documentation from the Middle Kingdom to the Middle Ages.

That is exactly how I would make a vertical, weighted-warp loom.  I would wind the warp on a back beam, and run each thread through a weight and  and tie it to the top beam.  Then, I set my beam holding the extra warp behind the loom with the weights hanging down to provide tension. Then, I could wind finished cloth onto the top beam, and unwind additional warp from the additional beam.  The weights do not even have to be tied to the warp, but can slide along the warp providing continuous tension to keep the warp on both sides of the weight from tangling. Do I need to make you a model of such a loom?  

There is no reason in the world why a sectional beam can not be used with warp weights on a vertical loom to manage long warps when weaving bolts of cloth.  And, it greatly speeds the work.  It is how a professional weaver would do it.  No, it is not in the record, but it has been a thousand years since an industrial weaver has used vertical, weighted-warp loom technology, and we may have forgotten some things.  I expect a weaver's  loom to be constructed with the same skill as a miller's water mill or a blacksmith's trip hammer.  I see a weaver's loom as a capital investment that was expected to generate income for a very long time, and some care would be taken so that the weaver could work as fast as possible to generate as much income as possible.  I am not talking about subsistence weaving.  I am talking about a tool for a talented professional weaver turning out cloth that appeals to the rich and powerful, thousands of miles away -- as in Body Wrapping 3 getting to Egypt from South Asia.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Noble Art of Rolags

Your birch dowel has a grain. Find the end that the rolag slides off easily.  Mark it.  Then slice the dowel in half, lengthwise to produce 2 - half cylinders.  Sand the cut surfaces until they do not snag your
 fiber. This is your better rolag form.

These days, I like 2- gram rolags.  I load just over 10 grams of  fine fiber onto the drum carder and run it through several times.  Then, I lift one end of the batt and clamp it between the flat sides of my birch rolag form, and roll the dowel 1.5 rotations to lift and wrap the batt around the rolag form.  Then, I lift the form slightly as I rotate the form another half rotation.  Thus, the last bit of fiber is drafted around the rolag to hold it together.  The form is slid out one piece at a time to leave a perfect  8" long, 2-gram rolag.

At ~22,400 ypp, I use 3 rolags per spinning bobbin of single, and wind off every time I accumulate ~280 yards of  single on the spinning bobbin.

The circumference of the carding drum is ~20" so I get 5 rolags per batt.  Four batts / 20 rolags less some wastage produce one woolen hank of 1,600 yards.

I spin a bobbin in about 20 minutes, so net production is near 700 yards per hour, but I can put 1,600 yards on the storage bobbin in a couple of 2 hours if I hurry.    More commonly is 2 bobbins per hour as I watch DVDs with my wife in the evening.  The wind-off process is noisy, so I end up sitting there with a full bobbin.

This is weft.   It is not a pretty single for knitting lace. It will be woven in a twill,  fulled, teased, and clipped.  It will be a very nice shirting fabric, with one smooth warp face and the other a short, soft nap.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fiber prep for high speed woolen

Good spinning requires good fiber preparation.  Spinning very fine and very fast requires near perfect fiber preparation.

My first fines were all worsted, so early on, I climbed the learning curve for combing wool.

Now that I need fine woolen spun singles for weaving, I am climbing the woolen prep learning curve.  It is just as long and steep, as the worsted combing learning curve.  For a long time, I would divide a batt from a drum carder length-wise, and call  what I spun from that "woolen".    Well, it was more woolen than the worsted singles I spun for ganseys.  It was/is  really semi-woolen.  Spun slowly, it could be mostly woolen and that was good enough for my needs.  And, in fact I preferred that semi-woolen yarn because it was denser, warmer, more durable.  It was/is a very nice knitting yarn that I still like.

Now, I am thinking bout woven fabrics that are "fulled".  And, fulling requires true woolen spun weft. A lot of it, so to get enough of it to be useful, I have to spin very fast.

To spin true woolen, the fiber prep must be carded and then rolled up into a rolag. Spinning fine and fast requires a uniformity in the fiber prep that one is not going to get with hand cards. If you are spinning fast, you need high uniformity from throughout the rolag and from rolag to rolag.  This kind of uniformity requires blending with drum carder.  If you try to spin rolags from hand cards fast and fine, there will be break-offs that will slow you down, until net productivity is higher simply by spinning much slower so that one has some time to adapt so that there are fewer break-offs.

If you must spin fine and fast, you will need the uniformity in you rolags that comes only from very good fiber prep tools. Details matter.  I had been rolling rolags on 3/8" acrylic cores.  Henry Clems suggested that I use use  a 1/2" birch core. That 1/8 inch in diameter, and difference in texture matters.  Half-inch birch is better than half-inch acrylic.  Half-inch birch is better than 3/8" birch. And, 3/4" is too big.  And, if the cores make that much difference, the quality of the carding cloth makes more difference.  Anyway, it turns out that making rolags is a major art from.

These days, Henry and Roy (Clems and  Clems) are the smartest guys on woolen fiber preparation, and they make the best tools for fiber preparation.  (This does not mean that I think 1/2" birch dowel is the very best possible rolag form in the world, but I would agree that it is likely the most cost effective.) These days, their drum carders and blending boards are without equal.   At this point they have hit a nice compromise between the makers of the tools using the tools on a daily basis, and industrial production techniques to achieve outstanding uniformity and quality control at a reasonable price point.   They have gotten to the point where they are starting to have a waiting list.  At this point the waiting list is only a few days, but if you are going to need fiber prep tools this summer, order now.

If you know that you only want to spin one kind of fleece, then one of the drum carders with changeable drums makes sense.  However, I spin about equal parts long wool and fine wool, and I like being able to card both of them on the same carder.

A bit off topic, true woolen requires more twist per inch  than worsted.  The difference is small at low grist, but at  higher grist, the difference is about 50%.  If you want to spin fine, and have a slow (low ratio) wheel, then spin worsted.  I find spinning worsted fines to be reasonable on a slower wheel, but spinning woolen fines on a low ratio wheel is always a long, slow, slog.  Spinning fine is made much easier with a very fast wheel.  Fine yarns that were very difficult on a slow wheel become easy on a fast flyer.  Fine yarns that are easy on a fast flyer are much more difficult on a slow flyer.  This is true at, and well beyond, the spin count.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Fast Woolen Yarn

Once again, I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Woolen can be spun very fast, it just takes a different fiber prep.

The result is a nice hollow core, fluffy yarn.

More later.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Accelerator

Yarns "made up" in the process of tuning the accelerator. From top to bottom, 6-strand cabled fingering weight from 2-ply commercial warp, 5-ply semi-worsted sport weight from Romney, and 5-ply woolen sport weight from Rambouillet.

The beast that spawned them:

Top with Ashford Jumbo flyer used at speeds of 1,600 to 1,000 rpm ( the two skeins of cable were done as one big bobbin full.) And, below is the AA #0 (Competition) flier used at speeds of 2,400 to 4,200 rpm.

The Jumbo flyer has 4 drive whorls.  One would expect that the little 1.75" whorl to give more speed than the 2.75" whorl, but there is so much slippage that it does not. Spinning wheel drive belts slip a great deal. Still with the accelerator, and using the larger whorls, plying/cabling goes about 40% faster than is possible just using the Jumbo Flyer (with a Alden Amos Bumpless drive band to minimize drive band slippage.)  With the stock Ashford drive band, I never got the Jumbo Flyer over ~450 rpm. When plying up gansey yarn at 9 tpi, that is slow!!!!!!!!!

That bobbin of  the AA#0 will hold about 12 grams (0.3 oz. ) of yarn. If one is spinning 40s, that is a neat 560 yards. Amazing how that works out.  With the accelerator, I run it at about the same speed as I did without the accelerator, but I can treadle much slower. This is set up with the flier/bobbin mounted with ball bearings.  A test shows that it will go just as fast using bronze bearings (with more frequent lubrication.)

Why not just go to an e-spinner?  While I do not "count", spinning is very rhythmic, and my cadence sets the beat for everything else.  It took a couple of days to get used to the accelerator, because now my hands have to go twice as fast relative to the cadence.  With an e-spinner, there is no cadence so my hands do not know how fast to move.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

"Made up"

The fact that folks missed the accelerators in Alden Amos (and other sources)  is a good clue into how familiar they are with the literature on old spinning tools.  It  is an example of how well they do their home
work.  My Lazy Kate uses the concept of a tension box, and tension boxes are likely as old as sectional beam looms (e.g., Bronze Age).   In professional textiles, it is an old concept.  It is clearly something the  Cistercians would have known about.

"Made up" is a synonym for  "prepared", or "produced".  When I say, I "made up" 7-ply lace weight, it just means that I spun/plied a bobbin of the stuff   to  demonstrate just how easy to spinning very fine singles can be. (And to test my new Lazy Kate! )   Did the old professional handspinners spin that fine? Yes, handspinners spun tonnes of  "fines" (30,000 ypp - 45,000 ypp) for the weaving industry.   The truth is that any competent spinner can spin Merino or Rambouillet singles so fine that they can produce 10-ply lace weight. By those standards, my 7-ply lace weight was nothing special.  An expert spinner, willing to put some time and effort into it, can spin Merino or Rambouillet singles much finer.

The  Cistercians took vows to only wear white wool.  And, one of their missions was to teach domestic arts, including sheep husbandry, spinning, and weaving.  They produced their own robes. In Chaucer's day, there were 35,000 lay brothers working in  Cistercian controlled wool trade. Since the monks could not wear anything under the wool, they had a very strong incentive to produce produce wool with a low itch factor.  For a while, the  Cistercians were the richest organization in the world, and that wealth was based on wool.   They had the resources and the incentive to produce the softest wool.   They ran an international wool breeding program, bringing fine Spanish rams (Merino) into England.  (When Henry VIII, kicked them out of England, they slaughtered and ate their finest wool sheep. )

There was a time when the spinners were likely the very best mechanical engineers.  Women can do anything necessary to work faster, and produce a better product.  They can understand any process. They can improve any process that can be invented. They designed multiple versions of flyer/bobbin assemblies, and anybody that can do that has a deep knowledge of the physics and math of twist.  They may have expressed it differently than I do, but they understood the physics and could do the math. It was their craft.  Given the fractions in use at the time, we can expect that often the math was done geometrically with dividers and straight edge, rather than as an abstract calculation.  Nevertheless, they understood the physics of the situation, which is more than I can say for Majacraft ( )

I use a digital tachometer, but I know other ways to get the same data.  Tracking the number of hanks produced per day in a spinning journal is a much more sensitive measure of spinning speed. (Slower, but much more sensitive.) Women spinning for pence do track how fast they spin, and they work out how to spin faster.

Women with too much leisure time, work out how to do less in more time.  This was the case for ladies in Queen Victoria's Court.  They worked out how to make a tiny bit of spinning fill the day.  Spinners in the 1960s looked back to those Victorian ladies for their knowledge of spinning.  They learned to spin slowly.  If modern spinners had looked back to the professional spinners of 1760, they would have learned how to spin fine and fast.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

The myth of the Great Wheel

Great wheels have (or had) several virtues.  They are much faster then either a drop spindle or a supported spindle. Great wheels are easier to make than a flyer/bobbin assembly (but today are similarly priced).  And they can insert a lot of twist without any take up, which facilitates some drafting techniques.

I certainly bought into the myth of the great great wheel. Everyone that I trusted said how wonderful they were, it was just that they were big and expensive.  And they are a bit rare and exotic - that gives big wheel spinners a certain cache. For a long, long time, I wanted one.  I thought it was certainly the fastest and best way to spin woolen.  The only reason I did not get one was that I was focused on worsted for my gansey knitting.

As I planned spinning weft for the next weaving project, I thought sure I was going to have to get a great wheel.  Then as I spun the warp, I realized that I was spinning on a flier/bobbin  much faster than I had seen anyone ever spin on a great wheel..  I stopped, and did the math, coldly and rationally.

Great wheel's vices are that they are best with long-draw woolen drafting, and they cannot wind on at full speed.  Yes they go fast, but they also go slow. Their cyclical behavior is also a problem in handling fine yarns.

My conclusion was that the mythology arose as great wheels designed for production spinning were compared to flyer/bobbin wheels designed for leisure spinning.  In this comparison, the great wheel is always faster.  However, my flier/bobbin wheel designed for production is also always faster than a  flyer/bobbin wheels designed for leisure spinning. Thus, the real question is is a great wheel designed for production spinning faster than a flyer/bobbin wheel designed for production spinning?  The answer depends on the grist of the yarn being spun.  At low grist, the wheels are equal. At high grist, the flyer/bobbin wheel designed for production is significantly faster.

By the by,  the Canadian Production Wheel (CPW) was designed after the professional hand spinners had died out, and those skills were lost.  It was designed for amateur spinners, spinning low grist yarns.  Canadian Production Wheels were  not sold to professional spinners with the elan that separates the talented professional from the merely competent amateur.  The CPW did not have to be very fast because it not designed to spin industrial quantities of lace and weaving singles. After friction losses  and belt slip, CPW are hard pressed to insert twist faster than ~1,200 rpm.    That is much  more than required for 1,600 ypp singles for knitting yarn, and hence the myth of the CPW was born.

In truth, the ratio on a CPW was about the same as the ratio on the AA fliers as delivered.  So, in the context of modern spinning, a CPW was/is actually fairly fast.  However, as soon as you start spinning higher grist yarns the performance starts to lag.  I thought about buying the very fine CPW that Will Taylor had, but it was not fast enough, and I could not seen any easy way to make it faster.  On the other hand the the path to more speed with the AA fliers was clear - just a bit of wood turning.  As soon as I got the AA fliers, I made/installed new whorls with a higher ratio.  That was 2.5 years ago, and I am still making sacrifices to the Gods of Speed, so that I can spin faster. Current ratio is about 44:1,  which is more than twice that of a CPW (~20:1).  However, my actual flier speed after drivebelt slippage is about 3,600 rpm or 3 times the speed of Will Taylor's fine CPW at the same treadle cadence.  I run my wheel that fast for warp, but for woolen, I slow down to ~2,400 rpm because I think it produces a better yarn.  However, that is still twice as fast as a CPW.

My math says that a great wheel (spinning woolen)  is a bit faster than a CPW or, my AA fliers as delivered. That means a great wheel can be faster than the vast majority of modern spinning wheels. It also means that my wheel spinning 10,000 ypp woolen is 30%  faster than a great wheel.  That 30%, is enough time to weave the spun yarn. And, my worsted is spun much faster.  I no longer desire a great wheel.

These days, I spin (woolen) sitting in a wooden arm chair with my forearms resting on the chair arms, ~24 inches apart, with my right hand some 6 to 10" from the orifice.  (For worsted, my hands are about one staple length apart.) The support gives me the stability that I need to control the fine stream of fiber marching past. DRS controls take up and twist insertion.  This allows spinning very soft and very fine yarns.  I have never seen anyone else spin like this, but it is very fast.  If there is a problem, I have a few seconds to fix it before it disappears into the maw of the beast.  Arm movement are small  There is simply no way I can get that speed and control from a great wheel.  I am very happy with my woolen spinning, and no longer want a great wheel.

CNCH is coming up. I am going, and am taking my wheel..

Monday, March 03, 2014

Accelerators and the Miner's head

If we look, we see a significant number of old flyer/bobbin spinning wheels with accelerators.  When there were large numbers of professional spinners and hand spinning was a competitive industry, they knew about accelerators to allow them to spin faster.  They did not put them on great wheels.

With some care, one can design a flyer/bobbin spinning wheel to run at 3,000 to 4,000 rpm in either single drive bobbin lead or single drive flyer lead.  What is hard, is fabricating a DD/DRS  flyer/bobbin spinning wheel to run at  3,000 to 4,000 rpm.

Designing and building an accelerator for a spinning wheel is a large effort, so there must have been a serious reason for putting accelerator wheels on flyer/bobbin spinning wheel..  The only serious purpose seems to have been a fast DD/DRS system to produce fine, consistent,  smooth warp at grists less than the spun count at high speed.

The Traddy Hot Rod now has a 1:2 accelerator wheel, and the AA Competition flier has no problem running at 4,500 rpm; Scotch Tension, Irish Tension, or DD/DRS.  It does not do DD w/ slippage.  First make it work, then make it pretty.  It needs to be a little prettier for its pix.

And, as I have already disclosed, spinning at speeds over 3,000 rpm produces superior quality warp.  DD/DRS provides consistency.  DD/DRS with an accelerator provides consistency at high speed. (For that speed and consistency, DRS demands great effort..  The whorls must have the precisely correct DRS for the intended grist. Draft too thick and you break off;  draft too thin, and you break off; draft too slow, and you break off. )  When you must spin a great deal of fine worsted, it is the tool of choice. If you much spin a lot of worsted, it is worth the effort.

Thus, in the last 3 months, I have moved from thinking that warp could be spun at 400 yards per hour to knowing that warp can be spun much faster and the process of spinning faster, produces much better warp. The same line of inquiry convinces me that trying to spin woolen too fast, reduces the quality of the yarn.

There is no reason why a high quality, very small flyer/bobbin assembly cannot be run at a sustained pace of 3,500 to 4,000 rpm. (with an accelerator wheel.)  This will allow the spinning of a hank of  fine (10s) worsted warp per hour (e.g., 48 minutes). Shirting and hosiery singles (40s) require twice the twist, so you will only get about 320 yards per hour.

The issue of yarn blowing out of the heck array, is not so much aerodynamic as centripetal force.  Clever placement of a extra heck or two resolves the issue.

Great wheels were the Medieval technology of choice. The Renascence tool was the flyer, and the flyer was faster and more compact. Certainly great wheels were cheaper and deeply bedding in myth and romance, but as a tool for a professional spinner was the tool of choice. No great wheel can keep up with a flyer/bobbin wheel properly designed for the grist; not spinning worsted or woolen. Moreover, a flyer allow spinning finer and more consistent yarns. True a spindle (driven or supported will spin very soft yarns that cannot be spun with single drive flyer system because take up will pull the the yarn apart. Spinning such soft yarns with DD/slippage systems is theoretically feasible, but not practical. However, very soft yarns can be spin with DD/DRS systems. It is a matter of doing math, and making up the right bobbins and flyer whorls. With the right tools in hand, spinning such yarns is quick and easy.

Expertise in the flyer has been lost. A flyer will do a lot more than most spinners are aware.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

The Bartlett Mule

I am not the first to notice that woolen likes to be spun slowly.

Note there are many modern industrial techniques using fluids or belts for spinning fluffy yarns.  Some of these produce very fluffy yarns, very fast.  However, when spinning woolen with a flyer or driven spindle, it is better not to go too fast.

And, these days, Clems and Clems makes the best tools for woolen woolen fiber preparation.  I make my own combs, but I used Clems and Clems carding tools for wool and cotton.