Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Beginning to End

Begin with the end in mind.

Is a yarn that you might be able to cobble into "some textile" at some point in the future what you need to focus on at this time?  Think of all of your wants and needs, including textiles. Is yarn for  "some textile" the effort that you want to make at this time?

In particular, I was thinking about the piles of "art yarns" that I saw at CNCH.  If you are going to put the effort into making art yarn then think the project through, and make a finished object that is worthy of being worn on the red carpet. Having thought the project through from beginning to end, the object will be better.

Think of a builder.  Do they just take a load of wood to a lot and start cutting and nailing?  No, they have a plan, and they take the sizes of wood and amounts of supplies needed for the plan.  They stop to make a foundation. Without a plan, they might not have the big beams that they need to hold everything up and support the load. If the builder has a good plan, he can use it to build house after house, and they will all be good, strong, beautiful houses.

If the builder is very clever, they can build strong structures that will withstand storms, without using those big beams. However, this takes real planning.  Likewise the textile crafter needs to plan for rain, washing machines, dry cleaners, wear, abrasion, stretch,  wind, sun, cold, heat, sweat, and etc.  This takes real thought and cleverness.

That said, a lot of the yarns that I use are based on rather standard singles.  I have no problem spinning long wool 10s and 40s because I like these singles as building blocks for yarns used for outer wear and socks. I have plans for the fabrics/objects that I like, and I use those plans over and over because I know they work.  If  I have the singles on hand, they can be quickly  plied up and dyed to make a very nice, and functional fabric. I can do this, because I have thought these objects through, I make these objects on a regular basis, and I have thought about how much I need to produce.

These singles are my "2x4s", and like a builder I have different kinds of 2x4s.  A builder might have 2x4s of oak, pine, red wood, and maple. Each has its proper use, and there are stacks of each in the lumber shed, ready to use.   My stocks of singles are  from different fibers and each has its proper use. If I just spin yarns and then plan the textiles from the yarns, then at some point, I will have yarns that want to be out door fencing (red wood) when what I need now is kitchen cabinets (maple).  If I let the already spun yarn define textile  projects, then I may end up with not quite enough yarn or a little bit too much.  If there is not enough, then the design fails, and if there is too much then there is wasted time, effort, and fiber.

If you are not particular about using the right yarn for your textile, you might as well use mill spun. Mill spun works very well for generic textiles.  If you are going to the effort of making a textile from hand spun, you might as well plan it out and make an exceptional textile.

No, it is better to be an intentional spinner, and spin the yarns wanted for the objects desired.  See Alden Amos, The Big Book of Hand Spinning.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

8 hours of spinning

Yesterday, after lunch (1 pm ) sat down to spin, and at 9 pm, I had the above skein of 400 yards of 5-ply (~6 oz), sport weight yarn. The 8 hours includes spinning 2,000 yards of singles, plying, all wind-off and yarn management, and changing flyers. Within that time, I also fixed a nice dinner for my wife and ate with her, had some coffee, and did some garden chores, so it was not like race conditions.

The point is, one can easily spin and ply 400 yards of gansey yarn in 8 hours, so 30 to 40 hours of  spinning time is a very reasonable estimate for total spinning time for the yarn for a  gansey.

Note the ends are tied together, but there are no leases on the skein.  In this project, the singles are not being blocked, so the yarn comes off the plying bobbin reasonably balanced.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ply Twist

To make a long story short, the old Fisherman's Wool was rather tightly spun singles of fine wool, rather loosely plied. When knit, the plies in the yarn would spread out to form a web.  This facilitated knitting weather proof fabrics.  A sweater that I knit from old LB FW remains the warmest sweater that I own.   In contrast, the British Breeds and Frangipani yarns had much more ply twist so that they tend to leave holes in the fabric between the yarns,  making it more difficult to knit weather proof fabrics. Thus 7 years ago,  there were at least two different styles of 5-ply yarn that produced two very different kinds of fabric. The LB FW of today is a third style of yarn that produces another, different style of fabric.

I had to think about it for a year, but it was the difference in ply twist between the old LB FW and the  British Breeds / Frangipani yarns that convinced me that I needed to learn to spin.  And today, 7 years later, when I sit down to plan a yarn, the first thing that I think about is the how much ply twist does this object want?  Am I looking for stitch definition or a dense fabric?  This is intrinsic to the nature of the object.

We can see from the two LB FWs and the traditional British 5-ply yarn that there is a good deal of variability in what mills think is a good gansey yarn. This goes back to my concept of purpose.   A yarn is not exceptional until its purpose has been defined. The old LB FW, the British yarns, and the new LB FW are three classes of  5-ply yarn with different purposes.

Today there are more sources of yarn for gansey (Guernseys, Jerseys, and Aran) sweaters. There is Frangipani, Blacker Yarns, Iriss of Penzance, Upton, Sunday, Artyarn, and a few others including a bunch of acrylic blends. Of these, I have to salute Blacker Yarns for their use of long wool.  Still, when I think of an object, I cannot be certain that I can find the right yarn for that object from a commercial source.

A competent hand spinner can replicate any of these commercial 5-ply gansy yarns with ease.   The are all based on 5,600 ypp worsted plies, e.g., 10s. 10s are easy to spin. You can spin them in long wool or fine wool.  You can spin them tight, and ply them firm, to produce a very thin, dense, smooth yarn with very crisp stitch definition.  Or you can spin them loose and ply them tight to produce a big round yarn that make the stitches really "pop".   All of a sudden the commercial offerings of gansey yarns seem rather meager.

The exceptional knitter that can also spin is not limited to what some mill thinks gansey yarn should look like.  Fine wool and long wool is always available. Dyes are always available.  The exceptional knitter that can spin, can always spin the right gansey yarn needed for an object -- when it is needed.  If you are a competent spinner, you can spin the 5-ply needed for a gansey in 30 or 40 hours.  Since it takes between 100 and 200 hours to knit an elaborate gansey, the spinning costs between 30 and 20 percent of  the project time.  That is not cost effective for a professional, but for a recreational knitter that enjoys the process, it is reasonable.

I also am willing to put a few more hours into a gansey because I know that a little more effort will let it last much longer, or because I know that the yarn I spin will be warmer - thus I can get by with a ridiculously small bag when I go sailing. For me that extra 30 hours is cost effective because my sweaters last longer, so I spend less time knitting.  In the same way, better yarn was cost effective for knitters knitting for their loved sailors 300 years ago.  Unlike, Lion Brand or British Breeds, I use long wool because it is much more durable, and I spin it tight so that it wears like iron, then I ply it loosely (looser than BB) so that after knitting it forms a dense, weatherproof fabric. Over all, the extra effort to spin my own yarn saves me time and money.

Having the correct yarn makes exceptional knitting much easier. Back in the days when I knit with British mill spun 5-ply yarns, I used very pointy needles.  Experience with swaving, and  now that many of my 5-ply yarns have less ply twist means that today, I tend to use blunter needles that I  pop into the stitches - like swaving pricks.  (Does not work for Eastern Cross Stitch.)  The process is fast and produces a very tight, uniform fabric.  Today, I would say that one can knit fast with either pointy needles or with blunt needles depending on the yarn being used and the stitch being produced.  They are two different techniques, each with their own virtues for different kinds of yarns to produce different kinds of objects.  To say that one needs pointy needles to knit fast is not the whole story.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Craft is Textiles

So! the question is, "How good are the textiles that one can produce?"

I look to history for clues as to what textiles can be produced, and clues as to the best ways to produce textiles, but how they actually made textiles at any particular time and place does not matter to me.  All that matters to me is:  "How good a textile can I produce?", and "How can I produce a better textile?"

And, if you are in the craft, I am going to judge you by how good a textile you can produce. I do not care about your knowledge of history, I care about the quality of textiles that you produce.    You may be a great textile historian and have published in many peer reviewed journals, and written many books, but I am going to judge you by how well you spin.

Why?  Because, good spinning is the basis of great textiles.

Even if you are a weaver or knitter, I am going to judge you primarily on your spinning ability.  Mill spun yarns are a baseline. Mill spun is average. Anyone can BUY mill spun.  It is hard to knit an exceptional object if you are using the same yarn as everyone else.  If you are going to be making superior textiles, you need to be working with superior yarns.  That means you must have a deep understand of spinning.  The only way to have a deep understand spinning is be a very good spinner.

The exceptional textile will be constructed from exceptional yarn because the exceptional knitter, weaver, lace maker, and etc. capable of making exceptional textiles will use exceptional yarns.   The only way to know exceptional yarns is to make them. The skill to make exceptional yarns is earned, it cannot be bought. Taking the class does not mean that you have the skills. The skill to spin exceptional yarns comes from spinning miles and miles of exceptional yarn. Do not tell me you took the class; show me the yarn.

The other side of this is that a yarn is not exceptional until it has been fabricated into a textile that has a purpose.  Only then, do we know if the yarn has all the qualities and attributes required for the purpose, so the textile is of exceptional quality. No yarn can be exceptional until its purpose is defined. The spinner must understand the requirements and purpose of the textile before the spinner can spin an exceptional yarn. Just as the spinner enables the competent weaver, the competent weaver or the competent knitter enables the competent spinner.

No yarn sitting in a yarn shop is exceptional, because it has no purpose. Sitting there in the yarn shop, we do not know if it is going to be baby booties, a seaman's sweater, socks, a rug, or a tapestry. The yarn cannot be judged exceptionally fit for its purpose, until its purpose is defined.  We do not know if it will be worn by a red head or a blond or a brunet. Each person's coloring demand it's own wardrobe palette.  The fitness of the yarn cannot be determined until it has been assigned to a specific project/task.

Likewise, a modern hand spinner that spins yarns and waits for the yarn to tell her what it wants to be is not going to produce exceptional textiles.  The textile maker must plan the yarn so that the yarn is fit for the project in every way.  Only then can the yarn become an exceptional textile.

Five years ago, I took up spinning because I was a knitter, and I was NOT happy with the mill spun yarns available. For 3 years, I regretted the move to spinning because I was not seeing other spinners producing yarns that I liked better than mill spun.  The turning point was the better fliers from Alden Amos.

In the last 6 months, with the accelerator and the better Lazy Kate, I am finally producing yarns that make hand spinning worth while.  I am very pissed off that most of the experienced hand spinners seemed desperate to limit my technical advances in spanning by depreciating and deprecating everything that I did that was a little different from the way that other modern hand spinners spin.

Modern hand spinners have forgotten how to spin fine and spin fast.  Moreover, they have forgotten that it is even possibly to spin fine and to spin fast.  Modern hand spinners tell every begging spinner: You cannot spin that fine.  You cannot spin that fast. You cannot make yarns with that many plies.  And, everyone in the echo chamber keeps repeating those mantras until the next generation of beginning spinners comes along.  It is not fair to the beginning spinners.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

More Plies

I was sorting through swatches to take to CNCH, and the effect that gobsmacked me was how much more elastic yarns with many plies are.

I look at my spinning books and my knitting books and I do not see much discussion of the effect.

Certainly, I have been knitting gansey yarn for years without the effect seeming so noticeable.  Part of this that for a long time, I was knitting very tightly for warmth, and those fabrics did not display the yarns elasticity to best advantage.  Part of it is that I had to have tools for making better high-ply yarns see , and with the accelerator, I can drive the jumbo flyer at 1,000 or even 1,600 rpm, so I can get the job done.

Most bobbin tension devices on Lazy Kates cause that the tension of the singles changes as the effective diameter of the bobbin decreases as the singles spool off the bobbins.  A tension box device as shown
Making 10-ply with blocked singles.

eliminates this problem and ensures more uniform tension.   It is scalable and works for 2-ply just as well as it works for 10-ply.

For 5-ply

Other view showing final tension system. Note that no perforated plate to separate the yarn strands is required.  I stop twist from running back to the lazy Kate by running the strands over a quarter inch dowel held a couple of feet from the orifice.

 Other modern lazy Kate bobbin tension devices change tension as the effective diameter of the bobbin changes. This device does not. The one above is my prototype.  It is not pretty but it works very well.  For very high twist singles, more dowels can be added to increase more tension.

Will Taylor was back from his bird watching, and loved the fabrics made from high-yarns and this design for lazy kates. If you want one, ask Will.

More plies does make for better knitting yarns. More uniform tension among the singles makes for better yarns.

Monday, April 21, 2014

More Twist

Twist is what holds wool fiber together as yarn.   Within limits, more twist results in a more durable yarn.

Consider 10-ply Aran weight. (10 plies of 5,600 ypp singles)  Each single requires 9 tpi plus the 9 tpi to ply them together means the final yarn @ ~500 ypp requires 99 tpi to produce.  It is a remarkably elastic and durable yarn.  Just the thing to knit up for warm sweater to protect a loved one as he sets off to fish the wild and cold north Atlantic.  And, in a world where hand spinners are spinning boat loads of of 10s for weavers, a couple of pounds of 10- ply for a knitter is easy to obtain.  (I do not care what history says, I know what works. Women have always found ways to keep their loved ones warm.)

Gansey yarn is 5-plies of  5,600 ypp singles and requires ~ 54 tpi in total to produce. It is not as warm as 10-ply Aran, but then it is only half the weight of wool.  Again, by modern standards, 5-ply is a remarkably elastic and durable yarn. It is also warm, but I today I am saying that fabrics knit from yarns with more plies are more elastic.   And, in a world where hand spinners are spinning boat loads of of  10s for weavers, a couple of pounds of  5- ply for a knitter was easy to obtain.   It was known as wasset

Yes, fabric elasticity varies with knitting gauge and other things, but all else equal, fabrics knit from wool yarns with more plies are much more elastic.  And, a yarn with more plies or strands will be more durable than a yarn of the same grist with fewer plies or strands.  If I was going off to sea, I would rather have a sweater knit from real 10-ply made up from loom waste than a sweater knit from same grist yarn plied  up from 2 continuous plies.  The 10-ply would be warmer, and despite the plies not being continuous, the loom waste would be much more durable. Fabric knit for high elasticity will be knit more loosely knit than fabric knit for maximum warmth.   Sometimes we have enough wool and can afford the weight so that we can trade weight of wool for comfort.  Not all of us are subject to the strict weight limits of  a top man working in a tall ship where we need the most warmth for the least weight.

Aran weight made up from 5-plies of  2,900 ypp singles requires about 36 tpi to produce, and is a nice looking yarn that knits up into Aran stitch patterns better than any modern mill spun Aran ( e.g., 2 or 3-ply), but is not quite as durable as 10-ply Aran or even 5-ply gansey yarn.  On the other hand it is only a third the work of  10-ply Aran and 2/3 the work of  5-ply gansey yarn.  On the other hand, it is almost 4 times as much work to spin  as 2-ply Aran.  That IS why we see 2 and 3-ply Aran yarns.  2-ply and 3-ply Aran yarns are less work to produce, and thereby much, much cheaper.

The cheaper yarns are not nearly as durable as the higher-ply product.  Are you putting enough effort into your knitting that you want the object to endure? Or are you just knitting for kids that will out-grow the objects?  Or, are you just knitting objects that you intend to discard after this years fashion season?  What are  your goals for your objects?

The astute reader has guessed that the real  point of this post is sock yarn.  Sock yarn  is the modern hand spun yarn that still requires real durability. I have been re-reading Nancy Bush on Vintage Socks and confess myself disappointed. (I also had the original Weldon's open.)  The yarns and needles she suggests result in a sock that, for me, is too thick for business/ dress shoes, and too thin for boots.  I would be reduced to wearing those socks with my water sandals.  I suppose that people that wear such socks have a class of sport shoes that need socks of such weight.  I would like to point out that no where in the book is there a picture of such socks actually being worn. And, there is no discussion as to which heels and toes are comfortable under different conditions.  I have a wide foot, and I like to walk.  Thus, I need a  Kitchener stitch at the toe.  That is not discussed what so ever.  The idea of knitting a sock that is not functional is foreign to me.  I have no problem with making purely decorative items, but if I am going to knit a decorative item, it will be a shawl  or table cloth, and not socks that are pretty, but not comfortable.  If I am going to go to the bother of knitting a sock, it will be functional.  It will be as functional as I can make it.

 Traditional hosiery singles were worsted spun at 17 tpi - e.g., 40s or 22,400 ypp.  Modern sock yarn run 1,400 ypp, so that would be ~ 15 or 16-ply -- a yarn that requires a total of almost than 290 twists per inch to produce.  All of a sudden, the 10-ply Aran does not seem so twist/labor intensive.  However, traditionally hose were knit finer on needles sized between 1.0 and 1.55 mm.  On such fine needles a sock yarn of 6 hosiery plies works just fine and requires only about 120 twists per inch in total. And, 6 hosiery plies has a grist of just over 3,000 ypp and when knit on traditional needles produces a sock that will fit in my town shoes. And,  it wears like iron.  It works for folks like me that like to walk.  And, it is elastic.  It is so elastic that the vintage patterns when knit from fine 6-ply yarns even work for folks like me with wide feet.  It turns out that the Kitchener stitch is a crutch for cheap mill spun yarns with few plies.  If you like knitting with the thicker yarn, you can make 12-ply.  That is the glory of hand spinning.  However, if you have only knit with the modern yarns sold as sock yarns, this is outside of your range of experience.

The Vintage Patterns do work with the traditional hosiery yarns knit on fine needles, but the products are much less functional when knit with modern commercial sock yarns on larger needles as discussed by Bush.

Which bring us to the question of nylon and super wash.  I think that many fine plies improves wool's durability enough that the addition of nylon makes much less difference. However, I like medium wools such as Sufolk for socks.These are more durability that say Merino.   If I was making cheap sock yarn, I would add nylon because it is cheaper than wool and it would allow me to put less twist in the yarn for the same durability.  I make a similar argument for superwash technologies  --  worsted spun yarns, with fine plies, tolerate washing very well.  Super wash allows yarns with less twist or more woolen character to tolerate washing.  Drying is another matter. If you are going to  dry your woolies in the dryer, you NEED super wash technology.  However, fine spun worsted dries very well on a room temperature drying rack.

You are not going to get high twist, fine spun yarns from your local knitting yarn shop. Such yarns are expensive, and capital for inventory is limited. Dye is cheap, so you can have cheap yarns in any color. Twist is expensive, so you are not going to find many high twist yarns.  And not many modern knitters have the skills and tools to work with fine yarns so there is less demand for fine worsted yarns.  All in all, these days, there are not many of these yarns around.  If you want fine yarns, you are going to have to either make them or have them spun to order.  To experiment with these kinds of yarn try plying weaving warp yarns together. (e.g., cable 2 strands of 5,600 ypp warp to make a 4-strand 2,800 ypp yarn.)  This is less work than hand spinning hosiery singles.  This can give you a taste of the possible, but not the full effect. Plied rather than cabled yarn will give a smoother sock fabric. 6-ply  hosiery yarn is unlike anything you are likely to see in a modern commercial setting. It is fine lace weight, only stronger and smoother.  Sock fabric knit from 6-ply  hosiery yarn spun from long wool is smooth, silken to the touch, and durable.  (And, in black or navy blue, these yarns suck the light out of a room better and faster than Peruvian Darkness Powder.)

In that days when hand spinners were spinning boat loads of fine singles for weavers, fine knitting yarns were easy to come by. When I was spinning a lot of 10s, 10-ply Aran and 5-ply were easy to prepare.  As I spin more 40s for the shirting project, traditional  hosiery yarns are easy to prepare.

Competent hand spinners enable competent knitters.

(I find that I like to knit fine hosiery yarns using a leather knitting pouch rather than a knitting sheath.  And, for hosiery I like very flexible stainless steel needles, rather than my stiffer spring steel needles.  The 14" needles are easily available in sizes of 1.125 mm and larger.)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Twist and Grist

I have been accused of getting my twist numbers wrong.

That is unlikely.  I may have made a typo here or there, but over all, I am the one hand spinner that always knows his twist.   I use differential rotation speed (DRS) without slip to control twist insertion.  Once I install the whorls on the wheel, I know how much twist will be inserted.  If I want a thicker yarn, I do a more woolen preparation.  If I want a thinner yarn, I do a more worsted preparation, and thus I can get a range of yarns from particular whorl combination that inserts a specific twist.  However, I can always look at the whorls on my wheel and know how much twist is being inserted.

Thus, I have to know the twist for every yarn that I plan to make.  Once the whorls are (made and) installed -- the twist is set.  How fast I treadle does not affect inserted twist.  How fast I draft does not affect inserted twist.  Yarn build up on the bobbin does affect the effective diameter of the bobbins and hence rate of take up and hence twist.  However, this is a known factor that is predictable.

I know that when the whorls that produce 9 tpi are on the wheel, and I am spinning worsted I get 10s (5,600 ypp).  I have measured, and validated this hundreds of times.  I know that when the whorls that produce 17 tpi are on the wheel, I get 40s.  I have measured and validated this many times. I also have whorl combinations for 5s, 20s, 30s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s that have been have measured and validated. Each allows me to produce a specific grist of worsted and a different, specific grist of woolen and intermediate grists of semi-woolen and semi-worsted.

If I want to sit down and just play with a fiber, then I am likely to set the wheel up as single-drive, bobbin lead (Irish Tension).  Most of my plying of hanks of  5-ply  gansey yarn or 10-ply Aran weight are done using the Ashford ST Jumbo flyer. Thus, every week, I do work with ST and IT fliers. With IT or ST my twist is as fallible as anyone's. However, most of my spinning is done with DRS because it is more productive and my twist more precise.    Spending a lot of time working with precise twist makes me a better spinner when I am using ST or IT.  Sock weight yarns with large numbers of plys are plied using DRS control of  the AA #1 flier. This holds twist to within a few percent. That limits my sock yarns to skeins of about 10 grams or about 80 yards.  Small skeins are my penalty for demanding precise twist in my 6-ply sock yarns.

On the other hand, my WPI measurments tend not to be consistent with several other authors.  I worked with yarns of known grist and practiced doing WPI until my measured WPI for 5,600 ypp (10s) was a consistent 75,  my measured WPI for 11,200 ypp  was just over a hundred, my WPI for shirting or hosiery yarns was 150, and etc. This seems different from other authors, but most do not write about spinning this fine. In every case, my WPI tests were done with worsted spun rather than woolen yarns., and this may explain some of the difference. However,  I always pack to refusal, because it provides more consistent results. At this time, I do not trust my WPI for woolen spun yarns.  It is likely off by 10 % when it should be accurate to 6%.  Thus, to get the grist of woolen yarns I weigh a measured length.

I think some authors do not pack to refusal, so their WPI and hence estimated grist and required twist are different from my numbers.  My numbers work - consistently.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The last descent

Recently, one of my wife's college roommates gave me a big bump of Maine top.   It has  a spin count of around 55, and a nice luster.  The first thing I did is spin spin some 10s, and ply them up into 5-ply sport weight.  They used lanolin as combing oil, so there is residual oil on the fiber.  If it sits exposed to air, the lanolin will oxidize and turn to gunk. It (5#!) has to be spun and washed.  No time to dilly-dally around spinning 40s.

It spins fast and easy.  I like to wave the California flag and buy local wool, but this stuff comes all washed and combed at about the price I have been paying for raw fleece.  And, the resulting yarns are lustrous,  but much softer than the MacAusland yarns that I have used  for outdoor wear the past.  As a gansey yarn, this is much more lustrous than the mill spun gansey yarns.  Ok, you will have to dye it, but how hard is that?

Spun worsted, With 5-plies, these softer yarns are more durable than the harsher 2 and 3-ply MacAusland yarns.   And, they are much more durable than the mill spun 5-ply gansey yarns. Compared with the various Romney 5-ply sport yarns that I have spun over the last 5 years, this is much easier than washing and combing a fleece; and, less expensive than buying combed Romney top, but the final yarn/fabric is just as good.  

I swatched the 5-ply starting with 3 mm needles. I would knit an inch, knit a row of garter, switch to the next finer needle, and knit another inch. Then, I wash and block the swatch.  For myself, I like the fabric knit with 1.55 mm needles.  It is amazingly thin, light, weatherproof, warm, and durable.  My wife wants a cooler, more elastic and stretchy fabric, so for her we like the fabric knit on 1.9 mm needles.   It is smooth and comfortable for sustained wear against the skin. Even my wife does not complain that it is "itchy".  And, it can be treated very roughly and it does not shrink. 

I was a bit amused at this, as last fall almost all of my knitting was still being done on 2.4 mm needles. Now as I look through my knitting bag, and the WIP around my knitting chair, the only WIP  on 2.4 mm needles is a pair of sandal socks in eastern cross stitch using 6-strand cabled 800 ypp yarn.   Just now, my main project is a sweater for myself in worsted spun, 6-strand cabled fingering on 1.65 mm needles.

After 15 years of knitting, my default knitting needles are all smaller than 2 mm, and the yarns that I like are not found in knitting shops.  I am starting to identify with those old knitters using "knittn pins".  I like the fabrics. These days, I like yarns cabled up from mill spun warp, and I love my hand spun.  I would knit the sandal socks from hand spun (on smaller needles), but I have stash that needs to be knit. 

Halcyon sells the Maine top fiber at $16/lb, and it needs little additional prep for spinning.  With GUERNSEY 5-PLY WOOL at $26/lb, the question is, "Is hand spun worth the effort?". 

I spin 10s at ~350 yards per hour, so spinning while I watch the TV news (talking heads) produces  500 yards of  finished sport weight 5-ply per week.  That is enough 5-ply yarn for a sweater every month. I figure that spinning is free, so for all practical purposes, that yarn is free. If I had to pay for the fiber, it would cost me $16/lb.

Since I have moved to smaller knitting needles, my knitting time for a sweater has increased. Thus, using a better yarn seems more worth while. Over the last year, hand spun has moved from being reasonable to being ordinary.  Now, knitting mill spun is the exception. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The great disconnect

The best weavers in history were the professional hand weavers.
The best knitters in history were the professional knitters.
The best spinners in history were the professional spinners.

There are still a few professional hand weavers around, and they are very good, but we no longer have whole guilds of them where they can exchange ideas and compete.  And, they no longer have sources of fine hand spun yarns.  It is only by doing something everyday, in the company of other talented professionals, and in competition with those talented professionals that one can become the best. And, one produces the best product by working with the best materials.  Modern weavers are very limited by the lack of fine hand spun yarns.  Spinning has disconnected from its heritage of providing fine yarns for fine weaving.

First, the professional needs professional tools.  Tools used by professionals are different than the tools used by amateurs.   Professionals are always concerned about production rates and capital cost. Whatever else they are, a professional's tools are always cost effective.

Consider spinning. Good spinning is at the heart of any superior textile.  What modern spinning wheel is cost effective?  Babe - not expensive, but not highly productive.  Alden Amos's wheels are easy to spin on; but as built are limited to ~ around 2,400 rpm -- that imposes an absolute limit on how fast one can spin fine yarn.
If I am a good spinner, then I can draft fine yarns at 5 or 6 yards per minute, and I do not want a wheel that limits me to 3 or 4 yards per minute. No, because then I am only making half as much as I am capable, and that half capacity is likely the difference between possible and not possible projects.

I have been reading about weaving in the old days and the loom's web for a bolt (80 yd) of fine cloth required about 800 hanks of yarn, supplied by ~10 hand spinners.   That means the spinners averaged 80 hanks every 6 weeks or something over 2 hanks per day of  22,400 ypp singles.  Modern spinners cannot conceive of spinning that much yarn because they have been trained to spin slowly. And, they have been trained to use spinning wheels that spin slowly.

It has taken me 5 years to learn how to spin fine yarns fast. Why so long?  Because there were not other spinners that that spun fine yarns, fast.  Another reason is that there are no longer commercially available hand spinning wheels that will spin fast.

On paper, some wheels have a drive ratio that suggests that they are designed to insert twist at 4 or 5 thousand revolutions per minute.  Do they?  Check with your tachometer.  You don't have a tachometer? Then, get one!  Every serious spinner needs a tachometer and a small microscope.  Sell one of your wheels and buy some serious tools.  You can buy a tachometer mail order and have it in your hands in less than a week for less than $50.  Or, sit down at one of those fast wheels and see if the wheel will spin 140 yards of 40s (22,400 ypp)  in 48 minutes, because that is a minimum of how fast it must be to spin 80 hanks in 6 weeks.  That means those wheels were averaging 2,100 rpm, and sometimes they were going faster.   And, this is just for 40s. Fines require a third more twist.  If you are spinning fines, you will want a spinning wheel that goes a third faster.  If you want to average 2.4 hanks of  fines per day, you will want a wheel that will average 3,000 rpm. Such a wheel will let you spin 10s (5,600 ypp) pretty much as fast as you can draft. That is nice.  It is better than a video game. Suddenly, spinning is less boring.

All of a sudden the virtues of an accelerator wheel become very, very apparent.  In the old days when a spinner's income was depended on how fast the spinner could spin, accelerator wheels were more common.  In my case, where I spin because I want the yarn, the advantages of an accelerator wheel are obvious. An accelerator wheel lets me spin as fast as I can draft.

The great disconnect is that the best spinners were talented professionals that both exchanged ideas and competed. They produced quality yarns, and they worked fast.  Fine woven textiles require fine yarns. And fine woven textiles are more valuable than coarse textiles.  The coarse textiles of traditional subsistence cultures have their virtues, but these virtues are very different from the virtues of  luxury textiles made by professionals for an export market.

A professional spinner with the requisite skill, could make more more income by spinning finer yarns. A professional with the requisite skill, could make more more income by spinning faster.   The best spinners had faster wheels. And that was true from the first introduction of driven spindles.  Ok, you claim to be a better spinner with a faster wheel, can you spin 2 or 3 hanks of worsted shirting per day?  You want to earn my respect?  Spin  an ounce of shirting yarn in a day.  Look at that little bobbin of yarn. To somebody that has never spun such a bobbin of yarn, it is not very impressive. Wind that little single into a skein, and you will understand why I like little bobbins, tension boxes,  and sectional beams.  Spinners have disconnected from all of this, and no longer understand little bobbins, tension boxes, and sectional beams.

To say that one is a competent spinner is say that one can produce the yarn required for high-quality textiles. - including fine woven textiles.  And yet, spinning fine and fast has been lost from the definition of what is a competent spinner.  Many fiber festivals have spinning contests - who can spin with gloves on, who can spin while blind folded and etc.  Very few fiber festivals have contests on who can just spin fine and fast, e.g., how many hanks can you spin from 10 grams of fiber in an afternoon?  My  original definition of a competent spinner was someone that could spin wool at its spin count.  As a weaver, I have to add, that a competent spinner can spin wool at its spin count at a good commercial pace - otherwise I will never finish the yarn for my next weaving project.  Only being able to spin fine and fast makes that project remotely feasible.

Consider a master's spinning program (e.g., and they are talking about 6:1 ratio wheels.  If the student has a  - cadence of 90 treadles/minute, then the twist inserted is 540 rpm. If one is spinning yarn for weaving shirting, then that is less than 40 yards per hour - not what I would call the output of a master spinner. And, in the context of weaving project requiring half a million yards (800 hanks), not a useful yarn output at all. Their tpi chart goes up to 12 tpi, that will get you to 11,200 ypp worsted or 5,600 ypp woolen, but that is only the tip of the iceberg of what can be spun.  Shirting is 22,400 ypp, and wants about 20 tpi for warp and ~ 24 tpi for the woolen weft, so they are not even thinking about fine yarns for fine cloth. One expects a master spinner to be able to spin anything that a weaver might need, including fines for a lady's shawl. There is nothing in the syllabus that says, "Oh by the way, a master spinner can spin fine and fast."  The syllabus suggests that the mark of a master spinner is the ability to do a workbook.

No! No! No! The mark of a master spinner is ability and elan to make the yarns used to make great textiles. Competent spinners can make the yarns necessary to making any ordinary textile including shirting, suiting, underwear, and household linens. The competent spinner spins all of these with excellent quality, and spins them fast enough to make useful quantities.  The master spinner goes a step farther and finds a way to make their yarn exceptional.  The master spinner teaches, so that the next generation of competent spinners spin better yarn.  Then, the next generation of master spinners, must find some way to make their yarn exceptional. Being a master spinner is about always finding a way to spin better.

The  master spinner enables the master weaver.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

iron spindles


page 11 of the introduction.

Don't like it?  Argue with the Gilroy, not me.


I worked for various Bechtel companies.  Our stock in trade was doing things that had never been done before.  We would build things bigger than anyone else.  We would do things cheaper than anyone else.  We would do things safer than anyone else. And, we would do things better than anyone else.

So, consider hand weaving.  It is not dangerous to the weaver.  There are no public policy issues (e.g., release of hazardous or radioactive materials into densely populated areas). And, there are huge amounts of reference materials on the topic.  There are very few consequence for failure.  There is no reason to be afraid.   On the other hand, many of the practical skills for hand weaving, have been forgotten. People say that I do not have the experience, so I cannot do it. Nobody alive has the experience!  Does that mean it can not be done?   No! what has been done, can be done again. Why is that that people have not tried something spend so much effort telling me what I can't do?

I think it is worthwhile to try and rediscover some of the old weaving skills.  If you think those skills are still out there, then show me a recently made bolt of hand spun, hand woven wool shirting fabric.

Somebody needs the experience. It might as well be me.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Accelerator Revisited

It has been weeks since I made another version of the accelerator. With this version I have spun, plied, and cabled miles and miles of yarn.  It works.

With the accelerator, the Ashford Jumbo flier (ST) will run at between 1,000 and 1,600 rpm.  I was very pleasantly surprised at how well it works, running at over 1,200 rpm.   The Ashford Lace Flyer (ST) will run at just under 3,000 rpm. And the AA competition flier will run fast enough to spin woolen fines at 300+ yards per hour. This is all  much faster than I ever approached just using tiny whorls - even with elaborate bumpless drivebands and careful attention to whorl profiles.  All in all, everything runs about twice as fast as I could get it to go without an accelerator wheel. On the other hand, I do have a double treadle wheel and am willing to treadle hard.  I expect that a single treadle wheel would only go half as fast.  I also go through drivebands fairly rapidly and I use a lot of driveband dressing.  I keep an oil bottle of Royal Purple handy and I oil everything frequently.

This is not to say that driveband slip is always bad.  It can also act as a clutch in single drive systems to help avoid break off when spinning higher grist singles.  Another advantage of DRS DD is being able to come up to full spinning speed much faster without breaking the fine yarn.

I also have given up understanding why modern wheel makers have become so fixated on screw devices to control the tension of  drivebands.   Such devices make it hard to get reproducible levels of drive band tension, and almost ensure high loads on flyer bearings.

 The Ashford standard DD fliers will run at near 1,800 rpm with the accelerator.   Years ago, when I first tried to get the Ashford standard DD flyers to go faster, I thought the limiting factor was that the flyers were not balanced and that they had a high aerodynamic cross section. Now I think it more likely that the problem is that the Ashford DD axles flex at the joint with the flyer whorl and cause the vibration.

I took half of the heck array (hooks) out of the Ashford (ST)  Lace Flyer, and with ball bearings at each end, it runs twice as fast with an accelerator as it ever did without the accelerator. Without an accelerator, the drive ratio said it would go this fast, but it never did.    The new speed was a pleasant surprise.  I dislike having the whorls at the front so that there is a long barrel that the yarn must be threaded through.  

Somehow the net productivity of spinning on the Ashford Lace Flyer is not nearly as high as with the Alden Amos fliers.    Thus, these days, all the spinning of singles  is done on the AA fliers, 2-ply is made on the Lace Flyer which will hold full hank of  5,600 ypp 2-ply, and big stuff is assembled on the Jumbo.