Sunday, August 31, 2014

fraud and technology

 Witchcraft to the ignorant, .... Simple science to the learned!
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

"Magic" dominates modern spinning.  Spinners of fine threads claim to be working with singles that are bundles of only 5 staples. This claim evaporates into fraud when the light of science and technology is turned on it. For example one of the spinners of Orenburg lace tells us that her singles contain only 5 fibers. However these singles have a grist of about 30,000 ypp, Orenburg fibers have a  spin count of about 60,000 ypp, so we know her singles are bundles of about 40 fibers. Such singles are then plied (or more precisely, core spun) with silk.

A beginner that attempts to spin singles that are only 5 staples thick will fail, because that is not how one makes such yarns. For one thing, a single of Orenburg fiber that is only 10 fibers thick has a grist of 120,000 ypp (240 meters/gram or 350 wpi). Even with plies of silk to stabilize it, it is too thin.  In a knit pattern, it just disappears.  And it is very fragile. A single with only 5 fibers would be much thinner and much more fragile.  The puff about 5 fibers is bluff trying to support a world of magic, where people do not do STEM.

Saying that there are only 5 fibers in Orenburg lace singles is a lie.  In particular, it is not fair to beginning spinners.  Such lies are one reason I am so resentful against the spinning establishment. 
In fact, an 80s single from a fine fiber such as Rambouillet is actually going to be thinner than an Orenburg lace single. The 80s will have a grist of about 45,000 ypp, while the Orenburg lace single has a grist of about 30,000 ypp.  The 80s single is worsted spun and has a compact nature, while the Orenburg is woolen with a soft halo around it.  Thus, both by grist and visual appearance, the the 80s single is thinner than the Orenburg lace single.

Granted that an 80s single is not as soft as an Orenburg lace single, but it is thinner, and with the right tools, it is faster and easier to spin.  In my world, "softness" is not the only virtue.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


When I started spinning, I wanted certain yarns.

I saw that certain skills and certain tools were required.

I set myself a group of evolutions to learn the skills.

I bought tools, and modified them to make the yarns I wanted.

Together the tools and skills allow me to spin fine and fast.  They allow me to make the yarns that I want on a practical basis. I spin "lace" weight singles at 600 or 700 yards per hour. (These are actually for weaving and 5-ply.  When spinning lace, I spin more carefully and slower.)  I can sit down with Romney fiber and spin  40s (150 wpi/ 22,000 ypp / 45 meters/gram) at more than 300 yards per hour.  This is not bragging, it is a report of results.  I can sit down with the cheap, flock run 56 count American wool right out of the shipping box (from Halcyon Yarns) and spin 30,000 ypp worsted singles at a couple of hundred yards per hour.  I know the fiber, I just finished spinning 28,000 yards (16 miles) of  10s (75 wpi) from it.  I can do this anywhere.  I can do this in front of a courtroom with trial  judge and jury watching.  I can do it in the Ravelry Corporate Offices. I do it at guild meetings. The accelerator wheel that I had at CNCH last spring was about 40% slower.

This is not about me, it is about a set of skills and a set of tools.  Anyone with the skills and tools can spin that fine and that fast.  These skills and tools were common 300 years ago.

If you do not have the tools and skills, that is not my fault, do not blame me. On the other hand, I believe in picking my teachers with care and my students with more care.

In my evolution on spinning finer, I pushed to the finest yarns that can be spin from wool. There is a lot of practical and theoretical science on the topic.  Once you understand the physics, it is just a matter of  making the tools.  You need DRS set for 35 tpi.  That will actually meet the needs of spinning 7 staple bundles, which is about as fine as wool will tolerate. Finer than that and the wool fibers kink and break before they get enough twist friction to hold together.  Do not worry, you can win Longest Thread and set a new world's record with singles that average 7 or 8  staples in the singles.  If someone tells you that they spin singles of only 5 staples, ask to see a sample and examine it with your microscope, and count the staples.  All textile artists need a microscope.

With good tools and skills, singles comprised of a bundle of 20 staples can be produced quickly and easily. That fact was the basis of wool grading and trading. It defined spin count.  Every competent spinner could spin wool at its spin count at a commercial rate. Commercial rate was much faster than most modern spinners dream is possible.

Practical yarn needs to be produced at a useful rate, so I made my wheel faster.  When I started spinning, folks told me it was not feasible to spin 5-ply gansey yarn.  They were ignorant, and they paraded their ignorance. With my wheel, these days, it only takes ~ 7 hours to spin and ply 500 yards of gansey yarn that is MUCH better than the mill spin. I did not need to buy a power mini-mill for the little bit of yarn that I want.  If you spin 4 hours per evening, you can spin the yarn for a gansey in a week. I am not bragging, I am saying what reasonably can be spun.  Some people do not want to spin that fast.  I do not care how fast they spin.  I want to get it spun, and knitted.

Spinners who do not have the appropriate skills and tools try to make this about me and say that I have a bad personality or psychological problems.  I am a nerd, a geek, and that about sums it up. Those skills and traits helped me find and follow a path to faster and finer spinning.   I chose to learn to spin fine and fast.  Others chose not to learn those skills.  That is not my problem.

Friday, August 29, 2014


At one point, I was fully metric.

However, as I spin finer, the logic and simplicity of the old Bradford yarn terminology becomes more and more apparent. The Bradford system was based on the number of hanks that could be spun from a pound of the fleece. It assumes that one is spinning as fine as possible.

My "lace weight" singles now have 8 gradations by twist and grist. I know how long each will take to spin, and how many yards I can spin from various kinds of wool, and I can do all of that in my head.

Yes, I can do it in the metric system, but then I need to remember or calculate ~40 conversion factors. The sliding scale of "spin count" takes all the possible variations of  fiber diameter into consideration.  It is a very elegant solution.

On the other hand, if one is not spinning at the "spin count", the Bradford system is merely a clumsy anachronism.

Sticks and Stones

When I started spinning, I saw that traditional hand spinners had produced 80s (worsted 45,000 ypp / 90 m/gm) singles as a commercial product.

I asked, "Who will teach me to spin such things?"
Nobody stepped forward.  They had forgotten how to spin such things, and even forgotten that such things  could be hand spun.

So, I worked it out for myself.  The process works. In addition to letting one spin finer, it allows one to spin faster. I did not invent the process.  It was developed in 12th century Italy. Both Priestman and Alden Amos reference the technology and tell us that it is very important. I merely worked out some practical details.

Now, other spinners would rather stand in the back and call me names than come forward and see how it is done.

Shame on them.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Last night's guild meeting sorta became a celebration of Spinzilla.

This morning as I flip thorough some of the material, I have some comments.

At there is a discussion by Stephanie Flynn Sokolov on whorls.  However, she neglects to mention that as the whorl size gets smaller, it is more likely to slip against the drive band resulting in less speed of the flyer/bobbin assembly. I suggest a bit of drive band dressing will do more to give you more speed.  There is a recipe in Alden Amos.  It works.  It can double your spinning speed.  Get the powdered rosin from a sporting goods store - it is cheap.  Get a very small amount of turpentine from artist supply store (unless you use it on a regular basis),

Make some.  I put mine in the little 2 oz plastic containers that the local burrito place uses to package salsa. One of  Alden's recipes will make 5 or 6 cakes and a cake will last a busy spinner a long, long time.  The only excuse for not doing this is if you use plastic drive bands.  Otherwise have a project day at the spinning guild and make everybody a 1/2 oz cake of drive band dressing.  A dab will do ya!

Double drive is likely to be fractionally faster than any single drive wheel.  Modern DD wheels are made with a DRS that is about right for 1,600 ypp woolen, and that is likely to be the fastest yarn to produce.  Most (wheel) spinning contest winners end up producing ~1,600 ypp woolen,  For Spinzilla that means you will need a lot of fiber and will end up with a lot of worsted weight, 2-ply knitting yarns.  Not a bad thing if you like such yarns. 

Spinzilla is biased against spinners that produce fine yarns.  1,600 ypp woolen needs about 4 tpi, and 5,600 ypp worsted needs about 9 tpi, so somebody spinning the finer single must insert more than twice as much twist per inch as they make yarn.  That means that spinner doing lace weight either needs to treadle twice as fast, or work twice as long or have twice as fast a wheel.  And usually faster wheels have smaller whorls with less swept area resulting in more drive band slippage.   

You can reduce drive band slippage by increasing drive band tension, but that puts more stress on the bearings, increasing treadle effort.  It also means that you drive band will fail more frequently.  If you are going to be running at high drive band tension, have a spare drive band standing by, ready to go. 
Sara Lamb at   talks about spinning @ 2,000 ypp and it takes her 6.5 hours to spin a pound for a pace of just over 300 yards per hour which means she was inserting twist at ~800 rpm. Twist for 2,000 ypp is about 4.4 tpi.  

That likely sets standard for typical spinning pace, that is more realistic than the 90 yards in 15 minutes at SOAR  spinning competitions. For various reasons, I do not think spindle spinners will be competitive.  If there were divisions for finer yarns, it would be a different story.

Jacey Boggs says she finds thinner spinning faster, and likes the fact that bobbins do not fill as fast, but does not address the issue of finer singles requiring more twist. The truth is that fine yarns require a lot more twist, and twist is effort, and that effort has to come from somewhere.

Stephenie Gaustad recommends long draw woolen at low grist. 

Ergonomic factors will likely limit total spinning to around 8 hours per day, so even very dedicated spinners will likely spin no more than 50 hours for a total production on the order of 15,000 yards, call it 26 hanks. And, if you are spinning 1,600 ypp woolen, you will use almost 10 pounds of fiber.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How long to spin a yarn for a bolt of shirting?

A bolt of shirting is about 8 pounds, so it is 320 hanks.  At 22 hanks per week, it would take one spinner about 4 months to spin the yarn for a bolt of shirting. Not very convenient for the weaver, and not easy for a factor to maintain consistency and quality.  However, 4 spinners could do it in a month, and 16 spinners sitting together in a spinning room could turn out the the yarn for a bolt of shirting in a week.  Very convenient for the weaver. Very easy for the manager to maintain quality and consistency.

Thus, 16 spinners and a dozen support staff including talented professional combers and dyers, could spin the yarn required for 50 bolts of cloth per year (circa 1520).

It took me all fall to spin 7 lbs of wool as 6 hanks of loom warp/weft at 3,000 ypp. It only took me a couple of weeks to spin the 30 hanks of 5,600 ypp warp. That increased speed of spinning, allowed in part by the use of an accelerator wheel, so excited me that I put weaving and my new (to me) loom aside for months, to improve my spinning. It was very worthwhile.  Today, I can spin 3 hanks of 40s in a day. It can be done.  With modern ball bearings, it can be quietly. Spinning was the critical competitive advantage in textile production.

Modern spinners do not want to believe that a hand spinner can spin that fast.  That is ok, they should come watch me spin. (  I will have my wheel and some 40 count wool.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The end of another chapter in this blog

Using only bushing bearings of bronze-steel, wood-steel, and leather-steel available in 1500, a spinning wheel using DRS can run at 4,000 rpm on a sustained basis. This is based on multiple 6 and 8 hour trials.

In contrast, contestants using spinning wheels at SOAR spinning contests operated their spinning wheels at ~ 500 rpm for 15 minute race periods.

It is clear that a motivated spinner that understands the craft can spin 8 times faster than the average wheel spinner in a SOAR spinning contest. In the 2009 contest, the spindle spinners spun 2.4 times faster than the wheel spinners. However, a motivated spinner that understands the craft and has an appropriate wheel can spin 3.3 times faster than the spindle spinners can spin for 15 minutes, then the wheel spinner can continue spinning at that same rate for another 7.75 hours, so this is not at all a fair comparison.

Working with a wheel running at 4,000 rpm, a spinner circa 1500 could spin about a million yards per year of worsted single with a grist of 10,000 yards per pound.  That would be about 2 pounds of yarn or  40 hanks per week.  Many spinners would require between 44 and 48 hours of to spin 40 hanks, so it would be a long, hard week.  Twenty -two hanks of 40s or or 48 hanks of 10s would be a similar amount of labor.

With that, I am moving on to ball bearings, and other marvels of the 20th century.  With ball bearings the wheel is quieter at 4,500 rpm than it was with bronze bushings at 3,500 rpm.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

More on spin count

The distaff is dressed with 60 count flock-run long wool, and the task at hand is 40s (150 wpi) for weaving warp. I need a good bit of the warp, and I am working on it diligently.

However, spinning 60s from 60 count wool is so easy and so relaxing that I do find myself accumulating bobbins of 60s - and this is only with flock run fiber -  and not well graded fiber. After "working" on the 40s for a while, I flip the drive band over to the 20 tpi whorl and spin 60s for fun.  I may just change my mind, and just spin the warp from 40 count wool.  I had intended to spin the weft as 22,400 woolen singles from 80 count Rambouillet.  Samples of woolen singles of from 40 count fibers are not that soft, but they are faster and easier to spin.    Frankly, at this point, I find worsted singles in these grists easier to handle than woolen, and singles management is becoming a big deal.  

This rather upsets things as I have a lot of fine (80 count) wool ordered for this project- all based on the conventional wisdom that it would be easier to spin 22,000 ypp singles from finer wool. As I get into this, what I find is that it is easier to spin 22,000 ypp/150 wpi from 40 count wool (34 micron)  than from 80 count (20 micron) wool - - if you have the correct equipment.  And this goes for both worsted and woolen singles.

Let me say this over and over.  If you have a single drive wheel, then yes, it is easier to spin 40s/22,000ypp/150 wpi from finer fiber.  If you are working on a DRS controlled spinning wheel then is is easier to spin 40s from 40 count wool, and 80s from 80 count fiber.  And, a DRS wheel will let you spin 40s about 5 to 8 times faster than a single drive wheel.  NOT twice as fast, but more like 5 times faster -- or even more.  This is spinning.  Why do not the "experienced" spinners / teachers talk about it?  Because it takes some math and skill in setting up the wheel.  I think spinning 8 or 9 times faster is worth a little math.

The bobbin core on the AA#0 flier is 0.95", the bobbin whorl is 45.00 mm in diameter, and the flyer whorls for 40s, 60s and 80s are 45.9, 45.72, and 45.63 mm respectively..   These must be calculated, and not guessed. And then, a bit of dirt on whorl can spoil everything.  These combinations insert approximately 18, 20, and 23 twists per inch to produce 22,000, 30,000 and 45,000 ypp singles. That flier runs at over 4,000 rpm. The bobbin whorl on the AA#1 flier is 50.00 mm, and its flyer whorls produce 10s, 20s, and 40s. That flier runs at over 2,500 rpm.

I need a quarter million yards of 22,000 ypp (40s) singles.  I need easy!!  I need fast. Last winter, before the improvements on the wheel, I thought the path to fast and easy was finer wool.  Now, I know better. If I am going to write a check for $1,500 for the fiber for one project, I want to make sure I am buying the correct fiber.

The extra speed of from the new accelerator and the additional precision from the larger ~(50) mm DRS seem to facilitate the spinning.  Over all DRS as a technology resolves most of the difficulties enumerated by other authors discussing the spinning of fine singles. I am going to revisit this real soon.

However, watching the fine thread slipping through the fingers at 3 or 4 yards per minute does tire the eyes and ultimately bring on vertigo.  This can be avoided by spinning by feel.

I can watch DVDs while spinning.  The only thing is that I must limit wood working to retain sensitivity in the finger tips to allow spinning with minimal looking. However, with limited woodworking, I can spin even 80s (200 wpi) mostly by feel.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


I do not care if you are buying Italian designer suits or underwear at Target, the bulk of nice textiles are produced from thin yarns.  If you want to claim to be a spinner, you need to be able to produce thin yarns. And, if you want to be able to claim to be a spinner, you need to be able to produce a useful quantity of those yarns.

When I came to spinning 6 years ago the offered tools were various spindles, single drive wheels, and double drive wheels.  However, the whorl profile on the (commercially produced) DD  whorls had been corrupted, so that the DD wheels were actually single drive wheels in disguise.

There was a residual mythology about DD wheels being "better".  This was supported by the DD wheels with the corrupted whorl profiles being a few percent faster than single drive spinning wheels.  I was spinning 5-ply sport weight gansey yarn and the DD system was better.  Soon I was spinning those "lace weight" / 75 wpi singles at 150 yards per hour.

However, spinning finer was still difficult, and I went back to a Scotch Tension "Lace Flyer" to learn to spin 80s / 45,000 ypp / 200 wpi. Spinning those fine singles was slow and difficult.  Everything about it was hard.  Fiber preparation had to be perfect. Great care was required to prevent the single from burying itself. Mostly, it was slow - less than 100 yards per hour.

For the last couple of years, I have used double drive with differential rotation speed (DRS) exclusively.  DRS is the source of the myth that DD wheels are better. They are faster and allow spinning finer.

Now using DRS, I routinely spin the singles for gansey yarn at more than 500 yards per hour. A 500 yard hank of 5-ply is an easy day's task.  Last night while watching Pride and Prejudice, I spun an ounce/ 1,600 yards of shirting warp (22,000 ypp) from 60 count long wool.  And, I can spin 80s / 45,000 ypp / 200 wpi using fiber with only ordinary preparation. And, I do not have to worry about the single getting buried because, it is spun under much less tension. And it is faster.  My production rate with the Scotch Tension "Lace Flyer" is still less than 100 yards per hour, and my production rate with the DRS DD is about twice that.

DRS DD wheels are better for producing useful quantities of fine singles for high quality textiles.  Why DRS DD wheels are not sold is a mystery.  Why people do not learn to use such tools is a mystery.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Overview of Spinning at the Spin Count

  1. Select the desired grist and nature of the single.
  2. Select a wool with a spin count that is the desired grist, and which has a nature that will produce the desired single.
  3. Use differential rotation speed to set the flyer/bobbin assembly to insert the correct twist for that grist.
  4. Prepare the wool as combed top, dressed onto a distaff. Combing with 5 pitch combs is how they did it for years and years, and it works.
  5. Use a high bobbin/flyer rpm -- 2000 is good, 3,000 is better. Accelerator wheels work.
  6. The hands will be a good distance apart and a good distance from the orifice.  Hand motions are very small, and limited to advancing wool into the drafting triangle and bringing stray staples to the area when the single is forming.
  7. Yarn is wound off as when the effective circumference of the bobbin (and hence the inserted twist) changes. If you are spinning 60s, you can likely get 500 yards (8 grams) on a 3.5" bobbin before the twist changes more than 10%, and that is close enough for hand spinning.
The key to the whole process is that one needs to use DRS to insert the correct amount of twist for the takeup. Then, one needs to use a fiber with a spin count appropriate to the grist being inserted.   These two factors must work together.

Modern spinners find spinning these grists (20,000 ypp - 45,000 ypp, 140 to 200 wpi) difficult. This is because they either use spinning wheels with too much take-up or spindles which are slow. Then, modern spinners try to make the spinning easier by using the finest possible fibers.  In fact, the use of finer fibers changes the dynamics of the twisting process, and increases the requirements for drafting.  This is not noticed because these systems already require significant drafting effort.  In contrast, I set up my system to require minimal drafting effort.

I can spin 22,400 ypp single from Romney faster and easier than I can from Merino, and much, much easier than I can from that mix of silk, alpaca, and Merino that I was spinning over the weekend. All those fine fibers disrupt the system's ability to self-assemble the single. 

There is 60 count long wool on the distaff right now and I have been spinning it into 22,400 ypp singles. Spinning it at 30,000 ypp/60 count is just a matter of changing the flyer whorl, and Bingo, I am spinning at the spin count and everything is copesthetic.  The 22,400 ypp requires some drafting, The single at the wool's spin count just sort of self assembles with less attention. This is about small increments of faster and easier.

Get it all correct, and one can spin worsted grists of 20,000 ypp - 45,000 ypp at 350 to 200 yards per hour.  And the uniformity will be unbelievable in the context of modern hand spun.  A rather small investment in learning the physics of spinning brings huge rewards in easier spinning.  This has been my refrain for several years now.  The book that gets the physics of spinning correct is Alden Amos's, Big Book of Hand Spinning. Read it.  I know of two famous spinners that recommend it and still make mistakes about the content.  Learn it.  cf  Alden's analysis of spinning garment weight singles on the great wheel.  Flyer/bobbin systems are much easier, and much faster.

One can make much faster spindles that work very well for this technology, but I do not see many of them around.  

I have seen the larger spinning community deny that this is possible, and I see waves of anger.  No adult should ever get angry over a bobbin of lace  yarn.  A bobbin of lace is nothing, it a few grams of fiber and a couple hours of spinning. However, if you have a quarter of a million yards of 22,000 ypp singles, then you can weave a bolt of shirting. In the middle ages,  hundreds of bolts of shirting were being traded around Europe. That means that hand spinners were spinning tens of millions of yards of 22,000 ypp singles every year.  It was an industry that made families rich, and cities powerful.  And, that was in addition to what was being spun for other weaving.   That kind of money and power is something to get excited about.



Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Collorary

The corollary to the Great Propositions is that I like to spin a single from a single grade of wool.

Not some blend of a whole fleece; not not some flock run blend, but a single grade grade selected by the trained and skilled eyes and fingers of a wool sorter.  Such batches of wool are rare these days.

Great yarns are spun from silk, alpaca, cashmere,and angora, but I am only thinking about wool today.

From a spinning view point, I do not see any reason what-so-ever for deliberate blends of different breeds of sheep. I see these blends as salesmanship to spinners that do not know any better. A fiber mix, may give the final fabric additional virtue, but they do not improve spinning.  By and large, uniform fibers with good fiber preparation improves spinning.

Similarly, I do not see any reason to add silk, alpaca, cashmere, or angora.  They may improve the final fabric, but they do not aid spinning.

I do not think that any type of  wool is harder or easier than any other wool to spin.  Each type, and perhaps each fiber preparation does require different techniques, and the use of the wrong technique(s) may make it appear that a particular wool is impossible to spin.  However, with the fiber prep and correct technique, it will spin easily.  In particular, fiber from commercial processes may have to be washed and carded/combed despite its being "combed top". What ever kind of wool it is, it needs to be grit free prior to spinning. One cannot spin a fine, consistent single from gritty fiber.

The orientation (butt/tip) of the fibers does make a difference to the hand spinner, but I like a random orientation in my finished yarns, and that is how I process my fiber. I think having the scales oppose each other results in a more stable yarn.

The above, with plenty of twist from a fast wheel with DRS controlled takeup gets us to the point where spinning wool at its spin count is reasonable.

Spinning wool singles of 45,000 ypp (100 yards per gram/ 200 wpi) is not mythical or magical.  It is just a set of spinning skills that were common in 1700, but are not common today.

The Great Proposition

I assert that spinning worsted singles can be divided into drafting and inserting twist.  I assert that the wool most naturally and easily assembles into bundles of about 20 fibers. A single of 20 staples is the spin count of the wool.  At 20 staples a 70 count will spin to 70 hanks per pound and a 40 count wool will spin to 40 hanks per pound.

Thus, if you need 30,000 ypp singles,  I think it is easier to spin them from 54 count wool than from a 70 count wool such as Merino.  I think that it is easier to spin 22,400 ypp singles from 40 count wool than from 50 or 70 count wools such as Suffolk or Merino.

Using either the right spin count wool or the finer wool, the required twist is the same. The only thing different is the drafting effort.  And, I think that a smooth, uniform single is more easily drafted when the spin count of the wool matches the spin count of the desired single.

This goes directly against the current conventional wisdom.  However, mostly that wisdom is recited by folks without much experience in spinning various wools at their spin count.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Only in California

Wind, gusting to 40 knots, on the starboard beam.  Triple reefed, and the lee rail awash. And, in shirt sleeves.  Only in California.

On the other hand it was a reminder that I must get the new gansey finished before it turns cold.  I have a couple of pounds of hand-spun 5-ply yarn in the project bin and another couple pounds of worsted long wool of singles ready to ply.  I guess the question was whether I wanted to add a ply or two of woolen Rambouillet to the yarn for extra softness.  I have pounds of the Rambouillet singles, it is just a matter of plying. Time to quit pondering and knit like a demon.

I was spinning, and spinning, as I worked out details of better spinning gear.

I have an new accelerator:

 Oh, Yeah!

There were several issues to solve, so it took many tries to make it work. (And, a few extra singles were spun along the way as gear was tested, fixed, and retested.  And, there were some skills to learn, resulting in more singles.)   They are not all great singles, but there is no such thing as a bad lace weight single.  They will do just fine as sport weight 5-ply singles.

However, now the AA #0 flier runs at well over 4,000 rpm on a continuous and sustained basis. The bobbin core is .95" the bobbin whorl is 48 mm, and the flier whorls are set for 9, 12, and 18 tpi. This pretty close to the twist required for 10s (75 wpi) , 20s (100 wpi), and 40s (150 wpi). The only ball bearing is the one at the orifice.  Most of the bearings are graphite impregnated Delrin, from Henry Clemes.  It is very nice stuff.  Production of 10s from 60 count combed top seems to be about 650 yd/hr.

This morning I did the calcs, and early next week will make up new flier whorl(s) for 60s and 80s (200 wpi).  In theory, I should be able to spin 60s and 80s at better than 200 yards per hour - enough to be useful.  However, it would be more of a demo thing than a matter that I want to make fabric that fine - and all of my guild as already seen me spin fines.  Still, I do believe that a competent spinner should always be ready to spin fine wool at spin count,  so maybe I need whorls for 50s  (hosiery singles from Suffolk)  and 70s (from that cheap, flock-run, Merino).  However, my big projects are loom tissue from 10s and  40s.  40s were the traditional weight of shirting, and bolt of shirting requires a quarter million yards of single.  That is real spinning!

I love the big "50 mm" whorls because they give me much more precision with the differential rotation speed.  In addition to the 10s, there are hanks and bobbins of 20s and 40s around.

In the past, I did not finish whorls. Now, I finish them with Danish oil because I get a more uniform layer of  belt dressing adhering to the whorl.  Belt dressing tends to form clumps and lumps on whorls without the oil finish. 

The sweaters are being knit  from sport weight 5-ply with a soft ply twist on 14" hollow SS 1.65 mm needles with a Shetland knitting belt. These needles tend to collapse when used with a wooden knitting sheath. It is a good, fast, inexpensive system.  It works.

I got left at home to make dinner so:
 New flyer whorl for 50s, 60s, and 70s.  It really is amazing, I hook it up to some moderate grade Merino and let it rip, and there are 20 to 24 fibers in resulting thread.  That is the yarn that combination of takeup and twist insertion favors.  The spin count of the Merino likely in the 75-77 range so 22 fibers would give me a grist of just under 40,000 ypp, and the whorl works.  There are still some geometry issues (drive bands coming off), but right now I do not know a faster and easier way to spin 38,000 ypp singles. I have to dig around and find 60 and 50 count fiber to test the other grooves.  (Actually, I know where they are, but I have to get the sawdust out of my hair and bake a cake.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


We should have a real spinner's "Rodeo" or Exhibition

Yesterday the wheel went into the shop, for some touchups and tuning.

This morning, it spins lace weight singles at 600 yards per hour -- not bad for an old man that has not run a marathon since 1980.  And, even at that rate, it is fairly low effort. It is low enough effort that I can keep it up all day without a problem.  I think I could keep the pace up all week. 600 x 40 hr/ wk = 24,000 yd/week => ~1.2 million yd/year.

Do I think the old time spinners worked that fast?  Hard to tell.  As is, the flyer/bobbin assembly has one ball bearing in it.    I do not think that one ball bearing makes that much difference, still ball bearings are an 18th century technology.

I think that even in 1500, professional spinners kept their wheels tuned up.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

commerical rates

One old definition said that a competent (hand) spinner could spin (wool)  at its spin count at a commercial rate. Of course, spin count is the measure of the fineness of the wool in hanks per pound, but what was "a commercial spin rate"?

I have spun 500 yd (a hank) of 5-ply gansey yarn in a day, even hanks on consecutive days, but that about did me in.  For 10s,16,000 yards per week is about as fast as I can spin (on th AA # 1 flier) On the other hand, I am a fat old man, who has not run a marathon since the summer of 1980.

I suspect that "commercial rate" for 10s by professional hand spinners was in the range of 16,000 to 20,000 yards per week.   (the AA# 0 flier is faster, and I expect, it is the kind of tool that a pro would use.).  In short, there were likely active hand spinners that spun a million yards of lace-weight singles in a year.

And, there were likely active spinners that spun half a million yards of 40s/shirting/hosiery singles in a year.

Conventional wisdom is that spinning finer requires slower spinning. However, I think quite the reverse.  And at this point, I do not know anyone that is researching the topic as aggressively as myself.


Sometimes it is hard to maintain a good rate of spinning - I tend to slow down.

One technique is to use a metronome.  I set it to the desired beat, and let it pace me.

I have a small inexpensive electronic metronome, not much bigger than a business card.  I think it cost ~$10. I have a free app for my smart phone.  Both work.

There is a note in my spinning journal as to twist insertion rate/ bobbin rpm for various metronome settings.

Monday, August 04, 2014

A Failure of Tapestries

Looking at Great Tapestries edited by J. Jobe (1965) and the section in the back by the professional tapestry weavers Francois Tabard and Jacques Brachet, entitled, The Weaver's Art, we see that Tabard (and Aubusson by extension) do not feel that handspun has sufficient uniformity to be suitable for tapestries.  That is silly.  Many of our finest tapestries were woven before mill spun. Their existence is proof that a  competent spinner can produce yarn suitable for a fine tapestry.

What Tabard meant is, "Contemporary hand spinners do not generally produce high quality yarn." In particular, he is talking about uniformity.  This is in contrast to Verlet's and Florissone's themes that in the Gothic and Classical periods,  hand spun yarns produced fine tapestries.

Tabard tells us that 2/20 yarns (2-ply at ~5,000 ypp) is fine enough for almost any tapestry.  (One must stand back to see all of a big tapestry, and at a few steps back, 2/20 yarns provide a higher resolution than the human eye can see.)  That is about the grist of the commercial mill spun warp that I buy.  The French, Italian and English tapestries that I enjoyed in Paris were woven (and restored) with yarns of about that grist.  However, the 16th century Flanders tapestries were woven from finer yarns.  They even look good when you get so close that the guard is running toward you, shouting for you to get away from the tapestry.  I was not touching it! Really!!

I suggest to you that if you having trouble with uniformity, spin finer - and use coarser wool. The advantage of spinning wool at the wool's spin count is that the single, and hence the yarn will be very uniform. Let me say that again: spinning wool at its spin count ensures a uniform yarn. I'm pretty sure that (some) of those very fine tapestries from Flanders in the first half of the 16th century were woven from 2/40 (2 ply at ~10,000 ypp/ e.g., singles of 40 meters/gram) which was plied from a standard grist of single that spinners in Flanders were producing for shirting.  They used DRS spinning wheels set to insert 15 tpi which results in worsted singles of about 18,000 ypp.  (Right now, my spinning wheel is set to insert 17 tpi resulting in worsted single that is very close to  22,400 ypp. I assure you that such singles can be spun at a rate of 2,500 yards per day on a sustained basis.)

Those singles were in the range of 32s to 40s (e.g., 40 hanks of 560 yards each per pound).  Spun from coarse long wool such as Cotswold, the thread is very lustrous, strong, and durable.  40s are more lustrous than 20s spun from the same wool. However, spinning these long wools finer, (e.g.,44s) is more effort.  And, in a time when rooms were lit only by fire, more lustrous wall hangings were much more valuable.  That is, my thoughts about grist are driven by a compromise between spinning effort and the need for luster.  (Mill spun does NOT provide that luster. See,  , ,  OK,! it is worsted spun from combed fiber, but different breeds have different luster, and higher grist shows the luster off better. The AVL from Fine Fiber is ~3,200 ypp.) 

Francois Tabard and Jacques Brachet simple got it wrong.  I find this funny as the Apocalypse Tapestry  ( is genneraly considered to have been a major artistic influence on both Tabard and Lucrat (another great weaver) in the 1930s. In the old days, hand spinners did spin yarns for high quality tapestries, because mill spun did not exist.  Was the warp as uniform as modern mill spun? NO! However, the long wool was stronger and more durable.  And, the hand spun weft was adequately uniform considering the acuity of the human eye.   Using mill spun, modern weavers never get the full luster of worsted spun long wool.  

Tabard and  Brachet were correct in that contemporary (1965) spinners using typical modern hand spinning tools are not likely to produce useful amounts of 2/20 worsted yarns with the necessary consistency. Tabard and  Brachet had never worked with high luster yarns, so luster was not something that they 
expected pr thought about in their yarns.

Hand spinning can produce better yarns for tapestries than mill spun, and can produce those yarns in useful quantities.  Standing back a few feet means that a small lack of uniformity in the yarn does not diminish the over-all effect for the human eye.    It is the same issue that says 2/20 is a fine enough yarn.   And, the hand spinner can work with lustrous long wool, or silk, or rayon, or nylon, or silver /gold/ aluminized mylar fibers, or even polyester.  You can even make transparent yarns. However, use of DRS controlled flyer/bobbins allows hand spinning of more consistent singles at rates 3 to 8 times faster than is possible using typical modern hand spinning tools (spindles, or single drive wheels, or double drive wheels not using DRS ).  That 3 to 8 times faster is worth while because it allows more interesting projects to be completed.  

For something like the Apocalypse Tapestry, the weaver would be working at something like 13 or 14 epi using a final yarn of about 800 ypp. For ease of producing a highly uniform weft yarn, I would use 6 strands of 2-ply 5,000 ypp yarn. (e.g., singles would be 10,000 ypp, e.g., ~20 hanks per pound)  The 6 strands would be wound together on the bobbin but would have very little cable twist so the 6 strands of 2-ply weft (12 strands total) would lie flat on the warp and give perfect fill.  I expect that about just under half a million yards of of warp and just over half a million yards of weft would be needed.  It comes out to just under over 7,000,000 yards of singles.

This is a luxury project, and the use of finer singles vastly improves the look and luster of the fabric, but the additional effort to spin the finer singles is not significant.  (Compared to 72 man-years of weaving!) So, while I have not seen the tapestry in person and have not seen a discussion of the yarn construction details, I very much suspect that they used what most modern hand spinners would consider ridiculously fine singles. 

Weaving time for the Apocalypse Tapestry has been estimated at between 50 and 85 man-years, but it was completed in only 5 calendar years, so there were about a dozen weavers. 

However, using DRS, a team of 4 spinners could easily have spun  all the needed yarn (including 12-strand weft) in about 3 years.  If the spinners start a few weeks before the weavers, they can have warp for 3 looms and a small stock of weft ready for the weavers. Using DRS spinning technology, a team of 30 workers could have produced the Apocalypse Tapestry in about the 5 years history says it took to make the object.  The core team would have been a dozen  weavers,  4 spinners, a wool comber, a dyer, assistants for handling yarn and setting up/adjusting the looms, an artist doing the cartoons and setting color palettes, a manager, and a book keeper.  In the last 2 years of the project, finishing tasks would have replaced spinning tasks.

Spinning effort with spindles would have been 2 or 3 times greater. (e.g., 12 spinners) Certainly not much in the greater scheme of things, but I think that the consistency of the weft argues for it having been spun by a smaller group of spinners working with DRS wheels.  

The dealer that arranged the Apocalypse Tapestry commission arranged commissions for 254 other tapestries. And, there was routine textile weaving going on nearby. Thus, there would have been continuous work for spinners, weavers, and finishers.  This was weaving on an industrial scale. These were not women spinning for the needs of their family.  These were not even folks spinning under the direction of their lady for local needs. These were folks in Paris making tapestries for a castle that was 200 miles away. The tapestry for the choir stalls in Tournais was woven in Arras, 40 miles away. It was 8 feet high and 65 feet long.  We know there were other larger and more famous tapestry weavers closer.  Thus, we can infer that textiles was a large and competitive industry. This does not fit into any of the modern mythology of hand spinning. 

These were folks that knew how to get textiles DONE!  Full time, professional textile workers in the time of Chaucer. You can pick at my 
estimates on the number and amount of singles produced, but first you need to look at the Apocalypse Tapestry and think about how you would produce that volume of yarn, of that quality, in that time frame. 

The bottom line is that if you want beautiful tapestry yarn, get some Cotswold, and spin it fine.