Monday, August 24, 2015

The Right Answer

A long time ago, I was Senior Scientist at the world's largest engineering firm.  It is a firm where the team is everything.  And, in that team work, is real power.  When there is a problem, a team goes to work on the problem.

I was on many such teams.  Typically there would be at least two solutions.  A standard, convention wisdom solution, and I would propose something else. Often, analysis would show that my solution was better, and my solution would be adopted.

Here, folks assume that because my solutions are different from the conventional wisdom, my research is bad and I must be dumb and unemployable.

For example, I like knitting sheaths.  They allow knitting faster with less stress on the wrists. They are the kind of thing that impartial analysis loves, and sentimentality hates.

For example, I like DRS flyer/bobbin assemblies.  DRS allows spinning much faster and make spinning finer easier.  It is the kind of thing that impartial analysis loves, and sentimentality hates.

For example, I like an accelerator on my spinning wheel.  It allows me to spin much faster and facilitates spinning finer.   It is the kind of thing that impartial analysis loves, and sentimentality hates.  Anybody that skims this blog is going to see that I go for what works rather than current fashion.

Oh, yes, I find better ways to do things.  In knitting and spinning, I did not invent anything, I simply seined history for better technologies that had been lost as a result of Victorian fashion. The fact that they work so well show that my research and analysis was excellent.

Citations are for people who want to cover their ass.  Citations are for people who do not trust their own analysis. Citations are for people that have not read extensively in the field.  And today, citations are for folks that never conquered Structured Query Language.  If I am just regurgitating what others said, then I am not adding value and I should go do something else.  People that want citations, are people that do not trust their analytical skills.  I trust my analytical skills because they brought me things like knitting sheaths, DRS, and accelerators. 

It was my analytical skills that let me build a system that allows me to spin much faster than others.  Is this ego?  No, it is being aware of how various people spin.  It is analysis. It is stepping back and not letting good ideas kill better ideas.  Those skills are still very valuable.

It does not matter how fast Holin spins, she adheres to the conventional (Victorian) spinning wisdom.    I know some of the best spinners in that school, and how fast they spin. It is not physically possible for Holin to spin significantly faster.  I wanted faster, and that was what drove me to find a faster way to spin. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Craftsmen (male, female, or other) make quality goods. They make better quality goods than folks that are just out to make a buck.  Hobbyists may actually produce higher quality objects, because they are not limited by resources.  That is, a hobbyist can put unlimited time and resources into an object, but craftsmen must keep the cost of objects within the price range of their clients.  Craftsmen produce the best possible product at the most reasonable price, all things considered.

If  someone needs a warm object, then a craftsman knitter will knit an object that is as warm as is required.  If someone needs a durable object, then the craftsman knitter will knit an object that is a durable as it required.  If someone needs a lace christening gown, then the craftsman knitter will knit an object that is elegant enough to uphold the status of the family. Along the way, for each product, the craftsman will make the compromises needed to meet the requirements including cost and schedule. The craftsman can work to a bid/plan/schedule so the cost of the object is as agreed with the client, and the craftsman does not lose money on the project.

Most modern spinners see spinning as a hobby.  They do not care about the cost of the yarn that they produce, or speed of production. And, they are not interested in making better yarn, they only want soft, pretty yarn.  

In contrast, I see spinning as a craft. I want better yarn. I want stronger yarn, I want more flexible yarn, I want more durable yarn and so forth.  And, I want less expensive yarn. I want yarn that has fewer man hours invested in it. I put a lot of effort into working out how to spin faster with less effort. I want yarn that that is just as good but is made from lower cost fibers. That is, I seek to find better fibers at a lower cost. And, I seek yarns that require less fiber, for the same warmth, durability, or strength.  Every spinning project that I do has requirements, schedule, and budget.  When a spinning project does not meet its requirements, schedule, or budget, I pull the plug on it. 

I started spinning because I was a knitter, and I was not happy with the available mill spun yarns. I wanted better.   When I started spinning I was told that it was not possible to hand spin the  worsted spun, 5-ply sport weight yarns, called "gansey yarn".  I was told these yarns had never been hand spun.  It took me 9 months before I was hand spinning such yarns, but the process was so slow as to be impractical.  The yarns I was making were better than mill spun, but they were too expensive.  I had to work out how to make them less expensively.  The obvious solution was to spin faster.  Today, I spin much faster.  That means that my yarn is much less expensive.  I like better yarns that are less expensive.

The first step to spinning faster was to understand differential rotation speed (DRS) as discussed in Alden Amos and the Victorian authors. DRS allows the flyer/bobbin assembly to run at much higher speed, and it changed the nature of the drafting, allowing true worsted yarns to be produced much faster. Part of this step was learning different spinning techniques that allowed me to take advantage of DRS. This really was an effort. This development of other spinning techniques was perhaps the single most important aspect of the spinning faster process. 

The second step was to have Alden Amos make me faster flyers.  I considered having him make me a custom wheel, but the Ashford Traditional drive wheel actually produced more speed than the wheels Alden was making at the time.  That is, an engineering analysis selected the Ashford drive wheel over the Alden product.  It was not a capricious or sentimental decision.  Part of this step was the development of "gang whorls" so that as the effective diameter of the bobbin changed,  I could change whorls rather than stopping to wind off.  I had to design and fabricate the gang whorls. This facilitated the production of longer, continuous singles.

The third step was to make an accelerator for my Alden Amos/DRS/Ashford hybrid.  Again it was an engineering analysis.  It was not a capricious or sentimental decision.  The result was the accelerator/Alden Amos/DRS/Ashford hybrid with advanced drafting technique.

The net result is that my wheel spins woolen singles between 2 and 4 times faster than any  wheel on the market.  My wheel spins worsted singles between 3 and 10 times faster than any wheel on the market.  This was not an accident. It was attention to detail, and doing the engineering correctly.  It was understanding the technique so I could make the required tools.  It was understanding the tools, so I could develop the technique.

Since spinning/twist insertion is the single largest cost in spinning, my yarn is much less expensive than other hand spun. I (the knitter and weaver) is the customer for I (the spinner).  I (the knitter and weaver) like the lower cost of the faster spinning. I (the knitter and weaver) like the shorter delivery times for the faster spinning. All around, I like the faster project development and production cycles. 

This allows me to (inexpensively) dream-up, produce, and test yarns that are not made by mills and which I have never seen before.  I learned to make more flexible yarns.  I learned to make stronger yarns.  I learned to make more durable yarns, and so forth. I would never have had time for this experimentation if I had to spin as slowly as most spinners spin. Without DRS, you will never really understand sock yarn. 

I can plan an object, spin and test samples of a yarn that I have never before spun, and then spin and produce the object, all in a reasonable time frame. I (the knitter and weaver) know in advance what the cost of the yarn will be that I (the spinner) will produce for the project. 

I am a craftsman spinner with just one rather demanding client.  Myself.  If I spin better and faster, then I improve my product and lower my costs.  Then, I am happy.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Silly Lie

My favorite singles have a grist of about 5,600 ypp which is about 75 wpi. I know that spun worsted, such singles will have a twist of ~9 twists per inch, and woolen spun singles will have about 12 twists per inch.  For more detail, see the formulas and tables in Alden Amos's Big Book of Handspinning, pg  383. AA formulas will get you to within 8% of the correct grist which is close enough for hand spinning and other online formulas will get you to within 2 or 3%.

Standard Ashford Traditional wheels have a ratio either 17. 5 (SD) or  14:1 (DD).  That means with a standard  SD traddy, one spins ~ 2 inches of  5,600 ypp worsted single per treadle stroke. 

Thus, if one is claiming to spin 360 inches per minute of such single, with a standard traddy, then one is claiming to treadle at 180 strokes per minute, or  3 strokes per second. Working on Ashford stock DD wheel one would have to treadle faster. I want video of that!

Back in my bike racing days, we did sometimes pedal at 140 strokes per minute, but we were trained racers and we did not do it for very long.  One does not treadle that fast while spinning fine singles.

Note that in fact,  DD DRS has less drive belt slip, and is thereby much more productive than Single Drive.

DD DRS allow a different and faster drafting technique and is thereby much, much more productive than SD.  IF you adjust whorl diameters, the DD DRS at a ratio of 14:1 will produce yarn much faster than the SD system with a ratio of 17.5:1.

Better flyers will increase the speed of an Ashford Traditional, and allow them to run at ~2,000 rpm or just under 400 yards per hour of 5,600 worsted single. (e.g., a sustained treadle cadence of ~120 strokes per minute with limited drive belt slip.  At that cadence, a couple of hours is a very long day's spinning!)  Anyone that claims more is not telling the truth.

With a better flyer and an accelerator, an Ashford Traditional will spin 5,600 ypp worsted single at a more than 560 yards per hour.  That is the truth.  With the accelerator, I can spin 560 yards of  5,600 worsted single with a treadle cadence of ~90 per minute.  For an old cyclist, that is a reasonable cadence that can be sustained all day. Yes, it needs to be a double treadle wheel or the required force tweaks the wheel out of alignment in a few days. So both legs need to be going 90.  If there is chafing, use lots of powder or get some of the anti-chafe goo that the runners and bikers use.

There are other wheels out there with ratios that should produce bobbin speeds high enough to spin 500 yards of 5,600 ypp single per hour, but the spinners that own such wheels report being disappointed with the productivity of those wheels. (Feynman tells us there is belt slip.)   I have spun on samples of some of those wheels and they certainly did not come close to the productivity of DRS flier/bobbin assemblies driven by a accelerator. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Old Ones

Scientists find the oldest-ever hand bone to resemble a modern human’s

In a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications, researchers report the discovery of a bone that they believe to be part of the left little finger of an ancient hominin species, pushing the earliest "modern" hand back by around 400,000 years. In the hominin's habitat -- Tanzania, some 1.84 million years ago -- other hominins like  Paranthropus boisei and H. habilis would have been dwarfed by the modern(ish)-looking man.  Based on his hand, anyway.
If the bone is proportional to a modern-human-like body, the man in question would have been around 5 feet 9 inches, compared to H. habiliswho stood just over 3 feet tall.

The anthropology that we learned back then was WRONG.  

Everyone needs to keep learning, and keep thinking. We need to keep questioning everything.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Out of Lyme

I seem to have found a Lyme Literate MD (LLMD), and massive doses of  Doxycycline seem  to be bringing me out of the debilitating fatigue and brain fog of Lyme Disease.  However, the physical therapy to repair the ravages of LD suck the time out of the week, and there are gigantic uncompleted task lists.  My productivity over the last 5 or 6 years has not been as high as it was in other periods of my life.

I expect LD imposed physical limitations on me, starting about 5 or 6 years ago. This was about the time I started spinning, so that I did more planning and analysis, rather than stupidly rushing in and trying to make a great wheel do what only a DD wheel could physically do.  Looking back, with or without Lyme Disease, working out the mechanical details of differential rotation controlled flier/bobbin systems was a nice piece of work.

And, if like Holin, I had wasted 28 years spinning on a GW rather than using a faster, lower effort, technology, I would be furious with myself.  Imagine, spinning for 30 years on a GW and still not being able to produce a hank of worsted spun gansy yarn in one day, and then have a fellow that had been spinning for only 5 years learn to use a DD wheel to easily spin a hank of gansey yarn in one day, even when he is disabled by Lyme Disease.  I mean after 30 years of spinning, one might use a GW for aesthetic reasons, but after 30 years of spinning, and still not understanding that a DD wheel can be much faster than a GW; Oh, my! It would be so humiliating.

Nevertheless, time devoted to physical therapy seems to have peaked, and with brain fog clearing I seem to be able to get more stuff done. I have referred to myself as a "fat old man, with palsy".  Much of that was due to Borrelia.  These days, I feel 15 years younger.

LD produces a brain fog, so one fails to index the knitting journal and thus picks up Mary Thomas, rather than the knitting journal as one sits down to knit Eastern Cross Stitch. In the drawing in MT illustrating ECS, the needles are at an obtuse angle. That approach requires pointy needles and brute force.  If the angle between the needles is acute, ECS is easier. She would defend the drawing saying it depicts continental style knitting. I say, if you want to knit tight using continental knitting, you will ruin your wrists.  And, ECS is about knitting socks and hose that need to be knit tight.
Due consideration of prototypes tells me that ECS is not the traditional Jersey stitch. On the other hand, it is a very good stitch for socks.

In my world, most knitting is intended for destruction and discard.  Initial swatches will be tested to failure, and discarded. Prototypes are tested to failure, and discarded.  Objects are worn, repaired, worn some more, and ultimately discarded.  Objects that show great virtue will have replica swatches knit, which are kept and used in planning future objects.  However, I expect a knit object to last a few years, and in that time I study and learn. I know the effort to knit and test swatches and prototypes will result in better objects in the future, so the effort does not bother me.  I expect every object to be better than the object that it replaces. The socks that I knit today are much, much better than the socks that prompted Bob to offer me $200 for a pair of  hiking socks.  That is the way it should be.

I make and test: new tools, new yarns, and techniques.  None of the needle makers understand my knitting needle needs as well as I do. All of my needles have been adapted to my techniques and yarns.  My knitting sheaths have been adapted to my needles, my knitting techniques, and my yarns.  My yarns are adapted to my needles and my knitting technique.  It is a system and it works.

Needles and  yarns designed to generic standards and common techniques will not work together as well as my integrated system, and they will not produce objects of  similar virtues.

I demand extraordinary virtues from my knit objects.  The virtues that I demand may not be the virtues that you desire, and you may even disdain the virtues that I demand, but people who touch and feel my objects admit that I push knitting much farther than anyone else.  People either love or hate my knitting.  Nobody is indifferent to it.

PS  Everyone should just assume that each and every future post in this blog asks Holin, " How long does it take you to spin a hank of 560 yards of sport weight, worsted spun 5-ply yarn?"  When she is able to say, "less than a day", I will post her response so all of her students can ask for a demo.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Eastern Cross Stitch

Somebody asked about Eastern Cross Stitch, but that sample does not seem to photograph well, so I dug through my swatches for on one of gansey yarn knit on 3.75 needles.

Pix includes pages from Mary Thomas's Knitting Book

At that gauge, the knitting is easy enough.  Knit tight, ECS is much harder.  I did have a very good technique for doing it with blunt needles, but I seem to have forgotten the method and am back to doing ECS by brute force with pointy needles.  I need to re-un-vent the technique, and document it better.

The question to test is: " ECS provides cushion and ventilation which are good for socks. Do the virtues of ECS make it worthwhile for other objects considering the extra effort of production?  Or,  are there much easier ways to produce the fabric? We know that in old times ECS was much favored.  Was it much favored for all objects or just socks?  Why was it much favored?

You can see that I have been going round and round on this for some time.  Picking it up and dropping it in fits and starts.

Saturday, August 01, 2015


There are  people who say I should be "nicer".

Should an elementary school teacher be nicer to students that do not do their homework and lie about it?  No, there are consequences for ignorance and deceit.

Students that do not do their arithmetic homework,  do not become competent in math, and are cheated by merchants.  In society, deceit is punished under the law. The  elementary school teacher  merely tries to instill a respect for the consequences of ignorance and deceit.

I do not know about your freshman professor in your major, but mine were absolutely cruel in their demands.  They set a standard for rigor in thinking and diligence in effort that has served me well.  Not too long ago, a fellow wanted to show me how to prove the formula for the volume of a sphere.  Forty-five years after taking  calculus, off the top of my head, I could show him another 5  equally valid techniques for deriving the formula for the volume of a sphere.  The moral of the story is that there is very rarely a single path to the truth.  Every truth will be supported by several lines of evidence, and contradicted by no good evidence. Having followed one line of good evidence, one can look back and find other lines of evidence.

I like honest searches for the truth.  I like good questions. Good questions are always the most important part of doing one's homework.  Feynman like to teach lower level students, because " They have the good questions."

Folks at advanced levels tend to forget about the unspoken assumptions of the field. The questions of beginners force us to reconsider and justify all assumptions.  Good questions lead to "Pure Wisdom".

However, if people want me to be nice to them, they must do their homework.  My bio professor demanded written questions on every lecture - along with the answer we had found or -- a list of at least 100 journal papers where we had looked for the answer.  I thought he was a nice guy.

GW 2

These days, I do not keep a great wheel.  I do have 2 motor driven spindles and 2 spindles that fit onto my treadle wheel.  None of these are as impressive to look at as a GW, but they are faster. And, they all allow me more use of both hands for drafting true worsted.

The motor driven spindles are easy to pause or stop, but hard to reverse.  Therefore, I had to learn how to wind-on with the spindle going in the same direction as when spinning.  It can be done, the answer is "out there", and I have no interest in teaching driven spindle technique.

If one does not have to reverse the spindle, then one does not have to stop, or pause the spindle, and the spindle can rotate continuously in the same direction.  One CAN spin a entire hank of single on a great wheel without ever reversing the wheel to wind on.  This can be much faster/easier than reversing rotation to wind-on depending on the inertia of the rotating system.

Nevertheless, the spindle must be slowed at various points in the spinning/drafting/wind-on process. Even though the spindle/wheel always rotates in the same direction, the slowdown/speedup cycle wastes energy. And, the wind-on cycle slows production of yarn. 

A spindle on my treadle wheel can insert twist many times faster than the flyer/bobbin assembly,  but the DD flyer bobbin assembly will spin and wind-on much more yarn in a minute or an hour or a day.  One of the motor driven spindles can insert twist many times faster than either spindle on my treadle wheel, but net production of single is not much different. Net production of spun yarn by a spindle is limited by the nature of its cycle, rather than by its peak speed.

A DRS flyer/bobbin assembly is the fastest hand spinning device for most natural fibers. Ring spinning can be faster for silk, but that is a specialized application.  Yes, those old double drive spinning wheels were the fastest way to spin.  They used the two loops of the drive band to synchronize the rotation of the bobbin and flyer to insert just the right amount of twist as the yarn was wound in at just the correct rate for the inserted twist. They did not have the drive band slip that is built into modern double drive wheels.  The result is that a double drive wheel without drive band slip that can produce singles much faster than a great wheel.  This is a truth that you have heard before.  It is just that all  modern DD wheels do have drive band slip and thus, spin more slowly than a GW.   In fact, a DRS flyer/bobbin assembly can produce true worsted spun yarn 5 times faster than a great wheel.  Every sock knitter should think about that.

And, since DRS is faster, sock yarns of more and finer (true worsted spun)  plies are possible.  These are very nice yarns that are simply out of reach of even the best spinners using a GW.  The use of DRS opens up spinning true worsted 5-ply gansey or even 10-ply Aran yarns.  And, it makes spinning true worsted warp for the loom much more feasible.

 On the other hand, a DRS flyer/bobbin assembly requires real skill to setup and maintain. I have seen two old DRS double drive wheels where the original DRS ratios had been "repaired", and the wheel converted to  modern standards.   As a result of the repairs, they could spin lower grist yarns, but could only do so --- slowly. These had been true collector's items and the owners were very proud of how fast they could spin -- if they only know how fast those wheels had been originally designed to spin, they would have been agast!   The difference between these wheels as designed and these wheels as "repaired" was only millimeters, and yet it made a huge difference in their performance. If one can teach the basics of using a GW in a 4-day workshop, then I would say that one could teach the basics of using DRS in a 4-week workshop.

Yes, Holin, my old Ashford can spin/ply a 500 yd hank of sport weight, worsted spun, 5-ply (gansey yarn) in an easy day.  How long does it take your GW?  In less than 14 hours, I can spin/ply a 500 yd hank of  worsted spun, 3x2-ply cabled, 1,600 ypp "sock yarn".  How long does that take your GW?  Shall we set up a demonstration in front of a judge and jury?  I want spinners like Judith MacKenzie and Stephenie Gaustad who know, and appreciate,  worsted spun yarns involved.

I have only been spinning for 6 years. (And, I was sick with Lyme Disease for much of that time!)  How long have you been spinning?  What will I be spinning when I have spun as long as you have been spinning?