Thursday, October 29, 2015

Running socks

The most important aspect of any knitting project is choosing the fabric.  I have chosen the fabric for my running socks:

 The yarn is worsted spun, 6-strand, fairly tightly cabled as 3x2-ply. Gauge is ~10 spi.

I knit the sock foot, bringing the ankle up about 4 cm of 2x2 ribbing above the top of the shoe.  Then I knit 12" high leggings that overlap the the ribbing on the sock foot.  I knit to fit, and the fabric has enough body to stay up while running and protect my lower legs, but it can also be rolled down for extra coolness.

This yarn is ~ 1,700 ypp, knit on 1.85 mm needles. I thought about finer yarns and finer needles,   but they are just running socks!!, and not worth the extra effort of finer yarns knit on finer needles, and the thickness is about right for my current running shoes.  Over all, I like the fabric a lot, and it is fast and easy to knit.

Tools used (short needles because we
were traveling)

ETA, those were the needles packed for travel, but on return, I seem to have moved on to 1.5 mm needles, which tightens up the fabric a bit.
(Oh, yes, there is a nice 17th century painting in the Huntington Library showing a girl knitting socks with blunt needles.)

I think it looks pretty good for hand made yarn.  However, as always, I look forward to folks posting images of better hand made yarns that they have made into nicer fabrics.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A History of Fine Spinning in America

Consider how modern mill spun/ mill woven wool shirting and suiting weight wool fabrics drape.

Alden Amos instructs on how to estimate the grist of the yarns used to weave a fabric.  Once one knows how a fabric woven from a particular grist of yarn drapes, then grist of the yarns used to weave the fabric can be estimated from the drape of a fabric. This is not as precise as Alden's methods, but with practice, it is reasonable.

Look at how modern mill spun/mill woven fabrics were photographed and painted by the modern portraiture artists. This can easily be done at the Getty.

In the Huntington Library, one can see portraits  by folks like G. Romney showing the rich and famous wearing fine hand spun/ hand woven fabrics - and they look as fine as the modern mill spun/mill.  This tells us that hand spun/hand woven fabrics were in fact very fine.

Back to the Getty Villa, and we look at the the copies of Classic Greek sculpture, and allowing for the iconic, symbolic, and attributive nature of the sculpted drapery (and allowing for Victorian restoration) we see that the Classic Greeks knew about fabrics that draped very similarly to the drapes in G. Romney's paintings.  Except that these sculpture were copies, and the fabric was iconic, symbolic, and attributive meaning that such fabrics had been around for a long time and EVERYONE, from the estate owners that wore such fabrics and who ordered copies the of sculpture, to the slaves that only peered into the temple from a distance knew about such fabrics.

If A=B, and B=C, then A=C.

From this we can conclude that the best fabrics of the Classical Greeks were rather fine.  Thus, we have three lines of evidence telling us that the classical Greeks had fine spinning and weaving.  We have the archaeology of the textile fragments.  We have contemporary Classical Greek accounts. And, we have the fine fabrics recorded in Greek and Roman copies of Greek sculpture.

One may poke holes in each of the lines of evidence, but together they offer more consistency than pointing to iconic and attributive images on early Classical Greek pottery.  Inspection of the image of Penelope's loom tell us none of the clothing in the image was woven on it. 

In the case of  Penelope's loom, the loom is attributive -- it tells us who the woman is, just as a lion skin would tell us that it was an image of Hercules, and much bare skin would tell us that it was Venus.  Of course it is an old loom, it is meant to tell us the woman lived in an earlier time when the gods and heroes walked waked among us, and took an active role in the lives of men and women.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Nazi

I have been called a Nazi.  Pretty mild compared to some of the things spinners have called me in the last couple of weeks -- and people wonder why I am not more respectful of spinners. When I use words like "silly" and "boss cow", it is instead of the really foul language tossed at me.

Many make personal attacks rather than disputing the concepts, technologies, and skills.  I admit, that when something works very well, it is hard to demonstrate that it does not work.  Thus, disputing the concepts, technologies, and skills would be more difficult than proving that 6, and only 6 angels, can dance on the head of a pin.  That is, the dispute fails in the real world.  All that is left is personal attacks.

I am to the point where I have to treat every personal attack as a blatant admission that I am correct, and my attacker simply cannot think of anything intelligent to say. 

I do not expect modern hobby spinners to spin like a traditional trained professional spinners, because only a trained professional could do all those things. However, I think it is worthwhile to think what useful things the old spinners did, and how I can do those things.  Yes, we do not have the tools and skills that they had, but with some thought, we can replicate some of their products.

The truth is that in the Old Kingdom of Egypt, the pyramids were built by professional builders, who were fed by professional bakers and brewers.  The Pharaoh's shrouds (and likely other clothes) were made by professional textile workers.  Spinning was a specialized task performed by professionals. Producing professional quality yarn products has a long history, just like baking and brewing.

In Classical Greece, some textiles were produced in the home or on estates by the women of the house, and some of those products were sold on a commercial basis.  However, there was also an industry that was devoted to the full time and exclusive production of textiles by specialized professional textile workers -  textile factories.  There was enough trade between Greece, Asia Minor, Italy, Egypt and the Fertile Crescent that we can assume that the concept of such textile factories was widely known.  Now, we know enough about industrial organization to know that specialized professionals can produce higher quality products than general labor including prison labor.  Yes, specialized professionals in ancient Greece and Rome were producing superior quality textiles for the rich and powerful.

We know that Roman textile production methods were imposed on local producers as the Empire expanded, thus, the concept of specialized professional textile workers was known in Flanders in Roman times.  When Romans left, Flanders become famous and wealthy by converting English wool into great textiles.  England had the stable currency that was the envy of Europe, but Flanders became the most industrialized and densely populated region in the world as a result of its textile exports.  We can assume that they remembered the Roman textile production system that included specialized professionals.

Now we know the Celts were spinning and weaving fine, but folks in Flanders were spinning and weaving finer. In the Medieval period, they were turning out great tapestries including threads intricately formed of gold and silver.  Considering the silk, gold, and silver in the tapestries, we know that there were large scale textile factories producing fine textiles that were well beyond the resources of a spinster working by herself.  These were large coordinated enterprises, that utilized specialized professional textile workers.  This is a continuity with Greek, Roman, and later professional spinners.  The technologies and skills to make the great tapestries did not pop out of nowhere, they evolved over centuries.   This is not the common idea of the Medieval spinner.  The myth is that the dark ages were dark, and everything exploded in the Renascence.  Everything did explode in the  Renascence, but the dark ages were not as dark as the myopic Victorians would have you believe. Were there women spinning in the home? Certainly.  If you opened a bale of textiles as it was unloaded off of a ship in 1400, was the yarn spun in a home?  Not likely, as the stuff spun in  homes was for local consumption.  Textiles that were worth exporting were spun in large, coordinated enterprises, by talented professional spinners. 

If you think not, then post an image showing where you have plied a gold ribbon ( e.g., start with something like  and planish flat ) around a yarn to give it more luster as was commonly done in tapestries.   I do not know many hand spinners these days that can do that.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015



A good spindle is faster than most modern spinning wheels!!

The factors are the moment of inertia of the whorl, the total weight of the whorl, the diameter of the spindle, and the weight of the spindle.  ( )

Moment of inertia determines how long the spindle will rotate.  The moment of inertia also controls how fast the spindle can be spun. 

The total weight of the whorl and spindle determines how thin a single can be spun.  Removable whorls, allows longer and finer threads to be spun.

A light weight, high moment of inertia spindle is good for fine worsted warp that with high twist.  The required inch worm drafting limits the total yarn production. The high moment of rotation gives time for drafting a good draw.

A light weight, low moment of inertia spindle is good for fine woolen threads, particularly with small diameter spindles to deliver very high spindle rpm. Fine spindles with low moments of inertia spun with a thigh roll can achieve speed of more than 3,000 rpm, allowing very fast production of  woolen yarns, where one hand controls the spindle, and the other hand drafts. It is wicked fast, and Karina Gomer  misses just how fast it can be. It is much faster than any portable wheel. For this, I like a metal blade.  Or, I like a very thin wood blade with a small (removable) brass whorl.

In either, case, a whorl that can be removed so the copp can act as the whorl, keeps the process fast  as the moment of inertia of the copp increases

Heavier whorls are good for heavier yarns.  Heavier yarns need higher moments of inertia to overcome the higher torsional rigidity of thicker yarns, and the thicker yarns can support greater spindle/whorl weights.  Thicker yarns require much less twist, and thus less rpm.

A good spinner will choose the right spindle for the task.  In the old days, spinners had a great many tasks. And spinners had a wide selection of spindles, and they know which spindle to use on a particular task.

Respect the spindle!  Know your tools!  Use the right tool for the job.

Karina Gomer misses the physics of spindle. She gets the generalities correct such as heavy whorls working for thicker yarns, but she misses things like diameter of the spindle as affecting total spinning performance.

Celtic spinning

See Celtic Clothing (with Greek and Roman Influence) form the Iron Age - a Realistic View Based on What We Know by Heather Smith  ( )

They were spinning fine, and weaving at 18 to 25 threads per cm.

Not what we think of when we think of the  European barbarians (before and after the Roman Empire) from the Middle Danube to the Atlantic (including the British Isles).

When the Romans left, the Brits and the folks in Flanders were already spinning very fine - much finer than the Victorians could believe. And, MUCH, MUCH, MUCH FINER THAN MODERN SPINNERS BELIEVE!!

Oh my oh my! I do want a picture of a one-beam, vertical, weighted loom weaving useful quantities of cloth from hand-spun yarn at 20 threads per cm!!

Not quite! This technology is never going to weave 50 ends per inch. 

One point is that if you read broadly, and deeply, there is lots of material out there, saying that the tradition of spinning fine is broad and deep --  Very deep.  We should not discard it without fully understanding it. 

The first truth from 5,000 years of spinning is is that fine singles make fine fabrics, and most people prefer fine fabrics.  The second truth is that if you are going to make fine fabrics, you are going to need a lot of yarn -  as a practical matter, you must spin fast, or you will never finish.

Homespun and Professional Textile Workers in Classical Greece

Stella Spantidaki writing in arachne, volume 3, 2009 tells of Specialization in textiles in Classical Athens. (

tells us that women were producing textiles in the home.  However, there were also freed women producing various textile products for pay.

Then there were also men producing textiles on a commercial basis.  The key point is that men producing textiles are not shown in any of the art and iconography, e.g., the vases.  Thus, it is clear that art images do not tell the full story of textiles, and highly symbolic iconography does not tell the truth about spinning technology.  This is consistent with modern spinning iconography, were the same icons are used for 400 years, while the actual spinning technology moves from hand spinning to mill spun.

People who just look at the pictures, get spinning and weaving technology, economics and social structure wrong.  Here we have a class of professional (male) spinners in Classical Athens.  This also sets a commercial factory system where workers are specialized and work on particular tasks, rather than working on the entire production process as is more common in home production.

See related

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Wobble in the Arc

While there is a clear Arc in the western heritage of spinning, it is not a straightforward arc.  One example is the changes in Austrian textiles with the invasion and leaving of the Romans.  See for example:  Cloth Qualities from 800 BC-AD 800 in Austria: Context - Development - Hand craft by Karina Gromer; ATN no. 51, Fall 2010

A society can lose spinning and weaving skills as a result of an outside influence, and regain them as the influence is removed. 

We lost spinning skills as a result of  fossil fuel driven spinning mills.  However, if good spinning is inherently useful, we can asses our loss of spinning skills and recover them. It is a matter of  knowing our the issues, and planning evolutions to acquire greater competency. In fact, there is no reason why a modern spinner cannot be better than the professional spinners of the 17th century. 

We know what the old spinners could spin in 1750. We have benchmarks and samples of their work.  Once one knows what has be done, then one can figure out how to do better.  I do not care what it is,  anything that has been done, can be done better.

Early Midevial Spinning.

Early Medieval textile finds at South Moravia, Czech Republic show that they had fine spinning and weaving.

Early Medieval textiles, locally produced, in 59 different varieties, and woven to 16 to 20 threads per 10 mm (e.g., 50 threads per inch) were found. These were fine textiles.  Thus, many of the 244 samples reviewed were NOT the crude or coarse textiles that we associate with early the medieval period. Granted that 2,500 ypp is not what I would call fine spinning, but it was central Europe before central heating. It was cold, and they needed warm clothes.  And at 50 threads per inch, the fabrics are finer spun/ finer woven than any of the modern handspun/hand woven wool textiles that I see around.

That is, early medieval spinners spun weaving yarns finer than we see modern hand spinners spinning.

See Finds of Textile Fragments and Evidence of Textile Production at a Major Excavation Site of Great Moravia in Mokcice by Helena Brezinovo in NWSAT XI, The North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles XI, May 2011, Esslingen am Neckar.

Nomads in Europe -pre Charlemagne

Nomads in Europe before Charlemagne were using wool fabrics woven sometimes coarsely, and sometimes very fine. Nomads in the cold were spinning and weaving fine.

Nomads were spinning fine!  I can tell you for sure that it is harder to spin fine in the wind.

See Karina Gromer and Silvia Miiller
Textiles from the Avar
graveyard ZwOlfaxing 11,

Archeological Textiles Newsletter #46, 2008

Spinning fine and fast in the old world

I have pointed to spinning fine and fast as a spinning standard.  So, how fine and did the old spinners spin?  How fine were the yarns produced in the arc of western culture?  We know the Old Kingdom Egyptian Pharaohs were buried in shrouds of very fine linen produced locally, and cotton of similar fineness imported from India. Thus, 4,500 years ago, very fine textiles were being spun and woven in two different regions of the world.  Two different regions at that time had talented and professional spinners and weavers with long traditions.

What then is the arc of fine textiles moving forward?

Looking at A Fifth-century B.C. Grave-Group from Karabournaki in the British Museum as described by Catherine Morgan ( 2015), we see photos of two fragments of animal fiber textile with more detail in the:
Appendix: a preliminary study of the textile
fragment on GR 1919, 11-19.8
Joanne Cutler and Margarita Gleba
(Institute of Archaeology, University College
And, I quote: 
The textile remains were examined with a hand lens
and a digital microscope (Dino-Lite). The fabric is
a weft-faced tabby (tabby is the simplest form of
weave, in which the weft thread passes alternately
over and under one warp thread) with a count of
11-12 threads per centimeter in the warp and 48-52
threads per centimeter in the weft. Although no visible
edges are preserved, all unbalanced tabbies of
this period found in Greece are weft-faced. The warp
threads are z-twisted and tightly spun (with a twist
angle of more than 45°), with a thread diameter of
0.25-0.3 mm. The weft threads have a thread diameter
of 0.22-0.33 mm (a very similar range to the
warp threads)98, although unlike the warp threads
they have no clearly discernible spin99. The fibre in
both thread systems is also very similar in appearance
(ca 20-30 μm in diameter) and very uniform.
Both wool and linen textiles of this type dating to
the first millennium B.C. are known in Greece100.
Preliminary SEM analysis indicates that the fibre
is of animal origin101.
The fineness of the thread used is consistent with
the majority of published Classical textile remains
from Greece (mostly from Attica), which have a
thread diameter of 0.2-0.3 mm102. Many of the Classical
textile fragments analysed are balanced tabbies
(with approximately the same number of threads of
similar thickness in both the warp and the weft).
However, a number are weft-faced tabbies, with weft
thread counts that, as at Karabournaki, can reach
ca 60 threads per centimeter103. A few fragments
from Kamatero, Kalyvia, Marousi and Kerameikos
have even higher counts (the fragments from Kamatero
and Kerameikos have up to 120 weft threads
per centimeter) and are woven with extremely fine
threads, some less than 0.1 mm in diameter. Nearly
all of the Classical textiles analysed are made of plant
fibre, mostly linen, although this probably reflects
differential preservation factors since most were
found in association with bronze objects which generally
favour the preservation of plant fibres. The
vast majority of these Classical textiles are woven
with single z-twisted fibres in both the warp and the
weft. The lack of obvious spin in the weft of the
Karabournaki textile is unusual, but it is also evident
in the extremely weft-faced Classical textile fragments
from Kamatero and Kalyvia104.
The Karabournaki textile is an important addition
to the current corpus of Classical textile remains.
It provides a comparandum from a northern
Greek context to compare with the more numerous
textiles from southern Greece and with the Vergina
textiles of the second half of the fourth century B.C.
(which include a purple textile in the tapestry technique,
and a balanced tabby, possibly cotton, with
ca 25 threads per centimeter)105.

This tells us that the Classic Greeks were spinning combed wool at grists of 10,000 ypp (20 m/gram) to  22,400 ypp (45 m/g) for fabrics. We see that some of the wool was as fine as wool from modern fine wool breeds e.g., 20 micron, and that it had been well graded and sorted. Tools for such spinning are more sophisticated that what are typically used by Classcial Greece period en-actors.  And, the spinning skills of the period were higher then typically seen in Classcial Greece period en-actors.

Moreover, the looms were more sophisticated.  Nobody can weave on a warp of 120 wool warp threads per cm with a simple 1-beam vertical weighted loom.  If you think otherwise, show me useful quantities of wool cloth that you have woven at 120 warp threads per cm from handspun! -  using low twist weft!!  They wove  "himations", a very large rectangle of fabric OK, not as large as a Roman toga, but not something that can be woven on a single beam loom using the threads described above. We know the Greeks traded around the world, and 2-beam looms for weaving fine fabrics were known in Egypt, India, and the Fertile  Crescent.  The Greeks had them also.  We know this by reverse engineering the fabric.  

It is not just me. See for example ( ) 
They tried, and did not get the fabrics discussed above.  And they were not even using hand spun.  The kicker is the low twist weft - it is hard to handle in a single beam/ weft weight loom.

The loom on the urn?  Symbols in art persist for centuries after the technology has been superseded.  We teach the history of technology better than we teach current technology.  How many modern hand weavers cnd sit down and draw the mechanics of a modern Full Electronic High Speed Rapier Loom Machine with Mechanical Dobby?  Not many!  At Lambtown, 3 "dads" pointed to my spinning wheel and told their kids that I was using a "loom".  Artists do art for dads and their kids.

The timeline for textile technologies that has been shouted at me over and over is wrong.  Classic Greece had textile workers with great skill, and the tools to display those skills. In particular, they had good 2-beam looms.  These folks were not making the kind of coarse fabrics that can be made on the single beam loom w/ weft weights used by subsistence weavers in more recent times.  The Classic Greeks had talented professional spinners and weavers with traditions reaching back hundreds or thousands of years. 

I have said that "competent spinners" could spin wool at its spin count. I have said that "spinning fine and fast" was a skill highly  praised. I did not say everyone had to spin fine and fast. I did not say that everybody should learn to spin wool at its spin count.  

I  said that I like textiles made from yarns with fine singles.  I said, that judging by the fabrics and textiles in places like Target, Costco, and Needless Markup, others also like fabrics and textiles produced from fine yarns.  Catherine Morgan /Joanne Cutler and Margarita Gleba tell us that the Classic Greeks also liked fabrics and textiles produced from fine singles.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Spinning as a cultural heritage

The European craft of hand spinning is a cultural heritage just like art, literature, music, and architecture.  It was passed down to us and it is our responsibility to pass it on as good or better than we got it.

A group of modern spinners have taken a small part of  the craft of hand spinning, pronounced themselves "experts on the craft of spinning" and then gone on to say that their small part of hand spinning is all there is. 

They deny that that there is a larger craft of spinning.  They deny that within the larger craft of hand spinning, it is possible to spin finer than they do.  They deny that within the larger craft of hand spinning, it is impossible to spin faster than they do.

Are they really experts?  In 1600, school for spinning ran 2 years of full time instruction -- a total of more than 4,000 class room hours.  That would get an entry level spinner into an apprentice program.    How many of the exert spinners have 4,000 hours of classroom instruction and an apprenticeship program?

I do not claim to be an expert spinner.  I claim that I came to spinning and was told spinning faster and finer was not feasible. 

Ultimately, I found the Big Book of Handspinning, and the math that allowed me to design a spinning wheel that would spin finer and faster.  Now, I spin much finer and faster than the author of Big Book of Handspinning considered possible.  He never told me I could not spin finer and faster, he merely told me that he did not know how to do it with a manual spinning wheel.  However,  many other "expert" spinners told me it was impossible.   One of them told me so yesterday, after I had spent 6 hours sitting in the sun and wind, spinning more and  finer than she had ever spun in any 6 continuous hours in her life.   (I had switched from fine stuff to ordinary weft, and she told me it was a fine as what she could spin.  Except that it was 15,000 ypp coarser that what I had been spinning.  And she thought that in 6 hours she could spin as much as I had spun in 15 minutes.)  She was abusive, inarticulate, and got her dates wrong. Such is typical of a small class of spinners.  However, at one time I worked for a fellow who had been the US Marine Corp's Color Sargent; and, let us say that his articulate abuse puts any spinner I know to shame.  Nevertheless, my wife did take offense at her language.

However, in proclaiming themselves "experts" and denying the glories of European hand spinning, the experts are destroying an important body of world cultural heritage.  Over and over, they say it cannot be done. This lie has come to dominate the internet, and any search brings up the lie over and over, until the truth is buried deep.  By hiding the knowledge that there is such spinning and how it can be done, they are destroying the craft of spinning.  They want everyone to forget that such spinning can be done, and how it is done.

In destroying a world cultural heritage, these spinners are no better than the narrow minded fanatics that blow up statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan. In destroying a world cultural heritage, these spinners are no better than the imperialists that looted Greek Classical sculptures.  In destroying a world cultural heritage, these spinners are no better than the Nazi's that looted the are of Europe.

I do not care what little part of spinning, any particular spinner uses or does not use.  However, no spinner should call themselves expert, unless they are expert.  I consider myself  a "competent" spinner using a narrow definition from the British Wool Board. 

I am still very angry over the lies that many "expert" spinners have told - right up to and including yesterday.