Friday, December 26, 2014

More on knitting hand spin 5-ply sport weight

One can get gauge by using finer needles and knitting more gently or by using larger needles and knitting more forcefully

I am back to using spring steel  / 2 mm needles with a wooden knitting sheath for knitting hand spin 5-ply sport weight.

I find threading the knitting sheath on to braided apron strings to be a comfortable way of getting good stability. The ruler is 12" long.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Rabett Run: Ozone Photochemistry - Part 2

Rabett Run: Ozone Photochemistry - Part 2

Real science from an well known academic scientist who is near the top of  the publish or perish world.  Note: No citations.

Also note that (commenter) Dave did not pay attention in Atmospheric Chemistry (or bother to Google) and HO2 is a real entity in the real world.

History is longer than we thought

See: World's First Computer

It was well built.  Somebody had built prototypes.

Ah, Heck!!

EVERY branch of knowledge and technology has its own vocabulary.  It may use words from common language or from other branches of technology, but each branch of learning is likely to use the words differently.  Every branch of technology has its own terms of art.

The vocabulary of a technology is an index to the thoughts and concepts used in that branch of technology.  Without understanding the vocabulary, you cannot understand the technology.  Without a command of the technology's vocabulary, you cannot even ask intelligent questions.

Spinning is an archaic technology.  It's vocabulary has become obscure. However, if one is going to understand the concepts of spinning, then you need to know the vocabulary.

A beginning spinner may use an off the shelf wheel, but an advanced spinner will have goals that cannot be achieved with an off the shelf wheel and thus must know enough of the craft of wheel making to intelligently specify the wheel required.  At some point the advanced spinner needs to learn the vocabulary of the spinning wheel maker.

On the right, a hook that is not a heck.  On the left,  hecks that are not hooks and a hook that is a heck.

Knitting sheaths and knitting pouches revisted

For most of the last couple of years, I put aside my knitting sheaths and gansey needles in favor of  my leather knitting pouch and various other needles.

I like the knitting pouch with light, flexible needles  (stainless steel tubular) needles for lace. Certainly, cable needles offer some convenience, but for fast, low effort knitting the pouch wins over cable needles for lace.  The the pouch is very nice for soft fabrics knit from soft woolen yarns with needles in the range of 3 or 4 mm. (I no longer use needles larger than 4 mm, and thus am not speaking to their use.)

However, for fine, worsted spun yarns, nothing beats solid, spring steel used with a knitting sheath for fast low effort knitting. Above about 2.5 mm solid steel needles get very heavy, and then you are better off with tubular or wooden/bamboo needles and a knitting pouch.  At sizes below 1.75 mm the steel needles do not have enough spring force and  it does not matter whether  the needles are used with knitting sheath or a pouch. (However, a knitting sheath will always tend to damage tubular needles.) Thus, the virtue of the knitting sheath / spring steel needle is most apparent with needles in the size range of 1.75 mm -> 2.5 mm.

At this point, I design my yarns to be knit on needles in this range. My 5-ply sport weight is not as tightly plied as the commercial gansey yarns, so it is more splitty to knit.  Thus, my needles have gotten blunter, my stitches have less "pop", and things like bobbles are harder to knit.  However, the fine plies spread, and produce a more weatherproof fabric. These days, I knit hand spun, worsted 5-ply sport weight on rather blunt 2 mm spring steel DPN held in wooden knitting sheaths. Cast on for a snug fitting gansey to be worn against the skin is more than 400 stitches.

Gloves and boot socks get swaved using short curved needles that are rotated into the stitch using the same yarn.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Gold and Silver in Tapestries

The best argument for the timing of the spread and use of DRS spinning technology is the use of gold and silver in tapestry yarns.

Spinning such yarn is difficult to produce with good quality using the various kinds of spindles, or single drive flyer/bobbin assemblies, but is easy to produce using differential rotation speed controlled spinning equipment.  This can be easily demonstrated experimentally using the wire manufactured for wire wrap prototyping.  It is not cheap, but it is less expensive than real gold or silver wire, and has many similar physical properties to well annealed silver or gold (see for example

Spindles and single drive flyer/bobbin assemblies tend to accumulate twist on a stop and go basis depending on the fiber's capacity to accumulate and distribute twist.  Metal wire does not accumulate twist.  The properties of  wire require a continuous process with no periods of yarn lock.  This is very difficult to achieve with spindles or single drive flyers, but is the normal and standard operating condition of DRS controlled flyers.

Thus, where we see industrial quantities of tapestry yarns being produced containing gold and silver, we can presume that DRS spinning technology was available.  This is reasonable, as such tapestry yarn production also used silk, which provides a direct link back to origins of the DRS technology in the Italian silk industry.

Anywhere you see gold or silver as part of the material in a tapestry, you can be sure that DRS spinning equipment was used to produce or wind the yarn.

Certainly wire can be core spun with fiber as in or

Intertwined: The Art of Handspun Yarn, Modern Patterns, and Creative Spinning

 By Lexi Boeger.

However, one purpose of gold and silver in tapestry yarn was to provide more luster to the textile. Frequently, the gold or silver yarns were prepared by wrapping a silk core with a spiral of a flattened band of the metal.  This is the opposite of the modern "fiber-wire" craft.

Producing such yarns with a single drive system requires the takeup from hell, and some kind of a braking device on the silk core. However, once the width of the metal band is defined and whorls made, with DRS, the process is easy and fast.  Both the silk core and the metal band are supplied from reels. The metal band is wrapped around the silk with no twist inserted into to the metal band upstream from the point where the metal is wrapped around the core.  Twist is inserted into the core and must up run up stream from the point where the metal is wrapped around the core.  If the metal band is ~2 mm wide, then about 12 tpi are likely to be inserted into the core. The twist issue limits the use of short fibers such as wool and cotton.  With silk, one can start with -6 tpi, add 12 tpi and end up with 6 tpi which is reasonable. Short fibers cannot go through 0 tpi and remain competent. And a short fiber core with enough twist to be competent, will be over twisted if 12 tpi is added.

The elasticity of silk with the extensibility of the metal spiral make the metal wrapped, silk core lighter, stronger for its weight, and more weavable than solid metal or twisted filigree metal wire constructions. The need for elasticity for weaving limits the use of the bast fibers such as linen or hemp (a spiral metal band around a no-stretch core results in a rigid structure.)

The next time you see a "history of spinning", ask yourself if the history is consistent with the manufacture of yarn for tapestries.  The history of  tapestries with their known provence, industrial scale of production, and severe technical challenges are a good test for any history of spinning.

Do you really think some contract spinner in her cottage is going to have large amount of gold, silver and silk sitting around for making tapestry yarns?  Any history of spinning that does not include the production of tons and tons of tapestry yarns is incomplete.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Stating the obvious and elucidating the trivial.

Everyone knows the two dowel technique for rolling rolags off of a drum carder.

However, when one is spinning finer, one needs thinner rolags.

I use the steel doffer as one dowel and a steel gansey needle as the other. This makes a smaller, thinner rolag.  Even when the rolag has been wound rather tight, the gansey needle slides right out, giving enough slack for the doffer to easily slide out.

My rolags weigh just under 5 grams, these days I spin them into about 50 meters of single. The rolags below do not look very uniform, but they average out.

When I have spun 2 rolags, I have about 100 meters on the bobbin and  I wind off before the effective diameter of the bobbin changes too much.  When I have done 10 rolags, I know I have about a hank, and I rewind, measure, and weigh.

40 rolags with doffer and 
knitting needle use to make them

I am sure that EVERYONE else has already worked out this trick, but just forgot to post it so the rest of us would know how to wind a smaller rolag that works better for spinning fine.

I am still a little surprised at how fast the process goes.  Working from batts that have been carded twice, it only takes about half an hour to card and roll the 40 or so rolags needed for an afternoon's spinning.  The result is some 2,500 yards of 5,600 ypp woolen single in ~6 hours.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


I like cooking breakfast for my wife, but I do not spend all day cooking breakfast because breakfast must be done in time for work and play.

I like spinning, but I intend to get it done, so I have time for other things.   That means spinning fast.

It is not the speed that is important, it knowing how long it will take, and the "getting it done" that is important.

For me, spinning is just one step on a path to better textiles.

If you spin just for the purpose of using spinning to take up time, that is fine.  I do not care.  I am not writing for you.  I am writing for folks that want to make better textiles.  Just go spin and leave me to make better textiles.

This blog is written for myself and a very few, smart spinners. It is an audience that understands the naming and function of all parts of spinning tools including cap and ring spinning frames.

It is an audience that knows how to find information resources.

It is an audience that knows how to do all the math for spinning and weaving.

It is an audience that has (mostly) seen and touched my work at one time or another.  They give comments and suggestions in person.  I have found these to be of great help. The comments and suggestions of "Anonymous" have not been helpful.  My feeling is that Anonymous  is just an older version of one of those stupid teenage cliques that stand around being rude to everyone that is not just like them.  These are people that think their ignorance is as good as other people's facts.

However, spinning is performance based.  Facts always win out.   Someday, you will be walking around a fiber festival with your kids, and they will see me spinning, and they will ask, "Mom, how can he spin so fast?"   And, the truth will be out, some people spin faster than others.  Facts always win out.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Cross check

When I make a change to my wheel, I go back and check how it performs Scotch Tension and Irish Tension (single drive, bobbin lead).

Thus, I setup the new mother of  all  for Scotch Tension. RPM was about 65% of what I get with DRS, but net productivity was only ~ half for the 5,600 ypp woolen weft I am currently spinning.

Productivity for single drive, bobbin lead was better, and in the range of 70 % of  DRS. It must be noted that productivity was not as high as I would had expected for the achieved bobbin rotation speeds.

With the accelerator wheel and large whorls,  there was not as much difference between the performance of the #1 and #0 fliers as there is without the accelerator wheel and large whorls. The moral of the story is that: Small whorls have large slippage!

A second moral to the story is that gravity is a very good way to tension the drive belt, and that when the flier/bobbin assembly can move, vibration in the system is reduced.

However, the uniformity and grist control from DRS was distinctly better.  This may have just been a function of my spending more time spinning DRS recently, but given the higher productivity and better grist control of DRS, I am not going to put the effort into keeping my long draw and inch worm skills sharp.

Is the extra effort (and math) for DRS worth while? It means that I can spin/ply a hank of  5-ply gansey yarn in a day.That means I can spin the yarn for a sweater in a week and have a couple of days of knitting rather than spinning.  And, for big projects where I budget a thousand hours for spinning, it means that I have an extra 300 hours for weaving rather than spinning.    That is almost 8 weeks,  That is enough time to weave the yarn from (700 hours of fast spinning) or (1000 hours of spinning slow).  Thus, by spinning 30% faster, my weaving time is free. And, the quality of the yarn that I produce with DRS is much better, so my cloth is better.

The greatest comparative advantage in textiles is in better spinning.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Balloon

If the yarn being spun is not under tension, it will "blow" out of the hecks on the flyer.

This is a matter of centripetal forces rather than aerodynamic forces.

It is not a problem with Scotch tension, and not much of a problem with Irish tension.

However, with DRS, if one drafts faster than than the yarn is being wound on the bobbin, then there will be slack in the yarn between the drafting triangle and the bobbin.  If one is spinning slowly, and working a good distance from the orifice, then the yarn may hang slack between the drafting triangle and the orifice. Onlookers accustomed to other spinning systems will be surprised.

At higher speed, the slack yarn will be pulled out of the flyer hecks and balloon  around the flyer.  This is only visible with a strobe.  In normal light, it looks like Scotch Tension with taut yarn between the drafting triangle and the orifice. In practice, it is very different because with DRS the yarn only winds on as the proper amount twist is inserted whereas with ST the yarn can wind on regardless of the twist.

On the other hand, DRS  wind-on can easily  generate enough tension to break off the yarn. With DRS, if one pauses drafting while the flyer/bobbin assembly is turning, the yarn will break off.  This can be frustrating to the point of tears, particularly as the spinner first begins to work rapidly.

However, at higher speed, one can draft, and store an extra foot or so of yarn as a balloon flying around the flyer.  This gives the yarn extra time to level and settle before being wound onto the bobbin. This yarn will be wound as the proper twist is inserted.   It also puts some slack in the system so that break off is not instantaneous if there is a pause in the drafting. At my current spinning speed of ~7 yd/minute, this gives me 2 or 3 seconds to fix a problem in the yarn.  At slower spinning speeds the balloon of  yarn around the flyer is less well formed, and more likely to tangle with the other arm of the flyer, bringing everything to a catastrophic stop.

With DRS, spinning faster may allow spinning some recalcitrant fleeces with fewer tears.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Distance from drafting triangle to bobbin.

I am going to blandly assert that it takes some time for a drafted stream of fibers to "level" and "settle" into a competent yarn.

If one spinning slowly, this time is small enough to be ignored. However, as one spins faster, it becomes a consideration.

Then, one advantage of long draw spinning is that it gives time for this leveling and settling process to occur.  However, in a DRS system, one does not wave the yarn around, to give it time to level and settle. When spinning fast with a DRS system, one simply has to allow more distance between the drafting triangle and the orifice.

One can estimate the required time, by scaling off of Victorian texts on  (power) spinning and doing basic calculations.  At some point, the cap spinning technique of using a "balloon" becomes useful.  Balloons require a clear volume of space to operate.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Under Spun ?


It is soft, fluffy, carded Rambouillet woolen spun at 5,600 ypp @ 12 tpi. It is soft and lofty.

The current batts were scoured with a potassium-lanolin soap, and have a particularly soft texture, but something of a sheepy smell.

It will be woven as weft, fulled, teased to a nap, and clipped to make nice wool flannel. (I hope!)  If it has more twist, it will not tease up properly.  It takes a while to work out just how all this is best done.

As a sport weight, the woolen spun 5-ply is is very knitable (after fulling), but that is a by-product, a diversion, and not the goal. In dry cold, it is perhaps the warmest, softest, most elastic yarn that I have ever produced.   And, it can be brushed to a soft nap.  In the rain, well! Weatherproofing a pile of swatches produced the discussions on baby oil.  In the beginning is Spinning.  

If you are interested in knitting such yarns, spin some up yourself. In the past, I have given the required details. It is easy. I even showed you the best lazy Kate for making 5-ply. Did you think I would cover the topic again?  No!  We did knitting!  We did plying. Why should I waste time putting such stuff in the Blog again and again?   I took 3 swings at lanolin because some are bigoted against baby oil.

Knitting, and even weaving are sideshows.  The base of great textiles is great spinning.  On the path to great spinning, details matter.  A small comparative advantage in spinning is better than a large comparative advantage in weaving, or even a huge comparative advantage in knitting.  With the TV off, production of 5,600 ypp woolen singles is something over 9 yards per minute.  With a better wind-off procedure, total production is over 500 yards per hour.

These days, knitting is something that goes on in the background. I do not expect to have anything interesting to say about it in the foreseeable future.

To a certain extent, spinning is very much like a video game.  Spinning finer, or spinning faster, or spinning more consistantly is just as addictive as seeking higher scores in a video game.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Drive Belt Tension

Before I bought a spinning wheel, I wanted a nice wooden screw tension on the drive band.  The wheel that I bought had a steel screw, so I bought the tools and jigs, and learned to make wooden screws.  It took a while.

While I was learning to make wooden screws, the issue of vibration in spinning wheels/ flyer/bobbin assemblies came up, and I put a lot of effort into damping vibration.  I learned that I really like gravity based drive belt tensioning systems.

Springs can work very well, but ultimately, gravity is simpler and easier to use. Being easier to use, ultimately, gravity results in higher productivity.

Some will say that vibration is not a problem in their spinning wheels/flyer/bobbin assemblies.  To which I reply, "Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, . . . . .. .."

As you spin faster, at some point, vibration will be a problem.

Until recently, I had been using a system of weights and springs to damp vibration, but the change in geometry allowed me to do away with the springs and weights.  Or, rather the waxed cotton drives  bands become the springs, and the accelerator wheel and the flyer/bobbin assemblies are the weights.  Under static load cotton is not much of a spring, but under dynamic conditions where it is vibrating, it does act as a spring. 

Revised Geometry

Last spring, as I started using accelerator wheels, the advances came fast and furious.  And then things stabilized for months.  It was a time of learning to use the tool.  After all, while I have seen drawings of such tools, I have never seen such tools actually being used by any other spinner.

Anyway, for the last month, I have had thoughts that the geometry could be better. First trials of first prototype are very promising.  What I had thought to be a reasonable rate of production is clearly the bottom end of the reasonable rates of production that can be easily achieved when the tools are properly adjusted.

In this version, it is about 30" or 36" from the orifice to the drafting hand.  The longer distance between drafting and bobbin allow more distance for the single to "settle", allowing the production of a more uniform yarn.  And, there is slightly more tension in both sets of drive bands, limiting drive band  slippage.  Top  flier speeds did not change much, but speeds of 3,500 rpm are quieter and less effort, so that I am routinely able to spin much faster.  Now, I can hear the movie while spinning 5.600 ypp/ 12 tpi woolen singles at more than 7 yards per minute.  Worsted at that grist goes at ~10 yd/min.

I am surprised at how much a 6" change in geometry changes the system.  I know I should not have been surprised given that even very tiny changes in whorl diameters dramatically change the system.

My two take away lessons from this experiment are 1) the importance of wheel/spinner geometry to yarn quality; and, 2) that a loose and self-adjusting system can run smoother and with less vibration than a system built to feel solid and well built when it is not running, but where vibration generated by the knot in the driveband can propagate through the system.

A system using relatively crude bearing technology can run at flyer/bobbin speeds in excess of 4,000 rpm. It is a matter of isolating and damping vibration.

I am sure that the rubberneckers will take this post to mean that I have not known how to adjust my wheel - despite that fact that I have been spinning twice or 3-times as fast as they have been. Now, if they want to keep up with me, they will need to spin much faster.  Good luck to them.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Grist quality assurance and quality control

I have been spinning weft from Rambouillet. The goal is a woolen single at about 5,600 ypp

I spin, and wind off into cakes.  A recent grist check was to wind a hank and check its weight.

At 46 grams per 562 yards, it is well within 2% of the desired grist.  The cake on the left contains ~ 700 yards.  I check grist on about every fourth cake.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

SIP, KIP, lanolin, and baby oil

Lots of folk get all riled up about baby oil, and they call me names.

However, do you notice how few of them offer to meet me a public place and prove that they can knit faster, or tighter?  Do you notice how few of them offer to meet me in a public space to prove that they can spin faster or finer?

I spin and knit in public on a regular basis, and am perfectly willing to make a point of being at a particular Stitches or fiber fair on a particular day.  We can meet up, and knit or spin face to face.

I would love to have somebody show me how to spin 5-ply gansey yarn faster.  I would love to have somebody show me how to knit ganseys better.  If you do not like the way I spin or knit, then show me a better way! And, how many of the folks who got all wound up about baby oil actually do oil and reoil their woolens with lanolin?  They do not.  Wool fat stains an uneven, ugly pee yellow, and they want pretty.

Show me better tools and I will upgrade in a flash. Think about it.  Somebody brings ups "skate boards" and the next day, I have incorporated skateboard bearings into my wheel. When somebody gives me graphite impregnated Delrin, the next day I have bearings from graphite impregnated Delrin. I am always willing to upgrade my tools.  Show me better skills and I will undertake to learn them as soon as possible.  I always expect my students to surpass me, so that I can learn from them.

 I believe that each generation should stand on the last generation's shoulders to see farther, and to reach higher. And, I believe that teachers are entitled to stand on their students shoulders to see farther, and to reach higher.

I spin because I want better yarn. People tell me, "Oh, I make prettier yarn!"  OK, but the folks who do make prettier yarn, do not make useful quantities of it.  And, I want useful quantities of better yarn. I want to make 8 pounds of prettier yarn as a project, not a career.  And, I always want better yarn, not just prettier yarn.

Mostly, I find that making better yarn involves inserting more twist into the yarn - that mostly means spinning finer, and finer. Spinning useful amounts of finer yarn mean inserting twist faster.  

Boiling Fleece

If you just toss a bit of fleece in a pot, you do not know how much potassium salts there are to react with the lanolin and potentially the wool fiber.  Thus, one must watch the temperature, and keep it to no more than 140F, and the time ( no more than 20 minutes) to avoid damage to the wool.

If one rinsed the wool in cold water prior to heating it in water, then some or all of the alkaline salts will be removed and there is much less potential for damaging the wool, but some other cleaning agent will have to be added to clean the wool.

The cleaning trick that I offered the other day of cleaning unrinsed fleece by heating it in water will not work if the alkaline salts have been rinsed out of the wool.  And, if there is any excess of alkaline salts in the wool, they WILL react with the wool if the temperature goes over 140F more more than 20 minutes.  This is not felting, this is alkaline digestion.  Since the worker does not know the amounts of alkaline salts or lanolin in the fleece, temperature and time are the only safety factors.

Baby OIl III

I wash wool objects with soap.  So does Alden Amos.  He said so in his Big, Blue Book.  It works.
I tried a lot of other things, but soap works with a minimum potential to damage the wool.

Soap must be rinsed out of the wool. Given the nature of baby oil and water, there will be enough shear forces generated by the rinse process to disperse the baby oil through the water.  And, the water forms a hydrophilic film on the wool.

Baby oil is not like wool fat in many ways.  That is OK, the liquid lanolin in my cupboard is not like wool fat in many ways.  I have put all three on woolens and tested the results time after time.

The wool fat will provided better water proofing,  but these days, I put baby oil and not wool fat or liquid lanolin in the wool rinse water.

Now, what have you actually MEASURED?

Lanolin in spinning and knitting is like Santa Clause for children in the US circa 1900.  It has some truth, but it is also a myth. There was a Santa Clause, but in 1900, much of what was attributed to Santa Clause was the actions of others.  In the same way, at one time much wool was water proofed with lanolin. And, spinners/knitters remember that and forget that today, much of that water proofing is performed with or by other agents.

As a chemical engineering student,  I worked with reagents.  Lanolin was a reagent.  Wool fat was the technical grade of lanolin. Technical grade materials were still reagents. Today, we can buy wool fat from Now Foods labeled 100% pure lanolin.

 Those of you who have taken chemistry know that it is really only a pharmaceutical grade of perhaps 99% pure.  But, such are the lies of commerce.

Many health food stores carry it at a price of $10-$12 for 7 oz..  If you think lanolin is so magical, buy some!  Rub it between your fingers.  Smell it.  Do you want to put it on your fine new, just knit woolens?  Just how are you going to apply it? Will it stain?  (Oh, yes!!)  And, in a few months it will start to smell like a sheep.  And, when it smells like sheep, it will attract moths. Lets see - that would be next spring! , about the time moths will be looking to start a new generation. And it will attract, and hold dirt and grit.

It takes real courage to put wool fat on your fine woolens.  I have that courage, but most modern spinners and knitters do not.

I mix it with beeswax, olive oil, lavender oil and other things to make a hand lotion for knitting. All of my knits come off the needles well oiled. (My hand lotion also leaves a film on all the door knobs in the house, so if I have been knitting, I need to go around and wash the door knobs before my wife gets home. This is serious hand lotion, that puts Bag Balm by Dairy Association Co to shame. ) Then, I wash my just knit woolens with real soap and hot water, and put baby oil in the rinse water.

I encourage everyone to put a little pure "lanolin" on their hands and then go hug all the "rubberneckers" who claim to like lanolin on their woolens.  Then, at least the backs of the rubbernecker's sweaters will be water proof -- at least until the moths get to them   : )

Saturday, November 08, 2014

More on Lanolin III

Yes, Virginia, there is a "soap-like" suint in sheep fleece.  It can be removed with cold water, including rain, so there is less of it in wet places and wet years.

However, I live in a dry place, and last year was a dry year.

I have some fine, local, Rambouillet fleece.  (They wore their little sheep suits all year, so the fleece are very clean). I can take a steamer basket, and fill it with the fleece (more than a pound), put it in a pot of cold water with a weighted screen over the top to keep the wool under water.  The result is a pot full of wool, but with space for water to circulate on every side of the wool. I do not add any "soap", detergent, or other chemical cleaning aids.  It is a pot of  raw fleece and water.

I put that on the stove and gently heat it to ~ 130F.  At that point there is a thin layer of white foam across the top of the pot.  Then  I let it sit for 10 minutes.  I lift the basket out, and I have ~6 oz of the cleanest, nicest wool.  Yes the dirty, soapy water needs to be drained and the wool needs to be rinsed, but this is a way to get wool very clean with minimum water, minimum effort,  and minimum agitation (potential for felting).  Every so often, I have to say this, "It is like magic!"

It turns out that  the price of the fleece includes all the ingredients for a potassium/lanolin soap - just the thing to gently clean fine wool fibers and leave them soft and perfectly conditioned.  All I need to do is add some soft water and heat.  And  this is a very good demonstration that there is more than just lanolin, VM, and grit in fleece.

Heating much above 140F may damage the wool!  I use a thermometer. I am not going to advocate this system of cleaning fleece until I have done some more testing.  For example, there is a real potential for some parts of the pot to get too hot and some of the wool being damaged.

Will it work in wet years in wet places?  I doubt it,  but I find it the easiest way to scour the fleece that I have on hand.  This is perhaps the only advantage to the great California Drought.  The conventional wisdom on scouring wool is in Alden Amos, pg 57 et seq. It works very well but uses more water, and requires more movement of the fiber.  However, the AA method is more predictable.

It also tells me that it was very easy to scour fleece by putting them in a big (iron) pot, covering them with water, and gently warming it.  In wet, years or wet places, a small amount of lye from leaching wood ash could have been added to the pot to help make the lanolin soap.

And if the lanolin was needed, then the fleece could be rinsed in cold water first to remove the potassium salts, and the lanolin could be skimmed off as the pot warmed.  This would leave more lanolin on the wool unless another cleaning agent was used

Friday, November 07, 2014

More on Lanolin II

Sheep produce lanolin and suint, and together they keep the sheep's fleece oiled without the grooming required by animals like beaver.  Oiled fleece can repel water, so the fleece can trap the sheep's body heat and keep the sheep warm.

When we shear the fleece, everything changes.  The wool is soaked in cold water to remove the soap-like suint and hot water to remove the lanolin (and grit).

When we treat the wool to felt less, the wool become less water repellent. When we dye wool  (particularly deep blues and reds), the wool fibers become more water repellent. Long wool (e.g., Romney) dyed deep blue is fairly water repellent.  Fine, undyed wools are less water repellent.

Then, in the old days many mills used the lanolin produced in the scouring process as a cheap spinning oil.  It gave the wool water repellency and a certain aroma.  However, lanolin is a waxy material, and if you are wearing wool oiled with lanolin, the lanolin will come off (a little bit at a time) on everything it touches. If you go commando - it will come off on you. Pick up a child and some lanolin comes off on the child and the child's clothes.  Every time you go out in the rain, some small amount of lanolin will be washed out of the fabric.  Over time wool fabrics loose lanolin.

And, lanolin oxidizes, becomes sticky, becomes brittle, and flakes off.  The sticky lanolin attracts and holds dirt, meaning the garment must be washed more often, and the washing takes the lanolin out of the fabric.  And, lanolin attracts moths.  Lanolin is not magic.  It is goopy stuff that helps keep wool dry for a brief period.  Like everything on a sailing ship, it requires constant attention and maintenance.

I wear my woolens places where they get dirty, and I wash my woolens.  If you also wash your lanolin coated woolens, then soon, there will be much less lanolin on the wool.

Sea water contains plankton that is strained out of the water by well knit woolens.  In certain seasons, if you get doused by breaking waves, your sweater will pick up enough plankton that in a few hours it will smell like every dead thing that ever came out of the sea.  I do not care if you live in a sheep barn, sometimes your fisherman's sweater must be washed with soap before it can be taken into the house/barn.  At that time, any and all lanolin in the sweater will be scoured out.

(If it is a real fisherman's sweater, that must be waterproof, the lanolin can be replaced by melting some wool fat (lanolin) in a big pot of 125F water and raising the sweater through the film of lanolin on the surface of the water.  This will work for fisherman's garments (already stained) but is likely to stain other garments.)  And, garments firmly knit from worsted spun, long wools will tolerate this treatment,  but any fine wools, or loosely knit objects, or woolen spun objects, are likely to felt in the worst way. 

As I said, I wash my woolens on a regular basis, and reoil by putting a drop or two of baby oil in the rinse water.  It is not as good as lanolin for water repellency, but it is much less effort, and much better than nothing,   It keeps me from smelling like a wet sheep when I go into the yacht club for a pint.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

More on Lanolin

I was doing forestry research for the American Chestnut project back in the days when it was run by Lou Ismay.  We went out in all weather, and we always seemed to be wet.  The only time it was dry was when everything was frozen.

I found some US Army infantry uniforms that had been made at the end of WWI to protect the troops from gas attacks.  The war ended, and by WWII they had better materials so the gas-tight wool sat in a warehouse.  Anyway, they were fine, thick wool with flaps that buttoned over the openings.  Oh, My!! They sopped up water and got wet.

My mother, who understood such things said, "They have to be oiled with lanolin."   I went to the library and found the old manuals and figured out how to do it. I bought the best quality reagents, and followed the instructions.  Then,  I had oiled wool that kept me warm and dry in any weather.

A few weeks after oiling, the lanolin would start to oxidize, and then when it got wet it would smell like sheep.  This was not bad in the forest with a camp fire, with the smell of the wet forest around us.

Then, I was drafted, and ordered to an inductee meeting one evening. It was a cold, rainy night, an hour's bicycle ride away, so I wore one of my oiled wool shirts. I arrived soaking wet, but comfortable.

The sergeant in charge took exception to my "lamby smell", and said things the way only a sergeant can say them. He used me as an excuse to display his command of the Army vernacular. It did not really bother me. I knew there was no way in the world he could have completed the bike ride I had just already ridden, and I had another longer, colder, uphill bike ride to do after the meeting. Nevertheless, 28 years later, when Jan from Frangipani yarns  ( brought up the topic, I was all ears. She told me about baby oil to oil wool.

I like lanolin.  I make my own hand lotion for knitting and it is mostly beeswax, lanolin, olive oil, and lavender oil.  However, when lanolin is applied to wool, it forms a thin layer on the wool fibers.  That thin layer has a huge surface area allowing oxidation.  (And the oxidation helps the lanolin to bond to polar regions on the wool.)  The oxidation products and water produce the sheepy smell that raised the ire of the sergeant.  When you put lanolin on wool it will oxidize, and when the oxidized lanolin gets gets wet, it will have a sheepy smell. I do not mind the sheepy smell too much.  My wife has several sweaters that have lanolin on them, but when it rains, she always wears a parka over them so they do not get wet. Nevertheless, the last time we were coming back from Pt Reyes, it was her sweater, not mine, that perfumed the car with a sheep smell. I wear my sweaters in the rain and salt spray, and they do not smell of sheep.  They may smell of fish, but they do not smell of sheep.

If you wash or dry clean your wool, and remove all the oils, then in the next rain, the wool will sop up water, and will not keep you dry (or warm). Thus, you need a rain coat or parka or umbrella to keep your wool dry. Or, you can just wear your wool in the house and not take your fine gansey out into the weather.

So, your options in the rain are wet wool, or a silicon product such as Scotchguard, or lanolin and smell like a sheep in the wet, or baby oil and run the risk of stains.

A drop or two of baby oil in the rinse water (after washing with real soap)  will form a film over every fiber, so the change in color is very uniform and there is no visible stain. None! I have been using baby oil on all of my outdoor woolens for about 12 years now.  It keeps me comfortable in the rain.  It lets me wear my ganseys when I am splashing in the water, and  then lets them dry quickly afterwards.   Lanolin also works, but it is properly applied by dissolving the lanolin in enough benzene to submerge the garment.  Benzine is hazardous, toxic, carcinogenic, and any residual is a solvent waste that requires special handling under RCRA (40 CFR 260 et seq.). Other methods of applying lanolin to wool fabrics do run a real risk of staining.   The wool must be re-oiled whenever the wool is washed or cleaned.

Oh! Wet wool is a different color than dry wool. Freshly cleaned woolens shows splashes of water.

Much wool from the commercial  channels will not tolerate washing with soap and water.

Baby oil is easier.  Jan sells good yarn and dispenses very good advice. I like venders that give smart advice on how to use their products.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

My Favorite Yarn (11/2014)

Some of you know that I always seek as much warmth as possible from a minimum amount of wool.  This is a result of too much hiking with heavy backpacks.

I like sport weight yarns, I think they are a nice compromise between patterns with fine detail, and stitches that are large enough to see.  And, sport weight works with my favorite needles.

I tried 10-ply worsted spun sport weight and ended up cabling it so it always seemed harsh.  It was very durable but it never made it past boot sock heels. I still have a ton of it up stairs.

More recently, I have been spinning the Rambouillet from Anna Harvey
( )  as woolen and semi-worsted weft.  Of course some of that gets plied up as knitting yarn, and I find that I love the semi-worsted as 5-ply sport weight.

It is not as durable as my worsted spun 5-ply, but it is much more elastic, and it has more loft.  After knitting and blocking, I brush up a nap and it is a very skin friendly fabric. The samples have been properly abused, but do not seem to pill -- the extra twist in the fine singles seem to keep the fibers from pulling out and pilling.   With all that twist in it, it is more durable than any mill spun sport weight or worsted weight yarn that I know of - even those yarns made for knitting boot socks with large amounts of nylon them.

And this stuff has luster.  JM has told me that Rambouillet never has luster, but this stuff does. Sometimes it gleams and glints like the sparkly synthetics.

The singles need about 15 tpi, but I have not made up the whorls for that yet, so I just fudge it by using the 18 tpi whorl and a slightly larger effective bobbin diameter, e.g., I wind off frequently, and leave a layer of yarn on the bobbin.

This stuff is about 60% more spinning effort than worsted spun gansey yarn.  Is it worth it?  Not sure yet.  Maybe 3-ply semi-worsted sport weight is good enough?  Or maybe not - not sure the 3,400 ypp singles have enough twist to give the final yarn enough elasticity or whether those singles are fine enough to drop out as much VM.   They are OK for weaving, but knitting is different.

I tend to think the old timers understood things well enough that when they settled on 5,400 ypp singles as a building block of knitting yarns, they had good reasons. I should understand what they knew, before I try to reinvent the wheel.  Perhaps, it really is worth while to just spin the 5,400 ypp singles.

It is a great yarn -- and I have already spun a few miles of the 5.400 ypp semi- worsted single for it.


I was recently told that I should go back to school to learn something about fashion.

I understand fashion as a status display.  I know that at it's best, it is a combination of excellence in design, materials, craftsmanship, and - marketing. I understand the delicate balance between the arty desire for something new, and the demands of functionality and wearability. I have been in the sweaty circles of designers pushed to go too far; and, the production of collections that lack wearability.

That is not the kind of stuff that I knit. (I would never admit to sacrificing wearablity for novel design effects!!)

I am more likely to knit something that you would want to wear when sailing, or hiking, or skiing, or while tending ewes that are lambing in a blizzard, or when you are checking on the neighbors during a hurricane, or restoring power after an ice storm, or shoveling the driveway after a snow-storm or gathering wood to keep the wood stove going and the house from freezing..  Oh, you do not do these things? So what!  You are not dead yet.  You may need to do something like them in the future.  In which case, you will need warm fuzzies.  Then, think of me, and knit them.  It is not fashion, it is knitting.  Not all knitting is about fashion.

I was told that the stuff I knit is far too tight to be considered good knitting.  However, I see QEII at Balmoral wearing sweaters knit just as tightly as I knit.  If the Queen can wear it, I can knit it. Scottish castles are cold drafty places. No matter how many heaters and tapestries there are, warm fuzzies are welcome.

A well knit object is one that fits its purpose.  Sometimes the purpose is to show skin, and sometimes the purpose is to keep the skin warm.  The good knitter knits objects that serve their purpose.  I always knit to serve a purpose.  Everything that I knit is designed for a particular range of temperatures and conditions. Mostly, tightly knit 5-ply makes a nice 3-season sweater for local  conditions, and spring/fall wear in the Sierra. ( We closed Buckeye Campground, and it was a little  cool.) Winter in the Sierra wants 6 or 8 ply.  Summer in the Slot wants 10 -ply.  Thus, I choose the sweater to match the conditions.

I started knitting because I wanted warmer woolies.  Anyone that finds fault with that does not understand cold.  She says, "I live in Canada, I understand cold!"  No!  Living in a tent in cold weather or  fishing for cod on a fine April day off of Fortress Louisbourg will give you a whole new understanding of  the value of warm woolies.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Indigo and woad or Isatis tinctoria

Lustrous wool fibers mostly present a hydrophobic surface.   In a few places, there are polar bonds where water droplets can attach or dye molecules can bond.  If those places are bonded to a (blue) dye molecule then those previously hydrophilic areas also become hydrophobic, and there is no place whatsoever for a water droplet to rest, so it will be easily shaken off.  (Yes, I anthropomorphize hydrogen bonds.  ) 

The bottom line is that blue wool sweaters ARE more water repellent.  This can be affected by any of the modern mill treatments that chemically alter the surface of the wool fibers -- most notably the treatments that make wools machine washable, but also aggressive carbonization to remove VM, and processes to stretch and thin the wool fibers.

This tells us that woad likely has such wide distribution in the North Atlantic because it was carried from island to island.  It was carried because it was vital to making serviceable clothing for seamen. Woad (and indigo) made wool more water repellent.  (And woad was a treatment for ulcers. NB the prevalence of ulcers on seamen.) This tells us that the ecru Arans were either made for tourists or were intended to be worn under an oil skin.  Since woad is found on the Aran Islands, then at sometime in the (long) past, it was brought to the islands, and likely used to make blue woolens.  (And, you also find Urtica dioca, there because nettle fiber was preferred for fishing line and nets.)  

This also explains why soap (not detergent) is the better washing aid for woolens that will be worn in the rain or fog.  Soap will tend to make (natural fiber) wool more water repellent.  If your garment care instructions indicate that it is to be "dry cleaned" then it was not intended to be worn in foul weather.  Real fishermen, who need to preserve the fine blue color of their woolens will wash them in stale urine.  (If the object was properly dyed, additional acid will not act as a mordant.  If the object was not properly dyed, then the dye should be set with acid before the fisherman puts it on.) Sadly, real fishermen must rely on real spinners, real dyers, and real knitters, rather than on mills run by bean counters.

A woolen washed in soap, with a drop of baby oil in the rinse water does not need lanolin. Lanolin smells sheepy when it gets wet.  Lanolin attracts moths.  Lanolin gets sticky and attracts/holds dirt. "Wool spun in the grease" and "oiled wool" are myths that stand in the way of warm woolens worn in foul weather.

Anyone that wants to assert that blue sweaters are not warmer than other colors, should be eager to discuss Lewis Acids/Bases and the structure of wool fibers in excruciating detail.

Monday, November 03, 2014


Many, many modern knitters attribute the warmth of the old knit woolens to lanolin.  However, lanolin oxidizes, and then when it gets wet it has a nasty sheepy smell.  Lanolin also attracts moths.

Thus, modern mills remove lanolin from their yarns (mostly), and modern knitters use this as an excuse for not knitting warm garments.

The truth is that there are 2 aspects of knitting warm garments.  One is knitting tight, and the other is oiled yarn.  Except that there are many ways to get oiled yarn, baby oil works as well as lanolin but baby oil does not smell sheepy or attract moths.

That is, modern knitters use a lack of lanolin as an excuse to knit loosely.  And, they do not substitute other oils for lanolin. The result is that modern hand knit objects are not very warm.

Sunday, November 02, 2014


Read it at

Or, read a good summary at:  This is a better summary than put up by most of the news agencies - News agencies do not understand such things as well as Jeff Masters.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

More DRS Twist and Grist

It would seem that one would require a whole drawer full of whorls to spin all the yarns that a spinner needs to spin.  However, I find that 3 gang whorls with 3 different ratios on each is more than enough to produce a wide range of yarns.

I use a whorl that inserts 9 tpi to spin soft woolen at 2,800 ypp, firm woolen at 3,200 ypp, and worsted at 5,600 ypp.

I use a 12 tpi whorl to spin worsted at 11,200 ypp and woolen at 5,600 ypp.

I use 18 tpi whorl to spin worsted at 22,400 ypp and woolen at 11,200 ypp.

I use 20 tpi whorl for worsted 30,000 ypp.  Woolen at 30,000 ypp needs about 31 tpi, and I have not made that size whorl to work with the accelerator at this time.

I use 25 tpi whorls to spin woolen at 22,400 ypp and worsted at 44,000 ypp.  Woolen at 44,000 ypp needs ~36 tpi, and and I have not made that size whorl to work with the accelerator at this time.

Thus, 3 gang whorls is enough to spin the yarns that I want from soft woolen at 2,800 ypp, to both the worsted and woolen at 22,400.  If I need softer yarns, I spin a bit thinner, With the controlled takeup, that is easy.

I mostly measure grist by spinning 560 yards and weighing it to the nearest gram.  That is close enough for hand spinning.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

True woolen from a drun carder

Recently, I mentioned Henry Clemes neat diz for using a drum carder to make roving to spin semi-woolen.

It occurs to me that I see lots of people spinning semi-woolen from drum carder batts, that I see few but folks that I see spinning true  woolen.  Those that do spin true woolen use spinning from the fold or similar technique. Usually, people tear the batts lengthwise and spin from the tips to produce  a semi- worsted or semi-wool product.

There is an easier way to produce true woolen yarns from drum carder batts.

see for example

For woolen, one can simply put a thin layer of fiber on the drum carder, and then roll the layer up around a piece of dowel, then slide the dowel out - just like Henry Clemes makes a rolag from fiber on a blending board.  This produces a giant "rolag" - a cylinder of carded fiber.   I use each rolag to spin hundreds of yards of  yarn, so there is more drafting, and the attenuation takes more attention.  However, it is real woolen spun.

My value added here is a suggestion that you  adjust the size of the rolags to the grist and twist of the yarn you are spinning.  When I make thinner rolags in the form factor that Clemes and Clemes use on fiber from their blending board, it spins faster, but the yarn tends not to be as uniform.  I have no idea why this could be.  It may be variation in the fleece I was using.

My rolags off the carder are 8" long, 2,5" in diameter, and weigh ~ 12 gr, so it is shorter, fatter, and heavier than rolags off the blending board.  Using DRS controlled takeup/twist, I can simply rest the cylinder of fiber in my lap,  and draft off of one end.

Rabett Run: Confident Idiots

Rabett Run: Confident Idiots

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why 5,600 ypp?

The old knitting yarns were constructed of many fine plies.  Lace was 2 or 3-ply. Sport weight was 5-ply.  Worsted weight was 6-ply.  Aran weight was 10-ply.

Why?  Why not just go 2 or 3-ply as in the modern mill spun?

Because at about 5,600 ypp, vegetable matter (VM) drops out.

Latter, mills learned to take out VM with acid.  Then they did not need to drop out the VM, and went to 2-ply for everything, because acid treatment and 2-ply was cheaper than spinning fine plies.

If you are spinning acid treated fiber, you can spin any grist at 2-ply because you do not have to deal with VM.  The 2-ply will not be as elastic, but that is a different issue.  (Do you like the texture of mill prepared fiber?  Some do, some do not!!)

However, if you are prepping your own fiber, then spinning fine singles is a part of the easy way to deal with VM -- if you can spin fine and fast.

And, there is the rub.  This approach is only useful if you can spin fine and fast.

The bottom line here is that I come to this as a knitter seeking better yarn at a reasonable price. By and large, I think the mill treated fibers are not as good as the less treated fibers that I prepare myself, so I buy fleece and scour it myself.  I card it myself, and if necessary, I comb it myself.

From prepared fiber to high quality yarn, the easy path is to spin a lot of fine singles and then ply up the grist yarn that I need.  And, I like these yarn better than 2 or 3-ply yarns.

I spin what I like.

Good ideas and better ideas

Good ideas tend to crowd out better ideas.  If one has a good solution to a problem, then better solutions to the problem tend to be rejected.

One cannot consider the better solution to the problem until the faults in the good idea have been realized.

Thus, conventional wisdom wins over and over.

5-ply revisited

I came to spinning as a knitter seeking better "gansey" yarn.  Everyone said that gansey yarn was worsted spun, so I spun worsted.  I liked the yarn better than mill spun. Thus, I started spinning 5-ply worsted.

I spun a lot of worsted 5-ply, then I started spinning worsted warp for spinning, and the 5-ply knitting yarn became a by-product of what I was spinning for the loom.

Then, I started spinning woolen weft of about the same grist.  There was a basket of it by the lazy kate.  Plying up a ball of woolen 5-ply was easier than going up stairs to get some worsted.  I liked the 5-ply woolen.

As I spin more woolen weft, it becomes a source for singles to be plied into knitting yarns.  After all, I have a big basket of weft singles sitting there, so when I want some knitting yarn, I just ply some up.

I like knitting yarns plied up from lace weight (6,000 ypp) woolen singles.  They are more elastic that any mill spun.  They are more elastic that any 2-ply.  They are more elastic than my 5-ply gansey yarns.  I like elastic knitting yarns.

They are durable.  More durable than any mill spun or any 2-ply.  They are almost as durable as my 5-ply gansey yarns.

They are warm.  Perhaps too warm for modern centrally heated environments.

The yarn is less splitty and more elastic than 5-ply worsted, so it knits faster. And, I tend to knit it on bigger needles than I use for worsted. I am still using blunt needles for all woolen knitting.

The yarn is much rounder than 2 or even 3-ply, so it shows stitch patterns almost as well as 5-ply worsted, Since the fiber is not combed, I can add something to give a halo and hide the stitch pattern.

Carding and fine spinning drops out the veggy matter. If one spins 1,800 ypp woolen singles, most of the VM stays in the single, thus, getting the VM out become a large effort in fiber prep.  Spinning fine, drops the VM. Dropping VM remains a worth while reason to spin fine.

Combing for worsted spinning rejects much fiber.  Spinning woolen conserves fiber.

Woolen is easy to spin from short fibers.  Some days I get tired of spinning Merino worsted.

It is soft.  I can spin it from fine wool and it is always skin soft.

Why did I not do this before?  I had the idea that the right way to make 5-ply was to spin worsted.  Nobody was making 5-ply/sport weight woolen yarns. I was a captive of the conventional wisdom.

Net time to spin 5-ply woolen yarn is about 100 yards/ hour for me. A sweater is ~2,000 yd, so it takes me about 20 hours to spin the yarn for a sweater.  Having DRS lets me afford better yarns.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A heavy heart

Some say that one cannot spin very high quality fine yarns when one has " a heavy heart".


If one is trained so that one believes that cannot spin very high quality fine yarns when one has  a heavy heart, then a heavy heart becomes an excuse not to spin well.  Having an excuse not to spin well,  allows one not to spin well.

If one is trained that one should be able to spin very high quality fine yarns any where, any time, no exceptions, no excuses, then one tends to be able to spin very high quality fine yarns any where, any time.

If you want to train people to spin well and consistently, then you do not give them any excuse for spinning poorly. One encourages spinners to spin well under all conditions. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

the evolution of a yarn

I started spinning because I wanted better gansey yarn.  Worsted spun 5-ply sport weight was my very first goal and my first spinning project.  I cannot tell a lie, handspun gansey yarn is better than mill spun.

However, more recently I have been spinning woolen weft, so I have those singles around and -- they get plied up into various knitting yarns, including 5-ply.

The woolen spun 5-ply is softer, but not as smooth as the gansey yarn.  It is stronger and much more elastic than 2-ply (woolen or semi-worsted) sport weight.  The additional elasticity gives fabrics/objects a wonderful drape.

Is it worth the additional effort?  The objects are nicer.  Are we doing this for fast objects?  Or, for nicer objects? And, I have the singles around.  Lazy Kate is beside the wheel, and can make me a ball of  knitting yarn faster than I can bike into town and back.

(Perhaps this is just a reaction to doing 10-ply cable yarns.  They had virtues, but were less elastic, and took a lot of attention to knit to fit.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Luster in fine wool

A couple of years ago, our guild had THE expert on wool come in for a lesson on how to buy a fleece.

At one point she said that the "fine wools" were never "lustrous".

I asked a couple of questions on this point, to make sure I had heard her correctly and had properly understood her  She is the expert, so I accepted the point, and have restated it here.  I took some flack on the point from "Anonymous".

However, the Rambouillet fleece that Anna Harvey just sent me is fine and lustrous.  The trusty twisty stick says the fiber is fine - mid 80s count - call it 18 or 19 microns, and it is lustrous.  It gleams. It sparkles. There is no oil on it, no resins, no dyes, it is just clean, white lustrous wool.  If I did not know better, I would say it was synthetic, or had been treated.

However, the fleece came to me, just as it came off the sheep, and I washed 3 samples from 3 different fleece with things like Ivory soap or Kirkland dishwashing detergent that do not leave oil residues or optical brighteners as in laundry detergents.  The expert was wrong.  When fine wool is coated to protect it from the sun, it can be very lustrous.

All of a sudden, I have no interest in spinning anything but Rambouillet.  I like the sparkle!

Anyway, for once "Anonymous" was correct.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Better accelerator bearings

Spinning has been a series of sacrifices to the gods of speed.

I settled into double drive and differential rotation speed (DRS) controlled flyer/bobbin assemblies in the pursuit of speed.  I went to smaller fliers from Alden Amos in pursuit of speed. I went to an accelerator in the pursuit of speed.  By the time I had spun my first fine warp (5 lb of lace weight worsted singles) I expect that my wheel was one of the very fastest in the world. Production of 5,600 ypp worsted at sustained rates of more than 8 yards per minute with peak production rates of more than 10 yd/min is easy.

Nevertheless, I spent a good part of today making better bearings for the accelerator from graphite/Delrin provided by Henry Clemes.  The result is another 800 rpm in the flyer/bobbin assemblies.  And the wheel runs quieter, with less vibration.

This raises the production rate of higher twist yarns. Every time, I thought that my wheel was going as fast as possible, I have found rather straightforward ways to it make go faster. I cannot believe that I am the only one.  Between the invention of DRS by silk throwers in Italy during the 12th century and the advent of  powered spinning frames circa 1780, millions people had a strong financial incentive to improve the spinning wheel in various ways.  It was a very large, very competitive industry, with huge incentives for very small increases in spinner productivity.  The competitive nature of the industry ensured that useful improvements were kept very secret, until they were obsolete. Thus, textiles were generally unique to a locality, because other localities did not know the details of how those fabrics were produced.

The way to determine what tools and technologies were used, is to become expert in textile production technology and reverse engineer the technology from found textile samples.  Proof is in my spinning wheel.  No historian viewing history through the prism of modern commercially produced and sold hand spinning wheels could conceive that a 16 th century hand spinner could have a production rate of  8 yards per hour. And, yet this afternoon as I tested the the new bearings, anything less is silly.  It shakes and rattles, but it spins faster than any wheel you have ever seen or heard. I have no doubt that wheel makers in Flanders were making faster wheels by the end of the 15th century. There is nothing in my wheel that they could not do with the tools and materials that they had.  Yes, the materials they had might have resulted in a bit more lard-oil splatter, but in a commercial spinning factory, that does not matter. Any historian who says that 16th century professional spinners that did not spin that fast, simply does not not know the craft of spinning.

As Ed Deming told us over and over, "You get what you measure.  If you do not measure it, you do not get it".  Professional spinners measured production - it was called income.  Modern spinners do not measure it, and do not get it. Modern historians do not have a clue about the productivity of traditional hand spinners. Since spinning  was the base of textiles, and textiles was major item of trade and a base of the economy,  modern historians do not have a clue about the economy of the period.

And it solves that great question: Why 5-ply? A) Because they had DRS wheels set for 10s, and 5 plies of 10s knit into a fabric that was warm enough to keep a sailor from going hypothermic.

Now that I am spinning a lot of warp, hand spun 5-ply has become my go to yarn.  I always have pounds of 10s around and plying up some 5-ply is just natural.  It is a way of using up left overs.  It is a stash buster.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

More on Diz your roving

You can use a length of dowel to wind the roving/pull the fiber off the drum carder through the diz.  Now the roving is wound around a nice dowel, rather than being juggled above the carder cylinder.

I use my distaff, as my dowel.  thus, the fiber from the diz is wound directly onto my distaff and is ready for spinning. It then unwinds nicely, except for the bottom layer - that gets slid off the distaff and treated like a rolag.

 Sometimes I put 1 tpi Z twist into the roving to stabilize it.   This takes care of the bottom layer issue.  Once you get accustomed t the motion, it is fast and easy.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Using a diz to strip roving off the drum carder

Folks are using a diz to take a strip of batt off the drum carder as continuous roving.

It is fast and easy, and it works very well -- to get carded roving.  However, carded roving going to spin up as semi-worsted or semi-woolen.  I like both  semi-worsted and semi-woolen yarns for many things, but not for everything.

This approach is great for most knitting yarns that do not need great durability or warmth.  I would say it is very well suited for 95% of the spinning that I see.  And it is how I intend to prepare the fiber for a sweater for my wife.

I have made my own diz for a long time.  They were not the best for this technique.  Clemes & Clemes worked out diz that work for this technique -  they make better ones.  Get one, or get a set for spinning different grists.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Pix of 20 fiber bundles

You have seen them. Every serious spinner drafted out super fine as they added lots of twist and the result is a few inches or a few feet of a spin count thread - a bundle of 20 fibers.  It is the natural result, you just did not recognize it for what it was.  There are lots of photographs of such fine threads on the internet. See for example by li12345 on Ravelery and

What is less common is folks that spin miles of such threads in a reasonable time.  

I do not seem to have a teacher, so I am still working out the process.  It is slow work.  As I explain it, I get a lot of push back.  I would rather spend my time working forward, than dealing with the same pushback attitudes over and over.  I have a few students, and do not worry about the public.

In 1400, spinners did spin  spin miles and miles of such threads very quickly.  Most modern spinners cannot do what spinners in 1400 could do.  Why is that?  Taking pix of the threads is not a big deal.  Taking pix of how to do it quickly is hard.  At internet resolutions, the moving thread just disappears.  It looks like I am making new clothes for the emperor out of frog hair, so I just post pix of the equipment. Smart ones will figure it out.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

How to use a twisty stick

It is simple.  It takes a fair amount of skill, but it is simple.

First learn to spin worsted singles that are a bundle of only 20 fibers (e.g., spin count yarn).  Practice with with different kinds of wool, so that you can spin a single of 20 fibers regardless of the kind of wool.  In the old days, this skill was expected of all competent spinners. Wool buyers and wool inspectors (such as G. Chaucer), were all competent spinners.  In England, circa 1600, spinners were expected to be competent after 2 years of training.

As you draft spin count yarn watch your drafting triangle so that you can easily recognize when 20 fibers are feeding into the yarn.

Now, you can take your  twisty stick and spin a 20 fiber yarn from any wool sample. By eye and experience you can then easily estimate the spin count of the wool, and the chart below will translate the spin count to microns.

The chart below makes it clear that micron count can be estimated from the traditional spin count. Is it as accurate as the modern lab micron count?  Not at all, but it was good enough for wool trade, and a textile industry producing fine cloth from hand spun yarns for a thousand years.  Some of those yarns were were much better than anything hand spinners produce today.  Fancy lab analysis of my wool does not make me a better spinner.  A cheap twisty stick will provide enough information about a bin of wool for even the best hand spinner to work their best skill on the wool.

USDA Standard Wool Specifications
Type of WoolOld Blood GradeNumerical Count GradeLimits for Average Fiber Diameter (microns)Variability Limit for Standard Deviation Maximum (microns)
FineFineFiner than 80’s<17 .70="" td="">3.59
Medium1/2 Blood62's22.05-23.495.89
Medium1/2 Blood60's23.50-24.946.49
Medium3/8 Blood58's24.95-26.397.09
Medium3/8 Blood56's26.40-27.847.59
Medium1/4 Blood54's27.85-29.298.19
Medium1/4 Blood50's29.30-30.998.69
CoarseLow 1/448's31.00-32.699.09
CoarseLow 1/446's32.70-34.399.59
Very coarseBraid40's36.20-38.0910.69
Very coarseBraid36's38.10-40.2011.19
Very coarseBraidCoarser than 36's>40.20--
1The blood system for most all useful purposes is outdated and has not been recognized by USDA since 1955.

The idea is that the difference in thickness between the fibers in two different wools will be no more than about 20 microns and may only be a few microns. That difference is hard to see with the naked eye and may be obscured by the variability in the fibers.  However, the spun yarns provide a statistical sampling that averages out the variability; and, the difference between the thickness of an 80 count yarn and  a 40 count yarn is about 50 microns, which is clearly and easily visible to the human eye.  Discrimination of rather fine increments in spin count (e.g., 42's v. 44's) can be achieved by having a reference collection and comparing the wool being tested to those standards. (A reference collection is otherwise known as a stash with labels.)

As you go down this lane, you will find that the better sorted and graded a wool is, the finer and easier it spins. Blends of fibers are harder to spin.  The blend may be desirable for the final textile, but it requires more effort from the spinner.  This is less of an issue, if you are spinning at grists of less than 20,000 ypp  (40/1 Nm). 

Historic wool garment fabric ran 20 to 70 epi  and when we do the math  (Look in Alden Amos) we know that many of the  yarns (warp  and weft) were in the 40 to 80 count range.  Hosiery was traditionally knit from yarns based on 40 count singles.  Spinning fine yarns for weaving is what competent spinners did.  If you can do it, you are a spinner. 

If you must blend, blend fibers of the same spin count. I spin a lot of warp from a commercial blend of 56 count wools; and, it spins well. Everybody that sees the hanks asks, "What kind of wool is this?" In this case, the blending is to produce a uniform top and the fiber sizing is more uniform than is found in roving from individual flocks or even individual fleece. In fact it spins so well that I am starting to think of 56 count weaving singles.  As tabby that would be, Ouch . . .6,000 yds of single per yd^2 of fabric - 20 hours of spinning for every yd of fabric.  Perhaps, I need a 20 dent reed.

I will freely admit that while I have been able to spin at the spin count for a few years, mostly the samples were small,  in the range of a few hundred to a few thousand yards. (And yes, I called those early 560 yard hanks weighing only 6 grams, "My little shits". There was good reason, the first ones were not properly blocked - they were not pretty.  A lot of people that cannot spin 80s laughed at me.  The joke is on them.  They still cannot spin 80s, but I can spin pretty 80s.   All it takes is thousands of yards of practice and learning to block hanks of fine singles.)  Now, I am coming to grips with spinning pounds and pounds of wool at its spin count. Am I a spinner? Not sure yet.  I will know when I have woven a bolt of shirting from my hand spun.

The craft is broken.  We will rebuild it thread by thread, my friends, thread by thread.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Truth About Spinning Finer

There is a story in the spinning world that the very fine threads are spun by assembling bundles of only 5 fibers.  I know you have heard this story.

In truth, the finest bundle of (wool/goat/camelid) fibers that can be spun at commercial rates is ~20 fibers, and results in the traditional spin count singles.  The finest bundle of fibers that can be hand spun is ~10 fibers.  With any fine wool, a bundle of 10 fibers produces a grist that is far, far beyond the world record.   If someone is not spinning far, far, far beyond the world record, then they are not spinning a bundle of only 5 fibers.

I pointed out that my singles composed of ~20 fibers of Rambouillet were finer than a particular spinner’s threads that she claimed had a cross section of only 5 fibers.  I exposed the fib that was the basis of much of her status in the lace spinning community.  She was very unhappy.

She made a point of seeking out one of my suppliers out, and talking about me.  I expect that there was a lack of truthfulness, and possibly slander.  In any case, their accounts of the conversation differ markedly.

Her lace designs are wonderful.  The yarns she spins are wonderful and fit the styles of lace that she makes much better than they would if the yarns were much thinner. I looked at her stuff because I admire fine textiles, and hers are excellent. Her yarns do not need to be thinner.  So, why is she pretending that they are bundles of only 5 fibers? 

An aspiring lace spinner would read her posts on Ravelry, and simply sit down and try to spin 5 fibers together, and be frustrated.   The aspiring spinner would think that anybody that could spin 5 fibers together, must be a genus spinner.   Thus, the story of 5 fibers keeps others from learning to spin fine.  Thus, her story is restraint of competition by  -  fraud.

I certainly went down that path - worsted spinning best Rambouillet into a bundle of 14 fibers to make yarns in the 100,000 ypp range.  However, it was not real spinning; it was too slow, and the yarns were too weak and too fragile. 

I went back to my knitting.  Later,  I set out to learn to spin at the spin count (a bundle of 20 fibers), and then noticed that my spin count yarns were (often) much finer than the yarns which some were claiming had only 5 fibers in the cross section.  That was physically impossible. Then, rather than posting a rational rebuttal, they got indigent, and told me that I should not bother with spinning because there is no money in it.

If you want to win the “Longest Thread Competition”, you can spend a thousand hours spinning a bundle of 14 fibers of wool as found at your local fiber supplier.  Or, we can get some 11.75 micron Merino from commercial channels that can be spun into a bundle of 20 fibers that will result in 1,500 yards of 2-ply yarn that weighs 10 grams (e.g., singles @ 150,000 ypp).  That would be a world record and  likely a winner.  Your DRS will need to insert 36 tpi.  With a wheel running at 2,000 rpm, it is 50 or 60 hours of spinning.  Fiber available at local fiber stores (Merino 15.5 micron) will get you to singles @ 95,000 ypp, which when all plied up will get you into the honorable mention class.  I have gone far enough down this road to know that it can be done.  In some cases, I used Guanaco from Dana over at Royal fiber rather than wool. Sometimes, I just used the best few grams of the best fleece Anna Harvey could sell me.  It is a matter of craft, not an Olympic challange.  I have no doubt that some Longest Thread competitors do choose the small bundle path.  However, it is clear from the analysis referenced above that that some winners have not been honest about their approach. The grist of their entries proves that the yarn singles have a cross section of more than 5 fibers.  The numbers do not lie.

I stay busy, so these days, I do not bother to spin anything finer than its spin count, and with the fine Rambouillet that I am getting from Anna Harvey, that is sometimes pushing 60,000 ypp.  That is about the grist of the singles from which men's fine tropical wool suits are woven.  (Take you linen tester down to the mens section of the local Needless Markup Department store and tell them you want to look at Super 110 tropical suits.)  The best suits are woven from even finer yarns.  From here, I do not see any reason to go there. So why bother with spinning the 60,000 ypp?  That is just part of my evolution to improve my skill with a twisty stick to grade fine wool.

twisty stick

With some practice (take it to fiber shows), your trusty twisty stick will always give you the spin count of the fiber. For all the virtues of micron analysis, just being able to quickly estimate the spin count of a fiber with a cheap, portable, tool is very nice.  And, a spin count will allow you to estimate micron count.  It is not exact, but it is close enough for hand spinning.

For example, Merino is generally classed as our finest wool.  However, 3 minutes with my trusty twisty stick tells me that the best of the Anna Harvey Rambouillet is finer than any of the Merino in the house.  It also reminds me that the most expensive Merino in the house, has lowest spin count (e.g., highest micron count.)  I admit it.  On the day I bought that pricey Merino, I did not have my trusty twisty stick.  There is a lesson there.

With my trusty twisty stick close at hand, I have a big bin of Anna Harvey Rambouillet on order and none of the pricey Merino on order.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Size the day

When I bought the loom, they proudly told me that they (RAC) had just replaced the harness springs.

I thought, "Good" (a set of springs is not cheap)

However, the replacement springs that they bought are much stronger than the springs that AVL designed for weaving garment weight fabrics.

Less spring tension seems to have much reduced my warp abrasion problem. (And makes weaving much easier.)  Research on sizing has been put aside.

A Victorian was taking a survey of what kind of sizing the various weaving factories were using.  At one factory he was told, "We don't use it.  We know how to weave."  That set me thinking that perhaps I needed to read the manual. And there it is; large or heavy warps require more spring tension.  One reason that I had bought this loom is that I heard stories about the original owner using it to weave very fine  fabrics.  The original springs had been intended for much finer warps than the students at the RAC wanted to use.  No, if they were going to weave rugs on this loom, they needed much stronger springs.

Anyway, I am to the point where I am sampling garment weight cloth from hand spun, and am working out how to live in the realm of 24 to 30 epi.

When you see the loom that you want: Carpe Diem.  However, carp always have bones so having seized the day, and gone fishing, "Caveat Emptor".   

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Spinzilla II

I did not enter Spinzilla.

The way to win Spinzilla is to spin a low twist, low grist yarn.

In the last year, I have spun over 120,000 yards of yarn, with more than 100,000 of those yards, "lace weight."  In the next year, I plan to spin a quarter-million yards of 40s ( ~22,000 yards per pound.)

I am not going in the direction of low twist, low grist yarn.  If I do spin that week, it will be lace weight weft.  I have a lot of warp, and I have to admit that I am enjoying spinning woolen weft from Rambouillet.

The ultimate fiber stash

I got to thinking, what is the ultimate fiber stash?

For me it is 5 lb of each of the following:

  • Long wool/40 count (Cotswold or Romney)
  • Medium fine /56 count  (Shetland or Jacob)
  • Downy / 56 count (Suffolk)
  • Fine / 76 count (Rambouillet, Merino, Cormo) 
It is large enough that I can spin almost any project from stash, but small enough that I can spin the whole thing in a few weeks.  It is about what is on hand right now, but more is on order.  

In fact, today is a sort and clean day in hopes of finding enough bobbins to warp the loom using the sectional beam.  I did  find enough bobbins even before getting to the big box of  weft on bobbins. With that weft on pirns, I will have a surplus of bobbins- perhaps for the first time in my spinning life  I do not believe it.

I have not found a way to wind off from the spinning wheel to a pirn, so I end up winding off onto a storage bobbin, and then from the storage bobbin to a pirn.  I like my wood lath as a pirn winder.  It is fast.

knitting belts, knitting sheaths and stainless steel needles

A year ago, I switched to knitting needles made of hollow stainless steel for much of my knitting. Mostly, I bought inexpensive needles from Hong Kong. The sizing is weird, but if one knits gauge swatches (and all good knitters do) then one can find a size that works very well.

Knitting sheaths tended to break these needles, so for the past year, I have mostly used a leather knitting belt.  The leather is easier on the needles than the wooden knitting sheaths.

However, in the last couple of months, better knitting technique has allowed me to use the hollow needles with my knitting sheaths. And, frankly knitting sheaths have advantages.  (Shetland knitting pouches have different advantages!)

Thus, these days I  am back to knitting  mostly with a knitting sheath.  There is a gansey that was started on a knitting belt, but I will switch from belt to sheath when I get to the pattern.

These days, my sock knitting kit is in bag originally made as a shaving kit for travel. The needles do not go through the heavy plastic material. This way, I do not have to carry my big (leather) for just socks.

These days, I can have any style of sock yarn that I want - I spin it myself.  The yarns that I like for cold weather socks are remarkably similar to the yarns that I like for my cold weather sweaters -  50 to 60 count wools, spun into firmly spun worsted, lace weight singles, and then softly  plied into sport weight yarns.  Hiking socks and working ganseys get spun up from coarser wools such as Romney.

All  those socks that I knit from MacAusland were very good socks.  I do not regret them at all.  I still recommend MacAusland yarns for outdoor gear for folks that knit, but do not spin.  Today, I hand spin better yarns that make better objects.

On its face, none of this is cost effective.  110 hours for a sweater?!! Any economist could tell me that I would be better off working at Mcdonalds and buying a sweater.  But, I have to be somewhere, for the rest of the day, and I can put in the time when I am not working to good use - that 110 hours can be time that would otherwise be lost - as it while I watch the evening news, or sit and chat or . . . . The last time somebody complained about my knitting during a business meeting,  I recited all the typos and errors in his powerpoint presentation.  He turned red and shutup.  Actually,  The truth is - the time is free.

There are fancy soft fibers (and yarns) out there for high prices.  However, there are also reasonably priced fibers of very high quality.  Both the Woolery and Halcyon carry a blend of American  wools for about $16/lb. It has a lanolin based combing oil on it that will oxidize  and go sticky, so it must be stored in air tight bags.   At some point it needs to be washed/scoured.  As long as you are washing it, you might as well dye it to the color that you want.

Then there is Anna Harvey's Rambouillet ( ) . Yes, she has "a spinner's flock" but she also has that lovely bright white, fine, Rambouillet. Yes, it is meat sheep!  but that does not keep it from being one of the very best textile wools in the world.  Yes, Merino gets all the press.  Merino needs the press because the great textile mills making the fine fabrics for the couture designers use Rambouillet.  Compared to other fiber in the hand spinner's world, Anna Harvey's Rambouillet is inexpensive. If you cannot scour it yourself, Sherry at Morrow Bay ( will do an excellent job on it.  I hear of problems at some other (mills) - particularly for Alpaca.  PS Anna's flock won lots of ribbons at the last wool show.  Anna's flock is about as good as a commercial flock can be.  My suggestion is to get your guild together, order a bunch of fleeces.  When they come in, sort and grade the wool.  That way you will have enough wool of a single grade for a project.  Then, have a guild work day and wash all the grades of wool.  The result should be bins of graded wool that are far, far superior to anything on the commercial market, or anything a single spinner can do, all at a cost that is far, far below that of  commercial grade fine wools of a lower quality.