Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

Focus of attention


One of the things which comes of learning a new thing is that one sees patterns where prior one saw nothing, or even chaos.  Sometimes this can be facile (e.g. the bar scene in Good Will Hunting, where the protagonist takes the college student’s grasp of historical economics apart)  All of us tend to be a bit like that when we are studying a new thing.  We are playing with it in our heads, trying to see what it, “means”.  When we are young (say in college) we tend to see patterns which aren’t really there.

One of the things I like about my work is that I get to spend a lot of time talking about how knives work.  I tend to draw pictures for people who are really interested in getting the right knives, and esp. those who are interested in maintaining them.  My bosses have never minded.  It’s not a sales dense way to do things, but it is a sales deep one.

I’ve been spinning.  I’ve been reading on spinning (and if you have any interest in the subject, even theoretical [say you were writing a book] I commend Alden Amos, “Big Book of Handspinning” It has the best footnotes.  Seriously, the best. They are, in their way, worthy of comparison to Paarfi), and I’ve been spinning.  The latter is more important to the story.

Yarn (which is what a spinner makes, be it ever so fine, nor ever so thick), comes in three types.  Worsted, woolen and everything else.  Worsted is the smoothest, and it’s the most durable.  Woolen is the weakest, and it’s much less smooth.

In between is all the rest, which some lump as, “semi-worsted”.  True worsted, is hard to spin.  It requires keeping all the fibers completely parallel until they are twisted, no twist gets into the yarn without the spinner letting it.  The fingers of the lead hand pinch the twisted yarn, and slide back to let twist into the untwisted fibers.

Woolen lets the twist in and controls it with a lighter hand; backing the untwisted fibers away from the imminent tangled mess that would happen if no “drafting” were done.

In between those is everything else.  Often lumped as, “semi-worsted”.  I think some are more toward woolen, but what do I know?  Woolen is faster, looser, warmer, and uses less fiber per unit of yarn.  Some fibers don’t like to be worsted (alpaca, for one), getting hard, and wiry.  How the fibers are prepared will make a difference to how easy it is to spin one way, or the other (worsted prep, woolen spun is brutal.  I was bitching and complaining and in a black funk, because I was trying to spin a fiber that’s only so-so at woolen, in the best of times, after it had been prepped for worsted.  Now that I’ve got the basic hang of woolen I’ll take the parts I reconditioned to spinning woolen and see how it does).

So my spinning is getting better. And my eye for fabric is different now too.  I’ll wager that, if you’ve never spun, esp. if you’ve also never crocheted, or knitted, the difference between the two types of yarn is still a bit fuzzy.  It was to me, and I spun.  But spinning on a drop-spindle doesn’t make (at least to me) the difference between the three styles all that plain either.  I can spin some pretty fine yarns; stuff those who didn’t know might term thread (and no, I don’t know what the technical difference is, just that there is one), but it’s all been “semi-worsted.  Spinning true worsted on a spindle is hard, because moving the twist into the “drafting zone” without letting it escape is hard, and I can’t do it.  Spinning true woolen is hard because the fibers don’t lock as completely as the spindle slows, and if one is letting lots of twist past the leading hand; the spindle drops… to the floor (my hook is a but out of true from that happening while I was waiting on the train tonight.  Yes, I spin on the subway).

When I look at a coat, or a scarf, now, I am trying to see how the weft was spun (warp is almost always worsted, or one of the harder semi-worsted. Woolen falls apart from all the abrasive pressures on the warp).  Tweeds, which are “hard finish” cloths get their structure from the warp being woolen, and locking together across the warp.  I saw a scarf yesterday,  which had been made from a handspun yard (I think, it was certainly an, “art yarn” with thicker and thinner areas).  I look at cloth differently, and with a more attentive, and understanding eye.


3 thoughts on “Focus of attention

  1. I really enjoyed reading about how your spinning has affected the way you look at fabrics. I understand the sort of thing you mean. I worked in pulp and paper research for years, and it changed the way I look at all types of paper. Same thing for my work with refinish car paints – I look at car colours differently. What we do does affect the way we look at the world.

  2. I haven’t even gone into what 3 years of selling kitchen knives has done to my sense of stuff. If I see a knife in a cooking segment I ID it, often on less than a second of observation.

  3. Other than recognizing knives, how has working with knives on that level changed something to do with how you view the world?

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