A (Very) Brief History of the Technology of String - C Wringe
Hello everyone! I'm Chester and welcome to yet another HackSoc talk, the talk series of everything that's all about computers, definitely. Yes, so this talk is about string. Some preliminaries before we start, and here is where I noticed that I haven't set my timer, many apologies, and this is going to be the whole tone of this talk I am afraid. This is just going to be a 30
minute ramble about a topic that I'm passionate about, and it is very last minute because turns out doing a PhD is hard, and I did not leave myself enough time to do this talk, so please forgive me, it's not going to be anywhere near as polished as it usually is. Another disclaimer is that this talk is going to rely quite strongly on props. Some of them are easier to move around than others. That means that I'm going to occasionally rely
on moving the camera around, and while I'm going to try and do that in the least motion sensitive triggering way as possible, I'm just going to give you this warning before we begin. OK, now with that out of the way, let's talk string! Now also another disclaimer apologies, this talk is slightly misnamed in that I'm going to take a historical perspective, but I'm not going to necessarily have much sourcing. I am not a historian, while I do have a couple of sources for what I'm going to claim, these are going to be all secondary sources because, as I said, I'm not a historian. This is going to more strongly focus on the techniques because those are things that I can actually get my hands dirty and do, so I'm going to try and explain more about techniques. So what this talk is going to be, is going to be an explanation
of how you do the process of: fluff, to string, to fabric, and the various techniques to do so, and it's going to go over and explain how this works, and give you sort of an understanding of what these different things are. Because to my mind, the way I feel about string is how I perceive most of HackSoc feels about computers. Yeah there are some things that you can do, like wear clothes, where you don't really need to understand what's going on, but for a lot of things, after a while you do have to have a bit of understanding of how it all goes together if you want to, say, modify your clothes to work better, and I find that I have found it in my day slightly difficult to know where to start with computers, and I get the impression that this is sort of the same thing that can happen with textile art.
So I'm hoping that in this talk I'm going to give you sort of an understanding of the various sorts of things that can be going on with textiles, in the hopes that then if you're interested in finding out more and perhaps learning one of the textile arts that I'm talking about, or just understanding wherever clothes you wear come from, you will have a starting point And so without that out of the way, let's go with some definitions. I'm going to have to distinguish between several types of thing during this talk. There is going to be the materials, that is to say the substances that things are made out of, say natural fibers, so sheep's wool or polyester-- and I am so sorry if you can hear the various car noises, I'm afraid I am doing this out of my flat, which is not for best soundproofed. Anyway, so you have the raw substances that things are made out of, the materials, bamboo, sheep's wool, polyester all of that. And then you have the form that things come under, the three main forms of this are going to be what i'm going to call fluff, or fiber, and [clattering noises] Yep, that was eminently predictable, I hope that I didn't murder anyone's ears with that, nor that I broke anything. Anyway now that that crisis is done, fluff of this form,
followed by yarn or string or anything of this form, followed by cloth that I'm wearing. OK, so what we're going to talk about is how you go between these three forms, the various technologies and techniques involved, OK. And to start at the beginning, let's start with how you go from fluff to string. Well the main way that you go from something like this to something like this is by applying pull and twist, and there are multiple ways of doing that, but the most obvious way is doing what I'm doing right now with my hands. So hands are one of the main tools, however you might be able to see this is not only very slow, but also the moment I let go i'm losing all that twist that I just worked to put in, and if you can see the less twist you have the more likely you can pull it apart.
So hands are one way to do this art, which is called spinning. But they're not by any means the easiest or the most obvious, so let's talk about spindles! Spindles are incredibly cool and incredibly old. Some of the secondary sources I found have said, "oh yeah, they basically predate any form of written word or any historical record," and the one that I have personally-- the oldest spindle that I personally have seen was from the-- sorry I'm going to have to look this up. The Chalcolithic age which is between 5500 and 3000 BC. This was in the Anatolian Civilizations Museum, which is a very good museum, you can see it on-- you can visit this museum virtually, I'll put a link in the description because it's really cool, and if you are ever in Ankara, please let me know, because I always want an excuse to visit that museum. But yes anyway,
so that's the oldest one that I personally have seen. It's not the oldest one in existence, the oldest spindle that I personally own which is also ironically the newest spindle that I personally own, is this 3D printed viking spindle, which is in fairness currently in two parts. It's 3D printed from a model on Thingiverse, i just love the juxtaposition of this really new technology being used to build this really old technology, it's something that I just find neat. I do need to glue them together because resin printers be like that, but yes.
So how do spindles work? Well I talked about the two ways-- the two forces that you needed to apply didn't I: spin and twist. And the way that a spindle works, let's take this one, is having a weight and a thing that you can wind your yarn on. And then you just spin it. Now what this does, it allows you to pull on your fluff while also having some measure of control. Behold! And the reason why they're called drop spindles is that, if you're not paying attention to what you're doing, and if you don't know how to do it very well, you drop it quite often.
And I probably wouldn't be dropping this if I weren't doing an off-the-cuff talk, but there you have it! Anyway, spindles can come in plenty of different forms, they usually come-- the two components are the shaft and the whorl. The whorl is the weight, and I am probably not pronouncing it correctly, because who the fuck knows how to pronounce W-H. That said however, those can be arranged in various different ways. As you can see in this one, the whorl is at the top of the spindle, and the yarn hangs like so. On this one, the whorl is at the bottom, this is a bottom weighted spindle. You might be able
to see that both of these spindles have a groove to hang the yarn around from. And top pointed spindles also often have a groove in the whorl where the yarn can go into. That said, not all spindles have whorls that can come off, for example this one is just attached to the shaft itself. Sometimes it's even better than that, the whorl is part of the spindle. This is a Russian-style spindle that i got off eBay and I haven't actually used yet, so I wouldn't be able to tell you how to use it, but it is still really cool. And yeah, you can have a bunch of different things, for example this is, well, two-thirds of a Turkish-style spindle. The aim with this one is that these come off and it winds up the yarn in a nice little ball, that you can then knit from immediately.
So that being said, the pulling and the twisting is not the only part of the "turning it into yarn" process. When you have something like this, this is called "singles", and now this is perfectly fine for some yarns, for example this yarn is a single-ply yarn, it was just spun in the way that I just demonstrated, and then wound up. But that's not how all yarns work, if you see this one for example it is made out of two different sets of singles, that's how you've got that color winding effect going on. And if I unwind it
like so, I don't know if you can see that if that's in focus, the various singles composing it come apart. This is six-ply yarn, that is to say there are six sets of singles composing it. So how do you get this plying process? Well, once you have a bunch of singles like so, you want to wind them together, and the really cool thing comes in here, because while you're winding them together, you're spinning them in the opposite direction that you spun the spindle in previously. So I was spinning these singles in a clockwise manner, so when I ply them, I spin them in a counter-clockwise manner. And it's just a case of, you want to lock them in together as it were, and that way your yarn, once it's unwound, lies flat, it doesn't have any sort of joining. So yeah, that's plying in a nutshell, and if you want to see the three forms that this comes in with the same yarn, here's my fluff, here are my singles, and here is my yarn.
I don't know if you can see, but this is still significantly thicker than these singles. So yeah, however the thing about drop spindles is that they do take quite a long time to do anything with, and so enter the spinning wheel. As far as i have been able to source, spinning wheels were originally from India from the late Middle Ages. That being said again, this is not strong historical-- this is not a strong historical process, I just looked it up on the internet, I will source what I've said, but please take it with a grain of salt. So the main idea behind the spinning wheel is the idea that,
with the same amount of motion, a small circle will have more revolutions than a large circle. That is to say, if two of these circles are attached, and therefore I can move one by moving the other, then I don't need to apply as much movement to this wheel to get a bunch of revolutions from this. So, what we do is we attach this wheel to this setup, which I will go through this setup in more detail in a bit, and then, I apologize... Use the treadle to move the wheel.
Now there are actually multiple ways to move a wheel in a spinning wheel, this is a single-treadle wheel, however double-treadle wheels exist, electric wheels exist, and the great walking wheel for example doesn't use any sort of treadle, but instead you walk back and forth, it's a very large wheel, you walk back and forth and turn it with your hand while spinning with the other hand. Now the movement of this wheel moves this bobbin and flyer setup, and let's go into more detail into this bobbin and flyer setup, because there's also some really cool stuff going on there which I would like to go into. OK let's move camera back, apologies for this again, so bobbin and flyer. Here we have some words that are reused from the old one. This itself is the bobbin, this is the spindle,
this is the flyer, and this is the whorl. And so the idea is that, because the bobbin has a smaller revolution than the whorl, this turns faster than this. And that is how you gain the friction and the spin needed to both, get the spin onto the fiber, but also then wind it onto the bobbin. I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to demonstrate this because it's already been
15 minutes, and I'm still in the "going from fluff to yarn." OK, so you've got your yarn, that's fine I guess, but you want fabric. How are you going to make fabric? Well I'm going to talk about this in, I guess, three different categories of things that are vaguely similar, although I'm going to talk about five different textile arts. OK, so the first ones are weaving and sprang, because those have the same sort of idea between them. Weaving you probably know about, but sprang is a much older one, which is also really cool. So moving the camera again.
Here you go, here is some sprang. So this is what we call the frame, well it's what we call "my chair," but it's being used as a frame. And moving it back. OK, so we can see, so sprang is a again prehistoric form of textile art, I will link to a video by someone who's actually an expert on this stuff so that you can get more details, but basically the conceit behind both weaving and sprang is the idea that you have string that goes back and forth, but is being held into place by something. Now if you've ever seen a piece of weaving, which you definitely have, but if you ever look closely at say a woven basket or maybe the plaid that you're wearing if you're like me and queer, you can see that the way that it's done is by having a certain type of fabric-- a certain type of string that is to say-- sorry again, I'm having to look. OK, so you have your warp, which is a vertical set of strings, and then you have your weft string, which goes between the strings, and if you've ever looked at a piece of weaving, you know that the weft alternates which ones it goes between. Now this is a good way to understand the structure
and how it's held together, that being said that's not the most efficient way to weave. Most people generally when weaving do not have a bunch of vertical threads but stay in the same place, and then needle and a thread that goes throughout it. No, the way that weaving mostly takes place is that you separate those threads into two sets. They go-- you have them in a V shape. You pass weft through, with a piece of technology called the shuttle, and this is where your weft is wound around, you pass it through that V shape, and then you exchange it, and the weft is caught in between, and then you pass the weft through again, and once again it's caught in between. So that's how you get quite a strong, powerful structure. With sprang it's
a little bit different, because instead of having a weft string that goes through it, the way that you do it instead is by having the side threads go through the other ones. So you take the first thread, and you switch it with the second thread. And then you take the third thread, and you switch it with the fourth thread. And so forth, and that gives you a sort of like half-braided half-woven technique. I'm afraid that I'm not fully doing it justice, but I will link to some very cool videos about it. So yeah, that gives you a sort of,
I guess interlaced structure, but let's talk about the arts that rely more on knotting. So these are going to be Nålebinding and crochet. Now Nålebinding and crochet both are performed by instituting a series of knots, one on top of the other. That is to say, you create one knot, and then you use that knot as base for your subsequent knots, and the nice thing about this is, well, when you do that in crochet, you do it with a crochet hook.
In Nålebinding you do that using a needle, and Nålebinding is another one of those arts which is ancient as all hell, the word itself comes from Scandinavia because that's where the art was most active, however there is evidence of Nålebinding in Ancient Egypt, and there is also evidence of Nålebinding in a Neolithic era, I am again going to have to link two videos about that. So, series of knots, those knots can be undone by pulling on the string, however you can only undo one knot at a time. This gives you quite a lot of freedom, both in shape and in the forms of things that you can do, so if you've ever seen little amigurumi such as these, they're almost certainly crocheted.
Because the thing is, if you're building a knot on top of the other knot, you can build it in virtually any direction you want. I hope that makes sense, but yeah so some examples of cool shapes you can do with crochet, this, dragon scales, and little flowers, and a heart. So yeah, the nice thing-- fascinating thing about crochet and Nålebinding both is that they are not something that you can automate. Now I've failed to talk about this previously, but with spinning wheels, you can run them on electricity. With weaving, with looms, you have the whole Jacquard loom structure, that is-- you can program them to do work essentially automatically. You still need skilled labor to do it, but the movement itself
is automated. Sprang is not a common enough thing to be automated, but if you look at the structure, it's almost identical to a chain-link fence, and while the way that chain-link fences are made are not the way that you would be able to do if you were manipulating string, because they're made out of wire, and wire holds its shape in a way that string doesn't, but you can still automate the creation of that structure. That's not possible for crochet and Nålebinding, you have to do every bit of it by hand. And that's just really fascinating to me, because all of these arts we've spoken about have technology that's evolved, and here we have a crochet hook, or we have a needle when it comes to Nålebinding, and it's the same thing, and there are different techniques, there are different ways of moving your hands, but it's always down to those hands. And so yeah, knotting. And I've just
realized that that was perhaps not the best way to refer to that, but moving on. And now my first love, knitting. Knitting is really really weird to explain from a non-visual point of view I'm afraid, I'm going to do my best, and I am very sorry if I fail, but yeah, essentially knitting is, sorry for the noise, a series of loops that you build upon one another. So you have a row of loops, and you have your string, and the single piece of string creates another row of loops that's above that different piece of string.
And now there are many ways to do this, the thing is the most common way to think about it is by using knitting needles, but it's not the only way. Again let's talk about automation, if you just want loops that go over each other and hold each other up, there is a very simple way to do that. If you've ever done a knitting doll for example, or even a loom band bracelet, then you've already done it. You build the loops by
passing them over a structure, and that's how a knitting machine works. And now this loopiness means that, of the fabrics that we've talked about, this is-- knitted fabric is generally the stretchiest. This means that for example, if you're wearing a t-shirt it is almost certainly knitted, if you're wearing socks that you bought from a shop rather than made yourself, then they are definitely knitted. It's got a very stretchy, very versatile fabric. Now this does mean that if you have a knitted mask, please wear another mask under it, because if it's stretchy, it's going to leave holes of quite a big size, so yeah. But yeah, if you look at the structure
of these different fabrics, you can see why some are going to be stretchier than others, and in directions than others. A woven fabric for example is not that stretchy, if you pull it in the direction of the grain or cross grain, that is to say, if you try and pull the warp threads from each other, or if you try to pull the weft threads, because those are quite structurally integrated with each other. However if you pull it cross grain, that is to say diagonally, you have quite a lot of that stretchiness. With knitting you have basically as much stretchiness as you want, there are knitting techniques which give you even more stretchiness, for example if you have a technique called ribbing, which is alternating knitting stitches and pull stitches, which are-- let's describe them as the inverse of a knitting stitch, that gives you an extremely stretchy fabric. If you've got any sort of knitted garment with cuffs, or if you have a hat with a brim, then that's almost certainly ribbed. So you can have a look at that. And then yeah, there are various ways as well to integrate color into these fabrics.
If you're knitting then the most obvious way is, well let's look at this, you just change the color of the yarn from row to row. You have similar techniques with weaving. Now of course the more complicated things can be programmatically done with Jacquard looms, but you also have things like this, which are done by hand. If you look closely, you can see that it's just an alternation of what color weft threads are being used. And then finally you've got printing, which is just using the fabric as a material to print on. Some clothes that you might be wearing will probably be printed, if you're wearing a HackSoc hoodie then it's almost definitely printed, finally I think I've already said finally but never mind, you've got embroidery, which is sewing on designs. You can also add any sort of decoration using different shapes, which again you can have sewn on, or you can have with various structures made with your textile art, and you can add on various structures as well, such as this flower, this flower could make an ideal decoration for say, a dress.
So yeah, I hope that this very brief introduction to the massive world of textile arts has been at all useful, and at least has given you some idea of terms to Google if you ever feel the need or the want to find out more about this subject. And, thank you very much for listening! Goodbye!