Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Difficulty with English

Oh that pesky English language.  You know, the language that evolved from so many other languages?  So many that we have multiple words that mean the same thing, but we also have words that have multiple meanings?  Yes, that English language.

It gets very confusing!  Craftspeople who practice one art and take up another may think they know what the words they are hearing mean, but quite often they don't.  And because they think they know what they are hearing, they simply don't understand the information that is being conveyed.

So, what are some examples?

Knitters taking up weaving often have a large stash of worsted (weight) yarn they want to use up.  Unfortunately the word 'worsted' does not mean the same thing to spinners and weavers as it does to knitters.

For knitters 'worsted' means a weight or thickness of yarn.  For spinners and weavers, it is a particular quality of yarn that may come in a large variety of thicknesses.

The photo above shows one of these points of confusion.  Both are cotton at about the same grist.  Are they the same?  Quite obviously they are not.  But these yarns are treated by many weavers as though they are identical.  What they are is approximately the same thickness (3360 ypp) but they are not the same in terms of strength, texture or how they will behave as warp/weft.  And yet they are consistently referred to, both of them, as 8/2 cotton.

According to Judith MacKenzie, a yarn spun in a 'worsted' manner (i.e. fibres combed not carded) should be described as 2/8 - with the ply coming before the count.  When I started weaving, this is how the top yarn was described and sold in Canada.  Over the years, my supplier has taken to putting the English version of their catalogue with the ply second, like they do in the US.  But the yarns are not the same....confusion results...

So what other words elicit confusion?  Fulling/felting.  Harness/shaft.  These words are used interchangeably.  I no longer know if they are the same, just so long as everyone knows what I'm referring to when I say 'shaft'.

Weaving is a craft that has developed over thousands of years in pretty much every culture of the world.  Is it any wonder we get confused when we start to try and communicate outside of our craft and our culture?  Language is meant to clarify, but sometimes it just confuses.


Andrew Kieran said...

The last weaver but one before me put marks on the case of the powerloom for 1 ell and 1 metre. Confusion arises because the ell is about 4" past the metre, but that cannot be because a Scottish ell should be about 94cm. An English ell is not much different. One of these days I'll get round to getting to the bottom of it.

Peg Cherre said...

Being, for the most part, self taught, weaverly terminology is often a mystery to me. I may well know how to do something, but have no clue what it's called. This is compounded when the names of things change --- like that summer and winter to taquete thing, for one. Fortunately, 99.5% of experienced weavers are patient and generous with their explanations & time. Thanks, Laura!

Laura Fry said...

The ell was different lengths at different times in different places. A great book is Ken Alder's The Measure of all Things. A history of the development of the metric system.


Michael said...

I run into this when I'm trying to explain silk yarn counts. A lot of weavers started buying yarn back when it was still measured in English yarn counts - hanks per pound - and I can't find a single supplier who's still selling yarn in those counts. It's all metric now.

I don't think the two yarns in your photo are the same thickness - I think they're the same weight per length. I'm wondering if one of those is spun "worsted" and one "woolen" - or if they're just different numbers of twists per inch. I run into this a lot with the filament silks - the twist is one of the most important factors in how the yarn behaves.

Laura Fry said...

You are right, the yarns are slightly different but weave up at about the same density. The bottom one is open end or woolen spun, the upper is ring spun or worsted. Not the same even though the are the same count. The fibre length is shorter for the 8/2 according to my analysis.


Anonymous said...

hallo ,I am german weaver and spinner, my english is not so good, but I understand it very well and thanks for this theme, we have this diskussion with the scandinavian name for dräll and the german word Drell ,and speziell the germann weaver dont understand ,what the swedish name means. but I like this culturell differrenz, it shows me, we had long times, we each region had developped his own definatian. so I found a wonderful text ,which discribes how the english measures for linen developped, because they had different wind ups, Haspeln , and they used dieffent weights. then you can follow how our terms developped. And that is why am I am a spinner, then its easer for me, to have the yarn I want to have. And I like to buy my Yarn with yarn cards or to test them . good weaving and spinning herzliche Grüße von Wiebke

Charlotte said...

Thanks for this very interesting post! The difference between carded and combed yarn is indeed very important, and the yarn entirely different, especially with wool. As to weaving terms in English, I am often very confused, since it is not my native language. I feel though that the weaving terms in Norwegian are quite clear and not often subject to confusion.