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Ring spinning is a method of spinning fibres, such as cotton, flax or wool, to make a yarn. The ring frame developed from the throstle frame, which in its turn was a descendant of Arkwright's water frame. Ring spinning is a continuous process, unlike mule spinning which uses an intermittent action. In ring spinning, the roving is first attenuated by using drawing rollers, then spun and wound around a rotating spindle which in its turn is contained within an independently rotating ring flyer. Traditionally ring frames could only be used for the coarser counts- but they could be attended by semi-skilled labour.


Early machines

  • The Saxony wheel was a double band treadle spinning wheel. The spindle rotated faster than the traveller in a ratio of 8:6, drawing was done by the spinners fingers.
  • Water frame was developed and patented by Arkwright in the 1770s. The roving was attenuated (stretched) by draughting rollers amd twisted by winding it onto a spindle. It was heavy large scale machine that needed to be driven by power, which in the late 1700s meant by a water wheel. Cotton mills were designed for the purpose by Arkwright, Jedediah Strutt and others along the River Derwent in Derbyshiremarker. Water frames could only spin weft.
  • Throstle frame was a descendant of the water frame. It used the same principles, was better engineered and driven by steam. In 1828 the Danforth throstle frame was invented in the United States. The heavy flyer caused the spindle to vibrate, and the yarn snarled every time the frame was stopped. Not a success.
  • The Ring frame is credited to John Thorp in Rhode Islandmarker in 1828/9 and developed by Mr. Jencks of Pawtucket, Rhode Islandmarker, who ( ) names as the inventor.

Developments in the United States

Machine shops experimented with ring frames and components in the 1830s. The success of the ring frame, however, was dependent on the market it served and it was not until industry leaders like Whitin Machine Works in the 1840s and the Lowell Machine Shop in the 1850s began to manufacture ring frames that the technology started to take hold.

At the time of the American Civil War, the American industry boasted 1,091 mills with 5,200,000 spindles processing 800,000 bales of cotton. The largest mill, Naumkeag Steam Cotton Co. in Salem, Mass.had 65,584 spindles. The average mill housed only 5,000 to 12,000 spindles, with mule spindles out-numbering ring spindles two-to-one.

After the war, mill building started in the south, it was seen as a way of providing employment. Almost exclusively these mills used ring technology to produce coarse counts, and the New England mills moved into fine counts.

Jacob Sawyer vastly improved spindle for the ring frame in 1871, taking the speed from 5000rpm to 7500rpm and reducing the power needed, formerly 100 spindles would need 1 hp but now 125 could be driven. This also led to production of fine yarns. During the next ten years, the Draper Corporation protected its patent through the courts. One infringee was Jenks, who was marketing a spindle known after its designer, Rabbeth. When they lost the case, Mssrs. Fales and Jenks, revealed a new patent free spindle also designed by Rabbeth, and also named the Rabbeth spindle.

The Rabbeth spindle was self lubricating and capable of running with out vibration at over 7500rpm. The Draper Co bought the patent and expanded the Sawyer Spindle Co. to manufacture it. They licensed it to Fales & Jenks Machine Co., the Hopedale Machine Co., and later, other machine builders. From 1883 to 1890 this was the standard spindle, and the William Draper spent much of his time in court defending this patent.

Adoption in Europe

The new method was compared with the self-acting spinning mule which was developed by Richard Roberts using the more advanced engineering techniques in Manchestermarker. The ring frame was reliable for coarser counts while Lancashire spun fine counts as well. The ring frame was heavier, requiring structural alteration in the mills and needed more power. These were not problems in the antebellum cotton industry in New Englandmarker. It fulfilled New England's difficulty in finding skilled spinners: skilled spinners were plentiful in Lancashire. In the main the requirements on the two continents were different, and the ring frame was not the method of choice for Europe at that moment.
Brooks and Doxey Ring Spinning Frame about 1890
Mr Samuel Brooks of Brooks and Doxey Manchester was convinced of the viability of the method. After a fact finding tour to the States by his agent Blakey, he started to work on improving the frame. It was still too primitive to compete with the highly developed mule frames, let alone supersede them. He first started on improving the doubling frame constructing the necessary tooling needed to improve the precision of manufacture. This was profitable and machines offering 180,000 spindle were purchased by a sewing thread manufacturer.

Brooks and other manufacturers now worked on improving the Spinning frame. The principle cause for concern was the design of the Booth-Sawyer spindle. The bobbin did not fit tightly on the spindle and vibrated wildly at higher speeds. Howard & Bulloughmarker of Accringtonmarker used the Rabbath spindle which solve these problems. Another problem was ballooning, where the thread built up in an uneven manner. This was addressed by Furniss and Young of Mellor Bottom Mill, Mellormarker by attaching an open ring to the traverse or ring rail. This device controlled the thread, and consequently a lighter traveller could be made which could operate at higher speeds. Another problem was the accumulation of fluff on the traveller breaking the thread- this was eliminated by a device called a traveller cleaner.

A major time constraint was doffing, or changing the spindles. Three hundred or more spindles had to be removed, and replaced. The machine had to be stopped while the doffers who were often very young boys did this task. The frame was idle until it was completed. A mechanical doffer system reduced the doffing time to 30–35 seconds.

Rings and Mules

The ring frame was extensively used in the United States, where coarser counts were manufactured. Many of frame manufacturers were US affiliates of the Lancashire firms, such as Howard & Bulloughmarker and Tweedales and Smalleymarker. They were constantly trying to improve the speed and quality of their product. The US market was relatively small, the total number of spindles in the entire United States was barely more than the number of spindles in one Lancashire town, Oldhammarker. When production in Lancashire peaked in 1926, Oldham had 17.669 million spindles and the UK had 58.206 million.

Technologically mules were more versatile. The mules were more easily changed to spin different qualities of cotton, which were experienced in Lancashire. While Lancashire concentrated on "Fines" for export, it also spin a wider range, including the very coarse wastes.The existence of the Liverpool cotton exchange, meant that mill owners had access to a wider selection of staples.

The wage cost per spindle was higher for ring spinning, In the states, where cotton staple was cheap the additional labour costs of running mules could be absorbed, but Lancashire had to pay shipment costs. The critical factor was the availability of labour, when skilled labour was scarce then the ring became advantageous. This had always been so in New England, and when it became so in Lancashire, Ring frames started to be adopted.

The first known mill in Lancashire dedicated to ring spinning was built in Milnrowmarker for the New Ladyhouse Cotton Spinning Company (registered 26 April 1877). A cluster of smaller mills developed which between 1884 and 1914 out performed the ring mills of Oldham. After 1926, the Lancashire industry went into sharp decline, the Indian export market was lost, Japan was self sufficient. Textile firms united to reduce capacity rather than to add to it. It wasn't till, the late 1940s that some replacement spindles started to be ordered; and ring frames became dominant. Debate still continues, in academic papers on whether the Lancashire entrepreneurs made the right purchases decisions in the 1890s.

New technologies

  • Open end spinning was developed in Czechoslovakiamarker in the years preceding 1967. It was far faster than ring spinning, and did away with many preparatory processes. Put simply, the thread was ejected spinning from a nozzle, and on exiting hooked onto other loose fibres in the chamber behind. It was first introduced into the United Kingdom at the Maple Mill, Oldhammarker. It replaced ring spinning.

How it works

A ring frame was constructed from cast iron, and later pressed steel. On each side of the frame are the spindles, above them are the draughting (drafting) rollers and on top is a the creel loaded with bobbins of roving. The roving (unspun thread) passed downwards from the bobbins to the draughting rollers. Here the back roller steadied the incoming thread, while the front roller which was moving much faster pulled thread out (attenuated) forcing the fibres to mesh together. The rollers are individually adjustable, originally by mean of levers and weights. The attenuated roving now passes through a thread guide that is adjusted to be exactly above the spindle. Thread guides are on a thread rail which allows them to be hinged out of the way for doffing or piecing a broken thread. The attenuated roving passes down to the spindle assembly, where it is threaded though a small ring called the traveller. It is this that gives the ring frame its name. From here it is attached to the existing thread on the spindle.

Like the hour and minute hands on a mechanical clock, the traveller, and the spindle share the same axis but travel at different speeds. The spindle travels faster. The bobbin is fixed on the spindle. In a ring frames, the different speed was achieved by drag caused by air resistance and friction. The spindles rotate at 7000 to 8000 rpm, this spins the yarn. The traveller, winds the yarn on the bobbin. The ring on the traveller is fixed on a lifting ring rail which guides the thread onto the bobbin in the shape required: ie a cop. The lifting must be adjusted for different cotton counts.

Doffing is a separate process. The attendant winds down the ring rails to the bottom. The machine stops. The thread guides are hinged up. Removing the bobbin coils thread around the spindle, and placing the new bobbin on the spindle firmly traps the thread between it and the cup in the wharf of the spindle. This done, the thread guides are lowered and the machine restarted.

A modern frame, manufactured in China, is the Model FA506 Ring Spinning Frames which is suitable for spinning of cotton or polyester/cotton to produce weaving or knitting yarns. The 420 spindle version is 17 m long by 900mm deep and 2.2m high. It weighs 6 tons. The main motor is 17 kW, and there are subsidiary motors for lifting, lubrication and the broken end collection system. It can spin counts of 96-5.8 Tex (modern unit) with an Z or S twist and a 10-55mm draft. It operates on 45mm rings with a 205mm lift at 12,000–15,000 rpm.

Economic and social implications

See also



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