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Spinning is as old as civilization: Before woven cloth there was spun thread. One of the earliest finds, a bone sculpture of a woman wearing a string skirt, dates from ca. 20,000 B.C. More details can be found in Elizabeth Wayland Barber's book 'Women's Work : The first 20,000 years'.
Spinnning is turning fibres into yarn by twisting and drafting (= pulling a few fibres out of the fibre supply). You can do that simply with your fingers - but soon you will ask yourself what to do with the yarn you created. The answer is the
The first spinning tool was the hooked stick. The hook catches the yarn so it doesn't slip off. You can roll the stick on your thigh to twist more quickly. And finally you wrap the yarn around the stick to store it. A hooked stick works, but it is slow. This makes it very suitable for learning the basics of drafting. But for producing large quantities of yarn a better tool is needed.
Some early genius (one doesn't know when) had the idea of attaching a weight to the stick to keep it spinning, without the need to constantly turn. The handspindle was born. And for thousands of years all thread used for all cloth and fabrics (think ship's sails!) was spun on handspindles.
On these pages you will find more information about handspindles.
Another idea was to attach the spindle to a fixed support, and make it turn by means of a drive band that runs over a bigger wheel, which is generally turned by hand. That is the principle of the spindle wheel which has its origins in the East (India or China) sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D. By the 13th century the spindle wheel had appeared in Europe.
The Great Wheel (for spinning wool, mainly in Ireland and Britain) and the Indian Book Charkha are examples of spindle wheels that are still in use today.
The disadvantage of the spindle wheel is that the spinning process is not continuous - you spin an arm's length of yarn, then wind it on. Spin another arm's length, wind on again. In order to spin and wind on at the same time, you need a
It was invented no earlier than the 15th century A.D. But today it is the most popular spininng wheel. It exists in many variations, and is complex enough to warrant a page of its own: How Spinning Wheels Work
Page updated: 07 April 2007