Creativity, Spinning

The “Modern” Spinning Wheel?

Because we live in a time when clothing is simply something we grab off a rack in a store, we’ve lost appreciation for what it takes to make fabric or cloth of any kind.  We rarely think of it at all–unless we were raised in sewing homes, like me, where our mothers measured, pinned, and cut large batches of cloth into pieces they would sew into our tops, shorts and matching Easter dresses.  Or maybe you’ve admired a period costume in a film and given a nod to the past ideas of spinning or whatever else it took to make such things.  That was me.  Until I started spinning myself.  (Yes, it was only 2 weeks ago!)

My natural curiosity got to me and I started wondering about origins of spinning wheels, who invented what, and so forth.  So I dove in to take a look, and I am simply flabbergasted at what I have discovered. Flabbergasted.

The spinning wheel itself is actually a very modern device, and used in only about 8% of the time that humanity has been wearing clothes and making cloth.  The very first images and mentions of spinning wheels only date back a mere 760 years. Here are some key context points:  The Magna Carta was established in 1212, Marco Polo was packing for China in 1271, and the Vikings were settling down and raising sheep instead of pillaging. (Okay, these things seem old, I’ll admit, especially compared to the latest version of MicroSoft Windows.  But it’s only 800 years!  We’ve been wearing clothes a lot longer than 800 years!!)

So, I next had to ask:  What on earth was used prior to 1250, and the invention of the spinning wheel?

The fiber: animal wool or hair, fibrous plants such as reeds, bamboo & flax, and silk

The spinning tool: a spindle and a pair of hands

The fibers have stayed consistent throughout history and are an assortment of animal and plant fibers. A spindle is basically a stick (or bone or other hard material carved like a stick) upon which fiber is twirled to produce a “twist” while the fibers are also being slowly drawn apart.  The fibers “twist” into yarn, and if they’ve first been “combed” in the same direction, the fibers “twist” even more easily. That is spinning in a nutshell.  But what’s so astonishing is that for 11,200 years every piece of cloth or fabric or yarn or thread was produced by a pair of human hands on a stick.

Now aren’t you flabbergasted, too?

9 thoughts on “The “Modern” Spinning Wheel?”

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