Crafting through history: Yarn spinning

March 13, 2014

Welcome to my new blog series, crafting through history! I thought it would be fun to put together a mini series based on two topics that interest me immensely: history and crafting. Each Thursday in March I’ll be sharing about the history of important crafting tools or techniques that are still used today. Please keep in mind, the information researched on these topics has been gathered from internet sources so anything I say could be inaccurate at anytime. This is mostly for fun!

Week 2: Yarn spinning

Hand Spinning:
Spinning is an ancient textile art in which plant, animal, or synthetic fibers are drawn out and twisted together to form yarn. For thousands of years, fiber was spun by hand using simple tools, the spindle and distaff. Only in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries did the spinning wheel increase the output of individual spinners, and mass-production only arose in the 18th century with the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution.

The origins of spinning fiber to make string or yarn are lost in time, but archaeological evidence in the form of string skirts has been dated to the Upper Paleolithic era about 20,000 years ago.In the most primitive type of spinning, tufts of animal hair or plant fiber are rolled down the thigh with the hand, and additional tufts are added as needed until the desired length of spun fiber is achieved. Later, the fiber is fastened to a stone which is twirled round until the yarn is sufficiently twisted, whereupon it is wound upon the stone and the process repeated over and over.

Industrial Spinning:
Modern powered spinning, originally done by water or steam power but now done by electricity, is vastly faster than hand-spinning.

The spinning jenny which was invented in 1764 by James Hargreaves, dramatically reduced the amount of work needed to produce yarn of high consistency, with a single worker able to work eight or more spools at once. At roughly the same time, Richard Arkwright developed the spinning frame, which produced a stronger thread than the spinning jenny. Too large to be operated by hand, a spinning frame powered by a waterwheel became the water frame.

Most commercial fiber spun today, however, is manufactured via a method called ‘open end spinning,’ which was developed in 1963. The principle is similar to the drum of a dryer; if you could fill your dryer with sheets and open it while it was running to pull one out, the sheet would twist as you pulled it. Open end spinning is much faster and less labor intensive than ring spinning, allowing yarn to be produced much more cheaply, but it produces fiber that is fuzzier and wears poorly when compared to ring spun fiber.

Interesting facts:

  • In medieval times, poor families had such a need for yarn to make their own cloth and clothes that practically all girls and unmarried women would keep busy spinning, and “spinster” became synonymous with an unmarried woman.
  • The direction in which the yarn is spun is called twist. Yarns are characterized as S-twist or Z-twist according to the direction of spinning.
  • Tightness of twist is measured in TPI or Twists per Inch (for example, fine silk has more TPI than a thicker wool).

Source: Wikipedia

See Week 1: The Invention of the Sewing Needle

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