Spinning is the process whereby fibers are combined in such a manner that they produce a continuous thread. The origin of spinning is lost in past ages. Just when or how man first conceived the idea is unknown. Marsden, in "Cotton Spinning," says that it has been suggested that the shepherd boy tending his flocks noticed the lock of wool which had caught on a bramble, and twisting it found that the fibers would hold together, and gradually evolved a thread. By many writers, however, the origin of spinning is attributed to woman, who must, besides preparing food and utensils, provide some sort of shelter for her child, and was therefore in primitive civilization more inventive than man. Any theories concerning these beginnings are, however, merely conjecture, but it is evident that spinning is a very ancient art.
The simplest method of making a thread is to draw out from a clump of wool or other material a small amount of the fiber, twisting as it is drawn. The thread thus formed is then wound on a stone or other convenient object. It was found that if the thread was fastened to the stone and the whole twirled, the thread could be twisted faster, and one hand was left free to draw the fiber out from the mass. Among ancient relics, sticks or spindles, as they are called, sometimes of. bone, are found with a slit or hook at the end, in which the thread was caught. The spinner, holding her wool in one hand, drew out a twist of fiber and fastened it to the hook in the end of her spindle, which she then rubbed between her palm and her hip, causing it to revolve rapidly. She then dropped the spindle, and with her free hand regulated the amount of fiber which it should draw out. Soon it was discovered that a full spindle revolved better than an empty one, so a disk of clay or wood, called a whorl, was attached. This simple tool was used in all parts of the world for many centuries.
The next step in invention was the use of another simple device to hold the bunch of unspun fibers, a stick called a distaff, which could be slipped into the belt or held under the arm, thus leaving both hands free to manage the thread. Not for several hundred years was the spinning wheel invented. This combined the spindle and the distaff in one machine which had a large wheel, turned sometimes by a foot treadle, sometimes by hand; this wheel was connected by a string acting as a belt with the spindle, which in this case was placed in a horizontal position. In the end of the bench which holds the wheel and spindle, and just above the latter, was the distaff, on which the raw fiber was placed. The spinner, or "spinster," stood or sat before the wheel, and with skillful fingers drew the fiber out in a fine thread. She turned the large wheel, which in turn caused the spindle to revolve; the thread was fastened to the end of the spindle and given the desired twist. When sufficient had been drawn out, the yarn was wound upon the spindle and the operation repeated. With the large wool wheel the spinner usually walked back and forth as the yarn was drawn out, but with the flax wheel she sat beside her work. In Colonial days every household had its wheel, and the daughters of the family were early taught to spin. After the long day of work in house and field, when the family gathered around the great hearth before the blazing logs, the hum of the wheel made a pleasant accompaniment to the talk of the elders.
Fig. 9. Flax Wheel.
The spinning wheel is supposed to have been introduced into Europe about 1530, although a manuscript in the British Museum dated in the fourteenth century contains a rude picture of a woman spinning with a wheel.
In the early days in Europe and in this country, linen and woolen were the fibers most used. Cotton is much more difficult to spin by hand than are wool and linen; and although it was often combined with linen or wool, its great usefulness in the Western world dates from a later time. The Hindu, however, has used cotton for hundreds of years, and still spins the finest yarns with a spindle, although a very crude wheel is used for coarse work. He has never been excelled in the fineness of yarn spun and woven. In England, one pound of cotton fiber was spun into one hundred and sixty-seven miles of yarn, but it was impossible to weave this. The Hindu not only spins but weaves into cloth remarkably delicate yarns, so that it is said cotton shawls have been made which might be drawn through a finger ring.
To prepare wool for hand spinning, the mass of fibers was untangled by cards, which were made of wires set into wood or more often leather, and were employed like brushes, the greatest success resulting when they were slightly heated.
By the old method, the wool was often grown, sheared, washed, carded, and spun by one household. By the modern method, the long series of processes are carried on by many different machines, and the mill that spins the yarn may be far removed from that which weaves it into cloth, and the latter, again, other than the one which bleaches and dyes it.
Fig. 10. A. Reel. B. Wool Wheel.
After the yarn was spun, it was wound into skeins on the clock reel or on pegs put around the rim of the large spinning wheel. Mrs. Alice Morse Earle, in her "Home Life in Colonial Days," gives an attractive picture of the spinning industry, with its poetry and its quaint names for the implements used. The wheels, reels, and swifts for making and winding the yarn are interesting, and much pride was often taken in making swifts for one's wife or sweetheart. Figures 9, 10, and 11 show some of the types of winders.
Flax was more difficult to prepare, since it must first be separated from the woody fiber which surrounded it by a process of rotting or retting in water, then breaking and combing; these processes will be described more fully in Chapter VII (Everything About Linen Or Flax Fabrics), for the principles are the same at the present time.
A description of the preparation of cotton fibers by the Hindu, whose old methods of manufacture are still employed to a large extent, may be interesting.
The cotton gin for separating the seeds from the fiber consists of two teak wood rollers, fluted longitudinally, revolving nearly in contact, much like the modern clothes wringer. The cotton fiber is put in at one side and drawn through by the revolving rollers, which leave the seed behind. The next process, called bowing, consists in cleaning the cotton by means of a long bow, made elastic by a complication of strings. This bow is laid on top of a pile of fiber, then struck with a mallet, and the vibration jars the dirt out of the cotton and also opens the knots. After bowing, the yarn is spun without carding.
Fig. 11. Yarn Winder.