Research and documenting how they spun.

So I was telling my mum about my recent spinning research and she asked me why I had been working so hard to document the style of spinning I was doing. I explained to her that a lot of people think the 15th century paintings show an artist’s depiction of spinning and it wasn’t actually how people spun. She asked me why they thought that and… I couldn’t answer her.

So I’ve been thinking.

First off, historically people did spin with the method many hobby hand spinners use today, I’m not saying it’s a modern method or was never used historically.

This is how they spun in ancient times in Greece and Egypt.

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Kinda like today’s spinners and even though there’s a distaff it’s hand held so there’s still a hand taken up with holding the fibre and the other hand is used to spin the spindle and draft the fibre.

I understand that in the Americas they spun (and still do) using the drop spindle method.

I believe in many parts of Europe they moved from the ancient method to the one I’m exploring. Of course, I have to research where abouts in Europe they did that and it’s entirely possible several methods were used depending on what they were spinning.

Spinning was once a chore. It was a task that had to be done constantly. Every thread in every dress, every shirt and every bedsheet had to be spun by a person somewhere. The sails on ships? Those too. It was hard work, as many things once were. Then the industrial revolution happened and a lot of that hard work was taken out of people’s houses and given over to machines. People didn’t have to do that work any more and because it was work, why would they continue? They didn’t teach their children because why would their children want to learn how to do all that hard work their parents used to have to do?

Hand spinning now days has become a hobby in many parts of the developed world. We don’t have to do it, and see it as a craft. But by the time we started seeing it as a craft those who used to do it day in day out for producing cloth to stay warm and dressed were all dead. The knowledge hadn’t been passed on.

But the industrial revolution didn’t happen everywhere. Spinning didn’t get mechanized everywhere. Indeed, there’s places today where people still spin because they need to. For them it is still work.

I’ve read a few stories online of spinners who have relatives in these places, where spinning is till a job, and they ask their relatives to help them with their spinning and the relatives are shocked. “Why would you want to do that hard work? You can just buy what you need!” they say. A lot of the time they think it strange or silly or a waste of time to make what you can afford to buy and have access to cheaply.

But for one reason or another, we like to spin. So where do we look to learn how to spin? To the people still doing it. I know there’s lots of how to spin books and videos and websites and many of the ones I find are by Americans. Lots of them have traveled to or lived in countries where people still spin, but because these people are Americans usually they’ve been to countries in the Americas where people use the drop spindle method. So this is what they learn. Which I think is fantastic, but…

Drop spinning is often the method people learn. So when a medieval historical reenactor learns they should be spinning every chance they get and they hop online to see how to do it they are presented with two methods. Drop spinning or the supported spinning (often with tiny spindles in little bowls or big ones on the ground rolled along the thy.) The supported spinning looks nothing like what the medieval folks did so they learn drop spinning because that’s the other way.

Maybe they notice their arm positions aren’t the same as in the medieval manuscripts but then again all the pictures of spinners are painted the same anyway so it’s probably just artistic shorthand to depict a spinner. Holding your spindle out like that looks graceful. We know how to spin therefore we know how they span.

15th C Martham church norfolk 1347-1350 E109989 K040868 MIMI_76F13_010V_MIN spinning women 1899-43305

If we come at things from the angle of “we don’t know how they spun in the 15th century in Europe, lets research” then none of the evidents points towards the drop spinning style you see most modern spinners doing. At least, I haven’t seen any. They may have used the drop spinning method but I can’t find any evidence of it* therefore I won’t use it. As a living historian I recreate what I see evidence of. That’s why I took up fingerloop braiding rather than making lucet cord. I had actual manuscripts from the 15th century telling me how to braid and pictures of people fingerlooping in the 15th century and cords that had been identified as being made from fingerloop braid. At the time the only evidence for lucet braid was “some possible lucets from viking times were found and they has lucet braid in the 17th century therefore it continued in all the years between.” Considering people from all around the world invented fingerloop braiding independantly from one another, it makes sense that lucet braiding could have been used in the viking times, lost then re-invented later. Well, three times, because I once watched a child invent lucet braiding. Keep in mind, I haven researched lucett braiding for a good 7 years, more research may have come to light since then but 7 years ago there was only stacks of evidence for fingerloop in the 15th century and none for lucett.

 

So, that’s my theory, what do you think?

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*Yes, there is evidence they suspended their spindle for a part of the spinning process. I do this also, but it is different from drop spinning as many of us know it. I’m going to write a post up about the differences soon!

 

 

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Them old folks, oh they was smart they were.

So I was searching around and I discovered this Video and I went “hey, he’s spinning flax just like I do!”

I did a bit of investigation and I found his one and went “Hey, I want my wool on my distaff to look like this!”

His name is Norman Kennedy and he’s some old codger who’s bloody brilliant.

He grew up in Scotland and started spinning after WWII. He learned from the old people back then and managed to learn a TON of information that didn’t get passed onto the generation above him and then was lost for many people.

Guess how he spins?

And he’s not just a hobby spinner, he’s done real work spinning. Spinning and weaving sheets, towels, blankets and even fine linen shirts. Also knitting clothing from homespun.

He has a video for sale on wool and one on linen and cotton and because I found them for download and on sale I decided to download one. Well, I soon after downloaded the other. There’s a lot of information, he talks about fibre prep and spindles and different types of spinning wheels and a million things besides, but I found it all really informative, even the bits I thought I wouldn’t be interested in (like modern spinning wheels).

So anyway, this old Scottish guy uses a spindle the same way I’ve been using mine. They way I’ve been spending a long time trying to document.

His documentation for this method? I’ll summarise it below.

This is a spindle. Not a drop spindle, I hear folks saying drop spindle and I think ohhh that sounds clumsy, like them old folks was always dropping things. Oh no, they was smart those old folks. And this is how they taught me to spin it, none of these hooks and letting it go, just like this and you see them old folks was smart, they didn’t just hang out, no, always working and if they were going to market or herding sheep then they’d be working at their spinning even then. They got a lot done, all Henry the 8th clothing started out being spun like this and oh that was very fine, I know, I’ve seen some of it! But they wouldn’t drop their spindles like the folk of this country [he now lives in Canada] do.

So yeah. His documentation is “this is how I was taught by the old folk in my day, and they learned from information passed down through the generations.”

He doesn’t need a million pictures and videos because someone taught him.

But he seems a fascinating man and I’m really glad I’ve watched his videos, they taught me more than I thought they would!

What Wool?

Well, I want to buy some more wool to spin. The question is, what can I buy that’s most like what they’d have used in the 15th century?

Different breeds of sheep aside, I’m thinking how the fiber was prepared. What form should my wool take if I buy it pre-prepared? Most of what I can find is listed as tops or sliver, will this look right on my distaff?

Different breeds of sheep NOT aside, if I’m buying fleece, what breeds do we have now that are most like what they had then?

I live in Australia so I’ve had a look at what’s around when it comes to fleece (from anything) to spin. What I see is alpaca, cashmere and corriedale.

I’ve seen a small amount of English Leicester, merino, some camel and some angora rabbit.

I think much more research is required!

First Completed Wool

Remember this wool? Well I took it off the spindle and it turned into a million tiny corkscrews. It was fun to play with! I washed it and hung it to set the twist but it didn’t quite work so yesterday I had another go and actually put it back on my niddy noddy to dry. Not sure if that’s right or not but it’s not kinking up any more!

This is what it looks like

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Not bad for a first attempt I think!

 

More spinning videos

This woman here is doing a technique very similar to what I’ve developed.

as is this one

I’ve heard a lot of people say that this method couldn’t have been used in the middle ages as it isn’t productive enough. It’s too slow and they would have developed something faster. The reason it’s seen as being too slow is that it takes longer to twirl the spindle than let it free-spin. But, faster spinning wouldn’t help here as it takes just as long to evenly draft out a thread as it does to spin it up. Notice how in both videos their hands are both in constant motion. I notice in the first video that the lady is constantly adjusting what she’s drafting and pulling out snarls and lumps etc. Her spinning hand does not slow her drafting hand at all. If anything, it’s the other way around.

I wonder how they prepared their fibre in the 15th century. With many wonderful modern preparations drafting can take no time at all so maybe fibre prep could be a contributing factor to the spinning method that was developed.

 

 

 

 

Returning

Well, after my last re-enactment event for the year I was thrown into planning for my overseas trip, then I was overseas for a month then straight back to working a retail Christmas! Well, that’s the real-life stuff over and done with. Since my last post I’ve acquired a far more accurate spindle and lodged quite a few hours of my new method spinning. After my absence I’m back to document all I’ve learned and to continue my research including my plans for an accurate distaff

 

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Spinning in my encampment.