Using fibers both animal and plant to create textiles necesitated the conversion of those fibers into actual threads. The enormous length of silk threads created a huge need for some kind of winding device. Silk in China may date from the 27th century BC, although some authors give more conservative estimates, most agrree it was before the 14th century BC. No one knows when the Chinese first fiber winding
machines, but they appear to have been developed out of a need to form silk treads out of silk fibers. There is mention of silk fiber winding devices in Chinese dictionaries by the 2nd century AD. The initial devices were quilling machines which may date to the 1st century BC. Actual spinning wheels. No one knoiws when they first appeared in China. It is known that spinning wheels were being widely used in China by the 11th century. By that time, cotton culture had developed in China and spinning wheels appear to have been a way of adapting silk winders so that cotton fibers could be created. Historians believe that the the spinning wheel was one of the devices that Marco Polo brought back to Italy from China. While this is conjecture, there is no evidence of spinning wheels being used in Europe until the late 13th century. [Temple, pp. 120-121.]
Using fibers both animal and plant to create textiles necesitated the conversion of those fibers into actual threads. The production of threads and yarns was a major step in the development of civilization. No one knows when man first developed this technology. It appears to have been indeopendently developed in several different civilizations. Historians estimate that humnas forst began spinning threads about 10,000 years ago. The dropspindle was the primary device used to spin threads for clothing and other textiles for most of European histopry from Egyptian mummy wrappings to the fabulous tapestries of Medieval Europe.
The enormous length of silk threads created a huge need for some kind of winding device. Silk in China may date from the 27th century BC, although some authors give more conservative estimates, most agrree it was before the 14th century BC. No one knows when the Chinese first fiber winding
machines, but they appear to have been developed out of a need to form silk treads out of silk fibers.
There is mention of silk fiber winding devices in Chinese dictionaries by the 2nd century AD. The initial devices were quilling machines which may date to the 1st century BC.
The spinning wheel is the device most common associated with the production of thread and yarns. Yet most civilization laboriously created thread by hand. The spinning wheel appeared relatively late in human history, despite its current status in the popular mind. No one knows when actual spinning wheels first appeared in China. It is known that spinning wheels were being widely used in China by the 11th century. By that time, cotton culture had developed in China and spinning wheels appear to have been a way of adapting silk winders so that cotton fibers could be created. One historian suggests that the earliest depiction of a Chinese spinning wheel occurred in a book (1237). [Temple, p. 121] Chinese artwork also depicts spinning wheels (around 1270). It shows a wheel with long bamboo spokes. [Baines]
The history of the famed Silk Road is one of many instances in which clothing and fabrics have played a major role in human history. The story of the silk road is one of military adventures and conquest, adventuresome explorers, religious pilgrims, and great philosophers. While it is silk which is often, naturally enough, most strongly associated with the silk road, the flow of ideas and religion as an almost unintended aspect of the flow of trade may have been one of the most significant impacts. Of course most of the people who traversed the silk road were not great thinkers, but common tradesmen who transported their merchandise at great risk for the substantial profits that could be made. They moved cammal caravans over some of the most hostile terraine on the planet. The ilk road tranversed deserts, mountains and the seemingly endless Central Asian steppe. Some of the great figures of history are associated with the Silk Road, including Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, Genghis Khan, and Tamerlane. Merchandice may have moved over the Silk Road as early as the 5th century BC. The Silk Road is believed to have become an established trade route by the 1st century BC and continued to be important until the 16th century when more reliable sea routes were established as a
result of the European voyages of discovery.
I am not sure yey when the spinning wheel first appeared in India. It must have been assoicated pfrimarily with cotton cultivation. There is some documentation of the us of spinning wheels in Persia (1257). Historians believe that the Persian spinning wheels may havde originated in India. [Baines] Just how early I do not know. The importance of the spinning to India can be seen in the fact that it adorns the modern Indian flag. The Industrial Revolution in England resulted in the production of huge quantities of inexpensive cotton goods. One important export market was India which by the time of the Ibndustrial Revolution had become an English colony. The export of chdap cotton goods to India had enormous economic consequences in the 19th century. Local textile production based on spinning wheels and hand weaving coyld not compete with the imported Engish textiles and largely destroyed local production and creating vast numbers of unemployed workers and a poverty stricken work force. Later in the 20th century, Indian leader Mahatma Gandi urged Indians to boycott English imported textiles and produce homespun thread for wreaving with spinning wheels. Thus the spinning wheel became the natioanl symbol od resistance to British imperialism.
The spinning wheel was not introduced to Europe until the late Middle Ages and began to have a major economic impact about the time of the Reniassance. Historians believe that the the spinning wheel was one of the devices that Italian merchants Polo brought back to Italy from China. (The chronology of the appearnce of the spinning wheel in Europe does not seem to be quite right for Marco Polo himself.) While this is conjecture, there is no evidence of spinning wheels being used in Europe until the 13th century. The evidence of use comes from the late 13th century, suggesting that the spinning wheel was inrofuced sometijme eralier, perhaps the mid-13th century. The first written evidence of the spinning wheel in Europe comes from the statutes regulating spinning methos of a guild in Speyer, Germany [Temple, pp. 120-121.] Perhaps the first depiction in Europe comes from the windows of several French cathedrals (especially Amiens and Chartes) in the 13th century, although there is some debate as to just what is being depicted. It is known that the use of spinning wheels to spin wool fibers became well develped in France and Flanders at this time. [Baines]. Spinning wheels are known to have been used in England by the eraly 14th century. The Decretals of Gregory IX, a manuscript illuminated (illustrated) in England shows a woman carding and combing wool and spinning thread in a wheel. The Luttrell Psalter whichb was written and illustrated in East Anglia, England (1335-1340) depicts wool carding and producing thread on a spinning wheel.
The economic importance of the spinning wheel is difficult to oversate. The productioin of thread by hand is an enormously labor intensive operation. It required hours and hours of labor and concentration. The spinning wheel was a labor saving tool, greatly increasing the spped of thread production. Not only was there significant labor savings, but it occurred in a central economic sector--clothing and textile production. While the textile industry today is a small part of most modern national economies, in the Medieval era is was a key industry second only to agricultural food production. The spinning wheel freed a significant amout of labor for other productive activities, both agriculture and artisan crafts. It also freed a consideral amount of time for women spinners in the home.
It was the mechanization of the textile industry beginning in the 18th century that launched the industrial revolution. Here essentially the mrchanization involved was converting the humble spinning wheel to mass production. Inventions during the late 18th century were especially important in making the mass mechanical production of textiles possible. The most important were Hargrave's spining jenny (1764), Arkwright's throstle machine (1769), and Crompton's mule spinner (1779). The industrial revolution powered by the steam engine soon expanded into other areas, but it was the manufacture of textiles that launched it.
Baines, Patricia. Spinning Wheels, Spinners and Spinning (McMinnville: Robin & Russ Handweavers)
Buchannan, Rita. A Weaver’s Garden (New York: Dover Publications, 1999).
Hochberg, Bette. Handspindles (Santa Cruz: Bette & Bernard Hochberg).
Temple, Robert. The Genius of China: 3,000 Years of Science, Discovery, and Invention (Simon and Schuster: New York, 1986), 254p.
Vester, Paula. Textile History (Stone Mountain, 1995).
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