Wednesday, November 13, 2013

2 Rules of Thumb

1.) One can expect a talented, careful production worker to make a serious mistake at least once in every million operations. 

Thsi means that a careful production spinner doing 3 operations per minute and working 3,000 hours per year is going to make a serious mistake at least once every 6 years.

If that mistake is dropping the stone spinning whorl onto the stone floor, then we can expect that mistake about 5 times in a 30 year spinning career.  Thus, we can presume that plain stone whorls were used for production spinning because they were very likely to be broken or lost every few years.  From this we can deduce that a spinning whorl found as grave goods was used for production spinning for less than 30,000 hours. This would be only about one-third of a production spinner's career.  A production spinner that has already broken a few stone whorls, knows they might break another whorl. Thus, they use a plain whorl for their production spinning. 

We can also deduce that a rich  lady spinning carefully for 2 hours a day, could use a single stone spindle whorl for all of her life without loss or damage - but that whorl could not be presumed to be the kind of tool used by commercial production spinners.  She could do that valuable whorl because she was less concerned with her production rate and thus could be more careful and protective of her whorl. She was a hobby spinner.

2.) It takes about 5,000 hours to learn a complex manual skill such as playing the piano, surgery, or spinning.

Practice the skill for 10 hours per day and it can be acquired in 1.5 years. Practice for only 2 hours per day and it takes 9 years.

Stretch the learning over 9 years, and old skills will be forgotten as fast as new skills are learned and true mastery will never be achieved.  A musician will practice 4 or 5 hours per day, part of which is learning new skills, and part of which is reviewing and renewing old skills.  A spinner that does not go back and  review and renew old skills on a regular basis will lose them. Two hours of spinning per day is not enough to maintain professional level competency in hand spinning. If you want to be a good spinner, you need to practice 800 or more hours per year.  

From this we can deduce that the spinner carefully using a valuable, highly decorated stone whorl for only a couple of hours per day is not a competent, professional spinner.  Valuable, highly decorated stone whorls were stores of wealth - jewerly - not the working tools of a competent, professional spinner.  They had to be treated with more care than the plain stone whorls of the professional spinner.

Prior to the the use of metal spinning tools we know that production spinners had sets of stone whorls for spinning different grist yarns, and that the typical dimensions/weight of  the various standard stone whorls in a community often remained fairly stable for hundreds of years.  Even in the stone age, professional spinners had professional tools.

And, the professional production spinner was likely to use metal spinning tools after 1,000 BC because they are much faster.  We do not see them for 2 reasons.  1) Metal was valuable and could be resmelted.  Any worn or damaged metal object would be resmelted.  If the valuable metal was going into a grave, it would be resmelted into jewerly.  2). We do not recognize them for what they are.  

I took my hand made knitting sheaths and  needles to some important archaeological sites where I thought knitting sheaths might be found.   None of the staff archaeologists on site recognized them for what they were.  All of these sites had an lot of "broken awl points" that they had not checked for the wear marks of a DPN used with a knitting sheath. A DPN used with a knitting sheath develops a curved wedge shaped point. And, eventually the needle fractures at the point where it is stressed by the knitting sheath. To the naked eye,  the broken piece looks like an awl point.  

I have no doubt that if I took my latest drop spindle to a bunch of staff archaeologists, they would not recognize it as a drop spindle. In fact, it is a "twisty stick". Alden Amos, supplies them with his wheels for testing the quality of fiber.  It is an old and common tool.

However, if you are seated and use your (metal wire)  twisty-stick with a thigh roll, it can insert a lot twist very fast. If you draft long draw with one hand and roll the twisty stick with the other hand, the thigh roll  forward can twist the make into competent yarn, the drafting hand can be dropped, and the thigh roll backwards can wind on the yarn. There is no wasted motion with either hand. This makes me think that some of the historical descriptions (Bronze Age Greece) of  spinning yarn by rolling it on one's knee or thigh may actually have been the high speed production of woolen yarn by use of a twisty stick, while drop spindles with whorls were being used for making worsted yarn.   A supported spindle will produce a finer, more consistent yarn, but the wire twisty-stick with thigh rolls using both the forward and backward motion is faster.  Nobody does this kind of spinning any more. It is very much like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, but it can be done. 


Einar Svensson said...

Most floors were dirt or maybe wood. If the floor was stone it would be covered with carpets or furs for warmth. Whorls would not break as easily as you imagine they would. This is why archaeologists always find whorls around house sites.

Einar Svensson said...

Most floors were dirt or maybe wood. If the floor was stone it would be covered with carpets or furs for warmth. Whorls would not break as easily as you imagine they would. This is why archaeologists always find whorls around house sites.

=Tamar said...

Will you post a picture of a "twisty stick"? I'm curious about probably-mislabeled artifacts, ever since I saw a urinal mislabeled as a "vase" in a museum.

Aaron said...

A whorl found around a house means that it was lost and did not become grave goods. I said broken or lost.

My score on stone whorls is one lost and one broken. I did not even drop the broken one. It simply broke as the humidity changed and the wooden shaft of the spindle swelled.

Einar Svensson said...

Yes, of course, but you don't address my main point.

The point is that floors were commomnly dirt or wood and so a dropped whorl would not crack. If the building was rich enough for a stone floor, it would be warmed with carpet and fur snd other covering and so a dropped whorl would not crack. What's your response to that point?

You are not describing an appealing fantasy picture, not history. You are describing what you want history to be based on how you want it to match watch you think happened. You are a scientist. You are saying the equivalent of declaring the world is flat because the sun sinks behind the horizon. As a scientist you would not accept such a claim unless proof could be found. Historians must work the same way.

Einar Svensson said...

Aaron, one more thing that I didn't think of. You say your whorls have broken, one from dropping and one from expansion of the wood. I believe I have given facts that reduce the frequency of breakage due to dropping. You yourself have posited a case that would reduce the frequency of the second form of breakage you have experienced.

If shafts were truly of iron, you would not have the expansion-breakage problem.

Gough Whitlam said...

Some tiny fragments of this screed might be marginally valid if all the premises weren't false and all the numbers utterly made up.

Aaron said...

I expect that by the time metal shafts are available, whorls for professional spinners will be made from metal. On the other hand, I would expect that long after professional spinners had adopted metal whorls, traditional decorated stone whorls would be produced as jewelry/store of wealth.

Aaron said...

Get out your copy of Handbook of Industrial Engineering.

Lynda said...

Hmm, I need to up my spinning practice time!

Aaron said...


I went through a phase as I looked for faster spindles when I thought stone whorls would help me spin faster. I tested them for spinning, and they were never that wonderful.

Thus, my conclusion was that spindles with stone whorls were not production spinning tools within the last 2,500 years.

As I recall the percentage of stone whorls in Iron Age Scandinavia varied from 3% to 50% where easily workable stone was readily available. But this was for domestic spinning and not the kind of industrial spinning found in England, France, Flanders, and Italy. While interesting, the spinning in Scandinavia was only a tiny fraction of the spinning in Europe.

And, spinning in Europe was only a tiny fraction of global spinning.

So, were stone whorls the preferred tool of the best professional spinners?

Or, were stone spindle whorls a "make do" used by subsistence spinners?

In the 1330s, Florentine cloth production was about 75,000 bolts. At the close of the 15th century, There were 30,000 Florentines employed in the wool industry. How many Florentine stone spindle whorls dating from that period have been found?

How many stone spindle whorls have been found in Flanders dating from the period when it was a spinning center? Bruges is a very good place to think about textile history. Buildings used for industrial scale textile production in the 15th century are still extant - and they have stone floors.