Friday, May 01, 2015

The drop spindle as a baseline.

By the early medieval period, it was common for spinsters (professional spinners) to rent spinning wheels.  Spinsters were paid by the length of yarn they produced, and a spinning wheel allowed them to produce more yarn, so even after paying the rent on the spinning wheel, the spinner could have a higher net income.  (The large number of spinsters kept wagers down, so many spinsters did not have the capital to own their own wheel.)

I can spin yarns in the range of 3,000 to 8,000 ypp about a third faster (e.g., 1,300 rpm) with a spindle than I can with a typical modern wheel (1,000 rpm).  Since I am not terribly proficient with a drop spindle, I assume that professional spinners could spin with a drop spindle much faster than I can (e.g., more than 2,000 rpm for some grists.) Therefor, I assume that the spinning wheels of the early medieval period were much, much faster than the typical modern wheel.  My spinning wheel spins 2 or 3 times faster than I can spin with a spindle.  I think that spinning wheels circa 1400 likely inserted twist at ~2,500 rpm or more.   This is faster than contemplated by Alden Amos.

Just prior to 1,400 ce, there were just under 400,000 textile workers in Florence, but Flanders was actually a larger producer of woolen textiles, and there were significant textile production centers in France, and England. Thus, there was a significant market for spinning wheels.  This would have justified shops where groups of craftsmen specialized in making and repairing spinning wheels. These were spinning wheels for full time professional spinners.  Some of these spinners supported tapestry weavers. These wheels were not for hobby spinners or part-time subsistence spinners or cottage craft spinners.  Regardless of their skill, cottage craft spinners did not produce the tons of  gold, silver, and silk wrapped yarns that the better tapestry weavers demanded.  A cottage cannot provide the security required for handling large amounts of precious metals on a regular basis..

And time was money.  Professional spinners were paid by the yard of yarn produced, and wanted the fastest possible equipment.  This was not a matter of bragging rights for hobbyists, but of income to support the family.

All in all, I have no doubt that Florentine spinning wheels, and even more likely, wheels made in Flanders, could run at 2,500 rpm by about 1380. Metal workers and wood workers of the time could have make all the elements of my wheel that can spin at 4,000 rpm. As a one off object it would have been very expensive, but a shop that produced dozens of wheels per year could reduce costs. Yes, they would use boxwood where I use Delrin, but with plenty of lard oil, the boxwood bearing works -- it just splatters oil, and needs to be replaced after every 2,000 or 3,000 hours of use.

Such wheels do not show up in paintings of time.  The wheels in the paintings are more symbolic, than functional. Add up how long it would take for the depicted wheel to spin the yarn required to weave all the cloth painting. Even in paintings of "spinners", someone else is doing the bulk of the spinning to produce all the cloth shown in the painting.  The culmination of this symbolism:
 Vicky wearing clothing woven from 
finer yarns than what she is spinning!

The clothing worn by Queen Victoria was mill spun, but she shown with a replica of an old technology. I expect that the same thing also happened in earlier times.

Today, we have photographs of  people spinning, and they still have not spun the yarn for all the cloth in photograph.  Even people who claim that they can spin and weave all the clothing needed by their family.

The best you are likely to find is somebody that spins and uses that yarn for knitting their own socks and sweaters.  

Why was the art of earlier times so different? The simple answer is that human nature has not changed.  Old spinning technology symbolizes traditional values.  What would people have thought if QV was shown in the mill where the yarn for her dress was actually spun? As a setting for a portrait, a spinning factory in 1480 would have been just as jarring as photographing Q.V. in a spinning mill in 1880. And yet, such a mill would have been a better place, and a better way for Q. V. and her ladies to develop an understanding of the tasks and roles of the common women of England, than spinning a few yards of yarn at Buckingham, Osborne, or Balmoral

Certainly any yarn can be spun with a spindle.  Finer yarns are more easily spun with a supported spindle than with a drop spindle, but it is very possible to spin wool, at it's spin count, with a drop spindle. However, it is much, much easier if the spindle has a hook, rather then trying to use a half - hitch.  Some teachers have made fun of me of me when I first made this assertion, but I note when they spin yarns finer than about 11,000 ypp they tend to use a spindle with a (metal) hook,  I have yet to see them spin wool at it's spin count using a half-hitch.  In fact, I have yet to see them demonstrating spinning wool at its spin count with a spindle.


Holin said...

Please reference the citations which support your claim that Medieval spinner rented their wheels. In addition, please offer support for your claims that all art of the Medieval and Renaissance period only shows "symbolic" spinning wheels. What would be the reason for such universal symbolism throughout Europe over centuries? This is analogous to saying that all art from that period which included chairs and tables were only illustrations of "symbolic" chairs and tables. Spinning wheels were commonplace furniture, something which existed in almost every household. Spinning was an occupation which almost every woman engaged in, and without which, nobody would have been clothed. There is nothing secret or special about spinning wheels which needs to be symbolically illustrated any more than a chair or bed or plough, all of which can be seen frequently in the art of the time, particularly those images of daily life of the common people. It would appear that, as usual, you are re-inventing history to suit your imagination rather than looking at the evidence.

Aaron said...

What would be the reason to have a QV portrait with a replica of an obsolete spinning technology?

You assert that spinning wheels were common in households, yet circa 1600, England passed a law requiring spinning schools to have spinning wheels for the students so they could practice. That suggests that the student's household may not have had a spinning wheel.

Truth is: that then, as now people had trades. Spinning was a trade. Weaving was a trade. Baking was a trade. Weavers bought yarn from spinners rather than making it themselves. Bakers bought cloth from weavers rather than making it themselves. And, both spinners and weavers bought bread from bakers rather then baking it themselves.

Certainly there was substance spinning and weaving, but it was professionals that produced the cartloads and shiploads of cloth in commerce. And those cart loads and ship loads of cloth were bought by somebody. and if you are buying cloth, and are not a professional spinner, why have a spinning wheel?

A talented professional can always make objects faster and cheaper than an amateur. In a given time period, an baker could earn money by baking to buy more cloth than he (or his wife) could make in the same number of hours.

The exact same principle holds today. It is easier for you to earn the money to buy a car or a cell phone than to make one yourself. Making cars and cellphones are both big business - can't be that hard to do - right? (I helped build the first factories where the chips for cell phones were made.)

I will believe that every house had a spinning wheel when you post a pix of the working cell phone that you made for yourself in your home.

Anonymous said...

While I am interested in the premise of this point, I don't think your imagined spinning wheels exist. The reason the spinning wheels were so much faster, which you haven't factored in, is that you don't have to stop to wind on all the time with a spinning wheel. It's continuous. If you've sat and spun with a medieval type spindle for hours on end (I have) and measured the actual yardage vs. spending the exact same period of time with a wheel (I have) the amount produced with a wheel is quite a lot more for that simple reason.

The reasons spindles (I won't use the term 'drop' because that's a modern Western term) remained in use for so long are simple:
1. no, not everyone could afford a wheel.
2. spindles can go everywhere with you just like knitting can. Therefore you can get more done over the long term because you can spin a few feet every time you have a few seconds, unlike a wheel.
3. spindle spinning gives you a yarn that is stronger for warp automatically. When wheels first came into widespread use, the weavers guilds agitated for the courts to mandate that warp thread be spun with a spindle for that very reason. Yes, you can spin MUCH more yardage in a given day with a wheel - especially if you're spinning long draw - but it's not nearly as strong as worsted and more prone to breakage.

I still spin with both spindle and with wheels, great and treadle, each for specific uses and reasons.

In a time and place where everyone saw spinning, whether spindle or wheel, because it took place in every home and market daily, I don't think it's quite logical to assume the existence of special factories where your imagined wheels existed and scores of women slaving at them. They simply didn't exist until the 1700's, in the midst of the real takeoff of the industrial revolution.

While I think knitting may have existed before modern science/history tells us, and I suspect spinning wheels did as well, I don't think factories as such existed unless they, too, were in Asia somewhere. And I also don't think they existed for the simple reason that women were the main spinning workers. They had other tasks to do along with their spinning every day.

purplespirit1 said...

"That suggests that the student's household may not have had a spinning wheel." Why does it suggest this?

The idea that people rented wheels is absurd. Unless you can cite this 'fact', this is you making up history again.

The fact is, people who historically knitted or spun did in fact make (or buy, in rare cases) their own needles and wheels. Knitting and crocheting was considered something only the lower classes did, and in those groups (mostly farmers and farming families) were industrious enough to make their own tools to do this. They were poor enough to not be able to afford to rent anything.

This is a well enough known fact with anyone who has any basic knowledge in the history of spinning and knitting to call bullshit on this entire post of yours. You have, once again, posted made-up historical nonsense.

Aaron said...

I fully factored in "wind on".

The first reason that wheels were faster is that it is very hard to deliver enough power to a spindle to ply rapidly. Plying was the first driver for the development of flyer/bobbin assemblies.

Once you have a double drive flyer/bobbin assembly with control differential rotation speed, then you can draft warp (worsted) much faster than is possible with spindle.

Warp is very valuable to the weaving industry, and spindles spin it much slower than woolen. Double drive/ differential rotation speed wheels spin warp much faster than any of the single drive configurations or double drive with slip.

Aaron said...

Modern textile historians are swimming in a pool of stuff that looks like what I have seen under dairy barns. It is NOT bull shit, but it looks and smells remarkably similar.

I have no respect for any textile historian that cannot sit down at their spinning wheel and produce a couple of hanks of fine shirting (40s) per day. To do that, one needs to be able to do the numbers -- forwards, backwards, and in one's head.

Kings, wars, and technologies come and go, but the numbers always work. If the historian cannot do the numbers, then they cannot understand the the fabrics that clothed the solders, princes, and farmers of history.

I have said this before and readers have criticized me before. I do not mind.

At the university, one of my thesis was rejected with a 4-0 vote. Within 35 years, it was clear that I was absolutely correct. Four university professors were absolutely wrong! My management chain (including a dozen registered professional engineers and a couple of Ph.Ds made a thousand negative comments on my first policy memo at Handford. Ultimately the policy was implemented and earned the company a $10 million performance bonus. I know more about shit than you want to hear.

And of course, there was Cassandra.

Holin Kennen said...

Yes, you do indeed know a lot about manure. And you spout more of it than my city sewer. The rejection of your thesis and policy memo at Hanford - still a legendary mess, despite the (alleged) implementation of your recommendations - should have been a clue that you were on the wrong track. You and General Custer would have made great pals.