The History of Hand Spindles - Spinning Information
Spinning is a handicraft that evolved out of necessity as population evolved and expanded. Originally, people clothed themselves in the skins of animals that had been hunted for food. As the population grew, it became difficult to meet the clothing needs of everyone, and the need to find other clothing sources arose.
At this point, it's likely that people were already twisting small amounts of grasses or animal fibers for use as pouch closures or tie-downs by rolling them between their fingers or palm and thigh. The production of this twine or yarn was limited and would only stay twisted in short lengths, so when the need arose for a longer yarn, there became the need to wind the twisted fibers onto an object to hold the twist. The stick that the yarn or twine was wrapped onto began to evolve with use as well, and became not only a storage device, but also a mechanism to create the twist while the person drafted the fibers with their free hand. Eventually this basic spindle gained a hooked end or groove to help hold the yarn at the tip of the spindle while rolling it against the thigh.
Simultaneously, as the production of twines and yarns increased, fibers were also being tied around rocks, which were suspended and spun in the air to create twist. This weighted object evolved into the first whorls, which gave the spinning yarn momentum, allowing yarn to be twisted and produced at a faster rate.
Eventually the two concepts were combined, and a whorl made of clay, bone, or soft rock was attached to the spindle. From here, the spindle concepts changed depending on the natural resources, living habits, and teachings of each local community of spinners.
Spindles vary in size, shape, and position of the whorl along the shaft of the spindle. Smaller, lighter spindles are almost always used to spin short, delicate, or thin fibers. Heavier spindles are used to spin heavier, longer, or coarser fibers.
Whorls are often disc-shaped, but not always. Middle eastern spindles can be made from rectangular shaped pieces of wood, with either one center-balanced bar or two crossed bars. Turkish spindles are made from curved bars that you actually wrap your yarn around to create a flat ball of yarn that can be center-pulled for use or for plying, and Indian spindles for spinning lightweight fibers like cotton or silk are often made with a pear-shaped or sphere-shaped whorl. The whorl can be located at the top, middle, or bottom of the spindle, depending on the preference of the spinner or the type of yarn being produced.
Spinning by hand has been existence for over 10,000 years, but the spinning wheel did not become used widely until the middle ages. Hand spindles had been the primary method of spinning for all thread and yarn production for over 9000 years, and in some parts of the world hand spinning is still a widely used method of yarn production.
Recently, hand spinning has begun to regain popularity by a wide range of art-and-craft oriented people throughout the world. Hand spindles allow a crafter to become introduced to the principles of spinning for a low-cost investment, can be transported easily, and worked with in areas where space is limited. Though a slightly slower production method than spinning on a wheel, the production of yarn on a hand spindle is very tactile and satisfying. You have complete control over the yarn you create, and that itself is very exciting!