April 30, 2009

Ain’t Necessarily Historically So

When I spin in public (SIP) and talk to people, I like to tell them about the drop spindle’s place in history. I tell them that before five hundred years ago, all fabric and all clothes started on a drop spindle. People say, “Oooh!” and mentally begin to calculate how long whipping up a toga for themselves would take.

The trouble is, it ain’t necessarily so.

Could spin with a twisty stick, which looks in The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning like a smooth straight stick that’s slightly thick in the top third with a hook on the end. You’re supposed to twirl the stick on your thigh and stretch the strand out as long as you can. Not sure about winding on; I don’t think you can. I’ve heard that nalbinding could have been done with twisty-stick spun yarn, since nalbinding is formed with short lengths spliced together as you go.

Could spin on the thigh, unaided.

Could wear furs, sheepskin, and buckskin. Or hats woven out of rigid fibres.

Could have used a great wheel, which I hear were around much earlier than five hundred years ago, though they were not in widespread use.

Could have used a rakestraw spinner. I got to try one out at Knotty by Nature in Victoria, at the urging of a clerk who could tell I’d be interested in the novelty factor.

Could have fused fibres into fabric. Fusing, I think, is the most interesting pre-industrial alternative to a drop spindle. I read about a method in M. Wylie Blanchet’s The Curve of Time:
[Miss. B] took us over to a small house to look at some fabric….In the Kwakuitl village of Mamalilaculla, on the west coast of British Columbia, this old, old woman of the tribe was making South Sea Island tapa cloth out of cedar roots. The cloth was spread across a heavy wooden table—a wooden mallet lying on top of it.

I am not quite sure how tapa cloth is made. But I believe they soak the roots in something to soften them—lay them in a rough pattern of dark and light roots, and then pound them with a wooden mallet into paper-thin, quite tough cloth.

I am finding it enjoyable to go back over old books like the 1927 memoir The Curve of Time and read with the new aim of getting practical understanding of spinning. I’m going to have to drag out my copy of Edmund Spenser’s poem The Faerie Queene and look up that passage where the knights get captured by a girl warrior and are forced to spin, imprisoned.

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