The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts




The process of turning fibres, either of plant or animal origin, into yarn by hand using either a spindle or spinning wheel.


Status Currently viable
Craft category  Textiles
Historic area of significance  UK
Area currently practised  UK
Origin in the UK
Minimum no. of craftspeople required
Current no. of trainees
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  51-100 (according to the AGSWD there are fewer than 100 people who can do everything required)
Current total no. of craftspeople



The spinning of fibres to form yarn or thread has been carried out for over 10,000 years. Whilst the earliest yarns were made without tools and were twisted rather than spun, for millennia most spinning was done using a spindle. On the drop spindle, the thread is formed as the spindle spins while gravity pulls it to the ground; on the suspended spindle, the spindle is spun on a set surface like a top and the thread is created by pulling the fibre away from the spindle. The spinning wheel was introduced to Europe in the late Middle Ages. Spinning was mechanised in the mid-eighteenth century with the invention of the spinning jenny, and gave birth to the Industrial Revolution.

The craft of spinning can be divided into the preparation of the fleece to produce fibres for spinning, and the spinning itself. The fleece must be cleaned, washed and carded before the fibres are ready to spin. While whole fleeces are readily and cheaply available, many people today spin from ‘rovings’ (cleaned and carded fibres which have been drawn out and slightly twisted to form lengths suitable for spinning).

Today, hand spinning is largely done for personal use for knitting or crochet (very few people weave with their own yarn).



There are over 200 breeds of sheep in the UK, and the wool from each has its own associated uses. There are two types of spinning:

  • Woollen spinning: short wool or downland wool (fibres approximately 1.5” long)
  • Worsted spinning: long wool or mountain wool (fibres approximately 12” long)

However, today most people spin from ‘rovings’, which requires fewer skills.


Local forms




Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Dilution of skills: Handspinning is largely a hobby nowadays, with very few people earning their living from spinning.
  • Dilution of skills: While there may be many people who spin, there are fewer than 100 who can do everything they should be able to do.
  • Training issues: Until now there have been no qualifications or standardised certification or training available, but units at Level 1 and 3 were accredited by Agored Cymru in summer 2016.
  • Market issues: Good quality hand-spun yarn is a highly skilled product and professional hand spinners find it almost impossible to find markets which will pay a fair wage, so most also teach.
  • While whole fleeces are readily and cheaply available, changing lifestyles mean that people often don’t have access to a large sink and space to clean and prepare fleeces. This means that most people today spin from rovings, leading to a loss of the key skills associated with preparing and spinning the fleece.


Support organisations


Craftspeople currently known


Other information

The Association of Guilds of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers has created a foundation certificate in spinning which is delivered online and includes in-person workshops. The certificated started in July 2016 with six people signed up, and the aim is to have 100 people per year.