The process of turning fibres, either of plant or animal origin, into yarn by hand using either a spindle or spinning wheel.
|Historic area of significance||UK|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK||Mesolithic|
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|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main craft)
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|Current total no. serious amateur makers
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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 historical 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 short fibre ‘rovings’.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Handspinning is largely an amateur of semi-professional pursuit nowadays, with relatively few people earning their main living from spinning.
Training issues: The Association of Guilds of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers Certificate of Achievement has been the highest level of attainment for many years. The AGSWD has also created a foundation certificate in spinning which is delivered online and includes in-person workshops, which started in started in July 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.
Craftspeople currently known