Sunday, October 16, 2011

Earliest Spinning Wheel?

Yesterday afternoon, I was in a bookstore looking at the craft magazines when the following article from the latest edition of Spin-Off magazine caught my eye:
Farwell-Clay, Julia. "Jonathan Bosworth's Spinning Wheel Time Machine,"  Spin-Off, vol. XXXV, no. 1, pages 64-66 (Fall 2011).
The article is about the latest project of a man named Jonathan Bosworth, who spins and researches information about historical spinning.  A key part of his research consists of building spinning wheels based on historical information, and then teaching himself how to use them.  Her has a website here where, among other things, he sells spinning wheels based on earlier research into spinning on the Indian subcontinent, along with hand spindles and other spinning equipment.

From Spin-Off article, page 64.
Mr. Bosworth's latest project is a spinning wheel he constructed based on depictions in rock carvings dated to the Han Dynasty period  (206 B.C.E. - 220 C.E.) in China; I have reproduced part of the rock image as shown in the Spin-Off article below.   Mr. Bosworth candidly admits that the likely purpose for the device shown in the carving was to wind strands of silk onto bobbins for silk weavers to use, but having built such a device he has subsequently demonstrated that it makes a wonderful spinning wheel as well!  That discovery is striking, because the invention of the spinning wheel has typically been dated to the Middle Ages--about a thousand years later. 

The YouTube video above was taken during one such demonstration.  In the video,  he notes that, unlike a typical treadle spinning wheel, the spinner has "absolute control; there are no dead spots."  That sounds very attractive for a spinner!

Despite Mr. Bosworth's impressive device, it is by no means clear that the ancient Chinese used such a wheel for spinning.  (For a start, the rock carving he has used as inspiration does not seem to have a foot-operated treadle, as his proposed device does.)  Still, I find the possibility that such a spinning wheel might have been in use in China by the third century C.E. to be intriguing--and I have yet to attempt any spinning.  Those of you who are spinners, or are otherwise interested in the history of spinning, may wish to give Mr. Bosworth's experiments some of your attention.

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