The Great Wheel
The Little Wheel
Domestic Life


Collecting information on spinning---

The core of this article is the treatment given by Addington, 1932 which is fairly specific to spinning in SW VA. Additional information is needed to flesh out the story here. Bachman, Frank Puterbaugh. 1918. Great inventors and their inventions. New York: American Book Company.

Spinning in Southwest Virginia

From Source:Addington, 1932

THE DISTAFF AND SPINDLE The oldest spinning machine is the distaff and spindle. The spindle, the chief part of all machine spinning, is a slender round piece of wood or iron about twelve inches long, tapering toward each end. On the upper end, there is a notch or slit in which to fasten the thread. The distaff is a round stick, three or four feet long. One ends used to hold the loose supply of wool or cotton. The other end of the stick is held under the left arm, and is often fastened in a girdle at the belt. . When spinning with the distaff and spindle, the spinner pulls out from the loose wool or cotton on the distaff, a small piece, and twists the end of it by hand. This finished end is fastened into the notch or slit of the spindle. The spinner sets the spindle whirling, by rolling it between her right hand and leg, or by a twisting motion of the hand. Then the spindle is left to whirl as it dangles at her side. With her left hand she holds the loose thread, and with her right hand she draws it out to the proper size, as it is twisted by the whirling spindle. When a thread two or three feet long is thus properly twisted, the thread is unfastened from the upper end of the spindle and wound on the lower end. This process is continued until all the material on the distaff is spun.

SPINNING WITH THE DISTAFF Until about the time of the Revolutionary War, all the woolen, flax, and cotton yarn used in the world was spun thus. From such yarn were woven the clothes of peasant and prince alike. Even to-day, women may be seen in the Holy Land, spinning in this old-fashioned way.

THE SPINNING WHEEL The first improvement on this ancient method was the spinning wheel. This is a machine to whirl the spindle by turning a wheel. When the spinning wheel is employed, the cleaned wool or cotton is first carded, then twisted loosely, and finally spun into yarn. The carding is done with hand cards, big coarse nail brushes, about twelve inches long and five inches wide. The cotton is spread on one card and combed with another, until the fibers all lie in one direction. It is then taken off in fleecy rolls, about twelve inches long and three quarters of an inch thick. These short cardings are twisted on the spinning wheel, into a loose thread, or roving, about the size of a candlewick. The rovings are wound on reels or bobbins, and finally spun into the finished yarn.

CARDING WOOL BY HAND The spinning wheel was a big advance over the distaff. The spindle could be kept whirling more rapidly and easily. The hands were free to fasten the short cardings together and draw them into rovings, or free to draw out the roving and to hold it while being twisted into yarn. One spinner could now spin as much yarn as a half dozen had done before. The yarn was more even, and better twisted. Spinning wheels were to be found in most homes until about 1840, and many are to be seen there now, preserved as curiosities. The mother always spun enough cotton and wool to supply the family with "linsey- woolsey" for clothes, and with yarns for socks.

JAMES HARGREAVES AND THE SPINNING JENNY The spinning wheel, which made only one thread at a time, was displaced by the spinning jenny, on which twenty, fifty, a hundred, and even a thousand threads can be spun at once. The inventor was James Hargreaves, an Englishman. Hargreaves sat pondering one day over a faster way to spin cotton. His wife was busy in another part of the small room. Her spinning wheel for some cause toppled over. The spindle, which was thrown from a horizontal to an upright position, continued to whirl. Hargreaves saw, by one of those flashes of thought which come to the genius, that, if a number of spindles were placed upright side by side, and a way found to draw out the rovings as they were twisted, a number of threads could be spun by one pair of hands at one , time. The idea of the spinning jenny was thus born. The invention was named jenny after Hargreaves' wife.* I he frame placed

HARGREAVES DISCOVERS THE SPINNING JENNY in the middle lower part of the spinning jenny holds a double row of reels or bobbins wound with rovings. To get rsady to spin, the loose twisted rovings are brought forward by hand in front of the frame, and passed between the two flat One person can spin with a jenny as much yarn as twenty to a hundred can spin, using the old spinning wheel. The yarn, too, is of better quality. Besides, boys and girls between the ages of twelve and fourteen can operate it even better than grown persons. The invention of the jenny thus marks the beginning of child labor in cotton and woolen factories.

The first jenny was completed about 1767. Hargreaves tried to keep his invention a secret, and to use it only in his own home. But he was tempted to make a few jennies to sell, to buy necessities for his children. In time, the spinners learned that he had a wonderful spinning machine with which a twelve-year-old girl could do as much work as a dozen grown persons with the spinning wheel. People at that time were not used to machines. It was the age of handwork, and they had not yet learned that machines in the end make more work and better wages. They only saw that this invention would lessen the number of spinners needed, and would deprive them of work. So the spinners, who as a rule were women, along with their husbands and friends, rose up against the inventor. A mob broke into his house and broke all the jennies that could be found, and Hargreaves had to flee for his life. To protect his invention, he took out a patent in 1770, but this did no good. The spinning jenny was so easy to make that the manufacturers, quick to see its merits, made their own, and refused to pay any royalty on them. Thus it came about that Hargreaves received nothing for an invention which for forty years was the principal machine used in spinning cotton yarn, and still remains, as improved, the chief machine employed in spinning wool. He did not, however, live and die in poverty, as the story is often told. From a yarn factory of which he was part owner, he made a good living for himself and his family.

A Canadian View

From: Source:Strickland, 1853

It is quite essential that the wives and daughters of the Canadian agriculturist should rival the fair Penelope in spinning, and even exceed her—as indeed they ought—for the Grecian lady spun with a distaff, and had never known the superior aid of the modern spinning-wheel, much less the great-wheel, or big-wheel, as our American neighbours call the Irish importation, to which they have added the improvement of the patent head, which enables our fair Canadian spinsters to produce a finer thread, and make a greater quantity of yarn in any given time, than they could do previous to the introduction of Brother Jonathan's patent big- wheel. So many home-comforts depend upon this ancient branch of feminine industry, which the use of the spinning-jenny has almost entirely superseded in the mother-country, that in Canada, the single ladies are, literally speaking, all spinsters: in fact if they were not, their fathers and brothers would often display Shakspeare's " ravelled sleeve of care." As this is an important part of domestic economy, it may be useful to describe the management of the wool before it is fit for the dear girls industrious hands. As soon as the sheep are sheared, the wool must be picked and greased: after this, it is sent to the carding mill to be carded—an operation which costs twopence per pound.

This part of the business can be done at home; but it is very troublesome, and the expense is so trifling, that the saving is not really worth making.) When the wool is carded, it is ready for the wheel, and the ladies of the family, or if there are no ladies, their substitutes, hired spinning girls, convert it into yarn, which is then dyed, reeled, and hanked, which processes it undergoes at home. It is now ready for the weaver, who charges from fivepence to sixpence per yard for his work; many farmers, however, have hand-looms in their own houses.

For winter wear, both warp and weft of these native cloths are of wool; but for that destined for summer use, the warp is cotton. Flannels and Tweeds are also frequently made with a mixture of wool and cotton.

After the weaving is finished, the cloth must be sent to the fulling-mill, where it receives its completion, unless it is of a very fine quality, in which case it must be sheared and pressed…

The dye-stuffs in general use are indigo, logwood, red-wood, and copperas, and the bark of the butter-nut tree. The soil of Canada is capable of growing both hemp and flax of good quality; but the produce has not been yet applied for the manufacture of fine linen cloths. Some settlers grow both these plants for furnishing them with bags, sacks, and ropes; but, as the population of the colony increases, these neglected articles will, no doubt, not only be extensively cultivated, but form a valuable branch of commerce.

Our wives, daughters, and sisters, besides spinning yarn for our garments, provide us with warm stockings, socks, gloves, Guernsey frocks, and comforters, of their own knitting, and furnish us, in their leisure time, with many useful and ornamental articles. They provide us, too, with carpets of a strong, useful kind, the best of which are made of yarn of their own spinning and dyeing, whilst others are contrived by an ingenious economy, which collects odd pieces of rag or cloth, cuts them into long strips, joins and forms them into large balls for the weaver, who makes use of a warp made of strong twine : the material on the balls forms the weft in manufacturing the carpet. The ladies call this article a rag-carpet, and it serves the purpose very well till it can be replaced by a good yarn one.