Monday, October 31, 2011

Spinning and Wool Preparation

Once the fleece has come off the sheep it needs to be prepared. During the 6th Century Anglo Saxon period this was probably done by using an upright comb. At this stage there is no archaeological evidence for exactly how this was done during the early Anglo Saxon period (Walton Roger, P. 2007:15). However it is known that the Roman's used an upright woolcomb fixed to a table or stand or just held as can be seen in the photographs on this site

Once the fleece was combed it could be used for spinning. Wool spinning was done using a spindle and whorl. There are lots of examples of Anglo Saxon spindle whorls. They are one of the most common of grave finds and always associated with women (Walton Roger, P. 2007:.23). To get an idea of the size of a spindle whorl go to this pdf gives 1:1 drawings of grave finds used for spinning and weaving during the Anglo Saxon period.

Spindle whorls have been found in Anglo Saxon graves made from a wide variety of materials such as bone, clay, lead and antler (Crowfoot, E. and Hawkes, S. C 1967:69, 75, 79, 80) crystal and glass ( The most commonly found spindle whorl, as can be seen by the embedded movie are lead. This is not because this was the most commonly used material as this short piece incorrectly observes but because these are the easiest for us to find because they can be found through metal detection, for that reason this clip focuses on them.

Spindle whorls are classified according to their shape and when they were used. A good overview of the shape of spindle whorls can be found in Walton Rogers book (2007:25). The spindle whorls I use for some of my spinning are based on the A1, B2 and B3 categories which were all common during the 5th and 6th centuries. They have a spindle shaft made out of Mulberry. I have used Mulberry because it was available during the Anglo Saxon period as can be seen by its use in medicine during that period (Delacourt, J. 1914:On the Mulberry Tree). It is extremely rare for spindle shafts to be found, this is thought to be because they were made out of wood and so decompose easily leaving just the whorl as part of the grave finds (Walton Roger, P. 2007:23). 

Replica Spindle whorls showing shapes that were common during the Anglo Saxon 5th and 6th Centuries.

Replica Spindle whorls showing shapes that were common during the Anglo Saxon 5th and 6th Centuries. The whorls were made by Flamming Gargoyle Pottery

It seemed reasonable to assume that any wood that came to hand could be used as a spindle. So when making my spindles to be used for SCA events and for spinning the fibre for my tablet woven bands I have used a wood that was commonly available during the 5th to 6th century Anglo Saxon period.

Completed drop spindles. Using Mulberry wood for the spindle shafts.

Although spinning wheels were not introduced until 1287 (McNabb, W.J. 2004ΒΆ5) I have utilised a spinning wheel for this project. For the smaller amount of spinning that will be used for the tablet woven bands I have used a drop spindle. This is because I can do a finer thread using a spindle and because I need a lot less thread to make the tablet woven bands. However for the majority of the outfit that I am creating I need a large amount of thread. With my non-cloth making commitments I simply do not have the time required to make all of that thread using a drop spindle.

Spinning the bulk of my thread on the modern spinning wheel.

  1. Crowfoot, E and Hawkes, S. C. 1967. 'Early Anglo-Saxon Gold Braids' Medieval Archaeology, 11 (1967), pp. 42-86.
  2. Delacourt, J. (Ed) 1914. Medicinea De Quadrupedibus (accessed 1/11/2011)
  3. Kornbluth Photography 2011.
  4. McNabb, W. J. 2004 'Spinning and Spinning Wheels: A Brief History of Machines for Making Thread and Yarn' (accessed 1/11/2011)
  5. Walton Rogers, P. 2007. 'Cloth and Clothing in Early Anglo-Saxon England: AD 450-700'. council for British Archaeology, York, UK.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home