Hand spindles developed into an astonishing array of styles designed for different types of fibers and yarns and various methods of spinning. Some are designed to revolve freely, suspended from the yarn. Others rotate with the weight of the spindle supported on a surface. Whorls can be positioned at the top, center, or bottom of the spindle shaft. A range of sizes developed, from little needle-like slivers of bamboo weighted with tiny beads of clay to yard-long wooden shafts with large plate-like wooden whorls.
The spindle style most widely used throughout history has been the small bead whorl type. It was the basic spinning tool in India, Africa, Southeast Asia, much of China, and throughout Meso-America.
By 2,500 B.C.E., the Egyptians were spinning linen so fine it could be woven at 540 threads per inch. The Peruvians were able to spin alpaca yarn at 191 miles per pound. The famous Dhaka muslins spun in India measured 253 miles per pound. Using the Tex System of measuring yarns gravimetrically, we can determine that they reached the highest level of skill that it is possible to achieve by hand or machine.
Simple spindles produced all the thread, yarn, and cordage for household use, for commerce, and for war. They met all these needs: clothing, household fabrics, blankets, tents, uniforms for armies, cloth wrapping, and cordage for packages, trappings for animals, rugs and tapestries, sails for ships, and vestments for church and the nobility.
Since spindles are small enough to be carried easily, they were used while walking, shopping in markets, watching flocks, visiting neighbors, and caring for children.
Spindles continued to be used long after spinning wheels appeared. They are still in use in many parts of the world. One can watch them being used in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Latin America.
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