The Art of Handspinning

Learn about the ancient craft of handspinning, includes information on the handspindle, spinning wheel, setting up the spinning area and spinning materials.

| September/October 1977

Handspinning is an ancient craft that can be done using a handspindle or spinning wheel.

Bette Hochberg springs from a long line of Amish-Mennonite pioneers . . . folks who kept sheep, and spun and wove their own wool as a matter of course. It's little wonder, then, that Bette learned to spin early in life.

But anyone at any age (you, for instance!) who has the will and the patience can learn to handspin. And you won't even need a spinning wheel: A handspindle will do for starters.

Mrs. Hochberg's book, Handspinner's Handbook (from which the following excerpts were chosen), gives simple directions for handling 20 different fibers and for becoming a fast, competent spinner. You have only to follow her instructions to see why the ancient craft of handspinning is far from obsolete, to find — as Bette says — the "great pleasure and satisfaction" that come from "reenacting an activity that's been a part of human life from the beginning".

People have been spinning for at least 7,000 years. The earliest archaeological finds of yarns were in the valley of the Nile. These were linen-like fibers, and early Egyptian wall paintings show the preparation and spinning of flax into linen. About 6,000 years ago in Babylonia and Mesopotamia, sheep were domesticated and wool was spun and traded. For 5,000 years cotton has been grown and spun. China began its silk industry about 2500 B.C. These four fibers — linen, wool, cotton, silk — supplied most of man's needs for cloth through the ages.

Spinning is holding a mass of fibers and twisting a few of them as they are pulled from the loose mass. The rhythm is, "First twist, then pull."

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