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Month: April 2017

Snúast Garn: Spinning a Yarn

Snúast Garn: Spinning a Yarn

I’m more than overdue for an update on my pink dress project, not to mention at least one post on another project I’ve started and finished in the last few weeks, but in the meantime, let’s talk about something else: spinning!

Most people these days, when you mention the word spinning, first think of using an exercise bike. That’s not what I’m talking about here… I’m using this in the traditional sense of the word. People need clothes to wear, to stay warm and to meet societal standards of covering up. It’s only the past few hundred years that ready-made clothes and/or fabric have been available to the general public, in any sense of the idea, and back when the Vikings lived, a woman pretty much had to take care of all of her family’s clothing needs. This meant spinning yarn to weave into fabric. In addition to clothing, this cloth was also used for ship sails and other things, so you can imagine women were kept very busy with spinning and weaving.

The spinning wheel was believed to have been invented sometime between 500 and 1000 in India. Despite this, the spinning wheel did not make it to Iceland until sometime in the middle of the 18th century. This means that for the entirety of the viking period, and indeed the entire medieval period/period of time covered by the SCA, spinning in Iceland was done solely via drop spindle.

It is said that it took 5 people to spin enough yarn to keep one weaver busy. I spin on both a drop spindle, and a wheel, and while the wheel is certainly faster in general, there is a phrase that spinners use modernly – “the wheel is faster by the hour, but the drop spindle is faster by the week”. What this means is that because the drop spindle is so portable, and you can pull it out whenever you have a moment, it’s much easier to fit in a few minutes of spinning here and there with a spindle, because you don’t have to go sit down at it to use it.

I’ve been proving this adage true myself this week. Drop spindles are lovely and portable – and I can bring it to work with me! I have an hour long lunch break, and I live too far from my workplace to go home for lunch, so between that and two 15-minute coffee breaks, I get about 75 minutes of spinning time per day. I recently pulled out my nicest drop spindle, which is a light-weight top whorl spindle made by Houndesign Spindles. It is small and light enough for spinning a fairly fine yarn. On this spindle, I’m currently spinning up some which merino wool, into a yarn that I’m intending to still be, at the most, a fingering weight, once it’s plied into a two-ply yarn. Originally I started spinning this with the intent of dyeing it and then weaving some trim for my new coat, but now that I’ve calculated the yardage I’ll need for that trim, it’s going to take me longer than I would like to spin it, so I’ve ordered some appropriate yarn for the trim, and I will turn this into something else once it’s finished.

While drop spindles were what was used in the viking period, this particular design of spindle is not accurate at all. I’m simply using it because I had it at hand and could just pick it up and start spinning. I’m currently doing some research on spindle designs that were actually used in the viking period, and expect to have a post up about that soon.