We Love a Spinster: In almost every culture, both men and women were known for weaving textiles, but only women would spin the fibers. The term spinster was originally coined in reference to women who spun thread and fibers to earn a living which alleviated the pressure to find a husband and be financially independent. Now, it’s commonly used as a derogatory term to define an unmarried woman — but we like to think of the word by its natural meaning: independent creatives supporting themselves and others.
Historically speaking, hand spun thread is considered the most important technology developed in the Stone Age. It’s commonly considered to be the first form of the wheel. It wasn’t load bearing but the principle of rotation is present, and it was one of the earliest tools known to exist. We aren’t quite sure exactly how far hand spinning dates back, as most of the spindles were made from wood that decomposed over time. However, evidence of textile production and spinning have been found all over the world in many different ancient civilizations — even predating pottery, metallurgy, and agricultural stock breeding.
The earliest found spindle whorls date back to over 7000 years ago. They have been found all over the world, from South and North America dating back to the pre-Columbian era, to Europe and the Middle East. While every society and culture may have adapted the practice to fit the resources they had available, the concept remained consistent throughout the world. Most spindles were made of wood, while whorls could be made from stone, clay, bone, wood, metal, shells…whatever the people of the time had access to. The types of fiber being spun played a factor, too. If cotton was the primary fiber being spun, that whorl would be crafted a little differently than one that would be used for another fiber like wool or silk.
Some of the finest yarns and threads ever produced were made on hand spindles. Think of the high quality Chinese and Egyptian fine threads. Or the super fine alpaca fibers and muslin cotton from India. All of these beautiful textiles were produced before spinning wheels and looms were developed.