The idea of twisting fibers of animal fur, hair or other fibers into yarn is an ancient craft. With the possible exception of fire, this invention stretches further back than just about any other invention we still use, and we have found artifacts made from yarn that date to around 20,000 years old.
The first spindles appeared around 5,000 BC. In its most basic form, a spindle is nothing more than a straight stick that you can wind your yarn onto. While it is a helpful tool, a spindle is slow and cumbersome to use. In these early days of yarn making, making a useful quantity of yarn required many hours of work by many hands.
The Spinning Wheel
The next major innovation in yarn production was the spinning wheel, which first appeared around 4,000 BC. The first spinning wheels were a huge leap in technology, but they were a far cry from the modern spinning wheel. Over the next 1,000 years or so, various innovations such as rimmed wheels, integrated bobbins and foot treadles appeared. Only then did we have the modern spinning wheel that most of us would recognize.
The spinning wheel made yarn and fabric production much faster. The shipping industry was one unexpected beneficiary of the production boom. When the cost of making sails dropped, it spurred many naval developments and created the predecessor of our modern, worldwide shipping network.
Of course, the history of yarn and textiles does not end there. The industrial revolution saw many rapid improvements in yarn production, and by the 1780’s, steam power had made factory scale production possible.
Open End Spinning Technique
The last major development in the history of yarn was the open-end spinning technique. This technique, developed in 1963, made yarn production even faster. In this method, manufacturers fill a spinning drum with natural or synthetic fibers. As a machine pulls threads from the drum, they naturally twist together. This method is much faster and requires much less labor than the old way of making yarn. However, many people feel the quality of open-end spun yarn is not as good as yarn made with more traditional methods.
Spinning and knitting rank among humanity’s greatest achievements. These developments enabled us to produce fabric for use in clothing; which enabled humans to live anywhere on earth. Of course, this has virtually nothing to do with your next knitting project as you may create whatever you want from yarn with no knowledge of history whatsoever. However, it is incredible to think that this seemingly simple activity connects you to humans who lived many thousands of years ago.
When it comes to knitting, you have an incredible range of options. Whether you want to just pick up some yarn for a simple project or start spinning your own yarn from scratch and live off the grid, your local yarn shop is your best resource. We will see you here.