Connecting with Spinning History

Editors' Note: We invited Liz Good, managing editor of PieceWork's sister magazine Spin-Off, to tell us about a fascinating collection of historic photographs in the upcoming Spring 2012 issue.

This advertising card was produced in 1893 by Wm. Liddell & Co. Linen Manufacturers of Belfast, Ireland, and New York. By all accounts, Queen Victoria was, indeed, a spinner and spun for her own pleasure. Photo provided by Marcy Moffet.

I imagine most spinners have a soft spot in their hearts for history. I know this is definitely true in my case. It isn’t hard to imagine the eons of spinners who came before me as I spin my spindle or sit at my wheel. Also when I look at pre-Industrial textiles in a museum, I feel connected to the spinners who made the yarn and created the fabric. There are not many museums that focus on the textiles themselves and how they were made. And often this focus takes the form of images and examples of early industrial weaving in a historic mill town or in a historic mill itself. While it is fascinating to see the operators cramped in with the imposing power looms or the workers lined up outside the mill holding their shuttles, I feel more distantly connected to them than my imagined fore-spinners who, I must admit, I picture in a much less industrial setting.

I am so pleased that we are able to share a small selection of images of spinners in a more home-based setting in the Spring 2012 issue of Spin-Off. Marcy Moffet has been collecting images of spinners, knitters, sheep, and shepherds for sixteen years. She has acquired a couple hundred antique photos and many hundreds of antique postcards of spinners and knitters and shared a small sampling of her collection with our readers. The eight images we were able to include show a range of women from around the turn of the twentieth century spinning (or at least sitting with their wheels) both  informally outside their homes and in more formal studio settings. There is even a postcard that was available at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago of Queen Victoria spinning on her wheel.


An undated photograph of an unnamed spinner from the studio of Solveig Lund of Christiania (now Oslo), Norway, probably dating from right around the turn of the twentieth century. Note that all colors other than black, white, and gray in the photograph are applied by hand. Photo provided by Marcy Moffet.

According to Marcy, while in the early days of photography many portraits were taken with props showing the interests and professions of the subjects, there are few photographs showing women with the tools of their work in their hands. Every once in a while, Marcy will find an early photo in which a woman is holding, or sometimes even working on, knitting or other needlework. Even more infrequently she will find photos of spinners with their spinning wheels. These are the images that she has chosen for her collection.

It is such a delight to see the real women who were spinners over one hundred years ago and to examine their tools and realize how similar they are to my own.

Spin on,