Even the simplest tools lead to great things

A nineteenth-century upright Swiss table wheel that was a gift to Interweave founder Linda Ligon in 1975 from her first weaving teacher, Janet DeBoer.

Jonathan Bosworth's reproduction of a Han Dynasty spinning wheel (China, circa 206 B.C.E.–220 C.E.)—which challenges the commonly held belief that the spinning wheel originated in India between 500–1,000 C.E

Is the spinning wheel responsible for the drive belt?

So it turns out that my mom didn't like being called a Luddite in my August 8th post—but I didn't find this out until weeks after the email went out, even though I told her about the post in person, explained the concept, and followed up by sending her a copy asking her to let me know what she thought. I'm so sorry, Mom! I never intended it to be a derogatory term. When my mom and I were discussing this, I explained that among my crowd (all you spinners), the term Luddite is used endearingly—and for some it is actually an aspiration. As reader Susan Sullivan Maynard pointed out, true Luddites were really social activists who were protesting the loss of jobs to the machines of the industrial revolution—and a revolution it was.

Nowadays the term is used more loosely to describe people who are reluctant to adopt new technology. On the one hand, so many of us take up spinning as a way to return to a more balanced, hands-on lifestyle—a revolt against a world that has become dominated by hand-held electronic devices. On the other hand, spinners love tools—whether they are lovingly handcrafted from wood or fancy apps on their smart phones that help them figure out the wraps per inch of a yarn. I think that there is room for all kinds of spinners in this world—the ones who'd like to step back in time and the ones who'd like to jump forward, embracing all new technology as it comes along.

As spinners in this day and age, we are in a unique position of having our hands touching both worlds—and I was fascinated to discover through the process of editing one of the articles in the Fall 2011 issue of Spin-Off (which focuses on the wheel)—that spinning wheel technology might have been the start of mechanization. Realization struck when I read this sentence in Julia Farwell-Clay's article about the Han Dynasty wheel that Jonathan Bosworth reproduced: "Then came the question of the drive mechanism. It is ingenious in displaying complexity and simplicity at once and for being the likely introduction of the world to the drive belt, allowing for innumerable mechanical applications ever since, from car engines to cassette tapes."

This was a mind-blowing revelation to me. I knew that looms were the precursors to modern computers, that space shuttles owe more than their name to the weaver's shuttle, and that the industrial revolution started with the mechanization of the mysterious and complex art of turning wool fibers into yarn. But somehow I had missed that when the simple mechanisms of the spindle—whorl and shaft—were turned on their sides and another larger whorl was added with a drive band creating a pulley system between the two, allowing for greater speed and efficiency in spinning, that the foundation had been laid for every pulley system that followed, including the modern combustion engine.

So when people comment that spinning is anachronistic, that we're stuck in the past, you can (kindly) let them know that actually, spinning is the mother of the modern mechanized world. It is very possible that the tools used for spinning laid the foundation for every machine that followed—and that likely started with a bit of fiber and a stick, which is still a handy tool for making yarn.

Happy spinning,

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