Who made that yarn?

I was previewing a fascinating story in the January/February issue of Piecework on “garments knitted from wool yarn in Elizabethan England.” There was a knitted and felted cap with slashed brim, a child’s vest with odd sleeve shaping, and many references to socks and stockings, both knitted and woven. A household inventory listed “eleven stockings [shall we assume pairs?] and four white nightcaps.”

In fact, in cold, damp England, almost everyone would have gone about clad in woolen garments of all kinds much of the time.

But wait a minute. For all those stockings, vests, caps, jackets, trousers, skirts, and so forth, there had to be veritable armies of spinners spinning yarn. The spinning jenny wasn’t brought into use until 1764. All the yarn in all those 15th century clothes had to have been spun by hand. Maybe on a hand spindle, maybe on a spindle wheel, possibly even on an early sort of flyer wheel. Think about how much time you would invest in spinning all the yarn in the clothes you are wearing right this minute (or, realistically, in coarser versions of them). Of course you could do this, you’re a spinner! And if you did, you could make a real spectacle of yourself! What a chore, though.

Every time I open a copy of Piecework and see the old clothing, tapestries, carpets, household linens, even ship sails, I can’t help but think about the yarn. And the hands that spun the yarn. I read somewhere that more human energy has been expended on spinning than on any other endeavors except for agriculture and war. Just think.

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