Sunday, September 14, 2008
It turns out the earliest top whorl spindle is around 3000 BC shown on a wall carving in an Egyptian tomb. (one source for this is the book Prehistoric Textiles By E. J. W. Barber, which can be found on Google Books) Top whorls were also called "Scandinavian spindles" throughout the middle ages, and were also used throughout the middle east. Bottom whorls were used throughout western Europe. In fact, there are images of spinning flax from a distaff without any whorl at all on the spindle, or using a middle whorl and letting the flax wind over the whorl. But that's with Flax, and leads to why the difference in whorls- it's all about the length of the staple of the fiber.
In Egypt and the middle east, the fibers are mainly cotton and camel- and these are very short staple fibers. There is also some goat, but the goats don't have seriously huge undercoats or they would not survive the heat. Again, short staple.
In Scandinavia, they have a lot of reindeer undercoat- again a short staple.
In western Europe, it's linen and flax - which have very long staples of 6 to 12 inches. Many of the wools have long staples as well.
A bottom whorl works better with a long staple, and that's why it was the preferred spindle there.
A top whorl works better with a short staple. It's so common right now because the most popular fiber for spinning seems to be merino with its 3 inch staple.
Think about the length between shaft where the yarn is and the hook (or half hitch) leading to the actual spinning area. If it's longer than a 4 inch distance, the odds are better that a staple of half that distance is going to break if you lose concentration or aren't paying attention. Therefore a 3 inch staple is less likely to break with a nice top whorl, and a 12 inch staple can handle being wrapped over the bottom of the bottom whorl, hooked there, brought up to the shaft, secured with a half hitch, and then being spun from there.
A bibliography with some spinning pictures.
A source for bulk silk and hemp, with rare books.
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