Spinning: From Fiber to Thread

The first step in weaving fabric is the preparation of fiber. Fiber is usually obtained from either a plant, like cotton or maguey, or an animal, such as sheep. Next, after initial extraction and preparation of the fiber, it must be spun into thread. Today, women can purchase thread that is already spun and ready for weaving. In the past, however, women spun all the thread they needed by hand. Over the centuries, these spinners perfected the technology of spindles and whorls.


At its most basic level, a spindle is nothing more than a stick-like thread holder. As the person spinning twists the fiber into thread, it is wound around the shaft of the spindle, much as sewing thread may be wound around a spool or bobbin.


The whorl that is attached to the base of spindle acts as a weight to steady the spindle in its rapidly spinning motion. Whorls can be made of many types of material: carved wood, pottery, and so forth. While actual samples of fabric are rare in the archaeological record as fabric tends to rot when buried, the evidence of spinning abounds since prehistoric spindle whorls were often made of clay or pottery.


Move on to Weaving: From Thread to Fabric