The premise for the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty" centers on the fair maiden cutting her hand on a spinning wheel spindle and falling into a deep sleep. While nicking your finger on one of the moving parts of a modern spinning wheel isn't out of the question, the possibility of you falling asleep for over a century is a bit far fetched. Being awakened by the kiss of Prince Charming isn't part of the package either, which may be somewhat regrettable.
From Hand Spinning to the Spinning Wheel
China and Islamic countries in the Middle East both lay claim to the invention of the spinning wheel, said to have occurred sometime in the 11th century. The earliest clear evidence came from China, Baghdad and Europe, all producing drawings of the device during the 13th century. The Chinese even came up with a water powered spinning wheel during the 14th century but for some reason it didn't catch on. The Europeans came up with their own water powered device in the 18th century but that lost out to the traditional hand spun wheel. Today most wool is spun mechanically, with the spinning wheel mostly favored by traditionalists and hobbyists that want to create their knitted goods from scratch.
Parts of a Spinning Wheel
A wooden spinning wheel in use today looks much like its earlier counterparts. The most recognizable feature is the fly wheel. This is the heart of the device. The drive band, similar to a fan belt in a car, causes all the other parts to move once the fly wheel is in motion. The fly wheel is connected to a treadle by a bar called the footman. When pushed by your feet the treadle makes the wheel spin. The speed of the wheel is determined by the setting of the flyer whorl. The bobbin holds the spun yarn and sits on the spindle. The U-shaped flyer makes sure the yarn goes on the bobbin evenly. Two posts called the maidens hold the bobbin and flyer. The maiden sits in a horizontal bar called the mother-of-all that also secures the bobbin, flyer and tension knob. Raising or lowering the mother-of-all adjusts the tension knob. Some of the names of spinning wheel parts do sound like something out of a historical novel, but they, like the device itself, date back centuries.
Working a Spinning Wheel
It may look fairly easy but operating a spinning wheel requires a great deal of coordination to work all the moving parts. Using the wheel means pinching the wool with your fingers on one hand while pulling with the other hand. At the same time you need to keep pushing the treadle with your feet. If you stop the wheel stops spinning and you end up with lumpy yarn. It's the same story if you don't keep an even tension on the wool when pulling it. Spinning wool tends to be labor intensive. If you spend enough time at the wheel you might even be able to say goodbye to that gym membership.
One Ply or Two
Once you've managed to send all your wool through the spinning wheel you'll end up with yarn that is single ply and suitable for some projects. If you want a two-ply yarn then you must put two separate strands through the spinning wheel again and spin them into one thicker strand. To be a proper two-ply yarn, that second spin must be done in the opposite direction as when the single strands were spun the first time. Two-ply yarn is stronger and the strands are thicker and have a more consistent texture. Three-ply yarn is stronger still and because of the way it's formed, has a smoother surface. Visit Paradise Fibers for more information on wool spinning.