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spinning wheel / spinning-wheel

A machine for spinning yarn or thread, in which a wheel drives a single spindle, and is itself driven by the hand, or by the foot acting on a treadle. — Webster, 1882

She never sat down in the daytime, except at her spinning-wheel or loom… – Farmer Boy, Chapter 8, “Sunday”

For thousands of years, wool was spun on a spindle, and a spindle can still be used today; it’s a great way to introduce children to spinning. Loose, combed fibers were bundled and tied loosely to a distaff, a stick or board used for that purpose. Fibers were pulled from this bundle and twisted between the fingers. This was attached to the spindle, and by twirling the spindle as fibers are drawn slowly from the bundle, yarn is created. The spindle twirled farther and farther away from the spinner as yarn was created; when it reached the floor, the motion was stopped and the yarn created was wrapped on the spindle, then it was again set in motion. You can find instructions for using a drop spindle all over the internet, plus there are many videos out there to instruct you.

It’s not known for sure when the spinning wheel was invented, but it allowed spinners to make yarn many times faster than when using a spindle. Originally, the wheel was kept in motion by one hand, but a foot pedal soon allowed both hands to concentrate on separating and feeding just the right amount of fiber into the twisting yarn. Almanzo Wilder’s mother, Angeline Wilder, was said to have spun yarn used for weaving as well as “knitting socks and stockings and mittens and hood” (from the Farmer Boy manuscript), but she never does any spinning in Farmer Boy. The single thread created on a spinning wheel was fragile and pulled apart easily. It was typically twisted with another thread – or multiple threads – to make a sturdier multiple-ply yarn, such as shown in the navigation button photo that brought you to this page, where a woman is shown plying yarn. In Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that when Mrs. Wilder made “sheep’s gray” wool, she twisted yarn from a white sheep and yarn from a black sheep together. The photo at left is of a woman spinning at the Wilder Homestead in Burke, New York.

There is no indication that Caroline Ingalls ever spun her own yarn, although readers might think so, based on Garth Williams including a spinning wheel in his illustration of the Ingallses’ Indian Territory cabin in Little House on the Prairie, Chapter 10, “A Roof and a Floor.”


spinning wheel / spinning-wheel (FB 5, 8)