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Original Bit

Hi, I'm coming at this as a crafter whose partner dragged her into re-enactment (and is probably now regretting it). Being very new to re-enactment and Viking-age history in general I don't want to put any noses out of joint, but as a couple of the photos on this page have health and safety issues, I wasn't comfortable just ignoring them.

Wool Comb Safety

Modern wool combs are often viciously sharp things. I'm very careful with mine, but I still manage to stab myself with them on a semi-regular basis, something which is doubly undesirable if you've been using them to comb wool which has not been very thoroughly washed, because they'll be contaminated with whatever the sheep was rolling in (i.e., everything, but mostly poo). While re-enactment combs tend to be a lot blunter, not all of them are, and even if yours are blunt, it's a good idea not to get into habits which could cause you problems later when using different combs, or for that matter to demonstrate those bad habits to others.

If you comb wool with the static comb balanced on your lap, tines upwards and the other moving downwards through the wool, tines downwards, then at some point, you will hit your thigh with the moving comb. A blunt comb will likely leave a bruise, which is undesirable, but sharp combs are entirely capable of going straight through several layers of clothing and giving some extremely nasty puncture wounds. Guess how I know. If you do do this to yourself, it's a good idea to basically treat it like an animal bite: How recent was your last tetanus shot? The drawings demonstrate the correct method - going through the wool at 90 degrees to the static comb and away from your body - but the photos show combing downwards towards your thigh or perhaps pulling the teeth through away from the static comb, it's difficult to tell from a photo.

Spinning Ergonomics

The other one is less of an issue, but still an issue: the spinner is shown with her arms raised, hands in front of her face, having produced a very long make. I know it's nice, especially if you're not 100% confident, to be able to see exactly what you're doing and for that matter tempting to keep going as long as possible, I do it sometimes myself, and it can be helpful to lift everything up but it's asking for pain in your back, neck and shoulders, especially if you spin a lot. It may seem like you'll save time by doing more at once, but you don't - super long makes are a pain to wind on, whereas if you spin from your waist down, then you don't necessarily even need to butterfly the make up to wind it on - you can probably get away with just sticking your arms out sideways (just be aware of people nearby if you're going to do that, nobody wants to be jabbed in the solar plexus with a spindle or distaff). Try to keep your elbows down by your sides and your shoulders relaxed if you can - having your arms bent upwards so your hands are around chest height shouldn't be much of an issue so long as your elbows are down and in, and will mean that if you do need to look at what your hands are up to, you don't have to bend your neck as much.

Someone who spins all day every day isn't going to do so in a way that causes them pain and they're also not going to need to look at what they're doing. As far as I'm aware we don't have much evidence of how exactly Viking-era women spun, but I wouldn't expect it to be all that different to the modern spinners around Cusco, Peru, (see this image of a Peruvian spinner) who still spindle-spin their weaving yarns the way they have for hundreds of years. Notice how her elbows are down, her hands around waist height, and she's not watching what she's doing.

I would be quite happy to produce replacement photos (or even video if it's possible to include that).

There are other issues I noticed on this page, and I'd be happy to give more input if it's desired, but I'm assuming that it wouldn't be from someone so new.

Random C (talk) 14:52, 6 July 2022 (BST)

New Bit

As discussed in email, more notes on this (I am aware notes has become a laughable word choice). I tried to just do a few bullet point corrections/queries but it seemed very confrontational without some justification. I then tried to be brief and failed spectacularly. Sorry, spinning is a Special Interest, so it was pretty much inevitable. I wasn't sure if I should submit this or not (another big part of being autistic seems to be tying yourself up in knots about whether you've understood an instruction/request or if there's some nuance/social expectation everyone but you knows and then vastly over-explaining yourself because you're so used to communication going wrong) but my fella said better to post it than not, as you've got the option of ignoring/deleting it.

I have at least used footnotes for the bits where I went off on a rant or wanted to include something which, while perhaps of interest to some, is likely not relevant to our period/the original article or is just Too Much Information.

Spinning seems simple but as with many subjects, the more you know about it, the more you realise there is to know, and which a learner really ought to know. I’d therefore be inclined to split it up into multiple pages, each with a summary at the top which should be enough info for those with a passing interest, adding more detail in subsections for those who want it. Even then I'd probably be inclined to shuffle the how to spin section off into a longer thing in the docstore. Spinning has many specialist terms, avoidance of which is difficult without being long-winded or inaccurate. As they would also be encountered when talking to other spinners or looking for more information online, I would be inclined to include a glossary.

I would be more than happy to write such things and/or provide appropriate pictures and diagrams for someone else if wanted - I can write more concisely it just takes a while.


There are many other types of fibre which are commonly spun, just not ones relevant to our period. Though there was some silk used, my understanding is that it was likely to have been imported as thread and cloth and not spun domestically.

I'd be inclined to change 'Spinning was done entirely by hand' to something like 'Most yarn would have been spun using spindles' (1)

Are the sources used for this page available? I'm dubious of some assertions, especially the numbers. Where does the 10 to 1 thing about spinning time vs weaving time come from? I couldn't find anything like that. (ETA - found it. Dress In Anglo Saxon England - Gale R. Owen-Crocker. I now have a vague memory of getting a book delivered to work and flipping through it quiet moments, then coming across something about spinning which was wrong and therefore concluding that the rest of the book was probably also better not trusted and so not reading it, but I thought that was the Ewing one about Viking clothing. I ended up emailing her and she said she'd asked an experienced weaver, who when I looked her up, only mentioned modern looms, which are likely quicker to set up and use.) I assume the 500 hours comes from something similar to this Norwegian video about attempting to recreate a tunic/shirt pulled out of melting ice on the Lendbreen pass. Like many other spinners I know, I have issues with this project. (2)

I don’t think saying the highest-status women wouldn’t have spun or woven much can really be reconciled with the amount of textile-production finds in the Oseberg Ship Burial. High-status women certainly wouldn’t have had to spin and weave plain cloth for clothing as they could have bought it or set their slaves that task, however, rather than excusing them from textile production, it would have given them the option of producing more time-consuming and primarily-decorative things which allowed them to really show off their skills, such as tapestries and complex tablet woven bands with brocading like those recreated by Bente Skogsaas or with silver or gold thread.

Those used to spinning for sailcloth or clothing may not have been able to easily produce yarns with the appropriate qualities, so high status women may have had to spin their own and perhaps took pride in doing so. For Christians, developing a high skill level and using it to make altar-cloths, vestments and so on from high-quality and richly-dyed yarn and fabric, including silk, rather than to adorn themselves or their homes, would have been a good way to demonstrate their piety.


Whether fluffing the fibres out by hand is practical or desirable will often depend on the qualities and condition of the fleece. It is likely to be a good way to make the most of a short-coated breed or the undercoat of a double-coated breed as carding is not an option. I have a Soay fleece which I intend to try this with (if I can figure out where I put it), as being so short, it would be difficult to comb effectively. I would be very reluctant to try it on the longer fleeces I’ve had, not just because so many of the tips have been thoroughly stuck together in a way that would be hard work to remedy without combs, but because a hand-combed top is more likely to help you make the most of longwool or topcoat by turning it into a smooth, strong yarn.

Weft does not need to be at all strong, especially if the material is to be fulled. Warp needs to be strong, but not necessarily hard, it’s more a matter of it having sufficient structural integrity to not stretch much (or worse, snap) under the tension the warp weights or weaving frame put on it, and consistency can play a big part in that. It wasn’t practical for me to test my singles, but I found I could easily hang several kilos from a single loop of two-ply sewing thread before it snapped (though it did stretch a bit) which is orders of magnitude more than the thread should ever have to deal with during tablet or warp-weighted weaving.

As Abby Franquemont points out in this blog post about fibre preps there are a lot of different preps available and it’s common for people to use the wrong names, especially to use roving as a catch-all term, however roving is a specific type of machine-combed prep. A snake of combed fibre is top. As Franquemont also mentions, the prep alone doesn’t determine what the yarn is like, it’s a combination of factors including prep, drafting method and amount of twist. (3)

My attempts to find anything definitive about when hand carders began to be used mostly resulted in broken links, mislabelled finds and illustrations from slightly later which I’m fairly sure were actually of hackling flax. The consensus seems to be that cards were introduced in the 13th or 14th century due to sufficient quantities of drawn wire not being available prior to that, though as in this article in spinoff magazine this seems to be mostly people repeating what was said by Alden Amos, who said he was unsure of the dates.

This blog post additionally mentions an attempt at preparing wool with teasels in which they were found to be unsuited to the task, so their being used for processing the finished cloth seems more likely. I would therefore be inclined not to mention carded preps beyond maybe saying not to use them unless evidence contrary to this is found, but even then not to use the more common drum-carded sort, as the required machinery wasn’t invented until much later.

I do not spin greasy wool. I know some people like to do so, but my experience of trying it was that not only is combing more difficult, but so is drafting and it gets worse as time goes on. I’m also conscious of just how filthy sheep are, and so quite how much dirt must be trapped in that lanolin, having been ground into it over time. A raw white fleece that looks perfectly clean when put into plain water can turn that water a horrifyingly opaque brown, often several times in a row. If detergent is then added, yet more dirt will be loosened.

It is generally advised that pregnant or vulnerable people avoid having anything to do with sheep or raw fleece and advice for those preparing fleece is often full of warnings about the possible dangers. I would not want to have raw, or even washed but still greasy, fleece at a show where it might be touched by children, nail biters, or others prone to putting their fingers in their mouths and who might be reluctant to immediately and thoroughly wash their hands with tallow soap in a bucket of cold water, which is likely to be all that’s available (I should probably have included this in the health and safety bit above but I missed the mention first time round.)

Combing is fairly easy to pick up, and so would make an ideal task for someone who wants to be doing something in the LHE but is concerned about messing up anything complicated. Unless the MOPs are hanging round for quite a while, you could probably get away with just continually combing the same bit of wool back and forth and never have to pull it off the combs. If you can make decent top, though, the spinners nearby should be very grateful. Nor is it something men should shy away from doing - combing can be quite a workout for the arms and, more recently, was definitely a man's job. I note that this article contains a reference to heating the much-larger industrial combs, rather than the hand-held sort, and that the wool was oiled rather than greasy with lanolin. I have seen several combing instruction videos, including the ones linked from the page above, which recommend spraying the locks with an oil-and-water mix (usually olive oil or something of the like) to ease the combing process and tame the wool. It was to increase the slipperiness of this oil that the combs would have been heated. Being a light oil, it should not become as sticky or set, as lanolin can.


I wish I still had the linguistic tools to check this. I’m aware that without that it’s just my opinion, and akin to the “herbal infusions are/aren’t tea” argument, and so likely to cause a bunfight but: I don’t think I’ve seen the long straight part of spindles referred to as spindles on their own before, or rods, only as shafts or sticks, sometimes with ‘spindle’ beforehand for clarity.

Much of this I would move to the how to spin section, or better yet, a separate plying section. There, I would add an explanation of S and Z twist and mention that plying is (almost always) done in the opposite direction to the direction the singles were spun in as this gives a stabilising effect, whereas plying in the same direction will make it even more kinky and unmanageable. Additionally, while modern yarns often have three or more plies, in our period singles and two-ply were the norm. I don’t think we have any evidence for anything remotely like the super-bulky yarn many people like to use for nålebinding either, but as I didn’t even get as far as covering my toes when trying to match the gauge of the York Sock, I understand why they do.

I would probably also cover ways of starting a spindle which are specific to plying, such as palm-rolling or kicking and give some options for plying-related yarn management such as plying balls, the ‘shoebox kate’, plying bracelets (for small amounts only) and controlling energetic yarn by looping it through things such as cup handles. Another useful addition would be how to tell if your yarn has the desired amount of plying twist, and what is meant by terms such as balance or twist stasis, underplied and overplied etc and what the pros and cons of each are. Also, not all plied yarns will be stronger than all singles yarns, as amount of twist, type of wool used and drafting method will all affect this.

It’s likely that the combed top would have been given a little twist to stabilise it as it was wound onto a distaff, but roving is still the wrong word. (ETA - this is quoting Owen-Crocker.)(4)

How to spin:

This isn't remotely in the order I'd write an actual how-to-spin, but in the order things came up from the existing text.

Average wool is ideal for beginners, but different breeds can have very different wool and some of the more interesting ones would make for a very frustrated novice. I wouldn’t bother repeating that prep is required, however, I would stress that even an excellent spinner would have trouble making good yarn from a bad prep, so it’s important to keep the wool you’re intending to spin in good condition:

Being tightly packaged shouldn’t be an issue (unless it’s something like commercial Icelandic, which felts if you look at it funny), but if at all possible don’t subject it to friction, don’t get it wet, and don’t feed it after midnight. I try to avoid carrying my unspun fibre loose in a soft bag with other things but if that’s unavoidable, wrapping it in scraps of linen to contain it and separate it from the other things should help. Hard cases are better, especially for hand-combed top which is even easier to mess up than mill-combed: because it’s much less dense, there’s more room for the fibres to rub against each other, and that means they’re more likely to felt. If the fibre does get messed up, it can often be rescued by re-processing it but not always. The wool is likely to have breaks which can make it feel harsher than before and you’ll usually have some wastage, so it’s better to avoid that happening in the first place if possible.

I threw away the leader that came with my first spindle almost immediately. I finger-spin a length of singles, stick the end through the hole in the whorl and then put the shaft through. This both holds the thread so it doesn’t unwind and helps keep the whorl on the shaft, especially if you have the long end stick out the bottom of the whorl and go over the side before being spiralled up the stick. It also avoids having to start with a join, which may be an extremely frustrating process: sometimes the yarn/fibre becomes 'fatigued' and just doesn't want to grab on any more. If you're having trouble joining when you normally don't, this may be why and the best thing to do is throw a bit away. This is best done by gripping a little more than a staple length (ie, the length of the individual fibres) away from the end of the yarn and untwisting the end with your fingers, keeping it a little taut so that once the twist has reduced enough, it comes apart. If it won't come apart, you probably underestimated your staple length.

Joining fibre is an important skill to master, but I’d still avoid it where it isn’t actually necessary. It’s common for instructions of how to do joins to insist that you must join fluff to fluff, but with thin yarn, that's not the case. My preferred method of joining thin yarn is:

  • Make sure you have a nicely fluffed-out bit at the bottom of your fibre supply.
  • Pinch about half a staple length from the end of the spun thread and then add plenty of twist to the make (thread which you’ve spun but not yet wound on) below that pinch, not allowing that twist beyond the fingers.
  • Ensuring that the thread with excess twist in is kept taut and that the spindle isn’t back-spinning, lay the loose end against the fluffy end of the fibre supply. I sometimes grip the spindle between my knees or under my arm, especially when doing this slowly to show others.
  • Slowly let go of the thread and at the same time pull the fibre supply away very slightly. The excess twist should attempt to jump up out of the spun thread and into the fibre supply, grabbing at the fibres there as they move slightly past each other. The join basically does itself.

With a bit of practice and some appropriate patter, it looks like a magic trick and is a great way to demonstrate that twist is what holds yarn together and you’re not just stretching out something thick into something thin. It doesn't work as well on thicker yarn, because it needs to grab so many more fibres.

How much thread you need above the top of the spindle before you start depends on how thick the yarn is and whether you mind having to give the spindle an extra flick to be able to make more thread in one go. Sometimes I’ll leave only a few inches, but I probably would leave a foot or more for a thicker yarn.

The instructions seem to imply that it’s OK to just let the spindle dangle from the make for a while at first. It’s not, it will backspin and the make will drift apart.

This describes short-draw suspended spinning, which is only one of several options. Even then, flicking the top of the spindle is not the only option for making it spin. A good strong flick takes time to build, so rolling the shaft against your thigh/hip map be a better option for the initial spin for many. If you want to make thick nålebinding yarn, or knitting yarn, or even weft yarn, short draw is probably not going to be the ideal method, though it’s great for sewing thread and warp yarn.

Many people prefer doing long-draw either grasped or short-suspension (with the spindle always in the hand or only just below it, so it can be spun more often but with less force) but I can’t really comment on that, as it’s not something I do enough of to be comfortable giving instructions for.

How much you should attempt to draft at one time if doing short draw depends on the average length of individual ‘hairs’ (the staple length). If you don’t know what that is for the wool you have, pull a few individual fibres out of the end of the fibre supply and check. You should be drafting about ¾ of that length to ensure there’s always overlap. Trying to draft 3-4” of Soay will not work, as the fibres are often only 1-2” long so you'd just be pulling clumps out. Short draw is probably not the best method for short wools, as you will be inching your way laboriously along. Some types of fleece can have a staple length more like 10” so doing just 3” would be wasted effort and could make it more likely that you'd get twist-lock in your fibre and be unable to draft well.

The illustration is odd: the text says the instructions are for right-handers but the drawing shows left-handed spinning (the hand which drafts the fibre down is the one that spins the spindle, so usually the dominant hand) and it would be more usual to have a light grip with forefinger and thumb where the fibre is being drafted out of the supply (because with short draw you don’t want twist going up into the fibre supply), rather than having it clutched in a fist.

It’s important to not grip the fibre too tightly. Not only will that make it difficult to draft initially but a tight grip, especially in a fist as shown, will mean sweaty hands, and that will cause the fibre to felt. You can’t draft felt, all you can do is tear it. Your fibre should never make a ripping noise as you draft. If it does, either you’re holding too tight or it’s become felted or at least compacted. Compacted fibre is packed tightly together, but hasn’t actually felted yet. If you get a compacted patch in otherwise good fibre, this can usually be remedied by fluffing it out sideways with the fingers. Tight pinching anywhere is a recipe for painful hands, and is also likely to impair the spinning process.

For the sake of absolute beginners, I’d be inclined to explain park-and-draft before true suspended spinning, and probably to go through some more basic things even before that, as if someone doesn’t understand what’s actually going on, they might be able to produce yarn most of the time, but they won’t understand why what they’re doing works, what’s going wrong when it does, or how to fix it. I’ve met people who’ve been spinning for years but who can only make one type of yarn, with one tool, from one type of wool/prep, because they learned the specific motions for that and nothing else.

I found the instructions a little confusing until I realised we’re doing it a little differently. My description, after explaining how to twiddle out an initial make with the fingers and attach it to the spindle, would be something along the lines of:

  • Determine which hand will be spinning the spindle and which holding the fibre. Usually you’ll hold the fibre in your non-dominant hand and spin the spindle with your dominant hand, but that doesn’t work for everyone and some people can do either thing. Some people will switch hands to change spinning direction or to ply. I will therefore be referring to the spindle hand and fibre hand rather than right and left.
  • Pinch slightly above the point where fluff becomes string with the fibre hand, just hard enough to prevent the twist going up any further. In time you’ll get a feel for exactly how hard you need to pinch. Avoid having the fibre supply actually gripped anywhere else, it needs just enough support to not be dropped. If it helps, imagine you're holding a cactus. If you have a long piece of fibre but no distaff, draping it over your forearm with the tail on the outside is usually enough, but if there’s a breeze, wrapping it around a few times might work. If not, just pull off short sections and be ready to do lots of joins. It's worth noting that pretty much any stick of a foot or more long can be a distaff if you want.
  • Start the spindle spinning by your preferred method with the spindle hand. Keep half an eye on it to make sure it keeps spinning all the time you’re drafting. If it looks like it’s approaching the point where it would stop then start spinning the other way, or if it’s just not putting twist in fast enough, start it again. If you’re spending more time restarting it than you are drafting, then chances are your spindle is too light for how thick you’re spinning. If you’re not comfortable going thinner or using a heavier spindle, then you may wish to try park-and-draft for a while instead. As you get more loaded on to the spindle the extra weight should keep it spinning longer and so spinning suspended becomes easier.
  • Grasp the thread with the forefinger and thumb of the spindle hand just below the fibre hand and again, only as hard as is necessary to stop the twist getting past. The spindle hand should be gripping pretty much exactly at the point of transition between thread and fluff, the fibre hand a little back/up from that, so there’s a small triangle of fibre between the hands (the drafting triangle).
  • Relax the hold of the fibre hand and then slowly pull the spindle hand downwards by about ¾ of a staple length. Tighten the fibre hand grip again (not too much remember!), then relax the grip of the drafting hand, allowing the twist to travel up. For a smoother yarn, relax the drafting hand only a tiny amount and slide it upwards until your hands are back in the starting position.
  • Repeat until the spindle is almost hitting the floor but not touching it, and without having to raise your arms. You do not want mud or grass stains on your wool and hitting the ground (or anything else) is likely to cause the spindle to stop and backspin. Nor do you want a bad back from inadvisable arm movements. You can either butterfly the yarn up with one hand and then flick off the half-hitch or just stretch your arms out sideways, flicking the half-hitch off as you do so in order to wind on. Do whichever you find more comfortable (I often do a bit of both), but either way, keep the make under a little tension or it will corkscrew. Trying to get corkscrews out often leads to breaks.
  • When winding on to a spindle of this type, try to make a petal or rugby-ball sort of shape, thicker in the middle, with a little gap above the whorl to avoid pushing the whorl off. The lump of yarn on your spindle is known as the cop.
  • Once you’ve wound most of the make onto your cop, spiral up to the top of the shaft, put on another half-hitch and then do it all again, until your hands are tired or the cop gets quite large and the spindle becomes heavy. There are no prizes for monster cops, and as they get heavier, they make spinning harder work.

A new spinner will be able to do about five minutes before their hands get tired. No, you are not an exception. Really. Stop at this point and go do something else for at least half an hour, preferably longer. You will not progress faster by trying to do more than five minutes at a time at first. Small-muscle fatigue is not the same as large-muscle fatigue: you don’t get achy, you get clumsy. If you suddenly can’t spin worth toffee and it was working fine until then, the most likely thing is that your hands are tired. Stop! Trying to force yourself to continue will do much more harm than good. You will be unconsciously processing what you’ve done for some time afterwards, and if you try to push through small-muscle tiredness, that unconscious processing will be warped. Not only will you not have improved, you may actually reduce your skill level. If there’s something you just don’t get, walk away and try it the following day. Several times, something I couldn’t manage at all on one day was mysteriously effortless the next day. For about five minutes, anyway...

10th century and modern spindles

I’d move most of this up to the spindles or how to spin section, and probably replace this with the plying information. I'd also move the pictures so they’re below the headings which refer to them.

Modern whorls are also more likely to be made from the same material as the spindle shaft and to be permanently attached.

No matter how careful you are, period whorls will come off sometimes. That’s probably why, aside from the fact they tend to be fairly durable materials, so many are found: they fell off and couldn’t be found at the time. My favourite whorls for use on smooth ground or flooring are conical in shape, simply because when they come off they will usually roll in circles rather than skittering off somewhere inaccessible. Unfortunately, there is no shape that will help if a cat gets to the whorl before you do. On grass, the shape makes little difference and I tend to select for visibility, opting for white pottery or shiny metal.

I’d challenge the comment about efficiency: Wider whorls (or more specifically, whorls with their weight further from the shaft) will spin slower but for longer than a similar-weight spindle with a compact whorl when spun with the same amount of force. Thicker yarn resists being twisted more strongly than thinner yarn and also requires less twist in order to be stable. Someone trying to spin a thicker yarn may well find that in order to draft as much as they can with a single spin of a wider whorl spindle, a compact-whorl spindle will need to be restarted several times. Spinning a thinner yarn, you may be able to make the same amount with both, but the wider whorl will produce a lower-twist yarn, which should be softer and so better for nålebinding or weft. Weight is also a factor: a heavier whorl will have more inertia and so be able to overcome more of the wool’s resistance to being twisted. The expectation that modern spinners will be spinning for knitting rather than weaving may be why modern spindles tend towards having wider whorls with the majority of the weight towards the outside.

There are, however, a wide range of modern spindles available. Wide top whorls with a small metal hook which removes the need for a half-hitch are probably the most ubiquitous, but there are also many other styles, such as dealgans which do not have a separate whorl at all as the shaft becomes much thicker towards the bottom or cross-arm spindles where the thread is usually wound under and over the arms in a repeating pattern creating a decorative turtle which the shaft and arms are then pulled out of, leaving a centre-pull ball. There is also considerable variety amongst supported spindles. They can be tiny and have a sharp and often metal point which usually rests within a little bowl but they can also be so large the point rests on the floor and the spinner rolls the top along their thigh.

Another reason why wider whorls may be less common in the archaeological record is that they might have been made of wood, just as andean pushkas are, perhaps because stone or ceramic would have had to be quite thin and therefore brittle in order to keep the weight down. While many modern spindles require a skilled maker and can be extremely decorative (and expensive), pushkas are quick and relatively easy to make, consisting of a whittled shaft and a turned or carved wooden whorl usually flat on top with a dish-shaped bottom. The main difference between pushkas and spindles of our period and area (aside from the type of wood) is that the whorl is pushed down from the top of the shaft. While this means it will not fall off, it also means the whorl cannot be removed without first removing the yarn and as the cop usually touches the whorl and gravity tends to make cops slide downwards, over time this pressure can mean the whorl get stuck and might as well be integral.

Many modern spindle-makers put a lot of effort into ensuring that their spindles are very well balanced so that they don't wobble in use. In practice, I find that while wobble is annoying, it isn't actually much of a problem. It's also mostly a top-whorl problem. To minimize the amount I have to finger-spin to get started, I will often use my historical spindle with the whorl at the top for the first make, during which it will wobble a great deal, but once that's done, I turn it the other way up and the wobble is almost eliminated. When one of my spinning groups experimented with whorl shapes using modelling clay, using roughly equal weights for each, I made a wide flat(ish) disc, a blob that I just stabbed the stick through, not quite getting the middle, and one that was dubbed the "ritual purposes" whorl (I will let you guess what shape that was, but I definitely wouldn't use it at a show). None of them were particularly well balanced. The wide flat one worked fine as a top-whorl despite having just been pinched into shape with my fingers but, not having much surface area against the stick was very difficult to keep in place bottom-whorl. The other two were dubious as top-whorl, but worked absolutely fine bottom-whorl. As expected, the disc spun for longer, but more slowly.

And Finally

I would finish up with a section on wet-finishing the yarn and winding it into skeins or balls. Skeins should generally be wound and carefully tied in several places before wet finishing. Some people like to just soak their yarn in warm and preferably soapy water for a few minutes and then rinse it, others prefer to treat it very roughly using the hottest water they can stand to put their hands in (washing up gloves mean you can go even hotter if you're not at a show), and some also like to 'thwack' it - holding one end of the skein, slap the wet yarn as hard as you can against a smooth surface such as a tiled wall or bathtub. Give the skein a half turn and repeat. If you have a loop skein rather than a figure-8 skein, you can do quarter turns.

The skein can then be dried. Those who like to treat their yarn roughly may well wring it out. At home, I like to put skeins into a salad spinner (which does not get used for food) to get as much water out as possible, and sometimes I will then also roll them up in a towel and tread on it to squeeze out still more. At a show, you could instead put a length of yarn or string through the end of the skein and use it as a handle to whirl the skein above your head. You shouldn't get wet, but others around you will, so don't do so without warning! After that, I hang them up somewhere to dry properly (or leave them on a windowsill, but that has a high chance of becoming a cat bed).

After all this, the skein is likely to be a bit of a mess, so once it's properly dry, remove the ties, careful not to lose the hole through the middle, and either roll into a ball or re-skein. Balls are best done around a small core. Felt balls work nicely for this and can be made by wetting and rolling some combing waste into a rough ball and then chucking it in a hot wash and through the tumble dryer with jeans or other cottons. I have used towels but the balls are more likely to stick to them.

I have found that idle warriors and others in the LHE who for whatever reason have nothing to do make good yarn management tools (though it's probably a good idea to try to only use people of your own status or lower). Spindles can be laid in crooked index fingers for winding off and if you have two, you could ply directly from them this way. Skeins can be wound around their outstretched hands, though using a bent knee and a foot (assuming both are clean and dry) or hand and elbow for smaller skeins is usually more comfortable and should result in a more even skein. If you have a pair, they can also be positioned at whatever distance you need for measuring out warps, though one and a convenient post of some sort also works.

Figure-8 skeins should not tangle (unless you lose track of the hole through them) and so are probably best to use before wet finishing or dyeing, but a loop skeins twist up more neatly for storage or display. Balls are better for use, especially when measuring warps as they can be held in caged fingers or bowled between the people at either end.

My footnotes:

(1) It's entirely possible (if rather tedious) to 'spin' yarn by just twiddling the raw fibres in your fingers and then wrapping them onto something to stop them untwisting (this is how I get started with an empty spindle).

I'd also be inclined to mention that the much longer plant fibres (or rather bast fibres, cotton being of no interest to us) may have been spliced rather than spun in some cases. While I don't work with bast fibres as I don't like how they feel, and it refers to well before our period (splicing being an older technique than spinning with tools) I still found Sally Pointer’s video about spliced nettle fibre interesting, as was the talk I attended about the Must Farm textiles which were also spliced.

If not for cloth, then splicing may well still have been used for rope and string in our period.

Back Up to 1

(2) The Lendbreen tunic recreation project turns up semi-regularly on one of my spinning groups and causes considerable annoyance. The amount of time taken seems very much inflated, and the price, equivalent to about £30,000, was based on paying people more than £40/hour. I'm not saying it isn't nice that they felt craftspeople deserved a high wage, especially when the last known professional knitter of Shetland lace wedding shawls can't sell them unless she pays herself less than minimum wage (check her prices against the time taken for the items), but using that as the basis of comparison for a domestic chore is ludicrous.

For that reason, I couldn't resist some back-of-an-envelope maths. Thinking that women who'd learned to spin as children, on low-whorl spindles, and who now make their living from spinning and weaving would be more comparable to the spinners in our period, I asked Abby Franquemont what rate Peruvian production spindlers work at. She said that they could produce 1-2kg of khaitu (the extremely high-twist two-ply weaving yarn they use for the traditional textiles they make both for their own use and for sale) in a week. Even if they're spinning 10 hours a day every day, that's still only 175 hours at most. The khaitu I have here is around the same diameter as that indicated in the article about the original tunic (0.5mm) and from the weight and length of that small amount, I worked out that 2.5kg of that would have been around 8 miles of yarn.

There's a thread on a Ravelry board which starts "About a week ago, DH read an assertion that it took eight miles of thread to weave a Viking tunic. Now that I want the link for the reference, neither of us can find it". The reference never did surface (I'd love it if anyone does have it), but it seems 8 miles is a reasonable figure. A friend took part in a one-hour spindle challenge at her guild and produced 91m of yarn. At that rate, she'd have 8 miles in just under 142 hours (though probably not consecutively, endurance being an issue for those unused to spinning for long periods). Opinions were divided on whether the test spinners had been expected to prepare the wool as well, however - if it wasn't included in the spinning time, the video left it out.

Iceland did not have any silver, so used other things for currency, famously fabric. According to this paper the older cow-based currency system kúgildi specified that a cow (which "had to be medium-sized, aged between three and ten winters, horned, without blemish and in milk") was equivalent to a dozen one-year-old sheep or 120 ells of fabric. So, 10 ells of fabric cost one sheep and should have been plenty for making the Lendbreen tunic. While some sheep sell for ridiculous amounts it seems unlikely that run-of-the-mill sheep were ever worth the equivalent of £30,000. I've seen Soay/Shetland shearlings advertised on Facebook for £60 each and the most expensive shearling I could see on a site which seemed to be the equivalent of autotrader for livestock was £350 for a Jacob ram. Texels tend to be expensive, especially the rams, but they are ridiculously large sheep - rams 100kg or more - and nothing like them existed in our period. My favourite primitive sheep is the Manx Loaghtan. Manx rams are about 60kg. Soay rams, less than 40kg. I could not find any cows fitting the description.

If we dismiss the spinning time as it would have been incidental, happening in idle moments and during other tasks, and the 160 hours to weave the fabric for the tunic is accurate (I do not know any weavers with extensive experience of warp-weighted looms so I can't comment) then it seems that either we vastly undervalue ordinary sheep, or the Icelanders considered domestic labour to be worth between 37p and £2 per hour. I suspect that actually, our sheep are cheaper, the weaving time would have been shorter, and domestic labour was still undervalued.

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(3) There is some suspicion that the tendency to use these terms incorrectly comes from, or is at the least greatly exacerbated by, online vendors intentionally mislabelling the prepared fibre they are selling in order to have their products come up in as many searches as possible. This is incredibly frustrating for buyers whose searches are therefore polluted by large amounts of things they do not want but often have to click on to determine that.

Spinning from a carded prep does not necessarily result in a soft fluffy thread and spinning from a combed prep does not necessarily result in a strong, hard thread: Many people think in terms of yarns being either woolen or worsted but the vast majority of yarns are not really either. Woolen tends to be used to mean a low-twist yarn, spun long-draw (ie, the hands, if hands are involved at all, are kept well apart and there is twist in the drafting zone) from a carded prep whereas worsted is used to mean a high-twist yarn, spun short-draw (hands are kept less than a staple length apart and twist is not allowed to enter the drafting zone) from the tip of a combed prep.

An awful lot of what I spindle-spin would fit that description of worsted, and I hardly ever use carded preps (not even rolags, because I'm bad at making them), but I will sometimes spin lower-twist yarns long-draw from the fold of a combed prep when I want a lighter, airier yarn. The vast majority of the wheel spinning I do is a hybrid draw technique that those who insist on a woolen/worsted binary seem to think doesn't exist: my hands are more than a staple length apart but less so than they would be with a true long-draw, and some twist is allowed into the drafting zone. It's faster than short-draw and I can easily vary how much twist I'm putting in depending on what sort of yarn I want.

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(4) I usually twist my hand-combed top into little 'birds nests' to help stop them getting messed up before I’m ready to use them, but I unwind them to load them onto my distaff. When I first acquired a hand-distaff, I couldn't find much information about how to load a distaff with combed fibre. There was one site which suggested hanging shortish strips of top from the top of the distaff, which I assume was a misinterpretation of a depiction of the way the longer flax fibres would likely have been loaded. I mostly just add a little twist to the light, airy strips of top help keep the strands separated as I wind them around the distaff. This ends up looking like candyfloss on a stick, matching most other depictions of distaffs from just after our period. I will usually then hold the fibre in place with a narrow woven band tied to the top of the distaff and wound around the wool a couple of times. If the band is long enough, I will often make a loop from the base of the fibre to the base of the handle, which I can slide my hand into, as this means I don’t really need to hold the distaff, only support it. I find gripping it makes my hand ache and I have more fingers free to manage the wool if I don’t. I have no historical basis for this whatsoever, it’s just something I came up with to make spinning a little easier while wandering around a local park.

Back Up to 4

--Random C (talk) 22:43, 18 July 2022 (BST)

....aaand I just noticed the 'textile production' file in the docstore which I'd apparently downloaded ages ago and then not read.