A Proud History
The spinning wheel is an international device, a simple machine that dates back
seven centuries and many continents. Some argue it was developed in China as early as the sixth century for
silk and ramie spinning, while others believe it may have developed later in India for cotton. While
the origins of the spinning wheel remain a mystery, its universal employ in every household guaranteed not only
practical warmth, but creative fashion. It is the same today.
14th century Chinese technical manuals describe an automatic water-powered spinning wheel. While known in Europe by the 14th century, was not in general
use until later. There are pictures from 14th-century England show the spinning wheel raised up on a table, a
contrast to the Great wheel otherwise known as the walking wheel.
Hand powered spinning wheels were powered by the spinner turning a crank for flywheel with their
hand. It was during the 16th century that treadle spinning wheels with flyers were in common use, and gained such
names as the Saxony wheel and the flax wheel. Sometime in the 17th century a foot-pedal or treadle
was added to some 'low' wheels so the spinner could work sitting down.
In the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution had a big effect on the spinning
industry by beginning to mechanize the spinning wheel.
Norwegian households depended on the spinning wheel. A Norway kitchen features a large corner
fireplace, cookstove and two spinning wheels, with drying rack hung overhead. The spinning wheel made in the
Hebrides continues to be hand-built to order, to the traditional design by an island craftsman in the Outer Hebrides. Women brought their spinning wheels to America. There is a third generation
producer of hand-crafted spinning wheels in Ireland. There are many brands of spinning wheel in Europe and
Today, the spinning wheel is known universally, if not used universally. The craftspeople who use
today’s wheels are as passionate about them as their predecessors.