From the introduction of the spinning wheel to England during the later Middle Ages to its eclipse by powered spinning machines early in the nineteenth century, hand-spun yarn was vital to the success of the textile industries that dominated English manufacturing. Indeed, hand spinning – of wool, flax and ultimately cotton – became the principal income-generating activity pursued by women. For many of those women, it was also an essential means of furnishing their own families with textiles. Spinning was, at one and the same time, the foundation of England’s rise to pre-eminence in the international trade in textiles, and a crucial means by which rural families supplied themselves with cloth.
Yet hand spinning before the Industrial Revolution is typically dismissed as a low-productivity bottleneck that needed to be overcome in the forward march of economic and technological progress. It has rarely been studied in its own right. ‘Spinning in the Era of the Spinning Wheel’ aims to remedy this deficiency. It originated as a five-year research project, funded by the European Research Council and led by Professor John Styles at the University of Hertfordshire, UK. Its objective is a comprehensive history of hand spinning in England between 1400 and 1800.