Spinning, pp.276-279.

[Scottish National Memorials Contents]

   The primitive form of spinning apparatus of Scotland, as of all nations, was the simple spindle and distaff or rock, implements which continue to this day to be used in the out-lying islands and the more remote regions of the Highlands, as testified by the eye witness of Sir Arthur Mitchell (vide The Past in the Present – Rhind Lectures, Edinburgh, 1880). Of the manner of spinning, and something of the social habits of the people, we obtain a glimpse in the versified tale called the Piper of Peebles, published by William Anderson in 1793. 

Twa hunder year, or mair sin’ syne 

Fan fashions werna near sae fine, 

•     •     •     •     •     •    • 

Fan lasses, wi’ their rocks set out 

To ane anither night about – 

Wad gane a mile o’ grund an’ mair, 

Sometimes nae very free o’ fear. 

   To hear auld stories ilka night 

In winter fan there was moonlight, 

Upo’ their spindles, near the tap, 

They biggit ay a bulgy knap 

O’ thread, cross-brath’d, firm to defend 

The rest frae reav’ling o’er the end. 

Sometimes they strave, an’ them that wan. 

Aye thocht they first deserv’d a man. 

To save their plaiding coats, some had 

Upo’ the haunch a bonnet braid 

Or an auld wecht, or kairding skin, 

To rub an’ gar the spindle rin 

Down to the ground wi’ twirlin’ speed, 

An’ twine upo’ the floor the thread; 

An’ some their right-side cleas rowed up, 

An’ snoov’d upo’ the nakit hip. 

Lang winter nights they counted half 

Done, fan they coost their whorles aff. 

They row’d their yarn upon hand reels, 

Afore the use o’ spinning-wheels:- 

Tell’d ilka cut that they ty’d up, 

By double dooncomes, jig, an’ whup, 

An’ scores, an’ so forth, as exact 

As reels can count, that’s made to chack. 

   Here we have the rock and spindle, the whorls or weights of stone, metal, or other heavy substance to give weight and momentum to the rotating spindle, and the hand-reel all alluded to as being the implements of the spinster before the use of wheel either for spinning or reeling. About the fourteenth century an apparatus called the ‘Tom’ was introduced, which was merely a stand or frame for supporting the spindle and rock apart from the spinner. The precise year or period when any form of spinning-wheel came to be known and used in Scotland we do not know. A simple wheel has been in use in the East from time immemorial, and among the papers of Leonardo da Vinci there exist drawings which show that that marvellous artist and mechanician suggested the use of the spindle, with bobbin and flyer, as introduced at a much later date. The first efficient spinning-wheel consisted simply of a wheel of large diameter, provided with a band which passed around it, and a wharve or small pulley fixed on the end of the spindle mounted in horizontal bearings. The rotation of the large wheel communicated rapid rotary motion to the spindle, which both twisted the yarn and wound it up on its own surface when spun. The simple wheel – the charka of the East – was not unknown in Europe in the fourteenth century, as evidenced by a drawing in a MS. of that date in the British Museum. In the famous picture by Velasquez, ‘The Tapestry Weavers,’ a wheel of this form is a prominent object. In Scotland the apparatus came to be known as the ‘Muckle Wheel’ in contradistinction to the small wheel worked by treadle motion of later date. The small wheel, originally called the Saxon wheel, has to a large extent supplanted the ‘muckle wheel,’ although the use of the latter is yet known to many persons. The Saxon wheel was moved by a treadle, which connected with the wheel by a wooden shaft and crank-axle. The spindle was provided with a bobbin, on which the spun yarn was wound, and also mounted on the spindle was a flyer, which, rotating at a higher rate of speed than spindle and bobbin. gave the requisite twist to the yarn. The arms of the flyer were provided with a range of bent teeth or wires, over which the yarn was passed to the bobbin, it being moved by hand from tooth to tooth as required to equalise the distribution of the spun material on the bobbin. The ultimate improvement of the spring wheel consisted in mounting two spindles with bobbins and flyers on one wheel, so that an expert spinner could spin with both hands two threads simultaneously. This last development only took effect in Scotland about the year 1764; but about the same time the inventions of Paul, Hargreaves, Arkwright, and others, were preparing the way for the introduction of machine-spinning, which was to sweep away the entire domestic industry, and lay the foundations of the enormous factory industry, which is the great industrial feature of modern times. That, even well into the eighteenth century, spinning with the wheel was not well known or generally practised in Scotland, is obvious from the fact that one of the first acts of the Board of Trustees for Manufactures in Scotland, established under the Act of Union, but not embodied till 1727, was to institute throughout the country spinning-schools which were provided with wheels for the use of scholars. The scholars who attended these schools for three sessions, from 13th October till 15th April, six hours every lawful day, were to have the wheel which they used for themselves. 

   The method of using the hand-reel ‘before the use of wheel or pirn,’ and the means by which the ‘spindle’ was counted, are alluded to in the Piper of Peebles. The ‘hand’ reel, it is there said, was as exact in its effect as was the subsequent and still-used Wheel Reel, which is provided with a rachet motion, which gives a ‘chack’ or sound when a definite number of revolutions of the reel has been made. 

   HAND-REEL, from Lesmahagow. Made in 1718. Used for winding into hanks the home-spun lint or woollen yarn. (See Fig. 193.) 

(1282) Lent by J. B. DALZELL. 

   ROCK. On the top of this the tuft of lint was fixed while the lint was being twisted into thread. From Lesmahagow. (See Fig. 194.) 

(1283) Lent by J. B. DALZELL. 

   TWO SPINDLES, with their Whorls, of different sizes, for fine and coarse thread. These were used for twisting the lint into thread. From Lesmahagow. 

(1284) Lent by J. B. DALZELL. 

   SPINNING-WHEEL, of ancient form, known as the ‘Muckle Wheel.’ 

(1278) Lent by JOHN WATTIE, JUN. 


(1276) Lent by THOMAS SMELLIE. 

   AN OLD SPlNNING-WHEEL. A lady’s wheel for spinning linen, bearing the maker’s name, ‘Dav. Dron, Perth, MDCXXXV.’ These letters may indicate the number of the wheel made, but they cannot represent the date, as such wheels were not in use in Scotland at that time. 

(1285) Lent by MRS. ROSS. 

   OLD SPINNING-WHEEL, which is said to have come from Linlithgow Palace. 


   OLD SPINNlNG-WHEEL, made of iron, the wheel running on steel centres. 

(1279) Lent by ALEXANDER SANDS. 


   PETITION, of Convention of Royal Burghs, as to linen manufacture, etc., dated 19th April 1692. 

(1353) Lent by MATTHEW SHIELDS. 

   THREE HAND-CARDS, formerly used for carding short wool. (See Fig. 195.) 

(1281) Lent by J. B. GREENSHIELDS. 

   CARDING COMB; hand-comb formerly used for combing long wool. (See Fig. 196.) 

(1280) Lent by J. B. GREENSHIELDS. 

   STEELYARD, used in the purchase of lint, which was formerly collected in small quantities throughout the country. 

(1286) Lent by A. C. McINTYRE.

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