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Drop spinning and social status

Posted: Sun Oct 18, 2009 11:28 am
by Pelican
Hi, since the end of the season I've finally found time to learn to drop spin, unsurprisingly an addiction to drop spinning has followed... someone has since said how high status an activity drop spinning is. Now I'm slightly confused, I didn't believe it to be a *high high* status activity, although I have seen some lovely pictures of groups of women spinning and working wool, with one woman in a fashionable gown standing over the others in working kirtles, spinning, carding etc (although for the life of me I can't find the source now I can see it in my head!). Has anyone got any ideas, preferably with a pretty picture, of just how far up and down the social scale drop spinning went?

Re: Drop spinning and social status

Posted: Sun Oct 18, 2009 11:31 am
by Pelican
Sorry just one more point, I'm looking at late 15th century.

Re: Drop spinning and social status

Posted: Sun Oct 18, 2009 2:13 pm
by Tuppence
how in god's name can it be hight status?

even poor people need clothes.

Re: Drop spinning and social status

Posted: Sun Oct 18, 2009 6:55 pm
by Handbag
it was one of those activities that everyone seemed to do rich or poor. the simplicity of the equipment required doesnt make this the worlds most expensive activity but one that was part of life necessity so everyone seems to have got in on the act.
have a look at Karens site - it has a page on spinning with loads of images of all ranges of society indulging in this most rewarding activity!!

http://www.larsdatter.com/spinning.htm

Re: Drop spinning and social status

Posted: Mon Oct 19, 2009 12:45 pm
by Colin Middleton
It sounds like 'work' to me, in which case wouldn't be appropriate to the gentry (getting your hands dirty and all that). On the other hand, some-one must have spun silk, so who?

Re: Drop spinning and social status

Posted: Mon Oct 19, 2009 1:14 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
It is work in the strictest sense but if you read courtly literature it appears enough to warrent being regarded as a social activity as well among the high born. The difference being that they might be engaging in it as a way of relaxing while chatting and reading or even for charitable ends rather than as a means of production or out of need.
I'd be wary of making comments about working with the hands as being regarded as "base", there were many savy buissness minded gentlemen and women who were happy (or required the need to) get their hands dirty. There are also the romantic notions/conatations of the "noble, honest shepperd" being closer to God through his hard work then the effete courtier who makes his/her living through disreputable means. Sure this is more the case in Italy and really is more about the whole rounded man of the world (I read, write poems, fight, sing and dance, plan the overthrow of the duke AND do a bit of gardening just because I'm one of the boys and not just a fabulously rich merchant banker okay?) Humanisim thing.

Re: Drop spinning and social status

Posted: Mon Oct 19, 2009 9:18 pm
by Pelican
Thank you all. Glad to find out that I haven't quite lost all of my marbles yet... I did wonder if the person that made that comment misunderstood and thought I was spinning silk, in which case according to 'The Ties That Bound' was one of the best paid jobs for a single townswoman so OK, not lowest of the low status but not very high status either. I like Marcus' response about businesswomen getting their hands "dirty" (not that spinning is the dirtiest of tasks, perhaps that's why I enjoy it so much!) and taking part in the work themselves, that would explain the images I've seen of the lower and for want of a better term "middle" classes doing the same activity at the same time in their respective fashions.

Do excuse my slightly absuard and basic question but wool working and the wool trade is something I am completely starting from scratch in terms of knowledge and skills.

Re: Drop spinning and social status

Posted: Tue Oct 20, 2009 1:11 pm
by Colin Middleton
Pelican wrote:Do excuse my slightly absuard and basic question but wool working and the wool trade is something I am completely starting from scratch in terms of knowledge and skills.
Didn't see any 'slightly absurd' or 'basic' question. You've actually raised quite an interesting point.

Marcus, I'm refering to some concepts referenced in Origins of the English Gentleman. They state who is 'good enough' to sit with a knight and tend to exclude most manual tasks as 'un-knightly'. You can practice law or trade as a merchant if you must, but you shouldn't actually have to MAKE anything (which I guess would be stepping on the toes of the common man who's place under God is to do the actual WORK). Naturally, these are idealised principals so as likley to be followed as a bad tempered skunk, but they give an idea fo the thinking going on.

I have heard of gentlewomen doing the tablet weaving because they're the only ones who can afford the materials...

Re: Drop spinning and social status

Posted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 8:56 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
You're right that there was certainly prejudice against those who made money and even more against those who made stuff, I can't help coming at it from a slightly different angle because of the type of person I portray which means I consider Humanistic notions which are already beginning to regard painters, sculptors, even chefs as being worthy "artists" in their own right (while they still have to prove they are more than mere artisans by designing seige towers and uniforms and so on).

Re: Drop spinning and social status

Posted: Thu Oct 22, 2009 11:08 am
by Brother Ranulf
When I was looking at drop spinning equipment in the 12th century I was struck by the range of materials used for the weight on the spindle (the whorl).

Some of these whorls are simply bits of chalk or limestone, drilled and shaped - I made an exact replica of a chalk example found at York in about half an hour, it's so soft you can use a saw, knife and other hand tools. Others are of bone, various types of stone or cast metal, sometimes even with inset decoration or with designs cast on the surface. I am not sure that any wooden examples survive, but I would be surprised if wood such as oak was not sometimes used for the whorl.

The difference in the cost of these materials would tend to point to different social classes using them; this illustration from the Hunterian Psalter of about 1170 is a noblewoman with a spindle and distaff, although it represents the Biblical Eve (her chair is definitely high status):

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: ... inning.jpg

Re: Drop spinning and social status

Posted: Thu Oct 22, 2009 12:20 pm
by Langley
The greatest concentration of finds of whorls in Winchester were along the river where washing of clothes was done and in the market square. They were mostly simple weights and undecorated. the type of whorl you find in differnet places seems to depend on wha the local materials available for making them were, stone, pottery or wood etc. The easier to decorate materials were more likely to be decorated. I guess that says something about status of the majority of spinsters. Also recall that it takes a lot more people to spin wool (or indeed, linen) than to weave it. You will find lots of illustrations of women of many status levels going about their ordinary business and spinning at the same time. Whorls tend to be found in places like markets because people carried their spinning with them but stuck it in their belt to free up their hands when they needed to examine the goods on sale etc. Great way to loosen the whorl and have it drop off as you walked away carrying the new purchase. I'm surprised TORM floor isn't littered with the things...