- Spindle (textiles)
A spindle is a wooden spike (known as the shaft) used for spinning wool, flax, hemp, cotton, and other fibres into thread. It is commonly weighted at either the bottom (sometimes called a drop spindle) middle or top, most commonly by a circular or spherical object called a whorl, and may also have a hook, groove or notch, though spindles without these are also common. Spindle whorls have been found in archaeological digs around the world.
Modern spindles are commonly available in high-whorl, low-whorl, centre whorl, or supported varieties. In a high-whorl spindle, the whorl sits very close to the top of the shaft. A hook is placed on the top of the shaft to secure the developing yarn, and the newly-spun yarn is wound around the shaft underneath the whorl. In a low-whorl spindle, the whorl sits near the bottom of the shaft. The newly spun yarn is wound around the shaft just above the whorl. If there is a hook at the upper end of the shaft, the yarn is spiral-wound up the shaft and caught in the hook; if there is no hook at the top, then the yarn is spiral-wound up the shaft and secured with a half hitch (or more, for slippery fibres) at the top. Some low whorl spindles are notched at the top of the shaft to keep the half hitch secured, although this is not necessary. An alternate method of securing the yarn involves passing it down over the edge of the whorl, around the bottom end of the shaft, and back up over the whorl to be secured with a half hitch at the top of the shaft.
The spindle in myth and legend
The spindle is closely associated with many goddesses, including the Germanic Holda, Norse Frigg and Freya, Isis, Artemis and Athena. It is often connected with fate, as the Greek Fates and the Norse Norns work with yarns that represent lives. Because the spinning wheel was not in common use before the 16th century in Europe, the older stories are certainly referring to hand spinning done on a spindle. Chief among these is Sleeping Beauty, where the princess is erroneously shown to prick her finger on some part of a spinning wheel in modern illustrations, rather than a spindle.
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