Historic spinning sounds from Estonia and the UK

Here is Liis, spinning on an Estonian double-drive spinning wheel.

During her travels in Estonia, Felicity learned from Julika that double-drive wheels became popular in rural Estonia throughout the 1800s and during the following century. Even after serfdom was abolished, villeinage was still payable by village dwellers to German Landlords, and women sometimes paid this villeinage in handspun yarn. The first Estonian vocabulary for different parts of the spinning wheel comes from the end of the 18th century as well as the beginning of the 19th century. In the larger cities spinning wheels were used earlier – from the 16th century – but in the countryside, textiles for the family were largely produced from sheep-to-shoulders entirely in the home, and workable yarn was quicker to spin on a wheel than with a drop-spindle. The double-drive wheel allowed Estonian women living outside of the big cities to churn out all the yarn required by demanding Landlords and the need to clothe their families. Julika has an article on the history of handspinning in Estonia coming out in Yarnmaker magazine if you want to learn more about this subject.

Felicity also learned from Liis that the double-drive wheel is appropriate for spinning very fine, high-twist yarns at great speed. These qualities have influenced much of the historic knitwear in Estonia – especially intricate colour work and delicate lace shawls – which could not have been produced with the thicker, chunkier, lower-twist yarns produced on other types of wheels.

Liis also discusses the tradition of women handing their spinning wheels down through the generations.

In contrast, the sound of yarn being industrially spun in the UK – at a historic and still-functioning mill – is presented alongside this domestic, historic, Estonian sound. At the time when the double-drive wheel was spreading throughout rural Estonia, many of the communities in the UK which had created textiles domestically were being transformed by various inventions and the industrial up-scaling of UK woollen cloth production. Where for centuries families had scoured, spun and woven woollen cloth at home in the UK in systems similar to those found in Estonia, giant mill complexes shifted the production of textiles from the home into the factory.

It is conceivable that if one could have had an ear in Estonia and an ear in the UK during the early 1800s, one could have simultaneously heard the sounds of spinning wheels and spinning mills. Felicity is still trying to ascertain when the first spinning mills appeared in Estonia, and when exactly the widely-spread practice of creating woollen textiles inhouse in the UK died out… all help with fact-finding appreciated!

In the meantime, and back to the subject of sounds…

This is the sound of the machinery operating at Coldharbour Mill in Devon – a 200 year old spinning mill set in the village of Uffculme. Coldharbour Mill was built by Thomas Fox to spin woollen (and later worsted) yarns in 1799.

An industrial, historic, UK sound of yarn being spun and a domestic, historic, Estonian sound of yarn being spun.

Thanks to Liis and Julika.

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