It is almost impossible to believe that the spinning wheel was first invented in the early 11th century. The first illustration of an actual spinning wheel dates to 1237 in Baghdad. Other illustrations suggest that the Chinese were spinning as early as 1090! By the 13th Century the spinning wheel had spread to Europe and India.
The spinning wheel replaced hand spinning with a spindle. The first version of the modern spinning wheel is based on mounting the spindle and feeding the wool through. First the spindle was mounted and then the great wheel was added for more efficient feeding of the wool. This process could only produce soft fuzzy wools. It wasn’t until the 19th century when the spinning wheel was mechanized that more sophisticated textures and yarns were produced.
The Great Wheel was one of the earliest types of spinning wheel. The spinner held the spindle in the left hand and slowly turned the wheel with the right hand. It is said that it took 5 spinners to supplier one wool merchant using this method during the 18th century.
The Great Wheel soon became the Treadle Wheel which was powered by the spinner’s foot, like the images we see of Rumple Stiltskin as he spins wool into gold! This development allowed the spinner to use both hands to control and manage the wool as it was being spun into yarn.
The modern version of the Treadle is the electric spinning wheel or e-spinners which, unlike their predecessors are small and portable.
Historically, the spinning wheel increased the productivity of thread making 10 fold! Medieval historian, Lynn White credits the spinning wheel with increased supply of rags for writing on, which ultimately lead to the development of printing!