Spinners and Weavers

Atayal tribe loom, Taiwan

Atayal tribe loom, Taiwan

How did your spinner or weaver ancestor work? Old practices from the modern world…

People wear clothes as protection against sun, rain, snow and cold. Cavemen wore animal skins until, somewhere in the mists of time, somebody invented the technology of spinning and weaving.  Before the industrial revolution, making clothes was a labour intensive activity where women spun and men, because of the heavy work involved, wove.  Everything changed once the factory system was invented in the 18th century. Because women were cheaper to employ than men, they became weavers. Initially, because spinning machines were heavy,  men were employed as spinners and, of course, earned more.  Even into the 20th century, however,  silk weavers working a Jacquard Loom were male.    The Equal Pay Act in the UK was as recent as 1970!

Spinning and weaving  

Atayal tribe spindles, Taiwan.

Atayal spindles, Taiwan.

Spindles add twist to fibre so that yarn is strong enough for weaving into fabric.  Even into the 20th Century, Atayal women in Taiwan, spun at home using  bamboo spindles.   Once fibre had been spun, it was woven into brightly coloured fabric using shuttles made of wood. This practice would be recognised by anyone throughout history; the ancient Greek, the Vikings, the Medieval woman in her castle, the early 19th century cottager in Wales or Devon.

Atayal tribe shuttle for weaving

Atayal shuttle for weaving

The spinning wheel of Sleeping Beauty fame was introduced into Europe circa 1350.


My forthcoming book, to be published by the Society of Genealogists, gives family historians genealogical sources and an insight into the lives of their ancestors.    Until then, I hope these photos wet your appetite.  Whilst waiting for the eagerly anticipated publication of  My Ancestors Worked in Textile Mills’you can always read Tracing Your Trade and Craftsman Ancestors or from