Wednesday, June 16, 2021



If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Now, I've been a weaver for a very long time and doing the math involved is necessary for a lot of reasons.  But the math that I normally do is pretty specific - do I have enough yarn for this application?  Or no?  I am more concerned about the pounds, not the miles.

So when I read in The Fabric of Civilization by Virginia Postrel that a pair of jeans has about 6 miles of thread in them, it took me aback a bit.  I mean, I *know* that weaving cloth takes miles of yarn, but 6 miles in a pair of jeans?

So I did some quick calculations and yes - depending upon size, style and weight of the type of denim, it is entirely probable that the cloth needed to sew a pair of jeans has about 6 miles of yarn in it.

Ms Postrel makes the case that the trope of the spinster always at her (because it was almost always a 'her') spinning is less about how dainty and delicate a young (or even older) woman was, and more about the miles and miles of yarn needed to make...well...anything.  That Viking fleet that we all love to talk about?  It would take longer to grow, prepare to spin, spin and then weave the cloth than to craft the boat it powered.

And hand made was the ONLY way to get any kind of cloth for all of history, until the Industrial Revolution, which started in the 1700s.  That's just about 400 years ago out of what, 40,000 plus years of working with fibre, making string, making cord, eventually making cloth.

That's a lot of fibre prep and spinning.  No wonder the art of the day showed nearly every female person with a spindle in their hands.  Because using a spindle meant multi-tasking.  You could spin as you walked, looked after the sheep, kept an eye on babies, waited while the pot boiled.  Any second your hands were not needed for something else, they would have been spinning.

It is estimated that a spinning wheel with flyer was developed in the 1400s or so (if I remember correctly).  And then spinsters would gather in public to spin because they could chat, visit, have a creche to look after babies communally, and a good bitch when necessary.  The 'stitch and bitch' circle is far from new.

I am like literally about 50 pages into this book and finding so much information put together in ways that I might have known the individual tidbits, but connected in ways that is making me rethink what I know.

I'm not deep enough into the book to do a proper review - yet.  Let's just say, I am very glad I bought my own copy.  


Anonymous said...

I have the book, I just haven't read it yet. I think I need to move that to the top of my "to read" pile.

Jane McLellan said...

Sounds fascinating.