Presentation by: THL Lucia Thaylur


I was very excited when I first heard about the "Tunic for Thorfinn" project and immediately volunteered my services as a spinner. I completed 3,658 yards spun "Z" for warp and approximately 2,864 yards spun "S" for weft.

The weaver established a criterion for the project. The fiber was to be spun at 30 WPI (wraps per inch) using commercially cleaned and carded roving from Roscoe the sheep. Well into the project, it was determined that while Roscoe had been generous at shearing time, his fleece was not large enough to complete the yardage requirements. Additional Border Leicester roving was purchased from Woodland Woolworks in order to complete the project in a timely manner.


  1. Unspun fiber commercially cleaned and prepared as roving (carded).
  2. Method: Drop spindle Twist: Z Length: 4o yards Use: comparison of drop spindle to wheel spun yarn (sample # 3)
  3. Method: Wheel spun Twist: Z Length: 16 yards Use: warp
  4. Method: Wheel spun Twist: S Length: 15 yards Use: weft
  5. Hank of yarn, wheel spun, Z twist, 1 ounce (100 yards), sample of warp.



One of the earliest, and most crucial steps in the manufacture of fabric was the idea of taking individual pieces of plant material or animal fiber and combining these into one continuous length of thread which is stronger and thicker than individual strands of fiber. The process of twisting fibers together by hand is very tedious. What do you do with the fiber after it's been twisted? If you let go of twisted thread to make more, it will immediately kink into an unmanageable mess or will untwist. The worldwide solution to this problem was the invention of the handspindle.

A handspindle is any tool that can be rotated by hand to twist and hold yarn or thread. Hochberg believes the oldest spinning tool in most cultures was a spinning stick. Once the fiber was twisted by hand or rolled along the thigh, it was wrapped onto a stick to allow the process to continue (1977. p.10). By the Neolithic era people discovered that adding a small disk called a spindle whorl, reduced the wobble of the spinning stick and prolonged the spin (Barber, 1994. p. 34).

For more than 5,000 years our western culture relied on the handspindle to spin all the thread for household linens, blankets, clothing and the sails for ships (Hochberg, 1977, p. 10). The whorl is one of the most commonly found tools in female graves of the Viking Age (After Kroft. Ingstad. p.10).

The two principal types of handspindles are bottom weighted, where the whorl is placed onto the lower part of the stick and top-weighted where the whorl is placed onto the upper part of the stick. Unfortunately, whorls and sticks are seldom found intact ( Nyberg, p. 75).

Stone spindle whorls

Stone spindle whorls, Nos. 14-16:Scale 1:1
Late Saxon Textiles. (Pritchard. p. 67)

The spindle whorls are made from various materials including bone, antler, lead, clay and potshard (Rogers, p.1731-49, AY 17/11).
Wooden spindle with stone whorl

Wooden spindle with a stone whorl from the Norwegian Osberg find.
9th century, AD. 29.3. (After Grieg. Nyberg. p. 76).


Wool is only a few inches in length, so we need a way to make a thread longer than individual fibers. Overlapping fibers will cause "lumpy spots" at the join. To get a smooth even thread, we need a way to keep a constant flow of fibers drawn from the mass. The process of pulling fibers from the mass is called drafting.

To keep fibers arranged for spinning, they need some preparation. There are two ways to arrange fibers for spinning. In 10th century York, wool combs and handcards would have been used to prepare the wool. Wool combs are used to align fibers to make worsted yarn. Combs were warmed and dipped into a pot of grease consisting of butter, olive oil or animal fat, which helped to lubricate the wool and prevent the fibers from becoming damaged. Woolen yarns are produced using handcards and made from shorter staple wool unsuitable for combs. Combs generally have one or two rows of teeth whereas cards have several rows. (Crowfoot, 1992, p. 15-17). Worsted yarns are very strong and feel hard to the touch. The fibers are packed together in parallel fashion as they are twisted together. The yarn from carded fiber is softer, weaker and breaks more easily (Barber, 1994, p 36).


The comb is in place on the combing stock and the second comb is then passed through the wool until all the wool has been drawn off leaving the short noils to be cycled separately. This process is repeated until sufficient quantity is ready for spinning (Crowfoot.1992. p 16)

HANDCOMBS. Drawing courtesy of Spin Off (p. 2).


Handcards have numerous rows of small sharp teeth evenly spaced and fairly close together. They are used to prepare soft fuzzy yarns called woolen.

HANDCARDS. Drawing courtesy of Spin Off. ( p.2 ).


The majority of fiber used for textiles in medieval England was wool. (Crowfoot, p. 15). Most of the wool fiber found at Coppergate is described as "hairy medium type" ranging in color from light to medium brown (Walton, p. 434). The crimp of the lock presented by Walton, appears to have the same crimp as that of Border Leicester. Pritchard says "The predominance of the 'hairy medium' wool reflects the primitive character of most of the sheep. True medium wool (primitive longwool) and shortwool represent more highly evolved types of fleece and appear not to have become common until the late 15th century," (p.50).

Plate XVI Selection of Anglo-Scandinavian wool staples discussed by M.L. Ryder; from left to right, 1374, hairy fleece type; 1376, hairy medium; 1378, M.L. Ryder suggests medium; 1377 generalized medium. Length of 1374, 90mm. (Walton. Microfiche).

Border Leicester. (Fournier & Fournier, p.56).
NOTE: comparison shows the difference between what was "period" and what was chosen to complete the project when we ran out of Roscoe.


Woolen yarns from Anglo-Scandinavian textiles show a variety of spinning techniques, from smooth and even to soft and irregular, with different types combined in the same textile (Ryder, p. 315). Pritchard tells us there are several grades of yarn, prepared for spinning in different ways:

Yarn type 1: after removing dirt and sometimes dyeing, coarse wools are spun straight from the fleece. Smooth yarn requires long fibers and well-greased fleece. Yarns are spun both Z and S twist depending whether the spindle was turned in a clockwise (Z) or counterclockwise (S) motion. The S pun yarns were not twisted as hard producing softer and fluffier yarn used for weft. The yarn was produced with a fluctuating degree of twist, ranging from 15 to 50 degrees, resulting in uneven yarn. Yarn type 2 is fine and lustrous, combed or worsted yarn, Z spun, with a 45 degree angle of twist. Yarn type 3 is woolen yarn, with a 30-45 degree angle of twist. The fiber was teased out by hand into a loose mass or roving and then spun with a S twist and used only for weft (p. 50).

To spin yarn from fiber you must be able to draw fibers from an unspun mass, twist the fiber into yarn and wind up the spun yarn (Hochberg, 1977, p18).

Completed bundle of wool yarn.


Plate XXXIIIb Knotted bundle of wool yarn, 1428, from the medieval period. Total length of bundle, 0.40m (Walton, microfiche).


Photograph 1. Knotted bundle of wool which I handspun. Total length of bundle 80cm.


Checking Consistency: As the warp and weft were to be spun to the same specifications of 30 WPI, I used the system of measuring I learned from Patsy Zawistoski's video "Spinning Wool-the basics and beyond". Mark a one-inch line on a straight stick or pencil and wrap the yarn around the stick without overlapping it. Frequent checking assures consistency throughout the project.


Photograph 2. Using a system to insure consistent spinning throughout the project.

Z and S spun yarns

The direction in which the yarn is twisted depends on whether the spindle was rotated to the right (Z spun) or to the left (S spun). Combed wool was usually Z-twisted in the medieval period but that used for the weft could be S-twisted and softer spun (Crowfoot, p. 16). Barber says much ink has been consumed over the reasons for the differences of the twist; however, there is no satisfactory answer. Wool has a vectorless crimp but does not have a twist like cotton or linen so it can be spun satisfactorily in either direction (p.66).


From left to right: Z-twist, aligned fibers, S-twist, fiber spun tight, fiber spun loose. (Walton. Fig. 124, p. 317).

Angle of twist was determined using the chart provided with the video "The Essentials of Yarn Design for Handspinners" by Mable Ross.


Drafting Method:

The "short-draw" style was used throughout the spinning process. For the short draw method of spinning, allow about 3-4 inches between the lead hand and the follow hand. The primary function of the lead hand is to pinch off the yarn preventing the twist from traveling into the mass of fiber being held by the follow hand. The primary function of the follow hand is to draft more fibers from the mass. The twist is allowed to build up between the lead hand and the follow hand. Once the yarn has the desired amount of twist, pinch off using the follow hand and allow the spindle to drop or let the yarn be pulled into the orifice (Simmons. p 95-97).



Photograph 4. Pinching off with the lead hand and drafting new fiber with the follow hand.

Photograph 3. Pinching off with the
lead hand and drafting new fiber.

The warp yarn was spun at about 28 degrees to assure it would hold together.

Photograph 5. Warp yarn appears sleeker and smoother than weft.

The weft yarn was spun with a 20 degree angle of twist but at the same WPI as the warp.


Photograph 6. Weft yarn appears soft and fuzzy.

Spinning Method

I spun a 40 yd. sample using a handspindle to compare it with the yarn spun using my spinning wheel. The handspindle I used for the sample is a top- whorl, weighing just under two ounces. The wheel I used for spinning is a single treadle, saxon-type Mowbray made by Timbertops. The wheel is a double drive belt with bobbin lead. The wheel's ratio was set at 14:1 for warp and 10:1 for weft with very little tension set on the bobbin. Little or no significance was noted between the samples. As I'm wired together at the knees, I decided standing for the duration required to use a drop spindle for the project was totally out of the question. The total spinning time was about 120 hours.


The yarn was completed in a timely manner and both warp and weft met the weaver's specifications. Initially, I was concerned about my ability to spin the warp. Yarn spun on a spindle has passed an endurance test. If the yarn holds together until the spindle hits the ground it is spun tightly enough to withstand the rigors of warp. Wheel spun yarn, on the other hand, passes no such test. It is passed into the orifice at the spinner's discretion. This dilemma was well noted in the Spinning Guild Regulations from Speyer, (c. 1298). The regulation decrees yarn spun on spinning wheels was to be used only for weft (CIBA Review, p 990-991). After spinning a few yards, I discussed the yarn with the weaver and she felt it would work. After spinning several bobbins, I gained the confidence necessary to speed up the process and things became easier.


Working on the " Tunic for Thorfinn Project," provided me a working understanding of the time and effort involved in the daily struggle for basic survival in 10th century York. Previous times studies indicate that combing and carding takes 3-4 times longer than actual spinning. Using a wheel is three times faster than using a drop spindle. Instead of the 120 hours to spin the fiber, I would have invested 630 hours just to reach this point! Not only would I do it again, I would be the first to encourage others to take on a similar project. I think it would be great to get a group together with some people carding and others spinning, much as it would have been done in York. Group fellowship tends to make such tasks much more fun! Category: Spinning


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Princeton University Press, New Jersey. 1991 ISBN 0-691-03587-0
___________, Women’s Work the first 20,000years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times. W.W. Norton &
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Alexis Abarria, aka Lady Cassandra of Glastonbury, for providing access to her private library and guidance on the documentation process.

Don Mead, aka Lord Donegal, for patience in photographing what I thought I wanted and various lessons in working on computers (it went WHERE???).

Larissa Lefler, aka, Lady Erennach, for proofreading.