Who invented the spinning wheel? - Medieval Islamic Clothing
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Spinning Wheel

chinese woman seated in front of a spinning wheel
Spinning wheel in China,
Song Dynasty (the date is unknown)

For more than three thousand years everybody used a drop spindle to spin fibers into cloth. But in the Middle Ages the people of the Islamic Empire were making a lot of money growing cotton and selling cotton cloth, and the people of China were making a lot of money selling silk. It was hard for the slave spinning women to keep up - they couldn't make cloth fast enough. You could buy more women to spin, but then the cloth became too expensive. Scientists went to work on the problem, and by 1237 AD (or maybe a little earlier) they had invented a machine that could spin four times as fast as a drop spindle - a spinning wheel. Nobody knows whether Chinese or Islamic scientists got there first.

middle eastern woman with hijab using a spinning wheel
Spinning wheel in Baghdad
(al-Wasit, 1237 AD)

Thanks to the travelling traders of the Silk Road, it didn't take long to spread the word about the new invention. Soon women all over Europe and Asia were making their lives easier - and clothing cheaper - with the spinning wheel.

Learn by doing: spinning
More about Spinning

Bibliography and further reading about Islamic clothing:

Medieval European clothing
Indian clothing
Islamic food
More about the Islamic Empire
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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