The notices of spinning in the Bible are confined to ( Exodus 35:25 Exodus 35:26 ; Proverbs 31:19 ; Matthew 6:28 ) The latter passage implies (according to the Authorized Version) the use of the same instruments which have been in vogue for hand-spinning down to the present day, viz. the distaff and spindle. The distaff however, appears to have been dispensed with, and the term so rendered means the spindle itself, while that rendered "spindle" represents the whirl of the spindle, a button of circular rim which was affixed to it, and gave steadiness to its circular motion. The "whirl" of the Syrian women was made of amber in the time of Pliny. The spindle was held perpendicularly in the one hand, while the other was employed in drawing out the thread. Spinning was the business of women, both among the Jews and for the most part among the Egyptians.
Although spinning must have been one of the commonest of the crafts in Bible times, it is mentioned definitely in three passages only, namely, Exodus 35:25, where Tawah, is so translated, and in Matthew 6:28; Luke 12:27 nethein), where Jesus refers to the lilies of the field as neither toiling nor spinning.
The materials commonly spun were flax, cotton, wool, goats' hair. Goats' hair required little preparation other than washing, before spinning. Wool was first cleansed and then carded. The present method of carding, which no doubt is of ancient origin, is to pile the wool on a mat and then detach the fibers from each other by snapping a bow-string against the pile. The bow is specially constructed and carefully balanced so that it can be easily held with one hand while with the other the string is struck with a pestle-shaped mallet like a carver's mallet. The same instrument is used for carding cotton.
Flax was treated in ancient times as today, if the Egyptian sculptures have been rightly interpreted. The stalks after being stripped of their seeds were first retted. This operation consisted in soaking the stems in water until fermentation or rotting had so loosened the fibers that they could be separated from each other by combing. A series of washings and long exposure to the weather finally produced what was termed snowy-white linen.
The various fibers, mentioned above, to be made into thread, were gathered into a loose rope which was wound around a distaff or about the left hand. From this reel it was unwound as needed, the fibers more carefully adjusted with the thumbs and two first fingers of both hands, and then the rope twisted by means of a spindle. The spindle varied in form but was always a shaft, 8 to 12 in. in length, provided at one end with a hook or other means of fastening the thread and at the other end with a circular wharve or whorl of stone or other heavy material to give momentum to the rotating spindle. When 2 or 3 ft. of the rope was prepared as mentioned above, the spindle was twirled with the right hand or laid on the thigh and rotated by passing the hand over the shaft. After the thread was twisted it was wound on the spindle, fastened, and a new portion of rope prepared and twisted. The rope was sometimes fastened to a post and the spindle twisted with both hands, in which case the whorl was not necessary (see Wilkinson, Anc. Egypt, I, 317; II, 170, 172). Spinning was the work of both men and women in ancient Egypt. The Bible characterizes it as the work of women (Exodus 35; Proverbs 31:19). The same method of spinning is still used by the women of Syria, although imported yarn is largely taking the place of homespun thread.
James A. Patch
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