Through the ages, in the ancient ‘Classical
World’, the exquisite work of hand spinning of animal fur fiber was
excelled in, with finesse, principally by women. A delicate art process,
the single or double ply yarn was produced by a fine twisting together of
the fibers employing deft finger movements.[ii]
The hand spinning of yarn from wool fleece
(both in Iran and on the Subcontinent) has been continued for millennia by
Zarathushtis, mainly for the weaving of their sacred thread, the
‘Kusti / Kushti / Koshti’ [The Avestan word
‘Aiwi-yaaonghana’ (‘aiwi’ is around / surrounding; ‘yaaonghana’ is
protection) means ‘surrounding protection / girdle of protection’].
Such was the emphasis given to this domestic art that among the basic
household talents expected of an Iranian lady it was placed in very high
As a child I had noted my paternal aunt in
Surat always assumed a certain posture when she made preparations for the
hand spinning. Sitting upright at the edge of a couch or bed she
would cross her right leg at right angle under her left thigh.
Watching her carefully I had noticed she would
tie the leader and secure the end onto the hook of the spindle. Being
right handed she always held the wool fleece in the right hand.
Leaving the fibers at the end of the leader loose she would let the
spindle hang precariously beneath her right hand suspended by the leader.
Swiftly, with the fingers of her left hand, she would then spin the
drop-spindle from the shaft in a clockwise direction making the spindle
rotate rapidly. She would repeat this process of spinning the spindle
in the same direction until the leader began to take in the twist. The
fluff of fiber hanging from the fleece at the end gradually got dragged
down, joining on to more fiber as the twist from the spindle worked its
When the yarn was
long enough to cause the spindle to almost touch the ground, she would
unhook the yarn and wrap it around the base of the spindle next to the
whorl by turning the spindle. She would leave enough yarn unwound in
order to slip it back on the hook and let the twist run into the
Then, adding more twist to the yarn by
spinning the spindle she would make the joining of fiber more secure and
let the twist move up into the fibers as she continued making a new
length. She would gently pull out more fibers from the fleece by pulling
back with her left hand, allowing the twist to loosen the end fibers from
the fleece. As more and more single ply
thread was wound on the spindle it became heavy and started to wobble on
spinning it. When this happened she would transfer the yarn on to a bobbin
and restart the whole process with the empty spindle.
At the end of
this long drawn-out process I would marvel at the wisdom of traditional
experience. If her right lower limb were to have overhung the edge of the
couch she would have needed to remain uncomfortably bent forward for
The photograph of
a rock bas relief from the ancient city of Susa (Shushiana in Elam;
6th millennium BCE among the first traces of civilization - one of
the oldest civilized areas in world history)
is probably the oldest known portrayal of an Iranian lady
involved in the ancient art of 'spinning a yarn'.
Unless the photograph has been printed in the reverse the lady is left
handed. Sitted upright on a chair she has, therefore, crossed her left
lower limb on the seat and is holding the wad of wool fleece and spindle
in her left hand. Having just prepared the leader thread from the wad of
wool (between index finger and thumb), which is suspending the spindle in
her left hand, she is ready to wind the spindle with her right hand to
spin the thread. Note her left hand is raised to the level of her
shoulders to create a long drop for the length of the yarn.
Even among the
Jews in ancient times it was ensured, in the making of the tabernacle,
that all the woolen threads required for the hangings were spun by women.
25 - “And all women that were
wise-hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had
spun, both of blue and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine linen.”
- “And all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun goats’
Records on clay
tablets found in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur say that one of the
temples employed, at spinning and weaving, 165 women whose output for
casual wages was measured by the day and for permanent employees by the
Image from a rock bas-relief found in Susa, Iran. Likely, the
oldest known image of an Iranian lady involved in the ancient art
of 'spinning a yarn'.
The article has been taken courtesy of Hamazor,
the Journal of the World Zoroastrian
Fall 2004. It was
posted on Vohuman.org on Nov. 2, 2004.
Source: Biblical – The Old Testament of the Holy Bible (Illustrated),
The Reader’s Digest Inc., Sydney, 1961.