21 February 2014

Walking to work

Before the machine age, some processes that are now taken over by whirling components in machines were performed by people walking. Two that come quickly to mind are spinning, and making rope.
Spinning with a walking wheel in the 14th century; from the Luttrell Psalter (via)
Before the spinning jenny - indeed before the flyer spinning wheel, worked with a treadle - was the "walking wheel" or "great wheel" with its driven spindle. The spinner had to stop and "wind on" after each "make" of yarn - pulled in a long draw from the rolag of fleece - was complete, walking as far back as possible during the making and then right back to the spindle. It is said that a skilled spinner could walk up to 30 miles a day doing this!
See the wheel in action here - or with commentary here.

Today in Myanmar (as in many traditional societies), warps are wound by someone walking the thread between sticks -

Linda, who took the photo, explains: "Each of the spools (on the rack on the right) hold a strand of  finely spun silk. The woman is holding one strand from each of the spools and is walking back and forth to wind the strands around the wooden sticks at the front and back of this device in preparation for weaving. She had to walk at exactly the same pace over and over, back and forth, so that one spool didn't move faster than the others and tangle. She couldn't stop until all the spools were empty. "

In Ghana, warp is laid out for kente weaving between two sets of pegs; it's wound from a rack of spools and the cross (which determines the sequence of threads for transfer to the loom) is hand-picked at the end -
As you can see, a lot of walking is involved.

The process used in Orissa, India, is somewhat different:

"Portable warping racks are anchored to the ground 15 meters apart. Thicker rods anchored to the rack hold the warp, which is slipped on painstakingly bunch by bunch. The warp is doubled, starting at one end, spanning to the other and then wrapping around and back to the first. This length of warp is 5 sarees, or 30 meters. The cross is kept and propagated at many spots along the length with bamboo lease sticks which are used to spread the warp threads out evenly over the 20 meters of stretched out warp. These bamboo sticks will be wound up with the warp on the loom and help to maintain the spacing of the threads during weaving. " (info and photo via http://www.sarisafari.com/tour/barhamboy.html)

The ropewalk - for laying out and twisting ropes - could be very long indeed, and workers would latterly use carts. The quarter mile long  Ropery at Chatham Historic Dockyard is still working, in fact you can have a go yourself -
Sailing ships needed as much as 30 miles of rope each. This ropewalk was working in Yorkshire in 1910 -
"Hemp fibres were tied to a hook attached to a wheel which was slowly turned whilst the rope maker walked back down the rope walk, feeding out additional fibres from the supply he carried. Groups of yarn were later twisted together to the desired thickness of rope."

Another occupation that required a lot of walking was tin mining in Cornwall, mainly because the deposits were in areas under the sea, so miners would have to walk long distances to the rock face, sometimes as much as three miles.

Consider, also, how far a messenger boy might have walked (or run) in a day, before the bicycle, telephone, or fax - or vehicular courier - came on the scene.

As the machines have replaced the tedium of the walking, walking has become a leisure (or spiritual) pursuit ... Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust is a history of walking (and this short history goes as far as 2001).


Felicity said...

that is fascinating! Especially the spinning, warping and rope making.

Sandy said...

An interesting side trail - of which you probably have too many already - is the thought of the footwear.
Jim walks to work (and back) in Bracknell...about 2 miles. The other day parcels came with new black and brown shoes. and now with the new-to-us dog he is going out around 3x a day for about 10-20 minutes and off to the Look Out on Saturday for a much longer period. So, I noticed some dog walking boots have arrived in the kitchen.

Vicki Miller said...

I love all the wonderful information you post. It is always so interesting