Author: Gabe Duggan

In celebration of the second annual New York Textile Month, members of the Textile Society of America will author Object of the Day for the month of September. A non-profit professional organization of scholars, educators, and artists in the field of textiles, TSA provides an international forum for the exchange and dissemination of information about textiles worldwide.

As an educator, I ask my students to define technology. How do we qualify technology? What could we consider the ‘first’ technology? We trace it back quickly. Within a few minutes we arrive at the body – the hand, even the brain itself – as tools, technologies. Hands as immediate extensions of the brain, sticks and stones as immediate extensions of our hands, and so on.

The stick becomes modified, is evolved into a line featuring a hook or a hole, acting as a needle or a heddle.
While fibers can be spun into yarn by hand alone, a stick facilitates a faster twist. Incorporation of a stick in the spinning process also presents a system for yarn storage between its creation and its final application, typically constructed into cloth through techniques such as weaving or knitting.

A modification, such as adding a weight on one end, can render a stick into a tool such as a hammer, a weapon, or in this case, a spindle. By designing a found natural object towards specialized functions, technology evolves to aid in creation and/or destruction.

On a spindle, the addition of a weight — the whorl — promotes this stick as a faster, stronger, technology. The weight of the whorl propels forward with more torque, or twists per inch (TPI). Increasing the twist allows for a faster process, but also aids in creating a finer yarn or coercing bulkier material into consistent strand construction.

This spindle was likely made for delicate work, used for spinning finer threads from cotton, or camelid fibers such as alpaca or vicuña. This spindle is in closer formal and functional relation to small supported spindles than larger drop or Navajo spindles. I pose that the attached fibers tucked under the whorl were to aid in its fitting, perhaps after much use and wear, and do not remain there from negligence. In use, the cop, the winding of produced yarn, would have likely balanced across the whorl creating an almond-shaped ball, rather than wound as a cone or spherical ball.

Although wood is useful when making spindles, clay, bones, and even glass have been used, especially as whorls. The ceramic whorl of this spindle is perhaps the best remaining signifier of the object’s origins. Preceding the Incas, the Chimú worked with geometric patterns in cloth and clay. The dark finish of the spindle’s whorl suggests a high-temperature firing that is consistent with with Chimú ceramic practices. Restricting exposure to oxygen through closed kilns with high temperatures, this firing process resulted in black surfaces. The red, white, and gold tinted markings also reflect objects of nearby civilizations that predate this spindle, such as the Nazca.

When one visits Peru today, in the town squares of Lima and Cusco, one finds women spinning in traditional clothing, performing fiber work for tourists and their cameras. Though these spindles are often contemporary, laboring with fiber continues to act as transporter to the past for tourists seeking authenticity.

Gabe Duggan is an Artist and Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of North Texas, and has previously taught at North Carolina State University and Georgia State University. Duggan’s research follows the roles that tension plays when expressed through installation, performance, and collaboration with artists and scientists.

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