The Spaniards brought sheep to America in the early seventeenth century, something I’ve never thought about as a resident of one of the biggest cattle states in the union. Sheep and goats in Texas?! Sacrilege!
But seeing that the Spaniards also introduced horses, cattle, and pigs into the area, it shouldn’t surprise me that they brought along sheep and goats too. Folks have to have something to wear and something to make it from—what better than wool?
You might be wondering why I, an author of contemporary romance and women’s fiction novels, am interested in what the Spanish Conquistadors brought to America. Well, I’m playing around with writing historical romances too. I’ve written a few historical pieces—a couple of short stories, and a novella that will release in a collection in August—but now, I’m working on a full-length novel to be part of a multi-author series. It’s all in the planning stage, and for now I’m mostly doing a feasibility study. I’m to write a novel set during the battle for Texas independence from Mexico. I’m from Texas, right? I’m supposed to know all this.
Eh, not so much. It’s been a while.
So I’ve had to do a lot of research, not just of the era and its socio-political climate, but of the common, ordinary things people did back then. The little things that people would have engaged in during their dialogue. What kept their hands busy? What did they do during ordinary days?
This past weekend, our town had a little event to celebrate East Texas’s history of sugar cane syrup production, which was great and fascinating and all, but the part of Texas where my story is set wasn’t likely to be raising sugar cane. It is perfect, however, for cattle, sheep, and goats.
Hence my interest in the spinning wheel.
The one pictured above is a “great walking spinning wheel,” one of the earlier types, though I don’t know if it’s the kind the Spaniards would have used. They were brought down into Texas from the American northeast. Until this past weekend, I had no idea how a wheel worked, but the woman who demonstrated it allowed me a chance to spin some wool into yarn (so cool!).
Ingrid, the woman illustrating the process, divided some carded wool—Leicester that day, though, again, I don’t know if the Spaniards would’ve had that kind of sheep. She took a much smaller portion than shown in the picture and wrapped it on the spindle. Then, after a few turns to show me what to do, she let me at it.
With my right hand, I turned the wheel clockwise while lightly holding the wool in my left. The large wheel spins the spindle where strands of wool twist into strands of yarn. Next, I changed the angle of my left hand, and instead of twisting the yarn, I began loading it onto the spindle.
You collect the yarn on the spindle until it’s full (or you have to quit), then it’s ready to be unwound on a “weasel,” pictured at the left.
Each full revolution of the weasel equals a yard, and after you have so many yards, you remove the yarn and have a skein.
At each complete revolution, a gear in the weasel snaps a stick, making a popping sound. You know how many yards you have when “Pop! goes the weasel.”
Back in the day, this could be done for the household only or for sale or trade. While the men worked outside, tending herds of whatever, women contributed to the household income by creating things, including yarn and woven products to sell.
And while they spun their yarn, they would talk amongst themselves. How fun that while I write about them, I get to decide what they talked about. I think I’m going to enjoy writing historical fiction!
Such an interesting post. But, of course just the sort of thing I love discovering and learning about as I reseach historical fiction.
Yes! I didn’t realize interesting and how much fun it is.
Hey, that’s fun!
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No, the Spaniards would not have had Leicester sheep, those are an English breed. In fact, it was George Washington who brought the Leicester Longwools to the new United States.
The English Kings had banned the importation of sheep to the colonies (to protect their monopoly on the textile industry), but those rascally Dutch smuggled some into the Northeast anyway.
I knew the breed was English, but didn’t know them to be exclusive to England–well, I guess they weren’t if the Dutch smuggled some in. Just not the Spanish, right? 😀
The Dutch smuggled in breeds from Holland. George Washington bought over the Leicester Longwools. I raise Border Leicesters, a breed that developed from the Leicester Longwools crossed with the native Scottish sheep. In my never-to-be-humble opinion, they produce the best handspinning fleece on earth. 🙂
You really know your wool!
Over 25 years raising sheep, almost 41 years as a handspinner. I ought to!