Men, being the most mechanically inclined sex, have done much to make women’s lives easier — and their own, of course.
Let’s start this series with something simple, fabric making. How and where spinning developed isn’t known, but it’s generally believed it started independently in numerous places throughout prehistory. Up until the early 1200s, or possibly a little before, it was done with hand spindles, almost if not exclusively by women.
I’ve done quite a bit of spinning using drop spindles. They are faster than rolling the fibers up your thigh and wrapping the resulting yarn or thread around a stick, which was probably the first method used. But it still takes a lot of time to spin enough to make a single garment, never mind something larger like a blanket. So a woman who wanted to clothe her family pretty much had to spend whatever time she wasn’t using her hands for something else spinning.
Then someone (again, probably a lot of someones in different places) invented the spinning wheel. The first picture of one comes from Baghdad, and was drawn in 1237. It looks like a great wheel, which was turned by hand, but still sped the spinning process considerably — like by ten times.
That began to change in the early 16th century, when someone in Birmingham, England, added a treadle so the wheel could be turned by foot instead of hand, and Leonardo da Vinci drew a flyer to twist the fibers before putting it on the bobbin. I’ve never used a great wheel, but I have and really like my Ashford Traveller wheel, and it’s amazing how much better it is than a drop spindle! I don’t have to stop to wrap the yarn around the spindle, I can just keep drafting the fiber while the wheel does the rest of the work. Cheers for Leonardo da Vinci!
Up until the early 1700s, though, it was still taking five spinners to supply one weaver at a hand loom. Then came the Industrial Revolution, and the beginning of the fully mechanized spinner, with the first one designed in 1738 by Lewis Paul and John Wyatt. The first power loom was invented by Richard Arkwright in 1771.
As these were improved and the technology spread, women were freed from a necessary but time-consuming, and tedious, chore. Spinning as a hobby is fun and relaxing, but I can’t imagine it as anything other than grinding, never-ending drudgery if you have no choice about doing it.
Naturally, this mechanization made clothing more available and less expensive, which was good for the common people. More than two sets of clothing per person became common, till now many if not most people in the developed world have closets and dressers with more clothing than nobles had prior to the Industrial Revolution.