Gandhiji made the spinning wheel and Khadi famous. Even today, when we think of Gandhiji, the image of him sitting in front of the spinning wheel with is his legs folded under him, one hand on the wheel and one hand twirling the thread, comes to mind. Gandhiji also used the spinning wheel as a symbol of the Indian Independence Movement and included it on the Flag of India.
The spinning wheel was invented in India between 500 and 1000 A.D. It replaced the earlier method of spinning with a spindle. The process of mechanizing the spinning wheel began by first mounting the spindle horizontally. A large, hand-driven wheel was next provided which could be rotated by a cord encircling it. The wheel was turned slowly with the right hand and the fibre was held in the left hand at a slight angle which provided the necessary twist. The yarn thus spun was wound onto the spindle.
Until the beginning of the 19th century the spinning wheels could only spin long drawn fuzzy wools. Over the years improvements were made with additions like treadle and flyer. On the eve of the industrial revolution, in view of the large quantities of fabric needed, the roller spinning machine and the flyer-and-bobbin system were also invented and added. These considerably sped up the production of the yarn.
The wheel developed over the years and took on many additions. Great wheel, Treadle wheel, Double Drive, Single Drive and Electric Spinning Wheel are a few examples. Models of these types of spinning wheels can be found in various museums around the world.
Spinning wheel contributed greatly to the world of fabrics. It increased the thread productivity by almost ten times.
Spinning wheels have an aura of romance which makes them a favourite with fiction writers. They have played pivotal roles in stories like Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstillskin, the Three Spinners and many others.