Fashion, Textiles and the Origins of Industrial Revolution
This article outlines an argument about the origins of the Industrial Revolution in textiles. It arises from the research project Spinning in the Era of the Spinning Wheel, 1400-1800, a study of spinning in England from the introduction of the spinning wheel during the later Middle Ages to its eclipse by the powered spinning machine early in the nineteenth century. A focus on hand spinning in the centuries before the Industrial Revolution enabled Spinning in the Era of the Spinning Wheel to address issues frequently ignored by economic historians. They have typically dismissed hand spinning as a low-skill, low-productivity, feminised bottleneck to be overcome in the forward march of technological progress, devoting much more effort to understanding the new, mechanical technologies of the Industrial Revolution than the hand techniques they replaced. To avoid this pitfall, the project researched the fibre content of surviving early-modern yarns and fabrics, and explored the relationships between their materiality and their markets. Applying this approach to eighteenth-century linen and cotton textiles generated new perspectives on the origins of the British Industrial Revolution, which challenge currently influential views.