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|Well, there were lace bobbins...
Written by Margaret C
(2/10/2013 3:57 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Letter 76 L&T: About threadpaper, penned by Line
The wooden cotton reels that I remember from childhood, were developed in the mid Victorian era (1870's) about the same time as six strand twist cotton and for the same purpose - to use on a brand new sewing machine.
Several hundred yards of thread is unnecessarily and inconveniently long for hand sewing, and there was really no need for the manufacturer to trouble with drilling a hole through the centre of the spool for hand sewing.
The Napoleonic wars did affect thread,though - the scarcity of silk brought about the invention of twisted cotton thread - four strand twists, lighter and finer than the sort that was developed to withstand machine sewing.
The wars also brought about a rapid development of the lathe, (the machine which is used to make bobbins, and also to make cannons, guns, screws and other useful cylindrical objects).
So the Industrial revolution, the development of the lathe, and the evolution of the manufacture of bobbins and cotton thread are all interrelated. The rapid development of started around the same time as the American war of Independence. By 1812 the spinning jenny had been superseded by various types of mule jenny (Jennys are mechanical devices for twisting and drawing cotton thread. They were mostly, initially, water powered, but by 1812, some were steam powered, and by the start of the nineteenth century all or nearly all, had a creel of bobbins attached to it - so Jane Austen's thread would have been on a bobbin during it's manufacture, even if it was retailed in skeins.)
Jane Austen would have been perfectly familiar with bobbins, however. Before that time, and during that time, bobbins made on a (more primitive) bow-lathe were used for lace making and netting.
I'm sorry I can't be more specific with dates- my sources are all modern and not exact with the dates. The best one (definition of a reel in Dictionary of Traded Goods)does quote contemporary sources, and make it clear at least that the reels used by manufactures were large things - 36 to 72 inches in diameter. This is also the only mention I could find to the small size reel, before the sewing machine was invented, but as the description mentions they are in bone and ivory as well as wood, and are holding silk in 1794, I suspect these are the lace-making type of reel.
And now I have finished this post, I have an uneasy feeling that I have read a contemporary source (not Austen but Byron's letters, or Medwin, or Grownow - if I can find it before the GR finishes, I'll quote it) that made a passing reference to a 'quill of silk thread', which could only mean thread wound around a hollow cylinder...so maybe there was something like a modern spool of thread available after all.
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