Bobbin History

515 - grouping of five select bobbins (c

Discovering Bobbin History

There are many places to visit, both virtually and in person, to learn about mill operation and the use of wooden bobbins in fabric production. We have created a list of websites to peruse where you will find a wealth of information (see Places to Visit). You can travel to museums and historic sites all around the country to learn everything you ever wanted to know about bobbins and the mills that employed them. Many have tours allowing you to see looms in operation, including the Boott Mill at Lowell National Historic Park, where you will experience the deafening sound created by rows and rows of textile machinery. You will be transported back in time and learn about life during the Industrial Revolution along the way. 

What is a Bobbin?


A heap of thread is unmanageable and a ball is not much better. A bobbin is the answer, revolving on a driven spindle to collect the developing thread. Different stages require different bobbins: hence bobbins became known by the process for which they are intended: spinning bobbins, twisting bobbins, drawing bobbins, roving bobbins, finishing bobbins, etc.


Some machines had hundreds of metal spindles in operation at the same time and on each one was a bobbin either releasing or collecting thread. Many mills had their own machine shops and their own favorite shape of the bobbin. This accounts for the many and varied shapes of the older bobbins currently in the hands of collectors.


The mid-1900s, with its relentless technical advance, was a sad time for wooden bobbins. With the introduction of open-ended spinning and plastic bobbins, traditional spinning and wooden bobbins quickly became a thing of the past.


Unfortunately, wooden bobbins had become far too commonplace to be valued, and whole mill stocks were destroyed. Bobbins were not even valued as firewood, as their high oil content created hazardous fires that burned out of control. So, millions and millions of wooden bobbins were thrown away or burned in landfills. While no one can be entirely sure, it has been estimated that three-quarters of the wooden bobbins, many of which were still in use in the ‘fifties’, have been destroyed.


Fortunately, collectors appreciate bobbins as objects of character and interest, from a time of true craftsmanship, and are busy harvesting these relics from the few remaining mills as they either modernize or close down.


Wooden bobbins and shuttles are becoming increasingly valuable as they become increasingly rare.



Above information excerpted from The World of Wooden Bobbins, a detailed glossary and guide of bobbins and textile history. Available through Milling Around.