For the past five years or so the guys in our reenacting group have put up a display of 17th century weapons at Dixon's Gunmaker's Fair in Kempton, PA. This year I wanted to demo spinning but had to come up with something that would relate to 17th century weapons. So I decided to try spinning tow to make match cord. Match cord is needed to provide the spark that ignites the gunpowder in the pan of a matchlock gun making it go BOOM. But how was match cord made in the 17th century and before? So far I have only found references to it being "twisted" and made of flax or hemp. I still haven't received the hemp I ordered 2 weeks ago but was lucky enough to get in touch with Johannes Zinzendorf from The Hermitage which is about an hour an a half from my house. He had tow, I just had to go get it. I was looking forward to seeing the hermitage again as I had taken my very first ever hearth cooking class there in the mid 1990s. The place has grown and I was thrilled to be able to see the spinning and weaving house. Two big barn looms and at least 10 tape/box looms were great to see, but their collection of spinning wheels was wonderful. They had a tow wheel! As we were walking out of the building I asked Johannes if he had a Picardy wheel. He wasn't familiar with the term but said he had a wheel that couldn't figure out.
Spinning tow went better than I thought it would
At the end of the day I tried spinning long line flax and what a treat it was after spinning tow. Tow is scratchy and coarse, flax is smooth and fine. I used Caroline, the Country Craftsman wheel, for the demo since I didn't want to take the antique wheel out in rough conditions (it was supposed to rain and even though we were under a canopy I didn't want to take any chances.) But I can't wait to try flax spinning on my 200 year old flax wheel.