Here's a simple and ingenious mechanical device from a distant corner of the world.

My youngest daughter operates the table top version of the spinner made from a milk carton. It has a cardboard fan attached to the spindle to cool down with.

During the rainy season, it is easiest to travel to the Borisal region of Bangladesh by river boat. In villages many miles from power lines, most kids have never seen the solid form of water. They listen with incredulity as I tell them that in my home place the weather becomes so cold that pond water gets so hard you can walk on water. Only when their parents confirm my outrageous stories do they believe me...sort of.

This woman in Bangladesh is operating a double spindle twine spinner. Whichever string she pulls down, the spindle always spins the same direction very fast.

I went to the densely populated South Asian country as an engineer. My assignment was to research and develop appropriate technologies that will fill needs and create jobs for people in remote villages. Could we use this awful weed to make paper? Could we make soap here instead of buying it from afar? Could we dry coconut and sell it on the world market? These are all real examples of projects.

There was a group of poor women who had banded together there who spun fibers into twine. They had to work outside because as they added fibers to the growing length, they had to walk backward for 50 meters (more than half the length of an American football field), the standard twine length, on muddy paths between rice fields. The rainy monsoon season goes on for months and disrupted their work.

This woman is walking backward, adding fibers from the big bundle of fibers to the lengthening piece of twine. They make it look easy, but actually it takes great skill.

The closest I had come to spinning wheel was listening to fairy tales, but I knew that most spinning wheels had a device called a "flyer" that wound up spun wool as it got longer. With a flyer mechanism you can remain seated as you make long lengths. Could we adapt the idea to help these women? I traveled to the village to have a look.

When I saw the way they spun the fibers together, I was bowed over. Their ingenious device got the spindle to turn very fast without the use of any wheel. And no matter which string you pulled, the spindle always went in the same direction. But I could not see any ratcheting mechanism that would could do that.

These women are spinning two thin "plies" together to make one stronger piece of twine. That might be combined with other pieces of further twisted into a rope. Notice how some of the plies are spinning so fast they appear as a blur. Rice fields are in the background.

That's just like Bangladesh: poor and lacking in what we would consider essentials, but so clever in using what little there is at hand to get the job done. I have such respect for the way they have developed technology to keep going despite impossible conditions that I have included a (color) slide show about it on this site. All trace of their adaptive technology might be lost just as so many other parts of a culture are lost during modernization.


For illustrated instructions for Bangladesh twine spinner click here or on the picture.


For more about spinning and about Bangladesh click here or on the picture.

Back to the science toymaker home page.

I'd like to know how this project goes for you. I'm happy to answer questions about it. Feedback from you is an important way for me to know what works and what needs clarification.
contact me