The production of textiles during the Medieval Period required the use of a tay'ar (Arabic, yarn holder) that is called a "Swift" in English, a Dévidoir à laine in French and is a Garnhaspel in German.

Over a dozen tay'ar bases were discovered in the fill of different shops in the Area 6 market. Most of the tay'ar bases retain the mold of a single wooden upright, while a few examples had the molds for three wooden uprights. Swifts were used in Medieval Europe as illustrated by examples portrayed in various artistic representations (stained glass windows and tapestries). They are still employed in traditional textile workshops in Egypt and Tunisia.

The purpose of a Swift is to hold the skein of yarn while it is being wound off into a ball; the Swift helps keep the yarn from becoming tangled or knotted. The presence of the tay'ar in Area 6 is interpreted as evidence locally produced wool, cotton and/or linen were being spun in the market. It is very probable that simple textiles and carpets were being woven, as was the case of a small, family operated workshop that was manufacturing small rugs in Amuda (Syria) until the 1990s.



Plaster base for a swift used to wind yarn used in weaving. Discovered in Square 66, Locus 05.

Two forms of Swifts (tall and narrow versus low and wide) from Area 6.

Swift (low and wide form) from Area 6.

Plaster base for a Swift with three arms. This plaster swift base was discovered in Square 66, Locus 05.

Plaster base for a Swift with three arms.

Large plaster base for a Swift with three arms.

19th century Albumen print of Palestinian women with a single pole Tay'ar.

Metal Tay'ar being used by a Berber women weaving a kilim, Tunisia 1999.

The kilim being woven in Tunisia by a Berber woman during 1999.

Tay'ar sold in the Suq al Hamedia of Damascus during the 1990s.

Tay'ar in a handmade rug factory in Cairo. Skeins of dyed yarn are hanging to the right of the swift.

Michael Fuller makes notes on the tay'ar (swift) in a shop weaving rugs in Cairo. The base was made of concrete poured into a plastic form that measured 28 by 28 cm with a height of 25 cm. The metal upright rode extended 105 cm above the top of the base. The cage of the tay'ar measured 54 cm tall and expands from 28 cm (at the top) to 50 cm at the bottom of the cage.

The Egyptian Textiles Museum opened in Cairo during 2010. The museum includes a display about pre-modern weaving in Egypt. The exhibit includes a swift made out of wood with a wood base. The swift measures approximately 1.3 meters in height and the wood base measures 25 cm x 30 cm. with a thickness ranging from approximately 8 to 12 cm. Photography is not permitted in the exhibit and the swift is not included in the published catalog of the museum.
Two Egyptian shifts are illustrated in Volume 8 (Etat Moderne II, page 70, Planche XIII) of the Description de l'Egypte. The interior of an Egyptian textile workshop shows an mature men working at the upright looms while a young man and a boy work at the swifts.








Balls of yarn on a carpet loom in Cairo. The swift is used to taken dyed skeans of yarn and form them into balls. A swift could also used in the process of loading up a shuttle spindle.

Two swifts with skeins loaded onto their arms in an rug factory in Egypt. The base for these two swifts are concrete poured into a metal can.

Early 20th Swift in an ethnographic display in the Kumanovo Museum (Republic of Macedonia); a spindle loader (for the shuttle used in a loom) is in front of the Swift.

Early 20th century photograph of a Swift in the Moscow Ethnographic Museum (Russia). This example was being used by two men manufacturing fishing nets.

Early 20th century photograph of two Swifts in the Moscow Ethnographic Museum (Russia). This example was being used by a brother and sister to wind yarn balls.

Early 20th century lithograph of a swift in the Moscow Ethnographic Museum (Russia). This example was being used by a woman to wind balls of red yarn while other women are busy with spinning and knitting. The base of the swift in this lithograph is not a single upright, but a combination of three or four legs that join to create the pivot point.

Early 20th century photograph of a swift in the Moscow Ethnographic Museum (Russia). This example shows a very large Swift that appears to be used for a very fine thread such as linen.

Late 19th century Swift in the Moscow Ethnographic Museum (Russia).

Closeup view of the late 19th century Swift in the Moscow Ethnographic Museum (Russia). This example still has traces of a skein composed of very fine threads (linen?).

Swift illustrated in a stained glass window at the cathderal of Santa Maria de Leon (Spain). The window dates from the Medieval Period.

Late Medieval tapestry in the Louvre Museum showing a swift.

Late Medieval tapestry in the Louvre Museum showing a swift.
Photographic Credit: Professor David Hanlon, SLCC-MC
Webpage created 30 December 2008
Webpage updated 5 December 2010