Spinning is a process of adding twist to fibers (in the form of top or roving) such that they form into a more structured string-like, one that won't un-spin easily. Spinning top or roving produces singles, a single strand of twisted yarn. Singles are unbalanced (their twist is only in one direction) and they are not very durable. Though, their twist, being unbalanced, can sometimes be a resource in that they are 'energized' meaning that they can do interesting structural things when woven or knitted. It is also possible to spin raw fibers around other structures, such as wires or filaments in a process of core spinning.
To spin, a spinner drafts, or feeds, a collection of fibers into their spinning devices (wheel or spindle). The spinner users their hands (or otherwise) to control the propagation of the spin up the length of the unspun fiber. As the spin propagates along the length of the fiber, it is wound onto a spool. The final step in spinning is called finishing, by which the yarn can be washed, steamed, lassoed, whacked/twacked, menaced, and a whole host of other hilarious words, to help the yarn achieve is final state. This is essentially a process of "setting the twist" and making the yarn resemble the state you want it to stay in and you really don't know much until you've washed and laundered a textile project (which is always frightening to me).
|Structure||Ability to be Spun|
|Raw Fiber||yes, but not in a meaningful length|
|Filament||yes, if integrated as a core|
|Roving & Top||yes|
|Singles||yes, perhaps to add extra spin or customization|
|Plied Yarn||not sure (add extra twist?)|
|Braided Rope||not sure (add extra twist?)|
With evidence to suggest that spinning yarn was taking place over 20,000 years ago, spinning continues to be one of the primary methods of producing yarn, though the social and cultural politics of that production has changed over time.The earliest spinners attached raw fibers (of wool, flax, etc), to a spindle. The spindle was tossed in such a way that is spun through the air as the spinner fed it with fibers. For those interested in how these techniques varied in medieval times by region, you may enjoy this demonstration of technique.
As cloth became a major commodity in China, India, and Islamic regions, the demand for yarn rose and people started to search for faster ways to spin yarn. The spinning wheel, of fairy tales and fables, was developed between 500 and 1000 AD though the region of the invention is contested (some say India, others China or Iran). Some argued the origins of the spinning wheel trace to China as well. You might say that the spinning wheel was the first step towards industrialization in textiles and by the 14th century, the Chinese had come up with water-powered spinning wheels. The power of the wheel is this is could turn faster and for longer than a hand spinner.