Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Back to the Work – and Pleasure – of Making Yarn

January 7th was St. Distaff’s Day. It’s the first day after the twelve days of Christmas, and darn it, at one time that was the signal to get back to work. If you were a woman, that is. And almost every woman was a spinner – to the degree that “distaff” became synonymous with “female”. And “spinster” wasn’t a pejorative, but an actual legal term for an unmarried woman – who probably did more spinning than her married counterpart with children and a household to run.

Okay, it might have been pejorative, too.

Mind you, the men were still partying on St. Distaff’s Day, loathe to have the good times end.


“Deceit, weeping, spinning, God hath given
To women kindly, while they may live.”

Oh, that Chaucer. What a guy.

Also called a rock, the distaff was a stick that held the wool, fiber or flax for easy access for the spinner using a drop spindle. She tucked one end of the stick into her girdle and drew the fiber over her shoulder, as you can see below.


This was before wheels were in common use. I’ve seen a lot of spinners use a drop spindle, but I’ve never seen a distaff in modern use. That’s not to say they aren’t. Like any other craft, finding cool tools and stocking the stash are half the fun.

And yes, St. Distaff’s Day is still celebrated. In fact the Northwest Regional Spinners Association held it’s 28th annual St. Distaff’s Day spin-in right up in Sophie Mae’s neck of the woods.

I looked for her in this video, but alas didn’t see her. But lordy – that’s a lot of spinners! Wish I could have been there. Instead, I just gave a few good turns on my Ashford wheel while the football games were on and called it good.


  1. I was there, and sat right by Sophie Mae. She is a hoot and a half!

  2. Glad to hear it, Barb! Your link to the news story on FB inspired me to write this post. Have you ever seen an actual distaff in use?

    1. I haven't. Mostly they're used for flax spinning, and I don't know anyone who spins it. I've seen little bags that hang around the wrist, or a bracelet that is adjustable, into which a spinner will place their roving while drop spindling. Folks call those "wrist distaffs".