Distaff, Worldwide, deep antiquity

by Mera Matthews '01J

A person who spins needs two things, in addition to time: the raw material (wool, flax, cotton) that is to be spun, and a spindle or wheel with which to spin it.

Throughout history, most spinners have also used a simple device called a distaff. A distaff is a wooden board, sometimes plain but often intricately carved, to which the raw material is tied, and from which the spinner draws as she spins. (Most spinners, in all times and places as far as we know, have been women. That's why the matrilineal side of your family is called the "distaff side".)

If you spin with a distaff of the type shown here, you can walk and spin (with a spindle) at the same time. Other types of distaffs are attached to stools on which the spinsters sit, or to the spinning wheels themselves.

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