Friday, January 18, 2013

Distaff Day

While I was home over Christmas, I learned the word, "distaff" from my brother who is in the military. There was some cooking and cleaning to be done, so he helped out with the distaff (specifically by cooking bacon.)  His wife attests to the fact that he does lots of distaff at home, and when I asked what that was, (a little embarrassed not to know a vocab word) I was told it's traditional women's work.  Apparently this is a word used in the army.  It's a word I really ought to know, though, because it comes from spinning.  This is one kind of distaff:

It's really any kind of holder for fiber while spinning.  This amazing lady told me that this tall coat rack is necessary for spinning flax because the fibers are so long that you would have a really hard time just holding it - the other ends of the fiber would get caught in the current spinning, making a jumbled mess.  Remember those fairy tales about the maidens with the flaxen hair?  That's what they were talking about!  (Apparently the term "tow head" has similar origins.)

Now to get to Distaff Day.  In ye-old Europe or somewhere, they celebrated twelve days of Christmas in late December and early January.  At the end of those days, the women had to get back to work, specifically spinning.  Somehow the thirteenth day became known as Distaff Day, though why they didn't call it Spinning Day or Yarn Day instead is a mystery to me.  It used to be that this work was necessary to clothe and feed the family, but these days, it's for fun and craft.  So spinners all over the world celebrate Distaff Day together.  

Last week I got to attend the Tzouhalem Spinners and Weavers Guild Distaff Day Potluck, and it was definitely a celebration!  I have never seen so many spinning wheels in one place, and the artisans that peddled at them were incredible.  

This photo shows about a fifth of the room.  So manny spinning wheels!

I also loved how many ladies were walking around in their hand-knit stocking feet!  Most of them prefer to spin in their socks and my, their sock were beautiful!  

I brought my little drop spindle, and was happy to see several other spinners doing the same.  I even got to learn a little about those spindles that balance in a tiny and beautiful bowl.  Writing this gives me the urge to pull my spindle out again and give it another whirl. 

Did I mention how this was a meeting of the Spinners and Weaver's Guild?  Yes, much of the yarn that is spun on these wheels is woven into incredible fabrics.  I wish I could do more justice to this piece, but it was just stunning.  I don't know a thing about weaving, but I have no doubt that this scarf is impressive.  

I rode my bike to the meeting in sub-zero temperatures and am pleased to report that my Kalaloch Leggings and Nerine Cowl kept me toasty warm.  I love that several ladies asked me if I'd brought my wheel on my bike, assuming that such a thing was totally do-able, which I'm told it is.  If I buy a spinning wheel, it will need to be able to be carried on my bike.

Did anyone else participate in Distaff Day festivities?  Any show-and-tell to share?  

Thanks to the Tzouhalem Spinners and Weavers Guild for a fantastic potluck!


  1. The spinning wheels that look like church windows are gorgeous!!! Do you know who makes them?

  2. I hardly know anything about spinning, so I don't know. But I'm sure I can find out at the next guild meeting.

  3. I used to have a spinning wheel that came with a back pack: a Kromski Sonata (see http://www.newvoyager.com/sonata.html). It was so practical! I bet you can use it while riding your bike!

  4. I've never heard of Distaff Day—what a cool idea, though!

    In my experience, cooking bacon (and other breakfast foods) is traditionally a man's work. Dad was always the breakfast king of the house.

  5. In my house too! My dad always does waffles for Christmas morning. Why is breakfast men's work??
    In other thoughts, I think we need to bring Distaff Day celebrations to Seattle next year.


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