In centuries past, Distaff day marks the day women resume their everyday household duties of which spinning for textiles was a major part of. People returned to normal duties following the day of Epiphany, a religious holiday where the Three kings arrived to meet the son of God, Jesus. Epiphany is the realization.
There are numerous websites, that for the most part, have all the same information about Distaff Day. I liked these two (note, I didn’t copy the actual link- copy paste in search should pull it up as if it were a link):
nationaltoday.com/distaff-day/ – states what it is, followed by some history, followed by a few sections of fun extras. Scroll down to Why We Love Distaff Day…I like that little section.
almanac.com/fact/distaff-day-the-day-after-epiphany-january-holiday – info about the day, plus a silly little, almost nursery rhyme, tale of historic tradition.
On this Distaff day, I have enjoyed hours of easy online research. Thinking of distaffs and spindles and spinning wheels, I couldn’t organize a solid mental timeline for the history of spinning. Oh certainly I’ve picked up information here and there, only to quickly not file it away. So off I went to create a brief overview of the history of spinning. Don’t worry, my notes fit on a 5 x 8 inch note page. It is a quick rundown of a few key things.
*No one actually has a date for when drop spindles started being used.
*Distaffs are long (or short) sticks used to hold wool for a spinner.
*Spindles date back to Neolithic time. Neolithic time was 7000 – 1700 BCE. Neolithic, which is also known as New Stone Age is the period of time people started to live in settlements, started farming and domesticating animals.
*Middle Ages, also know as the Dark Ages spans from 476 AD (the fall of Rome) – 1450 ish AD when the Age of Discovery began. Age of Discovery is 1400 – 1600 AD.
*No one actually has a date for the origin of the spinning wheel either. It is known to have happened between 500 – 1000 AD. Note, all textile making was done with spindles for 8,000 to 9,000 (probably more) years. That’s a lot of spindle spinning.
*The earliest drawing found of a spinning wheel dates 1035 AD.
*Spinning wheels were invented in the 11th century. First type was Charka style used for cotton. The spinning apparatus did make its way across countries over years and finally arrived to Europe approximately 1200 AD.
*NZ Spinning Wheels: “The first known pictures in Europe of spinning wheels are in several illuminated manuscripts from around 1335-1340.” and “The first picture showing a flyer and bobbin dates from the 1480s and comes from Southern Germany.”
*Very early 16th century spinning wheel starts to look more like our “modern” ones, they have bobbins and flyers!
*Thoughtco.com: “Around the year 1533, a spinning wheel featuring a stationary vertical rod and bobbin mechanism with the addition of a foot pedal debuted in the Saxony region of Germany.”
*1764 the spinning jenny was invented – key in textile industrialization.
From the 18th century forward, we have documented many many many different spinning wheel types. Pretty much all of them are based on the design from the 16th century with bobbins, flyers, and treadles. Many of those spinning wheels have a distaff to hold the wool or plant fibers while the spinner creates yarn and/or thread.
While I do not use a distaff regularly, I do spin almost daily. Spinning is alive! Although it’s not part of household duties anymore. It is a valuable part of the past and is still valued today. Maybe more so as we find ourselves inundated with fast fashion and over manufactured goods that really aren’t that healthy for us. I won’t get on a soapbox. Speaking only for myself, spinning and working with wool makes my heart sing and gives me purpose. The artist in me wants to design and create and make something functional and beautiful. So, it’s Distaff Day, time to get to work.
It’s been a really nice year in my fiber world. 2022 was filled with meeting people that love yarn, love wool, love spinning, want to love spinning, and love making with yarn. Thank you so much to everyone who took a few minutes to glance at my yarn work. Especially thanks to those of you who took a chance and purchased my handspun and hand dyed yarn.
It is truly my pleasure to work with wool and make lovely yarns. Then, to see those yarns go out into the world and be appreciated and transformed into functional, beautiful, long lasting, things… brings me a tremendous amount of joy. I look forward to sharing lots more with you in 2023. Let’s keep talking about spinning and yarn and making.
Wishing you lots of fiber and yarn moments during the holidays. Cheers to making yarn and making with yarn! — Angela
Happy holidays! Whether it be fleece, roving, or yarn, you cozy up to, I hope everyone is enjoying the season with a bit of warm fiber. In between making gifts, decorating, baking/cooking and shopping (and maybe even guests this year), make sure you give a little free-fiber-time to yourself. Enjoy the twists and the stitches. It feels especially good in these cold months. I know I’ll be cozying up with some fleece in my lap for sorting and batts in my hands for spinning. In between making hats and wreaths for my December 4th Wimberley Market Days, of course.
Without putting too much emphasis on shopping, I’ll quickly point out that today is Small Business Saturday. It’s a wonderful thing to have declared a day for supporting small business in this mad-rush big shopping time of the year. Shopping small businesses supports people and local communities directly. Shop small businesses when and where you can all year long. It’s a good thang.
I hope each of you find the warmth of the season in all the ways that make you happy.
Today is the first day of autumn – the Autumnal Equinox. It’s one of two days per year there are equal amounts of day light and night. Starting tomorrow, the sun will start rising later and the darkness of night will ease in a little earlier. Shorter cooler Autumn days are here.
I can see and feel the change here in Austin today. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more aware of this change than I am this year, today. As I hopped out of the car this morning for our daily school drop-off, there was a breeze, an almost cool breeze! Our summers hover around 100 degree with many days of high humidity. It can be somewhat oppressive and the heat gets exhausting. So, while a breeze seems minor, it was surprising and a big change from what we’ve experienced in many months. The air distinctly different from previous summer days. The air is lighter, cooler. Sweeping breezes have refreshed the air, making way for crisper fall, and soon winter, days ahead.
On this balanced day, it seems fitting to work outside. I’ll absorb the sun, listen to the trees, and smell the fresh air while spinning, while crocheting.
The most expensive sheep ever sold. Posted on CNN August 29, 2020.
Today is the first of two Rest Day’s for the Tour de France riders. It marks the end of the first week for the well known bicycle race that is a grueling three weeks long. In all, it’s 23 days (2 day off). Each day of riding is a stage, there are 21 stages with 2 challenge days…as if riding for 3 weeks isn’t enough of a challenge. In all, the participants from all around the world will ride over 2,000 miles. Here is an informative (and easy on the eyes) website to read more about it – https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/18769169
Ok, that race originated in 1903. The Tour de Fleece made it’s debut in 2006. Star (https://www.ravelry.com/people/starathena), a knit designer and spinner, came up with this wonderfully clever way to bring spinners and fiber lovers from around the world together for three weeks of spinning. Tour de Fleece which is hosted on Ravelry – https://www.ravelry.com/groups/tour-de-fleece – coincides with the Tour de France. All the same stages, same rest days, same challenge days. There are official teams and unofficial teams. There are diehard teams and teams that spin for fun. Many use it as a motivator to kick start spin projects and use up fiber stash, as well as finish those spins that have been nagging since last TdF. It’s open to all spinners new and experienced. For the motivated and serious, it can challenge your strength, stamina, and will power.
This year, of course, there was a delay on the original race because of COVID19. It normally happens in July. This year’s new race dates are August 29th to September 20th. It was decided that Tour de Fleece would go ahead during the original race dates, PLUS do a 2.0 during the actual race.
Spinning and curiosity, that’s how this happened.
Wool by the fleece. I need a small spread sheet to keep track of it now. It happened so subtly I barely even knew it was happening. I almost feel like an innocent bystander. Except I can’t deny, this is all my doing. I just want to learn more about different sheep breeds. Seems like a simple idea. By the fleece makes a lot of sense. It’s a good amount to work with. I get to see, feel, smell, and spin the whole thing (or the parts I choose) starting from it’s natural state. Still seems fairly simple. It is, until the boxes of wool fill the master bathroom and begin to block walkways in various parts of the house. I suppose it’s not a lot of wool in general, but it’s a lot of wool for me. A lot of wool and a lot of knowledge gained! As I work my way through fleece by fleece, I thought it would be mutually beneficial if I shared my wool bliss – informational tidbits and actual wool with others.
About two years ago, as a trial run, I purchased just over one pound of raw fleece at a fiber festival – Gulf Coast Native from a farm here in Texas. It was a slow start. I’m always a slow starter in actual physical time – it probably took me at least a month to test wool washing. After a trial run, or two or three, with the end result finally meeting my expectations, I got a good, clean, felt-free washed wool. So exciting! That excitement never wears off. It happens with every new batch of wool. I’ve been working this way for a couple of years at, what I would consider, a mostly ultra slow pace. As I go, it becomes more clear to me how to handle things and find techniques that work for me. A lot of “my technique” is actually time management. Ah, time management, the key to so many things…how I have struggled my whole life with this concept… That aside, a momentum is finally becoming a thing! While I’m not trying to rush through like it’s a big ol’ race, I do have to admit, about half way through, I get excited at the prospect of getting my hands on the next fleece. Despite the pressure of time vs. quantity, my goal is to enjoy the work and make some nice yarns by the end of every fleece.
So, pounds and pounds and pounds of wool to wash and use… in comes my Market Days booth (October 2019)… followed by an Etsy shop for good measure. It makes a lot of sense to me, to make wool available in all different stages of hand processing. I love it; I figure there are lots of wool loving/wool curious people who want to experience various types of non-commercially processed wool without the big investment of time and space. So, that’s what I offer, small batch fiber (sometimes very very small), random breeds, in various stages, starting at washed all the way up to ready to use yarns.
If your curious about wool in all different stages of hand processing, you want to keep an eye out here, Instagram, and find wool to purchase at my Etsy shop. There is lots more to come.
Starting with a raw fleece means I get to touch every inch of that wool to make a yarn. It is a satisfying (and once in a while arduous) process. It must satisfy some sort of innate primal, primordial basic human function/need to create to survive. Ok, ok, that’s getting a little too deep… I love to process wool from raw fleece to make yarn. That’s what I do. Doesn’t matter why. I do it. It’s a good thing.
It’s a process that should start with a mental grip on the fact that it will take time. It takes the time it takes. It will be an antsy cumbersome drudge if you expect it to go quickly. Sometime it provides a quiet break from everyday interactions. Sometimes it’s a great time to listen to those 30+ hour audio books that you first purchased as real books years ago but never got to actually reading.
I split the tasks up into days and weeks. After it’s all washed and dry, I can do “drive-by” flicking and combing/carding if needed. Organized piles are always there ready for the next step. In fact, begging to be handled and transformed into it’s new existence.
The Key: must keep washed wool within site. It’s like the ring from Lord of the Rings except no bad guys, no evil, no elves, no hobbits, no ring…ok, it’s not like that at all. But the wool has some kind of spellbinding power and the magic will always draw you near.