There are four things you need to start spinning: a stick, another stick, some fluff and a lumpy thing.
A distaff is a stick that holds your fibre. Because European Distaff Spinning only uses one hand to draft (rather than two hands like in drop spindle spinning), the distaff is necessary to use in the drafting of the fibres, except in the case of drafting techniques that only use hand such as the English Long Draw.
A distaff can be simple and be made at home from a branch, a broomstick or a wooden dowel. My favourite distaff is made from a wooden rake handle with a wooden curtain rod end. Furniture legs work well too.
There are also very fancy distaffs out their made by craftspeople.
A spindle shaft is the stick that you wind your spun thread onto. It’s also the stick you turn to put twist into your thread. From pictorial and archaeological evidence we see spindles in the middle ages taper at both ends and are thicker in the middle.
You can make a spindle at home from carving a stick or a wooden dowel. You can also buy spindles online.
You can see my review of one of Hershey Fibre Art’s spindles here:
The whorl is the weight that goes on the spindle shaft. This is optional and removable. Medieval whorls were made of a variety of materials including clay, stone, potsherd, bone and lead alloy.
Spindle whorls are a common archaeological find. Extant spindle whorls are easy to find for sale. Of course, a modern lead-free pewter whorl is safer to use than a lead alloy whorl.
Be they bone, metal or stone; decorated or undecorated, medieval century spindle whorls have a few identifying features.
First, they are often small and heavy for their size, the hole through the centre may be cylindrical or it may be tapered (smaller at one end than the other) and they are often centre weighted, that is thinner at the edges with more of the mass at the shaft of the spindle.
This gives a medieval spindle a fast but often short (compared to a modern drop spindle) spin.
You can make your own whorls at home, or purchase one online. Often you can buy whorls from the person you’ve purshased your spindle shaft from.
Lastly you’ll need something to spin. If choosing to spin flax you’ll need to find line or strick flax, not top or sliver. Wool is more suited to beginners and if spinning at an event should be undyed. Wool tops are great to start with and are easily purchased from spinning supply shops.
Medieval Spinning, SCA Spinning, Medieval drop spindle, Medieval drop-spindle, SCA, Reenactment, Reenacting, Re-enactment, Re-enacting, Living History, Society for Creative Anachronism.